Constitution and Citizenship Day

Welcome to an early edition of Civics Learning Project’s weekly current event resource for teachers! We prepared the CLP Current Event, Constitution Day with Emphasis on the Preamble, early so teachers have extra time. Find resources for a great day in the classroom on Constitution Day, September 17!

Brought to teachers by Susie Marcus, CLP consultant, with CLP staff.

Constitution Day and Citizenship Day | USCIS

Each year, on September 17, Americans celebrate Constitution Day and Citizenship Day. In addition, September 17-23 is also recognized as Constitution Week.

Constitution Day (or Citizenship Day) is an American federal observance that recognizes the adoption of the United States Constitution and those who have become U.S. citizens. It is generally observed on September 17, the day in 1787 that delegates to the Constitutional Convention signed the document in Philadelphia.

“… If it (the Preamble) is such a bedrock document, its meaning, message and values should be an important touchstone for running our country.  … What if we put this structure to better use as a road map for decision making?”


Questions to Consider

  • What is the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution?
  • What does the Preamble say to us in 2017?
  • What grade would you give the United States for accomplishing the goals set out in the Preamble? For example: Evaluate what steps we might choose to take to “insure domestic Tranquility”.
  • How important are the first three words “We the People”?
  • Should the Preamble be used in interpreting the meaning of the Constitution?
  • Is there a missing piece in the Preamble that we might add today?
  • Is the Preamble an introduction, a road map, or a set of values (mission statement)? Or all three?
  • What is a preamble?
  • Why did the Framers include a Preamble? Was the Preamble a response to the failed Articles of Confederation? Was the Preamble a promise to unite the country? Why or why not?
  • How do the Preambles to other constitutions compare to the US Constitution? To the state constitution?
  • What is the main similarity or difference?
  • Is there an order in the aspirations stated in the Preamble? Why was “in order to form a more perfect Union” the first goal? Why was “establish Justice” the first specific goal?
  • Which of the sections of the Preamble is most important to you?
  • What is the connection between Citizenship Day and Constitution Day?

And from We the People

  • What does We the People mean?

“We the People” is a phrase that comes from the Preamble of the United States Constitution. In the Preamble of the United States, it talks about what the purpose of the Constitution, and what principles guide it. 

While you may think that that the phrase “We the People” is talking about all Americans, there is actually much more to the phrase. “We the People” includes all the citizens of the United States of America.  (Importantly, )this phrase  shows that it was just the framers of the Constitution of the legislators who were giving powers to the government. Instead, the government gets all of its powers from all of the Citizens of the United States of America. 

  • Where does “We The People” show up?

“We the People” is in the very first sentence of the United States Constitution. Here is the text where “We the People” is found:

” WE THE PEOPLE of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

  • Who Does “We the People” Include?

Today, “We the People” includes all citizens of the United States. They can be any race and any gender. In order to be a citizen and be a part of “We the People,” you can be born in the United States or you can receive your citizenship. However, when the Constitution was ratified, some groups of people did not have the same rights as others. For example, women and slaves were not able to vote. Without being able to vote, they would not be able to choose representatives and be involved in law making.

  • Why is “We the People” important?

When you read the entire preamble, you can see that it is “We the People” who are giving the government their powers. This is very important because without the people lending that power, the United States Constitution would not have been able to become the guideline for the Republican government we have today. 


Background and More

Student Involvement Is a Focus of Constitution Day 2017
by The Civics Renewal Network, Sept. 13, 2017
“Thousands of students across the United States will take the ‘Preamble Challenge’ …”
CLP says: check it out!

Celebrate Constitution Day 2017 with USC
by USC staff, University of Southern California, September 11, 2017
CLP says: do not let the past-due date forum detract from other features; find chronology and rich connection to Preamble.

America’s ‘mission statement’ should guide Trump, Congress on immigration (opinion)
by Ann Skeet, MarketWatch, Sept. 7, 2017
CLP says: we recognize that this is opinion; we also recognize that the questions posed are good ones.

Constitutional Topic: The Preamble by
… the words are not always easy to follow … examine each sentence in the Preamble and explain it for today’s audience.
CLP suggests ignoring the ads because the phrase-by-phrase explanations are worth it.

We the People … The Preamble – Matters of Debate: Giving Meaning to the Preamble by Erwin Chemerinsky and The Preamble’s Significance for Constitutional Interpretation by Michael Stokes Paulsen, by National Constitution Center
CLP loves National Constitution Center materials!

What is the Preamble? from
CLP urges using this teacher- and kid-friendly site!

Who wrote the Preamble? from
In addition Find discussion of answers to questions such as, What is the meaning of “in order to from a more perfect union?”, What does the Preamble say?, and What does the phrase “do ordain and establish this constitution” mean?
CLP says: worthwhile.

Preambles from Constitutions Around the World
Insights Magazine, Vol 15 No 3, American Bar Association
CLP says: handy pdf to compare preambles of 8 countries

Ten constitutional preambles you may not know
by OUPblog (Oxford University Press), Oct. 7, 2013
CLP challenge: find your favorite!


Lesson Plans

Preamble Challenge from National Constitution Center and Civics Renewal Network
CLP:  two sites for same lesson

 The Preamble to the Constitution: A Close Reading Lesson
from EDSITEment!, National Endowment for the Humanities, created July 8, 2014
CLP says: really good high school lesson

The Preamble music by Schoolhouse Rock
CLP: fun, animated children’s cartoon with Preamble as lyrics. 3:47min


Oregon & the Northwest

Oregon Constitution – Preamble:
“We the people of the State of Oregon to the end that Justice be established, order maintained, and liberty perpetuated, do ordain this Constitution.” Effective February 14, 1859.

Draft of Oregon State Constitution, Oregon History Project
A draft version of the Oregon State Constitution’s preamble and bill of rights; written in 1857.


Oregon State Social Science Standards

8.6  Use and interpret documents and other primary and secondary sources pertaining to U.S. History from multiple perspectives.
8.8   Evaluate information from a variety of sources and perspectives.
8.18  Examine and analyze important United States documents, including (but not limited to) the Constitution, Bill of rights, 13th-15th Amendments.
8.20  Analyze the changing definition of citizenship and the expansion of rights.
8.21  Analyze important political and ethical values such as freedom, democracy, equality, and justice embodied in documents such as the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights.

HS.32  Examine and evaluate documents and decisions related to the Constitution and Supreme Court decisions (e.g., Federalist Papers, Constitution, Marbury v. Madison, Bill of Rights, Constitutional amendments, Declaration of Independence).
HS.35  Examine the pluralistic realities of society (e.g., race poverty, gender, and age), recognizing issues of equality, and evaluating need for change.
HS.58  Gather, analyze, use and document information from various sources, distinguishing facts, opinions, inferences, biases, stereotypes, and persuasive appeals.
HS.63  Engage in informed and respectful deliberation and discussion of issues, events, and ideas.


We the People Lesson Connections

Middle School, Level 2

  • Unit 4, Lesson 18: How did the people approve the new constitution?
  • Unit 6, Lesson 28: What is the relationship of the United States to other nations in the world?
  • Unit 6, Lesson 29: What are the rights and responsibilities of citizenship?

High School, Level 3

  • Unit 2, Lesson 13: What was the Anti-Federalist position in the debate about ratification?
  • Unit 4, Lesson 26: How does American federalism work?
  • Unit 6, Lesson 39: What does returning to fundamental principles mean?

*We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution, Level 3, 4th Ed., 2016, and Level 2, 2017, Center for Civic Education.