Constitution Day is September 17th: 5 Interesting Facts

The Constitution is something I loved studying while I was in school. In fact, this one document is what got me interested in politics, causing me to minor in political studies. I actually used to carry a pocket Constitution in my purse, and loved when someone challenged me on what is actually in the Constitution and what it means. I also enjoy studying the time in which it was written and how it is all related, yet it still remains relevant. This is just a little about why I'm excited for Constitution Day and why I cannot wait for my littles to be old enough to start learning about it.

I was sent this awesome email that I want to share with you all today.

5 Interesting Things To Know About Constitution Day

1. September 17 is Constitution Day.

The late Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia, a Constitution enthusiast and a skilled parliamentarian, struck a blow for constitutional literacy a few years ago when he slipped a rider into an appropriation act that required an annual celebration of the Constitution by federal agencies and by educational institutions that receive federal funds.

The law requires that on Constitution Day (September 17) every federal department and agency “provide educational and training materials concerning the United States Constitution to each employee.” Furthermore, every educational institution that receives federal funds for a fiscal year “shall hold an educational program on the United States Constitution on September 17 of such year for the students served by the educational institution."

2. Only three errors in the Constitution have ever been discovered, and Dr. Henry Bain himself found one of them.

Congress committed each error as it prepared an amendment for adoption. By “error” this means something that is incorrect and was not intended by the Congress that drafted the constitutional text. Though scholars and lawmakers have been scrutinizing the Constitution minutely for a long time, it appears that nobody had noticed this second mistake until Dr. Bain pointed it out. The error appears in the 17th Amendment on election of senators.

3. The Supreme Court’s little-appreciated role in the repeal of constitutional text.

We all know how text gets added to the Constitution–an amendment is proposed by two thirds of each house of Congress, and approved by three-quarters of the states, as provided by Article V. But what about the opposite process, in which text is removed from the document? That is an important part of the process of constitutional development, but it is nowhere spelled out for us.

The short answer is that text can be subtracted by amendment just as it can be added. That was done in the case of the Twenty-first Amendment, which repealed the Eighteenth (Prohibition) Amendment. But little attention has been paid to an alternative method. The Supreme Court can do the job!

Here two instances of such removal of text by the Court. One of these is the language in the Fifth Amendment that establishes a right for persons accused of crime: they can only be prosecuted if a grand jury votes an indictment or presentment. In fact, we all have a stronger right than this text suggests, because presentments have never been much used, even in the early days of the Republic, and they have been prohibited since 1946 by the federal rules of criminal procedure, approved by the Supreme Court. So no matter how heinous your transgression, you don’t have to worry about a federal prosecutor coming after you with a presentment that he has gotten a grand jury to approve. The Constitution’s mention of them is a dead letter.

Another example of the Supreme Court trimming the Constitution is in the Twenty-fourth Amendment (1964), outlawing the poll tax, where there is an interesting limitation. The amendment applies only to voting for federal offices: presidential electors, senators, and representatives. To get it adopted, its sponsors had to exclude all state and local offices.

4. James Madison tried and failed to secure a well-organized Constitution: the story of the first ten amendments.

James Madison, elected a representative in the First Congress, felt an urgent need to obtain amendments that would guarantee Americans’ basic rights. The task was not easy, since many of the Federalist members of Congress, who were a large majority, thought this a needless distraction from their efforts to get the new government running–establish courts, secure revenue, etc. The anti-Federalists were totally opposed–they were demanding many amendments, but these were attempts to weaken the new national government, not to protect rights. Madison crafted a set of twelve amendments, to be inserted at appropriate points in the constitutional text, and succeeded in getting the package approved in a preliminary vote by the House of Representatives. But the vote was too close for comfort. (In the final vote, a two-thirds vote would be needed.)

In the House debate, a big obstacle to Madison’s project was revealed when Roger Sherman of Connecticut, who had been a member of the Constitutional Convention, spoke strongly against Madison’s proposal, complaining that it was not proper for Congress to intrude into the text recently composed by the Convention and approved by the states. Any amendments should be placed at the end of the document, he declared. Sherman did not confine himself to speechmaking. When the anti-Federalists asked for a full debate on their numerous resolutions (a project viewed with horror by all good Federalists), he voted with them, and brought another Connecticut member along with him on the vote.

In the face of this tactic, Madison yielded and placed the whole package of amendments at the end of the constitutional text, where they became the first ten amendments.

5. As much as 20% of the Constitution is now considered obsolete or no longer used.

While it is extremely important to learn about our history’s past, it is also necessary to learn what parts of the Constitution are and aren’t still in place today.

This widespread obsolescence sometimes affects entire paragraphs or amendments (the Eighteenth Amendment, imposing Prohibition) and sometimes tiny parts of sentences (the language making it clear that the Constitution covers treaties made before 1788). When we have taken account of all the pieces of obsolete text, large and small, we find that more than one-fifth of the document is now obsolete and ready for a museum.

Now that the Constitution is accessible, Dr. Bain hopes that students, kids, and even activists and citizens will be able to understand the Constitution in its own words, without the need for commentary or paraphrase.

This amazing, one-of-a-kind modernization of the United States’ supreme law gives readers a better understanding of:
  • The powers vested in each branch of the federal government 
  • The role of the states in our federal system 
  • The Amendments to the Constitution 
  • The meaning of antiquated terms and grammatical forms 
  • The vision that molded our country to what it is today
For the first time ever, America’s most important document has been reassembled for a modern audience in The Constitution of the United States of America: Modern Edition edited by Dr. Henry Bain.

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