Constitution Day at Duke

2015 Speaker Historian Louis Masur

Constitution and Citizenship Day commemorates the signing of the Constitution by delegates at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia on September 17, 1787. It also recognizes those who “by coming of age or by naturalization” have become United States citizens (36 U.S. Code § 106). Constitution and Citizenship Day is unique among American holidays in that its primary purpose is to encourage civic education. In 2004, Congress also decreed that publicly funded schools must provide educational programming “pertaining to the Constitution” on Sept. 17.

The Duke Program in American Values and Institutions marks Constitution and Citizenship Day by giving the Duke community and the general public opportunities to learn about and reflect on efforts by the American founders and subsequent generations to create a “more perfect union.” Our Constitution Day events examine the political philosophies and real world events that shaped the American Founding, consider the Constitution’s impact on American political development and culture, examine competing interpretations of the Constitution and explore efforts by abolitionists, suffragettes and others to ensure that the Constitution more fully lives up to the idea that all human beings are created equal and endowed with “certain inalienable rights.”

In addition to our Constitution Day programming, we have also compiled several lists of sources for anybody who is interested in learning more about the Constitution.

“Honoring our Imperfect Constitution with Education,” Nora Hanagan OP-ED in The News & Observer
“Congress’s declaration a decade ago that Sept. 17 – the anniversary of the signing of America’s founding document – would be known as “Constitution and Citizenship Day” may initially appear to be an example of the kind of “sanctimonious reverence” that Jefferson feared. This is, however, not necessarily the case.”

Primary Texts Related to the Constitution

2014 Speaker Historian Gordon Wood

The Constitution

Declaration of Independence

Articles of Confederation – Written in 1781, the Articles of Confederation created a system of political institutions that was replaced by the Constitution.

Bill of Rights – The Bill of Rights was the first ten amendments to the Constitution.

Federalist Papers – Written by John Jay, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison to defend the Constitution during the state ratification process.

 “The Constitution and Slavery” – Speech by abolitionist Frederick Douglass, arguing that The Constitution should be considered an anti-slavery document.

Publications by AVI Constitution Day Speakers

The American Dream in History, Politics,  and Fiction, Cal Jillson (2016)

Lincoln’s Last Speech, Louis Masur (2015)

The Making of the Constitution, Gordon Wood (2014)

Natural Rights Republic, Michael Zuckert (2013)

 Historian Gordon Wood’s 2014 Seminar, “The Making of the Constitution”