About the National Archives

Remarks by Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Associate Justice
United States Supreme Court

Investiture of Dr. Allen Weinstein
Ninth Archivist of the United States
March 7, 2005

Dr. Weinstein, the Ninth Archivist of the United States, is a scholar whose work I have long admired; I am pleased that he has asked me to participate in this investiture by administering the oath of office.

I first learned of Dr. Weinstein some 30 years ago from my dear teacher and friend, renowned Constitution Law scholar Gerald Gunther. Professor Gunther was Dr. Weinstein's sage counselor and friend too. Gunther was proud of his young friend for his readiness to pursue truth, though the search for it turned up disquieting information.

Dr. Weinstein knows full well the enormous importance of the Archives to the health and well being of our Nation. Two figures by sculptor Robert Atkins stand beside the Pennsylvania Avenue entrance to the National Archives: One of a man symbolizing the past, whose pedestal is inscribed, unsurprisingly, "Study the Past"; the other of a woman representing the future, whose pedestal bears a well-known line from Shakespeare's Tempest: "What is past is prologue." That inscription captures the vitality of the Archives to our Nation.

The records gathered and preserved in the Archives, it has been said, constitute society's memories. They make enlightened government possible for today for, as Santayana famously said: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. "I wish our new Archivist well in the essential work entrusted to him.

Because Dr. Weinstein is a historian, I hope he and his audience will indulge me a minute more to relate a bit of history some of you may have heard before. It concerns the oath Archivist Weinstein will take. An oath or affirmation to support and defend the Constitution is required by Article VI of our Fundamental Instrument of Government for all officeholders, state and federal. The Constitution tells us, in Article II, Section I, what oath the President shall take, but it does not set out the words for other officeholders. Our highly practical First Congress appreciated the urgent need to staff the new Government; to that end, Congress adopted a law providing for the oath as its very first Act. (Congress's second act, a measure less inspiring, was a protective tariff on a long list of imported goods, ranging from molasses to pickled fish.)

The original oath was sparer than the one now prescribed. It read, simply: "I ___, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support the Constitution of the United States." At the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, the oath was augmented to include a promise to defend the Constitution against all enemies, domestic and foreign. In 1868, the War over and the Union preserved, the word order was changed to place foreign enemies before domestic. The oath the Archivist will now take dates from that time.

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