Sept. 17 was Constitution Day. It marks 223 years since our nation’s single most important governing document was signed on Sept. 17, 1787, in Philadelphia.
This national observance didn’t officially exist until 2004, when Congress took action requiring that all publicly funded educational institutions provide programming on the history of the U.S. Constitution on Sept. 17. But observances of Sept. 17 had been marked annually as Citizenship Day for years before that.
It seems fitting that such an important document is celebrated through study and acts of citizenship instead of the day off associated with the Fourth of July, the day colonists declared their independence from the king of England in 1776.
And it’s especially important this year, when so many politicians and voters are pointing to the Constitution and questioning its content or how sections of it are being applied. Before the rhetoric reaches a crescendo on Election Day, Nov. 2, it’s important for everyone to spend a little time reviewing the Constitution and what it means to be a citizen in this country.
The public libraries and numerous Websites offer information. The Chronicle Editorial Board suggests visiting the sites listed in the information box because of their ease of use and nonpartisan approach.
As with everything in America, history tells us there was dissension about the Constitution, even after months of debate and several drafts of the document. Three of the 55 members of the Constitutional Convention refused to sign the document. One of the three, George Mason of Virginia, protested that it was not democratic enough and later went on to lead the development of the Bill of Rights, which was added in 1791. Another four delegates left the Constitutional Convention in protest before the signing process even started. Their concerns focused on everything from individual rights to states’ rights.
Seven more delegates simply left early leaving 39 delegates to send the document to the 13 states for ratification, which occurred the next year.
None of the members of the Constitutional Convention thought they had devised a perfect form of government. It’s even thought that most people in the country at the time opposed the original document, but the promise of the Bill of Rights — 10 amendments that would immediately refine the Constitution — won its passage.
Since that time, more than 11,000 amendments have been introduced in Congress. Thirty-three have gone to the states to be ratified and 27 have received the necessary approval to actually become amendments to the Constitution.
Just one amendment, the 18th, was revoked and replaced by the 21st amendment when the country ended prohibition.
We share this history because it’s important for citizens to know that the Constitution has withstood many tests and will continue to face many more. It’s important to know the Constitution is a living, breathing document that a diverse group of people have used to form and refine our government.
Debate, compromise and citizen involvement are our legacy and our future.
Learn everything you can, so you can add your voice to the discussion that has helped shape this country.
• National Archives: www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/constitution_history.html
• National Constitution Center: www.constitutioncenter. org
• U.S. Constitution Online: USConstitution.net
— MUSKEGON CHRONICLE