In 2004, Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia pushed for the creation of a special day to honor and study the United States Constitution. Senator Byrd was frustrated that many Americans knew little about the document that created and defined their government. The result was Constitution Day. On September 17—the day the Constitution was signed—all schools that receive federal money must study the U.S. Constitution.
The Constitution is the backbone of the United States government. It brought the federal government into being, including its three branches—executive, judicial, and legislative—and the offices that accompany them—the Presidency, Congress, and the Supreme Court. The Constitution is also a “living document” that continues to help shape our government today and is continually adapted to changes in our society.
The Constitution came about in the late 1780s. At that time, the thirteen new states (based on the original thirteen colonies) were governed by the Articles of Confederation, which were created following America’s independence from Britain. But the Articles did not provide for a strong, unified government that could deal with the challenges facing the new nation. So in 1787, the Constitutional Convention was held in Philadelphia. Delegates from all thirteen states attended the Convention.
Not all of the delegates agreed on what kind of government America should have. Some wanted the states to have all the power, while others wanted a single government to control everything. The smaller states wanted equal representation in the government, while the larger states wanted representation based on population. A compromise was reached that gave states the rights that were not reserved for the main, or federal, government. A series of checks and balances were set up among the branches of the federal government to prevent any one of them from becoming too powerful. A two-part Congress was created, with a Senate that had equal representation of the states and a House of Representatives where representation is based on states’ populations. But the U.S. Constitution gave the true power to the American citizens. To make sure the rights of the citizens were protected, ten amendments were added to the end of the Constitution that spelled out the freedoms that U.S. citizens would have. This became known as the Bill of Rights.
- The Constitution of the United States of America
The entire text of the Constitution, including the Preamble, the Bill of Rights, and all the Amendments.
- The National Constitution Center
To learn more about Constitution Day and the events surrounding it this year, check out the National Constitution Center’s website.
- The Charters of Freedom: Constitution of the United States
Explore the history and issues behind the creation of the Constitution.