At Home With the Constitution
You can see the national treasure at the U.S. National Archives in Washington, D.C.
Guards stand next to the U.S. Constitution in the Rotunda of the National Archives in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Ron Edmonds/AP Wide World)
As one of America's most treasured documents, the U.S. Constitution has always attracted its fair share of admirers. But on a wintry December morning in 1952, the historic piece of parchment was the toast of a ceremony fit for a king.
Escorted by an entourage of armed service members and military personnel, the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence paraded down Pennsylvania Avenue in an armored vehicle to their final resting place in Washington, D.C.'s, National Archives building.
For nearly five decades, the two documents, along with the Bill of Rights, were enshrined in a helium-sealed glass case in the building's rotunda. Over the years, tens of millions of tourists have lined up to see the famous handwritten papers, which gave birth to our nation more than 200 years ago.
On July 4, 2001, the trio welcomed their final visitors at least for awhile. A few days later, they were transported to a secret laboratory for a historic makeover.
There, a staff of conservators, or experts in the care of old documents, carefully examined each document letter by letter. They used special glue to secure any loosened flakes of ink. They repaired old tears and erased dirt and other substances.
In September 2003, the historic documents returned to the newly renovated rotunda, where they once again went on public display. They rest in air-tight metal cases that are illuminated with fiber-optic lighting.
Now safely encased for generations to come, the U.S. Constitution remains as powerful today as it was when the Founders first penned it two centuries ago.
"Here's a document that's over 200 years old and only four pages long," says Lee Ann Potter, head of education and volunteer programs at the National Archives. "It set up a government that still works. It's the longest-lasting national constitution in the world. It's remarkable."
Fun Constitution Facts
• The Constitution was written on four pieces of parchment, which is animal skin. The conservators believe the parchment probably came from a cow.
• The Constitution takes roughly half an hour to read.
• Jacob Shallus, an assistant clerk of the Pennsylvania Assembly, was paid $30 to handwrite the original copy of the Constitution that was then signed by the Founders.
• George Washington's signature was the first on the Constitution because he was President of the Constitutional Convention.
• Only 39 of the 55 delegates signed the Constitution. The youngest was 26-year-old Jonathan Dayton. The oldest was Benjamin Franklin, at age 81.
• The delegates included lawyers, soldiers, educators, ministers, doctors, and merchants.
For more information about Constitution Day, visit the National Constitution Center's Web site.
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Karen Fanning is a contributing writer for Scholastic News Online.