Mission & History

MISSION

The National Constitution Center serves as America’s leading platform for constitutional education and debate, fulfilling our congressional charter “to 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.”

HISTORY

The National Constitution Center in Philadelphia brings together people of all ages and perspectives, across America and around the world, to learn about, debate, and celebrate the greatest vision of human freedom in history, the U.S. Constitution. A private, nonprofit organization, the Center serves as America’s leading platform for constitutional education and debate, fulfilling our congressional charter “to disseminate information about the U.S. Constitution on a nonpartisan basis.” 

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. Just steps from Independenca Hall where the Constitution was signed, the Center'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 building. The original design of the main exhibit and visitor experience was produced by Ralph Appelbaum Associates.

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. Recent recipients have included President George W. Bush and Mrs. Laura Bush for their support for veterans, U.S. Representative John Lewis for his civil rights legacy, Malala Yousafzai for her work on behalf of young women, and many other distinguished honorees. 

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 Senator Obama.

In 2010, the Constitution Center launched two powerful online platforms: 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 has reached 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 2013, as part of a landmark, 100-year agreement between the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and The New York Public Library, thee Constitution Center began displaying one of the 12 surviving copies of the Bill of Rights. The museum of “We the People” is the first institution in the Pennsylvania to exhibit this historic document to the general public.

In 2014, the George H.W. Bush Gallery opened to the public, featuring this copy of the Bill of Rights.

In 2015, the Constitution Center, in partnership with the American Constitution Society and the Federalist Society, and thanks to a generous grant from the John Templeton Foundation, launched the Interactive Constitution, a free, online tool, which explores the meaning of each amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The Interactive Constitution brings together scholars from across the legal and political spectrum to explore the meaning of each provision of the Constitution and help users to have informed, respectful, and up-to-date discussions and debates about the Constitution. 

In 2016, the National Constitution Center launched the Interactive Constitution mobile app, which can be downloaded from the app store for your iPhone or Android device. The Constitution Center also renovated the Sidney Kimmel Theater, which is home to Freedom Rising; Philadelphia's longest continually running show. Renovations were completed in time for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, during which, the Constitution Center hosted the Political Fest. 

Over the years, the National Constitution Center has hosted an array of engaging exhibits, including world premieres, and engaged diverse, distinguished leaders of government, policy, journalism, and scholarship in timely public discussions and debates. Past programs have featured Ken Burns, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Cornel West, George Will, and many others. Chairs of the Center’s Board of Trustees have included Vice President Joe Biden, Governor Jeb Bush, President Bill Clinton, and President George H.W. Bush.

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