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Archive for September, 2012

John F. Kennedy and PT Boat 59

Today’s post is written by archivist Dr. Greg Bradsher.

When one thinks about President Kennedy’s naval career in World War II, what most often comes to mind is his command of Motor Torpedo Boat PT-109.

Thanks to the 1963 movie PT 109, adapted from the 1961 book PT 109: John F. Kennedy in World War II by Robert J. Donovan, Kennedy’s wartime exploits with PT-109 were well-publicized and became part of the Kennedy legend (see Stephen Plotkins’s “Sixty Years Later, the Story of PT-109 Still Captivates” in the summer 2003 issue of Prologue.)

What few people realize is that after the loss of PT-109, Kennedy was given command of another boat: PT-59. Actually, the last scene in the movie PT 109 shows Kennedy and this boat sailing off into the sunset to begin new adventures on his path to the White House.

Lt. John F. Kennedy's PT-59, photographed in an unspecified location near Vella Lavella and Choiseul, played a key role in the diversionary mission at Choiseul Island in early November 1943. (John F. Kennedy Library)

The story of Kennedy and PT-59 begins on the morning of August 2, 1943, in the Solomon Islands, when PT-109. Lt. (jg) John F. Kennedy, USNR, was in command when PT-109 was rammed by a Japanese destroyer and sunk. Kennedy and the surviving crew members were rescued … [ Read all ]

Constitution 225: It was secret, but we know about it

Voting Record of the Constitutional Convention, 1787 (ARC 301680)

Today’s post was written by National Archives volunteer Paul Richter. It is part of a series tracing the development of the Constitution in honor of the 225th anniversary of this document on September 17, 2012.

In the earliest days of the Constitutional Convention, the delegates agreed their proceedings would be secret.

As the convention drew to a close, several delegates expressed concern that the opposing viewpoints—intentionally encouraged by the convention rules and captured in convention records—would encourage opposition to the Constitution if they became public knowledge. They briefly considered destroying the convention records before deciding it was important to preserve them as proof of what had transpired there.

Just before signing the Constitution on September 17, the delegates voted to give all convention papers to George Washington. He was directed to keep them until a Congress was formed under the Constitution and directed him what to do with the records.

Eventually, Washington gave the records to the State Department for safekeeping. The State Department transferred custody of the records of the Continental and Confederation Congresses and the Constitutional Convention to the National Archives after its creation in 1934.

Of course, the source of much of our information about the Constitutional Convention’s proceedings is James Madison’s journal, which, unlike the voting record shown here, was not … [ Read all ]

Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation on display in New York City

The fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation. . . . In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free—honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve. We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best, hope of earth. President Abraham Lincoln, 1862.

Two original versions of President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation will be displayed together for the first time in the Schomburg Center in New York City from September 21 to 24.

This is a rare opportunity to see the signed draft that is part of the holdings of the National Archives. This document represents the transformation of the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation from intent to action. On September 22, 1862, Lincoln’s handwritten draft was transcribed, affixed with the Seal of the United States, and signed by him. The Proclamation now carried the force of law.

The Proclamation had been in development since the summer. In July 1862, President Lincoln read his “preliminary proclamation” to his Cabinet but decided to wait for a Union military victory to issue it. On September 17, 1862, over 6,000 Union and Confederate men died at Antietam in the bloodiest day in American history. Thousands more were wounded or missing. It was also the 75th anniversary of the signing of the Constitution.

On … [ Read all ]

Constitution 225: And the winner is….

In honor of the 225th anniversary of the Constitution, we challenged citizens on Twitter to take the Preamble of the Constitution and distill its meaning into a twitter-sized bite. The Archivist of the United States chose the winner on the Constitution Day. Congratulations to Jean Huets, who will receive a pocket-sized Constitution from the Foundation for the National Archives.


[ Read all ]

Constitution 225: To errata is human

The Constitution had to be written out by hand. But the identity of the clerk was unknown until 1947 (Fourth page of the Constitution, ARC 1667751)

Imagine a time before computers and the safety net of spellcheck and auto-correct. Imagine you are about to write by hand (or “engross”) the document that will set out the fundamentals of governing a new nation. And you have less than 48 hours to do it.

The Constitution (plus its “fifth page” were written by one man. Someone set quill to parchment and wrote over 25,000 letters (over 4,000 words) on four large pieces of parchment. Over a million visitors come to see his handiwork every day at the National Archives.

But for many years, his identity was unknown. Because  most of the papers of the Constitutional Convention were ordered to be destroyed, the only paper trail was a single receipt for a payment of $30. No name was recorded.

In 1937, he was finally identified by historian John Clement Fitzpatrick, who wrote an article for the 150th anniversary of the Constitution. At last, the world knew the name of the engrosser: Jacob Shallus.

Shallus, the son of  German immigrants, lived in Philadelphia with his growing family. He was also a Revolutionary War veteran. He volunteered and served as a battalion quartermaster under Col. John Philip de Haas. (In … [ Read all ]