Saturday, July 24, 2010

Travels of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution

On December 26, 1941, America's most important documents, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, were transported under armed escort from the Library of Congress in special containers to Union Station in Washington, D. C.. They were then loaded onto a west bound Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Pullman sleeper and were escorted on their journey by Secret Service agents and Chief Assistant Librarian of Congress Verner W. Clapp. At 10:30 a.m. on the morning of December 27, the documents and their escorts were met at the train station by more agents and Army troops and were taken in an Army truck to the Bullion Depository at Fort Knox, Kentucky. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution remained at Fort Knox until the Fall of 1944 when they were returned to the Library of Congress. All of this took place, of course, in the context of World War II. The two documents had taken an earlier trip on September 30, 1921 from the Department of State to the Library of Congress. That trip took place in the Library's Model-T Ford truck which was driven by Librarian of Congress Herbert Putnam. On February 28, 1924 after a dedication that included President and Mrs. Coolidge, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution went on display in a specially designed case referred to as a "sort of shrine". The shrine is shown in the postcard above. In a final journey on December 13, 1952, the two documents were transferred to the National Archives, where they reside today, accompanied by tanks, motorcycles, military bands, color guard, and servicemen brandishing submachine guns. This interesting story was found in the Encyclopedia of the Library of Congress (Library of Congress, 2004) edited by John Y. Cole and Jane Aikin.

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