September 17 is Constitution Day. On this date in 1787, 39 of the original 55 delegates to the Constitutional Convention signed the document that would eventually be ratified and enshrined as our fundamental law. Recently, many have observed the relative decline of civic knowledge among American citizens, and have taken steps to improve our understanding of our fundamental law, the limited government which it creates, and the basic liberties which it is designed to protect.
In 2004, Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) sponsored language in an appropriations bill, which passed in 2005, to mandate that all federal agencies and schools receiving federal funds hold educational programs pertaining to the Constitution on Constitution Day. Thus, today has been recognized – by members of both parties – as a day for honoring and learning about our Constitution.
So, what are some ways to celebrate Constitution Day? There is a variety of resources available to those who wish to use this day to teach and learn about our founding document. The following is a practical guide to some of these resources.
First, get a copy of the Constitution and read it. Heritage is literally giving away pocket copies of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Get yours today. Or, better yet, order copies for your class or civic organization.
Second, read a brief introduction to the Constitution and the Constitutional Convention. Buy a copy of the Heritage Guide to the Constitution, which is the definitive clause-by-clause analysis of our governing document.
Third, take in a lecture on the Constitution and its importance. Heritage is webcasting a lecture by Robert George from Princeton University today at noon, on www.heritage.org. Or, watch a Heritage panel from the archives on the importance of teaching civics and the Constitution in schools.
Fourth, check out some of the great online resources that other organizations have made available to teachers and to the general public. Many of these organizations, such as the National Constitution Center and the Bill of Rights Institute, produce teachers’ lessons that help bring the Constitution into the classroom.
Other online resources are available to those seeking to know more about the ideas and debates that informed the making of our Constitution. Gordon Lloyd, a professor at Pepperdine University, has constructed the best, most comprehensive and user-friendly resource on the Constitutional Convention debates available on the web
Finally, if you think our Constitution should be at the center of all our public policy debates, and not just celebrated one day every year, write to your representatives and tell them that you want to hear them connect their policy ideas to constitutional principles. As Andrew Busch, a professor at Claremont McKenna College has recently written, too few of our public officials discuss the Constitution in their public addresses, but this will only be remedied by citizens who speak up and demand that their representatives return to constitutional principles.
The United States has the longest-lasting written Constitution in human history. Our Constitution is responsible for our greatness and prosperity, and the remarkable stability we experience in our political life. Where other nations are vulnerable to radical movements which undermine liberty and self-government, our Constitution has been the anchor and ballast by which we have maintained a stable regime. But if our Constitution is to continue to provide these blessings, we must seize these opportunities to recur to our Constitution’s principles.