Fifty years ago this month, the National Historical Publications Commission (“Records” was added in 1974) met to make its first grant recommendation. (There is no visual documentation of this meeting, but I’m sure it looked something like the above image.)
The first meeting of the NHPC had been held on January 29, 1935, in Room 1755 of the New Department of Justice Building, which served as the temporary office of the Archivist of the United States while the National Archives Building located across the street was being completed. The meeting was chaired by Robert D.W. Connor, Archivist of the United States. Among the other Commission members in attendance were Dumas Malone, representing the American Historical Association, and J. Franklin Jameson, representing the Librarian of Congress.
At that meeting the following motion was approved by a unanimous vote:
“RESOLVED, That the National Historical Publications Commission should, after making plans and estimates, recommend to Congress that in any celebration of the sesqui-centennial of the adoption of the Constitution, one element should be a documentary historical publication illustrative of the origins of the Constitution, to be executed under the supervision of the National Historical Publications Commission.”
Although the NHPC continued to meet during the following years to discuss and offer encouragement to a variety of documentary editing projects, no Federal funds were appropriated to support these efforts until 1964, when Public Law 88-383 authorized the awarding of “grants to State and local agencies and to nonprofit organizations and institutions, for the collection, describing, preserving and compiling, and publishing (including microfilming and other forms of reproduction) of documentary sources significant to the history of the United States.”
At the NHPC’s September 11, 1964, meeting, the following motion was approved by a unanimous vote:
“RESOLVED, That the National Historical Publications Commission hereby respectfully recommends to the Administrator of General Services as Allocation #1 under P.L. 88-383 the sum of $39,000 for the continued support from October 1, 1964, to June 30, 1965, of the project for compiling and publishing a Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution and First Ten Amendments, this amount representing three-fourths of a proposed annual budget of $52,000, and this allocation being conditional upon appropriations being made by the present Congress for the implementation of this legislation.”
In 1964, the National Archives and Records Service (NARS) was part of the General Services Administration (GSA), and the Administrator of GSA had sole authority to award grants, based on the recommendations of the NHPC. When NARA was created as an independent agency in 1984, the Archivist of the United States assumed that authority.
Not long after the NHPC’s meeting on September 11, 1964, Congress appropriated $350,000 to implement P.L 88-383, and the first grant was awarded to the Constitution Project, as recommended by the members of the NHPC. This grant of $52,000 covered the project’s expenses for an entire year. Approximately 5,000 grants have been awarded since Allocation #1.