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A Lesson Plan for Constitution Day

Under 18 U.S.C. § 106, September 17 is designated as Constitution Day and Citizenship Day. It commemorates the formation and signing on September 17, 1787, of the U.S. Constitution and celebrates American citizenship. The statute encourages state and local governments to instruct the people “in their responsibilities and opportunities as citizens of the United States.” Since 2005, all educational institutions receiving federal funds of any kind are required by law to provide programming to observe the occasion.

So what sort of lessons should local governments and educational institutions construct? A good start would be the First Amendment and how the guarantee of free speech is trampled by a federal mandate that requires schools to teach about any project, salutary or not, of the federal government. It might also be pointed out that the Constitution contains no “education power” and that all federal meddling in the school system, such as No Child Left Behind or Constitution Day itself, is patently unconstitutional.

After these attention grabbers, the lessons might turn to the original structure and design of the Constitution. The Federalist Papers could be a helpful tool. For example, in Federalist No. 45 James Madison observed that “[t]he powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the Federal Government are few and defined. Those which remain in the State Governments are numerous and indefinite.” The Father of the Constitution went on to explain that the federal government would only be involved in “external objects” such as “war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce.”

William J. Watkins, Jr. is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and author of the Independent Institute books, Crossroads for Liberty, Reclaiming the American Revolution, and Patent Trolls. He received his J.D. cum laude from the University of South Carolina School of Law and is a former law clerk to Judge William B. Traxler, Jr. of the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

New from William J. Watkins, Jr.!
CROSSROADS FOR LIBERTY: Recovering the Anti-Federalist Values of America’s First Constitution
What did the American Founders actually intend for the country, and does it even matter today? In a time of increasing turmoil over American history, politics, and society, Crossroads for Liberty takes an eye-opening look at the American Revolution, the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution, and asks what we can learn from them. Readers will come away with a greater understanding of current political and constitutional issues, as well as a new perspective on American history.