Press/Journalists
Press Release
February 1999
Fast Facts about the Charters of Freedom

  • The Charters of Freedom are: The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States, and the Bill of Rights.

  • The original Declaration of Independence, the first and last pages of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are on permanent display in the Rotunda of the National Archives Building in Washington, DC.

  • The Constitution consists of four pages of text and a transmittal page.

  • All three documents are hand-written with iron gall ink on parchment (animal skin).

  • The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were transferred to the National Archives Building from the Library of Congress in 1952. They had been in the custody of the Library of Congress since 1922. (Prior to that, they were at the Department of State.)

  • The Bill of Rights was transferred directly to the National Archives from the Department of State in 1938.

  • Each of the seven parchment sheets is preserved in a sealed glass encasement filled with helium. Special filters are placed over the encasements to screen out stray damaging ultra-violet light, not filtered at the source, and to remove damaging light in the low blue end of the visible spectrum.

  • Each night the Charters are lowered into a steel and reinforced concrete vault. Before opening the Rotunda each morning, the documents are mechanically raised into the marble display cases.

  • After careful evaluation, it has been determined that the current encasements are deteriorating. The documents themselves are not in any danger. The National Archives is working with world-class conservators and scientists to design and build new encasements. When the documents are taken out of their current enclosures, it will be the first time in 50 years that the documents will be examined without glass. At that time, conservators will decide if any preservation work will be done on the documents.

  • The renovation of the Rotunda will allow for all four pages of the Constitution to be displayed. The new display will also be handicapped accessible.

  • The National Archives Rotunda is scheduled to close temporarily for renovation and reencasement of the Charters on July 5, 2001. It is scheduled to reopen in 2003.

For additional PRESS information, please contact the National Archives Public Affairs staff at (301) 837-1700 or by e-mail.

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The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration
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