On July 4, we celebrate our declaration of independence from Great Britain as the founding date of the United States of America.
This document, principally authored by Thomas Jefferson along with Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Roger Sherman and Robert Livingston, presented the reasons why the American colonists wanted to become a free and independent nation. For the signers of the document who “mutually pledged to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor,” this was a courageous but frightening step forward as England had the finest military in the world.
The declaration was announced to the world on July 4, 1776, at Philadelphia in front of Independence Hall with the ringing of church bells. Copies of the Declaration were printed and sent out to the 13 colonies. Few of these printed copies remain in existence. Thankfully, the original document was saved and protected through the American Revolution as well as successive domestic and international wars.
In 1933, the cornerstone was laid for the National Archives building in Washington D.C. In June 1935, the National Archives Administration was formed as a separate agency, and archives personnel began operations in the building in November 1935. Initially, only the Bill of Rights was displayed in the rotunda as the Declaration, along with the original Constitution of the United States, were stored in the Library of Congress. These two documents were moved to the National Archives in 1952. Together, the three documents are referred to as the “Charters of Freedom.”
The building’s original architects designed a beautiful rotunda to display America’s most treasured documents. Marble from six states were used in its construction. Of local interest is that the display cases protecting the documents were constructed of a beautiful gold-veined marble from River aux Vases in nearby Ste. Genevieve County.
There were five different varieties of Ste. Genevieve marble, but the gold veined type was considered the most beautiful. It was used in the 1930 renovation of Lincoln’s Tomb as well as in many government, business, religious and domestic building across the United States.
In 2001, the documents were removed from their protective cases for examination and restoration. New display cases were constructed as part of the building renovation occurring between 2001 and 2005. The renovation designers wanted to use as much of the original materials as possible.
Unfortunately, the quarry where the original marble had been found was no longer in operation and what little was left had been severely eroded. However, it was discovered that before the quarry closed, a shipment of the marble had been sent to a company near Knoxville, Tennessee. It had been planned for the construction of a courthouse in Florida but never used. It was this stone that was used in the rotunda renovation.
While Ste. Genevieve marble continues to protect the actual documents comprising the Charters of Freedom, please remember on the Fourth of July those many thousands of our citizens who have given their life to protect and defend these freedoms.
Remember also and practice those famous words of the Declaration of Independence:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
About Robert Mueller
State Historical Society of Missouri’s (SHSM) sixth vice president, Robert J. Mueller, lives in Ste. Genevieve. He is a past president of the Foundation for Restoration of Ste. Genevieve, served as chairman of the Ste. Genevieve Tourism Advisory Council, and is on the board of the Ste. Genevieve County Community Foundation.
Mueller is a past president of the Missouri Science and Technology Academy of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineers. A recipient of the SHSM’s Distinguished Service Award in 2015, he is a member of the society’s executive committee and assists SHSM with strategic planning. He has been a society trustee since 2004.
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