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Tag: Constitution 225

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

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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: 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 ]