No Questions Asked

GutmanCairoMaltFalc1941TrailerIn going through what happened to the original parchments of the Bill of Rights, I’ve come across another oddity that I’d like to share.

The Library of Congress and the New York Public Library both hold originals from 1789.  The LOC purchased its version from a manuscript dealer in 1943, and the New York Public Library acquired its copy somewhat earlier.

Where did they come from?  There were 14 copies made and signed by the relevant congressional officials (such as John Adams and the Speaker of the House).  The one now in the National Archives was the copy retained by the Federal Government, and one was sent to each state.  Some of those copies went missing or were destroyed.

Doesn’t this mean that the copies in the LOC and in the NY Library are two of those missing state versions?  Don’t they belong to the states to which they were originally sent?  Put another way, aren’t these copies stolen property?  Not so, they say.  The theory of both institutions is that the clerk in the First Congress made some “extra” copies and that these are what they have.

The trouble is that there is no evidence that any extra copies were made.  Indeed, when the Library of Congress bought its version in 1943, it was from a dealer who (like Peter Lorre in The Maltese Falcoln) went with the thought that “No questions will be asked” about its origins.  Perhaps there is no way of proving which state each copy came from, but an expert might be able to figure that out.

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6 Responses

  1. Joe says:

    Is the summary of facts in this post found in that book referenced? Or, is it based on something else?

    Is there no evidence of comparable extra copies made in like situations? It at least seems logical for extra copies to be produced in such a case where the document has to be sent to over 10 places so if something happens there would be extra. Seems as credible as the idea that the copy was actually stolen property.

  2. Shag from Brookline says:

    While there is no evidence extra copies were made, there seems to be no evidence that extra copies were not made.

  3. Gerard Magliocca says:

    Well, it seems to me the that the burden of proof is on the party asserting that they know where a document came from. In this case, it just seems like wishful thinking to say that the documents do not come from the most likely source–the missing state copies.

  4. Joe says:

    I think the burden of proof is on the person who says they have stolen property. Not sure that is less “likely” than there being extra copies made w/o more info.

  5. Shag from Brookline says:

    Assuming these two were stolen, it’s possible that the thefts took place shortly after 1789. A lot of years passed before these two got into current hands. So I guess a historical (hysterical?) journey of some 150 years might have to be traversed to get at the truth. There just might be a letter out there in some remote archives of the smoking gun variety to adorn a book cover.

    As to burden of proof, I guess it is a prerogative of a blogger to decide who has it.

  6. Joe says:

    Well, regardless, thanks for the reference to the “stolen copy” book in an early blog post — I reserved it at my library along with a book on the Bill of Rights (sic) that recently was discussed on C-SPAN.

    Shag might be right, but saying I have “stolen property” seems to be an accusation of sorts, perhaps even that I’m breaking the law — don’t think I’m allowed to knowingly have stolen property and feigned excuses there seem problematic — so the burden of proof seems debatable at best.