Press/Journalists

Press Release
September 2, 2003

Contact:
Susan Cooper, 301-837-1700
Jennifer Devlin, 202-414-0786


National Archives Announces New Exhibition "A New World is at Hand" Opening in the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom

WASHINGTON, DC -- On September 18, 2003, with the return of the Charters of Freedom - the Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights -- to public display, and the reopening of the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom, the National Archives will unveil a new exhibition: The Charters of Freedom-"A New World Is at Hand".

Surrounding the Rotunda's centerpiece cases holding the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights, this new exhibition chronicles the creation of these three documents in the 18th century, and the impact of the Charters on the course of history in the United States and around the world.

The documents in the first half of the exhibit reflect the force of the ideas that fuelled the American Revolution and gave birth to the nation. They depict dramatic, fast-moving events and present glimpses of leaders who were both courageous and politically shrewd. Pursuing a grand experiment in self-government, and with great hopes for the future, they produced a plan of government that stands today as the longest-lasting written constitution in the world.

Highlights of this half of the exhibit included the following:

  • Proclamation by the King for Suppressing Rebellion, August 23, 1775, in which King George III labeled the rebellious colonists as traitors;
  • Oath of secrecy, November 9, 1775, adopted and signed by members of the Second Continental Congress (including John Hancock, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and other towering figures of the Revolution), to protect the cause of liberty, and their lives;
  • Anti-slavery petition, October, 4, 1783, signed by some 500 Quakers, protesting the institution that existed "in opposition to the solemn declaration [of independence] often repeated in favor of universal liberty."
  • The original, engrossed Articles of Confederation, ratified March 1, 1781, and often described as this nation's first constitution;
  • George Washington's own working copy of an early draft of the Constitution, showing his handwritten annotations made during the Constitutional Convention in 1787;
  • A 1789 Committee report of the First Federal Congress showing the final wording of what would become the First Amendment to the Constitution;

The second half of the exhibition marks several milestones in the American experiment over the last two and a quarter centuries, reflecting both its strengths, as well as its vulnerabilities.

Highlights of this portion of the exhibit include the following:

  • A document from Marbury v. Madison, the landmark Supreme Court case of 1803 that established one of the cornerstones of the American constitutional system-judicial review;
  • The Louisiana Purchase Treaty, 1803, the largest single land acquisition in U.S. history;
  • President Abraham Lincoln's 1862 State of the Union message, delivered to Congress during the Civil War, in which he speaks of the United States as the "last best, hope of earth."
  • Proclamation of the Secretary of State announcing the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution ending slavery in the United States;
  • The original Deed of Gift of the Statue of Liberty, July 4, 1884, which has greeted millions of immigrants arriving in the United States, and remains one of the most potent and universal symbols of human liberty;
  • Susan B. Anthony's testimony, following her arrest for "illegal voting" in the election of 1872;
  • President George Bush's 1990 State of the Union address, remarking on the series of revolutions that swept through central Eastern Europe in 1989, and relating the story of the Czechoslovakian brewery worker who, during a workers' rally, took to the stage and began to recite the Declaration of Independence.

The September 17 Rededication of the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom kicks off two weeks of free public programs and family activities beginning Thursday, September 18 at 10 a.m. with the opening of the Rotunda to the public. These activities mark the launch of the National Archives Experience, created by the National Archives and Records Administration with support from the Foundation for the National Archives, to teach us how our nation's past can become a living instrument for directing our nation's future. It will encourage visitors, both in person and online, to discover and share in the spirit embodied in documents as diverse as the Emancipation Proclamation, Edison's patent application for the light bulb, census data, and film archives.

The National Archives Experience will include the following major components, to be unveiled in the months following the Rotunda Rededication:

  • The 294-seat William G. McGowan Theater providing a state-of-the-art venue for a broad range of engaging and educational public programs. The William G. McGowan Theater will feature continuous showings of a dramatic film illustrating the relationship of records and democracy through the lives of real people and will serve as the Capitol region's most important venue for documentary film, as well as a forum for the great issues of American government.
  • A major permanent interactive exhibition, "The Public Vaults" - exhibition spaces that will convey the experience of going into the stacks and vaults of the National Archives.
  • A multi-lingual Rotunda audio tour, offering an enriched learning experience to all visitors, especially children and international visitors.
  • A Special Exhibition Gallery that allows for a changing display devoted to document-based exhibits on newsworthy and timely topics and traveling exhibits from Presidential Libraries and other sources.
  • A Learning Center offering in depth education programs for middle and high school students and workshops geared to the needs of parents and teachers. Programs and resources will include a Learning Lab, Resource Room, Digital Classroom and National Teacher's program.
  • Web Site - The National Archives Experience will have its final component on the Internet with a web site that will recreate online the excitement of visiting the National Archives Experience, as well as be a gateway to the vast and rich records of the National Archives itself.

Media Notes: For more information about the National Archives Experience and Constitution Week activities, to interview an Archives spokesperson, or request photos, contact the National Archives Public Affairs staff at 301-837-1700. For credentialing info, contact Jennifer Devlin at Susan Davis International, 202-414-0786.

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