Constitution, History, Holidays

Constitution 197 Years Old Today

Click to see original imageCitizenship Day (Sept. 17) usually passes without much fanfare – in some cases even without public recognition.

Americans at least ought to display the flag. And at minimum, it would be well if some patriotic organization in each community would call the day’s significance to the people’s attention.

Citizenship Day marks the anniversary of the signing of the Constitution Sept. 17, 1787 by delegates to the historic constitutional convention in the old Philadelphia State House where the Declaration of Independence had been adopted in 1776.

One of America’s great charters of freedom, the Constitution is the supreme law of the land. It is the oldest written charter among the prominent nations of the world.

On appointment by President Reagan, a national commission already is at work planning a bicentennial commemoration for 1987. Perhaps the observance will have a carry-over effect in national awareness of the origin and meaning of the Constitution.

James Madison, who became the fourth U.S. president, is regarded as the father of the Constitution for his skillful leadership in drafting the document.

George Washington was chosen unanimously to preside over the convention of the colonies which assembled May 25, 1787 for the purpose of forming ”a more perfect union.”

Washington, along with Madison and others, had been a leader ‘ in the movement for a new Constitution to re place the earlier Articles of Confederation. He expressed some thoughts on the proposed document to Henry Lee Oct. 31, 1786, months before the constitutional convention was held:

“Let the reins of government then be braced and held with a steady hand, and every violation of the Constitution be reprehended. If defective, let it be amended, but not suffered to be trampled upon whilst it has an existence.”

The convention was not a large gathering only 55 men. But they were men of remarkable ability. When the task was completed, 39 delegates signed the draft of the Constitution. One by one the colonies called conventions to debate and ratify the instrument. The minimum of nine states was assured when New Hampshire gave approval June 21, 1788.

The first 10 amendments forming the Bill of Rights were ratified Dec. 15, 1791. The latest of the amendments, the 26th giving the vote to the 18-year-olds, took effect July 1, 1971.

For a long time the anniversary of the Sept. 17 signing was known as Constitution Day. In 1952 it was renamed Citizenship Day to combine the observance with “I Am an American” Day formerly noted the third Sunday of May.

With the renewed emphasis the bicentennial will bring, why not restore the original name – Constitution Day – and give the observance the dignity and singleness of purpose originally intended?