Celebrating Constitution Day
by Harper Estes
Do you know what year the Constitution was signed? How about when it was ratified? Do you know which amendments the Bill of Rights comprise?
You're probably not alone if you sat there puzzling for a moment before hitting your computer to Google the answers. Or you could have asked your resident elementary student. Like the popular Fox game show, your fifth-grader probably knew the answers — 1787, 1788, and the first ten amendments.
Most Americans tend to be fairly fuzzy on their Constitutional history, a rather sad prospect considering the document is the basis for our government. Many of us, at one time or another, memorized the Preamble and learned the basics, including some dates and amendments, but retention of that knowledge? Not so much.
On Sept. 17, students from elementary to collegiate level will celebrate Constitution Day. The day needs to include all Americans because those of us well beyond school days are the ones who need to celebrate — and re-learn — the Constitution the most.
Constitution Day was created by Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia in December 2004. The legislation, passed as part of a 2005 federal spending bill, requires any educational institutions that receive federal funds to implement an educational program on the Constitution on Sept. 17, commemorating the date the Constitution was signed.
Why should Americans know the Constitution? Even though we elect leaders to represent us in government, we cannot forget our responsibilities as citizens, one of which is to hold our representatives accountable and make sure they are upholding the laws of our land. The Constitution provides for this marvelous system of checks and balances and the separation of powers in our government, but we as citizens must remain vigilant that these checks and balances are not threatened. As Sen. Byrd said, "Without constant study and renewal of our knowledge of the Constitution and its history, we are in peril of allowing our freedoms to erode."
It is imperative that we understand the context of the Constitutional Convention and the ideas that were the focal points of the discussion during its writing. The historical context and the unfolding of our great country are inspiring. Over the past few weeks American citizens have filled football stadiums and convention centers, waiting for several hours for the opportunity to catch a glimpse of history in the making and to be part of that process. This excitement of watching our government work is symbolic of the commitment Americans have to the ideals that make us strong. It is our Constitution that established the framework that supports our system of laws and allows for the peaceful exchange of power.
As Americans, we believe that one person can make a difference. We must know how our Constitution came to be, how those rights and responsibilities came about, and how they have evolved to continue to support our democracy.
Thus, it's incumbent on each of us to get involved this Constitution Day. Talk to your local educators about their school programs. Get involved in your children's or grandchildren's schools and their Constitution Day projects. Go online or to your nearest library and re-read the Constitution. Memorize that Preamble again. And this time, try to remember it.
Harper Estes is president of the State Bar of Texas. He is a shareholder in the Midland law firm of Lynch, Chappell & Alsup, P.C.