September 17th marks Citizenship and Constitution Day. This day celebrates two powerful central strengths of our Republic and combines them. Mostly, this day is ignored, I hope a new party will embrace it and the principles represented today.
Citizenship Day was born as I Am An American Day. The holiday has its roots in the activity of a refugee from the then-Communist nation of Hungary. Clara Vadja founded the Americanization League of America in 1930. Having found the dream of liberty, she set out to provide citizenship education to help those who came behind her find an easier way into the country.
In addition to celebrating new citizens, the original I Am an American Day Act celebrated those who attained their citizenship by coming of age. This focus on new voters could be traced to Manotwac County Wisconsin which included a five-month program where those about to reach the voting age met to discuss the duties of citizenship.
I am an American Day was designated in 1940 as the Third Monday in May. In 1952 it was renamed Citizenship and moved to September 17th, which was also Constitution Day as this is the Day the Constitution was signed at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia.
This combined commemoration may be overlooked by most on the calendar but is important a new political party observe it.
The Importance of Citizenship Day
Citizenship Day stands as a reminder of how a more traditional Americanism approached new arrivals with an open heart as opposed to the fear-based nationalism. This fearful nationalism views families fleeing from persecution, and those who go through the legal process to become citizens, as threats and dangers to political power.
A new political party should embrace the meaning of Citizenship Day and all that new immigrants bring to our shores.
The strength of America traditionally is that it is not a closed system. Its story is ever-continuing. If the story of people coming to America and finding opportunity and better lives for themselves and their families had ended with the Pilgrims coming to Plymouth Rock in 1620 or 19th Century with Irish immigrants, it would be a stale story and a much poorer country. Each immigrant who makes the effort to come to our country and proceeds to work hard through the laborious process of becoming a citizen writes their own page in that ongoing narrative.
This is a great day to celebrate the contributions these new citizens will make and an opportunity to reach out to them.
I also think it points out the need to encourage those who are newly eighteen to take seriously the responsibilities of citizenship. While our twenty-first-century world may not have time for five-month classes, we can definitely do a better job of civic education and helping new adults understand the responsibility and heritage being passed down to them than shallow efforts like “Vote or Die.”
Those who believe in traditional American principles should engage in youth outreach, knowing that Socialists and other radicals are more than willing to make up for our lack of effort.
The Importance of Constitution Day
The Constitution of the United States is something many citizens affirm and that all federal officials swear fealty to. However, it’s also a document that is under increasing assault.
Demagogues on the left and right find it inconvenient. It was written to make it hard to get your way on changes. In a country where we love instant gratification, the Constitution infuriates the entitled mentality that dominates our political debate.
Both the left and right are repelled by the amount of freedom it gives. Recently, the third most powerful Democrat in Congress James Clyburn (D-SC) observed there would be “strong support against the bill of rights” if it were voted on today.
There are so many know-it-alls on the Internet who are convinced our system of government is preposterous and antiquated and they have a better plan that we should follow instead.
Yet, this fact is missed: our Constitution has worked. Our country has many flaws, the state of our union is not perfect. Many have found ways to ignore the Constitution and get around its requirements. Yet, its framework frustrates most authoritarian and totalitarian impulses.
President Trump publicly admires and lauds dictators. Many of them such as Vladimir Putin came to power in countries that had more modern democratic constitutions, which were more easy to alter. These dictators were able to get around their pliable constitutions to set themselves up as a strong man. Trump can only admire them, because he is under the U.S. Constitution, he can never be them.
I won’t say the Constitution should never be changed, but we’d better be careful and respectful in any alterations we propose. We’re talking about a document that’s kept our country free for 230 years. We’d better know what we’re about when we try to change it.
“I don’t understand why the Constitution does this,” is not an argument for changing it, any more than, “I don’t know why the contractor put a ceiling support on that wall” is an argument for ripping the support out. Rather, not understanding is a good reason for finding out why.
Citizenship and Constitution Day are two very important days that have been combined. Whatever the intent of Congress in 1952, this combination has meant that they can both be ignored at the same time. I hope that a new political party will change that.