Bill of Rights
1:33 pm
Thu May 23, 2013

Original Copy of Bill of Rights Coming to Pennsylvania

Gov. Tom Corbett signs the visitors book at at the National Constitution Center, where the Bill of Rights will be on public display.
Gov. Tom Corbett signs the visitors book at at the National Constitution Center, where the Bill of Rights will be on public display.
Credit PA Commonwealth Media Services

For the first time in several decades Pennsylvanians will be able to view an original copy of the Bill of  Rights.

It’s 1789 — Congress approves the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The states ratify the amendments December 15, 1791 and President George Washington sends a handwritten copy of the Bill of Rights to each of the 13 states. Pennsylvania’s copy goes missing in the late 1800s and New York’s copy might have been destroyed in a fire at New York’s archives.

The New York Public Library acquired a copy in 1896 through a donation. Scholars have argued through the years whether that document was actually Pennsylvania’s original copy.

Now Pennsylvania and New York have reached an agreement to share “custody” of the document, which will go on public display in Pennsylvania for the first time in the fall of 2014 at the National Constitution Center (NCC) in Philadelphia for three years. The document will then return to the Library for three years.

“This is a great day for people who love history,” said Gov. Tom Corbett. "This is a great day for people who love democracy, that they’re going to be able to see a document that is one of the cornerstones of our democracy.”

Corbett said staff members have been quietly working on this agreement along with the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission and New York Public Library officials.

“We didn’t want to raise any false hopes," he said. "Now that we’re able to come out and say publicly what we’ve done, this is just a thrilling day for everybody.”

NCC President Jeffrey Rosen called it a milestone moment. 

“We are thrilled to be able to offer visitors the opportunity to experience one of America’s founding documents up close," he said. "In addition to exploring the historic value of this priceless document, our exhibition will provide a national forum for discussion, education and constitutional debate about contemporary issues related to the Bill of Rights.” 

Under the agreement, after the initial three years at the Constitution Center and three years in New York, the library will have it 60 percent of the time that it can be displayed.