In 1952, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution moved from the Library of Congress to the National Archives. This transfer was the culmination of decades of work and was celebrated with a parade and a speech by President Harry S. Truman. It reunited the Charters of Freedom and allowed the public view to all three documents at once. Today the documents are protected by special cases in the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom, where they receive a million visitors a year.
Memo on the Negotiations for the Transfer of the Charters, 1952
In 1952, Librarian of Congress Luther Evans and Archivist of the United States Wayne Grover took charge of coordinating the transfer of the documents to the National Archives.
Both men strongly believed that the Constitution and Declaration belonged in the care of the National Archives. The two men's legendary cooperation ended decades of debate over the proper home of the documents.
President Hoover with the Inscribed Cornerstone of the National Archives, 1933
At the National Archives cornerstone laying ceremony, on February 20, 1933, President Herbert Hoover announced, "There will be aggregated here the most sacred documents of our history--the originals of the Declaration of Independence and of the Constitution of the United States."
Construction of the Mosler Vault, 1952
In April 1952, Congress ordered the Library to turn the documents over to the National Archives. As part of the preparations for the arrival of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, the National Archives commissioned a vault from the Mosler Safe Company.
Construction of the Mosler Vault, 1952
At that time, roughly 70 percent of U.S. banks had Mosler safes and vaults. This vault had to be built to protect the Charters of Freedom from fire, earthquakes, and bombs.
Made of steel and reinforced concrete, the 50-ton vault held the documents at night (including the two middle pages of the Constitution that were not on display at the time).
Scale Model of the Mosler Vault, 1954
This scale model of the vault bore an inscription that read:
Scale model of vault mechanism that safeguards the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.
When this red light is on, the mechanism to drive this Model is functioning and will operate automatically at half-hour intervals beginning at 9 A.M.
The original documents are on display in the Exhibition Hall.
--Gift of Mosler Safe Company
Removing the Declaration of Independence from the Library of Congress,1952
While the National Archives prepared the exhibition space, the Library of Congress was getting ready to transport the documents to the National Archives. They had to exercise utmost care to both preserve the documents and protect them from those who would do them harm.
Parade to the National Archives, 1952
On the journey down Constitution and Pennsylvania Avenues to the National Archives, the charter documents were accompanied by a color guard, ceremonial troops, Army Band, Air Force drum and bugle corps, two light tanks, four servicewomen carrying submachine guns, and a motorcycle escort.
Entering the Rotunda, 1952
The contingent moved through the large bronze doors and into the Exhibition Hall. Following renovations in 2003, the doors are now only used for special occasions. At the time, however, the doors perfectly captured the grandeur of the moment: the Charters of Freedom were to be together once more.
Truman Addresses the Crowd, 1952
At the unveiling ceremony, several speakers addressed the audience on the momentous occasion.
"...on this Bill of Rights Day to do honor to the three great documents which together constitute the charter of our form of government. The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights are now assembled in one place for display and safety. Here, so far as is humanly possible, they will be protected from the ravages of time."
National Archives Rotunda today
A lot has changed in the last 50 years. The Mosler Safe no longer protects the Charters. The Declaration of Independence does not sit in a vertical case above the Constitution and Bill of Rights. Even the lighting has been changed to further preserve the documents. What has not changed, however, is the National Archives’ commitment to safeguarding the Charters of Freedoms so visitors from around the world can see our government’s founding documents.
Curator: Sanjana Barr, National Archives, Washington, DC
Curator: Sarah Basilion, National Archives, Washington, DC
Curator: Kaitlin Errickson, National Archives, Washington, DC
Project Manager: Jessie Kratz, National Archives, Washington, DC
Editor: Mary Ryan, National Archives, Washington, DC
Special thanks to:
Meredith Doviak, National Archives, College Park, MD
Jeff Reed, National Archives, Washington, DC
Bill Wade, National Archives, College Park, MD