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The Constitution and Citizenship Day

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Did you know that in addition to celebrating the creation of the Constitution on September 17th, the United States also celebrates Citizenship Day? Citizenship Day recognizes all who, “by coming of age or by naturalization have become citizens.”

San Francisco, Calif., April 1942. First-graders, some of Japanese ancestry, at the Weill public school pledging allegiance to the United States flag. Dorothea Lange, 1942

What makes a person a citizen of the U.S.? According to the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which was ratified on July 9, 1868, “all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and the State wherein they reside.” This has been subject to interpretation and change since the 14th Amendment was enacted. For example, Native Americans were not officially considered United States citizens until the Indian Citizenship Act was passed in 1924.

In 1940, Congress decreed that the third Sunday in May would be I Am an American Day. In 1952, the day was moved to September 17 to correspond with the anniversary of the signing of the Constitution. Then, in 2004, Congress approved legislation to combine the two events into one holiday, declaring September 17th to be both Constitution Day and Citizenship Day.

Alexander Hamilton Papers: Speeches and Writings File, 1778-1804; 1787; Constitutional Convention; [June 18] , “Plan of Government”
Want to learn more about Citizenship Day? The blog of the Law Library of Congress, In Custodia Legis, includes information on the 14th Amendment, which identifies who is a citizen of the United States and the legal cases that shaped how it was enforced. Links to primary sources on the 14th Amendment is available in a web guide. A search on “citizenship” in will also produce information on recent legislation about citizenship.

Ask students to read some of the presidential proclamations on Citizenship Day. Why is it important to commemorate these two important events?

Encourage students to review the Constitution. What are the rights and responsibilities of United States citizens as noted in the Constitution?

Need more primary sources relating to the Constitution? Explore our Constitution Primary Source Set as well as the material provided in the Constitution Web guide. The online exhibit on Creating the United States provides information on the history of the Constitution and its impact on the United States.

Suggest your students consider ways to encourage people in your community to be better citizens. Share your students’ suggestions in the comments.

Comments (5)

  1. The act of giving birth on American soil or falsely obtaing an American birth certificate should not constitution the right of citizenship. If a pregent person enters this country either thru temporary visa, foreign passport, or illegal entry citizenship should not be granted to the child. As this is a means to circumvent the Immergration Laws of the United States.
    The intent of the Constitution and ammendements was to fit the situation at that time and to cover those persons who were in the process of legal US entry. Not the individual who is intentionally circumventing laws to gain an advantage toward immigration status. Honesty should prevail as the Constitution was based on Christion Values and Christian Laws

  2. Clearly if the I Am an American bill was passed by Congress in 1940 it could not have been signed into law by Harry Truman, as he was not President. He was Pres. In 1950, which was referenced in the next sentence, so perhaps you got some dates or people confused.

    • You are correct and I have corrected the post.

  3. What role did Majority Leader, Charles Curtis, have, if any, in the passage of the Indian Citizen Act of 1924 and/or the Immigration Act of 1924? Under President Hoover, did his Vice President Curtis, a Native American, preside over any controversial pieces of legislation of that time?

    • I’ve forwarded your question to the Researcher and Reference Services Division of the Library through our Ask a Librarian Service. They will contact you directly.

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