Celebrated on , Constitution Day, also known as Constitution and Citizenship Day, honors the document that guarantees Americans their essential rights. Since its ratification in 1787, the Constitution of the United States has served as the basis for all U.S. laws.
To prevent the abuses of power they felt subjected to under the British monarchy, the Founding Fathers framed the Constitution carefully, distributing power between three branches of government. The Constitution outlines the government’s powers, the limitations on those powers, and the rights of citizens. It also outlines an amendment process for making changes in the future.
History of Constitution Day
After the American Revolution freed the American colonies from British rule, the Founding Fathers wanted to make sure the new government couldn’t abuse its power. At the 1787 Constitutional Convention, delegates from twelve of the thirteen new states gathered to draft the document that would serve as the basis of all future U.S. law.
The Constitution calls for three branches of government with equal powers, creating a system commonly known as “checks and balances.” Each branch has power to mitigate the others. Powers not assigned to one of the three branches are left to the individual states.
Delegates at the Convention had two options for setting up the framework of the new legislative branch. The Virginia Plan, predictably supported by larger states, called for representation based on population. The competing New Jersey Plan called for equal representation for each state. The two-house solution known as the Great Compromise combines aspects of both plans and is still in use today.
The Constitution also outlines the responsibilities and powers of the judicial and executive branches, how the President is elected, and other nitty-gritty details.
The Founding Fathers recognized that society evolves, and that the Constitution would require a mechanism for making changes. However, they wanted to ensure that making changes would require agreement from a large number of states. To alter the Constitution, a proposed amendment must be ratified by three-fourths of states.
In 1940, Congress and the President passed a resolution creating “I Am an American Day,” observed on the third Sunday in May. In 1952, the holiday was renamed to “Constitution Day” and moved to September 17, the day in 1787 that the Constitution was signed. More than 50 years later in 2004, Congress once again changed the name of the holiday to Constitution Day and Citizenship Day.
Constitution Day timeline
Constitution and Citizenship Day first created
Congress passes a resolution creating “I Am an American Day,” recognizing new American citizens.
Bill of Rights ratified
The first ten amendments of the Constitution, known as the Bill of Rights, are enacted.
Inspired by the American Revolution, the French take up arms against the monarchy, eventually toppling King Louis XVI.
- June 21, 1788
U.S. Constitution goes into effect
The U.S. Constitution goes into effect when New Hampshire becomes the ninth state to ratify it.
Constitution Day FAQs
How long did it take to write the Constitution?
The Constitution was written in about four months in the summer of 1787.
When was the Bill of Rights added?
The first ten amendments to the Constitution, known as the Bill of Rights, were ratified in December 1791.
What powers does the Constitution explicitly give the President?
Article II of the Constitution gives the U.S. President the specific powers to: sign or veto legislation, command the armed forces, ask for the opinion of Cabinet members, convene or adjourn Congressional sessions, grant pardons, and receive ambassadors. The President can also make treaties, provided that they are ratified by two-thirds of the Senate.
Constitution Day Activities
Read the Constitution
How familiar are you with our nation’s most important document? If your answer is “not very,” there are many resources that will help you read and digest the Constitution at your own pace.
Congratulate an Immigrant
Do you have any friends who have passed the Citizenship test to become naturalized U.S. citizens? Congratulate them on their achievement today.
Get a “Pocket Constitution”
Did you know you can buy convenient, pocket-sized versions of the Constitution to keep with you? Check your local bookstore or educational supply shop, or order one online.
5 Fascinating Facts About The Constitution
Thomas Jefferson never signed it
Some very important Founding Fathers never actually signed the Constitution. Thomas Jefferson, for example, was away in Paris serving as an ambassador to France.
“Pennsylvania” is spelled wrong at the top
In the list of signatories, Pennsylvania is spelled with just one ‘N.’
The right to vote isn’t defined
Because the Constitution did not set out rules for who gets to vote, minority groups have gained suffrage through subsequent amendments.
Less than 1% of constitutional amendments pass
Of 11,600 proposed amendments, only 27 have been ratified, making the chance of passing an amendment 0.23% — or, rounded down, 0.
Ben Franklin had to be carried
The aging statesman had to be carried to and from the Convention meetings due to his poor health, and needed assistance signing the document.
Why Constitution Day is Important
The U.S. Constitution inspired others
Our Constitution has served as the basis for other similar documents around the world.
The Constitution provides our most important rights
The Bill of Rights and other parts of the Constitution guarantee the essential liberties that we value most as Americans.
The people can change it
As the Founders worked on the Constitution together, they quibbled over what title the head of government should have. After throwing out “His Highness the President of the United States of America and Protector of their Liberties,” “Electoral Highness” and “Excellency;” the delegates settled on "The President of the United States of America." Catchy!