Why did George Washington draw this little hand?
From medieval times to the present, the symbol above has been used to direct attention to important passages of text. This mark is called a manicule (from the Latin root ‘manus’, meaining ‘hand’). This manicule was drawn by George Washington while he was annotating the first draft of the US Constitution on August 6, 1787. National Archives Identifier: 1501555
Lights out! We set up a time lapse camera to record how 100 kids and parents got comfortable for the good night in the Rotunda for our first-ever Archives Sleepover. (Hint: inflatable mattresses make a marble floor more bearable.)
The case in the middle contains the Constitution, while the Declaration of Independence to the left and the Bill of Rights is on the right.
Do you want to sleep next to the Constitution? You can sign up for the newsletter from the Foundation for the National Archives or email email@example.com to be alerted if we have another sleepover!
For more photos (at the ground level) from the sleepover, check out our Flickr stream at archivesnews.
We cannot emphasize enough the need for an inflatable mattress. Or two.
The Bill of Rights: 14 Originals
On September 28, 1789, Speaker of the House Frederick Muhlenberg and Vice President John Adams signed the enrolled copy of the first proposed amendments to the new Constitution—the document later known as the Bill of Rights.
The final, signed copy contained the 12 constitutional amendments that Congress proposed to the states (10 of them, articles 3 through 12, were subsequently ratified and became the Bill of Rights). Shortly after it was signed, clerks created 13 additional copies, which President George Washington sent to the 11 existing states and to Rhode Island and North Carolina—which had not yet adopted the Constitution. On December 15, 1791, the Bill of Rights was ratified by Virginia, the eleventh and final state needed to officially add them to the Constitution.
So, there were 13 additional copies of the “Bill of Rights”— find out what happened to them in: Prologue: Pieces of History » The Bill of Rights: 14 Originals.
Senate revisions of the House proposed amendments to the U.S. Constitution, 9/9/1789, SEN 1A-C2, Records of the U.S. Senate (NAID 3535588)
Old enough to vote?
Michigan Senator Arthur H. Vandenberg introduced Senate Joint Resolution 166 on October 19, 1942. This resolution would have amended the Constitution of the United States and extended the vote to
citizens 18 years or older. Although not ratified at the time, the proposal came up again, during the Vietnam War. The 26th Amendment was ratified on July 1, 1971.
Senate Joint Resolution 166 Proposing the 26th Amendment, 10/19/1942
Rare Printing: United States Constitution
This month, rare printing of the United States Constitution underwent conservation treatment in the lab at Archives I. The record, consisting of two sheets of paper, was printed by New York printer John McLean on September 29, 1787 and shortly thereafter was attached to the RG 360 Resolve Book of the Continental Congress. At some point, the record was removed from the volume and joined as a folio with adhesives that, over time, stained the left edge of each sheet.
Conservation treatment focused on removing these adhesives to the extent possible with solvents on a vacuum suction table. The solvents were applied to the affected areas in order to solubilize the old adhesives which were then pulled through the paper into a blotter below. Once the adhesives were removed, the sheets were washed in purified water, sized with gelatin, and then dried and flattened. After digital imaging, the record will be returned to the Resolve Book.
Resources for Teaching about the Constitution
September 17 is designated as Constitution Day to commemorate the signing of the U.S. Constitution in Philadelphia on September 17, 1787. The National Archives is the permanent home of the U.S. Constitution.
Here we’ve compiled some resources from the National Archives and some of our partner organizations that you can use for teaching about the Constitution.
- A featured page for teaching about the Constitution, from DocsTeach, the online tool for teaching with documents from the National Archives.
- “The Charters of Freedom” online exhibit about the creation and history of the Constitution, housed at the National Archives.
- Exploring the United States Constitution eBook, connecting the billions of records in the holdings of the National Archives to the principles found in the United States Constitution.
- The United States Constitution course on iTunes U
- Teaching Six Big Ideas in the Constitution
- Founders Online
- Primary Sources related to the U.S. Constitution. from congressarchives on Tumblr
- And don’t forget past U.S. Constitution-related posts here on todaysdocument!
To the President of Congress
[Philadelphia, 17 September 1787]
We have now the Honor to submit to the Consideration of the United States in Congress assembled that Constitution which has appeared to us the most advisable.
The Friends of our Country have long seen and desired that the Power of making War Peace and Treaties, that of levying Money & regulating Commerce and the correspondent executive and judicial Authorities should be fully and effectually vested in the general Government of the Union. But the Impropriety of delegating such extensive Trust to one Body of Men is evident—Hence results the Necessity of a different Organization.
It is obviously impracticable in the fœderal Government Of these States to secure all Rights of independent Sovereignty to each and yet provide for the Interest and Safety of all—Individuals entering into Society must give up a Share of Liberty to preserve the Rest. The Magnitude of the Sacrifice must depend as well on Situations and Circumstances as on the Object to be obtained. It is at all Times difficult to draw with Precision the Lines between those Rights which must be surrendered and those which may be reserved. And on the present Occasion this Difficulty was encreased by a Difference among the several States as to their Situation Extent Habits and particular Interests.
In all our Deliberations on this Subject we kept steadily in our View that which appears to us the greatest Interest of every true american the Consolidation of our Union in which is involved our Prosperity Felicity Safety perhaps our national Existence. this important Consideration seriously and deeply impressed on our Minds led each State in the Convention to be less rigid on Points of inferior Magnitude than might have been otherwise expected. And thus the Constitution which we now present is the Result of a Spirit of Amity and of that mutual Deference & Concession which the Peculiarity of our political Situation rendered indispensible.
That it will meet the full and entire Approbation of every State is not perhaps to be expected. But each will doubtless consider that had her Interests been alone consulted the Consequences might have been particularly disagreable or injurious to others. That it is liable to as few Exceptions as could reasonably have been expected we hope and believe That it may promote the lasting Welfare of that Country so dear to us all and secure her Freedom and Happiness is our most ardent wish.
Happy Constitution Day! The Constitution is 226 years old, and is the oldest written constitution still in use today. It is on permanent display at the National Archives in Washington, DC. You can see a high-res image and read a transcript of the Constitution here: http://go.usa.gov/D5VR
Top Five Facts about the Constitution!
Five: The Constitution has 4,543 words, including the signatures. It takes about 30 minutes to read.
Four: Two of the first 12 amendments submitted were rejected; the remaining ten became the Bill of Rights.
Three: The Chief Justice is mentioned in the Constitution, but the number of Justices is not specified.
Two: Only one amendment to the Constitution has been repealed: the 18th (Prohibition).
One: The Constitution does not give us our rights and liberties, but it does guarantee them.
For more Constitution myth busting, read today’s blog post: http://go.usa.gov/D5kJ
We the People
of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
Teach your child about the Constitution on September 17!
Join us for Constitution Day activities in the Boeing Learning Center at the National Archives in Washington, DC.
- Draft your own amendment to the Constitution
- Play games and learn more about the Framers
- Design your own American flag
- Discover the rules for adding more states to the Union
- Write with a quill pen, just like they did in 1789
Activities are free and open to all visitors from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Q:Where were they before the transferred to the national Archives?
Great question! Quoting from the Prologue blog:
The documents had been shuttled around to various buildings for various reasons. They started out in the Department of State, and as the capital moved from New York to Philadelphia to Washington, DC, these documents moved too. Eventually they were turned over to the Library of Congress. With exception of a short stay at Fort Knox during World War II, the Declaration and the Constitution remained at the Library of Congress from 1921 to 1952.
You can find the full story on on the travels of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence at Prologue: A Homecoming for Six Pages of Parchment
60 years ago today:
No, it’s not in the Constitution
As those dishes are cleared and the chairs pushed back from the Thanksgiving table, the conversations can touch on a lot of topics — food, football, politics, constitutional law… Need to quiet that know-it-all uncle? Here are eight common misconceptions where the Constitution doesn’t say what he thinks it does:
- The President can veto a proposed amendment to the Constitution.
No. He has nothing to do with the amendments. Congress can propose an amendment with a two-thirds vote of both houses, or a Constitutional Convention can be called by a vote of two-thirds of the state legislatures. However, once the amendment is proposed either by Congress or a convention, it must be ratified by three-fourths of the state legislatures.
Only one amendment, the 21st Amendment, which repealed Prohibition (the 18th Amendment), was ratified by conventions in the states.
- The “Founding Fathers” who wrote the Declaration of Independence in 1776 are the same men who wrote the Constitution in 1787.
Only five individuals signed both of these two founding documents. They were George Clymer, Benjamin Franklin, Robert Morris, George Read, and Roger Sherman. Some of the famous signers of the Declaration were elsewhere when the Constitution was being written. Thomas Jefferson was in France as our American minister, and John Adams was American minister to Great Britain.
- The Constitution established the system of Federal courts.
No. The Constitution established “one supreme Court” and left it to Congress to establish lower courts.
- The Constitution gave the Supreme Court the power to declare laws unconstitutional.
No. The Constitution makes no mention of judicial review, which is common in our legal system now. Judicial review goes back to English common law and was affirmed during the 34-year tenure of Chief Justice John Marshall in the landmark case Marbury v. Madison in 1803. Today, Federal courts at all levels can declare laws unconstitutional, although the Supreme Court has the final word.
- The Constitution sets the number of seats in the House of Representatives at 435.
No. The Constitution gives this power to the Congress, which has increased the number of House members as the nation’s population has increased. The limit of 435 members was set in 1911. It temporarily exceeded that number for a few years when new states were admitted to the Union, but reverted back to 435 after the next reapportionment. The original proposed Bill of Rights included an amendment that would have set a maximum of one representative for every 50,000 persons. Had it been approved, we would have a very large number of House members today. The Constitution did say that each state would have two senators in the Senate, regardless of the state’s population.
- The House must choose one of its own members as Speaker, and the Senate must choose one of its own as President pro-tempore.
No. The Constitution says only that the “House shall chuse their speaker.” The Speaker, third in line to the Presidency, has always been a member of the House. The Constitution also says, “The Senate shall chuse… .a President pro tempore… .” The President pro tempore has always been a senior senator.
- The Constitution says “all men are created equal.”
No. The Declaration of Independence says that. The Constitution skirts the issue of slavery, counting each slave as three-fifths of a person in determining representation in Congress. While this definition offends us today, it was an attempt to limit the power of states with large numbers of enslaved people. Otherwise, the enslaved people, who of course could not vote, would have been used to justify larger numbers of representatives for slave states and give them more power in Congress.
- The Constitution created the United States as a democracy.
No. Someone asked Benjamin Franklin whether the delegates to the Constitutional Convention inside Independence Hall in Philadelphia had created a monarchy or a republic. “A republic, if you can keep it,” Franklin replied. The difference: In a democracy, the majority rules, but a republic has a government by the people with checks and balances and a constitution for all to adhere to. Article 4, section 4, states: “The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government.”
What’s your favorite Constitutional “Myth”?
Electoral College and the National Archives
(via The U.S. National Archives on YouTube)
Every four years the Federal Register — part of the National Archives and Records Administration — administers the Electoral College. The Federal Register informs the governments of the fifty states and the District of Columbia what is required to fulfill their duty under the Constitution to elect the president and vice president of the United States. Charley Barth, director, Office of the Federal Register, and Amy Bunk, Director of Legal Affairs and Policy, explain how the Electoral College works and the Federal Register’s role in collecting the documentation Congress needs to count the Electoral College.
Peter Sagal has a motorcycle with “We the People” painted on it. Everyone at the National Archives is jealous.
Why did we have two sightings of Peter Sagal yesterday? The host of the radio program “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” was stopping by the home of the Constitution to film some segments for his upcoming program “CONSTITUTION USA with Peter Sagal.”
After shooting in front of the Constitution in the dim light of the Rotunda, he came back in the afternoon so his film crew could shoot some sunny footage of him on this Constitution-themed hog outside the National Archives.