On Exhibit: George Washington’s First Inaugural Address and Bible


In honor of the upcoming Presidential inauguration, Washington’s first inaugural address and the Bible that he used to swear his oath of office are on display. The Bible was loaned for the occasion by St. John’s Lodge No. 1, Ancient York Masons, which still owns the Bible today.

Since the country’s first inauguration of George Washington as President, Presidential inaugurations have been important civic rituals in our national political life. George Washington set many precedents as the first President of the United States, beginning on the day he took office. The Constitution requires only that the President-elect swear or affirm an oath to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.” No particular ceremony is mandated for the occasion.

On April 30, 1789, in the temporary capital of New York City on the second floor balcony of Federal Hall, George Washington placed his hand upon a bible and publicly swore his oath before a cheering crowd.  He then delivered his inaugural address to a joint session of Congress in the Senate Chamber in Federal Hall. These rituals observed during Washington’s first inauguration are the foundation upon which inaugural traditions are based today.

George Washington was keenly aware of the magnitude of his inauguration and the expectation and anxiety of many Americans regarding the future of the fragile new government. His first words as President would set the tone not just for his Presidency, but the entire country. Therefore, he sought to assure the nation and the world of his determination to make the American experiment a success.

“My station is new; and, if I may use the expression, I walk on untrodden ground.”

–George Washington in a letter, January 9, 1790

In this handwritten address to Congress, he humbly noted the power of the nation’s call to serve as President and the shared responsibility of the President and Congress to preserve “the sacred fire of liberty” and a republican form of government. Washington’s address was later printed and distributed throughout the nation and around the world.

Article 2, Section 1, of the United States Constitution requires that the President-elect swear the oath of office before assuming the Presidency. It does not specify how that oath should be administered. A devout man, George Washington swore his oath with his hand placed over Genesis chapters 49-50 on this King James Bible at Federal Hall in New York City. The Bible was loaned for the occasion by St. John’s Lodge No. 1, Ancient York Masons, which still owns the Bible today. Additionally, the Bible has been used in the inaugurations of Presidents Harding, Eisenhower, Carter, and George H.W. Bush. Most, but not all, Presidents since Washington have sworn their oath over a Bible or other religious text.

The speech and the Bible will be on display until January 25, 2017. The Museum at the National Archives is open to the public on Inauguration Day (January 20).


Page one of Washington’s first inaugural address, National Archives, records of the U.S. Senate


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Eighth and final page of Washington’s first inaugural address, National Archives, Records of the U.S. Senate


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Carl Laemmle: Founder of Universal Studios and Humanitarian

Today’s post comes from Jim Zeender, Senior Registrar in the National Archives Exhibits Office.


Carl Laemmle, ca. 1915-1920. (Photo Courtesy of the Library of Congress)

One of the founders of today’s Universal Studios, Carl Laemmle, was born to Jewish parents in Lupenheim, near Stuttgart, Germany, on January 17, 1867. Young Carl immigrated to Chicago in 1884 and became a naturalized citizen five years later. His Declaration of Intention is among the holdings of the National Archives in Chicago.

He worked his way through an assortment of jobs before becoming the bookkeeper at Continental Clothing Company in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, in 1894, where he developed a taste for advertising.

In 1906, Laemmle opened the first movie theater in Chicago; created his own company, Independent Producers of America; and promoted young stars like Mary Pickford. He was one of the original “indies.”

Meanwhile, Thomas Edison formed the Motion Pictures Patent Company (Edison Trust) and dominated the early film industry and sued Laemmle hundreds of times for intellectual property infringements.

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J. Franklin Jameson: the Father of the National Archives

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

On December 28, 1954, the American Historical Association dedicated a plaque to J. Franklin Jameson, noting his “persistence and wise guidance” in establishing the National Archives.


Photograph of plaque presented to the National Archives by the American Historical Association in tribute to J. Franklin Jameson, 1954. (National Archives Identifier 12169393)

The plaque still hangs on the wall in the Pennsylvania Avenue entrance of the National Archives Building in Washington, DC, as a reminder of Jameson’s role in establishing the agency and his dedication to preserving our history. Continue reading

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Featured Document: A Right to a Fair Trial

Gideon v. Wainwright (1963), is the landmark the Supreme Court decision that requires states to provide defense attorneys for criminal defendants who can’t afford them.

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Petition for a writ of certiorari from Clarence Gideon to the Supreme Court of the United States, 1/5/1962. (National Archives Identifier 597554)

The case centers on Clarence Earl Gideon, a poor drifter with an eighth-grade education.

Gideon was arrested in 1961 for allegedly breaking into pool hall and stealing money and alcohol. He was charged with a noncapital felony.

Gideon could not afford a lawyer and asked the judge for an attorney to represent him. The judge said that Florida law only allowed the courts to provide attorneys to indigent defendants charged with capital crimes and denied Gideon’s request.

Gideon was left to represent himself.

Not surprisingly, Gideon was found guilty and sentenced to five years in prison. While in jail, he filed a writ of habeas corpus (petition for release from unjust imprisonment) with the Florida Supreme Court. He claimed his conviction was unconstitutional because he had lacked a defense attorney at the trial.

After the Florida Supreme Court denied his request, Gideon submitted a writ of certiorari (a petition asking to review the lower court’s decision) to the United States Supreme Court.

In his petition—in pencil, on lined prison paper—Gideon claimed he was a “pauper” who had been unconstitutionally denied the right to a lawyer and therefore did not have a fair trial.


Abe Fortas, June 9, 1968. (LBJ Library, photo by Frank Wolfe)

The Supreme Court agreed to hear his case and assigned Gideon a prominent Washington, DC, lawyer and future Supreme Court justice: Abe Fortas.

After hearing arguments from both sides, the justices agreed with Gideon—that the Constitution required the court to provide counsel for defendants in all serious criminal cases who were too poor to hire one.

The court’s opinion stated, “lawyers in criminal courts are necessities, not luxuries,” and ruled that, just like the federal government, states too are bound by the Sixth Amendment. This is because the 14th Amendment’s Due Process Clause mandates that states abide by the Bill of Rights.

In the second trial, Gideon was found not guilty.

The consequences were far-reaching. Not only were defendants now guaranteed their constitutional rights to counsel, the case had a profound impact on the courts. Following the case, many states and counties needed to establish a system of public defenders. The case is considered one of the most significant Supreme Court decisions in American history.

Gideon’s petition to the Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari is currently on display in the Rubenstein Gallery at the National Archives in Washington, DC.

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Bill of Rights Day

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Bill of Rights, September 25, 1789. (National Archives Identifier 14080)

December 15 is Bill of Rights Day which commemorates the ratification of the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution. 

As we celebrate the 225th anniversary of the Bill of Rights on December 15—Bill of Rights Day—let’s take a look back at the origins and history of that day.

On December 15, 1791, the first 10 amendments to the Constitution, later known as the Bill of Rights, were ratified.

These amendments protect our most fundamental rights—freedom of speech, protest, and conscience, and guarantees our equal protection under the law. Continue reading

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Human Rights for all

December 10 is Human Rights Day, commemorating the date the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.


Eleanor Roosevelt and United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Lake Success, New York, November 1949. (National Archives Identifier 6120927)

The United Nations was formed in 1945 to prevent the atrocities that occurred during World War II from ever happening again.

One of their primary goals was, “promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion.”

One of their first orders of business was to create a document that guaranteed these individual rights around the world.

Eleanor Roosevelt was part of the first American delegation to the United Nations.

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The Day of Infamy Speech: Well-Remembered but Still Missing

Today’s post comes from Jim Worsham, editor of Prologue, the quarterly magazine of the National Archives.

As news emerged of the Japanese sneak attacks on Pearl Harbor and other U.S. installations in the Pacific 75 years ago, President Franklin D. Roosevelt began writing the speech he would give to Congress the next day.

The news was bad, and a shocked nation now looked to FDR. The speech became one of the greatest of the 20th century. It was direct, powerful, short, and to-the-point.

And it would be well-remembered—even though FDR’s final “reading copy” hasn’t been seen since shortly after he delivered it.

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President Roosevelt delivers the “Day of Infamy” speech to a joint session of Congress on December 8, 1941. Behind him are Vice President Henry Wallace (left) and Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn. To the right, in uniform in front of Rayburn, is Roosevelt’s son James, who escorted his father to the Capitol.

“Yesterday, December 7, 1941, a date which will live in infamy,” he began, “the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by the naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.”

In 1941, Presidents did not read from teleprompters as they do today. Roosevelt had only the printed text, a “reading copy,” to rely on, so it needed to be typed up to make it easy for him to read.

(It’s likely, some historians have noted, that he did not need to refer to it much because he had drafted the address himself, since his two principal speechwriters were out of town that day.)

Roosevelt ended his six-minute address by asking Congress for a declaration of war against Japan.

The “reading copy” of the speech has its own complicated history.

After speaking, Roosevelt left the Capitol, accompanied by his oldest son, James Roosevelt, who asserted that he brought the reading copy back to the White House. James Roosevelt said he placed the “reading copy” atop a coat rack where he hung his own coat.  That was the last that was seen of it.  

A massive search for the document was undertaken at the White House, and the President and his staff, keenly aware of its historic significance, were all genuinely distressed about its loss.


Page one of the copy held by  the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library

In the 1980s, archivists at the National Archives discovered a three-page, doubled-spaced typewritten copy of the speech within the files of the U.S. Senate and mistakenly concluded that this was the President’s reading copy. They believed that Roosevelt must have left his speech behind on the podium, and a Senate clerk filed it away. A near-identical copy was found in the House files. Both copies are now housed at the Center for Legislative Archives in the National Archives Building in Washington.

However, neither the House copy nor the Senate copy was the “reading copy” that the President used on December 8.

In 2014, experts at the Center and the Roosevelt Library, both units of the National Archives, reinvestigated the claim that the Senate copy was the misplaced reading copy. They confirmed that neither copy at the Center was the missing “reading copy.”

They affirmed and acknowledged that the “reading copy” of the Day of Infamy speech remains missing. According to the joint statement, the assertions that FDR either left the “reading copy” on the podium or handed it to a clerk appear to be purely speculative. These statements, they said, contradict the first-hand accounts of James Roosevelt and others at the White House on the afternoon of December 8, 1941, and the days that followed, as well as the findings of a Secret Service investigation prompted by the President’s personal secretary.

In addition to James Roosevelt’s claim that he brought the reading copy back with him to the White House, further indication that the President was reading from a different copy than what is held at the Center can be seen by watching the film of him deliver the speech.

As Roosevelt speaks, you can see him turn pages, but where he turns the pages is not where the text breaks on these two three-page “typewritten” copies. He turns pages sooner——an indication that what he was reading from was typed differently to make it easier for him to read it. Watching him turn the pages, it appears the “reading copy” was on four pages, not three, as the House and Senate copies are.

Grace Tully, the President’s secretary, always prepared the “reading copy” of a speech a special way on heavy stock paper with rounded corners, typed triple-spaced, with holes down the left side so the pages could be in a three-ring binder. The doubled-spaced copies at the Center were not prepared like this.  

The National Archives continues to hope that someone has or will find the “reading copy” of this historic speech so it can be returned to the National Archives and to the Roosevelt Library, “where Franklin Roosevelt hoped it would go.”  

If you have any information about the missing “reading copy,” contact the Roosevelt Presidential Library in Hyde Park, New York, or the Center for Legislative Archives in the National Archives Building in Washington.


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The Last Living Doolittle Raider: Lt. Col. Richard “Dick” Cole

Today’s post comes from Kimberlee Ried, public programs specialist at the National Archives at Kansas City. Research was provided by Michael Tarabulski, archivist at the National Archives at St. Louis.

The 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, is today. For those who fought in World War II, they likely had no idea that they would not only be heralded for an Allied victory that would take several years to achieve, but that they would continue to be honored as American heroes decades later. The records in the National Archives provide a glimpse of some of these individuals.

Lieutenant Colonel Richard “Dick” Cole was part of a group known as the “Doolittle Toyko Raiders” named for James “Jimmy” Doolittle who had been assigned to plan the mission and lead the raid on April 18, 1942, to bomb the Japanese city of Tokyo as retaliation for the attack on Pearl Harbor, and begin the process of defeating Imperial Japan. Cole served as Doolittle’s co-pilot. Like many men, Cole had registered with his local draft board in Dayton, Ohio.


Richard Cole’s draft registration card (front) from the National Archives in St. Louis

Cole’s World War II draft registration card, filed with the local board in Montgomery County, Ohio, is now part of the holdings of the National Archives at St. Louis, which is co-located with the National Personnel Records Center. Cole was twenty-five years old when he registered on October 16, 1940, well over a year before the attack. He listed his father as the person “who will always know his address.”

Cole was employed prior to his military service at the Lear Avi (Avia) Corporation in Vandalia, Ohio, which manufactured radio and airplane instruments including navigational equipment. It is likely no coincidence that Cole wound up being trained as a pilot given his knowledge of the mechanical aspects of flying.

Although draft registration cards are brief in terms of the data provided, they can often give more insight into an individual. During World War II, the Selective Service System conducted six draft registrations. The majority of registrations were men born between 1897 and 1927 and cover most of those who served in World War II.


Richard Cole’s draft registration card (back) from the National Archives in St. Louis

Another group of men also registered for WWII under the “Old Man’s Registration” or the “Old Man’s Draft.” This is known as the 4th Registration and covers men born between 1877 to 1897, many of whom may had also served in World War I. These cards are open to the public for research and can be viewed at the National Archives in St. Louis.   

Relatively few of those who served in World War II are still living; Cole is now 101 years old and resides in Texas.

Tonight, Cole will be the guest speaker at a National Archives at Kansas City event where he will reflect upon his time as a part of the Doolittle Raiders. He will be interviewed by Park University Professor Dennis Okerstrom, who wrote about Cole in his book Dick Cole’s War: Doolittle Raider, Hump Pilot, Air Commando.

Tune in to watch the livestream at 5:30 ET/6:30 CT on December 7.: https://www.youtube.com/user/NationalWWIMuseum/live 

The event, which is sold out, is presented in partnership with Park University and the National World War I Museum and Memorial, and in collaboration with the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum and the Truman Center at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Do you have a relative who served in the Second World War? You can request their service record from the National Archives. Learn more: https://www.archives.gov/research/military/veterans

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The National Archives Response to Pearl Harbor


News article on the National Archives efforts in response to the Pearl Harbor attack, November 29, 1942. (Records of the National Archives)

The December 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor not only plunged the United States into world war, but it also had far-reaching ramifications for every single government agency, including the National Archives.

Immediately after Pearl Harbor, the National Archives made extensive plans to protect the nation’s records against the threats of war. The National Archives Building, which was considered the most bomb-resistant building in Washington, was divided into four areas classified according to their levels of security.

The Bill of Rights, which was on display in the exhibition hall, was replaced with a facsimile. It was moved with other constitutional amendments, treaties, and public laws into the safest areas of the building. The Archives built boxes for these valuable documents and prepared for their removal should they need to be evacuated from the building.

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New Online Exhibit: “Carting the Charters”


Empty cases inside the National Archives Rotunda, 1/5/1936. (National Archives Identifier 7820619)

Today’s post comes from Sanjana Barr of the National Archives History Office.

Even though the National Archives Rotunda was completed in the mid-1930s as a shrine for the Declaration of Independence and Constitution, the documents were not transferred to the National Archives until 1952.

The National Archives History Office has produced a new online exhibit that explores the transfer of these historic documents from the Library of Congress to the National Archives. The “Carting the Charters” online exhibit is now available in Google Cultural Institute.

But what happened before the documents came to the Library of Congress? Continue reading

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