Remarks by the President at Ground-Breaking Ceremony for National Constitution Center (9/17/00)
                              THE WHITE HOUSE

                       Office of the Press Secretary

Immediate Release                        September 17, 2000

                         REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT

                             Independence Mall
                        Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

1:17 P.M. EDT

     THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you very much.  The final sentence of the
preamble:  "We do ordain and establish this Constitution of the United
States."  Today, we come to ordain and establish this Constitution Center,
so I begin by thanking Senator Specter, Senator Santorum; Representatives
Brady, Borski and Hoeffel, who are here; Mayor Street and Mayor Rendell;
Chairman Bogle; President Torsella; Judge Giles, Judge Becker; Park Service
Director Marie Rust and all of your employees; President Rodin; and Lee
Annenberg, we thank you and Walter so much for your continuing generosity
and vision.

     And most of all, I'd like to thank the people of Philadelphia, who
have contributed so much to make this center a reality.

     This is an appropriate thing to do, I think, in the millennial year,
and in the political season.  I thank Senator Specter for the plug for
First Lady, and I hope he will not be too severely rebuked at the
Republican caucus in a few days.  (Laughter.)

     But if it is the season of political olympics in America, we shouldn't
forget that we have over 600 of our athletes halfway across the world in
Australia.  And I think we ought to give a big hand to the female 400-meter
free style relay team, who set a world record in winning a gold medal
yesterday.  (Applause.)  I might say, just as an aside, I saw a television
special which said that this is the oldest women's swimming team we have
ever fielded, and the first time the women's team has ever been older than
the men.  But I don't think they meant that in the same way I do.  I think
their average is about 21 years and six months.  (Laughter.)

     I bring you greetings, also, from the First Lady, who wanted to be
here today, because of her efforts to save the charters of our freedom.

     As you may have read, and I hope you have, this weekend at the
National Archives in Washington, scientists and engineers unveiled new,
state of the art technology to display and better preserve the
Constitution, Bill of Rights and Declaration of Independence.  We have been
struggling now for many, many years to show it to the largest possible
number of visitors without having the precious old paper erode and the ink
bleed away into the mists of memory.

     This effort to preserve the documents is part of America's Millennium
Project to save our treasures, from Thomas Edison's invention factory to
Harriet Tubman's home; from the Old Glory that inspired Francis Scott Key
to write the "Star Spangled Banner" to Abraham Lincoln's summer residence
at the Old Soldiers Home in Washington.

     It is the largest historic preservation effort in our history.  It has
garnered already over $100 million in public and private funds, and I'm
very proud of the First Lady for thinking of it and executing it.  It will
complement this Constitution Center for you to know that the Constitution
is alive and well and preserved for all times, along with the Bill of
Rights and the Declaration of Independence.  (Applause.)

     Two hundred and thirteen years ago today, a few hundred feet from
where we stand, 39 men signed a document that would change the world.  Some
of them -- Washington, Franklin, Madison -- are remembered today as our
greatest citizens.  In light of the naturalization ceremony just held, I
think it's worth noting that eight of those 39 signers were immigrants,
including Alexander Hamilton, born in the West Indies, and James Wilson of
Pennsylvania, who spoke with a heavy Scottish brogue.

     Those who put their names in the Constitution understood the enormity
of what they were attempting to do:  to create a representative democracy,
with a central government strong enough to unify a vast, diverse, then and
now politically fractious nation; but a government limited enough to allow
individual liberty and enterprise to flourish.

     Well, 213 years later, we can say with thanks, they succeeded.  Not
only in keeping liberty alive, but in providing a strong, yet flexible,
framework within which America could keep moving forward, generation after
generation, toward making real the pure ideals embodied in their words.

     How have we moved forward?  Well, today our liberties extend not just
to white males with property, but to all Americans, including those who
were just signed in.  Our concept of freedom no longer includes the
so-called freedom to keep slaves and buy and sell them, or to extract
profit from the labor of children.  And now our Constitution is the
inspiration behind scores of other democratic governments all over the
world, from Japan to Poland, from Guatemala to South Africa.

     Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes said, the Constitution is an experiment,
as all life is an experiment.  The new center we begin today will tell the
story of that experiment, showing how each generation of Americans has been
called on not only to preserve liberty, but to enhance it; not only to
protect the institutions that secure liberty, but to renew and modify them
to the demands of the present with an eye to the future.

     Our generation has also begun to meet that sacred duty, for at the
dawn of a new century we are clearly a nation in renewal.  Like generations
before us, we are renewing the promise of America by meeting the challenges
of our time with new ideas rooted in old values:  faith and freedom,
opportunity and responsibility, family and community.

     This new center is a symbol of that broader renewal.  It will use the
latest technologies to bring alive to visitors the meaning of our founding
documents.  Perhaps the greatest testament to our national renewal is we
are becoming as a people simultaneously more diverse, as you can see from
those who just became American citizens, and more tolerant.

     The degree of diversity in America today would probably astound the
founders.  But if they thought about it just for a moment, they would
recognize it as the inevitable product of their own handiwork.  James
Madison, himself, predicted America would be made stable by a strong
Constitution that would draw from other countries "men who love liberty and
wish to partake of its blessings."  Even in the beginning we were a diverse
country, compared to most.

     A few years ago, I went to Germany on a state visit.  And I presented
to the Chancellor of Germany a copy of the Declaration of Independence,
printed in Philadelphia on July 5, 1776, in German, for the German speakers
who were already here.

     A newspaper way back then wrote, if the new federal government be
adopted, thousands would embark immediately to America.  Germany and
Ireland would send colonies of cultivators of the earth, while England and
Scotland would fill our towns and cities with industrious mechanics and

     Well, today we benefit from the skills and drive of a new wave of
immigrants from Nigeria and India, Poland and China, Mexico and Russia and,
as you heard, scores of other countries.  No country in the world has been
able so to absorb large numbers of immigrants and profit by them, yet still
somehow find a way to remain one nation.

     I believe the reason is that we base national identity in America not
on common blood or common history or loyalty to a particular ruler, but on
a shared belief and a set of political ideas and arrangements.  We revere
the Constitution because it is at the core of who we are.  And I would
submit for all the troubling responses in the polls that were cited, one of
the reasons that we need this Constitution Center is so people will come
here and learn the answers to those questions so they will know why they
already feel the way they do -- because even people who don't know the
answers to the questions at bottom are Americans in the sense that I just
mentioned, thanks to 213 years of this Constitution.  (Applause.)

     Since 1993, 5 million immigrants have chosen to become Americans, more
than the total of the previous three decades.  This week, 25,000 more are
being sworn in in ceremonies across our country, celebrating Constitution
Week and Citizenship Day.  They gain new rights and freely accept new
obligations to play their part in the ongoing experiment in self-government
that is our nation.

     I say it again, the final clause of the Constitution's preamble reads,
"We do ordain and establish this Constitution of the United States."  The
founders ordained it when they signed it.  The American people have renewed
it again and again:  in 1789, when we added the Bill of Rights; in the
1860s, when hundreds of thousands gave their lives to ensure that a union
founded in liberty on the proposition that all are created equal would not
perish from the earth in slavery.  We renewed it at the coming of the
Industrial Age, recognizing new measures were required to protect and
advance equal opportunity and freedom.  We renewed it in 1920, when we
ratified the 19th amendment, granting women the right to vote.  (Applause.)

     We renewed it during the great worldwide Depression of the 1930s, when
we saved a free economy for free people by building a social safety net and
appropriate regulatory protections.  We renewed it in the Constitution's
finest sense during World War II and the Cold War, when we stood up to
tyrannies that did not believe people could be trusted with freedom.  We
renewed in 1963, hearing and heeding Dr. King's dream that one day the sons
of former slaves and former slave owners would sit down together at the
table of brotherhood.  (Applause.)

     Today, we enter a new era in human affairs, dominated by globalization
-- which is a fancy way of saying the world is getting smaller and more
inter-connected -- and an explosion in science and information technology,
which will change the way we live and work and relate to each other in ways
we can only dimly imagine, at a pace that is truly breathtaking.

     We, therefore, must renew our commitment to the charters of freedom
and apply their values to the challenges of this new era.  Our Constitution
protects individual integrity and privacy.  What does it mean when all of
our genetic information is on a little card and in someone's computer?  How
can we take this magnificent prosperity that the global economy is
producing and spread it to everybody?  What are our responsibilities to
deal with our brothers and sisters half a world away who are still
struggling in poverty and under the grip of AIDS, TB and malaria, which
together kill one in every four people who die every year?

     What is our responsibility to share our learning in outer space and
the deepest oceans with all Americans and with those beyond our borders?
How can we be a great nation of free people unless every single child can
get a world-class education?  (Applause.)

     These are only some of the questions the next generation of American
leaders will have to contemplate and answer at more and more rapid speeds.
But the great thing is, we now have over two centuries of experience to
know that we always will need new ideas, we'll always need strong
leadership, we'll always need to be open for change -- but the
Constitution, the Declaration and the Bill of Rights will always be home
base and a good place to return to know what should be the anchor of the
changes and the challenges of any new era.  That is what this center will
give to all Americans.  (Applause.)

     Finally, let me say, if you read the Declaration of Independence and
its commitment to build a more perfect union, it is easier to understand
why the Constitution was constructed as it was.  For the founders, though
in many ways ordinary people, were inordinately wise in the ways of social
change and the frailties of human nature.  And they knew that the union
would never be perfect, but could always be made more perfect.
     They knew that we would never fully realize the ideals of the
Constitution and the Declaration or the Bill of Rights, but that we could
always deepen the meaning of freedom, widen the circle of opportunity and
strengthen the bonds of our community.  That is what these young immigrants
represent today -- our future and our steadfast belief that we grow
stronger with our diversity in a global world, as long as we reaffirm our
common humanity and our common fidelity to the freedom and values of the

     Now, my fellow Americans, about four months from now I will change
jobs.  And I will be restored to a title that Harry Truman once said was
the most important title any American could have, that of citizen.  No
American citizen in this republic's history has been more fortunate or more
blessed.  I hope for the rest of my life I can do a good job with that
title.  I hope all these young, new citizens behind me will realize that
President Truman was right -- as important as our presidents are, as
important as our congresses are, as important as our judges are and our
governors and our mayors, our philanthropists, our artists, our athletes,
this country is great because there are good people who get up every day
and do their very best to live their dreams and make the most of their own
lives; and because this country has a system enshrined in the Constitution
that gives them the maximum opportunity to do just that.

     You should be very proud of what you are doing here today to make sure
everyone knows why America is a special place and being an American is a
great gift.

     I thank you for that.  Thank you  (Applause.)

     Now, we're just about done, but I'm going to ask one of our citizens,
Susan Yuh, who was born in South Korea, to join me in signing, as everyone
else has already done, this steel beam to my right, that will be the
founding pillar of a building devoted to our Constitution.  I think it's
quite fitting that the beam should have the signature of a President, and
even more fitting that it should have the signature of a new citizen on her
first day as an American.  (Applause.)

                          END                   1:35 P.M. EDT

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