Chances are, you’ve never heard of James Wilson, which is a shame considering that he was one of the intellectual heavyweights behind the creation of the United States Constitution. The deliberations that surrounded the creation of the constitution were held in secret behind closed doors and Wilson’s handwritten notes offer a rare glimpse of these debates. Those notes, as well as numerous other priceless documents will now be on display at the National Constitution Center’s new American Treasures: Documenting the Nation’s Founding gallery. This is all thanks to a collaboration between the Center and the Pennsylvania Historical Society.
“I thought it would be good for Philadelphia, good for the Historical Society and good for other institutions if we collaborated,” said Charles T. Cullen, Interim President and CEO, Historical Society of Pennsylvania. “This is the first time these documents are all here, that you can see them all together. They haven’t been presented that way since the Committee of Detail gave them to the printer to share with the rest of the delegates. Having a collaboration means that we can plan a substantive exhibit that can last a good long time.”
“We can just trace the textual evolution of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights with original documents,” said Jeffrey Rosen, President and CEO of the National Constitution Center.
The American Treasures exhibit features an interactive app that allows visitors a chance to trace the evolution of the various drafts of the Constitution. That app is also available online so that anyone can explore the constitution here.
“With the limited space we have [at the historical society] it’s difficult for us to have a lot of adult education programs and seminars, major exhibitions, because we don’t have the space,” said Cullen.
The Historical Society of Pennsylvania has been accumulating collections for over 150 years and their collections continue to grow. The new gallery will display rotating treasures from the collections of the Historical Society and other lending institutions over the next ten years.