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

Posted in - Constitution, - Declaration of Independence, bill of rights, National Archives History | Leave a comment

Remembering “a date which will live in infamy”

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


The USS Shaw explodes during the Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, 12/7/1941. (National Archives Identifier 520590)

From its food to its anime to its cars to its video games, Japanese culture is part of everyday American life today. In 1941, however, the idea of so much Japanese influence in our daily lives would have been inconceivable, especially after the events at Pearl Harbor on that Sunday morning in December.

At 7:55 a.m., local time, the Japanese military began its fateful surprise attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

The two-wave attack brought an hour and 15 minutes of chaos. These events were forever captured by the words of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt as “a date which will live in infamy.”

Continue reading

Posted in - World War II, News and Events, U.S. House, U.S. Senate | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Historian’s Notebook: The Bill of Rights at 225

This post is from Jessie Kratz, Historian of the National Archives. It’s from the Winter 2016 issue of Prologue Magazine. 

The travels of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution have been chronicled frequently over the years—in fact, they are fascinating stories. However, the third “Charter of Freedom”—the Bill of Rights—has been largely overlooked.

Bill of Rights, 1791post treatment 00306_2003_001

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

As we celebrate the 225th anniversary of the document’s ratification, let’s explore its history. A parchment document with 12 proposed constitutional amendments was created in September 1789, and copies were sent to the states for ratification.

Continue reading

Posted in bill of rights, National Archives History | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Ratifying the Bill of Rights . . . in 1939

This post comes from Mary Ryan, managing editor of Prologue magazine.

On December 15 we observe the 225th anniversary of the ratification of the Bill of Rights. One-by-one, from 1789 to 1791, the states ratified 10 amendments to the nation’s new Constitution. The process had begun when the First Federal Congress sent the states 12 proposed amendments, via a joint resolution passed on September 25, 1789, for their consideration. When Virginia became the 11th state to ratify the amendments on December 15, 1791, amendments 3 through 12 became part of the Constitution, and these first 10 amendments were thereafter known as our Bill of Rights.

One might think that 1791 was the end of the story of the ratification of the Bill of Rights, but there is a footnote: three states ratified the 10 first amendments a century and a half later, in 1939.

Once the Bill of Rights was ratified by three-fourths of the states in 1791, it became part of the law of the land, and there was no legal need for any further ratifications. At the time Virginia ratified, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Georgia had not sent their approvals to Congress.

In 1939, the 150th anniversary of Congressional approval of the amendments, all three states symbolically ratified the Bill of Rights.


Connecticut’s ratification of the Bill of Rights, April 24, 1939, page 1 (National Archives Identifier 25466386, Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, RG 233)


Connecticut’s ratification of the Bill of Rights, April 24, 1939, page 2 (National Archives Identifier 25466386, Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, RG 233)

Posted in bill of rights, Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Slavery at George Washington’s Mount Vernon


George Washington, copy of painting by Gilbert Stuart. (National Archives Identifier 532888)

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

On October 1, 2016, the Mount Vernon Museum opened a new and groundbreaking exhibition called “Lives Bound Together: Slavery at George Washington’s Mount Vernon.

The exhibition explores the long and complex relationship between George Washington and his slaves and his evolving attitudes toward the evil institution as a whole.

Continue reading

Posted in - Constitution | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

A Trip to Williamsburg

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

In early September I had the pleasure of taking a train to Williamsburg, Virginia.


Visitors at the Muscarelle Museum of Art Exhibit in Williamsburg, VA, November 7, 2016. (Photo Courtesy of the Muscarelle Museum of Art)

I have taken trains to Philadelphia, New York, and New Haven numerous times. Overseas, I have been on trains in England, France, Austria and Switzerland. However, I had never taken a train in a southerly direction here in my home country.

As we rolled slowly out of Union Station through downtown Washington, DC, and across the Potomac River, we had great views of the monuments.

Our first stop was Alexandria, boyhood home of Robert E.  Lee and location of the first Union soldier killed in the Civil War.

This Amtrak regional train continues on to Williamsburg via Fredericksburg, passing various Civil War battlefields, Richmond (the capital of the Confederacy), and stops in between. Instead of the industrial north, I saw the rolling hills and woods of Virginia, once roamed by the first Americans.

The purpose of the trip was to see the exhibition, “Building the Brafferton: Founding, Funding and Legacy of the American Indian School” at the Muscarelle Museum of Art on the campus of the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia.

Continue reading

Posted in - Civil War, - Revolutionary War | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Gerald Ford: President and Veteran

In honor of Veterans Day, today’s post comes to you from Sanjana Barr of the National Archives History Office.

Gerald R. Ford Administration White House Press Releases

Press Release Statement regarding Veterans Day, September 20, 1975. (Gerald Ford Presidential Library, National Archives).

On September 20, 1975, President Gerald R. Ford signed legislation returning the official date for celebrating Veterans Day to November 11.

For the previous four years, Veterans Day had been observed on the fourth Monday in October due to the 1968 Uniform Holiday Act. That act mandated observance of four national holidays (George Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and Columbus Day) on Mondays to create more three-day weekends.

The law led to confusion about Veterans Day, with it being celebrated in October in some places and on November 11 in others.

President’s Ford’s action was also important for symbolic reasons. After World War I, November 11 was recognized as Armistice Day in many of the Allied nations and continues to be a way to honor fallen soldiers. Unlike most Armistice Day celebrations,  our observance of the holiday honors all American veterans, living and dead.

Continue reading

Posted in - World War II | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Election of 1800

scan-1800 election.tif 2

Tally of electoral votes for the 1800 Presidential election, 2/11/1801. (National Archives Identifier 2668821)

Anyone who is a fan of the hit musical Hamilton knows the song “Election of 1800.” It depicts an infamous election that ultimately led us to change our Constitution.

By 1800, the nation’s first two political parties were beginning to take shape. The two major candidates for President were the Federalist President, John Adams, and the Democratic-Republican candidate, Thomas Jefferson.

When the electors cast their votes, the result was a tie. But the tie wasn’t between Adams and Jefferson (Adams received 65 electoral votes). It was between Jefferson and his running mate, Aaron Burr, who both received 73 votes.

Continue reading

Posted in - Constitution, - Presidents, U.S. House | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Documenting National Archives History

October is American Archives Month! We’re wrapping up our month-long series of blog posts about electronic records. Today’s post comes from Elle Benak from the National Archives History Office.


Contact sheet from the transfer, August, 12, 2016. (Photo by Steve Greene, National Archives)

On August 12, 2016, the National Archives transferred photographs from 25 years of our history into permanent storage.

What makes this transfer so significant is that it not only covers a 25-year time span, but it is also the first time we have ever transferred our own photographs electronically and highlights the shift in National Archives photography from film to digital.

The National Archives photographs its events, programs, visits, and other activities. We use these photos to promote the National Archives and document our history.

Continue reading

Posted in American Archives Month, National Archives History | Tagged | Leave a comment

Researching the Family Tree

October is American Archives Month! Today’s post comes from Elle Benak in the National Archives History Office.


Illustrated family record (Fraktur) found in Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land-Warrant Application File W4927, for Ezekiel Root, Connecticut, ca. 1800. (National Archives Identifier 300228)

The National Archives has many records that can assist researchers in their search to discover their family history. In fact, from the 1970s onward, genealogical records have been the largest resource that draws people to the archives.

Before 1970,  many historians did not view genealogists as serious researchers. The prevailing view was that only the wealthy traced their family histories to document their pedigrees.

At that time, historical research focused mostly on topics like military, political, or economic history.

But the late 1960s and early 1970s marked a shift in historical research. Topics pertaining to social history, like women’s and African American history, started to gain popularity. Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment