Classroom Resources from HMH
Labor Day is not just a holiday that marks the end of summer. In fact, the idea of a Labor Day began in the 1880s. Labor unions organized and established protest marches and picnics for their members as a way to draw attention to the issues facing American workers. The Central Labor Union organized the first Labor Day on September 5, 1882, in New York City. The idea spread to other unions and state governments. By 1890, eight states had passed Labor Day legislation.
In 1893, the United States was suffering an economic depression. Workers across the country were being laid off. Many workers went on strike. In 1894, President Grover Cleveland used 12,000 federal troops to break a strike of the American Railway Union. This action increased tension with labor unions across the country. President Cleveland and Congress quickly passed a law making the first Monday in September a national holiday to recognize the contributions of workers to the American way of life.
After World War II, nearly 50 percent of all workers belonged to a labor union. Labor unions' efforts improved conditions for all workers. By 2006, however, union membership was down to about 12 percent. Labor Day does not have the same meaning that it once did. Today, Labor Day is a long weekend for many people and an opportunity for many retail stores to hold big annual sales events—an ironic twist for the people who have to work on Labor Day.
In 2004, Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia pushed for the creation of a special day to honor and study the United States Constitution. Senator Byrd was frustrated that many Americans knew little about the document that created and defined their government. The result was Constitution Day. On September 17—the day the Constitution was signed—all schools that receive federal money must study the U.S. Constitution.
The Constitution is the backbone of the United States government. It brought the federal government into being, including its three branches—executive, judicial, and legislative—and the offices that accompany them—the Presidency, Congress, and the Supreme Court. The Constitution is also a "living document" that continues to help shape our government today and is continually adapted to changes in our society.
The Constitution came about in the late 1780s. At that time, the 13 new states (based on the original 13 colonies) were governed by the Articles of Confederation, which were created following America's independence from Britain. But the Articles did not provide for a strong, unified government that could deal with the challenges facing the new nation. So in 1787, the Constitutional Convention was held in Philadelphia. Delegates from all 13 states attended the Convention.
Not all of the delegates agreed on what kind of government America should have. Some wanted the states to have all the power, while others wanted a single government to control everything. The smaller states wanted equal representation in the government, while the larger states wanted representation based on population. A compromise was reached that gave states the rights that were not reserved for the main, or federal, government. A series of checks and balances were set up among the branches of the federal government to prevent any one of them from becoming too powerful. A two-part Congress was created, with a Senate that had equal representation of the states and a House of Representatives where representation is based on states' populations. But the U.S. Constitution gave the true power to the American citizens. To make sure the rights of the citizens were protected, 10 amendments were added to the end of the Constitution that spelled out the freedoms that U.S. citizens would have. This became known as the Bill of Rights.
Hispanic Heritage Month
September 15–October 15
In 1968, the U.S. Congress declared that the week of September 15 would be National Hispanic Week in honor of Hispanic Americans. Twenty years later the period was expanded, and now Hispanic Heritage Month runs from September 15 until October 15. During this time, Americans have a chance to look back at the contributions Hispanics have made to United States history and culture and to look forward to the growing role Hispanics will play in our nation's future. September 15 was chosen because it was on that date in 1821 that the Central American nations of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua achieved their independence from Spain. Also, September 16, 1810, was when Mexico declared its independence from Spain, with Chile doing the same two days later.
Hispanic Americans are any U.S. residents who trace their ancestry to Spain, Mexico, or any of the Spanish-speaking nations of Central America, South America, and the Caribbean. During the 1990s, the number of Hispanic Americans grew by 35 percent. Today there are about 47 million Hispanics living in the United States, making up 15 percent of our nation's population. That number is expected to continue to grow in the coming decades, with some experts projecting that by the year 2050, Hispanics will make up almost one-fourth of the U.S. population. Most Hispanic Americans—almost two-thirds—are of Mexican descent, while about one-tenth are of Puerto Rican descent. Today, Hispanics occupy all walks of American life, and the influence of Hispanic culture can be found in popular American food, music, and literature.