Thursday, Sept. 11, 2008 | 2:25 p.m.
On Sept. 18, 1787, 55 delegates from 12 states filed out of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia after crafting what would become the world’s most enduring testament to self-government, the United States Constitution.
The explosive manuscript, which only 34 of the delegates signed, was adopted by the Constitutional Convention Sept. 17, 1787, and was later ratified by conventions in each state. Delaware ratified first, Dec. 7, 1787, followed in order by Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, South Carolina, New Hampshire, Virginia, New York, North Carolina and, finally, Rhode Island, May 29, 1790. Article Seven declared that the Constitution would take effect once nine states ratified it in specially convened state conventions. New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify on June 21, 1788.
Opposition to ratification was strong, and approval by the 13 states was a tough sell. Federalists such as Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and James Madison advocated ratification; Anti-Federalists like Samuel Adams, Patrick Henry and Richard Henry Lee argued against the Constitution because they did not want a strong central government.
Their fiery debates render our present-day political rhetoric tepid. You will find Federalist arguments at www.constitution.org/fed/federa00.htm and Anti-Federalist papers at www.constitution.org/afp.htm.
Constitution Day, Sept. 17, honors the anniversary of the signing of our Constitution, the supreme law of the United States of America. We also celebrate Constitution Week from Sept. 17 to Sept. 23. President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued the first proclamation for Constitution Week on Aug. 19, 1955, to commemorate the signing of the Constitution on Sept. 17, 1787. The 1955 celebration was so successful Congress passed a resolution (Public Law 915 signed Aug. 2, 1956) that each president will annually issue a proclamation to designate Sept. 17 through 23 as Constitution Week. See the 2007 proclamation at www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2007/08/20070822-5.html.
On Dec. 8, 2004, the 108th Congress enacted the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2005, Pub. L. 108-447, which renamed Constitution Day (from Citizenship Day) and mandated that schools receiving federal funding must instruct students on the Constitution on Sept. 17. You will find the Act in the Federal Register, May 24, 2005 (Volume 70, Number 99) at www.ed.gov/legislation/FedRegister/other/2005-2/052405b.html.
University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV) will host a public Constitution Day Lecture co-sponsored by the UNLV Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost, the William S. Boyd School of Law and the College of Liberal Arts. Professor Ken I. Kersch, Department of Political Science, Boston College, will give a mid-afternoon lecture Wednesday, Sept. 17, at the Boyd Law School and at 7:30 p.m. at the Barrick Museum Auditorium. The evening lecture is free and open to the public.
The Clark County School District observes Constitution Day and Constitution Week with events and lessons specific to each school.
World Geography teacher Joye Jackson leads her Marvin M. Sedway Middle School students in a simulation of the Founding Fathers as they developed and signed our Constitution; students culminate their celebration by playing a student-created game of Jeopardy.
Social Studies students of William Nichols at Virtual High School explore approved academic Web sites focused on the Constitution and prepare presentations derived from their research. At El Dorado High School, teacher Joyce Duvall will incorporate the Constitution into math lessons.
As an eighth grade student, I memorized the Preamble to the Constitution. I tripped in a few places because I didn’t fully understand the words, but I can still recite them: “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.”
The wisdom, import and majesty of these 52 words penned 221 years ago hold the key to the freedoms we celebrate on Sept. 17.
Stefani Evans is a board-certified genealogist and a volunteer at the Regional Family History Center. She can be reached c/o the Home News, 2360 Corporate Circle, Third Floor, Henderson, NV 89074 or [email protected].