About the National Archives

Welcome Remarks for "Give Me Liberty: A History of America’s Exceptional Idea"

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

Good afternoon, and welcome to the William G. McGowan Theater at the National Archives. I’m David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, and I’m pleased you could join us for this afternoon’s program, whether you are here in the theater or joining us through Facebook or YouTube.

Before we hear from Richard Brookhiser about his new book, Give Me Liberty: A History of America's Exceptional Idea, I’d like to tell you about two other programs coming up next week here in the McGowan Theater.

On Thursday, November 14, at 7:30 p.m., we will host a Veteran’s Day Tribute: World War II Soldier Photographers from the U.S. Army Signal Corps Photo Collection at the National Archives. The authors of a new book called Aftershock: The Human Toll of War, will join historians for a discussion of these less well known images of the war’s end.

And on Thursday, November 21, at 6:30 p.m., we’ll mark the 15th anniversary of the movie National Treasure with a special screening here in the McGowan Theater and fun activities related to the film and the Declaration. Come dressed as your favorite National Treasure character, and you might win a prize!

To keep informed about events throughout the year, 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 get 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. Check out their website—archivesfoundation.org—to learn more about them and join online.

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In his introduction to Give Me Liberty, Richard Brookhiser declares: “This book focuses  . . . on thirteen documents, from 1619 to 1987, that represent snapshots from the album of our long marriage to liberty”—documents that “define America as the country that it is, different from all others.”

Of the 13 documents, I’m pleased to note, the National Archives and its Presidential Libraries have five: the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, the Monroe Doctrine, Franklin Roosevelt’s “Arsenal of Democracy” Fireside Chat, and Ronald Reagan’s “Tear Down This Wall” speech in Berlin.

Whenever I walk through our museum, I’m struck by the respect—and even awe—with which so many of our visitors approach the cases that contain the original Declaration and Constitution. When visitors stop to examine other landmark documents in other parts of the museum, they often do more than glance at a display—they feel a connection to our shared past.

The National Archives motto Littera Scripta Manet, “the written word endures,” appears on a bronze medallion in front of the Rubenstein Gallery, one floor above us. The written word endures not just because the National Archives keeps the documents in protective containers in secure storage spaces. The words endure because they tell us who we are as a nation—today as well as centuries ago.

Let’s turn now to Richard Brookhiser to hear about his selection of enduring documents featured in Give Me Liberty: A History of America’s Exceptional Idea.

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Richard Brookhiser went to work for National Review after graduating from Yale and has stayed ever since.

For 20 years he wrote a column for the New York Observer and has also written for a number of magazines including The New Yorker, Cosmopolitan, Commentary, and Vanity Fair.

After writing about modern politicians, he turned to past political figures and became a historian of the founding period. He curated “Alexander Hamilton: The Man Who Made Modern America,” an exhibition at the New-York Historical Society; wrote and hosted two films that aired on PBS: Rediscovering George Washington and Rediscovering Alexander Hamilton; and is the author of John Marshall: The Man Who Made the Supreme Court. He is currently a columnist for American History and has been awarded the National Medal of the Humanities and a Guggenheim fellowship.

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Richard Brookhiser.