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Tag: Constitution

Constitution 225: To errata is human

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 1777, Shallus wrote to John Hancock from wartime headquarters in Lancaster, PA, about a beef supplier demanding payment. This is the earliest example we have of … [ Read all ]

Constitution 225: George Washington’s Constitution

 

 

Today’s Constitution 225 post was written by Jim Zeender,  senior registrar in Exhibits at the National Archives.

Imagine George Washington’s first day on the job as President of the United States on April 30, 1789. What what his role? How was he to act? What were his duties and powers? Who should advise him? Who worked for him?

The Constitution described the role of the President in general terms, but spelled out only a few specific duties and powers. Since the democratic republic created under the Constitution was an entirely new form of government, there was no user’s manual. There were no previous presidents he could look to for advice. The Constitution, the proposed Bill of Rights, and Acts of Congress were the closest thing. After the first session of Congress, these documents were printed and compiled into a volume.

Visitors to the Donald W. Reynolds Museum at Mount Vernon will have a rare opportunity to see Washington’s personal copy of this rare volume.

Inside, his handwritten notes in pencil can be seen in the margins. The text was printed by Francis Childs and John Swaine and bound by Thomas Allen, all of New York. Washington received the book in 1789, his first year in office as U.S. president, and brought it with him to Mount Vernon upon his retirement in 1797. Only … [ Read all ]

Constitution 225: Tweet the Preamble

Five people worked together as the Committee of Style to polish and refine the 52-word Preamble, a paragraph that provided the reasons and purposes behind the creation of the Constitution. In fact, one of the greatest phrases of the Constitution comes from the Preamble: “We the People.” Could any other wording express the emotions and the meaning behind the four-page Constitution better than these three words?

We think it can—and we think you can do it! We want you to tweet the 52-word Preamble in 140 characters or less.

From today through September 17—the 225th anniversary of the ratification of the Constitution—we’re asking you to condense the meaning of the Preamble in a bite-sized tweet.

On Constitution Day, September 17, the Archivist of the United States will choose the winner, who will receive a pocket-size Constitution from the Foundation for the National Archives.

The rules are simple: shorten the Preamble down to as few words (or letters) as possible while retaining the Preamble’s meaning, then tweet us your response using the hashtag #Preamble.

“We the People of the United States, in Order to
form a more perfect Union, establish Justice,
insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the
common defence, promote the general Welfare,
and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves
and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this
Constitution for the United States of America.”… [ Read all ]

Constitution 225: It takes a committee to write a Preamble

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.

By the second week of September, the delegates to the Constitutional Convention had hammered out nearly all of the details of new government. They had carefully recorded each article they adopted throughout the summer, but they had not focused much energy on making them presentable as a whole.

Aware that they would soon lift their self-imposed veil of secrecy and present the finished document to the rest of the nation, they referred the entire document to the Committee of Style.  The Committee of Style was charged with organizing the articles and polishing the language to impart the Constitution with a consistent voice commensurate with its status as the foundation of the United States government.

The five delegates selected to serve on Committee of Style were William Samuel Johnson, Alexander Hamilton, Gouverneur Morris, James Madison, and Rufus King.

Perhaps the most iconic edit proposed by the Committee of Style appears in the first line of the Preamble to the Constitution. While earlier drafts listed each state individually, the Preamble presented to the Convention on September 12 began succinctly “We the People of the United States.”[ Read all ]

Constitution 225: Fractions and ratifications

 

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.

On Monday, September 10, 1787, the Constitutional Convention was fixated on fractions.

After four months of debate and compromise, the delegates knew they were nearing a final document. With the end in sight, they turned their attention to the future. There were two central questions they needed to answer.

First, how would the nation throw the switch to shut down the old government and start up the new government? Getting one-half of the states to agree to be governed by the Constitution seemed a little light, but three-fourths seemed a little heavy. The delegates finally settled on two-thirds; the Constitution would become effective once it was ratified by 9 of the 13 states.

Second, how could the new government develop with the nation as both grew and changed? The delegates agreed to include a mechanism by which future statesmen could improve or correct the Constitution. Proposals to amend the Constitution can be made by both two-thirds of the Senate and two-thirds of the House of Representatives, or two-thirds of the state legislatures can propose an amendment. No matter how the amendment is proposed, no amendment goes into effect until [ Read all ]