As heirs of a unique legacy, the Sons of the American Revolution have the responsibility to translate the people and events of the Revolutionary War era into present day action and project the achievements into the future. One of these such historic events was the signing of the United States Constitution, which spreads its beneficial protection and justice over all citizens of this great country. With this in mind, the SAR achieved an outstanding achievement when it lobbied for the establishment of formal recognition for Constitution Day and its observance.
It began when President Elmer M. Wentworth of the Iowa Society SAR (SAR President General 1916-1918) prevailed upon the Iowa State Legislature to provide for the observance of Constitution Day in the state in 1911. In that year this effort resulted in appropriate exercises being held in every school in Iowa.
In 1915 the SAR printed its pamphlet, “No. 3, The Constitution of the United States”. There was a heavy demand for copies. Thousands of copies were sent to the fifteen hundred naturalization judges for distribution at swearing-in ceremonies. In Philadelphia on May 10, 1915, copies were given to the 4,000 new naturalized citizens who were addressed by President Woodrow Wilson.
At the 1917 SAR Annual Congress in Nashville, Compatriot David L. Pierson of the New Jersey Society proposed a resolution that every Constitution Day be celebrated with ceremonies throughout the country. The resolution passed and Constitution Day became a patriotic day, firmly observed annually by patriotic, fraternal and service groups.
David Pierson served as Chairman of the SAR Constitution Day Committee. Many prominent SAR members actively served on his committee, including [U.S. President] Calvin Coolidge, [U.S. Vice President] Charles G. Dawes, [U.S. President] William Howard Taft, [New York Governor] Charles Evans Hughes, [Business Mogal] John D. Rockefeller, [U.S. Senator] Henry Cabot Lodge and General John J. Pershing. On June 2, 1937, Governor Harold Hoffman of New Jersey signed Joint Assembly and Senate Resolution Eleven, which recognized and credited David L. Pierson of East Orange, NJ, as the originator of the nationwide observance of September 17 as Constitution Day.
In 1917 the Kentucky Society celebrated Constitution Day by holding a patriotic pageant at Cherokee Park in Louisville with over 65,000 people attending. The Louisville Courier Journal devoted an entire section of the newspaper to the Unite States Constitution.
The nationwide pattern was well established by 1918. Most governors of states and mayors of cities issued Constitution Day proclamations. SAR committees contacted newspaper editor, radio stations, churches, school systems urging support. Many churches held Constitution Sunday. Over 200 school system superintendents had Constitution Day ceremonies in their schools. The SAR sent speakers to many of the schools.
In 1922 local SAR Chapters and State Societies reported over 60,000 Constitution Day celebrations held throughout the country.
The New York Chapter of the Empire State Society held a noon program on the steps of Federal Hall on Wall Street. Annually many thousands attended this ceremony to hear prominent speakers talk on the Constitution.
The Philadelphia Consequential Chapter of the Pennsylvania Society has continually held Constitution Day programs with hundreds attending A wreath was usually placed at Independence Hall. For many years there was a large parade.
There was a constant SAR effort to have definite instructions on the Constitution in the public schools. By 1929 the legislatures of 38 states had passed bills requiring such courses.
In 1949 all governors issued Constitution Day Proclamations and all Superintendents of Education were requested to allot time for observances.
Through the years ceremonies were held at many graves of Signers of the Constitution. Some of the graves had been in oblivion for many years. For example, Georgia Signer Colonel William Few had moved to New York, where he served in the New York Assembly and as a alderman in the New York City. The George Society desired to mark Colonel Few’s grave but its location was unknown. After considerable searching, his tomb was finally located at Fishkill-on-the-Hudson. On October 5, 1939 a Georgia granite tablet was unveiled by SAR President General Kimball with members of the Georgia Society and the Empire Sate Society present.
Prior to television, radio was an excellent medium for Constitution Day programs. Compatriot George A. Bunting, a founder of the Noxell Corporation, was an ardent supporter o SAR programs. Through his efforts between 1944-1946 the SAR planned a Constitution Day theme for popular program, “The Mayor of the Town,” featuring Lionel Barrymore.
In 1938 the San Diego Chapter suggested “National Citizenship Day” as part of Constitution Day for all newly naturalized citizen in the foregoing year to be recognized into American citizenship. Oddly, Constitution Day was eliminated for national observance by resolution of the United States Congress nd approved by the President on February 29, 1952 and September 17 was designated as Citizenship Day.
In 1955 the Daughters of the American Revolution promoted the concept of devoting the entire week to include both Constitution Day and Citizenship Day. The United States Congress and Compatriot President Eisenhower approved the resolution for Constitution Week to begin September 17 of each year. It continues as a national governmental policy today.
Editor’s Note: The above article was written by Formed President General Carl F. Bessent and was published in the book titled, “Centennial History of the National Society Sons of the American Revolution 1889-1989”.
Copyright (c) 1991 National Society Sons of the American Revolution