August 17, 2010
By Elisabeth Grant
Constitution Day is exactly one month away, and commemorates the day (September 17, 1787) the U.S. Constitution was signed. To help educators prepare for this day next month, we’ve put together links to a number of helpful resources.
New Essays on American Constitutional History
The AHA has a new publication series, in association with the Institute for Constitutional Studies, of New Essays on American Constitutional History. The current pamphlets in this series are well suited for use on Constitution Day, and include:
- The War Power: Original and Contemporary , by Louis Fisher
The original conception of “war powers,” as defined in the Constitution by the new American republic, was a power not vested in the U.S. president, but in the people, who through regular elections expected Congress to make the ultimate decision on taking the nation to war against another country. This pamplet examines this history of the war powers and how this conception has changed over the past two hundred years.
- Women and the U.S. Constitution: 1776-1920, by Jean H. Baker
In the drafting of the U.S. Constitution, gender was a non-issue. Women played no role in the authorship of either the original 1787 document or the Bill of Rights, and were largely excluded from the Constitution’s application. As a result, American women played a peripheral role in constitutional history until 1920. This pamphlet looks at this role as it developed throughout the nineteenth-century, culminating in 1920 with the passing of the women’s sufferage amendment in 1920.
- The Rights Revolution in the Twentieth Century, by Mark Tushnet
Tushnet traces the concept of legal “rights” through the 20th century—from their origins in classical liberalism, fashioned in legislatures and emphasizing choice and contract, to notions of personal autonomy and equality protected by the judicial system.
- Federalism across the Nineteenth Century, 1787–1905, by James W. Ely Jr.
In this fascinating study, Ely examines the legal history of Federalism from its inception in the early American Republic as an abstract and limited concept, throughout its development in the nineteenth century into a more tangible and ubiquitous presence in the daily lives of average Americans.
In the next title in the series, Race and the Constitution: From the Philadelphia Convention to the Age of Segregation, Paul Finkelman (Albany Law School) surveys how legislatures developed racial codes and the courts helped to refine and protect them. The new essay should appear next month.
The essays within these pamphlets and are intended to provide both students and teachers with brief, accessible, and reliable introductions to some of the most important aspects of American constitutional development and reflect the leading scholarship in the field and address topics that are classic, timely, and always important.
The National Archives in D.C. is hosting Constitution Day events, including a celebration with cake at 1 p.m., a docudrama on Dolley Madison at 2:30 p.m., and a discussion panel on “The State of the Constitution: What Every American Should Know,” at 7 p.m. All of these events are free and open to the public.
For those not able to attend, the National Archives offers a number of Constitution Day classroom resources, including lesson plans, activities, and workshops.
The Constitution Day site from EDSITEment offers transcripts and annotations on the Constitution, information the Founding Fathers, a number of lesson plans, and many links to more online resources.
National Constitution Center
The National Constitution Center in Philadelphia maintains a Constitution Day site with links to events on Constitution Day at the center, online resources for elementary, middle, and high schoolers, and links to Constitution Day news.
National History Education Clearinghouse
Also check out the Constitution Day teaching resources from the National History Education Clearinghouse. They link to pages from the Department of Education, iTunes, the Library of Congress, and elsewhere, helping visitors find lesson plans, discussions, and multimedia.