This Friday, September 16, marks the first official observance of US Constitution Day. The idea of a national day to commemorate the Constitution was a long-time project of Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia, and now it is upon us.
The day commemorates the final meeting of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia on September 17, 1787. (The 17th is a Saturday this year, so observances are planned in schools and elsewhere for Sept. 16.)
The law was not noticed at all last year when it was enactedâ€”at least if a Lexis Nexis search of the phrase “constitution day” is any guide. Probably this is because it was approved as nothing but a rider to an appropriations bill.
But it sure is being noticed now, because among the provisions of the law is a requirement that all public schools set aside time for discussion of the Constitution in commemoration of the day. In the past week, newspapers all over the country have devoted stories to it. Typical is this one from the Daily Star of Oneonta, NY, noting that one local school superintendent:
found about the regulations recently while on an independent search on the Internet [...]. He did not learn about the mandate through communications with state or federal education departments.
The Asheville, NC, Citizen-Times says the Day is “long overdue“:
The Constitution is the nation’s owners manual. It puts down in writing everything on which this nation was founded. It deserves our respect for the dramatic ideas it put forth – liberty, equality, rule by law, not men – and for its astounding longevity; it’s the oldest written constitution of any functioning nation on the planet.
And yet we know shockingly little about it. Most of us have hazy concepts that the First Amendment addresses free speech and the second guns and that’s about it. Constitution Day is a modest effort to remedy that.
I am inclined to agree.
As for my own connection to Constitution Day, and my interest in constitutions and politics more generally, it is quite literally in my blood. I am a descendant of George Read, who was among those who signed the Constitution 218 days ago this Saturday.