About the National Archives

Welcome Remarks for the U.S. Senate Youth Program

McGowan Theater, National Archives Building, Washington, DC
March 5, 2019 

Good evening and welcome to “My House!”

Over the past five decades, the United States Senate Youth Program has brought some of our brightest young people to Washington, DC, to learn firsthand how our democracy works and how important it is for all citizens to take part in it. And we are honored to be a part of this program.

The National Archives is the home of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights––known collectively as the Charters of Freedom. We also have permanent exhibits such as the Public Vaults and Records of Rights in the Rubenstein Gallery. After this program, you will enjoy a tour of the Rotunda and the Public Vaults, where you will encounter fascinating original records and interactive exhibits that allow you to explore some of the most interesting documents, photos, and films we hold.  While you are in the Rotunda pause to reflect on the miracle, as I do every day, the miracle that these most precious documents are here.  Signed in Philadelphia, taken to New York as the capitol changed, and then finally to Washington—where they were spirited into the hills of Virginia the night before the British burned the town during the War of 1812. 

Long before the United States was a nation, record keepers understood the importance of keeping records. Starting with the Continental Congress and the Revolutionary War, the government was creating records. As the bureaucracy grew, so did the amount of records. Documents were piling up all over Washington in damp garages, basements, etc. Finally in the 1920s, Congress approved funds for a “Hall of Records,” which became the National Archives Building in the mid-1930s.

Originally, there was to be an inner courtyard in this building. But it was clear even before the building was finished that the courtyard space was needed to store more records. So President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who had a keen interest in archives and architecture, consented to more “stacks” instead of a courtyard.

During World War II, the building became “Fort Archives.” American military and intelligence officials used this building to house and study maps, photographs, and other documents as they planned the invasion of Western Europe and other offensives against Germany.

There is an inscription on the 7th street side of the building. It says:

“This building holds in trust the records of our national life and symbolizes our faith in the permanency of our national institutions.” 

We take that very seriously, and we work hard to protect the records from those who would steal or damage them while we provide access to them for everyone.

Today, our core mission is the same as it was the day we were created in 1934. 

We collect, protect, and provide access to the most important government records. We make the records available so that the American public can hold its government accountable and learn from our past. We keep about two to three percent of all of the records created by the government each year. But they are the ones with long-term historic or legal interest.

Today that collection translates into over 15 billion sheets of paper, 43 million photographs, miles and miles of video and film, and more than 6 billion electronic records—the fastest growing record form.

We serve customers at 44 locations all over the country, not just in the Washington area. This includes our massive National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, presidential libraries, and regional archives.

Here at the Archives, we also publish the daily Federal Register. It’s sort of the daily newspaper of the Federal Government–– keeping the public informed of new laws and regulations and proposed actions by Federal departments and agencies.

And, every four years, we administer the Electoral College, which is the Constitutional mechanism we use to elect our President and Vice President. 

If you want to learn more about the National Archives, our web site, Archives.gov, provides many documents online as well as links to our many venues on the social media network––blogs, Facebook, tweets and the like.

I hope after your visit tonight you will go home and let your classmates––and teachers––know what a tremendous educational resource the National Archives can be for them.

Thanks again for coming to the National Archives and for choosing our historic building for your event tonight. 

Now, I would be glad to answer your questions….