On September 17, 1787, the representatives of each of the states of America, hoping to gather themselves into a single political entity, put their signatures to a sheet of parchment. The Constitution was for its time the most liberal — even radical — of documents. In a world of kings and emperors, the new country would be ruled by the people through their elected representatives. With the memory fresh of their forbearers fleeing religious persecution in Europe and of the devastating religious wars carried out for over a century, their land would erect a barrier between church and state. Remembering the political oppression of the Old World, the United States of America would guarantee the freedoms of speech and of assembly and of the press. The failures of this new document were glaring with regard to slavery and the rights of minorities and women, and can’t be ignored, but its successes were truly monumental, even earth-shaking.
Thanks to the dedication of a woman named Louise Leigh, a law was passed on December 8, 2004 (public law 108-447) designating every September 17 as Constitution Day. Constitution Day is dedicated to the study and awareness of this remarkable document that guides our nation. In 1878, William Gladstone said the Constitution was “the most wonderful work ever struck off at a given time by the brain and purpose of man.”
Learn more about Constitution Day from the Annenberg Classroom.