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Archive for January, 2011

How much do you know about the Constitution?

Visitors to the Rotunda in the National Archives look down at the Constitution. Image of front page from the Washington Post website.

Visitors to the Rotunda in the National Archives look down at the Constitution. Image of front page from the Washington Post website.

If you think the Constitution is just a few pieces of parchment in a glass case, think again! It may have been written 223 years ago, but it’s still making headlines. This morning, the Constitution was on the front page of the printed Washington Post.

This week has been a big one for the Constitution in the news—the document received lots of media coverage when it was read aloud by 135 members of the House of Respresentatives yesterday.

You can buy a pocket-sized Constitution in the Archives Shop. You can come and see the Constitution in person for free at the National Archives.

But how much do you know about the creation, history, and content of the Constitution? We’ve compiled a list of the 10 most surprising facts about the blueprint for the Federal Government.

10: The Speaker is the second in line to the Presidency, after the Vice President, under the Presidential Succession Act of 1947.

9: Two Founding Fathers and future Presidents were not at the Constitutional Convention in 1787 and did not sign the Constitution. John Adams was ambassador to Great Britain, and Thomas Jefferson was ambassador to France.

8: The Constitution provides for two senators from each state, but it does not set the size of the House. … [ Read all ]

Lame ducks? Blame the Constitution.

Congress is back in town this week, and a new crop of Representives is on Capitol Hill. If you follow politics, or live in Washington, DC (and therefore hear about politics every time you turn on the news), you know that the end of 2010 meant ducks. Lame ones.


(ARC 1693335)

This happens when Congress has to reconvene after the November elections. Not every member has been reelected, but they have to return and finish the business at hand. As you can imagine, this does not bring out the best in people who are packing up and looking for new jobs.

How did these lame ducks get hatched? Blame the Constitution.

A member of the House of Representatives serves a two-year term that starts January 3rd in an odd-numbered year (2007, 2009, 2011). 

But regular sessions of Congress begin on January 3rd in even number years (2006, 2008, 2010).

So when a current Congress meets between Election Day in November during an even year (like 2010) and the January start date of the new Congress (2011), there are now members who did not win reelection and will not return for the upcoming odd year (2011). These members create  a “lame duck” Congress.

In the cartoon above, lame and injured ducks (representing Democrats who lost in the 1914 election) hobble to the White House looking for jobs in President Woodrow Wilson’s administration. It was drawn by Clifford [ Read all ]

Exploring the polar regions

Robert Peary outfitted for Arctic exploration (306-NT-542-1)

Robert Peary outfitted for Arctic exploration (306-NT-542-1)

As frigid temperatures cover much of the country, and many areas are still dealing with record amounts of snow, my thoughts turn to the polar explorers of the early 20th century. They didn’t have Goretex jackets with superwarm linings, satellite communications, or portable computers. Our “Pieces of History” blog takes its name from a regular feature on the last page of the print version of Prologue, and today I’m sharing a vintage print “Piece” about an unusual artifact found in the polar archives collection at the National Archives.

* * *

“The Pole at last!!!” With these words Robert E. Peary began his diary entry for April 6, 1909. His team, he believed, had become the first to reach the top of the world, a dream he had pursued for 20 years. In those years, Peary made eight expeditions to the Arctic region, three specifically to reach the Pole. As Peary’s papers make clear, supplying such expeditions was a tremendous task. Clothing, tents, food, cooking utensils—everything needed to survive Arctic temperatures for months—had to be packed in on foot and by dog sledge. The explorers also required scientific instruments so they could make observations, determine their locations, and gather data to record their progress.

Robert Peary's theodolite, which he carried on his Polar expeditions. (Peary Family Collection (401-1) Donated Materials in the National Archives)

Robert Peary's theodolite, which he carried on his polar expeditions. (Peary Family Collection (401-1)

[ Read all ]

So long, farewell! Remembering a von Trapp family singer