America's Founding Documents Receive Warning Label at National Archives

Sep 17, 2021

You might ask why the foundational documents of the United States of America would need to come with a trigger warning—documents such as the Declaration of Independence, which declares “all men are created equal,” or the Constitution, which noted Black abolitionist and statesman Frederick Douglass himself described as a “GLORIOUS LIBERTY DOCUMENT.”

Nevertheless, according to our nation’s record keeper, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), a word of caution is needed.

NARA has placed a new warning label at the top of its cataloged documents, including the Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights.

The “Harmful Language Alert” notifies visitors of the page that the document they are viewing potentially contains hurtful language. NARA’s Statement on Potentially Harmful Content reads, “some materials presented here may reflect outdated, biased, offensive, and possibly violent views and opinions.” (emphasis added)

“Some items may:

  • reflect racist, sexist, ableist, misogynistic/misogynoir, and xenophobic opinions and attitudes;
  • be discriminatory towards or exclude diverse views on sexuality, gender, religion, and more;
  • include graphic content of historical events such as violent death, medical procedures, crime, wars/terrorist acts, natural disasters and more;
  • demonstrate bias and exclusion in institutional collecting and digitization policies.”
The statement ends with the reassurance that NARA is committed to “diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility.”

This Harmful Language Alert is part of a broader discussion that has been taking place at the National Archives, according to recently released documents.

On May 11, 2021, NARA employees took part in the Archives’ Task Force on Racism town hall meeting, during which the task force proposed removing the “charters of freedom” description from America’s founding documents.

Sept. 17 is Constitution Day, a day to commemorate the signing of the United States Constitution on this day in 1787. The Archives’ website recognizes this federal observance ... no trigger warning included.

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Chasmar, Jessica. “National Archives Racism Task Force Members Rip 'Charters of Freedom' Label for Constitution, Declaration.” Fox News, September 9, 2021.

“NARA’s Statement on Potentially Harmful Content.” National Archives. The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, July 29, 2021.

Shiver, Phil. “National Archives Posts 'Harmful Content' Warning on Constitution, Declaration of Independence, Other Founding Documents.” Blaze Media, September 8, 2021.

Solomon, John. “National Archives Flags America's Founding Documents for ‘Harmful Language.’” Just the News., September 12, 2021.