This week some of our students will be commemorating the adoption of one of America's most important documents, the United States Constitution. Of course, there are many parts of the constitution to study and one of those include the constitution as an amazing piece of handwork.
Handwork? Certainly. Somebody made the parchment (a wiriting surface made from the skin of an animal) and somebody made the ink (gall ink make from walnut tree galls). Then a clerk or scribe had to create the handwritten text.
The clerk's task must have been demanding. He was trained to write evenly and legibly, but the addition of an expensive piece of parchment, probably imported from Great Britain (and transported across the sea on HANDMADE ships) must have been nerve racking. His tools included a pen knife, a graphite pencil, strait edge and quill pens he hand cut from large feathers.
The clerk would not have imagined that in a few centuries, someone would be looking at his work through a binocular microscope...finding his erasures, photographing the splotches and splatters he made, and reading the errata paragraph added to the end to create a correction to the text. But that is exactly what happened. The National Archives has posted a description of it's examination of the Constitution in 2003. The care of the document was reverent indeed. The ink of each letter was individual examined. The Jet Propulsion Lab used some of the imaging systems used to photograph the stars to photograph the Constitution inch by inch.
Think of all the hands at work. First the hands of the 55 delegates who debated and gestured and made notes about creating a new style of government. Then the hands of The Committee of Style, five members that determined the final 4,200 words. Next the hands of the papermaker and the inkmaker, the hands of the scribe working by the light of a window. The hands adding the signatures to the bottom of the document. The hands of the people that carried the documents to states for ratification and the hands of the men that built the sadles and wagons that carried them. The hands of the people that thought this document was important enough to be saved and preserved and the hands of the conservator, 200 year later, that examined the document to preserve it for others to see. The hands of the engineers and draftsman and mold injectors and mechanics that made the tools that the conservator used. And finally, the hands of the children and adults from around the world that grasp the bar and peer down into the glass case that holds the Constitution in its home in The Rotunda of the National Archives in Washington, D.C. next to the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence.
Make no mistake, the Constitution of the United States of America is an example of fine handwork.
In honor of its adoption, I offer a link to this recipe for hand made ink from Oak Gulls (you can try substituting Acorn) and rusty nails. Then catch a bird to make your own quill pen and you'll be set.
Mrs. Barbara Albert