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Archive for May, 2013

The 17th Amendment Observes Its Centennial

When Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas traveled around Illinois in 1858 debating each other while vying for a seat in the U.S. Senate, they weren’t looking for votes from the masses.

They were seeking votes in the Illinois legislature. Douglas was the incumbent senator, and Lincoln, who had served one term in the House in the 1840s, was a railroad attorney.

In the 1850s, U.S. senators were selected by the state legislatures as directed by Article I, Section 3, of the Constitution, which says: “The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each state, chosen by the legislature thereof, for six Years; and each Senator shall have one vote.”

Lincoln Douglas debate marker

Historical marker commemorating one of the Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas debates, 06/03/1938

According to the Senate Historical Office, the framers thought that having senators elected by the legislatures would aid senators because they would be less subject to pressure and have more time to do business. And, they felt, direct election would strengthen ties between the national and state governments.

But opposition to this arrangement began long before the Lincoln–Douglas debates. Political problems in states resulted in many seats going empty for long periods. Support grew slowly for popular, or direct, election of senators by voters.

Strong resistance in the Senate to a proposed Constitutional amendment calling for direct … [ 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 ]

The 150th Anniversary of the United States Colored Troops

Today’s blog post comes from archives specialist Jackie Budell.

On May 22, 1863, the War Department issued General Orders 143, establishing a Bureau of Colored Troops in the Adjutant General’s Office to recruit and organize African American soldiers to fight for the Union Army. With this order, all African American regiments were designated as United States Colored Troops (USCT).

Today marks the 150th anniversary of the USCT, and the National Archives is pleased to announce the completion of the USCT Service Records Digitization Project. In partnership with Fold3, the project provides online access to all service records—more than 3.8 million images—of Union volunteers in USCT units.

From May 22 to 31, the digital collection will be free on www.Fold3.com. (All National Archives collections on Fold3.com can always be viewed for free at any National Archives facility nationwide.)

This rare photograph of Edmund Delaney was found in his compiled military service records when the file was being digitized.

Compiled military service records (CMSRs) are part of Record Group 94, the Records of the Adjutant General’s Office. They contain card abstracts of entries related to an individual soldier such as muster rolls and regimental returns.

Many CMSRs also contain original documents called “personal papers,” which are especially valuable to researchers looking for documentation on former slaves. These papers include enlistment papers, correspondence, orders, prisoner-of-war memorandums, … [ Read all ]

Thomas Jefferson: Governor of Virginia, Part II

Today’s guest post was written by Jim Zeender, senior registrar in Exhibits at the National Archives in Washington, DC. This post continues the story of Jefferson as Governor, began in Part I.

Thomas Jefferson. Charcoal drawing. (59-PP-3)

Jefferson’s term as Governor ended on June 2, 1781, a dangerous and chaotic time for Virginia. General Cornwallis had heard of the General Assembly’s move to Charlottesville and quickly dispatched Lt. Col. Banastre Tarlton’s cavalry unit to capture members. Jefferson had already retired to nearby Monticello. In the confusion and disruption of normal government activity, the Assembly was unable to elect a new Governor, and so the state remained leaderless for almost a week.

When the Assembly did meet, it initiated an official inquiry into Governor Jefferson’s actions. Ultimately, the inquiry would go nowhere, but the criticism would shadow Jefferson for the rest of his life.

* * *

After Benedict Arnold’s attack on Richmond in January, Jefferson remained worried about the limited state resources and growing British threats.

He wrote to Congress: “The fatal want of arms puts it out of our power to bring a greater force into the field than will barely suffice to restrain the adventures of the pitiful body of men they have at Portsmouth. Should any others be added to them, this country will be perfectly open to them by land as … [ Read all ]