Constitution Daily

Smart conversation from the National Constitution Center

National Constitution Center to display original copy of the Bill of Rights

May 22, 2013 by NCC Staff


As part of a landmark, 100-year agreement between the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and The New York Public Library, the National Constitution Center will display one of the 12 surviving copies of the Bill of Rights starting in fall of 2014. The museum of “We the People” will be the first institution in the Pennsylvania to exhibit this historic document to the general public.


corbettAfter being approved by Congress, this rare original copy of the Bill of Rights was signed by Vice President John Adams (president of the Senate) and dispatched by President George Washington to consider for ratification in 1789. The New York Public Library acquired the document 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. The Emmet Collection has been accessible to researchers ever since, currently in the Manuscripts and Archives Division. The Library last displayed the document several decades ago, and has never displayed it for an extended period of time for preservation reasons. As part of the historic agreement, the Center announced today it will display the document to the general public for three years starting in the fall of 2014.


“This is a win for Pennsylvania, New York and the citizens of the United States,” said Pennsylvania Governor Tom 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.”


“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 New York Public Library President Tony 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.”


More about the Bill of Rights


Can you pass a Bill of Rights quiz?


FAQ: Basic facts about the Bill of Rights


Many of the rights and liberties Americans cherish —such as speech, religion, and the right to fair trial—were not enumerated in the original Constitution drafted at the Philadelphia Convention in 1787 but were included in the first 10 amendments, known as the Bill of Rights, which were ratified in 1791. By displaying this American treasure, the Center will provide visitors of all ages with a better understanding of the Constitution, the essential American freedoms it protects, and its enduring relevance in our daily lives. The document will complement the Center’s current exhibits and artifacts—including the popular Signers’ Hall and its first public printing of the Constitution—and strengthen the museum’s ability to tell the story of America’s founding in an engaging way.


“This is a milestone moment for the Center as we 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. In addition to exploring the historic value of this priceless document, our exhibition will provide a national forum for three years of discussion, education, and constitutional debate about contemporary issues related to the Bill of Rights.”


“The Center is working proactively to display and interpret America’s most significant historic documents,” said National Constitution Center Chairman of the Executive Committee Doug DeVos. “Today marks a shining example of civic-minded cooperation between institutions for the benefit of all citizens, and should serve as a model for future partnerships.”

About the Document

One of the fundamental achievements of America’s founding era, Congress commissioned 14 official copies of the Bill of Rights—one for the federal government and one for each of the original 13 states, which President George Washington dispatched to the states to consider for ratification. Four states are missing their copies —Georgia, Maryland, New York, and Pennsylvania. Two unidentified copies are known to have survived; one is in the Library of Congress, and the other is in the collection of The New York Public Library, which is the copy that will be displayed at the Center. The Center is currently working closely with The New York Public Library, who has contracted the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to build an encasement similar to those built for the Charters of Freedom at the National Archives, to properly display the document.

About The New York Public Library

The New York Public Library is a free provider of education and information for the people of New York and beyond. With 91 locations—including research and branch libraries—throughout the Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island, the Library offers free materials, computer access, classes, exhibitions, programming and more to everyone from toddlers to scholars, and has seen record numbers of attendance and circulation in recent years. The New York Public Library serves more than 18 million patrons who come through its doors annually and millions more around the globe who use its resources at To offer this wide array of free programming, The New York Public Library relies on both public and private funding. Learn more about how to support the Library at

About the National Constitution Center

The National Constitution Center is an interactive hands-on museum, national town hall, and civic education headquarters celebrating the United States Constitution and the story of “We the People.” Located on Independence Mall in Historic Philadelphia, the Center illuminates constitutional ideals and inspires active citizenship through a state-of-the-art museum experience, including hundreds of interactive exhibits, films, and rare artifacts; must-see feature exhibitions; the internationally acclaimed, 360-degree theatrical performance Freedom Rising; and the iconic Signers’ Hall, where visitors can sign the Constitution alongside 42 life-size, bronze statues of the Founding Fathers. As America’s town hall, the Center engages diverse, distinguished leaders of government, public policy, journalism and scholarship in timely public discussions and debates. The Center also houses the Annenberg Center for Education and Outreach, the national hub for constitutional education, which offers cutting-edge civic learning resources both onsite and online. Join us at the museum of “We the People” as we celebrate our 10-year anniversary in 2013. For more information, call 215.409.6700 or visit


Sign up for our email newsletter