I missed the bus, so walked the 20-minute trek to the National Archives on Thursday morning. Arriving just before the building opened, and with a timed entry ticket, I joined the queue, in direct sunlight on the hottest day of the year.
I was maybe the 20th or 25th person in the doors, and after security screening I took the elevator up to the rotunda to see the founding documents of this republic.
Aside from a small tour group that came in a separate entrance, I was the first person in the hushed hall. That meant that I was the first person today to approach the artifacts that frame the beginnings of these United States. The effect was truly reverential.
I spent time deciphering the names of the signatures on the Constitution. How incredible to see George Washington and Alexander Hamilton and James Madison and Benjamin Franklin and so many others all sign in the same document.
I blinked back tears of amazement and wonder.
I also peevishly pondered how much longer this document can endure and what the founders would think of the current slavish, unyielding devotion by some to what I view as a living document.
Rep. Barbara Jordan’s 1974 speech reminds us that the Constitution is a living document:
The current Supreme Court bent toward “Originalism” would have Barbara Jordan still be enslaved, if the Justices take their reasoning to its logical end.
But for today, I view that original four pages of our Constitution, and the single parchment sheet of the Bill of Rights, and I am transfixed in awe and wonder.
The Declaration of Independence is now so faded that it’s almost impossible to read, but one can still make out the boldface letters “free and independent states.”
On the ground floor of the Archives is the Rubenstein Gallery. As you enter the darkened gallery, on display is a late 13th-century edition of the Magna Carta — one of four authorized copies dating from the end of the century in which King John signed it.
The Record of Rights exhibit in that gallery is well-presented. I noticed that it was holding well the attention even of teenagers.
My legs are talking to me, telling me that I’m walking more than usual. Much more! So I’m trying to listen to them and not end up lame before the end my holiday. I ditched some of my afternoon plans and instead walked the long block to the National Gallery of Art. (And still walked nearly four miles on Thursday.)
What I intended as a one-hour visit turned into two. And Florentine art of the Renaissance. And American furniture of the 18th century. And photography by Robert Adams. And several incredible pickle stands!