Press/Journalists

Press Release
July 26, 2006

The National Archives Celebrates Constitution Day

Washington, DC…In September, the National Archives celebrates the United States Constitution throughout the month with exciting public programs such as a special family event on Constitution Day, September 17th, an American Conversation with "George Washington," and debates on students’ free-speech rights and the Constitution in a time of national emergency. All events are free and open to the public.

The National Archives has the original Constitution on permanent display in the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom. Due to the recent flooding of the basement of the National Archives Building, the new William G. McGowan Theater remains closed. In spite of the fact that repairs are underway, the theater will not be open in time for these programs. The United States Navy Memorial has generously donated the use of their Arleigh and Roberta Burke Theater for some of the September programs, with others continuing to take place in the National Archives Building. The theater is in the Naval Heritage Center at the United States Navy Memorial, located on Pennsylvania Avenue between 7th and 9th Streets, across the street from the National Archives Building.

Students’ Right to Free Speech
Thursday, September 14, at 7 p.m.
Arleigh and Roberta Burke Theater, United States Navy Memorial
A Constitution Day Partnership Program with the Newseum

Students do not "shed their constitutional rights when they enter the schoolhouse door," the Supreme Court stated in the 1969 Tinker v. Des Moines ruling. In 1965, Mary Beth Tinker, her brother John, and their friend Christopher Eckhard wore black armbands to their schools to honor the dead on both sides of the Vietnam War. They were suspended under a new policy banning armbands at school. Lower courts supported the policy, finding that it was reasonable to prevent disruption of education. The U.S. Supreme Court, however, ruled in favor of the students. Although later rulings defined students’ rights more narrowly, the Tinker case remains a landmark ruling establishing the right to free speech for young people.

Where do students’ rights to free speech stand today? How important is it that students feel free to express their views? Join moderator Frank Bond, Newseum producer and former WUSA-TV reporter and anchor, in a discussion of student free-speech rights with Mary Beth Tinker, former student activist; Francisco Negron, general counsel for the National School Boards Association; and Mark Goodman, executive director of the Student Press Law Center. Current high school student leaders also will be part of the panel.

This program is presented in partnership with the United States Navy Memorial.

Constitution Day Family Celebration - Happy Birthday U.S. Constitution!
Sunday, September 17, 12 noon – 3 p.m.
Presidential Conference Center, National Archives Building (use Constitution Ave. entrance)

  • View the film The Road from Runnymede, 1992, 57 minutes (Jefferson Room, noon and 1 p.m.) Narrated by the late Christopher Reeve, this film for young people on the history of the Constitution guides young viewers through almost 600 years of political struggle from Magna Carta in 1215 to the Philadelphia Convention in 1787.
  • Have a piece of birthday cake and meet President James Madison, Father of the Constitution (Washington Room, 1 p.m.–2:30 p.m.)
  • Meet Syl Sobel, author of The U.S. Constitution and You (Washington Room, 1 p.m.–2:30 p.m.)
  • Sign the Constitution (Presidential Conference Room Lobby, noon–3 p.m.)

The Constitution in a Time of National Emergency
Monday, September 18, at 7 p.m.
Arleigh and Roberta Burke Theater, United States Navy Memorial
A Constitution Day Partnership Program with Oxford University Press.

How do we balance personal liberty against public safety in the face of grave national danger? Are there inevitable trade-offs, and, if so, when must we let the Constitution bend and when must we insist that it stand firm?

Are censorship measures justified in wartime that would not be justified in times of peace? Should "enemy combatants" be indefinitely detained without a hearing? Should executives be able to restrict civil liberties for reasons of national necessity, as President Lincoln did when he suspended habeas corpus during the Civil War? How can constitutional law best remain responsive to current events?

Join two of the most prominent legal scholars in the nation, Judge Richard Posner and Geoffrey R. Stone, as they debate these issues that are crucial for our time. Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, Posner is the author of Not A Suicide Pact: The Constitution in a Time of National Emergency, inaugural volume in the series Inalienable Rights, a new 14-volume series from Oxford University Press. Stone, series editor, is the Harry Kalven, Jr., Distinguished Service Professor of Law at the University of Chicago and the author of Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime from the Act of Sedition of 1798 to the War on Terrorism. Allen Weinstein, Archivist of the United States and author of The Haunted Wood, a study of espionage during the Cold War, will moderate the discussion.

This program is presented in partnership with the United States Navy Memorial.

An American Conversation with "George Washington"
Thursday, September 21, at 7 p.m.
Archivist’s Reception Room, National Archives Building (use Pennsylvania Ave. between 7th and 9th Streets, NW entrance)

The first President of the United States, "George Washington," will join Archivist of the United States Allen Weinstein in a special Constitution Day "American Conversation." Before he served as President, Washington was the Commander in Chief of American troops in the Revolutionary War and presided over the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. His achievements in the founding of the United States have earned him the title "Father of our Country." In honor of Constitution Day, "President Washington" will share some of his memories of the Constitutional Convention and the men who served with him during the Revolutionary War as well as his views on the new government. Performing as Washington is William Sommerfield, recognized internationally as one the foremost interpreters of George Washington.

Related programs and exhibits at the National Archives:

Eyewitness: American Originals from the National Archives
Original accounts of watershed events in American history are part of this major new exhibition in the Lawrence F. O'Brien Gallery at the National Archives in Washington, DC on Friday, June 23, 2006. Treasures in the form of letters, diaries, photographs, and audio and film recordings, culled from the billions of documents in the holdings of the National Archives and its Presidential libraries, open new and unique windows onto well-known events. This exhibit includes a free Acoustiguide audio tour, and is the latest in the "American Originals" series that opened in the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom in 1995. It is the centerpiece of the city-wide summer 2006 cultural tourism initiative known as "American Originals."

The 1297 Magna Carta
The 1297 Magna Carta is on display in the Rotunda Gallery of the National Archives. In 1215 on the plains of Runnymede an assembly of barons confronted the despotic King John of England and demanded that traditional rights be recognized, written down, confirmed with the royal seal, and sent to each of the counties to be read to all freemen. King John agreed, binding himself and his heirs to grant "to all freemen of our kingdom" the rights and liberties described in the great charter, or Magna Carta. Thus King John placed himself and England’s future sovereigns and magistrates within the rule of law.

Between 1215 and 1297, Magna Carta was reissued by each of King John’s successors. The 1297 Magna Carta, confirmed by Edward I, was entered on the English statute rolls and thus became the foundation document of English common law. Only four originals of the 1297 Magna Carta remain. The 1297 Magna Carta on display at the National Archives was purchased by the Perot Foundation in 1984 and is on indefinite loan to the National Archives. It is the only Magna Carta permanently residing in the United States.

A New World Is at Hand
Flanking the permanent display of the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights is the exhibition, "A New World Is at Hand." Featuring a selection of the National Archives’ most treasured documents, this exhibition reveals the drama, passion, and poignancy of the struggle for freedom that has defined much of U.S. history. On Constitution Day, we call particular attention to George Washington’s own working copy of the first printed draft of the constitution. Other highlights of the exhibit include the Articles of Confederation, a working draft of the amendments that would become the Bill of Rights, and a document from the milestone Marbury v. Madison Supreme Court case.

The Public Vaults
This permanent interactive exhibition – literally located behind the wall of the display of the Constitution – is organized according to the preamble to the U.S. Constitution. The Public Vaults creates the feeling of going into the stacks and vaults of the National Archives, and offers visitors a "hands on" examination of the workings of the three branches of government, as outlined in the Constitution.

Locations, Hours, and Contact Information:
The National Archives Experience is located on Constitution Avenue between 7th and 9th Sts., NW, Washington, DC. Exhibit Hours: through September 4, 10 a.m.–9 p.m. daily. Beginning September 5, 10 a.m.–5:30 p.m. daily.

The National Archives is fully accessible. If you need to request an accommodation (e.g., sign language interpreter) for a public program please e-mail public.program@nara.gov or call 202-357-5000 at least two weeks prior to the event to ensure proper arrangements are secured.

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For press information, contact the National Archives Public Affairs staff at 202-357-5300.

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