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Archive for 'U.S. House'

Towards Freedom and Equality: The Americans With Disabilities Act

Today’s post comes from Rebecca Brenner, an intern in the National Archives History Office in Washington, D.C.

Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, July 26, 1990, page 1. (National Archives Identifier 6037488)

Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, July 26, 1990, page 1. (National Archives Identifier 6037488)

July marks the 25th anniversary of the historic moment when President George H. W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The ADA prohibits employers, the government, and transportation, among other agencies and institutions, from discriminating against people with disabilities on the basis of their disabilities.

On July 26, 1990, a White House press release stated: “The American people have once again given clear expression to our most basic ideals of freedom and equality.”

Like other movements for freedom and equality, the disability community endured years of discrimination before the ADA established their equality under the law.

However, even before 1990, 1973 marked a turning point, when Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act banned discrimination against people with disabilities in the allocation of Federal funds. Previous antidiscrimination laws regarding race, ethnicity, and gender influenced this new legislation.

This law helped to build solidarity among people with different disabilities, and from 1973 through 1990, the disability community battled against trends of general deregulation across the government.

Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, July 26, 1990, signature page. (National Archives Identifier 6037488)

Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, July 26, 1990, signature page. (National Archives Identifier 6037488)

Finally, on July 26, 1990, the ADA established “a clear and … [ Read all ]

Pirates: An Early Test for the New Country

Today’s post comes from Tom Eisinger, senior archivist at the Center for Legislative Archives in Washington, DC.

Richard O’Bryen's letter to Thomas Jefferson, first page, July 12, 1790. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

Richard O’Bryen’s letter to Thomas Jefferson, first page, July 12, 1790. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

When Richard O’Bryen, captain of the Philadelphia ship Dauphin, penned his July 12, 1790, letter to Thomas Jefferson, he had been a captive of the Barbary pirates in Algeria for almost five years.

This letter, and others, helped bring attention to an unexpected problem the Federal Government inherited from the government under the Articles of Confederation: pirates.

The new nation was faced with the questions: What could be done about the Barbary pirates? And what could be done for the American prisoners held for ransom in Algeria?

In the late 18th century, the Barbary pirates were a well-known problem in Europe. These pirates—who came from Morocco, Algiers, Tripoli, and Tunisia—captured vessels sailing in the Mediterranean Sea and held their crews for ransom.

To free a captured vessel, European nations were forced to pay the ransom. Some European nations signed treaties with the four Barbary nations and paid tribute for safe passage of their vessels.

The Barbary pirates were not an issue for the American colonies while they were under the protection of the British Empire or during the Revolutionary War while they were under the protection of France. However, … [ Read all ]

The American Flag

Today’s post, in honor of Flag Day, comes from Alex Nieuwsma, an intern in the National Archives History Office.

Cartoonist Clifford Berryman highlights the annual Flag Day with an American flag waving among the light and dark clouds caused by the gunfire of battles. (National Archives Identifier 6011429)

Cartoonist Clifford Berryman highlighted the annual Flag Day with an American flag waving among the light and dark clouds caused by the gunfire of battles, June 14, 1918. (National Archives Identifier 6011429)

On June 14, 1777, the Second Continental Congress officially adopted the Stars and Stripes as the National Flag of the United States of America. Through its many changes and iterations, the American flag has come to represent the physical geography of the nation by including as many stars as states, as well as a remembrance of the nation’s origins as seen in the 13 red and white stripes.

The American flag also serves as a reminder of what America and her citizens represent: liberty, equality, and justice.

Designed by Francis Hopkinson, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, the flag was originally intended to be used as a naval sign. However, growing nationalism around the world during the 18th century led many countries to establish a national flag, the United States included. It is unclear how or why Congress selected Hopkinson’s design for this honor.

The involvement of Betsy Ross in the design and creation of the first American flag is largely fictitious. It is likely that her grandson, William J. … [ Read all ]

The Compromise of 1790

Hamilton, Alexander. Painting  by John Trumbull (copy). (Records of Commissions of the Legislative Branch, National Archives)

Hamilton, Alexander. Painting by John Trumbull (copy). (Records of Commissions of the Legislative Branch, National Archives)

On June 20, 1790, when Congress was temporarily meeting in New York City, Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson hosted a dinner. In attendance were Secretary of Treasury Alexander Hamilton and Representative from Virginia James Madison.

Keep in mind these men were on opposing ends of the political spectrum. Hamilton, a Federalist, wanted the Federal Government to hold the bulk of the political and economic power; Madison and Jefferson, Republicans, wanted that power to remain with the states.

Nonetheless, the three men met to discuss a prolonged deadlock in Congress, and this meeting was a pivotal turning point in what is known as the “Compromise of 1790.”

Back in January 1790, Hamilton had given his “First Report on Public Credit” to Congress. One of the most contentious issues in the report was Hamilton’s recommendation that the Federal Government assume the states’ substantial Revolutionary War debts.

James Madison. (National Archives Identifier 532836)

James Madison. (National Archives Identifier 532836)

Hamilton believed this was necessary to establish the United States’ credit and promote investment. Furthermore, the debt rested in the hands of a small number of wealthy citizens. Hamilton knew these men would take a keen interest in the success of a country that owed them money.

The assumption issue had been debated in Congress for months. Northern members supported … [ Read all ]

Protecting Copyright and the “Encouragement of Learning”

Copyright Act of 1790, bill version. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

Copyright Act of 1790, bill version, page 1. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

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

In 1789, David Ramsay, author of History of the Revolution of South Carolina and History of the American Revolution, petitioned Congress to pass a law granting him the exclusive right of “vending and disposing” the books within the United States. This was the first time the issues associated with protecting writers’ rights was brought to Congress’s attention.

Congress received seven petitions relating to copyright legislation during that First Congress (1789–1791). On May 31, 1790, Congress enacted the first Federal copyright law, “An Act for the encouragement of learning, by securing the copies of maps, Charts, And books, to the authors and proprietors of such copies, during the times therein mentioned.”

The Copyright Act of 1790 put in place several important protections: copyright holders had control over their work for 14 years, with the opportunity to renew the copyright if they outlived the first term; persons who had not received permission to make copies of a protected work were to pay a fine of 50 cents for every page of work they had printed; only works copyrighted in the United States were protected; and only works of U.S. citizens could be copyrighted.

Copyright Act of 1790, bill version, page 1. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

Copyright Act of

[ Read all ]