U.S. Constitution Turns 222

The National Constitution Center celebrated the birth of freedom with history and cake.

  • Grades: 3–5, 6–8

The U.S. Constitution celebrated its 222nd birthday on September 17, 2009. A birthday party for the nation's most esteemed document—complete with activities and cake—was celebrated at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on Thursday.

On this day, 222 years ago, a group of the founding fathers sat in a hot room with no open windows or doors, in their hot coats, discussing, arguing, compromising, and eventually signing the Constitution of the United States of America.

The stuffy, closed-off room was how Ben Franklin wanted it, says Jenna Winterle, Public Programs Demonstrator for the center. Franklin didn't want anyone supporting the King of England to know what was going on or to overhear parts of the conversations.

"The constitution is a document written for the people, by the people," Winterle said in a live webcast on Thursday. "It was the first of its kind. The men who wrote it trusted regular people. Before then it was always the king [who made the laws]." It was the first time a group of ordinary citizens came together to write the laws for a country.

The webcast was broadcast into classrooms around the nation Thursday morning. That was followed by a play performance, produced in partnership with Scholastic Inc.

"What's Now, What's Next?" is a play about a girl named Lisa and her friend Maya. The girls learn to stand up for what they believe in. To do this they have to convince Lisa’s older brother to take them to an important meeting at the school board instead of going to his football practice.

Director and writer David Bradley is a real believer in the Constitution.

"The Constitution is an invitation to an idea—an idea that all of us have rights to," he told the Scholastic Kids Press Corps. "It was radical what they [the founding fathers] did. They went and changed the rules. The faced their biggest problems and fixed them."

The webcast and play lead to some intense discussion afterwards about who liked which parts of the Constitution best.

Justin Jain, the actor who played the older brother in "What's Now? What's Next?" told the Scholastic Kids Press Corps that the first 10 amendments are his favorite part.

"That's what gives you your rights," he said of the section known as the Bill of Rights.

Ellen Lou, a student visiting Philadelphia, said she liked the first line in the Constitution best.

"'We the people of the United States' —it's a really good starter for the Constitution," the 13-year-old said.

Disagreeing with them both was none other than a bronze statue of George Washington—well, at least the man dressed like a bronze statue of George Washington.

"You can't break up such a beautiful piece of work into fragments," he said. He loves the whole thing!

Bronze George was on hand to help with the celebration in Signer's Hall. The hall is filled with bronze statues of the men who signed the Constitution on September 17, 1787.

A giant version of the Constitution was on hand in Signer's Hall for everyone to sign. And just about everybody did (including this reporter) during the unveiling (and eating!) of the birthday cakes (one vanilla, one chocolate for everyone’s different tastes).

For more about The Constitution Center check out its newly redesigned Web site.

  • Subjects:
    American History, Constitution and Bill of Rights, Historic Documents, Historic Figures

Scholastic Kids Press Corps

The Scholastic Kids Press Corps is a team of 32 student reporters who report "news for kids, by kids." Sports, politics, and entertainment are among the topics they cover.