Constitution Q & A

The president of the National Constitution Center explains the importance of this key document

Sep 16, 2013 | By Glenn Greenberg
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Americans observe Constitution Day on September 17. Many celebrate the day by visiting the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

The U.S. Constitution may be turning 226 years old, but it’s certainly not showing its age. This document is as important to the country today as it was when it was first signed on September 17, 1787. The Constitution established our national government and lists the rights of  Americans. Jeffrey Rosen, the president of the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, spoke with TFK about what the document means and why it should be celebrated. 

Jeffrey Rosen became President of the National Constitution Center in May 2013. The Center officially opened on July 4, 2003.
COURTESY NATIONAL CONSTITUTION CENTER
Jeffrey Rosen became President of the National Constitution Center in May 2013. The Center officially opened on July 4, 2003.

TFK:

How would you describe the U.S. Constitution?

JEFFREY ROSEN:

The Constitution is our fundamental law. It both empowers and limits our government. The part of the Constitution that limits government is most notably the Bill of Rights, the first 10 amendments to the Constitution, which includes rights like freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and rights against unreasonable searches and seizures. Those rights make clear that government can’t do certain things and has to respect the basic rights of the people.

TFK:

Why is the Constitution so important?

ROSEN:

The Constitution is the most important document in American history. It expresses our basic values as a people: our commitment to democracy, popular sovereignty, free speech, and limited government. It expresses who we are as a people. We as Americans are united by our attachment to the basic rights and values expressed in the Constitution. It’s the most inspiring and beautiful document there is.

TFK:

What is the best way to celebrate the Constitution on Constitution Day?

Signers' Hall in the National Constitution Center features life-size statues of the men who helped write and, and who signed, the U.S. Constitution. Left to right: Pennsylvania delegates Robert Morris (seated), George Clymer, Benjamin Franklin (seated), and Gouverneur Morris.
COURTESY NATIONAL CONSTITUTION CENTER
Signers' Hall in the National Constitution Center features life-size statues of the men who helped write and, and who signed, the U.S. Constitution. Left to right: Pennsylvania delegates Robert Morris (seated), George Clymer, Benjamin Franklin (seated), and Gouverneur Morris.

ROSEN:

Of course, the very best way would be to come to the National Constitution Center! We are a center of Constitutional education and debate. But if you’re not able to do that, the best way would be to learn about the Constitution and debate it. Having citizens actively debate the meaning of the Constitution is what ultimately determines its meaning in the 21st century and beyond. Read the Bill of Rights, pick an amendment, such as freedom of speech, and discuss with your friends what you think it means.

TFK:

Is there any particular exhibit at the National Constitution Center that you would recommend to visitors?

ROSEN:

I would go right up our beautiful marble stairs to Signers’ Hall. There you’ll find beautifully rendered, historically accurate life-size statues of all the Framers of the Constitution. Ben Franklin is the most popular. People love to touch him. You’ll see how short Alexander Hamilton was! The excitement of seeing the Framers all in one place is something that visitors always love and it’s definitely a great place to experience Constitution Day.

Visit constitutioncenter.org/constitutionday to find out more about Constitution Day.

In the video delow, TFK explains the U.S. Constitution.