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Tag: federal government

Taking the Constitution for a Test Drive

Today’s Constitution Day guest post was written by Jim Zeender, senior registrar in exhibits at the National Archives in Washington, DC.

The Constitution of the United States turned 226 this year and continues to be the oldest and longest-serving written constitution in the world. It consists of exactly 4,543 words and has been amended only 27 times.

At the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention in September 1787, the attendees had various opinions on the result of the Convention. Benjamin Franklin has probably been quoted most often from his speech that day, “I confess that I do not entirely approve this Constitution at present, but Sir, I am not sure I shall never approve it.”

John Adams was not present in Philadelphia.  He was in London, serving as the U.S. envoy to Great Britain. Adams received a copy of the new constitution from Massachusetts delegate Elbridge Gerry, and he later praised the Convention’s work in a letter to Jefferson, who was in Paris.

It seems to be admirably calculated to preserve the Union, to increase Affection, and to bring us all to the same mode of thinking. They have adopted the Idea of the Congress at Albany in 1754 of a President to nominate officers and a Council to Consent: but thank heaven they have adopted a third Branch, which that Congress did not. I think

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Facial Hair Friday: Portrait of the Artist with a Mustache

This self portrait, with carefully groomed mustache in the center, is a glamorous photo of a hardworking, groundbreaking photographer. James Stephen “Steve” Wright was from a working-class family in Washington, DC. By the 1940s he was head of photographic operations for the Federal Works Agency.

But like many young black men at the time, he began at the very bottom of the career ladder, working at the Federal Emergency Administration of Public Works (FEAPW) as a messenger and chauffeur. However, unlike other young black men at time, Wright worked for FEAPW Administrator Harold Ickes, who fought battles over segregation and discrimination, and who hired like-minded people into his agency. Wright moved on to assembling newspaper clippings and eventually was recruited by the FEAPW photographic head Hyman Greenberg.

In an interview with Nicholas Natason, Wright recalled that “In those days, it was tough for a black man even to become a file clerk in the government . . . You had to mind your P’s and Q’s, because there were lower-level whites who resented the fact that you were doing photography at all and were waiting for you to stumble.”

But Wright was extremely good at his job; he was efficient, diplomatic and organized. As the New Deal picture units began to consolidate in the Federal Works Agency (FWA) photographic section, he traveled the country taking … [ Read all ]

Facial Hair Friday: The Enumerated Mustache

Don’t be fooled by the sleepy demeanor of this mustachioed man. It’s 1933, and the world is changing. And the Federal Government would be recording these changes on April 1, 1940.

Over 120,000 enumerators would fan out across 48 states and 2 territories, with copies of this Federal Decennial Census Population Schedule. They would use sled dogs in Alaska. They would go to homes in railroad cars. They would talk to famers, veterans, lodgers, women, and men.

They would count this man (and his ‘stache) and anyone else at home at the time. And since he was a farmer, they would ask him 232 questions as part of the Farm Schedule.

And all this personal information on 132.2 million citizens been kept private and secure for the last 72 years.

But on Monday, April 2, at 9 a.m., we’re releasing the 1940 census!

The 3.8 million images that make up the 1940 census will be available online to search for free at http://1940census.archives.gov/.

There are so many reasons that this is significant—it’s the first time we are releasing our information online through a gov website. It’s the first time there was a supplemental series of questions for 1 in 20 people. It’s the first time that the census did not include a question asking if someone in the household was a veteran of the Civil War. … [ Read all ]

Secession, Congress, and a Civil War Awakening at the Archives

The U.S. Capitol under construction, 1860 (National Archives Identifier 530494)

As a new year begins, the 112th Congress reconvenes for a second session of legislative activity. Representatives and senators from across the country are again descending upon the Capitol, ready to commence debates, proceedings, and hearings. This is how the legislative branch of the Federal Government always functions, right? Well, not always.

On the eve of the Civil War in 1860, the 36th Congress consisted of 66 senators and 234 representatives. There was a Democratic majority in the Senate and a Republican majority in the House of Representatives, and every state in the Union was effectively represented.

But once South Carolina issued its ordinance of secession on December 20, 1860, a surge of southern legislators began withdrawing and retiring from Congress.

By the time the 37th Congress convened in March of 1861, six states—Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas—had already joined South Carolina and left the Union. This prompted Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina to follow.

When the torrent of secession finally concluded, vacancies existed in both chambers of Congress. The mass exodus of southern Democrats, coupled with the commencement of Union-Confederate hostilities, shrank the Federal legislature to 50 senators and 180 representatives by the beginning of 1863.

Southern secession transformed Congress in many ways. The dozens of unfilled vacancies in the Senate and the … [ Read all ]

What’s Cooking Wednesdays: Eat your peas in NYC

 

To celebrate our new exhibit “What’s Cooking, Uncle Sam?” we are featuring a food-related blog post every Wednesday. Today’s post comes from Christopher Zarr at the National Archives in New York City.

The National Archives maintains the primary source documents of the U.S. Food Administration (USFA). Thousands of documents illustrate the local sacrifices and quality of life on the home front during World War I. The documents of the National Archives at New York City detail the actions taken by the USFA in New York, New Jersey, and Puerto Rico.

The Federal Government tried to influence local neighborhoods. In the New York City market,  particular attention was paid to the multicultural nature of the city.

Pamphlets were translated for Jewish and Italian immigrants to explain “Why Shouldn’t We Eat What We Want?” and to support the benefits of drinking milk in “Food for Children.” The New York food board also created an exhibit at Grand Central Terminal to show why limiting wheat, meat, fats, and sugar would not be a detriment to your health.

Some of the most fascinating documents to come from our records are recipe pamphlets. Thousands of these recipe brochures were distributed throughout the city. With titles such as “Without Wheat” and “Potato Possibilities,” the Federal Food Board of New York provided ingredient substitutions for well-known recipes to help … [ Read all ]