Statement Regarding Collecting Political History

January 23, 2017

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History has an ongoing commitment to document the spirit of American democracy and the American political process, including how people express their points-of-view through political rallies, demonstrations and protests.

This weekend, Museum staff was on the National Mall to collect materials related to the Inauguration of Donald J. Trump as the 45th President of the United States on Jan. 20 and on Jan. 21 during the “Women’s March on Washington.” Curators will also be collecting during the “March for Life” on Jan. 27, as they have done over the years.

This is part of the museum’s long tradition of documenting how Americans participate in the political process and how citizens exercise their first amendment rights of assembly and free speech. The Museum collects from contemporary events because many of these materials are ephemeral and if not collected immediately, are lost to the historical record.

The museum's political history collection includes a broad spectrum of objects related to presidential history and political campaigning, as well as the history of the White House and first ladies, civil rights, women's suffrage and reform movements, and labor history. The collection includes objects that are more than 225 years old, from the desk Jefferson used to draft the Declaration of Independence, the top hat Lincoln wore to Ford’s Theater the night he was assassinated, to protest signs from various marches.

Recent acquisitions since 2008 include materials from the 2012 and 2016 presidential campaigns, immigration and LGBT demonstrations on the National Mall, the Tea Party rally in March 2010, Glenn Beck’s “Restoring Honor” rally, Jon Stewart’s “Rally to Restore Sanity” and from the American Conservative Union’s CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference) in February 2011. Several signs from the political history collection are on view in “The American Presidency: A Glorious Burden” exhibition.

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