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Archive for 'Letters in the National Archives'

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

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“A Signal Victory”: The Battle of Lake Erie

Our new Featured Document–Oliver Perry’s letter to the Secretary of the Navy–will be on display from September 10 to 19, 2014, at the National Archives in Washington, DCToday’s blog post was written by former student employee Meghan O’Connor.

Early in the War of 1812, the Americans lost control of Detroit and Lake Erie to the British and their Native American allies. The U.S. Navy sent 28-year-old Oliver Hazard Perry to Lake Erie to build a squadron and retake that important waterway.

On September 10, 1813, the Americans defeated the British on Lake Erie. Commodore Perry declared the naval battle “a signal victory.” In a war marked by early failures, this victory secured Ohio and the territories of Michigan and Indiana. It also provided a needed boost in national morale and marked a rare surrender of a complete Royal Navy squadron.

Letter from Commodore Oliver Perry to Hon. Wm. Jones, Secy. of Navy, September 10, 1813(National Archives)

Oliver Perry’s letter to Secretary of the Navy, September 10, 1813 (National Archives)

Letter from Commodore Oliver Perry to Hon. Wm. Jones, Secy. of Navy, September 10, 1813

With a crew that Perry once described as “a motley set, blacks, soldiers and boys,” the Americans met Britain’s powerful Royal Navy on Lake Erie. A flag flew above Perry’s ship, the Lawrence, emblazoned with the words “Don’t Give Up the Ship.” This battle cry was the dying command, in an earlier battle, of Perry’s friend … [ Read all ]

It’s why I do what I do

Today’s blog post in honor of Memorial Day comes from Michael Pierce, preservation technician at the National Archives at Saint Louis.

It’s called “the Forgotten War.” But like any conflict, the Korean War is always remembered by the men and women who fought in it, and by their families.

A grief-stricken American infantryman whose buddy has been killed in action is comforted by another soldier. In the background a corpsman methodically fills out casualty tags, Haktong-ni area, Korea. August 28, 1950. Sfc. Al Chang. (Army, 111-SC-347803)

The Preservation Lab at St. Louis occasionally get requests from JPAC (the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command) for information from records of men who went missing in Korea and other places. Our lab deals primarily with records that were damaged in the 1973 fire at our old facility in St. Louis. Millions of Official Military Personnel Files from the Army and Air Force were destroyed, or heavily damaged, by fire, smoke, and water.

Sometimes, the requested record is part of that registry. We clean the record, make copies of the necessary documents, and send them on. Normally, we don’t hear anything about the results of our efforts.

I’m always telling my fellow technicians that we’re the “unsung heroes” of the National Archives at Saint Louis. Everyone else gets the accolades and the thank-you letters, while we work in the background, … [ Read all ]

“I am a little country boy eight years old.”

Today’s guest post is from Sherri DeCoursey, who used the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library to find a special piece of history for her father.

Forest Delano Roosevelt Ferguson holds his prized possession: a photo of FDR and a letter from the President's secretary.

For as long as I can remember, a photo of FDR and a letter have hung side-by-side in the den of Mom and Dad’s home.  The yellowed letter, written by FDR’s secretary Missy LeHand, was in response to a letter my father wrote the President in 1941. My dad—Forest Delano Roosevelt Ferguson—was eight years old in 1941. Dad will be 80 in June of this year.

Letter from Missy LeHand, FDR's secretary, replying to the letter sent by 8-year-old FDR Ferguson

As familiar as that letter and the President’s photograph were to me, what I had never even pondered until last year was what my father wrote in his letter to FDR.

While visiting my parents in the fall of 2012, I looked at the framed letter and photograph and asked Dad what he included in his letter to the President. He couldn’t recall the details. Who could after 72 years? I continued to ponder what my father as a boy might have written.

What would an eight-year-old Forest Delano Roosevelt Ferguson write to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt? Perhaps about school? … [ Read all ]

The Check is in the Mail: The Hunt for Abraham Lincoln’s Congressional Pay Records

Today’s blog post comes from David J. Gerleman, assistant editor of The Papers of Abraham Lincoln.

Abraham Lincoln’s two-year stint as a Illinois Whig congressman is one of the lesser-known periods of his eventful life. Had he remained in obscurity, it might have remained the crowning achievement of a fizzled frontier political career.

Abraham Lincoln in 1848. Photograph from the Library of Congress.

Having been tasked with looking through the records of the 30th Congress for the Papers of Abraham Lincoln, I have gotten to know Congressman Lincoln intimately. Well over a year was spent sorting through the sea of papers generated by Congress for the years 1847–49: handwritten draft bills, printed amended bills, engrossed bills, resolutions, joint resolutions, simple motions, yea and nay journals, petitions, letters, committee papers—all these and more had to be searched for traces of Lincoln. Among the wealth of congressional materials were volumes dedicated to recording minute expenses, such as the cost of firewood, stationary, and glue. There were records of how much paper folders, messengers, and cleaning women were paid, yet one vital component was missing—Lincoln’s pay and mileage records.

Ironically, it was Lincoln’s great rival, Stephen A. Douglas, who helped set off an intense search for pay records of the 30th Congress. While hunting through an odd cache of files in the Auditors of the Treasury Records … [ Read all ]