On September 17, 1787, the delegates to the Constitutional Convention signed the Constitution, a document that became the key founding text of the United States of America. The “Blessings of Liberty” described in the preamble, however, were not truly intended for all people in that newborn nation.
It must not be forgotten that the Constitution defined slaves – regardless of the land of their birth – as three-fifths persons for representation purposes and gave them no voting rights. Just a few years later, the Naturalization Act of 1790 specified that only “a free white person” who had resided in the United States of America for two years and any offspring over the age of 21 could become eligible for citizenship. It is a long story of how other populations fought for their public recognition as full citizens with voting rights.
This federal observation was first proclaimed in 1940, when Congress passed a resolution authorizing the President to proclaim “I Am An American Day” on the third Sunday of May each year to recognize those who had attained citizenship. This observance was rebranded in 1952 as Constitution Day and moved to September 17, along with an instruction to political units at all levels to supply instruction to citizens. The same date was rebranded in 2004 as Constitution Day and Citizenship Day, adding requirements that every federal agency supply employees with educational and training materials on the Constitution and requiring schools that receive federal funds to also provide programming related to the Constitution.
Today, just as throughout the history of this nation, many people struggle for recognition. It seems clear that the notion of citizenship can be used as a tool to restrict rights and exclude people from equal treatment.
As you reflect on what it means to be a citizen today, consider joining with others to read our Prayer for an Inclusive Citizenship or take one or more of the suggested Actions Toward a More Inclusive Citizenship on page 2 of the same document. Both documents are also available in Spanish.
If you can, try to schedule an action or prayer service for Sunday, September 17 or any other day in the following week. We are happy to help and would like to hear about all your solidarity actions. Please let us know if you have any questions or just want to share your own efforts with us by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.