Events

Constitution Day 2021: A Celebration Of “We The People”

By Thomas C. Giangreco, Interlibrary Loan, Government Documents, & Microforms

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

So reads the preamble to the Constitution, with the famous incipit “We the People”. Friday, September 17th, 2021 marks Constitution Day, a celebration of the adoption of the Constitution of the United States in 1787. It is not just a commemoration of the establishment of our constitutional republic, the U.S., but of us: “We the People.”

The Origins of Constitution Day

Senator Robert Byrd (D-West Virginia), as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of Fiscal Year 2005, marked September 17th as Constitution Day, a day devoted to the promotion of, and education about, the United States Constitution. Although of recent vintage, the roots of the day go back much earlier.

In 1956, during the Eisenhower administration, Congress established a Constitution Week, beginning on September 17th, the date when the delegates to the constitutional convention signed the document. Constitution Week itself grew out of an even earlier movement to establish a day to celebrate American citizenship. Publisher William Randolph Hearst proposed “I am an American” day in 1939 as a day to commemorate the American people, and in particular, newly naturalized citizens. Congress adopted the idea in 1940 and established the third Sunday in May as “I am an American” day. In 1951, private citizen Olga Weber of Ohio petitioned to have the day moved to September 17th to coincide with the adoption of the Constitution. Both houses of congress passed the resolution in 1953, and September 17th became “Citizenship Day,” which eventually evolved into our present Constitution Day.

Convening in Philadelphia, the delegates to the constitutional convention sought to take thirteen disparate and often contentious states and create a true and enduring federal union. The Articles of Confederation had proven unworkable, and needed to be replaced if the new country was to survive. The challenge for the delegates was to literally make out of many, one: E pluribus unum. What they signed on September 17th, 1787 has created one of the oldest and most stable governments currently in existence and been a model for others the world over.

The original document is currently housed at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. along with the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. The Constitution is to many people a surprisingly short text, providing a structural framework for the three branches of the United States government and establishing a system of checks and balances between the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. It has proven strong enough to have endured for over two hundred years, yet flexible enough through the amendment process to adapt to monumental changes which have taken place in society, economics, and demographics over the past two centuries.

It is a simple document which expresses our noblest aspirations as a people and can unite us even when we seem to be divided over virtually everything else.

Stop by Walsh Library the week of September 13th – 17th to help us celebrate Constitution Day 2021. Look for “Little Ben” at the Security Desk or Circulation Desk and pick up a free pocket Constitution, bookmark, and GPO pencil. And remember, the day is not just about the foundation of the U.S. government, but about us – “We the People.”

Government Documents at Fordham

Fordham has been a proud member of the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) since 1937. The FDLP is devoted to the mission of “keeping America informed” by the free-of-charge dissemination of non-classified government information and publications to participating libraries. You can find the Federal Register and Congressional Record, transcripts of congressional hearings, the Congressional Serial Set going back to 1789, United States Supreme Court Reports, and a multitude of federal department publications from every branch of the federal government. From the earliest acts of congress to the Mueller Report, our Government Documents collection is a primary source history of the United States government in one location.

Curious about other government documents available through the Fordham Libraries? Visit our Government Documents research guide to learn more.

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