Constitution Day 2019
Every year, Constitution Day marks the the ratification of of the U.S. Constitution on September 17, 1787. Although Independence Day and Presidents’ Day were marked as such for many years, it was not until 1940 that the seeds of a Constitution Day were planted. “I am an American Day” was celebrated on the third Sunday of May and celebrated American citizenship. The holiday quickly gained popularity across the United States and the date was changed to September 17 during the 1950s to better reflect the origins of American citizenship. The name of the day also became the simpler “Citizenship Day.”
It was not until 2004 that Congress designated September 17 as Constitution Day alongside the existing Citizenship Day. This designation required all public schools and government offices to hold educational programming to promote constitutional literacy. The Jack Miller Center honors this important date every year by funding educational lectures across the country. These lectures further the Center’s mission of civic literacy and encourage citizens to learn more about our country’s origins.
Benjamin Franklin’s Speech at the Constitutional Convention, September 17, 1787
I confess that there are several parts of this constitution which I do not at present approve, but I am not sure I shall never approve them: For having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged by better information, or fuller consideration, to change opinions even on important subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise. It is therefore that the older I grow, the more apt I am to doubt my own judgment, and to pay more respect to the judgment of others. Most men indeed as well as most sects in Religion, think themselves in possession of all truth, and that wherever others differ from them it is so far error. Steele a Protestant in a Dedication tells the Pope, that the only difference between our Churches in their opinions of the certainty of their doctrines is, the Church of Rome is infallible and the Church of England is never in the wrong. But though many private persons think almost as highly of their own infallibility as of that of their sect, few express it so naturally as a certain french lady, who in a dispute with her sister, said “I don’t know how it happens, Sister but I meet with no body but myself, that’s always in the right-Il n’y a que moi qui a toujours raison.”
In these sentiments, Sir, I agree to this Constitution with all its faults, if they are such; because I think a general Government necessary for us, and there is no form of Government but what may be a blessing to the people if well administered, and believe farther that this is likely to be well administered for a course of years, and can only end in Despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic Government, being incapable of any other. I doubt too whether any other Convention we can obtain, may be able to make a better Constitution. For when you assemble a number of men to have the advantage of their joint wisdom, you inevitably assemble with those men, all their prejudices, their passions, their errors of opinion, their local interests, and their selfish views. From such an assembly can a perfect production be expected? It therefore astonishes me, Sir, to find this system approaching so near to perfection as it does; and I think it will astonish our enemies, who are waiting with confidence to hear that our councils are confounded like those of the Builders of Babel; and that our States are on the point of separation, only to meet hereafter for the purpose of cutting one another’s throats. Thus I consent, Sir, to this Constitution because I expect no better, and because I am not sure, that it is not the best. The opinions I have had of its errors, I sacrifice to the public good. I have never whispered a syllable of them abroad. Within these walls they were born, and here they shall die. If every one of us in returning to our Constituents were to report the objections he has had to it, and endeavor to gain partizans in support of them, we might prevent its being generally received, and thereby lose all the salutary effects & great advantages resulting naturally in our favor among foreign Nations as well as among ourselves, from our real or apparent unanimity. Much of the strength & efficiency of any Government in procuring and securing happiness to the people, depends, on opinion, on the general opinion of the goodness of the Government, as well as well as of the wisdom and integrity of its Governors. I hope therefore that for our own sakes as a part of the people, and for the sake of posterity, we shall act heartily and unanimously in recommending this Constitution (if approved by Congress & confirmed by the Conventions) wherever our influence may extend, and turn our future thoughts & endeavors to the means of having it well administred.
On the whole, Sir, I can not help expressing a wish that every member of the Convention who may still have objections to it, would with me, on this occasion doubt a little of his own infallibility, and to make manifest our unanimity, put his name to this instrument.-
The JMC First Amendment Library
The JMC First Amendment Library holds a wealth of resources on the history, law, theory, and development of religious liberty and freedom of speech in the United States.
The National Constitution Center
The National Constitution Center in Philadelphia has several online resources for learning about the Constitution, its background, and current constitutional controversies.
Fellow Greg Weiner’s Views on Teaching Constitution Day
“When I assign students in my American Government classes to read the Constitution, a document whose birthday the nation commemorates on September 17, I ask them how many have read the main body of it—really read it, front to back—before. Few raise their hands. They are college freshman and sophomores, mostly, having generally graduated from high schools with civics requirements…”
Constitution Day at the National Archives
The National Archives and Records Administration celebrates Constitution Day with activities and online workshops.
The United States Senate on Constitution Day
The U.S. Senate played a key role in introducing Constitution Day legislation. Appropriately, the Senate’s website offers a history of the day.
This year, 39 campuses around the nation have partnered with the Jack Miller Center to conduct Constitution Day events for students and the public. This day engages students in conversations about the role and meaning of the Constitution in American political life.
Talks, debates, and panels explore a wide variety of topics, including the current role of the Constitution, free speech, and constitutional theory. This year’s impressive lineup of keynotes includes Bradley Watson (Saint Vincent), Greg Weiner (Assumption), Vincent Phillip Muñoz (Notre Dame), Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, Michael Zuckert (Notre Dame), Jeffrey Tulis (Texas-Austin), James Ceaser (UVA and JMC board member), and Nicholas Buccola (Linfield) among other notable speakers.
Campuses with Constitution Day events include:
- American University
- Arizona State University
- Assumption College
- Baylor University
- Boston College
- Carthage College
- Christopher Newport University
- Clemson University
- University of Dallas
- Emory University
- Florida Atlantic University
- College of the Holy Cross
- University of Houston
- Kenyon College
- Louisiana State University
- Mercer University
- Michigan State University
- Middlebury College
- University of Nevada, Las Vegas
- University of North Texas
- University of Notre Dame
- Oglethorpe University
- Ohio University
- University of Oklahoma
- Pomona College
- Rhodes College
- St. Vincent College
- Texas State University
- Villanova University
- University of Wisconsin, Madison
- Wofford College
- Xavier University
Constitution Day Events at PNW Schools:
- Boise State University
- George Fox University
- Linfield College
- University of Portland
- University of Puget Sound
About the PNW Initiative
There are also several campuses from the Jack Miller Center’s Pacific Northwest Initiative: Advancing Education in America’s Founding Principles and History with Constitution Day events. Thanks to the generous grant from MJ Murdock Charitable Trust, JMC is working with faculty to organize exciting campus events in the region. The Initiative also provides programs, conferences and other opportunities for professors in the PNW—all to help them make a difference in the education of their students.
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