Site search

Site menu:

Find Out More

Archives

Categories

Contact Us

Subscribe to Email Updates

Archive for '- Constitution'

The Bill of Rights: 14 Originals

Bill of Rights Day  is on December 15. The National Archives will celebrate on Friday with a naturalization ceremony. Today’s post comes from Jessie Kratz, the Historian of the National Archives.

On September 28, 1789, Speaker of the House Frederick Muhlenberg and Vice President John Adams signed the enrolled copy of the first proposed amendments to the new Constitution—the document later known as the Bill of Rights.

The final, signed copy contained the 12 constitutional amendments that Congress proposed to the states. Shortly after it was signed, clerks created 13 additional copies, which President George Washington sent to the 11 existing states and to Rhode Island and North Carolina—which had not yet adopted the Constitution.

The enrolled version of the amendments—the one signed on September 28, 1789—remained in New York until it was sent to Philadelphia when the seat of government moved there. In 1800 it came to the new capital of Washington, DC, and was only removed briefly during the War of 1812 when the British burned the capital.

The Department of State, previously responsible for safeguarding the Federal Government’s official records, kept the enrolled copy of the Bill of Rights until 1938, when they transferred it to the National Archives in 1938 along with other State Department records. The National Archives displayed the enrolled copy of the Bill of Rights several times until … [ Read all ]

Records of Rights Vote: “Old Enough to Fight, Old Enough to Vote”

Cast your vote for the 26th Amendment to be displayed first in the new “Records of Rights” gallery. Polls close on November 15!

Congress can move quickly. The 26th Amendment was ratified in 100 days, faster than any other amendment.

In April 1970, Congress controversially lowered the voting age to 18 as part of legislation to extend the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Many people, including President Richard Nixon, believed that it was the right of the states, not the federal government, to set the voting age. President Nixon, nevertheless, signed the act, which was to go into effect January 1, 1971.

The effort to lower the voting age to 18 had begun three decades earlier. “Old enough to fight, old enough to vote,” a slogan first heard during World War II, was adopted by student activists during the Vietnam War.

Photograph of a young Marine landing at Danang, Vietnam, 08/03/1965

Photograph of a young Marine landing at Danang, Vietnam, 08/03/1965

In 1942, the slogan prompted Congressman Jennings Randolph of West Virginia to propose an amendment to the Constitution lowering the voting age to 18. Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and Lyndon B. Johnson both championed the cause. Activists during the Vietnam War increased pressure on Congress to change the voting age, and in 1971, when Senator Randolph reintroduced his original proposal, it passed overwhelmingly.

On December 21, 1970, the Supreme Court ruled that … [ Read all ]

Taking the Constitution for a Test Drive

Today’s Constitution Day guest post was written by Jim Zeender, senior registrar in exhibits at the National Archives in Washington, DC.

The Constitution of the United States turned 226 this year and continues to be the oldest and longest-serving written constitution in the world. It consists of exactly 4,543 words and has been amended only 27 times.

At the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention in September 1787, the attendees had various opinions on the result of the Convention. Benjamin Franklin has probably been quoted most often from his speech that day, “I confess that I do not entirely approve this Constitution at present, but Sir, I am not sure I shall never approve it.”

Independence Hall

Exterior of Independence Hall in Philadelphia, where the Constitution was signed. (National Archives Identifier 518208)

John Adams was not present in Philadelphia.  He was in London, serving as the U.S. envoy to Great Britain. Adams received a copy of the new constitution from Massachusetts delegate Elbridge Gerry, and he later praised the Convention’s work in a letter to Jefferson, who was in Paris.

It seems to be admirably calculated to preserve the Union, to increase Affection, and to bring us all to the same mode of thinking. They have adopted the Idea of the Congress at Albany in 1754 of a President to nominate officers and a Council to Consent: but

[ Read all ]

Amending the Constitution: 100 Days to 200 Years

After his victory in the 1904 election, President Theodore Roosevelt promised that although his first term had lasted only three years (beginning after the assassination of President William McKinley in 1901), he would adhere to the two-term precedent established by George Washington. Yet by 1912, convinced that only his progressive leadership would save the Repbulican party, Roosevelt announced his candidacy. Roosevelt contended that he had only promised to refuse a third consecutive term. Berryman shows Roosevelt attempting to dodge the anti-third term principle as he crouches before Washington's ghost. Not until 1951, after Franklin Roosevelt's four terms in office, did Congress enact the XXII Amendment to the Constitution, officially limiting Presidents to two terms (NAtional Archives Identifier 306175)

After his victory in the 1904 election, President Theodore Roosevelt promised that although his first term had lasted only three years (beginning after the assassination of President William McKinley in 1901), he would adhere to the two-term precedent established by George Washington. Yet by 1912, Roosevelt announced his candidacy. Not until 1951, after Franklin Roosevelt’s four terms in office, was the 22nd Amendment ratified, officially limiting Presidents to two terms (National Archives Identifier 306175)

The Constitution hasn’t changed much since it was adopted in 1787.

However, it has been tweaked by 27 amendments—some were ratified in a few months, another took more than two centuries.

The ink on the Constitution had barely dried in 1787 when people discovered what it did not say. It did not spell out adequately, they argued, the individual rights that citizens of the United States had under the Constitution.

So James Madison, the “father of the Constitution” and a member of the House of Representatives from Virginia, went to work.

The result: 12 amendments. They were approved by Congress in late 1789 and sent to the 13 states for ratification, which, then as now under the Constitution, required three-quarters of the state legislatures or constitutional conventions.

Twelve? Yes, but only ten (originally numbers three through 12), known to us all today as the Bill of Rights, were approved. It took … [ Read all ]

Eight myths about the Constitution

Only 5 men signed both the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. One of the was Benjamin Franklin (National Archives Identifier 532849)

Only 5 men signed both the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. One of them was Benjamin Franklin. (National Archives Identifier 532849)

Constitution Day is September 17. We’ve got events, programs, and activities at National Archives locations across the United States.

Pundits, candidates, and party activists like to cite the Constitution of the United States as the moral and legal backing for whatever they’re proposing. Or they say that something an opponent proposes is unconstitutional.

But the Constitution is silent on a lot of things you probably thought it said. Here are eight examples.

The President can veto a proposed amendment to the Constitution.

No. He has nothing to do with the amendments. Congress can propose an amendment with a two-thirds vote of both houses, or a Constitutional Convention can be called by a vote of two-thirds of the state legislatures. However, once the amendment is proposed either by Congress or a convention, it must be ratified by three-fourths of the state legislatures.

Only one amendment, the 21st Amendment, which repealed Prohibition (the 18th Amendment), was ratified by conventions in the states.

The “Founding Fathers” who wrote the Declaration of Independence in 1776 are the same men who wrote the Constitution in 1787.

Only five individuals signed both of these two founding documents. They were George Clymer, Benjamin Franklin, Robert Morris, George Read, and Roger … [ Read all ]