East Rotunda Gallery

Featured Document Exhibit

The National Archives Museum’s “Featured Documents” exhibit is made possible in part by the Foundation for the National Archives through the generous support of Toyota.

Currently on Exhibit in the East Rotunda Gallery November 4, 2014 – January 5, 2015

Surrender? “Nuts!” Gen. Anthony McAuliffe's 1944 Christmas Message to his Troops

In mid-December 1944, Allied forces were surprised by a massive German offensive through the Ardennes Forrest that created a “bulge” in the Allied lines. On Christmas Eve, 1944, Gen. Anthony McAuliffe sent a message to his men besieged in Bastogne, Belgium. Bastogne was a key road junction that had to be held at all cost. The message recounts McAuliffe's famous reply of "Nuts!" to a German demand to surrender and the announcement of an American counterattack. The National Archives presents this document display in celebration of Veterans' Day and in commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge.

Gen. Anthony McAuliffe's 1944 Christmas Message to his Troops
Gen. Anthony McAuliffe's Christmas Message, December 24, 1944
National Archives, Records of the Adjutant General's Office


Upcoming Featured Documents

George Washington’s First Annual Message

In celebration of the 225th anniversary of the First Congress, the first Journal of the House of Representatives is on display, showing the final page of George Washington's State of the Union speech. With this speech, delivered on January 8, 1790, Washington established the precedent of delivering a formal address to Congress to report on the state of the Union. January 6–February 4.

Previous Featured Documents

The Bicentennial of the Burning of Washington and the Battle of Baltimore

During the War of 1812, the summer of 1814 saw military actions in Washington, DC, and Baltimore, Maryland, with dramatically different outcomes. The British capture of the nation’s capital and the destruction of public buildings including the White House, stand as one of the lowest points in U.S. history. The American victory at Baltimore, however, brought new hope and determination to the country. It inspired Francis Scott Key to write the poem “The Defence of Fort McHenry.” Set to music, the poem eventually became the national anthem.

Revisions tot he Bill of Rights
Letter from Maj. Gen. Samuel Smith to James Monroe about the bombardment of Fort McHenry, September 24, 1814
National Archives, Records of the Office of the Secretary of War

Revisions tot he Bill of Rights
List of killed and wounded from Fort McHenry, September 24, 1814
National Archives, Records of the Office of the Secretary of War

Revisions tot he Bill of Rights
Burned piece of the 1814 Executive Mansion (today known as the White House). The wood was removed during a renovation of the White House under the Truman administration from 1949-1952.
National Archives, Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum

225th Anniversary of the First Federal Congress

Two hundred and twenty-five years ago in the summer of 1789, the First Congress proposed, debated, and finally agreed on a series of proposed amendments to the U.S. Constitution. On August 24 the House passed 17 amendments and sent them to the Senate. This document shows many of the Senate's handwritten changes to the House-passed articles of amendments. Ten of these amendments were ratified by the states and became part of the U.S. Constitution as the Bill of Rights.

Revisions tot he Bill of Rights
Senate Revisions to the Proposed Bill of Rights, September 9, 1789
National Archives, Records of the U.S. Senate
View this record in the National Archives’ Online Public Access Database.

Resignation and pardon: ending Watergate

For two years, public revelations of wrongdoing inside the White House had convulsed the nation. The Watergate affair was a national trauma—a constitutional crisis that tested and affirmed the rule of law. On the evening of August 8, 1974, President Nixon announced his intention to resign. One month later, President Ford pardoned him so that the nation could begin to heal.

Nixon's Resignation Letter
Richard Nixon’s letter resigning the Presidency, August 9, 1974
National Archives, General Records of the Department of State
View Richard M. Nixon's Resignation Letter in the National Archives’ Online Public Access Database.

President Ford's Pardon
Gerald R. Ford’s pardon of Richard Nixon, September 8, 1974
National Archives, General Records of the U.S. Government
View President Gerald Ford’s pardon of President Nixon in the National Archives’ Online Public Access Database.

50th Anniversary of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution

The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution marked a major turning point in the Cold War struggle for Southeast Asia. The resolution stated that “Congress approves and supports the determination of the President, as Commander in Chief, to take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression” in Southeast Asia. The resolution gave President Lyndon B. Johnson authority to expand the scope of U.S. involvement in Vietnam without a declaration of war.

First of the Resolution
Joint Resolution for the Maintenance of International Peace and Security in Southeast Asia, (Public Law 88-408, House Joint Resolution 1145), also known as the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, August 10, 1964
National Archives, General Records of the U.S. Government

Servicemen’s Readjustment Act

President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act into law on June 22, 1944, just days after the D-day invasion of Normandy. Also known as the GI Bill, the act put higher education, job training, and home ownership within the reach of millions of World War II veterans. By 1951, nearly 8 million veterans had received educational and training benefits, and 2.4 million had received $13 billion in Federal loans for homes, farms, and businesses.

First and Last Page of the Act
Servicemen’s Readjustment Act, July 22, 1944
National Archives, General Records of the United States Government
View this record in the National Archives’ Online Public Access Database.

Whitman Report on Cemeteries

Whitman’s 1869 Report on Cemeteries will be on view in honor of Memorial Day. Edmund B. Whitman of the U.S. Army’s Quartermaster Corps led one of the crews charged with converting temporary graveyards into permanent national cemeteries. Over four years beginning in March 1865, Whitman’s men located, disinterred, and reburied almost 115,000 bodies. In his Final Report, he included drawings of Shiloh and several other new national cemeteries.

View of Shiloh National Cemetery
Whitman Report on Cemeteries
National Archives, Records of the Children’s Bureau
View this record in the National Archives’ Online Public Access Database.


Mother’s Letter to the Children’s Bureau

This letter written in 1916 was one of hundreds addressed to the Children’s Bureau by mothers and soon-to-be mothers seeking advice and support in the care of children. The author’s description of her joy, guilt, and frustration raising her three children is both touching and timeless. We present it in honor of the 100th anniversary of the presidential proclamation establishing Mother’s Day as a holiday.

Letter from Mrs. Neil Williams to Julia Lathrop of the Children’s Bureau, 1920
National Archives, Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General


Smith-Lever Act

The Smith-Lever Act is on display in commemoration of its 100th anniversary on May 8, 2014. The act established a national Cooperative Extension Service that extended outreach programs through land-grand universities to educate rural Americans about advances in agricultural practices and technology. Cooperative extension greatly increased agricultural productivity in the United States throughout the 20th century.

Smith-Lever Act, 1914
National Archives, General Records of the U.S. Government


Senate Journal of the First Congress, First Session: Congress Convenes

On March 4, 1789, the Congress of the United States met for the first time. It was arguably the most important Congress in U.S. history. To this new legislature fell the responsibility of passing laws needed to implement a brand new system of government, defining the rules and procedures of the House and Senate, and establishing the precedents that set constitutional government in motion.

When the Representatives and Senators gathered that day in New York City, not enough members of either body were present to constitute a quorum. Elected members were delayed by bad roads and harsh weather. Some states had not yet held elections, while others had not yet determined the winning candidates when the First Congress convened. The House finally reached a quorum on April 1, and the Senate followed on April 6. One of the first duties of the new legislative body was to meet jointly and count the electoral ballots for President and Vice President of the United States. This page of the first Senate Journal shows the results of that election: George Washington of Virginia was unanimously elected President, and John Adams of Massachusetts, who finished second in the balloting, was elected Vice President.

Senate Journal of the First Congress, First Session, showing entry for April 6, 1789
National Archives, Records of the U.S. Senate
View this record in the National Archives’ Online Public Access Database.


Slave Manifest for the Brig Orleans

Abducting free blacks for sale into slavery was outlawed in most of the United States when Solomon Northup, a free-born African American, was kidnapped by two white men in 1841. Uneven law enforcement, the marginal rights of free blacks, and mounting demand for slaves after the end of the transatlantic slave trade encouraged the creation of a reverse underground railroad. Kidnappers gave their victims aliases to hide their true identities. In his personal narrative, “Twelve Years a Slave,” Solomon Northup recounts that he first heard his slave name, “Plat Hamilton,” when it was called from this slave manifest. Northup accepted his identity as “Plat” because “[He] was too costly a chattel to be lost . . . [and] knew well enough the slightest knowledge of [his] real character would consign [him] at once to the remotest depths of Slavery.”

Slave manifest of the brig Orleans, April 27, 1841
National Archives at Fort Worth, Records of the U.S. Customs Service
View this record in the National Archives’ Online Public Access Database.


Album Recovered by the Monuments Men

The Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg, or ERR, was the main agency involved in the systematic looting of cultural treasures in Nazi-occupied countries. The ERR created a series of albums meticulously documenting the thefts. The Monuments Men, a multinational group of curators, art historians, and museum directors who saved centuries of artistic and cultural treasures from destruction, discovered 39 of these albums in1945 and used them to restore artworks to their owners. These volumes also served as evidence in the Nuremburg trials and are in the holdings of the National Archives.

This recently discovered album was donated to the National Archives by Monuments Men Foundation President Robert M. Edsel. It is open to a photograph of Girl Holding a Dove, an important painting by master French painter Jean-Honoré Fragonard. The artwork was repatriated by the Monuments Men in 1946.

Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg Foto-ERR ALBUM 7
National Archives, Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation Art Collection
View this record in the National Archives’ Online Public Access Database.

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This exhibition was created by the National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, DC, with support from the Foundation for the National Archives and with the generous support of Lead Sponsor Toyota.