American Holidays: Constitution Day

Contributor: Meghan Vestal. Lesson ID: 11634

When a country is threatened by outside, or even internal, forces, citizens debate what their country stands for and loyalty might be tested. Discover a two-holiday holiday, and try to start your own!

categories

Civics, United States

subject
History
learning style
Visual
personality style
Beaver
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

Audio:

Each year Constitution Day is combined with another holiday. What other holiday takes place on Constitution Day? Did you know there IS a Constitution Day and what constitutes it?

The course of events leading up to the creation of Constitution Day proves that the voices and opinions of a few people can make a huge difference!

Before you begin reading about the history and traditions associated with Constitution Day, tell your teacher or parent what you think Constitution Day is and why it is celebrated. 

Constitution Day did not originate as Constitution Day; initially, the holiday had little to do with the Constitution.

In 1939, New York newspaper owner William Randolph Hearst proposed a holiday to celebrate American citizenship. Hearst owned many newspapers that put out daily publications, and began printing this notion in his papers. Since his newspapers had a large readership, the idea caught on and, when combined with Hearst's political connections, prompted Congress to make the third Sunday in May a national holiday called, "I Am an American Day." The day was used to celebrate being an American and to honor those who had recently become American citizens. In the early 1940s, the date was used to inspire patriotism in the midst of the United States' involvement in World War II.

I Am an American Day remained an important date until it saw a change in 1953.

Olga T. Weber, a resident of Ohio, felt the holiday needed a change after World War II. She petitioned congress to change the name of the holiday and move the holiday to the date the Constitution was signed. It took Weber more than a year, but eventually Congress created a new law changing I Am an American Day to Citizenship Day and moving the date to September 17. Even though the date was moved to the date when the Constitution was signed, the holiday was still mostly about celebrating those who had recently become U.S. citizens.

Citizenship Day remained the singular holiday on September 17 until 2004.


In 1997, an ordinary citizen named Louise Leigh completed a course in constitutional history and fell in love with the Constitution. She wanted others to feel the same pride and respect for the Constitution that she felt, so she created a nonprofit organization called Constitution Day, Inc. Constitution Day, Inc. sought to educate Americans about the history and importance of the Constitution, and called on Congress to make Constitution Day a national holiday. In 2004, Leigh's wish was granted when September 17 was made Constitution Day and Citizenship Day to highlight the history of the Constitution, encourage patriotism, and celebrate new citizens of the United States.

The following year, the Department of Education supported the shift to call September 17 Constitution Day and Citizenship Day. Laws were created that added two requirements to the holiday.

  • First, the head of every federal agency must provide its employees with resources and materials about the Constitution on Constitution Day.
  • The second part of the law stated that all schools that receive federal funds must hold some type of program about the Constitution for students on Constitution Day. As of 2017, these provisions are still upheld in federal agencies and federally-funded schools.

How did the voices of a few people make Constitution Day a reality? What holiday coexists with Constitution Day? Do you think these holidays should be grouped together? Share your responses with your teacher or parent. Next, move on to the Got It? section to learn more about the history of Constitution Day.

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