The Government Domain: Back to School for Constitution Day

By Peggy Garvin

Peggy Garvin of Garvin Information Consulting is author of The United States Government Internet Manual (Bernan Press) and contributing author for The Congressional Deskbook (TheCapitol.Net) .

Published August 14, 2005

The teachers, students, and federal executive employees of the United States are all to observe Constitution Day this September and every September hereafter with some sort of edifying lesson, program, or distributed materials about our Constitution. (But no federal holiday; you will get your mail.) Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) added a provision to this effect to an appropriations bill in late 2004, so 2005 brings its debut.

The following guide to relevant web resources is intended to help those teachers, students, and federal employees—as well as an army of web site designers, reference librarians, non-profit organizations, and program planners—get ready for the day. And what is that day? September 17, the anniversary of the signing of the Constitution, which falls on a Saturday this year. So look for official programs immediately before or after that weekend.

The list below begins with links to existing legal language on the new observance. Other web sites described here represent a select sample of the resources available to Constitution Day planners. There are many individuals and institutions providing educational material about the Constitution, and more resources will no doubt be coming online as the day nears.

I. Constitution Day Government Documents
II. Constitution and Related Historical Documents
III. Sample Speeches
IV. Teaching Resources

I. Constitution Day Government Documents

The following government documents concern the establishment of the Constitution Day observance.

Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2005 , Public Law 108-447. The Constitution Day provisions appear at 118 Stat. 2809, 3344-45 (Section 111). The PDF version of this lengthy public law is available through GPO Access. The Constitution Day language is near the end of the law, in Division J – Other Matters.

An excerpt is reprinted here for your convenience:

SEC. 111. (a) The head of each Federal agency or department shall—

(1) provide each new employee of the agency or department with educational and training materials concerning the United States Constitution as part of the orientation materials provided to the new employee; and
(2) provide educational and training materials concerning the United States Constitution to each employee of the agency or department on September 17 of each year.

b) Each educational institution that receives Federal funds for a fiscal year shall hold an educational program on the United States Constitution on September 17 of such year for the students served by the educational institution.

Other provisions concern amending 36 United States Code §106 to change the name of the day from “Citizenship Day” to “Constitution Day and Citizenship Day.”

Notice of Implementation of Constitution Day and Citizenship Day on September 17 of Each Year, 70 Fed. Reg. 29727 (May 24, 2005).
This notice applies to educational institutions receiving federal funding from the Department of Education. It refers institutions to web resources available from the National Archives and Library of Congress, and states that “when September 17 falls on a Saturday, Sunday, or holiday, Constitution Day shall be held during the preceding or
following week.”

II. Constitution and Related Historical Documents

There are many free, online sources for the Constitution and related historical documents. Among them:

GPO Access : Constitution Main Page
The Government Printing Office produces the Constitution in several formats, and links to them all here. This page showcases the Congressional Research Service (CRS) publication The Constitution of the United States of America: Analysis and Interpretation: Annotations of Cases Decided by the Supreme Court of the United States in its 1992 edition with supplements for 1996, 1998, and 2000. It can be searched or browsed, and each section has a unique URL for building direct links to the section in HTML or PDF format. (A quick look at the same appropriations bill that establishes Constitution Day shows that Congress has designated funds for CRS to “revise and extend the Annotated Constitution.”)

Other versions that GPO has printed as Senate or House documents are available in plain text and PDF. These include The U.S. Constitution with the Declaration of Independence, The U.S. Constitution as Amended, with Unratified Amendments & Analytical Index, and The Constitution of the United States and the Declaration of Independence, Pocket Edition.

Library of Congress : Primary Documents in American History: United States Constitution
The Library of Congress pulls together links to its various online resources, including the Broadsides collection described below, for this one-stop collection guide. One highlight is the set of digitized volumes from Max Farrand’s The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787. Farrand’s Records includes the proceedings of the Constitutional Convention, and the notes and letters of James Madison and other participants.

This site also links to the digitized papers of James Madison from the Library’s Manuscript Division, other historic collections, and a selective bibliography for adult and younger readers.

Library of Congress : Continental Congress and Constitutional Convention Broadsides Collection
Part of the Library’s American Memory offerings, this digitized collection holds hundreds of documents relating to the work of the Continental Congress and the drafting and ratification of the Constitution. It features an early printing of the Constitution.

The Broadsides Collection page also links to supplemental teaching material. The web presentation “To Form a More Perfect Union” includes a section on Creating a Constitution, which links to the documents—including the 1787 committee draft of the Constitution—within the context of the historical narrative. The Broadsides page also links to related curriculum material called Collection Connections. Note that the American Memory Collections provide a “Document ID” at the bottom of each item record; the URL can be used for linking purposes.

Library of Congress : Federalist Papers on Thomas
The series of essays known as the Federalist Papers was written by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison to explain—and to encourage New Yorkers to ratify—the proposed United States Constitution. The essays are often used for guidance in understanding the intentions of those who drafted the Constitution. This HTML version of the Federalist Papers is set up so that each essay can be linked to individually.

National Archives : Charters of Freedom: Constitution of the United States
The Archives presents high resolution images of the fading parchment Constitution and Bills of Rights. (The image files are quite large. For technical tips on using them, see the high resolution downloads page.)

This site also features a brief history of the creation of the Constitution, roughly one hundred questions and answers concerning the document and its impact, and biographies of the delegates to the Constitutional Convention.

United States Senate : Reference: The Constitution
This version places each section of the Constitution, Bill of Rights, and subsequent amendments alongside a brief and simple explanations.

Yale Avalon Project : The American Constitution: A Documentary Record
The Avalon Project presents HTML versions of early American historical documents arranged under the following headings: Roots of the Constitution; Revolution and Independence; Credentials of the Members of the Federal Convention; The Constitutional Convention; and Ratification and Formation of the Government. In addition to the Constitution, documents include the English Bill of Rights from 1689; original American state constitutions from 1776; variant texts of plans proposed at the Constitutional Convention; and the ratification documents from individual states.

III. Sample Speeches

These three speeches available on the web are provided as examples, should you be called upon to address a group.

Ordinary Heroes: Founders of Our Republic, by Robert V. Remini.
Presented for the National Endowment for Humanities Heroes of History lecture.

Remarks at the National Constitution Center, by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.
Presented on the occasion of receiving the Center’s Liberty Medal Award.

Understanding the Constitution of the United States, by John Charles Thomas.
Prepared for an address to federal employees.

IV. Teaching Resources

The following web sites offer teaching or program support appropriate for Constitution Day.

Office of Personnel Management : Constitution Initiative
OPM set up this web page “to provide Federal Executive Branch agencies and departments resources to support training of their employees on the U.S. Constitution.” One section describes the Constitution’s Link to the Oath of Office taken by federal employees.

National Archives : Teaching with Documents: Observing Constitution Day
The Archives provides suggestions for teaching activities. “Lessons by Era,” in the left-hand of the page, links to historical incidents from 1754 to present—many of which can be tied to Constitutional principles and amendments.

National Archives : Celebrate Constitution Day
This page links to specific events and activities that the Archives has planned for Constitution Day 2005.

National Endowment for the Humanities : Before and Beyond the Constitution: What Should a President do?
This prepared curriculum unit about “the role of President as defined in the Constitution” has material and guidance for two or three class sessions.

Constitution Center : Centuries of Citizenship: A Constitutional Timeline
The Constitution Center is an independent, non-partisan organization. Their web site offers a timeline marking key events in our constitutional history from 1765 to the present. The site has an interactive, Flash-based version for broadband connections and an HTML version for low-bandwidth connections. The Constitution Center site also presents an engaging Interactive Constitution based on The Words We Live By: Your Annotated Guide to the Constitution by Linda R. Monk (New York: Hyperion, 2003).

National Public Radio and New York Times : Justice Learning
The Justice Learning web site is supported by the Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands in partnership with the New York Times Learning Network and NPR’s Justice Talking show. The site has a special section for Constitution Day, promising “Constitution Day programming made easy.” They will be airing two programs that can be used by any school or group. The Classroom section of the site was still under development at the time this column was being prepared.

Posted in: Constitutional Law, Libraries & Librarians, The Government Domain