Audience at FDR’s Constitution Day speech, September 17, 1937

Today, September 17, is Constitution Day. It was on this date in 1787 that the Framers met for the final time to sign the document they had written over that contentious summer. It was never a sure thing and was still not a done deal; after that the Constitution went to the states for ratification, a process that took several years as state delegates argued for and against. It was in this period that Hamilton, Jay, and Madison authored The Federalist.

Constitution Day is one of those holidays, like Flag Day and Evacuation Day, that used to be a significant part of American culture but that are hardly remembered today. We would do wise to keep in mind what we stand to lose; if we have learned anything over the past few years it is that our world is more fragile than we would like to think. Many thousands used to turn out in places like Brooklyn’s Prospect Park and Borough Hall for speeches and parades. There is still some of that. The Rufus King Manor in Queens, for instance, is having its annual observation and fundraiser today. King himself was one of the drafters of the Constitution and was there in Philadelphia for most of the convention. Other events are undoubtedly taking place elsewhere.

President Roosevelt gave his 1937 Constitution Day speech during his Supreme Court packing initiative, largely seen today as one of the major blunders of his administration.

Here are two images from the 1937 Constitution.Day. President Roosevelt spoke that evening at the base of the Washington Monument. One can see the seriousness on his face. That is because this event came during his notorious Courting Packing controversy and he was trying to rally support. The thing never went his way and it is justifiably seen as a low mark in his twelve year presidency.

(images/Library of Congress)