Presidential Visits to the National Archives Building: 21st Century

This two-part exhibit explores Presidential trips down Pennsylvania Avenue to the National Archives Building.

National Archives Rotunda rededication ceremony (2003-09-17) by National Archives and Records AdministrationU.S. National Archives

Rededicating the National Archives Rotunda

The first President to visit the National Archives Building in the 21st Century was George W. Bush. On September 17, 2003, he attended the rededication ceremony for the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights. 

President George W. Bush speaking at the Rotunda rededication ceremony (2003-09-17) by National Archives and Records AdministrationU.S. National Archives

President Bush reflected on scientific progress since the documents were first enshrined in the National Archives Building: "In our day, preservation has become an even higher art, through the skill of conservators like those who accepted this very demanding assignment."

The documents had been transferred on July 5, 2001, from the Rotunda to a special laboratory at the National Archives at College Park, where for the first time since 1952, conservators removed the documents from their encasements.

President George W. Bush and the First Lady Laura Bush at the Rotunda rededication (2003-09-17) by Records of the National Archives and Records AdministrationU.S. National Archives

After treatment, the documents were re-encased and returned to the National Archives Building, where they were unveiled by members of the U.S. military as the President and First Lady looked on.

President George W. Bush and the First Lady Laura Bush touring the National Archives Building (2005-01-19) by National Archives and Records AdministrationU.S. National Archives

President George W. Bush Marks Second Inauguration with Tour

President Bush's second trip to the National Archives was on January 19, 2005, the day before his second inauguration. He and First Lady Laura Bush toured the exhibits with Archivist John Carlin. They examined George Washington’s Bible and first inaugural address.

President George W. Bush viewing the Emancipation Proclamation (2006-01-16) by National Archives and Records AdministrationU.S. National Archives

President George W. Bush Marks MLK Day

Bush’s third visit was to honor Martin Luther King Jr. Day on January 16, 2006. Archivist of the United States Allen Weinstein showed the President the Emancipation Proclamation, which the National Archives placed on special exhibit to mark the holiday.

President Barack Obama delivers an address on national security at the National Archives Building (2009-05-21) by National Archives and Records AdministrationU.S. National Archives

The National Archives Sets the Stage for National Security

As President, Barack Obama came to the National Archives twice. On May 21, 2009, President Obama delivered a speech to an audience that included top members of his cabinet. The topic of the event: America’s national security.

Obama’s choice of location was highly symbolic. A core function of the National Archives is to ensure government records are freely accessible to the public, which enables the American people to hold their government accountable. At the time of Obama’s visit, concerns about the tension between government transparency and security were at the forefront of the national consciousness amid public awareness of U.S. personnel's use of "enhanced interrogation techniques" on suspected terrorists.

President Obama delivers an address on national security at the National Archives Building (2009-05-21) by National Archives and Records AdministrationU.S. National Archives

President Obama strategically featured the founding documents in the background of his address (however, the original documents were swapped with facsimiles to protect them from the intense lighting that was set up for the event).

President Obama before his address on National Security at the National Archives Building (2009-05-21) by National Archives and Records AdministrationU.S. National Archives

In his speech, the President assured the nation that his administration was resolved to “enlist the power of our most fundamental values” to develop a national security framework that protects the American people.

President Obama speaking at a naturalization ceremony in the National Archives Building (2015-12-15) by National Archives and Records AdministrationU.S. National Archives

The National Archives Welcomes New American Citizens

President Obama’s second visit was on December 15, 2015, Bill of Rights Day, when he delivered remarks in the Rotunda at a naturalization ceremony of 31 new U.S. citizens.

New American citizens celebrate at a naturalization ceremony at the National Archives Building (2015-12-15) by National Archives and Records AdministrationU.S. National Archives

President Obama declared: "We are born of immigrants. That is who we are. Immigration is our origin story. And for more than two centuries, it’s remained at the core of our national character; it’s our oldest tradition. It’s who we are. It’s part of what makes us exceptional.”

President Biden addressing the Truman Civil Rights Symposium at the National Archives Building (2023-07-27) by National Archives and Records AdministrationU.S. National Archives

Our Most Recent Presidential Visitors

More recent visits include President Donald Trump in 2020 for a conference to announce a new executive initiative and President Joe Biden in 2023 to honor the 75th anniversary of President Truman’s executive orders desegregating the U.S. Armed Forces and federal workforce.

For nearly 100 years, Presidents have visited the National Archives Building. As the steward of the country’s records, the National Archives Building offers a symbolic site for Presidents to link the nation’s historical legacy with their administration's vision.  

Credits: Story

Curator: Alyssa Moore
Project Manager: Jessie Kratz
Editor: Mary Ryan
Researcher: Kirsten Dillon 

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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