March 21, 2001
America's Most Important 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.
Behind these three statements lie some of the most important and compelling documents that describe the founding of our nation. "American Originals" is now on display in the Rotunda of the National Archives Building in Washington, DC. This major exhibition showcases 37 original documents that have charted the course of American history. Among the highlights of the exhibition is the special four-day display of the original Emancipation Proclamation. 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.
A traveling version of "American Originals" will tour the nation from October 2001 through 2004.
View March 2001 Calendar of Events Feature Article on "American Originals."
For press information or for reproductions of some of the items featured in the exhibition, contact the National Archives public affairs staff at 301-837-1700.