What is Constitution Day and why is it celebrated?
The founding fathers signed the US Constitution over two centuries ago but it took over 200 years before the nation would dedicate a day to celebrate it.
Americans celebrate the Declaration of Independence every 4th of July, but the nation’s independence wasn’t gained until after seven years of sacrifice. The thirteen states signed Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union but this document left the fledgling nation’s federal government largely powerless, it needed to be replaced.
The states held new Constitutional Convention in 1787 where 55 delegates drew up the foundation of US democracy. On 17 September 1787, 39 delegates signed the new US Constitution that has guided the nation for 234 years.
The beginnings of Constitution Day
I would take over 200 years for the US "to honor the timeless principles enshrined in our Constitution,” which “has guided our growth, shaped our progress, and defined us as a Nation of sacred laws and fundamental values,” President Biden proclaimed. It wouldn’t be until 1939 when newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst put forth the idea of an “I am an American Day” that would be the spark for Constitution Day.
Hearst used his newspaper empire and considerable political connections to campaign for his new holiday celebrating American citizenship. The third Sunday in May was officially designated “I am an American Day” by Congress in 1940 and quickly gained tremendous popularity.
Then, in 1952, An Ohioan named Olga T. Weber petitioned municipal leaders in Louisville to change the date to the anniversary of the signing of the Constitution, and it was duly moved to 17 September. But she kept going first convincing state lawmakers and then and then federal lawmakers to make the same change and in 1953, the nation celebrated its first "Citizenship Day" on 17 September.
The US celebrates its Constitution
The next step toward the US celebrating the bedrock of its democratic institutions came after Louise Leigh took a course in Constitutional History with the National Center for Constitutional Studies. What she learned so inspired her that she founded an organization called Constitution Day, Inc to spread knowledge about the sacred document.
In 2004 Constitution Day was recognized as an official holiday when Senator Robert Byrd pushed for it to be included in an Omnibus Spending Bill alongside Citizenship Day. From 2005 onwards the United States Department of Education began apply it to federal funds for schools to help inform and educate about the Constitution. The law also required the heads of every federal agency to provide educational materials regarding the Constitution to mark 17 September every year.
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