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ship. The Daughters of the American Revolution early exerted efforts toward making the naturalization ceremony impressive and effective. The National League of Women Voters for a number of years worked for citizenship recognition, emphasizing particularly the rights and responsibilities of suffrage. The press and other groups and individuals, too numerous to mention here, contributed to this idea. Ultimately it found expression in a national program for citizenship recognition.
In 1932, the movement to promote good citizenship through community recognition received formal support in the platform of the National Education Association. The focusing of community attention on the rights and responsibilities of the youthful citizen, especially as a new voter, did not, however, gain momentum until several years later.
During the period (1937–1939) of the nationwide Congressional Celebration of the Sesquicentennial of the Formation of the Constitution, many school groups paid particular attention to the subject of citizenship. Their programs honoring the Constitution frequently took citizenship as the theme. There were suggestions to make Constitution Day a National Citizenship Day.
In September of 1937, the San Diego Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution adopted a proposal that there be a National Citizenship Day for new voters. In 1938 more than 200 letters were sent to officers and units of the society in every part of the Nation recommending such a national observance. These letters brought favorable reaction, and the Chapter observed Constitution Day (September 17) with a program having as its purpose “to honor those citizens, both native-born and foreign-born, who this year enter into active citizenship either by naturalization, or by having become of age.
ESTABLISHMENT OF CITIZENSHIP DAY
In 1939 action was taken that culminated about a year later in the formal establishment of a special day for the recognition of citizenship.
The Immigration and Naturalization Service supported a movement to establish a special day for national recognition of United States citizenship through designation of a New Citizens' Day to
emphasize the meaning of the change of status from an alien to a citizen of the United States. The American Legion and the National Education Association gave impetus to the movement.
In the spring of 1940, the Immigration and Naturalization Service joined interested civic and fraternal organizations in recommending to the Congress that a National Citizenship Day be established. As a result, Congress passed Public Resolution No. 67 later that year, authorizing the President to issue an annual proclamation setting aside the third Sunday in May as “I Am An American Day” as a public occasion for the recognition of all who, by coming of age or naturalization, have attained the status of citizenship.
The first Presidential proclamation of this newly established “Day" was issued May 3, 1940. Since then annual celebrations were held in many communities throughout the Nation.
During the years that followed the first “I Am An American Day" observance, there developed an increasing awareness of the fact that certain of the problems and difficulties encountered in planning and conducting those observances were related to the inappropriateness of the timing, a spring date not being conducive to the attainment of maximum effectiveness. Meanwhile, the earlier interest in another movement to commemorate the signing of the Constitution had been gaining momentum.
The Constitution of the United States was signed on September 17, 1787, and, although that date has been referred to as Constitution Day, and the occasion variously commemorated from time to time by independent organized groups throughout the country, there had never been a congressional resolution designating September 17 as a day for observance.
Citizenship and the Constitution are inseparable. Therefore, the recognition, observance, and commemoration of United States citizenship are closely related to the basic purpose of commemorating the signing of the Constitution. When the proposal to change the date and designation of "I Am An American Day” was under consideration, it seemed most appropriate to set September 17 as the commemoration date and “Citizenship Day" as the designation of that event.
Accordingly, on February 29, 1952, Congress, acting jointly, repealed the earlier resolution and in the following resolution designated September 17 of each year as Citizenship Day:
EIGHTY-SECOND CONGRESS OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, AT THE
SECOND SESSION, BEGUN AND HELD AT THE CITY OF WASHINGTON ON TUESDAY, THE EIGHTH DAY OF JANUARY, ONE THOUSAND NINE HUNDRED AND FIFTY-Two
JOINT RESOLUTION DESIGNATING SEPTEMBER 17 OF EACH YEAR AS
Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the 17th day of September of each year is hereby designated as “Citizenship Day" in commemoration of the formation and signing, on September 17, 1787, of the Constitution of the United States and in recognition of all who, by coming of age or by naturalization have attained the status of citizenship, and the President of the United States is hereby authorized to issue annually a proclamation calling upon officials of the Government to display the flag of the United States on all Government buildings on such day, and inviting the people of the United States to observe the day in schools and churches, or other suitable places, with appropriate ceremonies.
That the civil and educational authorities of States, counties, cities, and towns be, and they are hereby, urged to make plans for the proper observance of this day and for the full instruction of citizens in their responsibilities and opportunities as citizens of the United States and of the States and localities in which they reside.
Nothing herein shall be construed as changing, or attempting to change, the time or mode of any of the many altogether commendable observances of similar nature now being held from time to time, or periodically, but, to the contrary, such practices are hereby praised and encouraged.
Sec. 2. Either at the time of the rendition of the decree of naturalization or at such other time as the judge may fix, the judge or someone designated by him shall address the newly naturalized citizen upon the form and genius of our Government and the privileges and responsibilities of citizenship; it being the intent and purpose of this section to enlist the aid of the judiciary, in cooperation with civil and educational authorities, and patriotic organizations in a continuous effort to dignify and emphasize the significance of citizenship.
Sec. 3. The joint resolution entitled “Joint resolution authorizing the President of the United States of America to proclaim I Am an American
166 Stat. 9.
Citizen Day, for the recognition, observance, and commemoration of American citizenship,” approved May 3, 1940 (54 Stat. 178), is hereby repealed.
ALBEN W. BARKLEY,
HARRY S. TRUMAN.
The President has each year issued a proclamation under this resolution calling upon the people of this Nation to rededicate themselves to the principles of good citizenship. And only in name and timing does Citizenship Day replace the former “I Am An American Day.” All the traditional objectives, principles, and activities have been carried forward under the Citizenship Day observances, with additional emphasis being placed upon the significance of United States citizenship and the reciprocal rights and duties flowing therefrom.
THE NATIONAL CONFERENCE ON CITIZENSHIP The annual celebration of a day for recognition of the significance of citizenship has become a part of our national life. Deepening awareness of the meaning of citizenship, its responsibilities as well as its rights, has stimulated a closely related movement-one that might even be regarded as an expansion of the idea of a citizenship-recognition day—the holding of an Annual National Conference on Citizenship.
Beginning in 1946, such conferences have been held annually coincident with the celebration of “I Am An American Day” or Citizenship Day. The purposes of the National Conference on Citizenship are:
To support and strengthen the efforts of the people in maintaining the blessings of freedom and justice and in protecting and perpetuating the principles and ideals upon which this Nation is founded;
To develop a more thorough knowledge of citizenship rights and responsibilities;
To inspire a deeper devotion to citizenship obligations;
To encourage even more effective participation in citizenship activities and to promote a spirit of cooperation on the part of all citizens.
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The first conference was a milestone in democratic relations. People from diverse groups sat down together to counsel with each other on how best to translate the heritage of American citizenship into dynamic reality. The delegates urged national solidarity to meet the challenge of the future. While they recognized that differences among individuals are a part of democracy, they stressed again and again the necessity for resolving these differences when they become disruptive to the unity of the whole. On this high plane, the pattern was set for later conferences.
The Conference is unique in that it brings together the most comprehensive cross-section of organizations and agencies to be found in any single National meeting. Over 1,000 delegates representing hundreds of various organizations and agencies took part in the Eleventh Annual Conference in 1956.
Since 1946, more than 1,200 organizations and agencies have participated. Through their memberships and activities these touch nearly every wholesome aspect of our life and reach most of our 167 million population.
Included are all levels of government-national, State and local; schools, colleges and universities; major religious faiths; professional associations; veterans' and related organizations; labor, business, industry and finance; farm and civic groups; and youth organizations.
Previously the National Conference on Citizenship was sponsored by the United States Department of Justice and the National Education Association. On August 13, 1953, the President signed a bill passed unanimously by Congress which granted a Federal Charter to the Conference, as a result of which it has become an independent agency; the United States Department of Justice and the National Education Association have therefore relinquished their part in its administration.
In recent years the Nation's Capital has had Citizenship Day observances on the Washington Monument grounds. Delegates of the Conference, together with many others, have witnessed fitting tributes paid to our first President and to other signers of the Constitution in impressive wreath-laying ceremonies participated in by representatives of the thirteen original States.