National Constitution Center
Exterior of the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
|Established||17 September 2000|
|Location||Independence Mall, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania|
|Public transit access|| 5th Street: SEPTA bus: 38, 44, 48|
The National Constitution Center is a nonprofit, nonpartisan institution devoted to the United States Constitution. On Independence Mall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the center is an interactive museum and a national town hall for constitutional dialogue, hosting government leaders, journalists, scholars, and celebrities for public discussions (including presidential debates). The center houses the Annenberg Center for Education and Outreach, which offers civic learning resources onsite and online. It does not house the original Constitution, which is stored at the National Archives Building in Washington, D.C.
The groundbreaking ceremony (attended by President Bill Clinton) was held on September 17, 2000, the 213th anniversary of the signing of the Constitution. The center opened on July 4, 2003, joining other historic sites and attractions in what has been called "America's most historic square mile" because of its proximity to Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell.
The center was created by the Constitution Heritage Act. Approved on September 16, 1988 and signed by President Ronald Reagan, the act defined the National Constitution Center as "within or in close proximity to the Independence National Historical Park. The Center shall disseminate information about the United States Constitution on a non-partisan basis in order to increase the awareness and understanding of the Constitution among the American people." The center is at 525 Arch Street, an address chosen because May 25 (5/25) was the date that the Constitutional Convention began in Philadelphia.
The architectural firm of Pei Cobb Freed & Partners designed the center, and Leslie E. Robertson Associates were the structural engineers for the project. Witold Rybczynski of The New York Times wrote, "Quiet but assertive, respectful of its surroundings, considerate of its public, this building is destined to take its place among the nation's leading public monuments."
Ralph Appelbaum Associates designed the center's visitor experience and exhibition hall. The public space is 160,000 square feet (15,000 m2), including galleries. The center has 75,785 square feet (7,040.7 m2) of exhibit space. The center is made of American products, including 85,000 square feet (7,900 m2) of Indiana limestone, 2.6 million pounds of steel, and a half-million cubic feet of concrete.
The National Constitution Center board of trustees appointed law professor, legal commentator, and former visiting scholar Jeffrey Rosen to serve as president and chief executive officer of the center; Rosen began his tenure in June 2013. The chairmen of the board of the Center have been:
- John C. Bogle 1999-2007
- George H. W. Bush 2007-2013
- Jeb Bush 2013-2017
- Joe Biden 2017-2019
- Neil Gorsuch 2019-onwards
The museum's main exhibition features three attractions. The first is Freedom Rising, a 17-minute, 360° theatrical production in the Sidney Kimmel Theater tracing the American quest for freedom. "The Story of We the People" exhibit in the Richard and Helen DeVos Exhibition Hall is an interactive exhibition highlighting the history of the Constitution with over 100 hands-on and multimedia exhibits. The Signers' Hall is a stylized evocation of the Assembly Room in the Pennsylvania State House (now known as Independence Hall), where the signers of the Constitution met on September 17, 1787. The room has life-sized, bronze statues.
The center's featured exhibit is "Constituting Liberty: From the Declaration to the Bill of Rights", with one of the 12 surviving copies of the Bill of Rights displayed alongside a first-edition stone engraving of the Declaration of Independence and a rare copy of the first public printing of the U.S. Constitution in the George H.W. Bush Gallery. The exhibit is on display from December 2014 to December 2017.
"Headed to the White House" was a unique exhibit created to engage students, teachers and families with the election season. Starting from the Constitution, the hands-on exhibit took visitors from the campaign trail to Inauguration Day in one visit and was on display from February 12 to December 31, 2016.
Through its Annenberg Center for Education and Outreach, the center offers onsite and online civic-education programs and a study center which develops and distributes teaching tools, lesson plans and resources. In September 2006 the center helped launch Constitution High School, a college-preparatory, citywide magnet school and "the only Philadelphia School District high school whose theme is [sic] Law, Democracy, and History."
As a national town hall, the center has welcomed former presidents, Supreme Court justices, journalists, pundits, scholars and entertainers at political discussions and book events. Guests include Presidents Barack Obama, George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton; Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; Vice President Dick Cheney; First Lady Laura Bush; Supreme Court Justices Sandra Day O'Connor, Antonin Scalia, Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor; Newt Gingrich; Karl Rove; Donna Brazile, and journalists Tavis Smiley, Gwen Ifill, Tina Brown, Andrea Mitchell and Tom Brokaw. The center has hosted several debates, including a 2008 Democratic presidential primary debate between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama a town hall meeting with Senator John McCain, and a 2006 Pennsylvania Senatorial debate between Republican incumbent Rick Santorum and Democratic challenger Bob Casey.
In 2006 the center became home to the Liberty Medal, an annual award established in 1988 to recognize "men and women of courage and conviction who strive to secure the blessings of liberty to people around the globe." Liberty Medal recipients have included Hillary Clinton, Muhammad Ali, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Bono, Mikhail Gorbachev, Nelson Mandela, Steven Spielberg, Tony Blair and Robert Gates.
Former President George H. W. Bush became chairman of the center's board of trustees in 2007. His successor as chair, Bill Clinton, served from 2009 to 2012. Jeffrey Rosen has been the center's director since 2013. On March 18, 2008, while campaigning for the presidency, Senator Barack Obama delivered a speech on racial issues ("A More Perfect Union") at the center. The center hosted Senators Obama and Hillary Clinton for their Pennsylvania presidential-primary debate on April 16 of that year.
Two days after the Constitution was signed its text was printed in the Pennsylvania Packet and Daily Advertiser, a local newspaper. A rare copy of this first publication is housed at the center in an alcove adjacent to Signers' Hall. The center received its copy on September 11, 2001.
The U.S. flag hanging in the Grand Hall Overlook has traveled around the country, flying over every state and territory capitol. Before the center opened, it was unfurled by Muhammad Ali in a June 14, 2003 Flag Day ceremony.
In the media
George Will wrote for The Washington Post, "At the other end of the mall sparkles a modernist jewel of America's civic life, the National Constitution Center". Jason DeParle wrote for The New York Times Learning Network, "Since opening in 2003, [the National Constitution Center] has put forward a vision of constitutional history both left and right have embraced." According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, "The National Constitution Center has established itself as one of the city's cultural celebs, attracting a million visitors a year, putting pizzazz into civic and educational offerings, hosting blockbuster exhibitions, and attracting the nation's intellectual cognoscenti and media elite like bears to honey."
- Philadelphia Liberty Medal – An annual award administered by the Center
- Constitution Day (United States)
- Independence National Historical Park
- Landmark Cases (TV series)
- "The Constitutional Walking Tour of Philadelphia". Retrieved 27 March 2013.
- "TRAVEL ADVISORY; Constitution Center To Open in Philadelphia – New York Times". The New York Times. 22 June 2003. Retrieved 28 March 2013.
- "Independence Visitor Center". Independence Visitor Center. Retrieved 9 August 2013.
- "The Constitutional Walking Tour of Philadelphia". Retrieved 28 March 2013.
- "Untitled Document". Archived from the original on 2012-11-28. Retrieved 28 March 2013.
- "Pei Cobb Freed & Partners". Retrieved 28 March 2013.
- Rybczynski, Witold (8 July 2003). "ARCHITECTURE REVIEW; More Perfect Union Of Function And Form – New York Times". The New York Times. Retrieved 28 March 2013.
- "President and CEO – National Constitution Center". Retrieved 6 June 2013.
- "The Bill of Rights – National Constitution Center". Archived from the original on 4 September 2013. Retrieved 6 June 2013.
- "Annenberg Foundation Awards $6.4 Million to National Constitution Center PND Foundation Center". Retrieved 28 March 2013.
- "Constitution High School – The School District of Philadelphia". Retrieved 28 March 2013.
- "Transcript: Obama and Clinton Debate – ABC News". Retrieved 28 March 2013.
- "McCain's town-hall meeting at Constitution Center 6abc.com". Retrieved 28 March 2013.
- "Santorum on the attack in final debate with Casey – Pittsburgh Post-Gazette – Printer friendly". Retrieved 28 March 2013.
- "THE LIBERTY MEDAL". Retrieved 28 March 2013.
- "Recipients – Liberty Medal – National Constitution Center". Retrieved 28 March 2013.
- "Transcript: Obama and Clinton Debate – ABC News". Retrieved 28 March 2013.
- "George F. Will – Sense From the Hall of Framers". The Washington Post. 14 August 2005. Retrieved 28 March 2013.
- "Constitutional Lessons, Old and New, on Display". The New York Times. Retrieved 28 March 2013.
- "Philadelphia does history right So far, so good for the National Constitution Center. - Philly.com". Retrieved 28 March 2013.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to National Constitution Center.|
- National Constitution Center official site
- Peter Jennings Project for Journalists and the Constitution
- Podcast interview with Eli Lesser – Director of Education for the National Constitution Center from the Speaking of History podcast, July 2007
- Constitution Daily blog of the National Constitution Center