The tour guide at the National Archives called the Smithsonian America’s attic, the Library of Congress its bookshelves, and the Archives the sock drawer. (Huh? Do people store valuables in sock drawers, rather than a locked box or safe?) The Archives displays copies of the founding documents for the United States: the Constitution, Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights. You probably read them in a civics class but it’s not a bad idea to review them periodically.
The Second Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence (DOI) in July 1776. In the midst of war with Great Britain, the colonists announced independence from British rule using the Declaration. John Hancock, mostly remembered for his prominent signature, was president of Congress when the Declaration was adopted. It was a volatile, bloody time that gave birth to the United States of America.
For the last three decades, NPR has broadcast a reading of the Declaration each Independence Day. Last year, NPR also tweeted out the DOI, in multiple posts given Twitter’s character limitations. The tweets incited pointed reactions and revealed a certain civics illiteracy. One response claimed: “no one is going to read…this trash.” Another accused NPR of condoning violence and calling for revolution.
Before we can live up to the values embedded in our founding documents, we must know what they say. You don’t have to live in the DC area or even visit the Archives to read the Declaration of Independence or Constitution. Immigrants desiring citizenship review and are tested on US history and political process. I also learned about a feature film, National Treasure, which I plan to watch.
Engraved on a pedestal near the Pennsylvania Avenue entrance to the Archives Building is “study the past.” Our past helps us know who we are. Citizenship implies responsibilities to guard democracy. As citizens, reviewing the founding documents may even bring understanding about our present situation.
© Joan S Grey, 27 APR 2018
IndexCardCure™: “Litera scripta manet” –the written word endures