The New York Public Library (NYPL) will soon display its original copy of the Bill of Rights to the public for the first time in decades, in New York and Pennsylvania, NYPL President Tony Marx, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett, and National Constitution Center Board Chairman Jeb Bush announced at a press conference at the NYPL’s landmark Stephen A. Schwarzman Building on 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue on Wednesday, May 22, 2013.
The document is one of at least fourteen original copies the First Congress of the United States sent to the first thirteen original states in 1789, with one reserved for the U.S. Government. It will be displayed in both Pennsylvania and New York, two of four states that no longer have their original copies. The document was on display at the press conference.
The New York Public Library and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania announced an agreement to share display of the national treasure, which has been preserved in the NYPL’s collections since 1896. The document will go on public display alternately at The New York Public Library and in Pennsylvania beginning in fall 2014 (the 225th anniversary of the document being drafted and proposed by the U.S. Congress).
“This landmark agreement makes public one of the most important documents in the nation’s history, an over 200-year-old, original copy of the Bill of Rights,” said NYPL President Marx. “The document has been expertly preserved at the Library for over a century, leaving it in prime condition and ready to inspire and educate the public now and in the future.”
“This is a win for Pennsylvania, New York and the citizens of the United States,” said Governor Corbett. “For the first time in decades, this historic document will be seen by We the People, the people who were granted these inalienable rights and privileges that we are still guided by today.”
The NYPL was previously unable to display the document for extensive periods of time for preservation reasons. Now, to ensure the document’s safety during display and while it travels, the National Institute for Standards and Technology will be construct a special case, based on technology developed for the Charters of Freedom at the National Archives.
Estimated to cost $600,000, this crucial and state-of-the-art preservation measure is made possible as part of a generous gift from New York Public Library Trustee Ed Wachenheim III and his wife Sue. Their gift also supports exhibitions and programs related to the document.
The New York Public Library acquired its copy in 1896, when John S. Kennedy – a trustee of The New York Public Library – donated it along with other items he purchased from Dr. Thomas Addis Emmet, a noted surgeon and collector of Americana. Some have speculated as to whether the NYPL’s copy originally belonged to Pennsylvania.
“What’s most important is that the people in New York, Pennsylvania, and beyond will now have an opportunity to see and learn from this rare piece of history,” said Marx.
The NYPL’s copy of the parchment document includes the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution, as well as two other proposed amendments that were not ratified – one outlining compensation for members of Congress, the other providing a system of representation for Congress that could have created a House of Representatives with thousands of members today.
The NYPL last displayed the Bill of Rights several decades ago, and has not displayed it for an extended period of time to ensure its preservation and protection. The document, currently in the Manuscripts and Archives Division, has been accessible to researchers by appointment.
According to the agreement, the document will be displayed alternately by The New York Public Library and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania equally for the first six years. After that, the NYPL – which is responsible for care of the document – will have it 60% of the time that it can be displayed. The document will be on display at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia from 2014 to 2017, when it will travel back to New York City to the NYPL’s Schwarzman Building.
“The New York Public Library is one of our nation’s great cultural institutions and a living symbol of the First Amendment’s protection of a free press, which makes it a perfect place for the Bill of Rights to be displayed,” said New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. “I hope that New Yorkers – and our visitors from across the country and around the world – will take the opportunity to visit the Library and see the document that made America the freest nation on earth.”
“This is a milestone moment for the National Constitution Center as we celebrate our 10th anniversary and look towards the next decade as the museum of ‘We the People,’” said National Constitution Center President and CEO Jeffrey Rosen. “We are thrilled to be able to offer visitors the opportunity to experience one of America’s founding documents up close.”
John Ellis “Jeb” Bush, the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the National Constitution Center (NCC), served as Governor of Florida from 1999 to 2007. He is the son and brother of former presidents.
His father, former President of the United States George H.W. Bush, served as the second Chairman of the National Constitution Center in 2007-08. He succeeded the founding chairman, John C. Bogle, and in 2009 was succeeded himself by the same man whose succeeded him in the presidency, Bill Clinton.