What is Loyalty?: David Patterson’s Oath of Office

Today’s post comes from Christine Blackerby, Outreach Specialist in the Center for Legislative Archives at the National Archives in Washington, DC.

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Draft of Ironclad Oath, June 1862. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

Could a person who had sworn an oath to the Confederacy later loyally serve the United States?

One hundred and fifty years ago, the U.S. Senate wrestled with this question for the first time.

When states from the defeated Confederacy were readmitted to the Union, some of those elected to Congress were the same people who had served the Confederate government or the governments of the seceded states. Citizens and government officials alike asked how these men could be trusted to serve the Union that they had so recently fought against.

One tool for judging the loyalty of potential office holders was the Ironclad Oath of 1862, a law passed by Congress during the Civil War to deter sabotage by Confederate sympathizers. The Ironclad Oath required that any federal officeholder (members of Congress were added in 1864) swear that he had never served a government in hostility to the United States.

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A Celebration of Moms and Dads: National Parents’ Day

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

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Photograph of First Dad Bill Clinton with his daughter, Chelsea Clinton, 11/7/2000. (National Archives Identifier 5899937)

In a nation as large and as diverse as the United States, it is rare to find something that nearly half of its citizens have in common. Though the U.S. economy supports a variety of different careers, there is one job that almost 150 million Americans share: being a parent.

In order to commemorate the major impact that parents have on the next generation of American citizens, parents and children alike across the United States celebrate National Parents’ Day. The national observance of Parents’ Day occurs annually on the fourth Sunday in July.

This year, Parents’ Day falls on July 24.

Although not as well-known as the traditional Mother’s and Father’s Days, National Parents’ Day nonetheless bears an important place in United States history and culture. The day is designated to celebrate the significant role that parents play in the lives of their children and to promote smart and responsible parenting.

On August 5, 1994, a joint resolution was introduced in the House of Representatives on “to establish the Fourth Sunday in July as Parents’ Day.” The House passed it on September 30, and the Senate on October 4. On October 14, 1994, President Bill Clinton signed the resolution, and National Parents’ Day was born.

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Welcome to “The Rock”

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

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Alcatraz Island, California, 1934. (National Archives Identifier 23935533)

On August 11, 1934, the first civilian prisoners arrived at the new federal penitentiary, which would infamously become known as “The Rock.”

The high-security prison on Alcatraz Island, a short ferry ride from San Francisco, was meant to show the American public that the federal government was serious about fighting the swell in crime that the nation saw in the 1920s and 1930s.

U.S. Penitentiary Alcatraz continued to house criminals for nearly 30 years, before ultimately closing its doors in 1963.

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New Web Exhibit on FDR and the Presidential Library System

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National Archives Act, June 19, 1934, signature page. (National Archives Identifier 299840)

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

A man deeply devoted to preserving United States history, President Franklin D. Roosevelt made contributions to the National Archives that have proven invaluable.

Not only did he sign the law creating the National Archives, appoint the first Archivist of the United States, and oversee the building’s opening, FDR expanded the reach of federal recordkeeping by founding the first Presidential library under the administration of the National Archives.

The National Archives History Office has produced a new online exhibit on the FDR Library and the founding of the Presidential Library System, which is available though Google Cultural Institute.

Though his primary career was in politics, FDR was something of a closet archivist. His fascination with, and devotion to, federal recordkeeping was readily apparent while he occupied the West Wing.

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Amending America: the 14th Amendment

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Joint Resolution proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States, proposed June 13, 1866 (National Archives Identifier 1408913)

Join one of the “Amending America” exhibit curators Christine Blackerby for a Facebook Live video on the  Huffington Post Politics page.

On July 9, 1868, the Fourteenth amendment to the U.S. Constitution became law. It is arguably the most important of the 27 amendments.

The amendment originated after the Civil War when Congress attempted to pass legislation securing civil rights for the recently freed slaves. President Andrew Johnson repeatedly vetoed these bills because he believed individual states had the right to determine the status of freedmen without interference from the Federal government.

In order to take the issue out of Johnson’s reach, Congress chose to address civil rights with a constitutional amendment, and June 13, 1866, Congress approved a joint resolution proposing a five-part amendment to the Constitution.

Section one includes its most vital components.

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The Last Hands to Touch the Declaration of Independence

Today’s post comes from Victoria Blue, writer-editor in the Office of Internal Communications at the National Archives.

When Chief of Conservation Mary Lynn Ritzenthaler retires in July, the last hands to have touched the Declaration of Independence will leave the National Archives. She has been with the agency since 1985.

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Mary Lynn Ritzenthaler, Chief of Conservation, stands by the Declaration of Independence at the National Archives in Washington, DC. Photo by Jeff Reed.

The Declaration of Independence was sealed in a glass and metal case in the early 1950s when it was still in the custody of the Library of Congress. It wasn’t until the Rotunda’s renovation in 2001 that conservators had the opportunity to take the Charters of Freedom (the Declaration, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights) off of exhibit and think about next steps.

“There was the opportunity to think about whether or not the original encasement was still suitable in terms of long-term preservation needs,” Ritzenthaler recalled. “There was a piece of free-floating glass directly on top of the parchment to help keep it flat, so there was some worry about that.”

Along with now-retired conservator Kitty Nicholson, Ritzenthaler removed the Charters of Freedom from their earlier encasements to perform examinations and treatments.

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Kitty Nicholson removes the lead seal around the 1950s encasement of the Declaration of Independence as Doris Hamburg and Mary Lynn Ritzenthaler look on.

“Over the course of its history, the Declaration of Independence was handled a great deal,” Ritzenthaler said. “From 1776 on, it’s traveled a great deal. It was on exhibit. In many cases, it was stored at the Department of State and brought up for people to see and to handle. And it kind of showed the effects of all of that over the years.”

Understandably, Ritzenthaler and Nicholson were a little nervous to unseal the encasements, given the status of the documents. They decided to examine the Constitution and the Bill of Rights first before taking on the Declaration of Independence.

“We left the Declaration until the very end because we wanted to build our knowledge and experience,” she said. “It was with a great deal of awe and kind of amazement that we were the privileged people to have this task. We were very fortunate. Not that many conservators or archivists in their lifetimes will get to handle such an amazing document.”

The conservators faced a number of challenges. Parchment is made of animal skin, which makes it very different from paper. Given its age and history of extensive travel, exhibition, and handling, the Declaration of Independence was not in good condition. There was also the challenge of opening the encasements.

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The Charters were carefully reencased after conservation treatment.

“There were always some uncertainties in opening those older encasements because they didn’t come with an instruction book, so we had to figure out our way,” Ritzenthaler said. “There was a piece of glass sitting directly on top of the parchment, so the worry was that, even though we did not have any problem opening the six previous charters encasements, would the glass stick to the surface of the skin? Or would there be any ink flakes that would have attached to the glass? Neither of those things happened, so we were very fortunate.”

The conservators did not wear gloves when handling the parchment. “That surprises a lot of people because wearing gloves for certain kinds of artwork and photographs is a very good thing to do because you avoid fingerprinting,” Ritzenthaler said. “But with the parchment, we wanted to make sure that we were handling it as carefully as we could, and, sometimes, when you’re wearing gloves, you don’t have the same manual dexterity. So care was our big concern—and our hands were always clean!”

As Ritzenthaler prepares for retirement, she takes with her the experience of being one of very few people on the planet to have physically held the Declaration of Independence.

“It touched me a great deal to have this opportunity to work on this project,” she said. “I’m sure that, in the future, there will be other Archives members who will have the same opportunity, but the encasements will last for a very long time.”

When the encasements were returned to the Rotunda in 2003, the National Institute for Standards and Technology estimated that they will stay sealed for close to 100 years.

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Mary Lynn Ritzenthaler stands in the Rotunda at National Archives in Washington, DC, in front of the Charters of Freedom. Photo by Jeff Reed.

“Working on all of the Charters of Freedom documents—the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Declaration of Independence—was exciting, amazing, and awe-inspiring. But the Declaration really trumps them all as one of the most significant items in our history,” Ritzenthaler said. “Being the last person to actually handle the Declaration of Independence is rather awe-inspiring. It was an honor to be able to work on that document and certainly the highlight of my career.”

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On Exhibit: One Hundred Years of the National Park Service

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

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View with Shadowed Ravine, “Grand Canyon from South Rim, 1941,” Arizona (Vertical Orientation), by Ansel Adams. (National Archives Identifier 519885)

Yellowstone. The Grand Canyon. Yosemite. For many Americans, the mere mention of these sites conjures up images of grandeur and magnificence.

As the conservator of the United States’ most storied and important landmarks, the National Park Service is charged with the preservation and operation of each of the nation’s 59 national parks, as well as hundreds of protected shorelines, preserves, and historical landmarks.

This summer, the National Archives will be commemorating the 100th anniversary of the National Parks Service by displaying the document that founded the NPS, the Organic Act of 1916.

H.R. 15522, An Act to Establish a National Park Service, as the legislation is officially known, “created in the Department of the Interior a service to be called the National Park Service . . . [NPS] shall promote and regulate the use of the Federal areas known as national parks, monuments, and reservations . . . to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects . . . for future generations.” Continue reading

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Ninth Archivist Allen Weinstein

The National History office is wrapping up its month-long series on stories about the former Archivists of the United States.

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Ninth Archivist of the United States Allen Weinstein’s Portrait which hangs in the National Archives Building in Washington, DC. (Records of the National Archives)

Ninth Archivist of the United States Allen Weinstein was nominated by President George Bush on January 24, 2005, and confirmed by the U.S. Senate on February 10, 2005.

Born in New York City in 1937, Weinstein earned his bachelor’s degree from the City College of New York and his master’s degree and doctorate from Yale University.

Before coming to the National Archives, he was an author and taught history at Smith College, Georgetown University, and Boston University.

Weinstein had a number of accomplishments during his four-year tenure at the National Archives, including an increase in congressional funding, an overhaul in document classification, and an expansion of the National Archives museum program.

Building on the work of the two previous Archivists, Weinstein launched the Electronic Records Archives to store and make accessible the government’s electronic records.

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John W. Carlin: Bringing the National Archives into the 21st Century

The National Archives was created on June 19, 1934. During the month of June, the National Archives History Office is sharing stories about the former Archivists of the United States. Today’s post comes from Sarah Basilion.

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Portrait of Eighth Archivist of the United States John Carlin which hangs in the National Archives Building. (Records of the National Archives)

John W. Carlin was appointed eighth Archivist of the United States by President Bill Clinton in 1995 and served in the position until 2005.

His tenure straddled two centuries, and much of his work as Archivist focused on bringing the National Archives into the current one.

A native of Kansas, Carlin attended Kansas State University. He then held many positions in the Kansas State government, first in the House of Representative and then as Speaker of the House. In 1979 he was elected Governor of Kansas and served two four-year terms.

Immediately upon his appointment as Archivist, Carlin began a comprehensive strategic planning effort that resulted in a 10-year plan to refocus the agency and bring it into the 21st century.

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Don Wilson: Embracing Independence

The National Archives was created on June 19, 1934. During the month of June, the National Archives History Office is sharing stories about the former Archivists of the United States. Today’s post comes from Sarah Basilion.

Archivist Portraits

Portrait of Seventh Archivist of the United States Don Wilson which hangs in the National Archives Building. (Records of the National Archives)

Don W. Wilson was appointed seventh Archivist of the United States by President Ronald Reagan in 1987. He was the first Archivist to lead the newly independent National Archives and the first Archivist to be appointed by a President since Wayne Grover in 1948. Wilson’s appointment came after Acting Archivist Frank Burke served two years as head of the agency.

Originally from Kansas, Wilson earned his bachelor’s degree from Washburn University and his master’s and Ph.D. in history from the University of Cincinnati.

He began his career working in the history departments at the University of Michigan and Washburn University. He also worked as a research professor with the Center for Presidential Studies at Texas A&M University.

Wilson’s time at the Center for Presidential Studies served him well as he started at the National Archives at the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library. In 1981 he became the first director of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library. Continue reading

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