Mission & History
The National Constitution Center seeks to illuminate constitutional ideals and inspire active citizenship.
The National Constitution Center is the first and only nonprofit, nonpartisan institution devoted to the most powerful vision of freedom ever expressed: the U.S. Constitution. Steps from Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell in Historic Philadelphia, the Center serves as an interactive museum, national town hall, and civic education headquarters.
A permanent memorial to the Constitution was first proposed around the celebration of the centennial of the Constitution in 1887. However, it did not begin to take shape until the idea was proposed again 100 years later during the document’s bicentennial celebration in 1987.
On September 16, 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed the Constitution Heritage Act of 1988 which established the National Constitution Center. The act called for a national center “within or in close proximity to the Independence National Historical Park” that “shall disseminate information about the United States Constitution on a nonpartisan basis in order to increase awareness and understanding of the Constitution among the American people.”
The Center broke ground on September 17, 2000, 213 years to the day after the Constitution was signed. The museum’s 525 Arch Street address was specifically chosen because May 25 (5/25) is the date that the Constitutional Convention began in Philadelphia in 1787. The Center opened its doors on July 4, 2003.
The renowned architecture firm Pei Cobb Freed & Partners designed the National Constitution Center. The original design of the main exhibition and visitor experience was produced by Ralph Appelbaum Associates.
The museum has hosted an array of engaging exhibitions, including world premieres, and engaged diverse, distinguished leaders of government, policy, journalism, and scholarship in timely public discussions and debates. Past programs have featured Tom Brokaw, Ken Burns, Chris Matthews, Donald Rumsfeld, Antonin Scalia, Larry Summers, Cornel West, and many others. Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton have served as chairmen of the Board of Trustees.
Since 2006, the Constitution Center has administered the Liberty Medal, which is awarded annually to men and women of courage and conviction who strive to secure the blessings of liberty to people around the globe. Recipients include Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, Bono, Muhammad Ali, Mikhail Gorbachev, Nelson Mandela, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Sandra Day O’Connor.
In 2006, the Constitution Center helped launch Constitution High School, a history- and civics-themed magnet school in the Philadelphia School District.
In 2008, the Constitution Center hosted a Democratic presidential primary debate between Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama, a town hall meeting with Senator John McCain, and a pivotal speech on race by Obama.
In 2010, the Constitution Center launched two powerful online platforms for civic engagement and education: Constitution Daily, a blog featuring smart conversation on the Constitution, and Constitution Hall Pass, a free video lesson and live chat series that explores America’s civic holidays and history and now reaches millions of students each year.
In 2011, the Constitution Center was honored with accreditation from the American Association of Museums—the highest national recognition for a museum, achieved by less than 5 percent of museums nationwide.
In 2012, the world premiere exhibition American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition debuted at the museum. Created by the Constitution Center and curated by Daniel Okrent, Pulitzer Prize finalist and author of Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition, American Spirits is the first comprehensive exhibition to explore America’s most colorful and complex constiututional hiccup. The exhibition is currently on a national tour, with stops including Minnesota, Missouri, Indiana, and Washington state.
In 2013, as part of a landmark, 100-year agreement between the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and The New York Public Library, it was announced that the Constitution Center will display one of the 12 surviving copies of the Bill of Rights starting in fall of 2014. The museum of “We the People” will be the first institution in the Pennsylvania to exhibit this historic document to the general public.