About the National Archives

Welcome Remarks for Independence Day Ceremony

Thank you to Allison Seymour for joining us as emcee of our 4th of July activities.

Good morning! Thanks for joining us in this 241st celebration of the Declaration of Independence! And greetings to the folks in 10 of our Presidential Libraries who are watching it via live-stream.

I am originally from Beverly, Massachusetts, Birthplace of the U.S. Navy. In Beverly the Fourth of July meant a real bonfire built of kerosene soaked barrels, fireworks at West Beach or a trip into Boston for the Boston Pops on the Esplanade performing the 1812 overture and fireworks over the Charles River. You all have your own memories of your own Fourth of July commemorations--a time for friends and family to get together and celebrate summer.

My own view of this day changed when I became Archivist of the United States. I realized that we OWN this day. The Fourth of July Starts Here at the National Archives Building. We are the keeper of the original Declaration of Independence. That seminal document signed by our Founding Fathers. It is enshrined in the Rotunda of the National Archives Building behind me.

Just think of the courage it took to sign the Declaration, and how important independence from England meant for them to risk their lives. It was an act of treason for those who signed it. They became wanted men, traitors to the King. By the end of the Revolutionary War, more than half of the Signers suffered direct, personal consequences for their support of American Independence. We have the Signers to thank for the freedom and the celebration we enjoy today.

The Declaration of Independence has had an amazing journey since it was signed on August 2, 1776.    

During the Revolutionary War, the Declaration was rolled up and moved from city to city as Congress moved to avoid capture by the British.

When the British were burning Washington during the War of 1812, Secretary of State James Monroe directed State Department clerks, to get the important documents out of town. They wrapped the Declaration and other precious documents in bags of linen, commandeered wagons, and in the dead of night headed for Virginia with the records of the country. First, they hid the Declaration in an unused gristmill near Chain Bridge in Virginia, then in a private home in Leesburg until the war was over.

During the 1800s, the Declaration was on exhibit for long periods at several locations in Washington, where it was exposed to sunlight, fluctuating temperatures, and humidity—all of which took their toll on the document.

Finally, officials took note of these effects of aging, and wrapped the Declaration and stored it flat at the State Department, where it joined the Constitution until 1921, when President Harding signed an order transferring both of those documents to the Library of Congress.

Just before Pearl Harbor and the U.S. entrance into World War II, the Library sent the Declaration and the Constitution to Fort Knox for safekeeping, where they remained until September 1944, when they came back to the Library of Congress.

Finally, the documents came to their rightful home here at the National Archives. The transfer occurred on December 13, 1952, with great pomp and circumstance and security, as the newly encased Declaration of Independence was carried up these steps with a military procession into the Rotunda.

And the Declaration of Independence was safe until 2004 when the good treasurer hunter, Nicholas Cage, cleverly stole it during a party in this building—to protect it from the evil treasure hunter. And our “National Treasure” was miraculously and circuitously restored to its rightful place and now poses the most often asked question in the Rotunda. “Can we see the map on the back?”

And I can tell you for certain that the only thing on the back of the Declaration are the words “Original Declaration of Independence dated 4 July 1776.”


Although the traveling days of the Declaration are over, the spirit of the Declaration continues on today in many ways, including social media. 

This year, the National Archives partnered with Slate to co-host the #TinyDeclaration contest on Twitter. Slate originated the contest in 2010. We invited the public to try to capture the essence of the Declaration of Independence in 140 characters or less, and tweet it out, using the hashtag: #TinyDeclaration.

I would like to read a couple notable mentions and then the winner.

The first one is from Raffi Jansezian, who tweeted:

It’s not U, K? It’s US.

Next notable mention is from Jamie Erker who tweeted:

56 Patriots, 27 oppressions, 3 inalienable rights, 1 Declaration of Independence.... PRICELESS

And now the winning #tinydeclaration tweet is…

Craig Mateer who wrote:

Yes we were colonies of yours

But Meddling, taxes we abhor

Our fury unleashed

Breaking our lease

On our own better for sure

Thank you to Slate, and their Editor in Chief Julia Turner, for partnering with us. And for author Brad Meltzer for being a guest judge with Julia Turner and myself.


Just a few reminders…

You can share your pictures and stories from your Fourth of July experience at the National Archives at @usnatarchives on Twitter and Instagram. Use the hashtag #ArchivesJuly4.

You can also add your own John Hancock to the Declaration of Independence at our special signing booth, inside the Boeing Learning Center. Use the hashtag #ISignedTheDeclaration to share the patriotic fun with everyone.
I invite you to come inside and see the Declaration, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights, participate in our family activities, and check out our exhibit, “Amending America.” There have been more than 11,000 amendments proposed to the Constitution. Some narrowly missed ratification; others never had a realistic chance––come in and learn more!

And although we don't allow photography in the museum, we have made a special exception for our selfie station, where you can snap a selfie in front of a special backdrop featuring our founding documents.

Thank you for coming out today. The National Archives is the home of the Declaration of Independence. July Fourth Starts Here!


Now I would like to introduce our keynote speaker today, Laura Murphy…

Laura is President of Laura Murphy & Associates. She is an influential national civil liberties and civil rights leader and a policy strategist. She has more than 35 years of experience in government and advocacy including 17 years as director of the ACLU Legislative Office, where she advanced legislation on free speech, criminal justice reform, national security, reproductive rights, LGBT and civil rights, and Internet privacy before Congress and the White House. And Laura is a descendant of one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, Philip Livingston of New York.

Please welcome, Laura Murphy…