In the month of September, we recognize milestones of both the U.S. Constitution and the Emancipation Proclamation. On September 17, 1787—225 years ago—the Constitutional Convention delegates met in Philadelphia, PA, to adopt the final version of the United States Constitution.
The National Archives, where the document is on permanent display, has created a special home page in honor of Constitution Day. You may also want to watch an “Inside the Vaults” YouTube video with Trevor Plante, Chief of Reference at the National Archives, to get a glimpse of the final printed copy of the Constitution and also of a few of his favorite related, but rarely-displayed, documents such as:
• The original text of the “Virginia Plan,” Edmund Randolph’s proposal for a national government that included three co-equal branches: “supreme legislative, judiciary and executive”;
• A printed copy of the Constitution with George Washington’s handwritten annotations;
• The state of Pennsylvania’s ratification copy of the Constitution — unlike the four-page version of the Constitution on display at the National Archives in Washington, DC, the entire text is on one enormous sheet of parchment so it could be more easily transported.
On September 22, 1862—150 years ago—Abraham Lincoln wrote his Proclamation of Emancipation which he said was to be enacted the first day of January 1863. The proclamation declared “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “shall be then, thence forward, and forever free.”
The Archives notes that although the Emancipation Proclamation did not end slavery in the nation, it captured the hearts and imagination of millions of Americans and fundamentally transformed the character of the war. After January 1, 1863, every advance of federal troops expanded the domain of freedom. Moreover, the Proclamation announced the acceptance of black men into the Union Army and Navy, enabling the liberated to become liberators. By the end of the war, almost 200,000 black soldiers and sailors had fought for the Union and freedom.
In his September 7 article about the Proclamation Washington Post, reporter Philip Kennicott noted: “today it seems strange that we celebrate the proclamation at all, except as a precursor to the far more sweeping and triumphant accomplishment of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which two years later banned slavery everywhere in the country, without qualifications or geographical exceptions. And yet this document of war remains a sacred document of democracy, testament to the messiness rather than the ideals of governing. “