Good morning. I am John Carlin, the Archivist of the United States, and it is my pleasure to welcome you to the National Archives for this very special event.
Would you please rise for the singing of our National Anthem by Mr. Duane Moody.
Before we go any further, I would like to acknowledge the students and teachers who are here today from the Lab School in Washington, DC.
These students made The People’s Vote part of their classroom activities, and we are very glad to have them here for the announcement of the results of the vote.
The People’s Vote is truly a unique initiative.
No other project has invited Americans from all walks of life, all across the country, to voice their opinion on documents that have shaped our history, culture, and society today.
Not only did the People’s Vote challenge voters to really think and learn about these 100 milestone documents, but it encouraged enthusiastic debate in homes, classrooms, workplaces, and online.
We are very grateful for the support of our partners U.S. News and World Report and National History Day.
U.S. News created the People’s Vote web site; tabulated both online and paper ballots; and featured the vote in their magazine – among many other contributions.
And National History Day was instrumental in working with teachers to bring the Vote into classrooms around the U.S. I want to extend my thanks to everyone associated with this project.
Overall, nearly forty thousand people cast more than three hundred thousand votes for the documents they believe have most influenced America.
Some of these records are well known, like the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, or Bill of Rights, but some played a lesser known role in history like the Morrill Act, which enabled new western states to establish colleges for its citizens, opening educational opportunities to thousands of people and the Keating-Owens Child Labor Act that limited the working hours of children and forbade interstate sale of goods produced by child labor.
Statistics give some very interesting insight into this project.
This was truly a diverse national initiative, as people from all geographic regions and age groups participated. More votes came from the midwest than any other region, followed by the northeast.
Almost 27 thousand votes were cast online, while approximately twelve thousand people voted by paper ballot.
And interestingly, almost twice as many males voted as females.
About 15 thousand of the voters were over 50 years old, and the next largest age group of participants was people between 18 and 34 years old. There were about eight thousand voters in this group.
But there is much more to the People’s Vote than statistics.
In addition to voting for the 100 milestone documents, participants were invited to write-in their own choices on the paper ballots. To align with national history standards and ensure historical perspective, our list stopped in 1965 so many of the write-ins were post-1965 records.
Some of the more popular write-in documents were President Ronald Reagan’s speech that implored “Mr. Gorbachav, tear down this wall;” the Medicare Act; the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade; and President George W. Bush’s speech in the wake of the September 11th attacks.
I was also struck by how personal the choices of some voters were – how they demonstrate the power of these records and their impact on individuals, as well as on our country as a whole.
For example, at a Town Hall Meeting we hosted, a D-Day veteran spoke frankly about how scared he was on the approach to the Normandy beach and how he wondered whether the battle was worth dying for.
Then he described how he and his fellow soldiers were later handed a copy of Eisenhower’s Order of the Day.
He said, and I quote, “It ennobled every one of us. It made us all realize why we were there.” Unquote.
Our goal in holding the People’s Vote was not only to make Americans more aware of some of the milestone documents that have influenced our nation and defined our people, but also to increase their interest in all the records held here at the National Archives.
I believe we have done that and more.
In just a few moments I will announce the ten documents that garnered the most votes. But first, I would like to introduce to you the Editor of U.S. News and World Report, Mr. Brian Duffy.
When we first pitched the idea of The People’s Vote to Brian, he was enthusiastic. In fact, he was sharing his ideas and plans before we even had the chance to finish our presentation. And throughout this project, Brian’s support has been invaluable.
Ladies and Gentlemen, please join me in welcoming Mr. Brian Duffy.
Now, it is my honor to introduce two special guests who will help me announce the top ten documents by reading key passages from the records themselves.
First, it is my pleasure to present a man who, despite a relatively short tenure, in the United States Congress has emerged as a leader in his party and in the Congressional Black Caucus. His advocacy for civil rights has been matched with an advocacy for economic growth and jobs.
During a tour of our Chicago Regional Archives several years ago, we were also pleased to learn of this Congressman’s interest and expertise in the American Civil War.
It is my honor to present the Congressman from the 2nd District of Illinois, the Honorable Jesse Jackson, Jr.
I also am very pleased to introduce our second guest, who will most likely be familiar to you as an award-winning journalist, political expert, and best-selling author.
She is a senior news analyst for National Public Radio, and a political commentator for ABC News where she covers Congress, politics, and public policy.
We are also privileged to have her as a member of the Foundation for the National Archives Board of Trustees, where she has graciously given her talents in support of the National Archives Experience.
Ladies and Gentlemen, it is my honor to present Ms. Cokie Roberts.
10. Social Security Act
(Read by Ms. Roberts) An Act to provide for the general welfare by establishing a system of Federal old-age benefits, and by enabling the several States to make more adequate provision for aged persons, blind persons, dependent and crippled children, maternal and child welfare, public health, and the administration of their unemployment compensation laws; to establish a Social Security Board; to raise revenue; and for other purposes.
(Comment by the Archivist) The document that ranked number ten received votes from 20.9 percent of voters -- The Social Security Act.
On August 14, 1935, the Social Security Act established a system of old-age benefits for workers, benefits for victims of industrial accidents, unemployment insurance, aid for dependent mothers and children, the blind, and the physically handicapped.
9. Civil Rights Act
(Read by Mr. Jackson) An act to enforce the constitutional right to vote, to confer jurisdiction upon the district courts of the United States to provide injunctive relief against discrimination in public accommodations, to authorize the Attorney General to institute suits to protect constitutional rights in public facilities and public education, to extend the Commission on Civil Rights, to prevent discrimination in federally assisted programs, to establish a Commission on Equal Employment Opportunity, and for other purposes.
(Comment by the Archivist) 25.2 percent of voters chose the record that came in ninth -- the Civil Rights Act.
Signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson on July 2, 1964, this act prohibited discrimination in public places, provided for the integration of schools and other public facilities, and made employment discrimination illegal.
This document was the most sweeping civil rights legislation since Reconstruction.
8. Gettysburg Address
(Read by Ms. Roberts) Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that "all men are created equal
(Comment by the Archivist) In eighth place, with votes from 25.4 percent of participants is the Gettysburg Address.
Speaking of a, quote, "new birth of freedom," President Lincoln delivered one of the most memorable speeches in U.S. history in November 1863 at the dedication of the cemetery for the soldiers of the most famous battle of the Civil War.
7. 13th Amendment to the Constitution
(Read by Mr. Jackson) Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
(Comment by the Archivist) The document that ranked number seven, with votes from 30.1 percent of participants is the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.
Passed by Congress on January 31, 1865, and ratified on December 6, 1865, the 13th Amendment abolished slavery in the United States.
6. 19th Amendment to the Constitution
(Read by Ms. Roberts) "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.
(Comment by the Archivist) In sixth place, with votes from 31.4 percent of participants is the 19th Amendment to the Constitution.
Passed by Congress June 4, 1919, and ratified on August 18, 1920, the 19th amendment granted women the right to vote.
5. Emancipation Proclamation
(Read by Mr. Jackson) And by virtue of the power, and for the purpose aforesaid, I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said designated States, and parts of States, are, and henceforward shall be free; and that the Executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authorities thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of said persons.
(Comment by the Archivist) 33.5 percent of the voters chose the fifth place record -- The Emancipation Proclamation.
President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, thereby including the abolishment of slavery as a war aim of the Union.
4. The Louisiana Purchase Treaty
(Read by Ms. Roberts) The First Consul of the French Republic desiring to give to the United States a strong proof of his friendship doth hereby cede to the United States in the name of the French Republic for ever and in full Sovereignty the said territory with all its rights and appurtenances as fully and in the Same manner as they have been acquired by the French Republic in virtue of the above mentioned Treaty concluded with his Catholic Majesty.
(Comment by the Archivist) Coming in at number four, the Louisiana Purchase Treaty received votes from 34.3 percent of participants.
In this transaction with France, signed on April 30, 1803, the United States purchased 828,000 square miles of land west of the Mississippi River for $15 million.
For roughly four cents an acre, the United States doubled its size, expanding the nation westward.
3. Bill of Rights
(Read by Mr. Jackson) Article the third... Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
(Comment by the Archivist) Garnering votes from 67.9 percent of participants, the Bill of Rights was picked as the third most influential document.
Although 12 amendments were originally proposed, the 10 that were ratified became the Bill of Rights in 1791. They defined citizens' rights in relation to the newly established government under the Constitution.
2. Constitution of the United States
(Read by Ms. Roberts) We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
(Comment by the Archivist) As I’m sure you’ve guessed from that quote, in second place is the Constitution of the United States.
69.3 percent of participants cast a vote for this four-page document that established the Government of the United States.
The Constitution was drafted in secret by delegates to the Constitutional Convention during the summer of 1787, and signed on September 17, 1787.
1. Declaration of the United States
(Read by Mr. Jackson) We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.
(Comment by the Archivist) I hope you all recognize that quotation from the document that received votes from more people than any other – The Declaration of Independence.
75.9 percent – more than three-quarters of the voters named this document as one of the most influential in American history.
The Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. It was engrossed on parchment and on August 2, 1776, the delegates began signing it.
Ladies and Gentlemen – there you have it. The ten most influential documents in the history of the United States, as selected by the people of the United States.
What is very apparent here is that we Americans hold our rights and freedoms -- and the documents that proclaim and protect them -- in very high regard, for the majority of these documents deal with individual liberties and the right to vote.
All but one of these original records are on display here today. The Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights – collectively known as the Charters of Freedom – are here in the Rotunda, as is the Louisiana Purchase, and the Thirteenth Amendment.
The original Emancipation Proclamation will be on special exhibit for one day only on January 19th. Today we have a facsimile on display.
The other top ten documents are on display today in our special exhibition gallery, along with some of the other records that received a lot of votes – The Monroe Doctrine, the Supreme Court decision in Brown versus the Board of Education, and the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.
The Articles of Confederation and Marbury versus Madison garnered quite a few votes as well, and they are on exhibit here in the cases surrounding the Charters of Freedom.
And I am very pleased to announce that the Library of Congress has been kind enough to let us display-- today only--the original Gettysburg Address, which is part of their collection.
I am very grateful to Dr. Jim Billington, the Librarian of Congress, and to Dr. Deanna Marcum for lending us this important document.
Now, I would like to introduce to you Dr. Cathy Gorn, the Executive Director of National History Day, one of the co-sponsors of The People’s Vote.
National History Day is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the teaching and learning of history in elementary and secondary schools so that students become better prepared, knowledgeable citizens.
The People’s Vote is actually the second phase of an initiative we started in 2002 called Our Documents, and National History Day has been a key partner in this larger project.
Please join me in welcoming Dr. Cathy Gorn.
[Read the remarks of Dr. Cathy Gorn, Executive Director of National History Day]
Thank you for joining us for this special ceremony to unveil the People’s Vote for the most influential documents in American history. I hope you will stay and view these historic records for yourself.
Before you leave, please join me in a round of applause to thank our partners
at U.S. News and World Report and National History Day, and our special guests
Cokie Roberts and Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr.