Revision at the National Archives

Last weekend, aside from researching my new book in Washington, D.C. I got to visit someplace I’ve always wanted to go.

The National Archives is home to the Charters of Freedom exhibit, including the original Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights.  They were breathtaking, but it was this document set off to the side, rather than one of the "big three" that  captured my imagination the most.

This is a rough draft of the Constitution.  In 1787, they printed up one of these for each delegate to the Constitutional Convention, and each man marked up his copy with revisions & suggestions.  This one is believed to have belonged to David Brearly of New Jersey, and you can see how he changed phrases, crossed out parts he didn’t like, and added lines here and there.

Now imagine 55 of these marked-up documents in the same room, along with all the folks who did the adding and the crossing out, arguing for their ideas…

I would have loved to see each delegate’s revised version side by side with the final draft, to see whose ideas were included, whose were ignored, and how the compromises happened.  And while I’m wishing… oh, what I wouldn’t give to go back in time and listen at an open window of Independence Hall in Philadelphia, even for a moment.  It must have been an amazing, amazing process.

5 Replies on “Revision at the National Archives

  1. Wow, how incredibly amazing! As a person from another country and able to look at this from a completely scholarly view, so to speak, I get a little shiver. This is after all, a wonderful document and so evocative.

    As someone who get’s their revisions by email, the actual written document seems so much more “real” or personalized due to the hand written notes. How will future generations look at revisions and notes when they are only in font?

  2. I wish I could say something intelligent.. but all I can say is: that is so cool!

    and, yes, we’re not asking to time travel for long, just those few minutes….

  3. Oh my goodness! Since I’ve seen 8 of the same copyedited manuscript, I can imagine the headaches, but with the discussion involved in reconciling all the points of view. Oh my! No wonder the Constitutional Congress went on. Democracy is indeed a wondrous thing!