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Carting the Charters

Procession Transferring documents to the National Archives, December 13, 1952. (Records of the National Archives)

Procession transferring documents to the National Archives, December 13, 1952. (Records of the National Archives)

Visitors to downtown Washington, DC, on December 13, 1952, were treated to an interesting sight—armored vehicles escorted by a barrage of military and police personnel. It wasn’t a holiday or the Presidential motorcade or a visiting dignitary.

On that chilly December morning, passersby saw the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States going for a ride.

“The Charters of Freedom”—the Declaration, Constitution, and Bill of Rights—all have varied histories of transport and storage through 1952.

The Declaration of Independence, after it was signed on August 2, 1776, moved with Congress from city to city throughout the Revolutionary War. After the establishment of the new nation under the Constitution, the Declaration found itself in Federal buildings, abandoned gristmills, and private homes before it ended up in the Library of Congress in 1921.

The Constitution had a similar history—after the framers signed it, the Constitution passed into the custody of the Department of State in 1789 and moved as the Federal Government moved. Unlike the Declaration, which was displayed for many years, the Constitution spent much of its history in storage.

The Bill of Rights has an even thinner history between its creation in 1789 and 1938. It, too, traveled with the government as it moved about until the Department of State transferred it to the National Archives in 1938.

 President Herbert Hoover laying cornerstone of the National Archives Building, February 20, 1933. (Records of the National Archives)

President Herbert Hoover laying the cornerstone of the National Archives Building, February 20, 1933. (Records of the National Archives)

By 1924, the Declaration and Constitution were on display at the Library of Congress, where thousands of visitors came to see them each year. Two years later, Congress made its first appropriation for the National Archives Building to house the nation’s historical records.

In the building’s cornerstone ceremony on February 20, 1933, outgoing President Herbert Hoover announced that the originals of “the most sacred documents in our history”—the Declaration, Constitution, and Bill of Rights—would be on permanent display at the National Archives.

The idea that the National Archives would include a shrine to these founding documents was always in the plan for the building. In fact, the building’s 75-foot-high rotunda was designed specifically to display the Declaration and the Constitution. There were even custom-made murals in the exhibit hall boasting fictional depictions of the Declaration and the Constitution being presented.

Construction of the National Archives Exhibition Hall, November 2, 1934. (Records of the Public Buildings Service, National Archives)

Construction of the National Archives Exhibition Hall, November 2, 1934. (Records of the Public Buildings Service, National Archives)

The hall was always meant to hold the documents, but for many years the Librarian of Congress refused to relinquish his hold over them.

By the 1950s, the Archives had lost patience with its empty shrine to the founding documents. President Harry S. Truman’s remarks on the Bill of Rights during a 1951 Constitution Day ceremony at the Library of Congress opened the door for the Archives to makes its move: “I hope that these first 10 amendments will be put on parchment and sealed up and placed alongside the original document. In my opinion they are the most important parts of the Constitution.”

In the weeks following the ceremony, the Archivist of the United States, Wayne Grover, worked with the Librarian of Congress, Luther Evans, on a plan for the Archives to acquire the Declaration, Constitution, and papers of the Continental and Confederation Congresses. To avoid controversy, they decided to convince Congress to approve the transfer, and on April 30, 1952, Congress ordered that the Declaration and the Constitution be moved to the National Archives.

National Archives Building Renovation in Progress, December 9, 1952. (Records of the National Archives)

National Archives Building renovation in progress, December 9, 1952. (Records of the National Archives)

National Archives began making preparation for the move by renovating the exhibition hall and adding a vault to store the charter documents.

Officials chose December 13 as the transfer day because they wanted to unveil the documents on Bill of Rights day, December 15.

The transfer ceremony was a spectacle. It began with the commanding General of the Air Force Headquarters Command formally receiving the Declaration and Constitution at the Library of Congress at 11 a.m.

Twelve members of the Armed Forces Special Police then carried the six sheets of parchment in their sealed cases through a cordon of 88 servicewomen and placed the boxes on a mattress in an armored Marine Corps personnel carrier.

A color guard, ceremonial troops, two Army bands, two light tanks, four servicemen armed with submachine guns, and a motorcycle brigade then escorted the armored vehicle down Pennsylvania and Constitution Avenues to the National Archives Building. Along the parade route were Army, Navy, Coast Guard, Marine, and Air Force personnel and the general public who came out to watch the procession.

Entering the National Archives Building with the Documents, December 13, 1952. (Records of the National Archives)

Entering the National Archives Building with the documents, December 13, 1952. (Records of the National Archives)

At 11:35 am, the General and 12 policemen carried the documents up the Constitution Avenue stairs into the Rotunda and formally delivered them into the custody of the Archivist of the United States.

The documents were then placed in their cases and spent the weekend in the 50-ton, steel and concrete, bomb and fire-proof safe that had been installed earlier that month.

Two days later, the formal enshrining ceremony took place, and the three documents were unveiled in their new housing. During the dedication ceremony, President Truman observed: “The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights are now assembled in one place for display and safekeeping. Here, so far as is humanly possible, they will be protected from disaster and from the ravages of time.”

Today visitors can see these documents on permanent display in the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom at the National Archives in Washington, DC.

To read more about the Declaration and Constitution’s travels, read the 2002 Prologue article, “Travels of the Charters of Freedom,” by Milton Gustafson.

To read more about the Faulkner Murals in the Rotunda of the National Archives, read the 2014 Prologue article, “Depicting the Creation of a Nation” by Lester Gorelic.

Watch the footage of the transfer in our Online Public Access catalog.

Unveiling Ceremony for the Charters of Freedom, December 15, 1952. (Records of the National Archives)

Unveiling Ceremony for the Charters of Freedom, December 15, 1952. (Records of the National Archives)


Crafting the “Day of Infamy” Speech

Early on a quiet Sunday afternoon in December 1941, the President of the United States was in his study at the White House working on his stamp album. It was a favorite activity and one that allowed him to shut out the troubles of the world, if only for a little while.

The telephone rang, and the White House operator put through the call. Franklin D. Roosevelt learned that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, just before 8 a.m. Hawaii time (1 p.m. in Washington).

It was still unclear what the loss was in lives and ships and planes, but it would be high. Hawaii was the home of the Pacific fleet, along with thousands of soldiers and sailors to man them.

Two of Roosevelt’s speechwriters were out of town, so the President summoned his secretary, Grace Tully, to take down dictation as he “drafted” one of the most famous speeches of the 20th century to deliver to Congress the next day.

“Yesterday, December seventh, 1941, a date which will live in world history,” he began, “the United States was simultaneously and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the empire of Japan.”

Franklin Roosevelt's changes to the first draft of his speech are clearly visible on "Draft No. 1." In the opening sentence, he changed "world history" to "infamy" and "simultaneously" to "suddenly." At one point, he considered putting the words "without warning" at the end of the sentence but later crossed them out. (Franklin D. Roosevelt Library)

Franklin Roosevelt’s changes to the first draft of his speech are clearly visible on “Draft No. 1.” In the opening sentence, he changed “world history” to “infamy” and “simultaneously” to “suddenly.” At one point, he considered putting the words “without warning” at the end of the sentence but later crossed them out. (Franklin D. Roosevelt Library)

day-of-infamy-draft1-page2 day-of-infamy-draft1-page3

Slowly and carefully, he dictated the rest of the speech, and Tully typed up the first draft for his review.

We know, of course, that when FDR finished his wordsmithing of the speech that the first line, the one best remembered, turned out a little different: “Yesterday, December 7, 1941, a date which will live in infamy, the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by the naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.”

Prologue, the Quarterly of the National Archives, takes you through the various drafts of FDR’s so-called “Day of Infamy” speech, with images of pages with his hand-written changes in wording and updates on Japanese attacks on other U.S. installations in the Pacific. And there’s even a “deity” paragraph inserted by top Presidential assistant Harry Hopkins.

The six-minute speech ended with a request for a declaration of war, which Congress approved within hours.

In “FDR’s ‘Day of Infamy’ Speech: Crafting a Call to Arms,” Prologue shows you pages from all the drafts, as well as the transcribed version of his actual delivery to Congress on December 8, 1941.

And for the record, Roosevelt never used the term “Day of Infamy;” he said “a date which will live in infamy.”


A Very Special “Make It Work” Christmas Story

Tim Gunn will be at the National Archives on December 11, hosting “Deck the Halls: Holidays at the White House.” Join us in person or watch live on our YouTube channel. Details at the bottom of this blog post!

It was 40 years before his famous catchphrase, but Tim Gunn knew he needed to “make it work” if he wanted to get the Christmas tree decorated in time at the White House.

First Lady Rosalynn Carter holds an ornament designed by Tim Gunn. (Carter Presidential Library and Museum)

First Lady Rosalynn Carter holds an ornament designed by Tim Gunn. (Carter Presidential Library and Museum)

The future Project Runway star had recently begun teaching three-dimensional design at the Corcoran School of Art in Washington, DC, when the call came in. The White House was asking for students to make original ornaments for the tree in the Blue Room.

But just like a challenge on Project Runway, there was a catch: they had one week.

In Gunn’s Golden Rules: Life’s Little Lessons for Making It Work, Gunn recalled that they were excited to have the opportunity—and intensely curious about how the White House had come to be in this situation. “We heard a rumor,” he wrote, “that the Jimmy Carter White House perceived the work of this original ornament maker to be “inappropriate,” and we had a wonderful time trying to imagine what in the world those ornaments had looked like.”

His second-year students were assigned to make ornaments, and they soon had created “elaborately beautiful shapes and forms” on a folk art theme.

But this was not the “make-it-work moment.”

No, that happened when they entered the Blue Room and realized that the tree was enormous.

Gunn recalled that the tree “was at least as big to my eyes as the one at Rockefeller Center.  As I continued to stare at it, it became bigger still, like the magical tree in the Nutcracker.”

They hung the ornaments and soon realized they needed more ornaments. Many, many more ornaments. More than they could possibly make in time.

The Christmas tree decorated by Tim Gunn's students (Carter Presidential Library and Museum)

The Christmas tree decorated by Tim Gunn’s students (Carter Presidential Library and Museum)

Determined to make it work, Gunn drove to Sears, Roebuck and cleared the store of every last red-lacquered Styrofoam apple ornament that they had in stock and hung those ornaments on the tree.

He made it work.

(Gunn ends the episode in the book with an anecdote about not making it work. Although the First Lady  posed with each student and with the group for an official portrait, the photos never arrived. It turned out that the photographer did not have any film in the camera!)

Hear more stories of White Holiday traditions on December 11!

In partnership with the White House Historical Association, Tim Gunn of Project Runway leads a panel discussion on White House holiday decorations through history. Panelists—including Lynda Johnson Robb, daughter of President Johnson; Genevieve Gorder, host of HGTV’s White House Christmas; former White House Chief Usher Gary Walters; and Coleen Christian Burke, author of Christmas with the First Ladies—will present a visual feast of the themes, designs, and processes that go into decking the halls, rooms, and exterior of the White House.

The official 2014 White House Christmas Ornament, featuring President Warren G. Harding, will be available for purchase. A book signing will follow the program.

Presented in conjunction with our “Making Their Mark Through Signatures” exhibit, which is made possible in part by the Foundation for the National Archives with the generous support of Lead Sponsor AT&T. Major additional support provided by the Lawrence F. O’Brien Family and members of the Board of the Foundation for the National Archives.


No Thanks…

With Thanksgiving just two days away, this cartoon reminded residents of the nation’s capital of one reason not to be thankful in 1921—the high cost of living in the United States. Prices had spiraled upward in the years following World War I as the country converted from war production to a peacetime economy.

No Thanks for the High Cost of Living on Thanksgiving, 11/22/1921. (National Archives Identifier 6011699)

No Thanks for the High Cost of Living on Thanksgiving, 11/22/1921. (National Archives Identifier 6011699)

In this cartoon an elongated turkey holds a price sticker in its beak as John Q. Public grumbles: “There’s one item I won’t have to be thankful for.” The recession, however, was short lived—the U.S. economy quickly rebounded ushering in the prosperous roaring twenties.

This cartoon was drawn by Clifford K. Berryman, who was a prominent Washington, DC, cartoonist in the first half of the 20th century. Berryman used John Q. Public in many of his cartoons to denote a symbolic member of society deemed a “common man” or “man on the street.”

The Center for Legislative Archives has approximately 2,400 of Berryman’s original pen-and-ink drawings. They are all available for viewing in the National Archives Online Public Access catalog.

 


Laying the cornerstone for the FDR Library

On November 19, 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt laid the cornerstone of the Roosevelt Library and Museum in Hyde Park, NY—the first Presidential library within the National Archives.

FDR Library Cornerstone Ceremony, November 19, 1939. (Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum)

FDR Library cornerstone ceremony, November 19, 1939. (Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum)

In front of an estimated 1,000 onlookers, Roosevelt placed inside the cornerstone a metal box containing several items including the Articles of Incorporation of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, Inc.; several congressional resolutions, reports, and hearings related to the library; copies of deeds related to the property; Archivist of the United States R.D.W. Connor’s 1939 Society of American Archivist address on the Roosevelt Library; and copies of New York daily newspapers from November 19, 1939.

During his Presidency, Roosevelt contemplated what to do with his papers. After careful consideration, he devised a plan to preserve, intact, all his correspondence, public papers, pamphlets, books, private papers, and other valuable source material into an archive to be housed on his family estate at Hyde Park. However, he did not intend for the collection to be privately owned—Roosevelt wanted the Federal Government to own the material and for it to be open to the public.

In July 1939, Congress approved the establishment and maintenance of the library, authorizing the Archivist of the United States to accept land in Hyde Park, NY, and permit a nonprofit to construct the library. Once complete, FDR would donate material for the library’s collection, and the National Archives would manage it.

During the cornerstone laying ceremony, with R.D.W. Connor in attendance, FDR remarked, “This wholly adequate building will be turned over, as you know, to the Government of the United States next summer without any cost whatsoever to the taxpayers of the country. During the following year the manuscripts, the letters, the books, the pictures and the models will be placed in their appropriate settings, and the collections will be ready for public inspection and use, we hope, by the spring of 1941.”

Roosevelt’s comment about the library opening in 1941 caused immediate speculation that he would not run for a third term (as we know he ran for a third . . . and fourth term). The museum opened to the public on June 30, 1941, but the research room did not open until a year after Roosevelt’s death.

FDR Library Cornerstone Ceremony, November 19, 1939. (Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum)

FDR Library cornerstone ceremony, November 19, 1939. (Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum)