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Constitution Day: Importance, Purpose & Facts

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  • 0:04 Constitution Day
  • 1:18 U.S. Constitution History
  • 2:21 Creating Constitution Day
  • 4:15 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

The Constitution is an incredibly important document in the United States. In this lesson, we're going to check out the history and motivation behind the holiday celebrating this document.

Constitution Day

On July 4, 1776, the founding figures of the United States signed the Declaration of Independence. That's why we celebrate the 4th of July every year, as the day when America became a free nation. However, that's only part of the story of this country. You see, the Declaration of Independence severed the colonies from the British Empire, but that's it. This document didn't actually turn the colonies into a single, united nation or create a government to oversee them. In fact, when the Declaration of Independence uses the phrase ''united States of America'', it's written just like that, with a lower case 'u.'

Other documents would have to be drafted to turn these 13 rebelling colonies into a functioning country. The most important of these was the United States Constitution. On September 17, 1787, the founding figures formally signed this document and sent it to the states for ratification. Today, we commemorate the signing of the United States Constitution with an annual event known as Constitution Day, celebrated on September 17 of each year. So, while the Fourth of July may accurately be seen as the birthday of the nation, September 17 is the birthday of our government.

U.S. Constitution History

Celebrating Constitution Day requires a brief understanding of the U.S. Constitution itself. After the Declaration of Independence was signed, the founding figures did try to create a formal government. They drafted something called the Articles of Confederation, which gave Congress the legal authority to govern the rebelling colonies as a single nation during the Revolution.

After the Revolution, however, it became apparent that this government wouldn't work. It was too weak. Paranoid of creating another oppressive government, the Americans intentionally made Congress weak. It couldn't even reliably collect taxes, let alone enforce laws. After a group of unpaid war veterans started a rebellion that almost toppled the Massachusetts state government (known as Shays' Rebellion), it became apparent that a real federal government, with real power, was needed. So, the Articles of Confederation were scrapped, and after a lot of debating, the delegates of the Constitutional Convention completed the U.S. Constitution, signing it on September 17.

Creating Constitution Day

Believe it or not, many of our federal holidays didn't actually emerge until the 20th century. The history of Constitution Day starts back in 1940, with the creation of an event in May known as ''I Am an American Day.'' The purpose of this day was to celebrate all those who had become American citizens (through either the process of naturalization or coming of age). In 1952, this event was moved to September 17, directly connecting citizenship with the signing of the Constitution. This relocated holiday was known as Citizenship Day. To goal was to both celebrate new citizens and provide a national day of instructing these citizens on their rights and obligations within the American Republic.

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