Created by the National Exchange Club
to strengthen citizen appreciation
of our American heritage
Presented by the Exchange Club of Stamford
Dedicated June 14, 1979
[ Reproductions of historic American documents are displayed in a granite case behind glass panels. The documents and their descriptions are listed in chronological order. ]
The Mayflower Compact
The Mayflower Compact, first written constitution in America, was signed by 41 colonists, most of the adult male passengers, aboard the Mayflower on November 11, 1620. The signing took place at Cape Cod, the Pilgrim's first landfall in the New World, one month before their historic landing at Plymouth. The Compact was not intended to be a constitution. It was conceived as a temporary covenant for the establishment of a local government which, in the absence of a legal patent, would have, at least, the strength of common consent. The original Mayflower Compact does not exist. Shown is the version given in the "History of the Plymouth Plantation" written over the years 1630 to 1648 by the leader of the Plymouth Colony and its second governor, William Bradford. His original manuscript, a page of which is reproduced above, is now exhibited at the Massachusetts State Library.
The Declaration of Independence
The draft of the Declaration of Independence was reported to the Continental Congress on June 28, 1776. On July 2 debate in it began and two days later, July 4, it was adopted. It was not until July 19 that Congress ordered the Declaration to be engrossed on parchment. It was signed by Members of Congress present on August 2 and later by a few others. The original document, reproduced above, is in the National Archives at Washington.
Washington's Letter to Colonel Nicola
This famous reply to Colonel Lewis Nicola, written May 22, 1782, sharply rebukes the Colonel for his letter suggesting a coup d'etat to make Washington king. Nicola, one of the oldest, wisest and most dignified of Washington's commanders, had boldly put in writing what was secretly being discussed in all ranks of the recently victorious American Army.. Officers and men alike, thoroughly dissatisfied and disgusted with their treatment by Congress, were ripe for such a plot. Had the Commander-in-Chief been susceptible to the blandishments of friends like Nicola, his tremendous popularity, both within the Army and without, probably would have assured a successful revolt and the establishment of a monarchy. Never did the greatness of Washington's character shine more brightly than in this repudiation of the idea. The original letter, reproduced above, is in the Library of Congress.
The Treaty of Paris - 1783
In the Treaty of Paris, concluded on September 3, 1783, Great Britain recognized the independence of the United States. Franklin, Adams, and Jay signed for the United States and Hartley for Great Britain. The original document, the first and signature pages of which are reproduced above, is in the National Archives at Washington.
The Constitution of the United States
The Constitution of the United States is remarkable for many reasons, not the least of which is that its drafters were able to confine to a mere four pages a blueprint for democracy so enduring that to this day it is revered around the world as the fountainhead of human freedom (the first two pages are shown here, the remaining two on an adjacent plaque). It brilliantly lays out a democratic system which prevents any abridgement of freedom by carefully balancing authority between three separate branches of government - the executive, legislative, and judiciary. Not only does the Constitution ingeniously implement the ideals of freedom for which the American Revolution was fought, but by including a provision for adding amendments, it also provides a mechanism for adjusting to the unknown contingencies of the future. Completed on September 17, 1787, the original document is preserved in the National Archives in Washington, D.C.
The Bill of Rights
On September 25, 1789, the Congress proposed twelve articles of amendment to the Constitution of the United States. Except for the first two, they were ratified by the required number of States by December 15, 1791, and thus became the first ten amendments. They have since been known as the Bill of Rights. The enrolled original of the Congressional resolution, which is reproduced above, is in the National Archives at Washington.
The Northwest Ordinance
A milestone in the development of the American way of life, the Northwest Ordinance was passed by the Congress of the Confederation on July 13, 1787. It not only provided for the government of the Northwest Territory and the extension to its inhabitants of such individual liberties as freedom of religion and trial by jury, but it set the pattern for the admission of States to the Union. The official printed text of the Ordinance, signed by Charles Thomson, Jr., Secretary of Congress, which is reproduced above, is in the National Archives at Washington.
Washington's First Inaugural Address
In this brief address, written in his own hand, the first President of the United States speaks modestly of his qualifications for office and states his conviction that "the preservation of the sacred fire of liberty and the destiny of the republican model of government are . . . intrusted to the hands of the American people." The original of this document, the first and signature pages of which are reproduced above, is in the National Archives at Washington.
Washington's Farewell Address - First Draft
This address was Washington's valedictory to the American people. On the occasion of announcing his irrevocable decision to retire from public office and not seek a third term as President, Washington counseled his countrymen of the future conduct of their foreign and domestic affairs. His message has been aptly termed "one of the world's most remarkable documents." No statement by an individual American has for so long exerted such a strong influence on the nation's political thought and the policies of its government. Washington seriously considered retiring at the end of his first term. On May 20, 1792, in anticipation of making public his decision to retire, he wrote his thoughts for a farewell message to James Madison with a request for suggestions. Madison complied, but Washington, deterred from retirement by the persuasion of friends and the pressure of events, put the message aside. As his second term drew toward its close, however, Washington was adamant that he not be considered for a third term, and he deemed it his duty to so inform the electorate. Using Madison's notes he prepared the first draft of his Farewell Address, pages 3, 9, 10 and 19 of which are shown above. This draft he sent to Alexander Hamilton, asking for suggestions and alterations. Hamilton returned an address, based almost entirely on Washington's draft, which the President then sent back with additional suggestions. Hamilton collaborating with John Jay, polished it up, but Washington did not like it as well as Hamilton's first draft which he then asked Hamilton to put in final form. This finalized draft, after slight editing by Washington was sent by him to the editor of the American Daily Advertiser which published it on September 17, 1796. The original of Washington's first draft in his own handwriting, from which the pages above were reproduced, is in the New York State Library.
Jefferson's First Inaugural Address
At his first inauguration, March 4, 1801, the third President of the United States addressed himself to his "Friends & fellow citizens" with a beauty of literary style and clarity of thought which no other chief executive has quite attained. His simple, yet profound exposition of democratic philosophy stands as one of the greatest in any language. The address bears the indelible stamp of Thomas Jefferson's true genius in the art of government and his greatness as a man and patriot. The principles of government expounded by President Jefferson on that memorable occasion have withstood the tests of time and still endure as the credo of those who oppose "big government" and federal encroachment upon states' rights. It is interesting that Jefferson, who professed no formal religion, nonetheless closed his speech with the plea "that Infinite Power which rules the destinies of the universe lead our councils to what is best, and give them a favorable issue for your peace and prosperity." The original manuscript of the address, in Jefferson's handwriting, is in the Library of Congress. Pages 1 and 2 are reproduced above.
"The Star Spangled Banner"
After witnessing the unsuccessful British attack against Fort McHenry on September 13 and 14, 1814, Francis Scott Key wrote "The Star Spangled Banner," which in 1931 was made the National Anthem by Act of Congress. The manuscript, in Key's writing, reproduced above, belongs to the Walters Art Gallery at Baltimore.
The Monroe Doctrine
President James Monroe enunciated the famous Monroe Doctrine in his address to Congress of December 2, 1823. "The American continents, by the free and independent condition which they have assumed and maintained, are henceforth not to be considered as subjects for future colonization by any European powers," and any attempt to interfere with them would be regarded as "the manifestation of an unfriendly disposition towards the United States," he said. The original manuscript from which the reproduction was made is in the National Archives at Washington.
The Gettysburg Address
The reading copy of the Gettysburg Address, in Lincoln's own handwriting, which he held as he delivered the address on November 19, 1863, is reproduced above. The original belongs to the Library of Congress at Washington.
The Emancipation Proclamation
This proclamation, issued January 1, 1863, freed the slaves in the territory in rebellion against the United States. It did not abolish slavery, that required a constitutional amendment. The original proclamation bearing Lincoln's signature and the Seal of the United States, the first and last pages of which are reproduced above, is in the National Archives at Washington.
Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address
Abraham Lincoln delivered this brief (only 700 words) but profoundly moving address at his second inaugural. March 4, 1865. Encouraged by the successes of Northern arms and hopeful that the Confederate armies would soon surrender, Lincoln felt there was no need for an extended address such as he had given four years before. He referred briefly to the situation which had existed at that time and then turned to the issue of slavery as the cause of the civil conflict. "American slavery," he offered, was an offense against God who "gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came." His concluding paragraph, beginning with the famous words, "With malice toward none, with charity for all," gave the address immortality. Within a few weeks, Lincoln was assassinated, but his closing sentences foreshadowed the magnanimity with which he would have treated a defeated South had he lived. Tragically, it fell to less noble, less generous men to "bind up the wounds." Lincoln's handwritten manuscript of the address, reproduced above, is in the Library of Congress.
The Thirteenth Amendment
The Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution abolished slavery throughout the United States. It was adopted on December 18, 1865, when the last of the necessary number of states ratified it. The original amendment in the usual form of a Joint Resolution of Congress, approved February 1, 1865, which is reproduced above, is in the National Archives at Washington.
Robert E. Lee's Letter Accepting the Presidency of Washington College
In a letter of August 24, 1865, to a committee of the Board of Trustees of Washington College, General Lee notified them of his acceptance of the presidency of the college because he thought it "the duty of every citizen in the present condition of the country, to do all in his power to aid in the restoration of peace and harmony." The original letter, from which the above reproduction was made, belongs to Washington and Lee University at Lexington, Va.
Account of the Proceedings of the Susan B. Anthony Trial
Anthony and thirteen other women were indicted Thanksgiving Day, November 28, 1872 in Rochester, N.Y. Fourteen had registered to vote in Anthony's ward on November 1, citing their rights as citizens under the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution. Anthony, her sister Mary, and four other women voted in the presidential election on November 5. For his first criminal case, Judge Ward Hunter penned his decision before hearing the case, discharged the jury, found Anthony guilty of voting illegally and fined her $100, which she never paid. In the long run, this travesty of justice actually stimulated discussion of the rights of citizens to vote and trial by jury and gained supporters for the women's rights movement.
Theodore Roosevelt Letter on Cuba
On January 22, 1907, President Theodore Roosevelt wrote to Secretary of War William Howard Taft rejecting the idea of a protectorate over Cuba and expressing his determination that the United States should withdraw from the Island as promised. The original letter, reproduced above, is in the National Archives at Washington.
Wilson's First Inaugural Address
Thomas Woodrow Wilson, in his first Inaugural Address, March 4, 1913, dedicated his administration to the achievement of a program for social justice, conservation of natural resources, and economic reforms which he had enunciated as the philosophy of the New Freedom during his campaign. His speech has been favorably compared in eloquence with Jefferson's First and Lincoln's Second Inaugural Addresses. Many rank it as one of the truly great testaments of democratic faith. To the country's resurgent forces of political idealism it heralded the dawn of a new and better era of government, and the beginning of a liberalization in the American attitude toward the role of federal government in social and economic areas of national life. Reproduced with the address is Wilson's letter to George Dobbin Brown, transmitting the manuscript of the address to the Princeton University Library where it is now in the Woodrow Wilson Collection. The letter authenticates the document, reproduced above, as Wilson's personally typewritten transcript of his original shorthand notes. The editing is in Wilson's handwriting.
The Nineteenth Amendment
The Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution, giving women the vote, was adopted on August 26, 1920. The original in the form of a Congressional resolution, reproduced above, is in the National Archives at Washington.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt's "Four Freedoms" Address to Congress
When Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivered this famous address to the Congress of the United States on January 6, 1941, America teetered on the precipice of the most destructive and deadly period in the memory of mankind - World War Two. Thus, many historians view this speech as Roosevelt's way of preparing the nation for its impending entry into the Second World War. In it he enunciated what he termed the essential four freedoms which were being threatened with world-wide extinction by "a new order of tyranny" that had already overrun most of Europe and the Far East. He crystallized in words the freedoms which we as a nation stood for, and urged Americans to muster their every resource in a supreme effort to preserve these freedoms. The complete text of President Roosevelt's "Four Freedoms" address can be found in the Exchange Club publication, "The Freedom Shrine Documents." The original copy of the address resides in the National Archives.
Selection of General Eisenhower as Supreme Commander of "Overlord"
The penciled note from President Roosevelt to Marshal Stalin stating that the immediate appointment of General Eisenhower to command the Allied invasion of Western Europe - "Overlord" - had been decided upon is reproduced above. It is written by General George C. Marshall and signed by President Roosevelt, and it bears a note of explanation and gift from General Marshall to General Eisenhower.
McAuliffe's Christmas Message - 1944
The encouraging Christmas message that Brigadier General Anthony C. McAuliffe sent to the 101st Airborne Division, surrounded by German units at Bastogne, Belgium, contains his famous reply "Nuts" to the German demand for surrender. The original, reproduced above, belongs to Major General McAuliffe.
The German Instrument of Surrender - World War II
The Nazis, who launched World War II in 1939, were forced to surrender in the spring of 1945. It was nearly 3 a.m., 0241 hours, on May 7 at Rheims when the unconditional surrender of "all forces on land, sea, and air" under German control was signed. It provided that military operations were to cease an May 8. The original document, from which the above reproduction was made, is in the National Archives at Washington.
Instrument of Surrender in the Pacific - World War II
On September 2, 1945, aboard the U.S.S. Missouri in Tokyo Bay, the Japanese surrendered unconditionally, bringing hostilities in World War II to an end. The original instrument of surrender, from which the above reproduction was made, is in the National Archives at Washington.
John F. Kennedy's Inaugural Address
John F. Kennedy, at 43, was not only the youngest American President ever elected, but was also the first 20th century president to be actually born in that century. Thus, his inaugural address in 1961 was viewed by many as heralding the new thinking and spirit of 20th century America - or as his domestic policy came to be known, the "New Frontier." Best remembered for its admonition to all Americans to "ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country," the speech also called out to the entire world to "Ask not what America will do for you, ask what together we can do for the freedom of man." As these concluding pages of Kennedy's reading copy show, these famous words were spoken near the end of his speech. John F. Kennedy's presidency was ended tragically in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963 by an assassin's bullet. The complete text of President Kennedy's inaugural address can be found in the Exchange Club publication, "The Freedom Shrine Documents." The original copy of the address resides in the National Archives.
Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I have a Dream" Speech
Martin Luther King Jr.'s speech, delivered on August 28, 1963, was not a logical legal brief on the specifics of the civil rights bill, nor an intellectual treatise on the plight of the oppressed. It was a fervent, emotional sermon, forged out of the language and spirit of democracy. King's mastery of the spoken word, his magnetism and his sincerity raised familiar platitudes from clich? to commandment.