Constitution Day – the United States’ real birthday
July 4, 1776 – Independence Day, Widely celebrated as the birth date of our great nation. It was really the day our nation was conceived. As we all remember, gaining independence from Great Britain wasn’t as simple as a mere declaration. Something about an 8-year Revolutionary War against the British comes to mind. Alas, the 13 colonies may have declared their Independence in 1776, but it wasn’t until the signing of the U.S. Constitution on Sept. 17, 1787 that the United States was born.
This Saturday marks the 224th anniversary of Constitution Day, formerly known as ‘I am an American Day’ and first celebrated in 1911. No, it doesn’t result in a day off from school or work; the U.S. Government doesn’t recognize it in that way. Instead, by legally establishing ‘Constitution and Citizenship Day’ in 2004, the U.S Government mandates that all publicly funded educational institutions provide learning opportunities about the history of the U.S. Constitution and what it means to be an American citizen.
Not only is Saturday technically the 224th birthday of the United States, it’s also a day that recognizes all who, by coming of age or by naturalization, have become US citizens. This year, because the holiday falls on a Saturday, the day of celebration for public institutions is Friday, September 16.
In the 224 years since it was signed, the U.S. Constitution has become a hotly-debated issue. Our Judicial system constantly handles the topic of what is or is not “Constitutional.” On September 20, at UC Irvine, law school deans will debate with deans from Chapman University over the Constitution. Other universities throughout the country are doing the same. The University of South Carolina is hosting a Constitution Day lecture that looks at the role of judges and their public perception.
Not everybody currently goes to school or has the opportunity to attend a debate or discussion and learn about the Constitution and American citizenship. Luckily, ConstitutionCenter.org, offers a free webcast that allows teacher or students or anybody tuning in to learn about this historic day. It also allows the viewer to chat live with the National Constitution Center’s education staff.
The United State is one of 48 countries throughout the world that celebrates a Constitution Day. Mexico, our neighbors to the south, celebrate their Constitution Day on February 5. Interestingly enough, Mexico’s Independence Day, often confused with Cinco de Mayo, is actually September 16.
In the U.S. Constitution Day was originally started through a grassroots effort of a group of Americans in 1917 – the Sons of the American Revolution, which included Calvin Coolidge and John D. Rockefeller. Then, William Randolph Hearst used his stable of newspapers to promote the establishment of a formal holiday. Later, Congress designated the third Sunday in May as “I am an American Day,” and On February 29, 1952, Congress moved that observation to September 17th and renamed it “Citizenship Day”.
Photo courtesy Thorne Enterprises via Flickr