Friday, September 16, 2016

Origins of Constitution Day

September 17th is Constitution Day and it commemorates the signing of the U.S. Constitution in 1787. Schools and libraries will hold special activities in honor of this day.

In 1939 New York City news tycoon William Randolph Hearst suggested having a national holiday to celebrate American citizenship. In 1940 Congress designated the third Sunday in May as “I Am an American Day” and Harry Truman put forth a resolution on March 12, 1946.    

In 1952, Olga Weber of Louisville, Ohio petitioned city leaders to change the date of this holiday so it would coincide with the signing of the U.S. Constitution.  She also petitioned the state of Ohio and later the U.S. Congress. In 1952 Louisville, Ohio became the first city to celebrate the holiday on September 17th. President Dwight Eisenhower signed it into law in 1953 and it became known as Citizenship Day.

In 2004 Louise Leigh founded a nonprofit organization called Constitution Day, Inc. to commemorate the Constitution. During the same year Leigh enlisted the help of Senator Robert Byrd to make Constitution Day an official holiday alongside Citizenship Day.  In May 2005, the U.S. Department of Education became involved and the law was amended so that each educational institution that receives Federal funds will hold programs for students on this day.

Many men were involved in the creation of the U.S. Constitution but only 40 signed the document. It is interesting to note who was involved, who signed or did not sign the Constitution. The Constitutional Convention started meeting in June 1787 in Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  Seventy men were chosen to attend the convention only fifty-five men attended most of the meetings.  Some states like Rhode Island, decided not to send any delegates.  Among those who signed the document include George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and Alexander Hamilton.  William Jackson, who was the secretary of the convention but who was not a delegate, signed the Constitution. John Dickinson of Delaware left the convention due to illness but asked his colleague Jacob Broome of Delaware to sign his name to the document.  “George Mason and Edmund Randolph of Virginia along with Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts refused to sign the final document because of basic philosophical differences.  Their refusal to sign the final document was due fearful of an all-powerful government and wanted a bill of rights added to protect the rights of the people.

Here are some proclamations relating to Constitution Day:

  • 1952 - President Truman proclaims the first Citizenship Day, Proclamation 2984, July 25, 1952, 3 C.F.R. 164 (1947-1953).
  • 1953 – President Eisenhower Proclamation 3028 commemorates Citizenship Day September 17th of each year.
  • 1955 - President Eisenhower proclaims the first Constitution Week, Proclamation 3109, August 19, 1955, 3 C.F.R. 56 (1954-1958). 
  • 2000 - President William J. Clinton’s Proclamation 7343 (PDF), Citizenship Day and Constitution Week, Sept. 17, 2000, 3 C.F.R. 7343 (2000).
  • 2005 - Department of Education Notice of Implementation of Constitution Day and Citizenship Day on September 17 of Each Year.70 Fed. Reg. 29727 (PDF).
  • 2009 - President Barack H. Obama's Proclamation 8418 celebrating Constitution and Citizenship Day and designating the week of September 17-23 as Constitution Week, 74 F.R. 48129.

Naomi Allen
Reference Librarian