Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Slips of the Pen in the Constitution

Have you ever wondered about the scribe who wrote out the famous parchment copy of the Constitution? It was a Jacob Shallus, assistant clerk of the Pennsylvania legislature, who had a weekend to make a good copy of what the Constitutional Convention had hammered out. It was a hard weekend's work, with quill pens and no spellcheck.
Constitution, from National Archives
Jacob Shallus, being only human, made a few mistakes. He corrected many of them with insertions. Sometimes he scraped the ink off the parchment to make a change (a bit more laborious than the ctrl-x I routinely employ).

After the handwritten copy, there were a number of privately printed versions, which had their own variants. In 1847, 60 years after the Constitutional Convention, there was finally a printed Consitution certified by the Secretary of State (James Buchanan) to be "correct, in text, letter, & punctuation."

You can read more in Henry Bain, Errors in the Constitution—Typographical and Congressional, Prologue (the magazine of the National Archives), Fall 2012.

Hat tip to Orin Kerr (@OrinKerr) who tweeted the link on Sept. 18. Like Prof. Kerr, we don't think that celebrations of the Constitution should be limited to Constitution Day (Sept. 17). We hope you enjoyed living under the Constitution on Sunday and continue to value our founding document.

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