The National Archives Announces Results of "The People's Vote"

AHA Staff, January 2004

Nearly 40 thousand Americans cast more than 300,000 votes as part of a national initiative titled: "The People's Vote: 100 Documents that Shaped America," cosponsored by the National Archives, National History Day, and U.S. News & World Report. The results of the vote were announced in a ceremony in the National Archives Rotunda on December 15, 2003. The 10 documents that received the most votes are (the percentage of votes each received is shown in parentheses):

  • The Declaration of Independence (75.9 percent);
  • The U.S. Constitution (69.3 percent);
  • The Bill of Rights (67.9 percent);
  • The Louisiana Purchase Treaty (34.3 percent);
  • The Emancipation Proclamation (33.5 percent);
  • The 19th Amendment to the Constitution (31.4 percent);
  • The 13th Amendment to the Constitution (30.1 percent);
  • The Gettysburg Address (25.4 percent);
  • The Civil Rights Act (25.2 percent);
  • The Social Security Act (20.9 percent).

The paper ballot included an opportunity for voters to write in documents that were not on the list of 100. The majority of those mentioned were primarily from the period after 1965, the end date for the official list of 100 milestone documents. Among the documents that received multiple votes were:

  • President Reagan's "Tear down that wall" speech;
  • President Bush's speech discussing the September 11 tragedy;
  • Roe v. Wade Supreme Court Decision;
  • Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech;
  • Voters' birth certificates;
  • and the Medicare Bill.

In announcing the results of "The People's Vote," Archivist of the United States John Carlin said, "'The People's Vote' is truly a unique initiative. No other project has invited Americans from all walks of life, all across the country, to voice their opinion on the documents that have shaped our history, culture, and society today. Not only did it challenge voters to really think and learn about the 100 milestone documents, but it encouraged enthusiastic debate in homes, classrooms, workplaces, and online."

Brian Duffy, editor of U.S. News & World Report said, "It was a not only a privilege to work with the experts at the National Archives and Records Administration, but an honor to be involved in this unique effort to reacquaint so many Americans with some of the most defining moments of our nation's history."

In looking forward, National History Day Executive Director Cathy Gorn said at the ceremony, "Our challenge now is to continue this exercise in understanding democracy and citizenship. Today's announcement comes at the end of a major push to engage Americans in such practice. "The People's Vote" has been both educational and fun, and it is fascinating to see which documents Americans are thinking about. But this is only the beginning of the discussion. Our task now is to continue this conversation and encourage all Americans, and especially young Americans, to meet the challenge of forming 'a more perfect union.'"

—Based on a NARA Press Release