About the National Archives

4th of July Address

Remarks by Allen Weinstein, Archivist
of the United States
July 4, 2007, Washington, DC

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, I'm Allen Weinstein, Archivist of the United States. On behalf of the National Archives and Records Administration’s 2800 dedicated employees, welcome! We honor today, on this Fourth of July / Independence Day, the surviving veterans of our parents,’ grandparents,’ and great-grandparents’ war, the second world war.

Sixty-five years ago, on the first Fourth of July since the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor brought the United States into the war, most Americans and all government agencies put in a normal day’s work. President Roosevelt’s address to the nation that day said it best:

“Never since it first was created in Philadelphia, has this anniversary come in times so dangerous to everything for which it stands. We celebrate it this year, not in the fireworks of make-believe but in the death-dealing reality of tanks and planes and guns and ships.

“We celebrate it also by running without interruption the assembly lines which turn out these weapons to be shipped to all the embattled points of the globe. Not to waste one hour, not to stop one shot, not to hold back one blow—that is the way to mark our great national holiday in this year, 1942.

“To the weary, hungry, unequipped army of the American Revolution, the Fourth of July was a tonic of hope and inspiration. So is it now. The tough, grim men who fight for freedom in this dark hour take heart in its message—the assurance of the right to liberty under God—for all peoples and races and groups and nations, everywhere in the world.”

On this 65th anniversary of World War Two’s  first Independence Day, let us begin by acknowledging the eight members of today’s U.S. Congress, who fought in that war:  Senators Ted Stevens, Daniel Inouye, Daniel Akaka, Frank Lautenberg, and John Warner; and Congressmen John Dingell, Ralph Hall, and Ralph Regula. A special “huzzah” for these eight,  please. It's a reminder to all of us, that we share our freedoms in this country with all Americans. Whatever our views, we recognize Carl Schurz’s commendable axiom:  my country, right or wrong; when she is right, support her, but when she is wrong, correct her.

We have assembled some very special guests for today’s commemoration of the Second World War. Later in the program, two World War Two veterans will read portions of the Declaration of Independence. Then you will hear from someone who is telling their story on film using, in part, the extraordinary records, photographs and film footage of the National Archives. Emmy award-winning documentary filmmaker Ken Burns is here—welcome Ken. We look forward to hearing your thoughts and seeing a small bit of your work later in the program.

And a special welcome to two veterans of that war, Marine Lieutenant Colonel Henry Cervantes (ret.) and Army Major Norman Hatch (ret.), both of whom served with great valor in what Ken Burns calls simply, "The War." Welcome also to America’s top professional diplomat, Undersecretary of State, Nick Burns.

Finally, allow me to welcome to our neighborhood representatives of the Catholic and Protestant parties who have just formed the new coalition government in Northern Ireland, and effectively begun to put an end to the decades of bitter violence in that land. They are gathered only a few blocks from here at the Northern Ireland exposition in the Smithsonian’s Folklife Festival, a living model for learning the difficult but enduring character of mutually respectful dialogue.

It is fashionable these days in some quarters to be skeptical or even cynical about the global future of democracy. But as we commemorate this 4th of July, let me offer a more hopeful view.

For almost two decades, as head of The Center for Democracy, I had the privilege of not only studying the past but of observing the present, up close and personal, watching a range of societies undergo the difficult transition from controlled political structures to more open, freer ones in central Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin America, and—wondrously— in Northern Ireland. Despite setbacks, which can be heartbreaking, an overwhelming majority of people on this planet appear committed to economic modernization, to basic freedoms (even when not yet achieved), to the rule of law, to tolerance, to peaceful solutions, and an end to violent confrontation.

This occasion provides an appropriate moment to express thanks for a range of blessings identified with arguably our greatest national holiday, the Fourth of July, Independence Day.  The dates always get a bit jumbled. As you may know, the Continental Congress actually declared American independence on July 2nd, not the 4th.

Richard Henry Lee’s June 7 resolution declaring independence was passed on July 2nd, but it was Jefferson’s declaration stating these facts, formally adopted on the 4th, which we celebrate today. Congress voted to inscribe the Declaration on parchment only on July 19th, and most delegates did not get around to signing it until August 2nd.

Nevertheless, the founders felt it important to promote an image of cohesion and decisiveness, hence their stress on a unified July 4th signing.

I thought it appropriate as we celebrate our Independence Day (and while recognizing those who could not celebrate their personal freedom on that day in 1776, including African slaves, women, and others), that we offer a special “huzzah!” today for the people of Northern Ireland, whatever their religious or political background, and for the peace-makers there and everywhere who encourage and support throughout the world the long, difficult road to dialogue and agreement.

A word on 9/11 before concluding these remarks. In the space of a few hours, on September 11, 2001, the United States became a changed country. We entered a new and lengthy period of heightened security and greater national vigilance – which will, in turn, pose a challenge to civil liberties, as wartime situations always do.

Nor can we safely predict a future devoid of anguish and tragedy, whether due to fresh terrorist onslaughts or to our own shortcomings. “History,” the late Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. wrote, “is not a redeemer promising to solve all problems in time.”  Today, Americans have entered this new testing time. How the present generation rises to the current challenge remains to be seen, but unlike most other people, Americans have traditionally welcomed the unexpected and new challenges. “America was discovered accidentally,” historian Samuel Eliot Morison reminds us, “by a great seaman who was looking for something else. When discovered, it was not wanted; and most of the exploration for the next fifty years was done in the hope of either getting through or around it. In fact, [America] was named after a man who discovered no part of the new world. History is like that, very chancy.”

Let me close by mentioning another upcoming anniversary, this one in 2009:  the 75th anniversary of the National Archives and Records Administration itself. It was founded by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who also created the first modern presidential library (which he deeded to the country). Our total holdings now exceed 10 billion documents, each and every one held in trust for the American people. Our mission statement makes this clear: 

“The National Archives and Records Administration serves American democracy by safeguarding and preserving the records of our government, ensuring that the people can discover, use, and learn from this documentary heritage. We ensure continuing access to the essential documentation of the rights of American citizens and the actions of their government. We support democracy, promote civic education, and facilitate historical understanding of our national experience.”

The National Archives will continue to safeguard these records every moment of every day, and we will honor our sacred obligation to make them maximally accessible without exception, evasion, or excision. On this Fourth of July as Americans confront the dimensions of today’s challenges, I and my colleagues at the National Archives send a plain message across time to those who have fought to preserve our liberties from the Revolution to the present: 

We will honor America’s legacy and work fiercely to fulfill our commitment to this agency’s mission without exception, evasion, or excision. Now and into the future, with your support, the work continues . . .  Thank you. And happy Independence Day!

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