The Great Seal of the United States

The Great Seal of the United States is a symbol of our independent nation and its power.  The obverse—or front—pictures the coat of arms of America, and is used for everything from authenticating official documents like treaties and presidential proclamations, to decorating military uniform buttons.  Both the obverse and reverse are depicted on the one-dollar bill.

For today’s spotlight document, we have the 1782 original design of our Great Seal.  Hours after adopting the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress appointed a committee to design the nation’s seal.  The first attempt was proposed by Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams, but was quickly tabled by Congress due to its complexity.  One key feature, though, still remains a part of our Great Seal: E Pluribus Unum, or, “Out of Many, One.”

Great Seal

Design for the Verso of the Great Seal of the United States, 1782. From the Records of the Continental and Confederation Congresses and the Constitutional Convention. National Archives Identifier: 595257

It was not until two more committees were created and six years had passed, that Congress’ Secretary Charles Thomson combined elements from the three previous designs and created the final seal.  On it, the American bald eagle is the focal point and the sole supporter of the blue shield displaying 13 red and white chevrons.  A bundle of olive branches are held in one of the eagle’s talons, and 13 arrows in the other.  Above the bird, sits a constellation of 13 stars.

Congress approved the design on June 20, 1782—and apart from slight alterations made by Philadelphian William Barton, and appearance updates every few decades—the Great Seal of the United States remains largely unchanged.

You can see more documents from the founding of the United States on DocsTeach, our online tool for teaching with documents.

Today’s post came from Holly Chisholm, former social media intern in the Education and Public Programs division.

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Habeas Corpus and a Marriage Photo: Immigration Case Files

Today’s post comes from former education intern Natalie Charamut. She helped research, prepare for, and facilitate our 2015 Primarily Teaching summer institute in Washington, DC.

Back in July, teachers from across the country attended the Primarily Teaching summer institute in Washington, DC, and did original research into the topic of Chinese immigration. They digitized nearly 100 documents to be uploaded onto the National Archives online catalog and DocsTeach.org, our online tool for teaching with documents.

Although all of the documents scanned hold potential for teaching, a couple of the documents really stand out to me.

Page of Habeas Corpus Brief

Page of Habeas Corpus Brief Enclosed with Letter from U.S. Attorney Curtiss to Commissioner-General of Immigration Frank A. Sargeant, 1/5/1904. Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service. National Archives Identifier: 23835774

A letter from U.S. Attorney Curtiss to Commissioner-General of Immigration Frank A. Sargeant conveys a brief of a U.S. Circuit Court case regarding habeas corpus. The Chinese immigrants in question claimed they were wrongfully held by immigration inspectors.

This document can be used in many different classes for many different things. Teachers can use this document to study not only Chinese immigration but also to study the Constitution and law and how the two work together, since habeas corpus is covered in the Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution.

A letter from the Inspector in Charge at El Paso, Texas, to the Commissioner-General of Immigration conveying records on appeal is from the immigration case files of Lew Bong and Lue Ark Goon, two men who were trying to bring women who they described as their wives into the United States. However, their entrance was denied because the inspector in charge believed the women were prostitutes.

Marriage Photo Enclosed with Letter from Inspector to the Commissioner-General of Immigration

Marriage Photograph Enclosed with Letter from the Inspector in Charge at El Paso, Texas, to the Commissioner-General of Immigration Conveying Records on Appeal in the Cases of Lew Bong and Lue Ark Goon, 11/5/1906. From the Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service. National Archives Identifier: 23835509. A scan of the original photo is on the left; a restoration created with Photoshop is on the right. (Thank you to Ed Autry at the Truman Presidential Library for his work on this photograph.)

This document would be interesting to use in a classroom with older students because it shows discrimination against the Chinese, but also against women. Chinese women had a more difficult time getting into the United States because of a widespread belief within the immigration service that many were prostitutes. Another reason this case stands out is because there is a marriage photo included of one of the men with his wife, making the document that much more memorable for students.

I enjoyed preparing for and working with teachers during the Primarily Teaching summer institute. I learned a lot about the research process as well as Chinese immigration. It was great to watch the progress from beginning to end, and to see the online activities that the teachers created based on these primary sources published on DocsTeach. (Log in or register for a free DocsTeach account, then follow this link to the activities.)

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James Madison Debates a Bill of Rights

Today is Bill of Rights Day! We celebrate the 224th anniversary of the ratification of the Bill of Rights. Check out our Congress Creates the Bill of Rights eBook and app too!

What doubts, concerns, and misgivings arose during the development of the Bill of Rights?

That’s the framing question in a new lesson plan from the National Humanities Center. Students can explore the debates over the addition of a bill of rights to the Constitution.

The centerpiece of the lesson is a letter James Madison wrote to Thomas Jefferson on October 17, 1788, in which Madison discussed the pros and cons of a bill of rights. It’s one of several letters these men exchanged on the topic. It comes from Founders Online — our searchable archive of the correspondence and other writings of six of the Founding Fathers.

Letter from James Madison to Thomas Jefferson on October 17, 1788

Students will interact with three excerpts of the letter, each accompanied by a series of close-reading analytical questions: The first explains the context of the debate, including reasons why a bill of rights might not be necessary. The second explores Madison’s reasons for supporting a bill of rights, and the third discusses how he believed such a list of rights, if written, should be structured.

In two interactive exercises, students will review vocabulary from Madison’s letter and review the central points of textual analysis.

The lesson plan includes teaching instructions, background information, questions for textual analysis and close reading, a follow-up assignment, a vocabulary list, and a student-version PDF.

James Madison Debates a Bill of Rights” is one of several lesson plans created by the the National Humanities Center based on documents available on Founders OnlineItalicized text comes directly from “James Madison Debates a Bill of Rights.”

Founders Online is our searchable archive of the correspondence and other writings of six of the Founding Fathers. Madison’s letter is just one of thousands of transcriptions of documents from George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison. You and your students can access the written record of the original thoughts, ideas, debates, and principles of our democracy.

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Memorable Primary Sources: Teacher-Digitized Documents

Today’s post comes from Kevin Goffard, former intern in our Education and Public Programs division.

Earlier this year, we added hundreds of new documents to DocsTeach, thanks to teachers in our Primarily Teaching workshops across the country. While all the documents they found were interesting and had ample connections to the classroom, a couple of them, for me, were especially memorable. These are my top picks from this summer’s additions.

Spider compartment drawing from a Skylab student project

Spider compartment drawing from a Skylab student project, 1973. From the Records of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. National Archives Identifier: 20150116.

First up, from our workshop in Atlanta, is I-V-23 Skylab Student Project: Web Formation in Zero Gravity. This document addresses a student’s proposal for the Skylab missions that NASA undertook in 1973, to compare a spider’s web-making skills in space versus on earth. The mission was successful in that the spiders adjusted to their environment and spun their webs; however, some of the spiders, sadly, did not make it.

Besides being an intriguing document, it also relates to many topics in a social studies classroom—particularly U.S. Government. Let’s take teaching about civic responsibility in the Constitution as an example. This student’s participation can help show your students an example of what they can do to be a responsible citizen in our country.

Concerning our Restricted Output

“Concerning our Restricted Output” from the Coca-Cola Company, 1918. From the Records of the U.S. Food Administration. National Archives Identifier: 20762218

Next, we go to Chicago, with the poster Concerning our Restricted Output from the Coca-Cola Company. There were many domestic policy changes on the homefront during World War I— including food rationing. Perhaps my favorite evidence of these policies is the many posters and propaganda that were created.

You can lead your students in analyzing the poster to determine the type of information being conveyed, how it was conveyed, why it was conveyed, and how that information might have influenced Americans during the war. This poster fits right into in a typical World War I unit.

San Francisco Newspaper Article

Translation of a San Francisco Newspaper Article Enclosed with a Letter from F. E. Batturs, of Morgan’s Louisiana and Texas Railroad and Steamship Company, 9/7/1905. From the Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service. National Archives Identifier: 23835446.

Let’s cross over to the east coast to Washington, D.C., where teachers digitized nearly 100 documents focused on Chinese immigration. An example is the letter from F. E. Batturs, of Morgan’s Louisiana and Texas Railroad and Steamship Company, to P. H. Stretton, Inspector in Charge in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Batturs wrote to the Inspector in Charge and attached a news article about conditions that Chinese immigrants endured in transit. This document could be used while teaching about the Chinese Exclusion Act or in making a connection to current events. A great way to do this (and to allow your students to critically think across time) is to go to DocsTeach, grab some of our abundant immigration-related documents from all across America’s history, and create a Making Connections activity.

Map Showing Locations of Priest Rapids Fishery on the Columbia River

Township Map No. 9 Showing Locations of Priest Rapids Fishery on the Columbia River, 1/19/1889. From the Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. National Archives Identifier: 22440067.

Finally, we move to Seattle. Though from an 1889 report on “Fishing Privileges Guaranteed by Treaties to Indians in the Northwest,” Township Map No. 9 Showing Locations of Priest Rapids Fishery relates to issues surrounding Native tribal fisheries on the Pacific Coast in the 1970s.

This map, as one might guess, helps define the location and helps show, in relationship to other sites, where the fishery was located and its boundary. Students can compare it to a map from today or analyze it in a Mapping History activity on DocsTeach to practice analytical map reading.

This is just a sample of the amazing documents now in DocsTeach, thanks to the combined efforts of teachers across the country and National Archives staff and interns. Combine these new documents with the thousands of other primary sources available on DocsTeach, and you may find yourself using them more often than a secondary source textbook.

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Agriculture and an Education Legacy

In the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, the Continental Congress said that, “Knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.”

Since the founding of the nation, education has been seen as an essential and necessary obligation of America and its citizens.  Today we shine a spotlight on the Morrill Act of 1862, which was a document that further encouraged learning in the American West, and helped shape our current system of state colleges and universities.

Morrill Act

Act of July 2, 1862 (Morrill Act), Public Law 37-108, 12 STAT 503, which established land grant colleges, 7/2/1862. From the General Records of the United States Government.
National Archives Identifier: 299817

On July 2, 1862, this act made education in the new western states available to their citizens by providing public land grants for colleges in the agricultural and mechanical arts.  These institutions were especially significant for farmers and other working individuals who would have normally been excluded from the opportunity of higher education.

Under the Morrill Act, the Federal Government granted each state 30,000 acres of public land per the state’s Representatives and Senators in Congress.  As the allocations of Morrill granted land grew, the act became the basis for a national system of state colleges and universities.  Cornell and Washington State are two major institutions that were originally chartered as land-grant schools.

Because of state colleges and universities—whose foundations ultimately rest in the Morrill Act of 1862—millions of students have been able to seek higher education, and continue the legacy of learning encouraged by the nation’s founders.

You can learn more about this document and find — or create — teaching activities based on it, on DocsTeach, our online tool for teaching with documents.

Today’s post came from Holly Chisholm, former social media intern in our Education and Public Programs division.

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A Primary Source Transcription Mission!

The Wisconsin Food Administration's list of food substitutions for meatless and wheatless meals

Food substitutions for meatless and wheatless meals, 12/18/1917. From the Records of the U.S. Food Administration. National Archives Identifier 20737679.

This summer teachers in our Primarily Teaching institutes across the country found and digitized primary sources related to Chinese immigration, President Hoover, World War I, NASA, and Native American fishing rights.

These educators hand-picked documents that they knew would make useful teaching tools.

But now we’re inviting students, teachers, and learners of all ages to make these primary sources even more accessible by transcribing them. To help:

  1. Create a username and password in the National Archives Catalog.
  2. Log in.
  3. Head to our Transcription Missions page and click on “Teacher-Found Primary Sources.”
  4. Click on a document.
  5. Select the “View/Add Contributions” button located below all images in the catalog.
  6. Select the “Transcribe” tab for the page of the record you would like to transcribe.
  7. Select the “Edit” button and remember to save frequently.
Join the Navy Poster

Join the Navy Poster, 1919. From the Records of Naval Districts and Shore Establishments. National Archives Identifier 20762200.

These primary sources are available in the National Archives Catalog as well as on DocsTeach, our online tool for teaching with documents. They form the basis of teacher-created online learning activities and are ready to be used by any DocsTeach member in new activities.

Motion to Quash Indictment of Leo Dergis

Motion to Quash Indictment of Leo Dergis, 8/9/1917. From the Records of District Courts of the United States. National Archives Identifier 20737612.

We’ll incorporate all transcriptions into the new and improved version of DocsTeach that launches next year with a transcription feature!

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The French Gift of Lady Liberty

Today we shine a spotlight on a document that gave the United States one of its most famous monuments.  On the Fourth of July, 1884, the French People presented this deed of gift to Levi Morton, the U.S. Minister to France, officially bestowing America with the colossal “Liberty Enlightening the World.”

“As a souvenir of the unalterable friendship of the two nations.” Deed of Gift for the Statue of Liberty, 1884. From the General Records of the Department of State. National Archives Identifier: 595444

“As a souvenir of the unalterable friendship of the two nations.”
Deed of Gift for the Statue of Liberty, 1884. From the General Records of the Department of State.
National Archives Identifier: 595444

“Liberty Enlightening the World” in 1930’s New York Harbor. Photograph of the Statue of Liberty, 1930. From the Records of the Office of the Chief Signal Officer. National Archives Identifier: 594414

“Liberty Enlightening the World” in 1930’s New York Harbor.
Photograph of the Statue of Liberty, 1930. From the Records of the Office of the Chief Signal Officer.
National Archives Identifier: 594414

Sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi created the Statue of Liberty both in honor of the friendship between France and the United States, and to commemorate the centennial of American Independence.  The statue itself is made from 3/32 inch-thick copper and an inner structure of wrought iron and stainless steel.  She measures slightly over 151 feet high, but with the added height of her granite pedestal, Lady Liberty’s total height is around 305 feet.

“Liberty Enlightening the World” was installed on Bedloe’s Island in New York Harbor, 1886, and would later become a beacon of freedom and a symbol of new life to the millions of immigrants who entered the United States through Ellis Island.  Today, Lady Liberty continues to guard New York Harbor on renamed Liberty Island, and welcomes all who pass her watchful gaze and uplifted torch.

You can see more primary sources related to America’s relationship with France throughout history on DocsTeach, our online tool for teaching with documents.

Today’s post came from Holly Chisholm, former social media intern in our Education and Public Programs division.

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Primary Sources Show How the Chinese Exclusion Act was Applied

Today’s post comes from Evangel Penumaka, former intern in our Education and Public Programs division.

This past summer the National Archives in Washington D.C. digitized many documents related to Chinese immigration with the help of educators attending the Primarily Teaching workshop. Prior to the workshop we completed research to identify boxes and files that would provide the teachers with a variety of documents on Chinese immigration. The documents include affidavits, photos, letters to immigration officials, and transcripts of interrogations.

As we helped teachers select and scan files during the week, there were several documents in particular that fascinated me. These three documents gave me a better understanding of this period of history. Many of the documents now available on DocsTeach similarly show how the laws were applied. They are all great resources for educators and students.

Mah Chung's Return Certificate

Chinese Government Certificate of Return for Mah Chung, 9/27/1892. From the Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service. National Archives Identifier: 23835799

The first document that really stood out to me was the Chinese Government Certificate of Return for Mah Chung. One thing that caught my eye was that it had both English and Chinese writing. I was also intrigued when a photo of the individual accompanied the document. The certificate was issued at the Consulate General in San Francisco, California. It permitted Mah Chung to remain within the U.S. under Section Six of the Chinese Exclusion Act. This section allowed an exempt class of non-laborers, such as merchants, teachers and students to enter the country as long as they were able to present their certificate.

This document is an excellent example for students to see the types of identification and paperwork that Chinese immigrants were required to have. It can also be used to teach students how immigration inspectors would apply the Chinese Exclusion Act. One major issue during this time period was that there were many cases of people being detained because they were suspected of holding fraudulent certificates.

Another set of documents that caught my attention were the files on Colonel John Irish and his correspondence with Oscar Straus, the Secretary of Commerce and Labor. One of his letters addressed the way Chinese immigrants were sometimes treated unfairly by inspectors upon entry. Colonel Irish believed that the inspectors acted without any regard to the liberties of the Chinese.

Letter from John Irish on DocsTeach

Letter to the Honorable Oscar S. Straus from Colonel John Irish (on DocsTeach), 1/30/1907. From the Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service. National Archives Identifier: 23835475

He readdressed the issue in another letter, maintaining that his argument was aimed at the immigration system itself, rather than individual inspectors. The Colonel described the system as the “breeding place of bribery and blackmail” and one of gross inequality. For example, European immigrants never had to experience the types of interrogation, detention and deportation that Chinese immigrants were subject to.

Colonel Irish also described individual cases, such as a Chinese woman who wished to join her husband but was kept in a unkept detention shed while inspectors looked at her case. The woman was eventually deported because her husband was determined to be a laborer for owning stock in a restaurant.

It was fascinating to read Colonel Irish’s letters, as they were so different from the paperwork in many case files. Students can benefit from reading these letters as they offer a unique perspective on how the Chinese Exclusion laws affected people. The fact that Colonel Irish took action to bring these problems to attention can illustrate to students that people did recognize the impact the restrictions had on Chinese immigrants.

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Responding to Pearl Harbor

Stunned by the tragic events of Pearl Harbor, the American people looked to President Franklin D. Roosevelt to put their emotions into words…and he didn’t let them down.  Just as eloquently spoken as his Fireside Chats, the message President Roosevelt gave to Congress on December, 8, 1941, has become one of the most memorable speeches of his presidency.

Today’s spotlight document is Roosevelt’s annotated draft of this speech requesting the declaration of war against Japan.

“Yesterday, December 7, 1941,—a date which will live in infamy.” First page of the Annotated Draft of Proposed Message to Congress Requesting Declaration of War Against Japan, 12/7/1941. From Collection FDR-FDRMSF: Franklin D. Roosevelt Master Speech Files. National Archives Identifier: 593345

“Yesterday, December 7, 1941,—a date which will live in infamy.”
First page of the Annotated Draft of Proposed Message to Congress Requesting Declaration of War Against Japan, 12/7/1941. From Collection FDR-FDRMSF: Franklin D. Roosevelt Master Speech Files.
National Archives Identifier: 593345

In the hours following the Japanese attack, President Roosevelt dictated this message, then annotated it with handwritten alterations and changes.  The president made quite a few modifications to the original dictation — but possibly one of the most interesting of these changes is the replacement of “world history” with “infamy” in the famous opening line.

The final draft that F.D.R. gave at the Joint Session of Congress incorporates these alterations, and received thunderous applause for its successful conveyance of the nation’s fury and indignation.

Find this document and others on Pearl Harbor on DocsTeach, our online tool for teaching with documents.

 

Today’s post came from Holly Chisholm, former social media intern in the Education and Public Programs division.

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Join us at NCSS!

The 95th National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) Annual Conference starts next month in New Orleans. Please join us for the following sessions:

Amending America: Some Assembly Required

Friday, Nov. 13, 10:05 to 10:55 a.m.

The National Archives celebrates the 225th anniversary of the Bill of Rights with new free material for grades K–12. Receive lessons highlighting how this iconic document continues to shape society.

Presented by:

  • Mickey Ebert, National Archives at Kansas City
  • Sara Lyons Davis, National Archives at New York City
  • Amber Kraft, National Archives in Washington, DC
  • Missy McNatt, National Archives in Washington, DC

National History Day, the National Archives, and C3: Using the NHD Theme with C3 in the Classroom

Identification Photograph on Affidavit “In the Matter of Wong Kim Ark, Native Born Citizen of the United States” Filed with the Immigration Service in San Francisco Prior to His May 19 Departure on the Steamer “China"

ID photo on affidavit for Wong Kim Ark in his investigation case conducted under the Chinese Exclusion Act, available on DocsTeach.org

Friday, Nov. 13, 4:25 to 5:15 p.m.

Join the National Archives and National History Day in a discussion about incorporating the NHD theme into a C3 unit by using primary sources. Chinese immigration will be used as an example and a C3 unit will be provided.

Presented by:

  • Elizabeth Dinschel, Herbert Hoover Presidential Library in West Branch, Iowa
  • Lynne O’Hara, National History Day

11,000 Attempts to Amend the Constitution: What Works, What Doesn’t

Proposed constitutional amendment that would have prevented Congress from passing legislation interfering with a state’s “domestic institutions . . . including that of persons held to labor or service.”

Proposed amendment to prevent Congress from interfering with a state’s “institutions . . . including that of persons held to labor or service,” available on DocsTeach.org

Saturday, Nov. 14, 8:00 to 8:50 a.m.

How Americans have attempted to amend the Constitution illustrates our understanding of citizenship and what it means to be American. The session will give educators a chance to analyze primary sources from the National Archives.

Presented by Christine Blackerby, Center for Legislative Archives at the National Archives in Washington, DC


26 Sure-Fire Ideas for Teaching Civics

Saturday, Nov. 14 8:00 to 8:50 a.m.

This will be a fast-paced, fun session with 26 ideas, one for each of the 26 members of the Civics Renewal Network, that you can take back and use in your classroom.

Presented by our partners in the Civics Renewal Network

Civics Renewal Network home page


Bonnie Simmons, social media intern in our Education and Public Programs Division, contributed to this post.

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