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Archive for 'Uncategorized'

Location, Location, Location: Settling on a Capital City

Today’s post comes from Judith Adkins, an archivist at the Center for Legislative Archives at the National Archives in Washington, DC.

Senate Resolution that Congress should meet in Philadelphia, May 24, 1790. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

Senate Resolution that Congress shall meet in Philadelphia, May 24, 1790. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

While the First Congress met for its two sessions in New York City, delegates from Pennsylvania longed to move the seat of government back to Philadelphia, home of the Continental Congress.

On May 24, 1790, Senator Robert Morris of Pennsylvania offered a resolution, “That Congress shall meet and Hold their next Session in the City of Philadelphia”—the first overture on the issue during the second session.

Three days later, Congressman Thomas Fitzsimons, also from Pennsylvania, introduced an almost identical resolution in the House of Representatives.

Debate ensued.

That spirited discussion was recorded in the Annals of Congress, the predecessor publication to today’s Congressional Record. Representative Elbridge Gerry worried that Congress would become “a political shuttlecock, bandied about between two rival cities.” Some in Congress argued for keeping the government in New York until a permanent residence had been determined.

Other members insisted that Philadelphia be made the permanent seat of government. And still others proposed Baltimore or Wilmington as temporary homes.

In late June, the House and Senate reached a compromise: the permanent capital would be located along the Potomac River, satisfying the fervent … [ Read all ]

Hitler’s Final Words

This post comes from Greg Bradsher’s latest article “Hitler’s Final Words” in Prologue magazine. Bradsher is a senior archivist at the National Archives and a frequent contributor to Prologue.

A little after 11 p.m., Gertrude Junge, the 25-year-old secretary to Adolf Hitler, woke from a one-hour nap, and, thinking it was time for the nightly tea with her boss, headed for his study.

“Have you had a nice little rest, child,” her boss asked her as he shook her hand. “Yes, I have slept a little,” she replied.

Getting any sleep in Hitler’s bunker, deep underground in Berlin, might have been difficult that night in April 1945.

Russian troops were only about 1,000 yards away, and the war was all but lost by then. The head of Hitler’s dreaded SS, Heinrich Himmler, was already negotiating with the Western Allies. The Third Reich was almost over.

Adolf Hitler and eva Braun, ca. 1942. They married in Hitler's Berlin bunker on April 29 and both committed suicide on April 30, 1945. (242-EB-27-15E)

Adolf Hitler and eva Braun, ca. 1942. They married in Hitler’s Berlin bunker on April 29, and both committed suicide on April 30, 1945. (242-EB-27-15E)

But the dictator had something else on his mind at tea time.

“Come along,” he said to Junge, “I want to dictate something.”

They went into the conference room next to Hitler’s quarters, and Junge began to uncover the typewriter she usually used to take down his dictation.

Not this time, however, as Greg Bradsher recounts … [ Read all ]

Your Good Friend, Victoria R

Citizen Archivists! You can transcribe this document as part of our #SunshineWeek Transcription Challenge!

The black-bordered letter sent to President Martin Van Buren relayed the official news that the king of the United Kingdom, His Majesty William IV, had died on June 20, 1837. The new monarch was the late king’s niece, 18-year-old Victoria.

Writing on June 23, the young new queen announced the passing of “Our Most Honoured and Beloved Uncle” and advised the President of her own accession to the throne. She assured him “that it will be Our most earnest desire to cultivate and maintain the Relations of Friendship and good Understanding which so happily subsist between the Two Countries.”

At the end of the letter, she signed herself, “Your Good Friend, Victoria R.” Just three days into her nearly 64–year reign, her signature is penned neatly and carefully. In later years, letters from the more mature queen show a looser, more flowing signature.

Several other letters from Victoria and other 19th-century monarchs (in the series “Ceremonial Letters from Great Britain”) are available in the online National Archives catalog. They announce births, deaths, and weddings of members of the royal family and diplomatic appointments. The foreign minister’s signature (Palmerston on this 1837 letter) appears below the monarch’s.

Letter from Victoria R to Martin Van Buren

Page 1 of a letter from Queen Victoria to President Martin Van

[ Read all ]

Sara Dunlap Jackson: Archivist Extraordinaire

Today’s post comes from Jessie Kratz, Historian of the National Archives.

In honor of Women’s History Month, I want to celebrate one of our most cherished former employees—Sara Dunlap Jackson. After I was appointed Historian last year, numerous local historians approached me to say that I just had to research Sara Dunlap Jackson because she was so important to the history of the agency.

Sara Dunlap Jackson was born in Columbia, South Carolina, in 1919. After earning her B.A. in sociology, and a brief stint as a high school teacher, Jackson moved to Washington, DC. She began her 46-year-long career at the National Archives in 1944 as an archives assistant in the Military Archives Division. According to Jackson, the Archives offered her the job because she had been working in the War Department, and the Archives thought this meant she knew something about military history.

In reality, Jackson knew little about military history at that time, but by spending countless hours in the stacks and answering numerous reference requests she became the go-to person for anyone researching military records in the National Archives. Researchers reported how she went the “extra mile,” how her kindness and advice “mothered” many historians, and how she dedicated her entire career to helping others. To many, Jackson was the National Archives.

Retirees reception, June 30, 1972. Sara Jackson  is in the middle. (64-JR-2, Records of the National Archives)

Retirees reception, June 30, 1972. Sara Jackson  is in

[ Read all ]

Inventing in Congress: Patent Law since 1790

Today’s post comes from Samantha Payne, intern in the Center for Legislative Archives in Washington, DC. 

In August 1791, two men received identical patents from the Federal Government. John Fitch and James Rumsey claimed to have invented the same technology: a steamboat.

After a two-year battle for exclusive rights to their discovery, with Fitch calling Rumsey his “most cruel hidden and ungenerous Enemy,” each was devastated by the result. Rumsey complained that in the United States, “no invention can be secured . . . for no better reason than because it can be varied into a different Shape,” and he moved to London, where he died trying to perfect his steamboat. Fitch ultimately committed suicide after his investors abandoned him.

Both inventors blamed the Patents Act of 1790 for their woes.

Patents Act, March 11, 1790. (Records of the U.S. Senate,  National Archives)

Patents Act, March 11, 1790. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)


On January 22, 1790, Congress began preparing the Patents Act. Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution empowers Congress to grant writers and inventors exclusive rights to their work, in order “to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts.”

The framers of the Constitution believed that patent law encouraged innovation by protecting private property. In Federalist #43, James Madison argued that creating patent law was a matter of “reason” and “public good.”

In February of 1790, a draft of the bill … [ Read all ]