News | Sept. 17, 2019

Constitution Day: NRO celebrates the Guide of the Nation

By Staff National Reconnaissance Office

George Washington called it “the guide which I will never abandon,” James Madison referred to it as “a miracle,” and even British Parliamentary leader William Pitt said it was “the model of all future constitutions.” Often debated, frequently copied, and open for interpretation, after 232 years the United States Constitution remains a vibrant, important cornerstone to the nation.


 Each day the men and women of the NRO work hard at their jobs, keeping the oath they swore to upon entering duty to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States…” helping ensure the security and protection of the country.


 In celebration of Constitution day and the courage of the 39 delegates who signed the document on Sept. 17, 1787 that later was ratified as the United States Constitution, here are some Constitution Facts.


When was Constitution Day first celebrated?

On September 17, 1787, 39 delegates to the Constitutional Convention signed what would later be ratified as the United States Constitution. More than 100 years later, Iowa was the first state to commemorate that day as "Constitution Day." Several other states soon followed suit. In 1956, Congress declared the week beginning on September 17 to be "Constitution Week." It was not until 2004, however, that Senator Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia proposed legislation that would officially designate September 17 as Constitution Day.


Why is James Madison referred to as the “Father of the Constitution?”

 A delegate to the Constitutional Convention called James Madison the "Father of the Constitution" in 1827, and there are several reasons for bestowing that title on him. Madison had drafted the Virginia Plan, the proposal that shaped most of the discourse at the Constitutional Convention. He gave some of the most able defenses for our Constitution throughout the Convention, writing some of the most important Federalist Papers, and at Virginia’s ratifying convention. Madison also drafted the proposal for a Bill of Rights, and navigated the difficult amendment process through the First Congress. Madison also took the only comprehensive set of notes of the debates at the Constitutional Convention and spent his retirement years preparing those notes for a posthumous publication.


Why are more recent constitutions longer than the U.S. Constitution?

As laws have become more complex, they have often become more voluminous. Even in our own Constitution, the amendments passed after the eighteenth century tended to be increasingly more verbose. Also, more recent constitutions throughout the world have sought to include more rights (and satisfy more interests) than existed when our own Constitution was drafted. The United States has preferred to settle only the most fundamental political questions constitutionally; lesser matters are decided through the ordinary (and more flexible) legislative process.


How did the media influence the vote to ratify the Constitution?

Both the Federalist and Anti-Federalist advocates of the new Constitution wrote opinion pieces for the newspapers and sometimes commissioned independent pamphlets ranging from insightful inquiries into the nature and workings of the proposed government to scare-mongering bombast. These pieces not only influenced the people’s opinions directly, but they provided "talking points" to be argued at each state’s ratifying convention. History has generally considered the collection known as The Federalist Papers – authored by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay – to be the most authoritative commentary on the United States Constitution.


What was the most difficult issue facing the delegates at the Constitutional Convention?

Of all the challenges facing the delegates probably the most difficult was how the President should be elected. The Framers considered and rejected what seems like every possible variation of election before they resigned themselves, somewhat reluctantly, to an electoral college. They considered: a choice directly by the people, by the state legislatures, by the Lower House of the federal government, by its Upper House, and by the states' executive branches (even though two states did not provide for a chief magistrate in their constitutions). They even considered a complicated process whereby a small number from the national legislature would be chosen by lot, and then, like a college of cardinals, Congress would have to make their selection immediately before there could be any danger of outside influences. The delegates finally agreed to the Electoral College because they thought that this body of electors – who would change from one election to the next – would be the least prone to corruption.


What two amendments to the Constitution did Congress propose that did not make it into the Bill of Rights?

The First Congress proposed twelve amendments to the states, but only ten of them were adopted as the Bill of Rights. The first amendment that Congress proposed was a complicated rule of proportioning representation for the House. Unlike the rule found in Article I of the Constitution, this amendment made allowances for the expected growth in population. This proposed amendment was never adopted by the states. What was submitted as the second amendment specified that no law raising the salaries of Senators and Representatives would "take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened." This amendment likewise failed to win enough immediate support to make it into our Bill of Rights. Nonetheless, unlike the first failed amendment, it did not simply die an anonymous death. Over 200 years later, what was submitted to the states as the second amendment in 1789 was adopted as the Twenty-Seventh Amendment in 1992.


The Constitution Facts were obtained from The Montpelier Organization.