About the National Archives

Remarks by John W. Carlin

Archivist of the United States

September 15, 2000, 8:30 a.m.
Rotunda of the National Archives Building, Washington, D.C.

Good morning. I'm John Carlin, Archivist of the United States. On behalf of the entire National Archives and Records Administration, I'm delighted to welcome you to this wonderfully special setting for a truly exceptional event – the unveiling of a seldom exhibited part of the original U.S. Constitution, in a brand new encasement of a kind that we're creating for all pages of the Constitution and our other Charters of Freedom.

In a few moments, we're going to unveil page two of the United States Constitution, which has not been exhibited for more than a decade, and then only for one day. And we're going to unveil it in one of the new encasements we've created that will enable us, every day, to exhibit safely all pages of the original Constitution, and also the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights.

You are witnessing this in the Rotunda of the National Archives Building, the first of more than 30 facilities we now operate across the country. Famed architect John Russell Pope designed this rotunda to display the three most important of the millions of records that we safeguard for our nation: the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Bill of Rights. Since 1952 we've exhibited these great Charters of Freedom here, except for the middle pages of the Constitution, in protective glass cases that were state-of-the-art for document preservation when they were made.

Now those cases need replacement with new ones even more technologically advanced. You will see the first of these new high-tech cases. And when we finish the renovation work that this building needs – you probably noticed the beginnings of the renovation on your way in – we will re-install the Charters of Freedom, in full, in their grand home here, for you, your grandchildren, and theirs to see throughout this new century and beyond. Let me say to Congressman Jim Kolbe, our appropriations chairman in the House, who is here, that we recognize your support for these encasements and the renovations. To you, to Congressman Hoyer, and to Senators Stevens, Campbell, and Dorgan, we acknowledge the bipartisan support that this project has enjoyed from the Congress and the Administration, and offer our hearty thanks.

Bipartisan support has grown out of an understanding of why we go to such trouble over a few old parchments. It's for the same reason that we work constantly to preserve and provide access to all the records in our care. Because they are essential for the functioning of our democracy. A society whose records are closed cannot be open. A people who cannot document their rights cannot exercise them. A nation without access to its history cannot analyze itself. And a government whose records are lost cannot accountably govern.

The records that we work in partnership with Government agencies to safeguard document the identities, rights, and entitlements of citizens; the actions for which Federal officials, from Presidents on down even to me, are accountable to the public; and the historical experience of our nation that we all need accurately to understand. For the citizen and the public servant, for the President, the Congress, and the courts, ensuring ready access to all such records, not just the ones we display here, is the mission of the National Archives and Records Administration. This re-encasement project, so important in itself for our great documents, also symbolizes the day-in day-out stewardship we provide to ensure that millions of other records also will be preserved for us today and for posterity.

The new encasement you are about to see is the first of six that we'll eventually install here in the Rotunda to display all pages of the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Bill of Rights. The encasement is made of pure titanium, high-strength glass, and specially treated aluminum to encapsulate these aging, fragile documents in argon, an inert gas, for their long-term preservation on display. And the re-encased documents will be displayed in a way that makes them more easily viewable by persons of less than average height or in wheelchairs.

This encasement and the others to come are made possible by partners to whom the American people as well as we at NARA owe gratitude. You will find the names of these partners on your programs for this event, and also on these special charts we've placed here beside the re-encasement. We thank them, each and every one.

In addition to representatives of all these organizations, including representatives of the Administration and members of the Senate and House of Representatives, I want specially to recognize two great friends of this institution and of the preservation of our Nation's history, the chairman of our House appropriations subcommittee, the Subcommittee on the Treasury, Postal Service, and General Government, the Honorable Jim Kolbe; and the chairman of our House oversight committee, the Subcommittee on Government Management, Information, and Technology, the Honorable Steve Horn. Mr. Kolbe and Mr. Horn. Would you be kind enough to join Mr. Beschloss and me to assist with the unveiling?

Afterwards, I invite all of you to come up and view the new encasement, and page two of the Constitution, the first to be re-encased. Thank you for coming.

Read remarks by Michael Beschloss, as delivered at the unveiling ceremony.

About the National Archives >

The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration
1-86-NARA-NARA or 1-866-272-6272