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The Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights and the Constitution have been on display since 1952 in a temple of history, the National Archives.
The Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights and the Constitution have been on display since 1952 in a temple of history, the National Archives.

Civil War to Civil Rights: Literary Locations

Trace DC's greatest writings and speeches from the Civil War through the civil rights era.


Washington, DC is a treasure trove of historical documents. Check out these top 12 recommendations for seeing this country's history from the perspective of some of our greatest leaders.

1. National Archives: If you want to see a written record of American history, the National Archives should be your first stop. In addition to the original U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence, you can also read important documents like the Emancipation Proclamation, as well as personal artifacts such as enlistment records for individual soldiers who fought in the Civil War.

2. Library of Congress: The country's foremost library, the Library of Congress has thousands of records from the Civil War and civil rights era. Browse more than 7,000 photographs taken during the Civil War, many of them shot by the father of photojournalism Mathew Brady, who is best known for his work his work documenting the Civil War.

3. National Museum of American History: This Smithsonian museum is home to Abraham Lincoln’s ink stand, battle lithographs, the Confederate Articles of War, currency proof sets, draft letters and other Civil War-era artifacts. The museum also houses the historically significant Greensboro Lunch Counter, which ignited a sit-in and youth movement across the South when four African American college students were denied service there on Feb. 1, 1960.

4. National Postal Museum: View Civil War-era stamps, including stamps issued by the Confederacy. The Union Station-adjacent museum also has 11 stamps designed to honor Abraham Lincoln on display.

5. Dupont Circle Metro: Look for the Walt Whitman quote, from "The Wound Dresser" the famous poem describing the pain and suffering in Civil War-era hospitals. The lines are inscribed on the wall encircling the escalator.
    Thus in silence in dreams' projections,
    Returning, resuming, I thread my way through the hospitals;
    The hurt and wounded I pacify with soothing hand,
    I sit by the restless all dark night - some are so young;
    Some suffer so much - I recall the experience sweet and sad...

6. Lincoln’s Cottage: During the Civil War, Lincoln and his family resided here from June-November 1862-1864. The cottage opened to the public in 2008 after a $15 million remodel. Tours of the home, as well as the Robert H. Smith Visitor Education Center, reveal intimate history about the Civil War president, including some of his personal writings.

7. Tudor Place: This beautiful Georgetown estate features personal letters written by members of a family torn apart by war.

8. National Building Museum: The museum was originally built to house the pension bureau, where Civil War veterans traveled to file their paperwork to collect compensation for their service.

9. Lincoln Memorial: Excerpts from Lincoln’s second inaugural address and the Gettysburg address are carved into the walls. There’s also a plaque marking the spot that Martin Luther King, Jr. stood to deliver his “I Have a Dream” speech.

10. Cultural Tourism DC's Civil War to Civil Rights Trail: Walk around downtown DC and follow the signs illustrating the Civil War to Civil Rights interpretive trail, including locations like the Willard InterContinental Hotel, where Martin Luther King, Jr. penned his “I Have a Dream” speech, and Mary Surratt’s boarding house, where the conspirators plotted Lincoln’s assassination.

11. Ford's Theatre and the Center for Education and Leadership: Perhaps the most infamous theater in the country, follow along as a National Park Service guide recounts the night of Lincoln'd assasination. The new Ford's Theatre Center for Education and Leadership traces the aftermath and legacy of one of the nation's most important presidents.

12. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial: Opened in 2012, the newest national memorial features the civil rights leader. Sharing a direct line of sight with both the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorial, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial features engraved inscriptions of many of his most profound words.

Seen through the Navy Memorial, the National Archives
Seen through the Navy Memorial, the National Archives
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