Messages and Papers of the Presidents, Warren G. Harding

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Author: Warren G. Harding

STATEMENT BY STATE DEPARTMENT
September 29, 1921

September 29, 1921.

Secretary Hughes has been impressed with the fact that the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States which are now deposited with the State Department are not in a place of such absolute safety as the importance of the documents requires, as the Department building is always subject to fire risk. Moreover, the State Department has no exhibition room and has been unable for some years past to exhibit these documents under satisfactory conditions, although nearly all visitors to Washington desire to see them. It has seemed that the Library of Congress is the most suitable place for the preservation and exhibition of these muniments, that building being of modern fireproof construction with appropriate exhibition halls and the manuscripts which are in its custody being in charge of expert archivists. On the recommendation of the Secretary of State, President Harding has signed an executive order as follows

The original engrossed Declaration of Independence and the original engrossed Constitution of the United States, now in the Depart-

ment of State, are, by authority provided by the Act of Congress entitled "An Act making appropriations for the legislative, executive and judicial expenses of the Government for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1904, and for other purposes," approved February 25, 1903, hereby ordered to be transferred from the Department of State to the custody of the Library, of Congress, to be there preserved and exhibited under such rules and regulations as may from time to time be prescribed by the Librarian of Congress.

This order is issued at the request of the Secretary of State, who has no suitable place for the exhibition of these muniments and whose building is believed to be not as safe a depository for them as the Library of Congress, and for the additional reason that it is desired to satisfy the laudable wish of patriotic Americans to have an opportunity to see the original fundamental documents upon which rest their Independence and their Government.

Secretary Hughes’ letter to the President recommending the transfer was accompanied by a brief history of these documents. It showed that on July 24th, 1789, Charles Tomson, Secretary of the Continental Congress, having resigned his office, deposited the papers with Mr. Roger Alden, who had been deputy secretary of the Congress, and who, at General Washington’s request, took charge of them until the Department of State was created by the Act of September 15, 1789. They have been officially in the custody of the Secretary of State ever since that date. It appears, however, that they have not been continuously in the physical custody of the Secretary of State.

On August 20, 1814, just before the capture of Washington by the British, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the other records of the Department were taken away from Washington and put in an unoccupied grist mill belonging to Edgar Patterson, situated on the Virginia side of the Potomac River, a short distance from the Chain Bridge, two miles above Georgetown. On August 24th, for greater safety, all the papers were moved to Leesburg, twenty-five miles farther away, and placed in an empty house, where they were locked up and the keys intrusted to the Reverend Mr. Littlejohn, who was then, or had been, a collector of Internal Revenue. There the papers remained for several weeks, not being brought back to Washington until the British fleet had left the Chesapeake. In 1841, when the Patent Office (which was then a part of the State Department) went into a new building which was supposed to be fireproof (which was burned some thirty-five years later), the Declaration of Independence was put in that building and there it remained until 1877, except for nine months from May, 1876, to February, 1877, when it was in Independence Hall at Philadelphia. It was transferred in 1877 from the Patent Office to the State Department, which had recently been moved to the building which it now occupies.

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Chicago: Warren G. Harding, "STATEMENT BY STATE DEPARTMENT September 29, 1921," Messages and Papers of the Presidents, Warren G. Harding, ed. and trans. Richardson, James P. in Messages and Papers of the Presidents, Warren G. Harding Original Sources, accessed September 21, 2018, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CZLZVLUMW76IWWP.

MLA: Harding, Warren G. "STATEMENT BY STATE DEPARTMENT September 29, 1921." Messages and Papers of the Presidents, Warren G. Harding, edited and translated by Richardson, James P., in Messages and Papers of the Presidents, Warren G. Harding, Original Sources. 21 Sep. 2018. www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CZLZVLUMW76IWWP.

Harvard: Harding, WG, 'STATEMENT BY STATE DEPARTMENT September 29, 1921' in Messages and Papers of the Presidents, Warren G. Harding, ed. and trans. . cited in , Messages and Papers of the Presidents, Warren G. Harding. Original Sources, retrieved 21 September 2018, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CZLZVLUMW76IWWP.