Allen Weinstein: Arranges for new immigrants to take the oath in front of Bill of Rights

Historians in the News

Since becoming the nation's chief archivist, Allen Weinstein has embarked on a campaign to expand what he calls "civic literacy" -- teaching people to better understand and appreciate the origins and meaning of American democracy.

Where better to offer such a class than on the site of the Wall Street building where the U.S. government was founded and George Washington was inaugurated as the first president? And who better to be there than the latest crop of immigrants to take their own oath of allegiance to the Stars and Stripes?

On Thursday, about 80 immigrants from 30 countries officially became Americans against a unique historical backdrop -- a parchment copy of the first amendments to the Constitution as ratified by New York's state legislature in March 1790.

New citizens, meet the Bill of Rights.

"It sends chills up my spine. It seems to me there could be no more appropriate setting for the reaffirmation of the values that this country has always lived by and will continue to live by," said Weinstein, a son of Russian immigrants who has made the advocacy of American ideals his life's work as a university professor, prolific author and self-described "democracy activist."

He said the symbolism should be most meaningful to new citizens making the transition from countries controlled by dictators and repressive regimes, where there is nothing resembling an American-style bill of rights.

"The first questions that many people ask about the United States are about the rights that Americans have, and can they have those rights for themselves," Weinstein said.

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