About the National Archives

Welcome Remarks at the 11th Annual State of the Constitution Panel: “The New American Constitution”

Good evening. I’m David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, and I’m pleased to welcome you all to the William G. McGowan Theater at the National Archives, whether you’re sitting with us in the theater or joining us through YouTube.

We present tonight’s panel discussion on the Constitution in partnership with the Robert H. Smith Center for the Constitution at James Madison's Montpelier, and we thank them for their support.

Before we begin, I want to let you know about a few other programs celebrating Constitution Week that are coming up soon.

On Saturday, September 16, bring the family to our Constitution Family Day between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. We’ll have a variety of activities in the Boeing Learning Center upstairs, all relating to the United States Constitution.

On Tuesday, September 19, at 7 p.m., we’ll host a screening of The Words That Built America, a filmed unabridged reading of the nation’s three founding documents by more than 100 readers, including all the living Presidents and Vice Presidents, as well as Supreme Court Justices, Cabinet secretaries, members of Congress, and others. The film’s director-producer, Alexandra Pelosi, will introduce the film.

And on Wednesday, September 27, at noon, author Alexander Tsesis will talk about his new book, Constitutional Ethos: Liberal Equality for the Common Good. He will discuss a theory of constitutional law structured on the public duty to protect individual rights for the common good.

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—and you can sign up to receive it by 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.

* * *

In a few days, on September 17, we celebrate Constitution Day. As the permanent home of those parchment pages, the National Archives has long celebrated Constitution Day and encouraged others to learn about and understand this core document.  We have taken seriously President Eisenhower’s intent when he signed the citizenship Day and Constitution Week proclamation in 1958:  to observe the week with appropriate ceremonies and activities to strengthen a better understanding of our rights and our responsibilities as citizens of the United States “so that they may manifest their gratitude for that historic week in September 1787 during which our Constitution was signed, delivered to the Continental Congress, and made known to the people.”  

Our Constitution is short, compared to other written national constitutions, but I venture to guess that relatively few among the general population have read it through. The Declaration of Independence, at one page, gets an annual reading on the steps of this building, but most people don’t venture far beyond the Constitution’s elegant Preamble, beginning with the iconic phrase “We the People.”

One could spend years studying the document—and many do, from all parts of the political spectrum. This year the Constitution is 230 years old—yet we have amended it only 27 times, showing the resilience of the founders’ work.

Constitution Day and Constitution Week is a good time to examine what we know and what we think we know about the supreme law of the land. And so I, and all of you, I’m sure, look forward to tonight’s discussion of the state of the Constitution.

* * *

I’ll now turn the stage over to Douglas Smith, who serves as the Vice President of the Montpelier Foundation, which oversees the Robert H. Smith Center for the Constitution. He has worked in public policy, international development, and organizational strategy. He holds degrees from James Madison University, Lexington Theological Seminary, and is a Fellow of the Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership at the University of Virginia. Doug is the former Chair of Heifer International, and sits on the Lutheran Family Services Virginia and James Madison University’s School of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences boards.

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Douglas Smith.