About the National Archives

Welcome Remarks for “The Bill of Rights as an Inspiration to the World”

McGowan Theater, National Archives Building, Washington, DC
December 12, 2019

Good evening. I’m David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, and I want to welcome you to the William G. McGowan Theater at the National Archives. Whether you are here in the theater or watching on YouTube or Facebook, I’m pleased you could join us this evening for our program on “The Bill of Rights as an Inspiration to the World.”

In three days, we observe Bill of Rights Day—the 228th anniversary of the ratification of the Bill of Rights. Since President Franklin Roosevelt first proclaimed it on December 15, 1941, the day has served as a reminder that we should not take for granted the rights protected in this foundational document.

Our partner for tonight’s program is the Constitutional Sources Project, and we thank them for their support.

Before we begin our discussion, I’d like to let you know about two programs coming up soon in this theater.

On Friday, December 13, at noon, author Tammy R. Vigil will discuss her new book, Melania and Michelle: First Ladies in a New Era.

And on Monday, December 16, at 7 p.m., David Rubenstein, a great friend to the National Archives, will be here with historians Jay Winik, Taylor Branch, and H. W. Brands to discuss his own book, The American Story: Conversations with Master Historians.

Check our website, Archives.gov, or sign up at the table outside the theater to get email updates. You’ll also find information about other National Archives programs and activities.

Another way to become more involved with the National Archives is to become a member of the National Archives Foundation. The Foundation supports the work of the agency, especially its education and outreach programs. Pick up your application for membership in the lobby or join online at archivesfoundation.org.

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The addition of a bill of rights was critical to the ratification of the new Constitution for the United States of America. The preamble to the Constitution is familiar—with its iconic opening words, “We the People.” The Bill of Rights also has a preamble—although a much less well known one. It lays out the reasons for the amendments and addresses concerns about tyranny. These “further declaratory and restrictive clauses,” it states, should be added to the Constitution “in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers.”

Yet the authors of the Bill of Rights didn’t stop there. They recognized that the very existence of these amendments was a strength of the Constitution. The final words of the preamble declare that these additions would extend “the ground of public confidence in the Government [and] best ensure the beneficent ends of its institution.”

Earlier I mentioned that President Franklin Roosevelt first established Bill of Rights Day. His successor, Harry Truman—at the ceremony to unveil the Charters of Freedom in this building’s Rotunda—declared that “In my opinion the Bill of Rights is the most important part of the Constitution of the United States—the only document in the world that protects the citizen against his Government.”

It is that uniqueness that has shaped our American identity and inspired writers of constitutions for the past 228 years.

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To start our discussion about “The Bill of Rights as an Inspiration to the World,” I’d like to bring up Julie Silverbrook, who will introduce our panelists. Ms. Silverbrook is the Executive Director of the Constitutional Sources Project in Washington, DC. She holds a J.D. from William & Mary Law School, and a B.A. in political science from the George Washington University.

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Julie Silverbrook.