by Ethan Tong • 5 min read
236 years ago, the U.S. Constitution was officially signed on September 17. That document set our nation on a course the world had never seen before.
Since 1940, we’ve celebrated the signing through various federal observance days. For a while, Constitution Day was celebrated in May and was originally called “I Am An American Day.”
In the 1950s, Congress passed a law moving the day to September 17 and called it “Citizenship Day,” designated as a day for Americans to reflect on the responsibilities and the privileges of being a member of our great nation.
In 2004, Sen. Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia introduced legislation to designate September 17 as “Constitution Day,” with provisions requiring public schools and governmental offices to promote a better understanding of our nation’s founding document.
In recent times, we’ve seen frequent efforts to tear down the Constitution. Opponents seek to rewrite, ignore and even discard our country’s founding document. They say a document written in 1787 can’t possibly be applicable today. But the beauty of the Constitution lies precisely in its foresight. The principles the Founders outlined were timeless principles that continue to guide our nation to safety, liberty and prosperity.
Constitution Day is the perfect opportunity for us to reflect on the wisdom of the document and celebrate the blessings of liberty. Here are 10 things you may not know about the Constitution:
(1) At the time of the Constitution’s signing, there were just four million people living in America. Now, there are more than 334 million people. That means the American population was just 1.2% of the size that it is now.
(2) Jacob Shallus, a clerk for the Pennsylvania General Assembly, was paid to write down the dictated words of the Constitution. He was paid $30, which is about $986 in today’s dollars.
(3) The U.S. Constitution contains 4,400 words, excluding signatures. It might seem like a lot––especially for one person to write by hand––but it’s the shortest Constitution of any major government in the world. It’s about 17 pages, double-spaced.
(4) Two of our most prominent Founders—Thomas Jefferson and John Adams—did not sign the document. In 1787, Adams was serving as an ambassador to Great Britain, and Jefferson was ambassador to France.
(5) The Constitution was not displayed until 1924. For over a century, the Constitution was in the hands of the Department of State. Finally, in 1921, it was transferred to the Library of Congress. It was put on display from 1924 until 1954, when it was sent to the National Archives Museum in Washington, D.C.
(6) Our nation spent $5 million to protect the Constitution. In 2003, a project was undertaken to study and preserve several famed documents, including the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. The resulting work featured an anti-glare glass case, a titanium frame coated with gold, and technology aimed at maintaining the integrity of the pages. The cases contain inert argon gas and are kept at 67 degrees with a relative humidity of 40%. Two small synthetic sapphire windows track metrics such as humidity and gas content so archivists don’t need to open up the case.
(7) Benjamin Franklin was 81 when he signed the Constitution, and though his mind was in good shape, his body was not. His medical history indicates he had severe gout pain and a large bladder stone. When he entered the hall, he had to be carried by four prisoners from the Walnut Street jail in Philadelphia. According to records, Franklin needed assistance to even sign his name on the document. He died 3 years later.
(8) The word “democracy” does not appear in the Constitution. The Constitution created a republic, not a democracy. Famously, when Franklin was approached after a Convention meeting and asked what the new government would look like, he replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.”
(9) A 55-year gap separated the oldest from youngest signer. Benjamin Franklin was the oldest, at 81. The youngest was just 26––Jonathan Dayton of New Jersey. Dayton would go on to serve as the third Speaker of the House.
(10) Only two presidents signed the Constitution. Though many future presidents were living (and politically active) in 1787, only two participated in the Constitutional Convention: George Washington and James Madison. Their signatures on the Constitution are the only signatures of U.S. presidents.