History of Constitution Day

Constitution Day is an American federal holiday that honors the ratification of the United States Constitution. As of 2004, a law established Sept. 17 as an official holiday.

How does this affect you?

According to the federal mandate – enacted by the US Department of Education – starting with the 2005 school year, all publicly funded educational institutions must “provide educational programming” pertaining to the history of the American Constitution on this day. The holiday, however, is not observed by granting time off from school.

Since the enactment of the law, on a yearly basis schools are required to hold an educational program or event to honor the Constitution. If Sept. 17 lands on a weekend, schools must recognize Constitution Day the week before or after the official date of observance.

Because the US Department of Education didn’t specify what the “educational program” must entail, nor is it detailed in the federal appropriations bill that requires it, schools can plan whatever type of commemorative/educational programming that they deem appropriate. The law just requires that schools celebrate it – slightly ironic that we’re required to celebrate our freedoms.

Why is Constitution Day so important?

On Sept. 17, 1787, 55 delegates of the Constitutional Convention held their final meeting in Philadelphia. The only item on the agenda that day was to sign the Constitution – which was considered an act of treason. Thus, Constitution Day is observed on Sept. 17, the day our founding fathers signed the document.

After it was signed, Congress sent printed copies of the Constitution to the state legislatures for ratification. In the months that followed, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay wrote the “Federalist Papers,” while Patrick Henry, Elbridge Gerry and George Mason organized an opposition to the new Constitution. By June 21, 1788, nine of 13 states had approved the Constitution, finally forming “a more perfect Union.”

Yet, citizens still had some opposition to the Constitution because it didn’t offer any guarantee for civil liberties. So, on Dec. 15, 1791, the First Amendment – granting the freedoms of speech, press and religion, and the rights to peaceably assemble and petition the government for a grievance – was adopted.