Inside the Capitol

Thursday, September 20, 2012

9-24 Many momentous events in mid-September

92412 Constitution Day
 SANTA FE -- Constitution Day, September 17, slipped by me this year but that doesn't mean we still can't talk about it.Actually mid-September if full of truly momentous events that occurred around this date in past years.
   On September 16, 1810, Father Miguel Hidalgo delivered his Grito to the people of Delores, Mexico, calling on them to unite in overthrowing the Spanish government. What followed was a bloody 11-year war of independence.
   The little town of Delores still uses the letters cdr, Corazon del Revolution, in its address. Why doesn't Mexico celebrate its victory in 1821 instead of the beginning of the revolution? We do the same with the adoption of the Declaration of Independence.
   Father Hidalgo was inspired by the American and French revolutions. So were most of the Latin American countries, many of which are celebrating their bicentennials soon.
   On September 17, 1841, New Mexico Gov. Manuel Armijo and his troops captured the advance party leading a Texas invasion. The Texans were surprised that the New Mexicans didn't welcome them as liberators and benefactors. Quite the opposite, the Texans were all marched barefooted to Mexico City.
   On September 16, 1940, our nation initiated its first peacetime draft when the Selective Service Act took effect. Political maneuvering retarded effective implementation of the law for over a year.
   To fill in the gap, many national guard units across the nation were federalized and sent to trouble spots, especially in the Philippines. That meant some 1800 New Mexicans found themselves in the Bataan Death March.
   It was a misfortune for New Mexico but there is no telling what would have happened to our nation's war plan if a bunch of raw recruits had been defending Luzon. New Mexico's more mature country boys knew every trick to holding off the Japanese until Australia could be fortified.
   On September 17, 1939, the Soviet Union invaded Poland. The Germans had done the same two weeks earlier. The two pushed each other back and forth until the Soviets took over in 1945. The last Russian soldier finally left Poland on September 17, 1993.
   Back in our own country, the United States Constitution was signed on September 17, 1787. Few Americans know that since we don't get a three-day weekend.
   The situation bothered Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va.,  so much that in 2004, he attached a rider to an appropriation bill requiring any education institution receiving federal money to teach about the Constitution on September 17.
   The rules are flexible as to how the instruction will occur but the law is doing enough good that more students know about Constitution Day than do adults.  Previously it had been called Citizenship Day. No one remembered that either.
   Some schools have an assembly and invite a public official to speak. State Attorney General Gary King frequently is a speaker. King has been promoting Constitution Day since he assumed office in 2007.
   U.S. history normally is taught in fifth grade and again in high school. Fifth graders are at a popular age for patriotic activities. In many schools they will present the program for school assemblies. Many of us can remember when we were in high school a course in civics or government was mandatory for graduation. Those courses gave way to studies that help students score higher on competency exams.
   At some point textbook companies quit putting the Declaration of Independence and Constitution in the back of U.S. history books. In many communities, Lions Clubs distribute pocket-size booklets containing the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution.
   At the state capitol yearly one can often find a class of fifth graders running around with those booklets asking legislators questions about the Constitution. It has forced some lawmakers to brush up on their history.


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