Volume 4 • Issue 2 2006 fall Home
State Archives Unveils Website on Federal Charters
photo of four people at a computer
Secretary Wells, Karl Niederer and Joseph Klett look on as Athenaeum staff scan New Jersey's original Bill of Rights.
In October 2006, New Jersey State Archives unveiled a major addition to the “Documentary Treasures” area of its website. In production for many months, the new site features 170 web-pages of history, images and transcriptions of New Jersey’s original federal charters and related documents. To tour the new site, start at the main page:

Documents Relating to the U.S. Constitution

From here, you can link to four active sections. The first relates to New Jersey’s December 1787 convention to ratify the proposed federal Constitution. This august body consisted of 38 delegates elected to represent each of the thirteen New Jersey counties existing at that time. One delegate, Samuel Dick of Salem County, did not attend the convention. But the rest, with little deliberation, unanimously accepted the Constitution as drafted on December 18th, making New Jersey the third state to join the Union. New Jersey had been generally dissatisfied with the weaker Articles of Confederation and eagerly adopted the new form of government.

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The five framed parchments ready for scanning.
The second section displays the state’s engrossed Ratification of the U.S. Constitution, which was prepared in duplicate at the direction of the convention. One copy was sent to Congress, while the other was to be “deposited among the Archives of this State.” New Jersey’s ratification document, beautifully penned on four large parchments, contains the full text of the Constitution and the original signatures of 38 delegates and convention secretary Samuel Witham Stockton. The website features high-quality images of the four parchments and a full transcription of the entire document.

Featured next is New Jersey’s original Bill of Rights manuscript containing, in fact, twelve constitutional amendments proposed in 1789.  Our state holds the honor of having been the first to ratify the Bill on November 20th, 1789. New Jersey approved eleven of the proposed amendments. The first, prescribing a formula for representation in Congress based on population, was approved by New Jersey but not the required number of states. The now-framed manuscript Bill of Rights, originally filed in the Office of the Secretary of State, includes the prominent signatures of Frederick Augustus Muhlenberg, Speaker of the House of Representatives, and John Adams, Vice President of the United States and President of the Senate.

The fourth section of the new website exhibits New Jersey’s legislative actions relating to the 27 federal constitutional amendments, starting with the ten that became the Bill of Rights, through the 27th Amendment, ratified in 1992. Ironically, the 27th Amendment, prohibiting Congress from increasing the pay of members during its current session, was the only one of the twelve proposed in 1789 not ratified by New Jersey at that time. The history of the 14th Amendment—which among other things guaranteed the rights of citizenship and suffrage to freed male slaves—also has a fascinating history in our state. New Jersey ratified this amendment in 1866, then withdrew its ratification in 1868 (which action was vetoed by Governor Marcus Ward and then overridden), and then in 2003 the legislature finally revoked the withdrawal.

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A close-up of New Jersey's engrossed ratification of the U.S. Constitution.
In addition to the “documentary treasures” themselves, the new site also celebrates the recent digitization of the federal charters. On August 16th, 2006, New Jersey’s original, engrossed Ratification and Bill of Rights left the State Archives for a short trip to the Regional Digital Imaging Center at the Athenaeum of Philadelphia for high-resolution scanning. The Center owns specialized equipment designed for oversized materials, allowing the scans to be done while the parchments remained in their specialized housings. Secretary of State Nina Mitchell Wells joined DARM staff and others in the digitization adventure.

The exciting new website was produced by the State Archives Publication Unit, including Veronica Calder, Lois Bredlow and Joanne Nestor, under the direction of Joseph Klett, Chief of Archives. It is the second major addition to the “Documentary Treasures” area in the State Archives’ website, following New Jersey’s own state constitutions of 1776, 1844 and 1947.