American Treasures — My sixth book!

So many readers have asked about my sixth book and have been remarkably patient as my publisher and I have worked out final details. I’m now thrilled to announce that American Treasures: The Secret Efforts to Save the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Gettysburg Address, will be published by St. Martin’s Press in the fall of 2016.  The official publication date is actually August 30, meaning it will be in the stores in plenty of time for Christmas (and before we turn our attention to the Presidential election).

The story focuses on the never-before-told story of how the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Gettysburg Address, and many other critical documents were secretly relocated from the Library of Congress to other places for safekeeping in 1941 and 1942, when U.S. political and military leaders feared an attack on Washington D.C. in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor.

American Treasures is written in a “braided narrative” format — the action alternates between the perilous WWII years and key moments throughout American history in which the documents are debated, created, threatened, rescued, preserved, and  indelibly stamped upon the national psyche. The book recounts how the Declaration, the Constitution, and the Gettysburg Address have a defined a nation and her people throughout our history, and how Americans have made decisions and taken risks to protect them and ensure their preservation. To my knowledge, it is the only book that tells the story of all three documents as part of the overall tapestry of American history.

The genesis for American Treasures came when I read a small item about the Library of Congress’s decision to secretly relocate the Declaration, the Constitution, the Gettysburg Address, and other important documents to an undisclosed and heavily fortified location (you’ll find out where in the book!) for safekeeping after the United States entered World War II.  Also, the Library transferred 5,000 additional boxes of critical documents to inland university repositories, away from the path of potential enemy bombers and saboteurs. I had never heard of this massive and risky relocation effort and was anxious to learn more.It quickly became apparent, however, that the saga entailed more than the Library of Congress relocation activities in the 1940s. This story was about the documents themselves. To fully understand why the country went through the Herculean task of protecting the parchments from potential enemy attack, I had to go back to their creation, which would help me understand the full depth of their meaning and importance, as well as the motivations and aspirations of the people who created them.  The struggle to “save” our priceless documents included not only their physical protection, but the preservation of the ideas and ideals upon which they were based — during their creation and in the years since.

Because the National Archives now holds and displays the Declaration, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights, I met with Archivist of the United States David Ferriero and National Archives Historian Jessie Kratz to outline my idea; their encouragement, enthusiasm, and ongoing cooperation inspired me and convinced me that this was a story worth pursuing.

The result is a saga that covers the sweep of American history with these documents at the center — from the spring of 1776 when the Continental Congress debated whether a group of colonies should declare their independence from a mother country with whom they were at war, all the way to the present day, in which the National Archives employs highly sophisticated preservation techniques to protect the founding documents that are viewed by millions of Americans in the Archives’ rotunda in Washington D.C.

Along the way, Americans in every era took great risks and great care first to produce, and then to protect and preserve, their cherished documents. In American Treasures, you’ll read how virtually every major American historical figure and event somehow touches at least one of the documents in some way — among them the adoption of the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia in 1776 and then the Constitution in the same city in 1787; the dramatic rescue of the Declaration, the Constitution, and many other documents, just ahead of the British burning of Washington D.C. in 1814; the deaths of both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson on July 4, 1826, the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration they helped draft, an against-all-odds moment that forevermore lent a touch of divine inspiration to America’s birthday; Lincoln’s majestic prose at Gettysburg that redefined the nation’s dedication to freedom to include people of all races; and the palpable fear of attack or sabotage on America after Pearl Harbor that prompted the stealthy relocation of irreplaceable documents to safe havens.

It is a remarkable 240-year journey that covers a spectrum of emotions, a plethora of pitfalls and celebrations; a journey fraught with peril and danger, laced with misgivings and uncertainty, infused with heroism and courage. The historic parchments and manuscripts provide the powerful window through which Americans view their history, understand the roots of their patriotism, and reaffirm their commitments to liberty and equality that are so deeply embedded in their national and civic DNA. As they have for more than two-hundred years, America’s priceless documents define the nation’s history and heritage, and provide the ideas, ideals, and philosophical and moral compass to shape our future for centuries to come.

“America has no Crown Jewels,” a perceptive editor said to me at the outset of my work on American Treasures, “but if she did, it would be these documents.” Indeed, what was clear throughout my research is that these documents are a “living part” of America’s way of life and have been since their creation. They have stood the test of time and today are as relevant and integral to American democracy as they ever have been. Virtually every modern political debate breathes life into these documents — every important issue rests upon the principles they embody. And because Americans are reminded of them at every turn nearly every day, their intrinsic value holds a revered place in the nation’s consciousness. The fact is, the history of the documents is the history of America — and it is a remarkable history. In an age of cynicism, these documents remind us not only of the promise of America but of the fulfillment of that promise in so many ways. Moreover, it is the documents themselves that provide the means and inspirations to right the wrongs that do exist.

In case you can’t tell, I’m excited about American Treasures and I hope I’ve whetted your appetite. I can’t wait to hear your response after you’ve read the book! More details to come as we get closer to publication.

One last thing: it’s no accident that the book will be published in the 240th anniversary year of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence.