The Bill of Rights Goes to the States

On June 8, 1789, less than one year after the U.S. Constitution was ratified, Representative James Madison of Virginia proposed several amendments to the document.


James Madison, undated. (National Archives Identifier 532835)

The amendments were to be interwoven into the text and were, for the most part, selectively taken from the amendments proposed by the states.

They also mostly related to protecting civil liberties rather than changing the structure of the government.

In August, the House debated, reworded, and changed the amendments.

A successful resolution by Roger Sherman of Connecticut made them a separate document, moving them to the end of the Constitution rather than inserted directly into the text.

On August 24 the House passed 17 articles of amendment, and then the Senate took up the matter, making several more changes of their own. Continue reading

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America’s First Ladies: In Service to Our Nation

Today’s post comes from Elle Benak and Sanjana Barr from the National Archives History Office.


Susan Swain, Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero, Cokie Roberts, Katherine A.S. Sibley, and William Seale, September 16, 2016. (Photo by Jeff Reed, National Archives)

On Friday September 16, 2016, the National Archives hosted the “Legacies of America’s First Ladies” conference in the William G. McGowan theater in Washington, DC.

This was part of an ongoing series first launched in 2011 by American University, who partnered with the National Archives to tell the important story of our nation’s First Ladies.

The conference was led by American University’s professor Anita B. McBride, who had served as Chief of Staff to Laura Bush.

This year’s conference consisted of two panels—the first was a panel moderated by Cokie Roberts with White House Historian William Seale, Professor Katherine A.S. Sibley, and co-CEO of C-SPAN Susan Swain.
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Papers of Count Galeazzo Ciano

Today’s post comes from Sonia Kahn in the National Archives History Office. It is the seventh and final of our series on the history of some of the seized foreign records housed at the National Archives.

Ciano 1

Photograph of Ciano and Ribbentrop at Schloss Belvedere, Vienna, November 2, 1938. (National Archives Collection of Foreign Records Seized)

One of the most complex and fascinating histories about foreign records at the National Archvies has been saved for last: the story behind the Papers of Count Galeazzo Ciano, sometimes intriguingly referred to as the Ciano Rose Garden Papers.

Ciano had both personal and formal ties to fascist leader Benito Mussolini. He was married to Mussolini’s eldest legitimate daughter, Edda, in 1930, and he served as the Italian Foreign Minister from 1936 to 1943.

During his term as Foreign Minister, Ciano kept a diary, and along with it a set of accompanying papers to which he frequently referred in the journal entries.

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The “Pocket Constitution” makes a comeback

pocket constitution

National Archives Pocket Constitution. (National Archives History Office)

As we celebrate the 229th birthday of the Constitution, the mini, pocket edition has made a comeback.

After Khizr Khan, the father of a Muslim soldier killed in Iraq, waved his pocket Constitution during his speech at the Democratic National Convention, sales have soared and pocket Constitutions are flying off the shelves.

I use my pocket Constitution all the time. In fact, I have at least three different editions printed by the National Archives over the years. One of them is old enough that it doesn’t even have the 27th amendment which was ratified in 1992.

GPO has been printing smaller, hand-held Constitutions in booklet form since before there was a National Archives. It’s unclear when they first became known as “pocket” Constitutions, but in 1965 Congress started printing what they called “pocked-sized” editions of the Constitution for distribution to its membership.

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The German Foreign Ministry Archive

Today’s post comes from Sonia Kahn in the National Archives History Office. It is part six of a series on the history behind some of the seized foreign records housed at the National Archives.

Foreign Ministry 1

Document signed by the head of Paul Schmidt, Interpreter to the German Foreign Ministry, May 13, 1942. (Top Secret Files of the Reich Foreign Minister’s Secretariat, Records of the German Foreign Office Received by the Department of State, National Archives Collection of Foreign Records Seized)

During and immediately following World War II, Allied governments aggressively sought Nazi diplomatic papers. The Allies would use these documents not only to better understand and explain German war aims but also as proof of German infiltration into foreign countries, which was later prosecuted as a war crime.

When British and American troops captured nearly the entire German Foreign Ministry Archives in April 1945, they had reason to celebrate.

The good news was tempered with the discovery that the documents mostly covered the years 1867-1940. There were few post-1940 records, which was a disappointment, particularly for intelligence reasons. In time, though, the Allies found some of the more contemporary documents.

In mid-1943 German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop had made copies of some of the most essential records of the Reich Foreign Minister’s Secretariat. The duplicates included correspondence between Hitler and Mussolini as well as notes that had been taken during meetings between Hitler, Ribbentrop, and foreign diplomats.

While the duplicated records were being moved, an aide to the Nazi in charge of microfilming secretly buried several boxes of microfilmed records against orders. In May of 1945, the aide disclosed the location of the documents to a British team.

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On Exhibit: The Patriot Act

Today’s post comes from Andrew Grafton in the National Archives History Office


New York, NY, Sept. 14, 2001 — New York City firefighters and emergency personnel conduct response operations at Ground Zero following the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. (National Archives Identifier 24476901)

October 2001, Washington, DC.

The United States has recently been attacked by terrorists intent on killing American citizens and striking a blow against U.S. morale in the fight against terror. Millions are afraid that a further attack is imminent. The public is adamant that the federal government take action.

Out of this environment of fear, and a desire for increased national security, the Patriot Act was born.

In the wake of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States and the September–October 2001 anthrax mail scare, public apprehension about the potential for further threats was at an all-time high.

As a result of these concerns, Congress proposed several bills to strengthen the power of federal law enforcement to preemptively apprehend terror plots. The ultimate goal was to ensure that terror threats like those on 9/11 would be detected by federal law enforcement agencies. Continue reading

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The Personal Files of Benito Mussolini

Today’s post comes from Sonia Kahn in the National Archives History Office. It is part five of a series on the history of some of the seized foreign records housed at the National Archives.


Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini in Munich, Germany, June 1941. (National Archives Identifier 540151)

Unlike the very systematic seizure and filming of German records, the acquisition of many of the Italian records that made their way to the National Archives was purely by chance.

The personal papers of Benito Mussolini, also sometimes called the Handbag Files, are a prime example.

Known as Il Duce, Mussolini was the head of the Italian National Fascist Party. He served as Prime Minister from 1922 until July 1943, when his extreme unpopularity led King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy to dismiss and arrest him. Just months later, on October 13, the Italian state switched its alliance and formally declared war on Germany.

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Breaking Ground: From Market Stalls to the National Archives Building

Today’s post comes from Sonia Kahn in the National Archives History Office.


Aerial view of the Federal Triangle area of Washington, DC, 6/15/1936 (National Archives Identifier 7820637)

Today the National Archives Building is a recognizable edifice on Pennsylvania Avenue, but it has not always stood on that site in the nation’s capital.

Eighty-five years ago, ground was broken to begin construction on the structure that would house our nation’s records.

A week before the official ground-breaking, the contract for excavation was awarded to Jarboe and Houghton, a firm from Mechanicsville, Maryland. They were given 60 days to complete excavation, beginning on September 5 when a groundbreaking ceremony would take place.

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On Exhibit: An Act to establish the NMAAHC


National Museum of African American History and Culture, 2016. (Photo by Alan Karchmer, courtesy of Smithsonian Institution)

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) officially opens on September 24, 2016, on the National Mall.

It is the 19th and newest Smithsonian Institution museum and is devoted to documenting African American life, history, and culture.

The museum was established by a December 16, 2003, act of Congress, but efforts to create a national museum dedicated to African American history and culture dates to the early 20th century.

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The German Naval Archives: Tambach


The wreckage at Lunebach, Germany, ca. March 1945. (National Archives Identifier 535977)

Today’s post comes from Sonia Kahn in the National Archives History Office. It is part four of a series on the history of some of the seized foreign records housed at the National Archives.

Imagining Germany in April 1945 conjures up images of destruction and despair as the war in Europe drew to a close and the Nazi war machine gasped its final breaths.

That April, Allied troops seized documents of the German Naval Archives, also known as the Tambach documents, named after Tambach Castle in northern Bavaria, where they were captured.

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