Celebrated on Constitution Day, also known as Constitution and Citizenship Day, it honors the document that guarantees Americans their essential rights.
Since its ratification in 1787, the Constitution of the United States has served as the basis for all American laws.
To prevent the abuses of power to which they felt subjected under the British monarchy, the Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution with care, distributing power among three branches of government. The Constitution describes the powers of government, the limitations of those powers, and the rights of citizens. It also describes an amendment process to make changes in the future.
HISTORY OF THE DAY OF THE CONSTITUTION
After the American Revolution liberated the American colonies from British rule, the Founding Fathers wanted to ensure that the new government could not abuse its power. At the Constitutional Convention of 1787, delegates from twelve of the thirteen new states met to draft the document that would serve as the basis for all future American laws.
The Constitution requires three branches of government with equal powers, creating a system commonly known as “checks and balances.” Each branch has the power to mitigate the others. Powers not assigned to one of the three branches are left to the individual states.
Delegates to the Convention had two options for setting the framework for the new legislative branch. The Virginia Plan, predictably supported by larger states, called for population-based representation. The competing New Jersey Plan called for equitable representation for each state. The two-house solution known as the Great Compromise combines aspects of both plans and is still in use today.
The Constitution also describes the responsibilities and powers of the judiciary and executive, how the president is chosen, and other essential details.
The Founding Fathers recognized that society evolves and that the Constitution would require a mechanism to make changes. However, they wanted to ensure that the changes required the agreement of a large number of states. To modify the Constitution, a proposed amendment must be ratified by three-quarters of the states.
In 1940, Congress and the President passed a resolution creating “I Am an American Day,” which is celebrated on the third Sunday in May. In 1952, the holiday was renamed “Constitution Day” and moved to September 17, the day in 1787 that the Constitution was signed. More than 50 years later, in 2004, Congress changed the name of the holiday back to Constitution Day and Citizenship Day.
CONSTITUTION DAY SCHEDULE
1940 – Creation of the Day of the Constitution and Citizenship.
Congress passes a resolution creating “I Am an American Day,” recognizing new American citizens.
1791 – Bill of rights ratified
The first ten amendments to the Constitution, known as the Bill of Rights, are enacted.
1789 – French Revolution
Inspired by the American Revolution, the French take up arms against the monarchy and ultimately overthrow King Louis XVI.
June 21, 1788 – The United States Constitution enters into force.
The Constitution of the United States takes effect when New Hampshire becomes the ninth state to ratify it.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ON THE CONSTITUTION DAY
How long did it take to write the Constitution?
The Constitution was written in about four months in the summer of 1787.
When was the Bill of Rights added?
The first ten amendments to the Constitution, known as the Bill of Rights, were ratified in December 1791.
What powers does the Constitution explicitly grant the president?
Article II of the Constitution grants the President of the United States specific powers to: sign or veto laws, command the armed forces, request the opinion of cabinet members, call or suspend sessions of Congress, grant pardons, and receive ambassadors . The president can also enter into treaties, provided they are ratified by two-thirds of the Senate.
CONSTITUTION DAY ACTIVITIES
Read the Constitution
How familiar are you with our nation’s most important document? If your answer is “not much,” there are many resources to help you read and absorb the Constitution at your own pace.
Congratulate an immigrant
Do you have friends who have passed the citizenship test to become naturalized US citizens? Congratulate them on their achievement today.
Get a “Pocket Constitution”
Did you know that you can purchase convenient, pocket-sized versions of the Constitution to take with you? Check out your local bookstore or educational supply store, or order one online.
5 FASCINATING FACTS ABOUT THE CONSTITUTION
- Thomas Jefferson never signed it
Some very important Founding Fathers never signed the Constitution. Thomas Jefferson, for example, was in Paris serving as an ambassador to France.
- “Pennsylvania” is misspelled at the top
In the list of signatories, Pennsylvania is written with a single “N”.
- The right to vote is not defined
Because the Constitution did not establish rules about who can vote, minority groups have won the vote through subsequent amendments.
- Less than 1% of constitutional amendments pass
Of the 11,600 proposed amendments, only 27 have been ratified, making the probability of passing an amendment 0.23%, or rounded down, 0.
- Benjamin Franklin had to be carried
The elderly statesman had to be transported to and from Convention meetings due to poor health and needed help signing the document.