Monday, Sept. 17th marked the 225th anniversary of the founding of our nation’s Constitution. This celebration day has gone through a series of changes over the years since it began in 1939, but the spirit of the holiday has remained consistent since its conception. According to timeanddate.com, “…A federal law enacted in Dec. 2004 designated Sept. 17th as ‘Constitution Day and Citizenship Day.’” This most recent change authorized the official title for the holiday that we currently celebrate today. The purpose of this day of observance as stated by constitutionday.com is to, “[commemorate] the formation and signing of the U.S. Constitution by thirty-nine brave men on Sept. 17, 1787, recognizing all who, are born in the U.S. or by naturalization, have become citizens.”
In recent years the federal government has tried to encourage American citizens to observe this holiday. In the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2005, the government mandated that Constitution Day should be recognized. According to the Georgetown Law Library website this mandate states that, “the civil and educational authorities of states, counties, cities and towns are urged to make plans for the proper observance of Constitution Day and Citizenship Day and for the complete instruction of citizens in their responsibilities and opportunities as citizens of the United States and of the State and locality in which they reside.” In many ways this piece of legislation has had quite an impact on Mercer University. Students have been encouraged to participate in an on-going discussion of what it means to be a citizen, and what responsibilities go along with that privilege. President William D. Underwood of Mercer University stated that, “We’ve got a two year lyceum entitled Rebuilding our Democracy. [The lyceum is] sort of a focus of conversation on campus.” He went on to emphasize the importance of this topic for all of students of any academic discipline. Underwood said, “One of the real deficits in higher education over the last couple of generations is not doing enough to ensure that our students are prepared for the obligations of citizenship.”
On this past Monday Sept. 17, Mercer University celebrated Constitution Day with a lecture given by Professor Colleen Sheehan of Villanova University, entitled “James Madison on Citizenship and Statesmanship.” Mercer’s Center for the Teaching of America’s Western Foundations hosted the event, which was sponsored by the Jack Miller Center. It was held in Fickling Hall at the McCorkle Music building. During the lecture, Sheehan expounded on Madison’s contributions to forming the United States Constitution as well as his views on government, politics and society. Amidst Sheehan’s explanation of Madison’s ideology she stated that, “The constitution Madison and the framers devised was intended to be a system of superior quality made out of the substandard material of the riff-raff of American politics. Madison’s political theory then might be considered a kind of philosopher’s stone that could transform base metals into gold.” By the end of Sheehan’s lecture, Fickling Hall was a buzz with political commentary. One guest in particular, Robin McDonald, began a discussion about media’s impact on democracy in which she stated that “The conflict itself, and the communication of those conflicts is exactly what Madison is building into the society, the government that they’re creating.” Here she is highlighting Madison’s emphasis on public opinion and its importance to a healthy democracy. This is a great example of how Mercer’s lyceum events have fueled intellectual debates regarding the constitution and citizenship.