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Signing of the Constitution by Howard Chandler Christy (1940) hangs in the House wing of the Capitol. (Architect of the Capitol)

Today is Constitution Day, celebrated in its current guise since 2004. Students and government workers across the country learn about the Constitution on this day each year. In addition, it’s also Citizenship Day, a time to recognize all those who have become citizens of the United States. (For more on the history of Constitution Day, which traces its roots to I Am An American Day, see this Library of Congress Law Library page.)

Here at USCHS, we’re naturally fans of Article I of the Constitution, which established the legislative branch (Congress), so we’re pleased to see that the National Constitution Center is focusing on that branch in this year’s celebrations. Article II covers the executive branch (the president and departments below him or her), and Article III addresses the judicial branch (court system). The remainder of the document covers state/state and state/federal relationships, amending the Constitution, the continuance of government obligations contracted under the Articles of Confederation, and ratification. The amendments follow.

September 17 was chosen as Constitution Day because it’s the day that Constitutional Convention delegates signed the completed document in 1787. June 21 would also be a good day to learn about our government’s framework: it’s the day New Hampshire ratified the Constitution in 1788. It was the ninth state to do so, and the action brought the document into force and our current system of government into being (more or less).  Some states, such as Massachusetts, voted for ratification only after assurances that the new government would soon work on amendments addressing issues like guaranteeing the freedom of speech. Rhode Island was the last of the original colonies to ratify the Constitution in 1790. The Senate History Office has a good overview of the process of writing and ratifying the Constitution (plus a paragraph about the history of Constitution Day), as does the History Channel.

The U.S. Capitol Historical Society has lesson plans for teachers. The National Archives also has great resources.

In honor of the “world’s longest surviving written charter of government” (Senate History), tell us your favorite thing about the Constitution in the comments!

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