The Declaration of Independence’s Many Homes

This July 4th is the United States’ 239th birthday, which got me thinking a little bit about our country’s birth certificate – the Declaration of Independence.

Everyone knows that the Declaration is stored in Washington, D.C. in the National Archives (assuming you’ve all seen National Treasure). It’s on display along with the Constitution and Bill of Rights under maximum security and with the latest preservation techniques.

But it hasn’t always been a part of the Archives, or so well protected. And it certainly hasn’t been all that stationary.

Festivities in front of the National Archives this July 4th. (Photo: HD)
Festivities in front of the National Archives this July 4th. (Photo: HD)

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Freedom’s Eve at the Archives

Tonight most of us in the District will be spending New Year’s Eve celebrating with a watch party to see the ball drop in Times Square.

Sally Fickland, a former slave, views the Emancipation Proclamation in Philadelphia in 1947.
Sally Fickland, a former slave, views the Emancipation Proclamation in Philadelphia in 1947. (Photo: National Archives)

But every December 31st, there’s another type of watch night gathering – one that commemorates the Emancipation Proclamation going into effect on January 1, 1863.

The very first Watch Night was held around the country on New Year’s Eve 1862, by African Americans and abolitionists waiting to hear word that Abraham Lincoln had signed the Proclamation.

The night was dubbed Freedom’s Eve, and witnessed the first major step toward the abolition of slavery in the United States. It also added a new significance to what had been an end-of-year religious tradition for many Protestant churches by creating a new tradition for African American churches.

This New Year’s Eve, in honor of the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, the National Archives is joining the festivities and staying up late.

The Archives will be open until 1 AM with the Emancipation Proclamation on display.

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Presidential Presents

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about Prince Charles’s trip to the District, which included a short visit with President Obama at the White House.

This week Obama was in England returning the favor, and perhaps redeeming himself for some previous missteps in the diplomatic dance of presidential gift-giving.

Obama's second visit with the Queen
The Obamas had a second chance at royal gift-giving (Photo: Chris Jackson/AP)

Obama was criticized for his first gift to the Queen in 2009 – an iPod loaded with music, photos, and video of Her Majesty’s visit to D.C. and Virginia in 2007.

And let’s not even talk about the gift he gave to former Prime Minister Gordon Brown a few months earlier…

This time, his present had much more sentimental and historic significance.

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