How Can We Observe Constitution Day?


Publication Date: 9/11/2009

“We the People”
September 17 is Constitution Day:
How Can We Observe It?

On September 17, 1787, the U.S. Constitution was signed by 39 of our founding fathers. According to Dr. Stephen Wirls of Rhodes′ Political Science Department, Constitution Day is a time for us to “reflect on our form of government and what it was designed to do. The constitution is a very important document. It quietly secures our safety, prosperity, liberty and national security.”

While Constitution Day is historically the day the U.S. Constitution was signed in Philadelphia at the Constitutional Convention, it is not the day the document went into effect.  It wasn’t ratified until March 1789, establishing it as the “supreme law of the land.” In 2004, the holiday was created with the passage of an amendment written by Sen. Robert Byrd. The law requires that “all publicly funded educational institutions must provide educational programming on the history of the American Constitution on that day.”

As Professor Wirls points out, “An irony of Constitution Day is that the words of the Constitution must be tortured pretty severely before they will authorize the national government to require a celebration.  Rather than being, in Rousseau’s words, ′forced to be free,′ we should freely celebrate this great foundation of liberty.”

Wirls admits, however, that we ought to appreciate the extraordinary endurance of this government for well over 200 years.

How is Rhodes celebrating the day? Dr. Charles Zelden of Nova Southeastern will present the college’s Annual Constitution Day Lecture on September 14. 

Wirls teaches courses on American politics, and his expertise includes Congress, political theory, and the U.S. Constitution. He was a consultant to the Memphis City Council, 2004-2007, and to the Memphis City Charter Commission, 2006-2008.

For media interested in speaking with Dr. Wirls:
Phone: (901) 843-3871

(information compiled by Rhodes Student Associate Brianna McCullough ′10)