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Posted September 16, 2017

Celebrating Our Government's Birthday

The U.S. Constitution Day was signed 230 years ago on Sept. 17.

Most Americans know that July 4th is our nation's birthday. Far fewer Americans know that Sept. 17th is the birthday of our government, the date in 1787 on which delegates to the Philadelphia Convention completed and signed the U.S. Constitution.

The ideas on which America was founded -- commitments to the rule of law, limited government and the ideals of liberty, equality and justice -- are embodied in the Constitution. Constitution Day is intended to celebrate not only the birthday of our government, but the ideas that make us Americans.

Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia accomplished a long-standing goal, passing a law designating Sept. 17 as Constitution Day. Schools and federal agencies are required to hold educational programs on the Constitution on Constitution Day.

APS is no exception. Our schools are asked to plan an instructional activity for their students to commemorate Constitution Day. (Because it falls on a Sunday this year, Constitution Day will be observed on Monday, Sept. 18).

In honor of Constitution Day, we have compiled 13 interesting facts (for the 13 colonies) about our Constitution.

  • The Constitution contains 4,543 words, making it the oldest and shortest written Constitution of any major government in the world.
  • The purpose of the Continental Congress was to amend or change the Articles of Confederation. Behind closed doors, guarded by sentries, the delegates agreed to write an entirely new constitution. All states sent representatives except for Rhode Island, who feared a strong central government.
  • In the four months of the Continental Congress, delegates debated for five hours a day, six days a week, taking only one 10-day vacation.
  • The word “democracy” does not appear once in the Constitution.
  • Of the 42 delegates who attended most of the meetings, 39 actually signed the Constitution. Edmund Randolph and George Mason of Virginia and Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts refused to sign due in part due to the lack of a bill of rights.
  • Of the Constitution's 39 signers, 23 were veterans of the Revolutionary War, and four were born in Ireland. Jonathan Dayton, 26, was the youngest to sign the Constitution while Benjamin Franklin, at the age of 81, was the oldest.
  • Two of America’s “Founding Fathers,” Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, did not attend the Convention and thus sign the Constitution. Jefferson was in France serving as the U.S. minister while Adams was serving in Great Britain.
  • As Benjamin Franklin left the Pennsylvania State House after the final meeting of the Constitutional Convention on Sept. 17, 1787, he was approached by the wife of the mayor of Philadelphia asking what the new government would be. Franklin replied, “A republic, madam. If you can keep it."
  • Delaware was the first state to ratify the Constitution by a unanimous vote on Dec. 7, 1787. New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify the Constitution on June 21, 1788 by a vote of 57-47. Only needing two-thirds of the states to ratify, the vote by New Hampshire officially made the Constitution the "law of the land."
  • There was initially a question as to how to address the President. The Senate proposed that he be addressed as “His Highness the President of the United States of America and Protector of their Liberties.” Both the House of Representatives and the Senate compromised on the use of “President of the United States.”
  • There have been approximately 11,000 amendments proposed for being added to the Constitution, 500 of which to change the “indirect” election of the president via Electoral College.
  • The original Constitution is on display at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, it was moved to Fort Knox for safekeeping.
  • John Adams referred to the Constitution as “the greatest single effort of national deliberation that the world has ever seen” and George Washington wrote to the Marquis de Lafayette “It (the Constitution) appears to me, then, little short of a miracle.”
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