The Mission to Protect US National Treasures

After the smoke from the Pearl Harbor attack cleared, the United States started to get a sense of its situation. Government officials knew there was not a minute to waste. They had no time to consider whether or not Japan would attack again or even carry out a full invasion. There was a limited window of time to do what needed to be done. Among the most important acts was hiding some of the country’s key papers.

Protecting American Treasures

United States Declaration of Independence

Within a few days of the Pearl Harbor attack, the United States was officially at war with Japan and Germany. Neither country was known for its courtesy toward its enemies. Knowing what could happen if the United States were ever invaded, either by a full land force or by spies, Washington, DC was quickly put on lockdown. Safety measures included street patrols, hidden escape tunnels, and blackout shutters to make the city dark at night so it would be less of a target. Though the war was thousands of miles away from mainland American soil, there was no way to be sure it wouldn’t cross the Atlantic or Pacific.

On December 26, 1941, most of the country was trying to find a bit of joy in the holiday season. At the same time, Secret Service agents were taking precious items out of the nation’s capital. Unmarked cases contained the papers that held the very heart of the United States. Those documents, and what they stand for, are central to American history. Losing them would be a terrible blow to the American people.

These papers had been stored in the National Archives, a part of the government that preserves important records. Secret Service agents took the Gettysburg Address, the Articles of Confederation, Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, a copy of the Magna Carta, and three volumes of the Gutenberg Bible. In the last and most important case were the original United States Constitution and Declaration of Independence.

The Plan to Save American Treasures

Constitution of the United States

At the start of the war, German forces showed no mercy when it came to the books and precious papers they found as they moved across Europe. They burned libraries and stole from museums. Many treasures belonging to the world’s history were lost.

Before being dragged into the war, the United States had planned to protect its most important papers. However, when the plan was created 14 months before the attack on Pearl Harbor, few people believed that it would ever have to be carried out. The papers ended up spending most of the war locked away in Fort Knox, Kentucky.

When the war started to turn in favor of the Allies, the US government was fairly sure that a Nazi invasion would be impossible. The important items that had been removed from the National Archives, as well as thousands of boxes of papers and photographs, were returned. Almost a year before World War II ended, the US Constitution and Declaration of Independence were displayed once again in the National Archives. It was as though they signified the certain victory that would come 11 months later.