Constitution and Citizenship Day

09-16-2008

As the founding fathers penned their names on the U.S. Constitution more than 200 years ago, they provided the foundation for a system of governing that has been a model for many democracies around the world. A nation was created wherein leaders would now be elected and power would be placed in the hands of the people. It was extraordinary at the time and remains so today.

Wednesday, September 17, marks Constitution and Citizenship Day, recognizing the day the U.S. Constitution was adopted by the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. On September 17, 1787, 55 delegates formally sanctioned the four-page document, preserving our freedoms as American citizens. Since 2005, academic institutions nationwide, including Michigan State University, have offered educational programming to commemorate that accomplishment.

The Constitution protects the rights of everyone in this country, regardless of their nationalities. Unlike many countries around the world, we not only share the freedoms afforded by the Constitution but we also hold ourselves and our fellow citizens responsible for maintaining and protecting them. It is difficult to imagine a life without these innate and inviolable rights; however, millions of individuals worldwide do not enjoy the freedoms we so often take for granted. For example, in some nations the right to vote doesn’t exist at all and in others, simply casting a vote can cost a person his or her life.

It is interesting to look at the upcoming U.S. presidential election in the context of Constitutional history, especially as we take this time to recognize the anniversary of its signing. One of the candidates for president and one of the candidates for vice-president in this election were explicitly denied the right to cast a vote by the Constitution signed in 1787. It took 133 years before women were granted suffrage with the adoption of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution in 1920, and another 44 years after that before all African-Americans were truly free to participate in elections with the passage of the 24th Amendment in 1964.

The history-making nature of this year’s election is a clarion call for Americans to reverse the decades-long trend of decreasing voter turnout. The right to vote is a powerful tool, a tool too few Americans have chosen to use in the past 40-plus years. With this election, great change will again come for the U.S. and the world, much as it did more than two centuries ago. I encourage you to take time in the coming weeks before the election to really examine the Constitution and what it means to you and our nation. I also encourage you to register to vote and to head to the polls on November 4 and exercise the right to vote that so many worked so hard and so long to secure for all of us. For information about voter registration, general election updates, and upcoming events, visit http://youvote.msu.edu.

In cooperation with the Lansing Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution’s “Ring That Bell!” program, the Beaumont Tower carillon will ring at 4 p.m. on September 17 to commemorate the 221st signing of the U.S. Constitution. Mrs. JoAnne Stahl, Regent of the Lansing Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution will be the hostess at the bottom of the Bell Tower for this event. In addition, the MSU College of Law will present a Constitution Day lecture on Wednesday from 2 to 2:45 p.m. in Room 345 of the Law College entitled, “The Constitution’s Electoral System and How Michigan May Decide the 2008 Presidential Election.”

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