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"American Originals" Treasures from the National Archives

Note: All of the documents featured in “American Originals” are from the holdings of the National Archives. For prints, or for more information, contact the National Archives Public Affairs Media Desk..


“American Originals”: America’s Most Treasured Documents on Display at the National Archives

"I have ever acted from a Principle of Love to my Country."
--Benedict Arnold to Gen. George Washington, September 25, 1780

"I sit here in this old house and work on foreign affairs …all the while listening to the ghosts walk up and down the hallway."
--President Harry S. Truman writing to Bess Truman from the White House, June 12, 1945

"I shall not seek-and would not accept-the nomination of my party for another term as your President."
--President Lyndon Baines Johnson's Address to the Nation, March 31, 1968.

These statements come from 3 documents currently on display in the Rotunda of the National Archives Building in Washington, DC. They are part of the major exhibition, "American Originals," which showcases 37 original documents that chart the course of American history. This extraordinary collection of materials, many of which have never been exhibited before, will remain on display through July 4, 2001 when the exhibit halls of the National Archives Building will close for renovation and reopen in 2003. The building will be open for research throughout the renovation.

"American Originals," displayed in the marble cases flanking the Charters of Freedom is drawn from the vast holdings of the National Archives, which preserves and makes available to the public those records of the United States government that have been identified as having permanent value. They span some 300 years and number in the billions. They are housed in the National Archives Building, the state of the art facility in College Park, MD, and in a nationwide system of Presidential libraries and regional archives. The records consist of textual documents, maps, architectural drawings, photographs, motion picture film, as well as sound and video recordings. The exhibition is free and open to the public. Hours are 10 AM to 5:30 PM, through March 31; 10 AM to 9 PM, beginning April 1. The National Archives Building is located on Constitution Avenue, between 7th and 9th Streets, NW.

While some of the documents announce their own importance with flourished signatures and wax seals, others are deceptively routine in appearance. All of them have passed through the hands of the most notable figures in our nation's history, and hold messages beyond their words. Among the documents featured in this exhibition are:

  • George Washington's Revolutionary War account of expenses-66 pages in his clear, bold hand-reveals a scrupulous and disciplined man who kept, even amid the chaos of war, an exact account of every penny spent.
  • The Official Voting Journal of the 1787 Constitutional Convention-filled with the cramped handwriting of that body's loyal Secretary-shows the complexity of the process that produced the nation's governing charter-the U.S. Constitution.
  • *Invoice for furnishings purchased by Mary Todd Lincoln for a bedroom in the White House, totaling $7503, May 1861.
  • *Letter from Leon Trotsky, Commissar of Foreign Affairs to U.S. Ambassador David Francis, received at the Embassy on November 21, 1917. This letter is the first formal notification of the establishment of the Soviet regime.
  • *Keys to the American Embassy in Petrograd.
  • The official report of the bombardment of Fort McHenry in Baltimore's harbor, September 13, 1814. The morning following the attack, when Francis Scott Key saw the American flag still waving over Fort McHenry, he was moved to write a poem, whose words became our national anthem on March 3, 1931.
  • *President Reagan's handwritten draft of his second inaugural address, delivered January 21, 1985.

* Documents that have never been exhibited before.

The mountain of documents at the National Archives captures the sweep of America's past: from the greatest event to the smallest detail, from peace treaties to casualty lists, from the Founding Fathers to astronauts, from the Monroe Doctrine to the Berlin Wall, from Yorktown to Saigon, from Presidents to slaves.

"American Originals" represents the larger historical record that documents the American experience in all its complexity. While offering intimate contact with the past, it attests to the accountability of a government that lays itself open, through its records, to the scrutiny of present and future generations.


Highlights of the Washington, DC Exhibition
of “American Originals”

“American Originals” includes 37 original documents that have charted the course of American history. This online press kit features 13 documents that are part of the exhibition in the Rotunda of the National Archives in Washington, D.C. "American Originals" is scheduled to travel to seven cities during the next three years (October 5, 2001-May 8, 2004), bringing some of the rarely-seen jewels in the holdings of the National Archives to people across the nation. Unless otherwise noted, these featured documents will only be on display in Washington, D.C. Click on the thumbnail images for a high-resolution image of the document. For prints, or for more information, contact the National Archives Public Affairs Media Desk.

George Washington's account of expenses
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George Washington's account of expenses while Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army, 1775-1783. Throughout the 8 years of the Revolutionary War, Washington kept a complete list of all headquarters expenses he incurred as Commander in Chief. This book is written almost entirely in his own hand and includes the charges of blacksmiths, housekeepers, and spies. National Archives and Records Administration, General Records of the Department of the Treasury.


1784 treaty with the Six Nations (Fort Stanwix)
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Treaty with the Six Nations concluded at Fort Stanwix, 1784, a cession of land, including a small section of western New York, by the Six (Iroquois) Nations. National Archives and Records Administration, General Records of the U.S. Government. This document is also scheduled to be on display in New York and Columbus.


1787 voting record of the Constitutional Convention (first page)
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Voting record of the Constitutional Convention, 1787 (first page). For 4 months, the delegates debated fundamental questions relating to government, power, and human nature. Each and every issue of the Constitution was painstakingly argued and resolved. The voting records reflect the countless concessions and compromises that produced the Constitution. This page records the final vote taken September 15, 1787. Delegates to the Convention signed the proposed Constitution on September 17, 1787. National Archives and Records Administration, Records of the Continental and Confederation Congresses and the Constitutional Convention. This document is also scheduled to be on display in New York, Chicago, Columbus, Atlanta, Kansas City, San Antonio, Los Angeles, and Hartford. Due to conservation restrictions, different pages will be displayed at each venue.


Louisiana Purchase receipt
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Receipt from Robert Livingston, American Minister at Paris, for stock certificates for the Louisiana Purchase, April 25, 1804. Robert Livingston, who had negotiated the Louisiana Purchase for the United States, received two-thirds of the American stock certificates in Paris; he delivered them to one of the banks that converted the stock to cash for the French Treasury. National Archives and Records Administration, General Records of the Department of the Treasury.


Report of Lt. Col. George Armistead on the defense of Fort McHenry
(Image size: 2.5 MB)
Page Two, Page Three, Page Four, Page Five (2.1 mb), Page Six
Report of Lt. Col. George Armistead on the defense of Fort McHenry, September 24, 1814. The British fleet was closing in on Fort McHenry, a garrison strategically located to defend Baltimore from a direct water assault. The British were convinced that the fall of Fort McHenry was only a matter of time. In this report, American Lt. Col. George Armistead described a bombardment that continued, largely unabated, for 25 hours. With the British fleet positioned just out of range, the 1,000 men inside the fort withstood the fiery bombardment. When the British ships moved closer, Armistead let fly with all the firepower he had. By 9 a.m. on September 14, the British Army and Navy were in retreat. Francis Scott Key, an American lawyer from Georgetown, boarded a British ship to seek the release of an American prisoner and watched the battle from behind the British lines. When Key saw that the American flag was still waving over Fort McHenry on the morning of September 14, he knew the fort's defenders had prevailed. He was so moved by their heroism, he wrote a poem, whose words became our national anthem on March 3, 1931. National Archives and Records Administration, Records of the Office of the Secretary of War. This document is also scheduled to be on display in New York, Chicago and Atlanta.


Invoice for furnishing the 'Lincoln Bedroom'
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Invoice for furnishing a room in the White House known today as the "Lincoln Bedroom," 1861. With her signature, Mrs. Lincoln affirmed the correctness of the bill. National Archives and Records Administration, Records of the Accounting Officers of the Department of the Treasury.


Emancipation Proclamation (Page One)
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Page Two, Page Three, Page Four, Page Five. Emancipation Proclamation, signed by President Lincoln, 1863. National Archives and Records Administration. For additional information on the Emancipation Proclamation, please visit the National Archives Online Exhibit Hall. This document is also scheduled to be on display in New York, Chicago, Columbus, Atlanta, Kansas City, San Antonio, Los Angeles and Hartford. Due to the fragility of this document, it may be exhibited for no longer than four days in each city and different pages will be displayed at each venue.


Telegram from Maj. Gen. William Tecumsah Sherman to President Abraham Lincoln
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Telegram from Maj. Gen. William Tecumsah Sherman to President Abraham Lincoln, presenting the city of Savannah as a Christmas gift, December 22, 1864. The culmination of Sherman's "March to the Sea" was the capture of Savannah. With savage irony, Sherman invoked the spirit of Christmas as he informed his Commander-in-Chief that Savannah was taken, complete with 150 heavy guns, plenty of ammunition, and 25,000 bales of cotton. President Lincoln was thrilled to hear this news, which he immediately publicized throughout the nation. National Archives and Records Administration, Records of the Office of the Secretary of War. This document is also scheduled to be on display in New York, Chicago, and Atlanta.


Memorandum of fee paid by Thomas Edison for a patent on 'Electric Lamps'
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Memorandum of fee paid at U.S. Patent Office by Thomas Edison for a patent on "Electric Lamps," January 8, 1880. National Archives and Records Administration, Records of the Patent and Trademark Office. Other Thomas Edison patent records will be displayed in the traveling version of "American Originals."


Letter from Leon Trotsky to U.S. Ambassador David Francis (Page One)
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Page Two
Letter from Leon Trotsky, Commissar of Foreign Affairs of the newly formed Soviet government, to U.S. Ambassador David Francis, received at the Embassy on November 21, 1917. Two weeks after the November Revolution, the U.S. Embassy received this letter, the first formal notification of the establishment of a new Soviet regime. On December 1, U.S. Ambassador Francis was instructed to make no reply to this or any other Soviet communication. Viewing the Soviet power as illegitimate, as established by force and not representative of the Russian people, the United States offered no formal recognition of the Soviet Union until 1933. National Archives and Records Administration, General Records of the Department of State. This document is also scheduled to be on display in New York, Columbus, Los Angeles, and Hartford. Due to conservation concerns, different pages of the original document will be displayed at the different sites.


Letter from Harry S. Truman to his wife (Page One)
(Image size: 1.2 MB)
Page Two, Page Three, Page Four. Letter from Harry S. Truman to his wife, Bess Wallace Truman, about the White House "ghosts," June 12, 1945. Ten days after his wife and daughter left Washington for the summer, Truman wrote this letter, weaving a whimsical, imaginative, and historically informed account of the Presidential ghosts walking up and down the White House hallways. National Archives and Records Administration, Harry S. Truman Library, Independence, Missouri. This document is also scheduled to be on display in Kansas City, San Antonio, and Hartford.
Statement for President Nixon to read in case the astronauts were stranded on the Moon, July 18, 1969. (Page One)
(Image size: 2.2 MB)
Page Two. Statement for President Nixon to read in case the astronauts were stranded on the Moon, July 18, 1969. Unbeknownst to the American people, one of the President's speechwriters, William Safire, was asked to write a statement that the President would make to the American people in the event of a disaster. Though never delivered, it remains an eloquent tribute to the bravery and pioneering spirit of the astronauts. When the astronauts of Apollo XI returned safely to earth, their mission was hailed around the world as an achievement of epic proportions, and this statement was quietly tucked away into the record. National Archives and Records Administration, Nixon Presidential Materials Staff. This document is also scheduled to be on display in New York, San Antonio, Los Angeles, and Hartford.
President Ronald Reagan's handwritten draft of his second inaugural address
(Image size: 1.4 MB)
President Ronald Reagan's handwritten draft of his second inaugural address, delivered January 21, 1985. In December 1984, three of Reagan's speechwriters were instructed to write separate drafts of an inaugural address. The President reviewed them all and then wrote his own, drawing elements from all three versions. Reagan's draft, the one shown here, was then heavily rewritten by his speechwriting team. National Archives and Records Administration, Ronald Reagan Library, Simi Valley, California. This document is also scheduled to be on display in Los Angeles. Due to conservation concerns, different pages will be on display in Washington, D.C. and in Los Angeles.
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