The three most powerful documents in the United States dwell right here in the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom, inside the National Archives Museum.
The Declaration of Independence proclaimed on July 4, 1776 that the 13 British colonies were severing ties with Great Britain to establish their own form of government and a new nation, the United States of America.
The Constitution of the United States, created in 1787 following the victory of American revolutionaries over the British, delineates a form of government that thrives today, centered on the rights of citizens.
The Bill of Rights documents the ten amendments added by the nation’s founders in 1791 to safeguard specific freedoms, most notably those of speech, freedom, religion, the press, and bearing arms.
Other exhibits at the Archives Museum add fascinating context and personal stories that reinforce one’s appreciation for both the Charters themselves, and those who crafted them.
In the David Rubenstein Gallery, you can behold Great Britain’s original 1297 Magna Carta, whose words helped inspire the colonists in the drafting of their own list of freedoms. An interactive touchscreen table displays National Archives records that reveal how Americans have long argued over the interpretation of individual rights, throughout history.
Follow that up with a trip to the Public Vaults, whose precious original items range from George Washington’s handwritten letters to the recorded tapes of President Kennedy discussing the Cuban Missile Crisis with his advisers.
In the Lawrence F. O’Brien Gallery, a temporary exhibit called Amending America, on view through September 4, 2017, explores the reasons and ways that Americans have succeeded in amending the Constitution 27 times, including those outlined in the Bill of Rights. Consider how many attempts have been made: 11,000!
The National Archives hosts lectures and book signings, and screens movies, too.
Tip: Enter the National Archives Building on the Constitution Avenue side. And consider signing up online for a guided tour or at least a timed entry slot, to avoid having to stand in line at this popular site.
Metro: National Archives/Navy Memorial/Penn Quarter on the Green and Yellow lines. Or take the DC Circulator.