"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."

With these words, We began our great experiment with Democracy 236 years ago.  In honor of this momentous date, Constitution Day and Citizenship Day were established as a federal day of observance to commemorate the signing of the United States Constitution on September 17, 1787.  (Being that Sept. 17th falls on a Sunday this year, the actual day of observance will be Monday, Sept. 18th.)

In declaring the first Citizenship Day in 1952, President Truman wrote in his Proclamation 2984 "Whereas it is most fitting that every citizen of the United States, whether native-born or foreign born, should on September 17 of each year give special thought and consideration to his rights and responsibilities under our Constitution."  President Obama would later write in his Proclamation 8418 "To succeed, the democracy established in our Constitution requires the active participation of its citizenry.  Each of us has a responsibility to learn about our Constitution and teach younger generations about its contents and history."

Congress would later change the designation of Citizenship Day to Constitution Day and Citizenship Day in 2004.  Continuing in this spirit, and in service to the day's educational mission, a whole host of public and private organizations have put together resources and activities to inform and enrich us as Americans.  One of my favorites is the National Constitution Center in historic Philadelphia.  The Center and Museum are located just blocks from Independence Hall where the U.S. Constitution was debated and signed.  Admission to the National Constitution Center will be free both Sunday and Monday in honor of the occasion with numerous online and in-person events scheduled.

At the National Archives Museum in Washington D.C., one may see original copies of the Constitution, Bill of Rights, and Declaration of Independence proudly known as the Charters of Freedom in the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom.  In exciting news, the Archivist of the United States, Dr. Colleen Shogan, announced earlier this summer that the National Archives is planning to place the Emancipation Proclamation on permanent display in the Rotunda.

Dr. Shogan said "When President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, he wrote that 'all persons held as slaves within said designated States, and parts of States, are, and henceforward shall be free.'"  "Although the full privileges of freedom were not immediately bestowed upon all Americans with Lincoln's order, I am proud that the National Archives will enshrine this seminal document for public display adjacent to our nation's founding documents.  Together, they tell a more comprehensive story of the history of all Americans and document progress in our nation's continuous growth toward a more perfect Union."

The Library of Congress has a world of interesting items for you to explore such as the Constitution of the United States: Primary Documents in American History.  This Digital Collection includes the records of the Constitutional Convention known as Farrand's Records, as well as the papers of Alexander Hamilton, George Washington, James Madison, and Thomas Jefferson.  There is also the Constitution Annotated for the public to view online.  This resource provides a comprehensive overview to the Constitution and how it has been interpreted over time.  New this summer as well is the Constitution Annotated: A Research Guide to help users better understand and navigate this important title.

Scholars here at UW-Madison have also made enormous contributions to the study and understanding of the U.S. Constitution.  The University is home to the nationally renowned Center for the Study of the American Constitution (CSAC).  The Center's masterwork The Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution is freely accessible to the public through the UW Digital Collections.  Like the other websites mentioned above, the more you explore the more you will discover.  CSAC's website includes a video series on the American Founding Period, maps of the original thirteen States and how they voted to ratify the Constitution, lesson plans to use in the classroom, and an extensive lineup of books and broadsides available for purchase from their online bookstore.

UW-Madison will also be hosting a Constitution Day lecture on Wednesday, Sept. 13th, at noon.  The Center for the Study of Liberal Democracy, the UW Law School, and Professor Vincent Phillip Muñoz will explore this year's Constitution Day theme: "Freedom from Religion or Freedom for Religion?  Religious Liberty and the American Founding."  The lecture is open to the public, and will be held in the Wisconsin Idea Room, Room 159, of the Education Building on Bascom Hill.

Submitted by Eric Taylor, Evening Reference Librarian on September 10, 2023

This article appears in the categories: Law Library