Constitution Week commemorates the signing of one of America’s most important documents. The Daughters of the American Revolution started the tradition in 1955 when they petitioned Congress to dedicate the week of September 17-23 for the observance. Congress adopted the resolution, and on August 2, 1956 President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed it into law.
According to the Daughters of the American Revolution’s website, “The aims of the Constitution Week celebration are to:
- Emphasize citizens’ responsibilities for protecting and defending the Constitution.
- Inform people that the Constitution is the basis for America’s great heritage and the foundation for our way of life.
- Encourage the study of the historical events which led to the framing of the Constitution in September 1787.”
Constitution Week is a great opportunity to teach children about the importance of the document that established our nation’s government and fundamental laws. Lesson plans, resources and materials can be found online at the National Education Association, the National Archives, the National Constitution Center, and the American Bar Association.
Before America had a Constitution, the country was governed by the Articles of Confederation which created a “firm league of friendship” between the states and gave limited power to a Congress of the Confederation. Although each state sent between two and seven representatives to Congress, each state only received one vote. All major decisions made by Congress required a unanimous vote. Getting everyone to agree was very difficult. To make matters worse, Congress couldn’t raise any money on its own, so it had to rely entirely on the states for the funds. It wasn’t long before people realized this form of government wasn’t going to work.
Creating The Constitution
On May 25, 1787, delegates from every state in the union (except Rhode Island) met at Philadelphia’s Pennsylvania State House (now known as Independence Hall) for a Constitution Convention. A few years earlier the Declaration of Independence was drafted at the same location and the Articles of Confederation was signed there, too, so it seemed like a fitting location for crafting a new form of government. The group chose the honorable delegate from Virginia, George Washington, as their president.
The delegates worked for many months to smooth out their differences and come up with a form of government and basic laws for the new country that would work for everyone. Their main goal was to create a government with enough power to act on its own while at the same time guaranteeing fundamental rights. The delegation outlined a government with three branches: the Executive (President), Legislative (Senate and House of Representatives), and Judicial (Supreme Court). To help balance the power between larger and smaller states, the group decided that each state would choose 2 senators, but the number of representatives would be based on each state’s population. They also included checks and balances to ensure no one branch had too much authority to act on its own.
Preamble to The Constitution
With the key details and language determined, Pennsylvania Governor Morris penned the document, including its famous preamble:
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, ensure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, 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.”
Signing The Constitution of the United States
Finally, on September 17, 1787, the delegates to the Constitutional Convention met at the Pennsylvania State House to sign the document. 39 of the original 55 delegates signed. The majority of the men who abstained said they did so because the document did not include a bill of rights. As a result, in 1791 the Bill of Rights — the first 10 amendments that guarantee basic individual protections such as freedom of speech and the right to a speedy trial by peers — became part of the U.S. Constitution.
The Constitution. https://www.whitehouse.gov/1600/constitution. The White House. n.d. 12 September, 2017.
Constitution Week. https://www.dar.org/national-society/education/constitution-week. Daughters of the American Revolution. n.d. 12 September, 2017.
U.S. Constitution Signed. http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/u-s-constitution-signed. A+E Networks. n.d. 12 September 12, 2017.