Constitution Day--An Overlooked Commemoration

Sep 15, 2011 by University Communications

The Constitution of the USAOn September 17, 2011—Constitution Day—we mark the 224th anniversary of the formation and signing of the U.S. Constitution. On that date in 1787, 39 courageous patriots affixed their signatures to the document that is the template for the world’s greatest, most influential democracy. Since its creation, more than one hundred other nations have used the U.S. Constitution as a model for their own.

It is a living document, and one of the world’s oldest surviving constitutions. And, while the Supreme Court continually interprets the Constitution so as to reflect a rapidly changing world, its most basic tenets have remained largely unchanged—and, for the most part, unchallenged—since its inception. People quarrel over its interpretation, but rarely do they question the wisdom of its underlying principles. Imagine having the foresight to create a document that governs your grandchildren’s grandchildren’s grandchildren! That’s what the men of the 1787 Constitutional Convention did.

For this very reason, great people have spent their lives studying and interpreting the Constitution.

Congress Voting the Declaration of Independence - Courtesy of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania
Congress Voting the Declaration of Independence - Courtesy of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania

The Constitution was preceded in American history by the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration of Independence is often considered the “why” of American government while the Constitution is the “how.” If analyzed in business terms, the Declaration of Independence might be called the articles of incorporation while the Constitution would be America’s bylaws. Just as with a business, the bylaws may never contradict the articles of incorporation.

Here’s an interesting presentation that answers two questions: “What is the Constitution?” and “What does it mean to me?” A fascinating website created by the National Archives contains the transcript of the Constitution, high-res photographs of the original document, profiles of the delegates to the Constitutional Convention, and much more. Other terrific resources include the Constitution Center and the Bill of Rights Institute.

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