Celebrating the US Constitution

Posted on September 15th, 2017 by

naturalization ceremonyOn September 17th, 1787, delegates to the Constitutional Convention signed the US Constitution. Every year, the signing of the Constitution is celebrated by observing Constitution Day – honoring both our founding legal document and people who become American citizens.

Before the US entered World War II, many states and, eventually, the federal government embraced “I am an American Day” as a moment to celebrate immigrants and values articulated in the Constitution. This later was declared Constitution Day to be celebrated every year on September 17th. Supreme Court Justice Learned Hand addressed 150,000 newly naturalized citizens and over a million others in Central Park in 1944, saying:

We have gathered here to affirm a faith, a faith in a common purpose, a common conviction, a common devotion. Some of us have chosen America as the land of our adoption; the rest have come from those who did the same. For this reason we have some right to consider ourselves a picked group, a group of those who had the courage to break from the past and brave the dangers and the loneliness of a strange land. What was the object that nerved us, or those who went before us, to this choice? We sought liberty; freedom from oppression, freedom from want, freedom to be ourselves. This we then sought; this we now believe that we are by way of winning. What do we mean when we say that first of all we seek liberty? I often wonder whether we do not rest our hopes too much upon constitutions, upon laws and upon courts. These are false hopes; believe me, these are false hopes. Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it. While it lies there it needs no constitution, no law, no court to save it. And what is this liberty which must lie in the hearts of men and women? It is not the ruthless, the unbridled will; it is not freedom to do as one likes. That is the denial of liberty, and leads straight to its overthrow. A society in which men recognize no check upon their freedom soon becomes a society where freedom is the possession of only a savage few; as we have learned to our sorrow.

What then is the spirit of liberty? I cannot define it; I can only tell you my own faith. The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which seeks to understand the mind of other men and women; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which weighs their interests alongside its own without bias; the spirit of liberty remembers that not even a sparrow falls to earth unheeded; the spirit of liberty is the spirit of Him who, near two thousand years ago, taught mankind that lesson it has never learned but never quite forgotten; that there may be a kingdom where the least shall be heard and considered side by side with the greatest. And now in that spirit, that spirit of an America which has never been, and which may never be; nay, which never will be except as the conscience and courage of Americans create it; yet in the spirit of that America which lies hidden in some form in the aspirations of us all; in the spirit of that America for which our young men are at this moment fighting and dying; in that spirit of liberty and of America I ask you to rise and with me pledge our faith in the glorious destiny of our beloved country.

You can pick up a free pocket constitution in the library to keep. You never know – you might need it some day. We will also have frost your own cookies in the library on Monday with the support of the Office of the Dean of Students. And of course we have a guide to resources on the Constitution.

Image from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) – Naturalization Ceremony, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=52189746

 

Comments are closed.