When the original Bill of Rights was passed by the Congress of a young nation in 1789, copies were hand-written and sent to each state. Pennsylvania’s copy disappeared in the 1800s. New York’s was believed to be lost in a fire. Still, the New York Public Library has one of the hand-written copies and many believe that is Pennsylvania’s copy.
Rather than litigate, Governor Tom Corbett says Pennsylvania and the New York Public Library have agreed to share the document for the next 100 years. Pennsylvania gets it for four years every decade and New York gets it for six. Pennsylvania’s first 4-year turn starts in the fall of 2014, and the document will be on display at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.
The process began when a friend of Corbett’s, Philadelphia attorney Steve Harmelin, approached him while he was Attorney General and asked if he could begin negotiations on behalf of the Keystone State. Harmelin had just successfully helped North Carolina recover its copy of the Bill of Rights, which was taken during the Civil War.
A library benefactor agreed to donate millions of dollars to build the special climate-controlled case that will be needed to properly display and preserve the deteriorating parchment.
WHAT REALLY HAPPENED TO PENNSYLVANIA’S COPY? No one knows for sure. Some think it may have been stolen by a state employee in the 19th century. In any event, the copy to now be shared was donated anonymously to the New York Public Library in the late 1890s. Since the documents were not marked for each state, there’s no way to tell which copy this is.