Observing Constitution Day

By Whitmer, John | Social Studies Review, Spring 2007 | Go to article overview

Observing Constitution Day


Whitmer, John, Social Studies Review


The U.S. Constitution has a rich history. Just as Americans have struggled through the years to interpret and apply its meaning, scholars have engaged in great debates over the Constitution's legacy. When President George W. Bush signed H.R. 4818, the Consolidated Appropriations Act (Omnibus Spending Bill), on December 8, 2004, nearly all educators were forced into a debate on the Constitution. For buried in the 650-page law was a rider that amended Title 36 of the United States Code (Patriotic National Observances, Ceremonies, and Organizations) that substituted "Constitution Day" for "Citizenship Day." The amendment read: "Each educational institution that receives Federal funds for a fiscal year shall hold an educational program on the United States Constitution on September 17 of such year for the students served by the educational institution." In other words, any school receiving federal funds-from head start to private universities whose students receive federal financial aid-must teach about the Constitution on or around the 17th. This short, nationalistic, and seemingly innocuous amendment had tremendous ramifications. As many educators found out, the law raised more questions than it answered: What constitutes an "educational program?" Who should put on the program? What should be taught?

Before answering these questions, it is helpful to understand the context in which Americans remember and celebrate the Constitution. Of course the first promoters of the document were Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay. They wrote a series of polemics, which were designed to convince state legislatures to adopt the newer constitution and were published from October 1787 to May 1788 as the Federalist. Because of their participation in the Constitutional Convention as well as their eloquent arguments, Hamilton, Madison, and Jay have been inducted into the celebrated club known as the Founding Fathers. What about the three delegates at the Convention who refused to sign the document: Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts and Edmund Randolph and George Mason of Virginia? Should we celebrate Patrick Henry, George Clinton and Samuel Adams, all prominent revolutionary heroes who balked at ratifying the new document? Didn't they provide an important role in shaping the Constitution and its debate? Shouldn't their efforts be remembered? After all, the Federalist was written in response to and anticipation of Anti-Federalist arguments.

Like most good debates, a compromise over ratification was eventually reached. The first Congress under the Constitution appeased Anti-Federalist concerns about federal encroachment by passing twelve amendments to the Constitution, of which the states approved ten. But the states adopted the Constitution and the Bill of Rights well after September 17, 1787. This begs an important question about Constitution Day: are the political discussion about ratification and the amendments to be included in the "educational program?" While the law does not stipulate, the practical answer is a qualified, yes. It depends on the maturity of the students. To recognize only the document signed but not yet adopted or amended by the states would mean to celebrate the three-fifths rule, slavery and the disenfranchisement of women. This might engender good debate for college or high school students but would open Pandora's box at elementary schools. In other words, the teaching of the Constitution is left up to the interpretation of the educators who will put on the program. In a very real way, then, Congress's allowing educators to interpret the content for Constitution Day reflects the "Elastic Clause" that the delegates wrote into the Constitution. It allowed future generations to interpret and apply the Constitution to their needs.

At the same time, however, it is clear that explaining the side of the Anti-Federalists puts teachers at risk in today's political climate. As historian David Wootton has argued, "it is by reading the Federalist as a reply to anti-Federalist arguments that one can best begin the study of the Constitution and the ideas it embodies. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Observing Constitution Day
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.