“The U.S. Constitution is the oldest written constitution in operation in the world,” according to History.com. It was signed September 17, 1787, but ten months would pass before it was ratified by the required nine of the 13 original states. But, in time, the holdouts — Virginia, New York, North Carolina, and Rhode Island – sanctioned the document, and on September 25, 1789, the first Congress of the United States convened, and adopted the Bill of Rights.
One hundred sixty-six years later, President Dwight D. Eisenhower designated September 17th as “Citizenship Day” to honor the signing of the Constitution. But in 1997, Louise Leigh, a devoted student, initiated a campaign to shift the focus from “Citizenship” to James Madison and “his” Constitution. Her persistence succeeded, and on September 17, 2004, “Constitution Day” was turned into an official holiday.
As Ms. Leigh put it during a 2005 interview with Education World: “I became acutely aware of the uniqueness, the greatness, and the miracle of our Constitution. Until the 1800s, every American child could recite all the freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution, which is not done today. We celebrate Independence Day on July 4 with gusto. The Revolutionary War gave us independence from England, but the Constitution is the document that gave us freedom, which has made us the greatest and mightiest nation in history.”
The Grateful American Book Prize recommends W. Cleon Skousen’s The Making of America: The Substance and Meaning of the Constitution.
“A well-instructed people alone can be permanently a free people.”
– James Madison, fourth president of the United States.
Eighteen months after the start of the Civil War, 3,953,762 American slaves got a first glint of hope.
On September 22, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln issued a preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. The final version—on January 1, 1863—declared that “that all persons held as slaves are, and henceforward shall be free.”
But Lincoln’s presidential order did not become law until the 13th Amendment—ratified on December 6, 1865—ended slavery in America, eight months after his assassination.
The Grateful American Book Prize recommends Patricia C. & Frederick L. McKissick’s Days of Jubilee.
“The advancement and diffusion of knowledge is the only guardian of true liberty.”
– James Madison, author of the Bill of Rights
According to Article 3 of the Constitution, “The judicial Power of the United States, shall be vested in one Supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish.” On September 24, 1789, President George Washington established the Inaugural Supreme Court of six justices.
Washington selected John Jay as his Chief Justice, along with five Associate Justices: John Rutledge, William Cushing, John Blair, Robert Harrison, and James Wilson. On February 1, 1790, the coterie gathered for their first session in New York City’s Royal Exchange Building.
Congress set the number of Justices–at varying sizes–until nine became the agreed-on standard, in 1869.
The Grateful American Prize recommends Natalie Wexler’s A More Obedient Wife: A Novel of the Early Supreme Court.
“Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”
– James Madison, father of the Constitution
History Matters is a biweekly feature courtesy of The Grateful American Book Prize.