My Fellow Americans: Bill of Rights Day at the National Archives

December 15 is Bill of Rights Day, which commemorates the ratification of the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution. For more information on events and resources at the National Archives, visit our Bill of Rights Day website.

Naturalization Ceremony
Petitioners for naturalization taking the Oath of Allegiance in the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom, December 13, 2013. (Records of the National Archives)

“I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.”

~Naturalization Oath of Allegiance to the United States of America

For the National Archives, a highlight of Bill of Rights Day is when petitioners for naturalization speak these words in the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom in front of three of our nation’s founding documents: The Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.

Each year we partner with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to give approximately 30 aspiring citizens the opportunity to take their oath of allegiance in the Rotunda filled with friends, families, and government officials.

The ceremony begins with the presentation of the colors, the national anthem, and the retirement of the colors. After every applicant’s name is read aloud, the judge administers the oath, which all new U.S. citizens have been taking a version of since 1790.

Naturalization Ceremony 2010. Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero.
Bill of Rights Day Naturalization Ceremony, December 15, 2010. (Photo by Michelle Farnsworth, National Archives)

Often the oath is followed by a keynote speaker. Last year’s ceremony, however, had three very special speakers—three of our newly naturalized citizens, Vladimir Antikarov, Giulio Chiuini, and Hartmut Schneider—who spoke about what it felt like to become an American.

Antikarov was the first speak. With a big smile, Antikarov opened by saying, “Good morning my fellow Americans! How does that feel?” as the crowd laughed with him. He went on to share something from his own personal archives—an article he wrote for the Journal of International Education in 1992 called “Coming to America,” about his opinions of this country. He ended by quoting JFK’s inaugural address, “Ask not what your country can do for you,” and pleaded with his fellow naturalized citizens to give this country more than what they take from it.

Bill of Rights Day Naturalization Ceremony
Vladimir Antikarov speaking at the Bill of Rights Day Naturalization Ceremony, December 15, 2017. (Photo by Jeff Reed, National Archives)

Giulio Chiuini spoke next and couldn’t help also welcoming his “fellow Americans” for the first time. He recounted his family’s move to the United States from Italy when he was just nine years old. He originally didn’t understand why they had to move and leave his friends behind, but as he grew older, he realized his parents made that decision so they could have a better life—he finally grew to understand that decision and learned just what the term “land of opportunity” really meant.

Bill of Rights Day Naturalization Ceremony
Giulio Chiuini speaking at the Bill of Rights Day Naturalization Ceremony, December 15, 2017. (Photo by Jeff Reed, National Archives)

Hartmut Schneider spoke third and talked about how he couldn’t wait to exercise his new rights as a citizen—to vote and serve on a jury—and to be part of such a diverse country. But he said what was really important to him was he now shares the same citizenship as his wife, who was born in Taiwan and naturalized at age 12, and his three children, who were all born in the United States.

Bill of Rights Day Naturalization Ceremony
Hartmut Schneider speaking at the Bill of Rights Day Naturalization Ceremony, December 15, 2017. (Photo by Jeff Reed, National Archives)

The Honorable David S. Tatel, Circuit Judge at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, thanked the men for their remarks, saying they are a hard act to follow. He then told his own family’s immigration story—of his grandparents who came penniless to Ellis Island over 100 years ago seeking a better life. They became American citizens and, “as a testament to this country’s promise, their grandson stands before you as a Federal judge.”

Bill of Rights Day Naturalization Ceremony
The Honorable David S. Tatel, Circuit Judge at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, presides over the Bill of Rights Day Naturalization Ceremony, December 15, 2017. (Photo by Jeff Reed, National Archives)

The ceremony ended with the new citizens—originally from 26 different countries but now all Americans—getting their certificates of naturalization.

You can watch the entire ceremony on our Youtube Channel:

This year we continue that tradition of hosting a naturalization ceremony to welcome and celebrate our new fellow citizens. We are happy to welcome United States Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg who will deliver remarks during the Friday, December 14 ceremony.

Come see the original Bill of Rights on display at the National Archives in Washington, DC, seven days a week (except Thanksgiving and Christmas).

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