Once a vision for the United States of America, crafted by our founding fathers, the Declaration of Independence is preserved as living proof of our history at the National Archives and Records Administration. Join a group of middle schoolers on a tour of Washington, D.C. as they learn about this document and others and what it means to be "We the People." The "We the People" videos are produced in collaboration with the U.S. Capitol Historical Society.
We the People – The National Archives
Student #1: We hold these truths to be self-evident…
Student #2: …that all men are created equal…
Student #3: …that they are endowed by their Creator...
KRISTEN WELKER, NBC News:
These words tell the story of our country's founding, declaring America's independence from Great Britain, and shaping our rights as citizens. Once a vision for the United States of America, crafted by our founding fathers, these words are now preserved as living proof of our history here at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. Today, we join a group of middle schoolers as they visit some of our nation's most important documents that define what it means to be "We the People."
CRISTIANA HANSON (National Archives): So the National Archives is the nation's record keeper. Anything created for or by the federal government comes to us eventually, and we are in charge of preserving it and making it accessible to the general public.
PETE WILLIAMS, NBC News: The federal government that once waged a fierce battle to keep the Pentagon Papers secret, today made them public in neatly catalogued boxes at the National Archives.
WELKER: Congress established the National Archives and Records Administration in 1934 with the important job of caring for the records of the U.S. government.
HANSON: Congress made laws that said that we have to preserve federal records so citizens like you guys can come and examine them. So we are an executive branch division, our agency is, because we're carrying that out, we're preserving the records like Congress told them too.
WELKER: In our democracy, records belong to the people. These documents help us as citizens to claim our rights, hold elected officials accountable, and preserve our history as a country.
HANSON: The most popular documents for anyone coming to visit Washington, D.C. for us are the Declaration, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
Okay, guys what you are looking at is the original Declaration of Independence. The actual real thing.
Student: It's so faded.
HANSON: It is really faded.
Student: You can barely even see the letters.
HANSON: That's true. Can anybody see a date on it?
Student: July 4th, 1776.
HANSON: Very good. 1776.
The Declaration of Independence is, well we summarize it with the kids as saying it's like the breakup letter with Great Britain. But it's the most epic breakup letter that you'll ever encounter because it outlines here is our philosophy for government, and here are our list of grievances saying you're not living up to this.
Rep. VIRGINIA FOXX (R-NC): The Declaration of Independence laid the groundwork for the Revolution and laid the groundwork for our Constitution and the rest of the way our government has functioned.
HANSON: Who were we declaring our independence from?
HANSON: Very good! Why?
Students: Because they were taxing us and stuff.
HANSON: Yeah, we're being taxed. Did we have a say in the government, saying, hey, we don't wat to be taxed that much, we want to have a voice in our own government?
Rep. FOXX: So, we declared our freedom from England. And those 56 men who put their names on that document were risking their lives. And they knew it.
You know, the term, "put your John Hancock here," has taken on a meaning of, "put your signature here." well, King George III had very, very poor eyesight. And so John Hancock said, "I want to make sure he can read my name." It was the supreme act of defiance.
WELKER: The Declaration of Independence paved the way for the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and many other important documents that weave together our history as a country.
Sen. LISA MURKOWSKI (R-AK): I think it's important that young people know and understand our founding documents, the principles upon which our nation was founded.
Rep. COLIN ALLRED (D-TX): Government is not them, it's us. It's made up of us. It's your democracy, it's your government. You have to be involved.
WELKER: While the words on the documents are faded by time, they continue to inspire a nation of “We the People.”
Sen. JEANNE SHAHEEN (D-NH): We hold these truths to be self-evident...
Speaker NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): Remembering the guidance of our founders, E. Pluribus Unum, from many, one.
MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR: ...that all men are created equal...
Speaker PELOSI: They didn't know how many we would become, or how different we'd be from each other, but they knew we had to strive for oneness.
Sen. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ): ...that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights...
Speaker PELOSI: To remember always, that despite our differences, we are one country, indivisible, one nation, under God.
BARACK OBAMA, State Senator (D-IL): …that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
The moment had finally come. Far too much bad blood existed between the colonial leaders and the crown to consider a return to the past. More and more colonists felt deprived by the British not only of their money and their civil liberties, but their lives as well. Bloodshed had begun over a year ago and there seemed little chance of a ceasefire. The radical wing of the Continental Congress was gaining strength with each passing day. It was time for a formal break with mother England. It was time to declare independence.
On June 7, 1776, Richard Henry Lee introduced a resolution to the Congress that declared the thirteen colonies "free and independent states."
National Archives and Records Administration, Declaration of Independence, Revolutionary War, War of Independence, American Revolution, Founding Fathers, Democracy, Government, Constitution, Documents, Separation of Powers, Christiana Hanson, Virginia Foxx, Representative, Lisa Murkowski, Senator, Colin Allred, Bill of Rights, Students, John Hancock, Continental Congress, E Pluribus Unum, Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House, Founding Documents