Hillsdale College was founded in 1844 to provide "sound learning" in support of "civil and religious liberty and intellectual piety." The College founded the Allan P. Kirby, Jr. Center for Constitutional Studies and Citizenship to extend that mission to Washington, D.C. The practice of constitutionalism requires the moral and intellectual virtues cultivated by liberal education, and in turn cultivates those virtues in those who live under a Constitution. It requires a College devoted to these truths to awaken Washington to them.
—Kirby Center Mission Statement
America’s Founders understood that the preservation of freedom would depend on the capacity of the American people to remain faithful to the principles of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. They knew equally well that this fidelity would not be easy or automatic. The American experiment in liberty was thus staked upon a certain kind of education—an education aimed at providing citizens the knowledge and character required to govern themselves and defend their God-given rights.
The Kirby Center is dedicated to re-establishing the fundamental conditions of freedom: true civic education in our schools and universities, the practice of self-government within society, and an understanding of enduring principles and their application in our politics.
“I know of no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves,” Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1820. “And if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power.”
Through teaching the principles and practice of American constitutionalism, the Kirby Center seeks to promote citizenship and statesmanship worthy of the blessings of liberty. To that end, the Center sponsors a variety of programs for students, citizens, and policymakers.
Hillsdale College was founded in 1844 by men and women who proclaimed themselves “grateful to God for the inestimable blessings resulting from the prevalence of civil and religious liberty and intelligent piety in the land,” and who believed that “the diffusion of sound learning is essential to the perpetuity of these blessings.” It was the first American college to prohibit in its charter any discrimination based on race, sex, or national origin. In its earliest years, Hillsdale was known for its staunch opposition to slavery and support for the Union. In recent decades, the College has drawn national attention by holding to its core policy of nondiscrimination, which has led it to reject federally funded grants and loans and instead support its students with privately funded grants, loans, and scholarships.
The Allan P. Kirby, Jr. Center for Constitutional Studies and Citizenship supports Hillsdale College’s mission in Washington, DC. It is housed in a building that dates to 1892, when three townhouses were erected on what is now 227 Massachusetts Avenue, NE. They were constructed of pressed brick, in the style popular in Capitol Hill at the time, and each housed a single family. In the 1970s, the three houses were converted into one large office building, while the original exterior remained.
In 2008, the Kirby Center was launched. As Hillsdale sought a permanent home for the center, it looked to this century-old building then available for sale. The College acquired it and hired Rockford Construction of Michigan for the renovation work. Beginning in October 2009, the interior was gutted and refitted to suit the Kirby Center’s purpose; ultimately, 80% of the structure was removed and reconstructed. On September 17, 2010, the Kirby Center officially opened its new home, continuing Hillsdale College’s work in the nation’s capital.