About the National Archives

Welcome remarks for "Constitution Day: The 10th Annual State of the Constitution—The Future of Policy Making"

McGowan Theater, National Archives Building, Washington, DC
September 15, 2016


Good evening. I’m David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, and I’m pleased to welcome you to the William G. McGowan Theater at the National Archives. We’re glad you could join us tonight, whether you are here in the theater or watching on YouTube.

This Saturday, September 17, is Constitution Day, and we start the celebration with the 10th Annual State of the Constitution program focusing on “The Future of Policy Making.”

Our partner for tonight’s program is the Robert H. Smith Center for the Constitution at James Madison's Montpelier and the Millennial Action Project.

Before we begin, I’d like to tell you about two programs later this month.

At noon next Wednesday, September 21, Laura Weinrib, the author of The Taming of Free Speech: America’s Civil Liberties Compromise, will talk about how a surprising coalition of lawyers and activists made judicial enforcement of the Bill of Rights a defining feature of American democracy.

On Thursday, September 29, at 7:30 p.m., we will celebrate the 150th anniversary of the passage of the 14th Amendment with a program on “The 14th Amendment, the National Park Service, and America’s Second Founding.” Congressman James Clyburn will be the keynote speaker.

To learn more about these and all of our public programs and exhibits, consult our monthly Calendar of Events in print or online at Archives.gov. There are copies in the lobby—along with a sign-up sheet so you can receive it by regular mail or email. You’ll also find brochures about other National Archives programs and activities.

Another way to get more involved with the National Archives is to become a member of the National Archives Foundation. The Foundation supports the work of the agency, especially its education and outreach programs. Pick up your application for membership in the lobby or become a member online at archivesfoundation.org.

Constitution Day, celebrated every year on September 17, commemorates the signing of our United States Constitution 229 years ago in 1787. This special day doesn’t get the attention that Independence Day gets, but it’s well worth observing and is very meaningful to us at the National Archives.

Back in 1987, for the Constitution’s bicentennial, we even hosted an 87-hour vigil, during which we kept the Rotunda open to visitors around the clock for more than three and a half days. Thousands came to view the Constitution—even in the pre-dawn hours.

This year we are adhering to our regular museum hours, but our special exhibition, “Amending America,” expands our examination of the U.S. Constitution by looking at how we can change it. Starting with the Bill of Rights, we’ve amended the “supreme law of the land” only 27 times in more than two centuries. More startling is the fact that over 11,000 amendments have been proposed. The brilliance of the Framers of the Constitution is that the document outlines a method for change and also sets a high bar for those changes.

Here at the National Archives, we celebrate the Constitution every day, and we encourage all citizens to examine this founding document and consider its effects on our lives and the welfare of our nation.

Now I will turn the program over to Douglas Smith, Vice President for the Robert H. Smith Center for the Constitution at Montpelier. He was named a Fellow of the Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership at the University of Virginia and is the former Chairman of the Board of Heifer International. He serves on the board of James Madison University's School of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences and Mary Washington University's Center for Honor, Leadership, & Service.

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Douglas Smith.