Since July 16, 1790, Washington, DC has been our nation’s capital. President George Washington commissioned French engineer Pierre-Charles L’Enfant to create a plan for the city which included wide avenues and open spaces so that the capital would not become a city of crowded buildings. He achieved his goal, and nowhere in the city is this more apparent than on the beautiful national mall, home to so many iconic monuments this city is known for.
Of course, Washington, DC is also home to many historic documents of the utmost importance to our nation’s history, including the original Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights. All three of these monumental documents can be seen up close and personal at the National Archives Museum.
The United States Declaration of Independence is the statement adopted by the Second Continental Congress meeting at the Pennsylvania State House in Philadelphia on July 4, 1776 which declared the United States free from British rule. It was signed by 56 delegates including Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and John Hancock.
Alongside the Declaration of Independence rests The United States Constitution which is the supreme law of the United States. The Constitution delineates the national frame of government including the separation of power into three branches: the legislative branch (Congress), the executive branch (President), and the judicial branch (Supreme Court and lower courts). It was originally only seven articles, which called for the near-immediate creation of the Bill of Rights – the first ten amendments – which guarantee citizens rights such the freedoms of speech, assembly, and worship.
Along with these three monumental documents, the National Archives Museum is home to many other exhibits and galleries that showcase the founding of the United States. The Record of Rights explores how Americans have worked to realize the nation’s ideas of freedom as outlined in the Bill of Rights by debating issues such as citizenship, free speech, voting rights, and equal opportunity. Another popular attraction is The Public Vaults display which, at any given time, hosts about 1,100 records including originals or facsimiles of documents, photographs, maps, drawings, film, or audio clips. This exhibit is meant to allow patrons to get a feel for raw democracy in the making.
Like most museums in the District, the National Archives Museum is free to the public, but since lines here can become extremely long and wait times can exceed 1-2 hours for admission, advanced booking is highly encouraged. The convenience fee for online reservations is $1.50 per person, and tours may also be arranged for groups of 15 or more. Check their website for more information.