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Tag: Constitution

Jefferson in Paris: The Constitution, Part I

This is part of a series, written by Jim Zeender, devoted to letters written by the Founding Fathers in their own words and often in their own hand. Jim is the Senior Registrar in the Exhibits Division.

“It is impossible to increase taxes, disastrous to keep on borrowing, and inadequate to merely to cut expense.”

This is not a quote from the 2012 American  elections or the current fiscal cliff debate.  These are the words of Charles-Alexandre de Calonne, finance minister of France, describing the financial conditions of his country in 1786 to his king, Louis XVI.

The French monarchy was deep in debt due to continuous war expenditures, most recently from the American Revolution, when France supplied monies, ships, soldiers, and arms to the the struggling United States, not to mention its own naval engagements with the British Navy. The French people were poor and hungry, and there was great inequality among the classes. Attempts at reform failed, setting the stage for the bloody civil rupture known as the French Revolution, beginning with democratic ideas and ending in Napoleonic despotism.

With his experience in the Virginia House of Burgesses, the Continental Congress, and as Governor of Virginia behind him, Thomas Jefferson continued his practical education in world affairs in pre-revolutionary France. Across the Atlantic, the fledgling American government had its own problems, which though different, were … [ Read all ]

No, it’s not in the Constitution

These days, pundits, candidates, and party activists like to cite the Constitution of the United States as the moral and legal backing for whatever they’re proposing.

But the Constitution is silent on a lot of things you probably thought it said. Here are eight examples.

The President can veto a proposed amendment to the Constitution.

No. He has nothing to do with the amendments. Congress can propose an amendment with a two-thirds vote of both houses, or a Constitutional Convention can be called by a vote of two-thirds of the state legislatures. However, once the amendment is proposed either by Congress or a convention, it must be ratified by three-fourths of the state legislatures.

Only one amendment, the 21st Amendment, which repealed Prohibition (the 18th Amendment), was ratified by conventions in the states.

The “Founding Fathers” who wrote the Declaration of Independence in 1776 are the same men who wrote the Constitution in 1787.

Only five individuals signed both of these two founding documents. They were George Clymer, Benjamin Franklin, Robert Morris, George Read, and Roger Sherman. Some of the famous signers of the Declaration were elsewhere when the Constitution was being written. Thomas Jefferson was in France as our American minister, and John Adams was American minister to Great Britain.

The Constitution established the system of Federal courts.

No. The Constitution established “one supreme … [ Read all ]

Archives Spotlight: Making the Constitution accessible

October is American Archives Month! To celebrate, we’re running a series of “spotlights” on the many locations that make up the National Archives. Today’s post features the National Archives Building in Washington, DC, and was written by Rick Blondo, management and program analyst at the National Archives.

The Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Bill of Rights are on permanent display in the Rotunda at the National Archives Building. But up until 2003, some visitors could not easily see these important documents or the documents displayed along with them.

The design of the original display cases, built in 1935, meant that items were displayed flat or nearly flat with the front edge of the cases about 40 inches above the floor. This height and angle made it nearly impossible for young children or people in wheelchairs to see the documents.

New display cases, installed as part of a building-wide renovation from 2000 to 2005, make those documents easily viewable by all visitors. During the renovation, we learned there was no accessible design standard for exhibit display cases containing original archival records. We consulted with experts and used a mock-up to test different heights and angles of display.

In 1999, volunteers tested and scored the original display cases and a mock-up. Three volunteers—two adults and one child—were in wheelchairs. The other eight volunteers—six adults and two children—were ambulatory

[ Read all ]

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

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 part of the official record of the convention. The … [ 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 ]