AJ Jacobs about “The year of constitutional life”

For over a year now, author AJ Jacobs has been putting on woolen leggings more often than wearing socks. Why? “A few years ago I realized I had never read the U.S. Constitution,” he said. “But every day I opened the news and there was another story about how this 230-year-old document affects our lives. And I said, I need to know more about our founding document. And the way I like to learn is, I like to go all -in.”

For Jacobs, all-in means total immersion. For his bestseller, The Know-It-All, Jacobs spent eighteen months reading the entire Encyclopædia Britannica. For 'The Year of Living Biblically' he tried to follow all the rules of the Old And New Testaments. And now his final immersion: “The Year of Constitutional Life.”

“I look deeply absurd,” he said, dressed for the end of the 18th century. “But I'm also very serious about this project. Part of my goal is to get into the minds of these Founding Fathers as much as possible.”

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Humorist AJ Jacobs gets his colonial-era clothes right (except from the ankles down).

Reed Young


Accordingly, Jacobs joined the New Jersey Third Regiment of Revolutionary War Reenactors. He showed Dickerson his musket: “This is the real deal from the 18th century,” he said. “I put it online, but I guess that's not the way they did it back then.”

The reenactors, Jacobs noted, “are very dedicated. Of course, we didn't use lead balls; we used blanks.”

Anyway, he basically 'died'. He said, “I died for my country, but I died in the shadows.”

Exploring his Second Amendment rights, Jacobs also carried his antique firearm through New York City: “I was in a coffee shop in line with my musket, and a man in front of me said, 'Go ahead. I'm not on the messing around.” ' with you.'”

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To better understand the U.S. Constitution, AJ Jacobs, author of “The Year of Living Constitutionally,” delved into the era of the Founding Fathers.

CBS News


During a visit to the 1765 Morris-Jumel Mansion in Manhattan (where General George Washington briefly made his military headquarters), Jacobs was asked what scared the makers of the Constitution. “They had just gone to war to get rid of the monarch,” he said. “That's one of the most brilliant parts of the Constitution, is the way they built in these mechanisms to prevent one person or one branch from taking over this balance of power. I've never really appreciated the balance of power. It has kept us from having a tyrant until now!”

Jacobs' research also took him to Washington, D.C., where he delved into the First Amendment right to petition the government. Jacobs brought his own petition, a long scroll with 423 signatures, to Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, to reconsider Ben Franklin's idea of ​​having more than one president. Wyden noted, “You inject logic and common sense, which is often lacking in public discourse.”

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AJ Jacobs presents his petition to Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon.

CBS News


How was the petition received? “I think he thought about it for about five seconds, and that was the end of the consideration!” Jacobs laughed. “I will say that he completely believed my underlying contention that the president has too much power.”

While doing his research, Jacobs used a quill, which meant he had to live with stained fingertips for the rest of the day. “I like to write by hand,” he said. “There's something wonderful about taking a quill, dipping it in ink and just writing those sentences. I love the sound of the scratch, scratch, scratch.”

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CBS News


AJ's wife of 24 years, Julie Jacobs…not so much. “We've been through a lot together,” she said. 'So this is nothing! This is nothing.'

When asked if she is the most patient woman in the world, Julie laughed: “I think so! Feel free to call me St. Julie whenever you want!'

AJ not only wrote with a quill, he scratched his words on parchment, which is not paper; it is stretched and dried animal skin, such as sheepskin. To learn how it is made, Jacobs was taught by brothers Jesse and Stephen Meyer, who run Pergamena, one of the few places in North America where parchment is made.

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AJ Jacobs in Pergamena, one of the few places in North America where parchment is made.

CBS News


Asked to describe the smell, Jesse Meyer replied, “Somewhere between rotting meat and really strong cheese.”

That same process was used to create the Constitution, which is now under glass and on display at the National Archives in Washington, protected by unbreakable glass.

“People come here and look at it and are rejuvenated,” says historian Jessie Kratz. “And maybe they will vote, not just in the presidential elections, but maybe in the local elections as well.”

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CBS News


Jacobs said, “I don't want to say, 'Just read the Constitution.' That's not really the point. Read the constitution and talk about it with people, especially with people who disagree with you. To me, that is what democracy is about.”

Crown


All this running around may seem like a gimmick, but Jacobs says the immersive approach has helped him focus on the key lessons of the system we all still live in today. “They were thinking about rights, but also about responsibilities,” he said. “It was so ingrained in them that they had a responsibility to their community, to their country. But I feel like we've lost some of that. It's about sometimes putting others before yourself.”

That lesson is not just a nice idea; it is vital to the survival of the Constitution.

When asked whether his project made him more optimistic or pessimistic, Jacobs replied, “George Washington sat in a wooden chair at the Constitutional Convention. And there was an engraving on the back of the sun, but not the full sun, just half the sun. , the top half. So you couldn't tell: is it going down or is it rising? At the end of the Convention, against all odds, they have this Constitution that says, “Now I know the sun rises on America.”

“And my question was: is the sun still stand up for America? It's up to us. Because if we don't do anything, the sun will set.”


READ AN EXCERPT:
“The Year of Constitutional Life” by AJ Jacobs


For more information:


Story produced by Jay Kernis. Editor: George Pozderec.

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