Site search

Site menu:

Find Out More

Subscribe to Email Updates



Contact Us

Archive for 'Unusual documents'

The 16th Amendment and 100 years of Federal income taxes

The 16th Amendment and the first Internal Revenue Bureau Form 1040 will be on display from April 1 to April 30 at the National Archives in Washington, DC. Today’s guest post comes to us from education and exhibit specialist Michael Hussey.

“Congress shall have the power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever sources derived, without apportionment among the several states and without regard to any census or enumeration.” 16th Amendment to the Constitution

Joint congressional resolution proposing the 16th Amendment to the states, July 12, 1909, National Archives, General Records of the United States Government

Each April, millions of Americans stay up late, snap pencils, and double-check their math as they complete their Federal income tax returns.  This year marks the centennial of the constitutional amendment that made this a yearly ritual.

The Civil War prompted the first American income tax, a flat 3 percent on all annual incomes over $800, in 1861. Congress enacted a 2-percent tax on annual income over $4,000 in 1894, but it was quickly struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

By the early 20th century, members of both the Democratic and Republican parties advocated a constitutional amendment allowing a Federal income tax. On July 12, 1909, Congress passed a joint congressional resolution proposing such an amendment. The resolution was then sent to the states for consideration. … [ Read all ]

George Washington Writes in the Margins

Today’s blog post comes from Susan K. Donius, Director of the Office of Presidential Libraries at the National Archives. This post originally appeared on the White House blog.

Last month, President Obama began his second Inaugural Address by saying, “Each time we gather to inaugurate a President we bear witness to the enduring strength of our Constitution.” President Obama’s words resonate as the anniversary of George Washington’s birthday approaches on February 22, popularly known as Presidents Day.

Over two centuries ago, on April 30, 1789, George Washington delivered his first Inaugural Address knowing that he had little to guide him in the job that lay ahead but the principles stated in the Constitution.  The Articles of the Constitution had been debated, discussed, and agreed upon just two summers earlier by the delegates of the Constitution Convention, and were still untested.  Nevertheless, Washington was a strong supporter of the Constitution and would look to it for guidance in his unprecedented role as President.

During Washington’s first year in office, Congress ordered 600 copies of the Acts of Congress to be printed and distributed to Federal and state government officials. The book compiled the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and other legislation passed by the first session of Congress.

George Washington’s personal copy of the Acts of Congress contains his own handwritten notes in the margins. The … [ Read all ]

Getting Ike into the Loop

Today’s post comes from Christopher Abraham at the Eisenhower Presidential Library.

“I am a newspaper reporter and I would like to know if anything unusual happened during either of President Eisenhower’s inaugural ceremonies.” —Anonymous


California Cowboy Montie Montana lassoes President Eisenhower in the reviewing stands at the inaugural parade, January 20, 1953 (Eisenhower Presidential Library)

Have you ever seen a U.S. President lassoed by a cowboy? It likely qualifies as “unusual!” General Eisenhower related this incident while describing the 1953 inaugural parade in his 1963 memoir, Mandate for Change: “A California cowboy, riding a highly trained horse, got clearance from the Secret Service, stopped in front of me, and threw a lasso around my shoulders.”

The “California cowboy” was none other than Montie Montana, motion picture star and rodeo rider. No one can say for sure what exactly was going through Eisenhower’s mind at the moment the lasso fell over his shoulders, but it might have been a severe bout of regret that the inaugural parade committee did not take up Mr. Montana’s earlier suggestion of simply presenting him and Vice President Nixon with their very own ten-gallon cowboy hats right there on the reviewing stand.

Hats for the inaugural ceremony, were, as it turns out, a topic of some consideration. Eisenhower favored a Homburg but was told that tradition dictated a silk … [ Read all ]

Putting on the glitz!

Today’s blog post comes from Jennifer Johnson, curator at the National Archives.

The National Archives is known as the nation’s record keeper. But you may be surprised to learn that we also have a vast collection of gifts, given to Presidents, Vice Presidents, and their wives, that is astonishing in its variety.

At the National Archives in Washington, DC, we currently provide storage and preservation for over 7,000 Vice Presidential gifts given to Vice President Gore and Vice President Cheney during their administrations, including both domestic and Foreign Official Gifts.

In 2006, this 18-karat white gold sapphire and diamond jewelry set was given to Vice President Dick Cheney’s wife, Lynne Cheney, by the King of Saudi Arabia, His Majesty Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud. (It is currently on display through December 27, 2012.)

18-karat white gold sapphire and diamond jewelry set, National Archives, Presidential Materials Division.

The Foreign Gifts and Decorations Act allows the President and Vice President to accept, for our nation, gifts that are given as part of a centuries-old diplomatic tradition by a foreign official to the President on behalf of his country. The President or Vice President may keep a foreign official gift of less than the minimal value of $350. Most Presidential foreign official gifts go to the administration’s Presidential library.

A Vice President may choose to ask the Archivist of … [ Read all ]

A warning from the Surgeon General about air conditioning

Letter from the Surgeon General regarding air conditioning at the National Archives, page 1 (holdings of the National Archives)

Rick Blondo, management and program analyst at the National Archives, reflects on the logistics of maintaining records in the sweltering humidity that is summer in Washington, DC.

Summer in Washington can be a wilting experience for tourists and locals alike, but not so for the holdings maintained in the National Archives.

The National Archives was one of the first buildings in Washington with air conditioning. The building was designed in the 1930s to safeguard the records of the United States in an environment suited to that purpose.

The vault-like structure included an air conditioning system that could maintain 70 degrees in winter and 80 degrees in summer throughout the entire building. Relative humidity was kept at 55 percent in stacks and 45 percent in workrooms.

The holdings collected in the stacks would be cool, but officials wondered if the relatively cool air elsewhere in the building would pose a health problem to staff.

Louis A. Simon, the Chairman of the Advisory Committee on the National Archives, asked the Surgeon General to provide an opinion about whether exposure to conditioned air (and also a high amount of artificial lighting) posed a health risk to those who would work in the building.

The Surgeon General, H.S. Cumming, determined that … [ Read all ]