Constitution Day, celebrated this year on Sunday, is a national holiday to commemorate the signing of the U.S. Constitution on Sept. 17, 1787. Connecticut is known as the Constitution State, but that designation has its roots more than a century earlier.
Congress first established “Constitution Week” in 1956. It became a national holiday 44 years later when Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.V.) introduced an amendment to the omnibus spending bill that made the observance a national holiday, and to require that all schools receiving federal funding, as well as all federal agencies, to provide relevant programming to celebrate the Constitution.
Written in 1787, ratified in 1788, and in operation since 1789, the United States Constitution is the world’s longest surviving written charter of government, according to the U.S. Senate website. Its first three words –– “We the People” –– affirm that the government of the United States exists to serve its citizens.
The National Constitution Center (NCC) devotes space on its website to the question of whether the “constitution” celebrated by Connecticut really a constitution?
The site explains that although the Connecticut Compromise at the 1787 convention in Philadelphia was a critical part of the process of agreeing to and ratifying the U.S. Constitution, Connecticut celebrates – and its nickname is derived – from an event that happened in 1639.
On January 14, 1639 (in the old Julian calendar), the residents of three Connecticut towns – Wethersfield and Hartford – approved a list of rules for running local government called the Fundamental Orders. Most historians agree the Fundamental Orders are significant, but the state of Connecticut decided in 1959 to call itself the Constitution State based on the premise that the Fundamental Orders were the first constitution in North America.
The Fundamental Orders document has a structure that is similar to a constitution, the NCC explains. There is a preamble and a list of powers about local government, taxation and voting rights.
Prior to the legislature determining in 1959 that Connecticut would be known by the official nickname of the Constitution State, it was known as the Nutmeg State. Before that, in the post-Revolutionary War era, Connecticut was known as the Provisions State.
Officially, the state is not known as the Land of Steady Habits, but that too is commonly used. A Dictionary of Americanisms on Historical Principles, published in1951, defines “Land of Steady Habits” as “1. Connecticut, applied in allusion to the strict morals of its inhabitants.”