India observes Constitution Day on 26th November marking the adoption of Constitution by the Constituent Assembly on 26th November 1949. India is not the only country that celebrates a ‘Constitution Day’. This article explores how other countries mark this day and provides a brief history of their constitutional making projects.
1. United States of America
The Constitutional Convention held in Philadelphia during 25th May 1787 to 17th September 1787 drafted the Constitution of United States of America, one of the oldest surviving constitutions of the world.
The United States of America observes 17th September as ‘Constitution and Citizenship Day’ every year. 36 U.S. Code 106, passed in December 2004, designates this date as ‘Constitution and Citizenship Day’ to honour the signing and formation of the Constitution on 17th September 1787 and to “recognize all who, by coming of age or by naturalization, have become citizens”.
The origin of this designation can be traced back to ‘I am An American Day’ which later was renamed ‘Citizenship Day’ in 1940. In 2004, Senator Robert Byrd's made efforts to address ‘historical amnesia’ and create a culture of constitutional citizenship which led to the renaming of ‘Citizenship Day’ as ‘Constitution and Citizenship Day’.
36 U.S. Code 106 mandates all schools that receive federal funding to host educational activities on the American Constitution on September 17th. A similar requirement was cast upon Indian Schools (administered by Government) to compulsorily host a range of educational activities related to the Indian Constitution on November 26th.
ACLU through it’s project “Constitution Day Brought To You By The ACLU” has created a website to: engage students on the American Constitution and to facilitate teachers with curriculum materials to prepare educational activities on the American Constitution.
This year on the 230th anniversary of Constitution Day, 30 new United States naturalized citizens hailing from 22 different countries, took the oath of allegiance in the National Archives Rotunda in Washington DC, near the case that holds the original Constitution and other Charters of Freedom.
Eight months prior India began its constitution making process, 24 Americans (with 16 military officials) drafted the Japanese Constitution which was adopted by their Diet (Japanese Parliament) with minimal changes. While India deliberated for 2 years and 11 months to finalise its Constitution, the Americans drafted the Japanese Constitution in a week (Ramachandra Guha, ‘India After Gandhi’, Page 122, First Edition).
During the American Occupation in Japan, post the Second World War, General MacArthur (Supreme Commander for the Allied Forces) along with his staff took on the task of reforming Meiji Constitution of 1889 to replace constitutional monarchy and to provide for a progressive, pacifistic and liberal Japanese Constitution.
General MacArthur rejected the Constitution Research Committee’s (Matsumoto Committee) proposal of amending Meiji Constitution of 1889 for being conservative and for retaining the imperial powers of the Japanese royalty. General MacArthur directed his staff to draft a new Constitution and include three essential provisions, also known as MacArthur’s Three Basic Points. The draft produced by the American Government staff in Japan, with minor changes from the Japanese Government, was promulgated as the Constitution of Japan on November 3rd, 1947 and enacted on May 3rd, 1947.
May 3rd is celebrated as ‘Constitution Memorial Day’ in Japan to honour the enactment of Japanese Constitution in 1947. On this day the National Diet Building (where the Japanese Constitution was promulgated) is open for public exhibition and Japanese citizenry and press use the day to reflect on the democratic and constitutional values of Japan. In May this year Prime Minister Abe made the startling announcement that it was time to amend the “war-renouncing” constitution but as Japan’s 2018 elections approach it seems unlikely that this proposal will be implemented.
Post the Napoleonic wars in 1814, the union between Denmark and Norway dissolved and Norway became an independent nation. The Constituent Assembly led by Christian Frederik with 112 elected representatives met at Eidsvoll in April 1814. Norway’s Constitution of 1814 was adopted by the Constituent Assembly on 17th May 1814. The 1814 constitution is a progressive text which proclaimed Norway as an independent state and guaranteed separation of power and freedom of religion and press.
However as per the Treaty of Kiel Denmark, Norway was ceded to Sweden by Denmark. The Swedish monarchy refused to accept Norway’s independence and its Constitution. After negotiations, it was settled that Norway’s Constitution be amended to account for Norway’s union with Sweden. Norway became a truly independent nation in 1905 after the dissolution of union of Norway and Sweden.
Norway observes Constitution Day on 17th May every year to mark the adoption of their Constitution through elaborate celebrations and parades. Of particular note are the children’s parades that are held in every city. This tradition was started in Oslo in 1870 as a boys-only parade and girls were included in 1899. As per custom the Royal Family was at hand to greet the 121 schools that marched in the Oslo children’s parade this year.