Constitution Day celebrated on Monday, Sept. 17, as a national holiday, has a long and winding history. The holiday marks the day when 39 delegates to the Constitutional Convention signed the United States Constitution in 1787.
While the holiday celebrates the creation of the 231-year-old document, Constitution Day itself is relatively new. It did not become an official holiday until 2005, when an amendment to the Omnibus Spending Bill was passed a year earlier.
This series of events was set in motion by Louise Leigh, an American citizen who had been lobbying for an official holiday since 1997 with her nonprofit organization Constitution Day, Inc. Her work paid off nearly a decade later, with the holiday still being recognized by educational institutions across the country, including FDU.
Leigh’s work was built on the backs of a number of American citizens, some of which were widely known in their time and others who made their name by attempting to establish the national holiday. William Randolph Hearst, an American media mogul notorious for encouraging “yellow journalism”, pushed for “I Am An American Day” in 1940. It was well received across the country, and even resulted in a movie by the same name four years later — funded by Hearst.
Twelve years later, Ohio resident Olga T. Weber encouraged Congress to move the holiday to the day of the signing of the Constitution. According to constitutionfacts.com, in 1953 the United States Congress moved the holiday to Sept. 17 and changed the name to Citizenship Day (which is used interchangeably with Constitution Day).
“The Constitution is important in that it sets out in one concise document the powers, duties, and limits on the U.S. government, as well as the rights of American citizens. The Constitution was not written to be intelligible only to lawyers or politicians. It is written in everyday language so that citizens can understand it,” said Dr. Chris Rasmussen, an associate professor of history.
Since its conception in 1787, the Constitution of the United States has undergone 27 amendments (according to constitutionfacts.com) , but its constant revaluation can be attributed to its clarity. It is not a perfect governing force, but it is one that can be examined and scrutinized by the average American citizen.
Students of FDU can participate in a variety of activities on campus on the holiday, many of which are being held in the Giovatto Library. Two lectures that focus on the historical document are Dr. Michael Arnheim’s “Impeachment: Fact and Fiction” at 2 p.m. and Rasmussen’s lecture “Interpreting the Constitution” at 3:30. Rasmussen and Arnheim intend to share their wealth of knowledge on the Constitution during the lectures, but there are other opportunities to get involved.
“Here at FDU, students could attend one of the two lectures or other events scheduled for Constitution Day. They could also exercise their rights by registering to vote, or by writing a letter to their representative or senator.” Rasmussen said.
Despite the constantly debated political landscape of America, and an ongoing and exhaustive dialogue between the nation’s two political parties in recent weeks, Rasmussen encourages the students of FDU to celebrate Constitution Day by expanding upon their knowledge of the document. It may just lead to more engaged student voters at FDU.
“American politics has been unusually acrimonious in recent years, and shows no sign of becoming tranquil anytime soon. Without editorializing about President Trump, I would say that the Constitution’s systems of checks and balances is currently being put to the test. Every day we hear competing claims about what the Constitution says or does not say about executive power, citizens’ rights, and other issues, and I would think that any student would want to know for herself or himself what the Constitution says.” Rasmussen said.