On Sept. 17, 1787, 41 delegates to the Constitutional Convention met in Philadelphia and ratified the U.S. Constitution. Included among these men were George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and other prominent Founding Fathers. Today is the 233rd anniversary of the historic event. Pennsylvania Rep. Thomas M. Foglietta explained why this document is important. “It is responsible for protecting the rights that every U.S. citizen enjoys,” he stated. “It is looked to by nations around the world as a blueprint for the formation of a democratic society.”
Founding Citizenship Day
In May 1940, Congress authorized the third Sunday in each May “for the recognition, observance and commemoration of American citizenship.” They called it “I Am an American Day.” The day was set aside to recognize anyone who reached voting age and persons of foreign birth who attainted citizenship.
Bronislava du Brissac, a Polish refugee, is credited with introducing the holiday in Huntington, Long Island, in May 1938. She founded the Helios Foundation “to propagate and inculcate knowledge, understanding and love of America among Americans, in particular among those of foreign birth.” By 1944, the Immigration and Naturalization Service encouraged every community to recognize its naturalized citizens by holding public ceremonies. These services welcomed these new citizens and reinforced the importance of citizenship. On May 21, 1944, 150,000 people swore their oath of allegiance in New York’s Central Park. Another one million attended to support the inauguration of these new citizens.
Two Holidays in One
On Feb. 29, 1952, Congress changed the name from “I Am an American Day” to “Citizenship Day.” In addition, it moved the holiday to September 17 in recognition of the ratification of the U.S. Constitution. The holiday would be not only about citizenship but also to celebrate this historic event. President Harry S. Truman encouraged a greater appreciation for the document. He declared that every citizen should “give special thought and consideration to his [or her] rights and responsibilities under our Constitution.”
In 2004, Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia urged Congress to change the name a third time. He proposed adding “Constitution Day” to the official name. This would help to further promote the importance of the U.S. Constitution on this day. Congress approved this, and September 17 to 23 is now recognized as Constitution Week.
Each year, naturalized citizens take the oath of allegiance at the National Archives Rotunda in Washington, D.C. Why is this a significant location? It’s the room where the Charters of Freedom are located. Last year, 31 individuals from 24 nations took the oath of allegiance. “There is no better place to become an American citizen than here in this room,” David S. Ferriero, the 10th Archivist of the U.S., indicated.
Don’t Forget It
So how can you celebrate this holiday? Congratulate those who will or have become citizens this year — either foreign-born or those who reached the voting age. Consider sporting a patriotic shirt that day. How about reciting “The American’s Creed” or the “Pledge of Allegiance”? It may seem corny. But it’s important to reflect on the importance of citizenship — including the rights and responsibilities that come with it. Where would we be today without the Constitution? It’s easy to glide right past September 17 without giving it a second thought. But don’t let it pass by without notice. Honor the Constitution and don’t take your citizenship for granted.