Greg Cohoon (drmellow) wrote,
Greg Cohoon

The Bill of Rights on Display in Greensboro

This weekend, at the Greensboro Historical Museum, an original copy of the Bill of Rights will be on display. I'm planning to go look at it Friday during lunch (and/or maybe after work) and/or Sunday afternoon.

This copy of the Bill of Rights appears to have a very interesting history.

It seems that in 1789, George Washington had federal clerks create 14 copies of the Bill of Rights -- one for each state and one for the federal government. North Carolina's copy lived in Raleigh until it was stolen by federal invaders under command of General Sherman in 1865. It was finally returned to North Carolina in 2004. In the 140 years that it was being held hostage, it was mostly out of the public eye. In the several times it did make appearances, it was seen hanging on the wall of an Indiana attorney or offered for sale and/or auction. It was finally returned to North Carolina as the result of a sting operation involving the FBI and US Marshals as well as other law enforcement agencies. Several legal questions remained about the ownership of the document, but those issues have now been resolved and the document is back in the hands of North Carolina.

I found a newsletter (link is to a 22 MB PDF file) from 2004 with some details about the story of North Carolina's copy of the Bill of Rights. It was very interesting reading -- the kind of thing that might make a good movie. That newsletter was written before all of the legal questions were settled, and I haven't found much other information online about the document. I'm really hoping that the exhibit at the Greensboro Historical Museum has more details about the document's history -- I'd love to learn more of the details about the legal issues regarding ownership that must have been resolved over the past few years as well as learning more details about the document's history while it was stolen property.

I also thought it was interesting that there were 14 original copies of the Bill of Rights. I had never really considered it before, but it makes sense. I've seen the copy that lives at the National Archives in Washington, DC several times. Of the other copies, the location of four of them are unknown: those belonging to Georgia, Maryland, New York, and Pennsylvania. Two of them are believed to have been destroyed in fires, and unidentified copies are housed in the New York Public Library and the Library of Congress.

North Carolina's copy is wrapping up a six-city tour in Greensboro, and I'm really excited that I'm going to have a chance to go see it. After it leaves Greensboro, it's going back to Raleigh, where it will be stored in a humidity- and temperature-controlled room.

If you can make it to the museum this weekend to check it out, drop me a line and I'll be happy to join you.

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