About the National Archives

Welcome Remarks for Records of Achievement Awards Gala

McGowan Theater, National Archives Building
September 25, 2016

Good evening and welcome to my house!

“Look around. Look around. At how lucky we are to be alive right now,” to quote Eliza Schulyer. But this evening, dear Eliza, Washington, not Manhattan, is the “greatest city in the world.”  For we are lucky to be in this place to celebrate an 18th-century Founding Father brought back to life in a 21st-century Broadway smash. And we are all lucky because tonight we get the chance to honor the three geniuses who made it happen.

Through their collective work on the Broadway sensation Hamilton, Ron, Lin-Manuel, and Tommy have put history to a modern hip-hop beat and made Alexander Hamilton cool again. The musical made the Founding Fathers stylish and trendsetting, but more importantly, accessible. In a time where the study of history is on the wane, what a great jolt this has been to the study of the past.  And the popularity of Hamilton even helped save the “ten-dollar Founding Father without a father” from being thrown off the ten-dollar bill! 

In many ways, the National Archives is the perfect place to celebrate Hamilton. We are home to the Constitution of the United States (signed by Alexander Hamilton as the New York representative). We have many documents written by Hamilton in the course of his work helping to establish our Federal Government in the early days of the republic and as the first Secretary of the Treasury. We also have some more personal documents…the prescient handwritten statement of property and debts that he composed days before he died.  And even more touching, the petition from an impoverished and loyal Eliza, 44 years after Hamilton’s death, asking Congress for assistance in funding the publication of her husband’s writings. Congress’s report on the subject acknowledges the critical role Hamilton played in the establishment of our nation, and they passed legislation to publish, distribute and archive the papers.

The National Archives, with the University of Virginia, also hosts Founders Online, a database of more than 175,000 documents of the Founding Fathers. The Hamilton papers amount to more than 15,000 searchable documents and are used by scholars across the globe. It is an impressive collection of the Founding Fathers papers, and I am sure it would have been extremely helpful to Ron Chernow if it existed in the 1990s when he started his research on Alexander Hamilton.  

Tonight, we also celebrate the incredible public-private partnership between the National Archives and the National Archives Foundation.

And we have had a lot to celebrate this past year:

  • we launched the current exhibit in the Lawrence F. O’Brien Gallery, “Amending America,”
  • we continued to inspire school children with our National Archives Sleepovers
  • And we created the National Conversation on Rights and Justice, a series of discussions to engage Americans in conversations about complicated issues such as class, gender, politics, race, religion, and sexual orientation. Through these conversations, we are advancing the discussion in communities across the nation and are bringing to the forefront challenges to rights and justice that persist 225 years after the ratification of the Bill of Rights. Our next conversation will be on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality in New York City on October 21. Please join us in person or online!

Thank you to the Foundation for the great partnership. It is wonderful to see so many Board members in attendance. Our partners at the Foundation share our passion for educating our citizens about the important work of the National Archives in preserving our history and making it accessible to the people.

Here at the National Archives, history comes to life through our records. Each document tells a story. Ron, Lin-Manuel, and Tommy have taken the story of a bastard, orphan, immigrant Founding Father and brought him back to life. And during this collaborative journey, they have created a whole new generation of history lovers. For this, we are eternally grateful.

Now, please join me in welcoming Honorary Chair for this evening David Rubenstein.