The law establishing the holiday was created in 2004 with the passage of an amendment by Senator Robert Byrd to the Omnibus spending bill of 2004. Before this law was enacted, the holiday on September 17th was known as "Citizenship Day." In addition to renaming the holiday "Constitution Day and Citizenship Day," the act mandates that all publicly funded educational institutions provide educational programming on the history of the American Constitution on that day. Just in case you might have just thought that you missed it, this holiday is not observed by granting time off work for federal employees!
In May 2005, the United States Department of Education announced the enactment of this law and that it would apply to any school receiving federal funds of any kind. Teachers and schools are free to design Constitution Day programming that best addresses the needs of their students. Federal executive employees observe the day with some sort of edifying lesson, program, or distributed materials about our Constitution.
For me, who as a commissioned officer took an oath to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic," understanding these words was an important part of our education. Gaining understanding begins with the Preamble:
We The People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
We are fortunate that some governments offices and others have several handy links to resources that can be used to enhance learning:
- GPO Access: Constitution Main Page
The Government Printing Office produces the Constitution in several formats, and links to all of them here. This page showcases the Congressional Research Service (CRS) publication The Constitution of the United States of America: Analysis and Interpretation: Annotations of Cases Decided by the Supreme Court of the United States in its 2002 edition with the 2004 and 2006 supplements. It can be searched or browsed, and each section has a unique URL for building direct links to the section in HTML or PDF format. GPO also has printed the Constitution in the form of Senate or House documents, and these are available on the same page, in plain text and PDF. PDF versions include The U.S. Constitution with the Declaration of Independence, The U.S. Constitution as Amended, with Unratified Amendments & Analytical Index, and The Constitution of the United States and the Declaration of Independence, Pocket Edition.
- Library of Congress: Continental Congress and Constitutional Convention Broadsides Collection
Part of the Library’s American Memory offerings, this digitized collection holds hundreds of documents relating to the work of the Continental Congress and the drafting and ratification of the Constitution. It features an early printing of the Constitution. The Broadsides Collection page also links to supplemental teaching material. The web presentation "To Form a More Perfect Union" includes a section on Creating a Constitution, which links to the documents — including the 1787 committee draft of the Constitution — within the context of the historical narrative. The Broadsides page also links to related curriculum material called Collection Connections.
- National Archives: Charters of Freedom: Constitution of the United States
The Archives presents high resolution images of the fading parchment Constitution and Bills of Rights. (The image files are quite large. For technical tips on using them, see the high resolution downloads page.) This site also features material on the history and impact of the Constitution and related documents, and biographies of the delegates to the Constitutional Convention.
- National Public Radio and New York Times: Justice Learning
The Justice Learning web site includes an interactive Constitution Guide. The site is supported by the Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands in partnership with the HYPERLINK "http://www.nytimes.com/learning/"New York Times Learning Network and NPR’s Justice Talking show.
- United States Senate: Reference: The Constitution
This version places each section of the Constitution, Bill of Rights, and subsequent amendments alongside brief and simple explanations. The Senate website also has a Constitution Day page.
- Yale Avalon Project: The American Constitution: A Documentary Record
The Avalon Project presents HTML versions of early American historical documents arranged under the following headings: Roots of the Constitution; Revolution and Independence; Credentials of the Members of the Federal Convention; The Constitutional Convention; and Ratification and Formation of the Government. In addition to the Constitution, documents include the English Bill of Rights from 1689; original American state constitutions from 1776; variant texts of plans proposed at the Constitutional Convention; and the ratification documents from individual states.
Also, Constitution Day, Inc., a tax deductible, non profit, and non partisan organization maintains a website, http://www.constitutionday.com/
Happy learning, and Happy Constitution Day and Citizenship Day!