From first being rolled up and toted around, to a water spill, to being secured in a titanium argon gas filled vault, the preservation of the actual document of the Declaration of Independence has a history all its own. Its lack of proper preservation for its first 175 years parallels the breakdown of liberties our nation has experienced in its last 100 years, and the need for each of us to do our part to preserve our freedom and liberties.
To begin, I’ll cover several events leading up to the Declaration of the Independence, and then detail some of the history of the preservation of the document itself. Following this history I’ll share a few thoughts on what I believe we need to do as individuals and as a nation to preserve our God-given Independence.
In 1775 the colonies were increasingly united with the formation of the Continental Army, a continental currency, and a post office for the “United Colonies”.
On April 6, 1776 the ports were opened for commerce with other nations, severing more economic ties with Britain.
On May 15, 1776, the Virginia Convention passed a resolution that “the delegates appointed to represent this colony in General Congress be instructed to propose to that respectable body to declare the United Colonies free and independent states.”
Just one month prior to the signing of the Declaration, the Continental Congress met in what became Independence Hall on June 7, 1776 and Richard Henry Lee read aloud his resolution:
“Resolved: That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.”
Although a few delegates still hoped for reconciliation and a three week recess was voted on, a committee of five was appointed to draft a document proposing to the colonies the case for independence. This committee included John Adams, Roger Sherman, Benjamin Franklin, Robert R. Livingston, and Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson alone drew up the declaration, and with some corrections from Adams and Franklin, reported it to the committee and then to Congress. A few revisions and deletions were made from July 1st and into the late morning of July 4th, and then Church bells rang out declaring the adoption of the Declaration of Independence.
For 127 years since it was signed there were no efforts to preserve the document, being rolled up and toted around during the Revolutionary war. In 1823 when a copy was being made, water was carelessly spilled onto the document. It was then tacked up on the wall at the US Patent Office for 40 years where it was exposed to sunlight through a window. The first suggestion that some care should be given to the preservation of the document came in 1903 when it was kept away from the sunlight and moisture, which being parchment turned out to be a bad idea as moisture kept it from cracking.
Finally in 1951, 175 years after being adopted and signed, the document was sealed in a bronze sealed bullet proof case at the National Archives in Washington DC. Humidified helium was used to replace oxygen for better preservation and the glass was filtered to reduce light exposure.
After further inspection with preservation monitoring technology from the Hubble space telescope, in 2003 the document was enclosed in a titanium case filled with inert argon gas and lowered 22 feet into a vault after viewing hours.
Preserving Our Independence and Liberties
It’s no secret our liberties have slowly deteriorated over time. The cause of this erosion of liberty is sourced in any departure from the Constitution and the principles of our Founding Fathers. Certainly the expansion of government from the progressive era (Woodrow Wilson, Teddy Roosevelt) departs from the foundational principle of small government. The Founding Fathers knew of the importance of morality and religion:
“We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion . . . Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” (John Adams)
Which leads us also to capitalism, that so many unfortunately are blinded by the world’s tainted view, when in fact capitalism is what makes America the land of innovation and opportunity. Take away capitalism and you take away the American dream.
So what can we do? Besides the typical answer of vote and get involved in politics, here are some steps that I am taking to preserve our Independence and liberties:
1) Learn and appreciate American history, know the Founding Fathers, and understand the Constitution. Read the 5000 Year Leap by Cleon Skousen, it will open your eyes.
2) Actively blog, tweet, facebook, and G+ about your love for your country, the founding fathers, the constitution, capitalism, and your political findings. Yes politics can be divisive, but if done right it can help to open others’ eyes to perspectives they don’t get from their source of news.
3) Teach your kids to love America, love the Constitution, love the Founding Fathers, and to love Capitalism. Just today I found an incredible series on the history of America called “Liberty’s Kids”, and most episodes are freely available on YouTube (first episode here), or you can order the DVD set. For the capitalism part, I talk openly about how money makes the world go ’round, and how America has enabled so much innovation because of our freedom, and that is because of capitalism.
We must put forth great effort and expend our own resources to preserve our own liberties, much like the incredible lengths we take to preserve this historical document. It is our sacred duty to preserve our Independence.