ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY:
By Bonnie K. Goodman
Ms. Goodman is the Editor of History Musings. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies from McGill University, and has done graduate work in history at Concordia University.
IN FOCUS: CONSTITUTION DAY
ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY….
“It’s a republic, if you can keep it.” — Ben Franklin sighed after the Consitution was signed by George Washington and the founding fathers at the Philadelphia Convention
On this day in history… September 17, 1787… The United States Constitution is adopted by the Philadelphia convention….
Representatives of 12 of the 13 original states signed the U.S. Constitution on September 17, 1787. The Constitution, with its 27 amendments, defines the federal system of government and embodies the principles on which this country was founded.”
The Federal Convention convened in the State House (Independence Hall) in Philadelphia on May 14, 1787, to revise the Articles of Confederation. Because the delegations from only two states were at first present, the members adjourned from day to day until a quorum of seven states was obtained on May 25. Through discussion and debate it became clear by mid-June that, rather than amend the existing Articles, the Convention would draft an entirely new frame of government. All through the summer, in closed sessions, the delegates debated, and redrafted the articles of the new Constitution. Among the chief points at issue were how much power to allow the central government, how many representatives in Congress to allow each state, and how these representatives should be elected–directly by the people or by the state legislators. The work of many minds, the Constitution stands as a model of cooperative statesmanship and the art of compromise. — The Constitution of the United States, Archives.gov
CONSTITUTION DAY: EDUCATION RESOURCES
National Constitution Center Resources: The National Constitution Center offers educators of all grade levels free, online resources to help teach the Constitution on September 17th and throughout the school year. — National Constitution Center
Constitution Day Resources from the Library of Congress: On September 17, 1787, the final draft of the Constitution was signed by 39 delegates. The document was then sent to the states for ratification, and went into effect on June 21, 1788 when New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify the Constitution.
In celebration of Constitution Day, the Library of Congress has compiled a variety of materials from across its collections. Explore these rich resources and features to learn more about one of America’s most important documents…. – LOC
Constitution Hall Pass: Get your Constitution Hall pass for a tour of Signers’ Hall. — Consititutional Center
Constitution Day: Celebrate the Ratfication of the Constitution — Constitution Day 2011
US Constitution Day Activities and Lesson Plans | Constitution Facts — Constitution Facts
Resources for Teaching the Constitution — NYT Learning
Constitution Day Activities and Lessons for Gifted Education — Suite 101
Happy Constitution Day! As Ronald Reagan said about this day in 1981: “While a constitution may set forth rights and liberties, only the citizens can maintain and guarantee those freedoms. Active and informed citizenship is not just a right; it is a duty.”
Presidential Proclamation — Constitution Day and Citizenship Day, Constitution Week, 2011: CONSTITUTION DAY AND CITIZENSHIP DAY, CONSTITUTION WEEK, 2011 — BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
In the summer of 1787, delegates from the States gathered in Philadelphia to build a new framework for our young republic. Our Constitution’s Framers represented diverse backgrounds, and on key issues, they were divided. Yet despite their differences, they courageously joined together in common purpose to create “a more perfect Union.” After 4 months of fierce debate and hard-fought compromise, the delegates signed the Constitution of the United States.
For more than two centuries, the Constitution has presided as the supreme law of the land, keeping our leaders true to America’s highest ideals and guaranteeing the fundamental rights that make our country a beacon of hope to all peoples seeking freedom and justice. Together with the Bill of Rights, our Constitution is the backbone of our government and the basis of our liberties. Even while retaining its structure, our founding document has grown with our Nation’s conscience, amended over the years to extend America’s promise to citizens of every race, gender, and creed.
Americans are defined not by bloodlines or allegiance to any one leader or faith, but by our shared ideals of liberty, equality, and justice under the law. We are a Nation of immigrants, built and sustained by people who have brought their talents, drive, and entrepreneurial spirit to our shores. Generations of newcomers have journeyed to this land because they believed in what our country stands for.
Every year, thousands of candidates for citizenship commemorate Constitution Day and Citizenship Day by becoming American citizens. These men and women have respected our laws and learned our history, and some have served in our military. Today, we invite them to join us in writing the next great chapter of the American story.
In signing the Constitution, the Framers provided a model of American leadership for generations to come. Through controversy and division, they built a lasting structure of government that began with the words, “We the People.” This week, as we celebrate our Founders’ timeless vision, we resolve to stay true to their spirit of patriotism and unity.
In remembrance of the signing of the Constitution and in recognition of the Americans who strive to uphold the duties and responsibilities of citizenship, the Congress, by joint resolution of February 29, 1952 (36 U.S.C. 106), designated September 17 as “Constitution Day and Citizenship Day,” and by joint resolution of August 2, 1956 (36 U.S.C. 108), requested that the President proclaim the week beginning September 17 and ending September 23 of each year as “Constitution Week.”
NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim September 17, 2011, as Constitution Day and Citizenship Day, and September 17 through September 23, 2011, as Constitution Week. I encourage Federal, State, and local officials, as well as leaders of civic, social, and educational organizations, to conduct ceremonies and programs that bring together community members to reflect on the importance of active citizenship, recognize the enduring strength of our Constitution, and reaffirm our commitment to the rights and obligations of citizenship in this great Nation.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this sixteenth day of September, in the year of our Lord two thousand eleven, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-sixth. –
BARACK OBAMA — Source: whitehouse.gov
CONGRESSMAN SCHILLING ISSUES STATEMENT ON CONSTITUTION DAY: “Our Founding Fathers envisioned a nation where every individual had the opportunity to succeed through determination and self motivation. Our country still provides its citizens with the Blessings of Liberty 224 years after the Constitution was written.
Constitution Day is a day for all Americans to unite around a document signed more than two centuries ago that still defines our nation. I was truly humbled to share this day with some of our youngest Americans and will continue to work for the people of Illinois to make sure our Constitution is upheld.” — Congressman Bobby Schilling (R-IL-17)
- A Circuitous Route to a Celebration: Constitution Day was apparently first observed in Iowa in 1911, at the urging of the Sons of the American Revolution, who later reported that “appropriate exercises” were held in every school in the state. It was to be celebrated on Sept. 17, to mark the day in 1787 that the Constitutional Convention signed the document.
Six years later, the Sons proposed that the day be celebrated with ceremonies in every state. Calvin Coolidge, John D. Rockefeller, Henry Cabot Lodge and Gen. John J. Pershing were among the members of a committee to promote the celebrations. By 1929, the Sons reported, 38 states had passed laws requiring that the Constitution be taught in schools.
A decade later, a San Diego chapter of the group suggested that the holiday be renamed National Citizenship Day, to honor those who had become naturalized citizens in the previous year. Congress did so in 1952, and “oddly,” the Sons reported in a later history, eliminated Constitution Day as a result. In 1955, the Daughters of the American Revolution proposed celebrating the two holidays together, and President Dwight D. Eisenhower approved a resolution for Constitution Week to begin on Sept 17.
But it was Senator Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia, a Democrat, who championed the law, passed in 2004, requiring schools that receive federal funds to teach the Constitution on Constitution Day (or the week adjacent).
Mr. Byrd, who died in 2010, was the longest-serving member of Congress, and well-known for his love of the Constitution; he carried a copy in his pocket and brandished it in his speeches from the Senate floor, and invoked its provisions about checks and balances to protect the prerogative of the legislative branch.
Tea Party supporters and constitutional originalists might agree with his concern about the abuse of executive power. But Mr. Byrd was also known for bringing the largess of the federal government to his state, which made him, in Tea Party terms, a tax-and-spend, big government liberal…. – NYT, 9-17-11
- On Day Devoted to Constitution, a Fight Over It: In the 100 years since Constitution Day was first established, most Americans have lumped it with holidays like Grandparents’ Day and Administrative Assistants’ day — a noble cause, lightly observed.
But this year, with the Tea Party making the Constitution sexy again, the holiday (which, for those rusty on their civics, falls on Saturday) has become occasion for battle.
Tea Party groups, armed with lesson plans and coloring books, are pushing schools to use the day to teach a conservative interpretation of the Constitution, where the federal government is a creeping and unwelcome presence in the lives of freedom-loving Americans.
Progressive groups, accusing the Tea Party of selectively reading the founding document, have responded with a campaign to “take back the Constitution.” They are urging Americans and lawmakers to sign a pledge to honor the whole Constitution, even the parts many Tea Party supporters would prefer to ignore — say, the amendments allowing an income tax, and granting birthright citizenship. And they are trying to get people to see the Constitution not as a limit on federal power but as the spirit behind progressive laws.
The struggle over the holiday is yet another proxy in the fight over the proper role of government. On one side are those who embrace an “originalist” view of the Constitution, where New Deal judicial activism started the country down the path to ruin. On the other are those who say that its language — allowing Congress to levy taxes to provide “for the general welfare,” to regulate commerce, and to do what is “necessary and proper” to carry out its role — affirms the broad role of the federal government that has developed over the last 100 years…. – NYT, 9-17-11
- Constitution Day cometh: celebrate the law Saturday: The day got its start in 2005, when the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) amended an appropriations bill to mandate that federally-funded schools teach about the Constitution every Sept. 17.
The Constitution has enjoyed a surge in interest over the past few years with the Tea Party’s focus on the founding fathers. Last week in South Carolina, Republican candidates pledged to uphold the Constitution, saying the U.S. government has strayed far from its origins…. – WaPo, 9-17-11
- On Constitution Day, tea party and foes duel over our founding document: It’s Constitution Day in the US, which this year features a healthy debate about the limits on government power. The growth of the tea party movement has heightened that continuing argument.
Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor holds a copy of the Constitution before a recitation of the preamble at the National Constitution Center, Friday, Sept. 16, in Philadelphia. Saturday marks the 224th anniversary of the signing of the Constitution…. – CS Monitor, 9-17-11
- On Constitution Day, the document lives on in political debates: In many ways, views about the Constitution are reflected in the debate over how President Obama is handling the issues of the day…. – CS Monitor, 9-17-09
- Constitution Day – the United States’ real birthday: Alas, the 13 colonies may have declared their Independence in 1776, but it wasn’t until the signing of the US Constitution on Sept. 17, 1787 that the United States was born. This Saturday marks the 224th anniversary of Constitution Day…. – San Diego Entertainer Magazine, 9-16-11
- Honoring the US Constitution: On Sept. 17, 224 years ago in Philadelphia, the founding fathers signed the Constitution and sent it on to the Continental Congress in what was to be the first step toward its ratification in June of 1788…. – Chicago Tribune, 9-16-11
- Americans, remember the Constitution: On Sept. 17, 1787, 39 delegates to the Constitutional Convention signed a divinely-inspired document — our US Constitution. Since 2004, “Constitution Day” is a federal observance in which we are encouraged to count our “Blessings of Liberty…. – Vineland Daily Journal, 9-17-11
- How Will You Celebrate Constitution Day? Friday marks the day America celebrates the Constitution: Friday the country observes Constitution Day, which marks the anniversary of the document’s signing (it was actually signed on September 17, 1787, but is observed on September 16 this year because the 17th is a Saturday). Along with passing the holiday, Congress mandated that public schools educate their students about the constitution on this day. In the past, schools have celebrated Constitution Day with trivia contests, Constitution readings, and t-shirt giveaways. There are a number of website devoted to activities for teachers, parents, and Constitution enthusiasts to do on the holiday. The National Archives in Washington, D.C. and the Constitution Center in Philadelphia have special events planned for the day as well…. – US News, 9-16-11
- Constitution Day: Classrooms, Communities Celebrate With Re-Enactments, ‘Schoolhouse Rock!’ and More: Happy Constitution Day!
Although the actual holiday is Saturday, public schools across the country celebrated the document today that has seen a resurgence in popularity, thanks partly to Tea Party conservatives. Classrooms hosted a range of educational programs on the nation’s founding tract and, for those more interested in recreation, there were celebrations from coast to coast with fireworks, revolutionary war re-enactments, hay rides and more.
The Constitution Day tradition has its roots in a mandate introduced by Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.V., in 2005. Byrd was known to carry a pocket-sized copy of the Constitution close to his heart…. – ABC News, 9-16-11
- A digital boost for free speech: Each year on Constitution Day, students and teachers celebrate the most fundamental laws of our republic. On this Constitution Day, they should also celebrate Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and other social media.
Why? Because it turns out that social media are good for the Constitution. Specifically, they’re good for the First Amendment.
“The Future of the First Amendment,” a new study being released today by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, reaches that conclusion. As researcher Ken Dautrich puts it, “There is a clear, positive relationship between student usage of social media to get news and information and greater support for free expression rights.”… – Philadelphia Inquirer, 9-17-11
- The battle for the Constitution continues: Even though it’s now the oldest operating governing document in the world, the Constitution is as controversial as it ever was. The 2012 presidential, congressional and state elections will likely hinge on interpretations of just what it means…. – The News Journal, 9-17-11
- Biden visits Univ. of Delaware to donate Senate papers, says school encouraged public service: Vice president Joe Biden joins UD President Patrick T. Harker and Susan Brynteson, Vice Provost and May Morris Director at the University of Delaware Library in the ceremonial signing as he donates his Senate papers to the University of Delaware library, Friday, Sept. 16, 2011 at Mitchell Hall on the University of Delaware in Newark, Del.
“This university has been part of my life, and so it’s only fitting that the work of my life be back here at the university,” said the 68-year-old Biden, who also delivered the inaugural speech in a lecture series honoring a political science professor who died last year.
Biden thanked the professors who taught him as an undergraduate, including one who Biden said encouraged him to shape up and take his coursework seriously, prompting Biden to take a heavy course load in his final semesters to bring up his grades.
He recalled an emphasis on public service during his college years. “Each of you instilled in me that being engaged in public life was honorable, a noble undertaking, and that we had something to contribute to the public debate,” said Biden, who received his law degree from Syracuse Law School…. – AP, 9-17-11
- Vice President donates senate papers at University of Delaware ceremony: Vice President Joe Biden donates his senate papers to the University of Delaware in a Constitution Day ceremony at the school.
The papers will now be a part of the UD Library’s Special Collections Unit. That collection holds over 200 years worth of political papers.
While at UD, the Vice President will mark Constitution Day by delivering the James R. Soles Lecture on the Constitution and Citizenship. The annual lecture series is named in honor of late Alumni Distinguished Professor Emeritus Jim Soles…. – Newsworks, 9-16-11
- Hamilton’s Manhattan home at last restored to its colonial glory: On this date 224 years ago, Sept. 17, 1787, the Founding Fathers signed the United States Constitution. Only one man represented New York: Alexander Hamilton.
Today, Constitution Day, Sept. 17, 2011, the National Park Service will reopen to the public the house that was Hamilton’s uptown country home. The ceremony will mark the end of a century of shameful neglect.
Blessed with brilliance, Hamilton arrived in New York as an orphaned immigrant from the West Indies. He was a Revolutionary War colonel and aide-de-camp to George Washington. He was the founder of the Bank of New York.
He helped draft the Constitution and was co-author of the Federalist Papers arguing logically and passionately for its ratification. Under the new government, he served as the first U.S. treasury secretary.
As a getaway 90 minutes by carriage from lower Manhattan, he built Hamilton Grange on 33 acres that provided views of both the Hudson and Harlem Rivers. The grounds included a grove of 13 sweet gum trees. Planted as saplings taken from Washington’s Mount Vernon estate, the trees represented the original 13 states.
He fell in a duel with Aaron Burr and down through the decades and then centuries, the place went to seed. Its front and back stoops were lopped off and it was moved from its hilltop to Convent Ave. at W. 141st St. and crammed in sideways next to a church. Plans for a restoration in 1908 went nowhere.
In 1962, the U.S. declared the Grange, now hemmed in by the city, a national memorial. Again there were plans to do right by it. Only now have they come to fruition. In 2008, the park service moved the building to a hilltop in St. Nicholas Park, which had been part of Hamilton’s land, righted and properly restored the building. Pay a visit and look for those 13 newly planted sweet gums…. – NY Daily News, 9-17-11
- Ron Paul kicks off another ‘money bomb’: As someone who calls himself the “champion of the Constitution,” GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul is celebrating Constitution Day with another one of his “money bomb” fundraisers…. – CNN, 9-17-11
“This idea of historic things that happen overshadows the fact that this document just plugs on and on and that we just expect it to work. We have grown to expect that, and that’s remarkable, and I think it would have been remarkable to the founders.” — Sally Rider, director the Rehnquist Center in Tucson, Ariz.
- Matthew L. Hipps, assistant professor of political science at Dalton State College: ‘Civility and tolerance’ to be Constitution Day topic tonight at Dalton State:
“The full title of the program is ‘When Freedom of Speech Becomes the Freedom to Hate.’ This year’s program will focus on civility and tolerance with a specific focus on what we say to one another.
The First Amendment right to free speech is one of our most precious and closely guarded rights, but it can also be the most easily abused. I think an open and honest conversation about what free speech actually means is a very good thing.
As I teach political science — and wrote a dissertation on our perceptions of each other — I have always been interested in the Bill of Rights and how those things that protect us can become the very things that tear us apart. Constitution Day provides a unique opportunity to discuss these topics with the Dalton State and Dalton communities.” – Dalton Daily Citizen, 9-16-11
- Beth Minchen: The Baptist College of Florida celebrates Constitution Day: “Some people are intimidated by the constitution, but it was crafted so the common people could understand it,” said Beth Minchen, an adjunct professor teaching history at the college.
“It’s important not to forget where we come from. It gives us an idea of where we’re going and more importantly how we can stray from that original path.” — Jackson County Floridian, 9-18-11
- Paul McGreal, Bob Taft: Dialogue to honor Constitution: Paul McGreal, dean of the University of Dayton School of Law, will host a Constitution Day presentation and dialogue at 11:30 a.m. Friday, Sept. 16, in the Keller Hall courtroom.
“It’s like a happy birthday for the Constitution,” he said.
“It’s a behind-the-scenes look at the Supreme Court’s work is the way I’m describing it,” McGreal said. “Basically what this does is shed light on one of the branches of the federal government that is usually shrouded in secrecy.”"I really commend having a discussion about it on Constitution Day because it’s commenting that all students should be aware of and appreciate it [the Constitution] for the fact that it has provided such stability and continuity for a government for over two centuries,” said Bob Taft, distinguished research associate and professor for the School of Education and Allied Professions.”…. – Flyer News, 9-15-11
- Brian K. Pinaire: ‘Democracy’ is missing from the Constitution: Two hundred and twenty-four years ago, on Sept. 17, 1787, the delegates to the Constitutional Convention met for the final time to sign the document they had crafted over the course of the summer in Philadelphia.
The date commemorating this event has been a federal observance and has been known as Constitution Day and Citizenship Day since 2004. And since 2005, universities receiving federal funds have been required to mark the event by offering some sort of programming on the history of the Constitution.
Concentrate on the text and the context; notice the distinctly pragmatic orientation and structure of the project; realize that the document was crafted in deliberately broad language, with an eye to future revisions and impending amendments, colored by the need to appease various factions present at the convention, and intended to provide only a concise blueprint to be passed on to subsequent generations. Even including its 27 amendments, the Constitution is still only 8,000 words and is deafeningly silent on some of the most controversial political issues of our day.
For example, you will look in vain for any mention of “privacy” in the Constitution. The same goes for “democracy.” Nor will you find any specification on how (or even why) we vote in this country. You will find no anticipation of the Department of Homeland Security, or any explicit directive for regulating the Internet, or any guidance for how much we should pay federal officials. You will not find a specific assertion of the government’s power to compel the purchase of health insurance, but nor will you find any specific preclusion of this authority.
And, since we are entering the presidential primary season, you will notice that this method of candidate selection is mentioned nowhere in the text, since of course the size, scope and complexity of the electoral process have changed radically since 1787. For that matter, you won’t even find any mention in the Constitution of a day meant to celebrate the Constitution!
Does this mean Constitution Day is somehow “unconstitutional”? I would say no, but this is only to underscore a point often lost in contemporary political discourse: Verily we must focus on what the Constitution says, but this is only the first step in determining what it means. To be sure, such an endeavor is daunting, but no one said maintaining a constitutional democracy was easy. Just take a look around the world. – The Morning Call, 9-16-11