`Are We to Be a Nation?' Celebrating the Constitution

The United States Constitution is not a dead letter of two centuries ago, but a living document today. Various exhibitions during this bicentennial year symbolize the vitality and longevity of this supreme law of the land.

The New York Public Library's ``Are We to Be a Nation: The Making of the Federal Constitution'' includes collections of 18th-century memorabilia, now on display at the Fifth Avenue location. The New York Historical Society's ``Government by Choice'' will be on exhibit starting Sept 17. And the Monitor celebrates this historic year with a daily ``Constitutional Record'' beginning today on Page 1 of this issue.

A sampling of other Constitution-related events around the country are listed in the accompanying box.

These displays celebrate a document which has outlived any other law of its kind in modern history. More important, they are a tribute to a system of laws that protect the rights of individuals and are dedicated to justice for all.

Activities related to the bicentennial of the Constitution are being planned around the United States. Below is a sample of the kinds of programs being offered. Bicentennial commissions in each state can provide more information: California. The Constitution Day (Sept. 17) celebration will include a ceremony at a replica of Philadelphia's Independence Hall in Buena Park, Calif., where the signing will be recreated and 6,000 new citizens will be sworn in. Delaware. Delaware will be the site of the nation's first Ratification Ball on Dec. 7, 1987. Kentucky. All schoolchildren in Kentucky, kindergarten through high school, will sign a replica of the Constitution on Sept. 14, 1987, to be displayed in the state capitol on Constitution Day. Massachusetts. Bicentennial Week, Sept. 12-20, will feature a world-class regatta and special programs sponsored by the historic ship USS Constitution in Boston Harbor; parades and fireworks in Boston; a bicentennial concert on the Esplanade; and a reenactment of George Washington's march into Boston. Missouri. The ``Veiled Prophet Fair and Parade'' on July 4 in St. Louis and the ``SpiritFestival'' in Kansas City will feature bicentennial themes. Pennsylvania. What may be the largest parade in US history is scheduled in Philadelphia on Sept. 17. Guests expected to attend include President Reagan and former chief justice of the US Supreme Court Warren E. Burger, chairman of the US bicentennial commission. Federal agencies are also participating in various ways. Among them: National Park Service. An exhibit called ``Miracle at Philadelphia'' at Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia runs through December. Included are James Madison's notebook and the four original drafts of the Constitution, audio-visual presentations, computer graphics, and talks by rangers. National Archives. An 87-hour vigil - a tribute to the US Constitution - will allow visitors 24-hour access to see the original document, sign a register, and receive a copy of the Constitution. From Sept. 13 through 17. Library of Congress. An exhibit, ``The American Solution: The Origins of the US Constitution,'' runs from May 28 to Sept. 17 at the Great Hall of the Thomas Jefferson Building in Washington. Postal Service: The Postal Service is issuing 28 commemorative stamps, post cards, and other items relating to the events of 1787 through 1792, including stamps marking the 200th anniversaries of statehood for each of the 13 original states, a post card in honor of the publishing of The Federalist Papers, and stamps for the inauguration of the first president, the establishment of the US Congress and the Supreme Court, and the drafting of the Bill of Rights. Department of the Treasury. The department is producing gold and silver commemorative coins.

Sources: Commission on the Bicentennial of the United States Constitution, Monitor staff research

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