About the National Archives

Remarks by Allen Weinstein, Archivist of the United States at a Naturalization Ceremony at the National Archives Building, April 17, 2007

Remarks by Allen Weinstein, Archivist of the United States
April 17, 2007, Washington, DC

Dr. Cheney, Chief Aguilar, Chairman Cole, Chairman Gioia, Deputy Director Scharfen, citizens-to-be, ladies and gentlemen. *

Good afternoon, and welcome to the National Archives on this historic occasion for our special guests—those of you who are about to become citizens of the United States of America.

You have taken a journey to citizenship that my own parents took earlier in the 20th century after they arrived from Russia. The day they became American citizens remained a very special day for them for the rest of their lives.

You are taking the oath in this building which contains the three documents important for every American: the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.

It is the Constitution that provides the structure of our Government, and it is the Preamble to the Constitution that provides the reasoning and purposes behind that magnificent document. Let me read the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution:

"We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

The words "We the People" are perhaps the most important in all the founding documents. They encapsulate the concept of a federal democracy and of a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, as Abraham Lincoln later described it with eloquent simplicity.

The Constitution was debated long and hard by our Founding Fathers. In the end, it created the three co-equal branches of our Government and assigned each certain powers but also allowed each to serve as a check on the powers of the other two. Significantly, the Constitution also denied certain powers to the central government.

The Bill of Rights—the first 10 Amendments to the Constitution—spells out the rights that Americans have as citizens of this democracy. The Bill of Rights grants the basic freedoms that every citizen enjoys every day.

I urge you to view these important documents while you are here today—documents that guide the nation of which you will soon be citizens.

In a few moments, you will take the oath to become a U.S. citizen, and being a citizen is a very special position to hold. A former U.S. President considered it a very high position, as you can see from the following story:

Harry S. Truman, borrowing some wisdom from Benjamin Franklin, once remarked that when he left the Presidency in 1953 and ceased to become an elected official, he got his "promotion" to that of Citizen Truman.

Congratulations to you, one and all. I hope that you and your families and friends will visit this building, the National Archives of the United States of America, often in the years to come.

* Special guests: Dr. Lynne Cheney, wife of the Vice President; Bruce Cole, chairman, National Endowment for the Humanities; Dana Gioia, chairman, National Endowment for the Arts; Jonathan Schargen, deputy director, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services; Alfonso Aguilar, chief, USCIS Office of Citizenship.