WASHINGTON (AP) — First Lady Jill Biden saluted Colleen Shogan, the first woman to be sworn in as national archivist, saying on Monday that democracy’s power is “made real with access to history, unfiltered and uncensored.”
Shogan, a former government and politics professor at George Mason University, heads the National Archives and Records Administration, which maintains billions of documents — including the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, the Louisiana Purchase, Harriet Tubman’s Civil War pension claims and Thomas Edison’s patent for the lightbulb.
During a formal swearing-in ceremony, Biden noted that the nation’s historic documents were once held by George Washington and later by the State Department, before being entrusted to the National Archives, founded by Congress in 1934.
“The history of a democracy belongs to its people, and we must preserve it with care for future generations,” the first lady said. “As far back as the Constitutional Convention, our leaders recognized the power of our founding documents and the importance of keeping them safe and accessible.”
President Joe Biden has made preserving democracy a centerpiece of his reelection campaign, pledging to thwart former President Donald Trump ‘s Make American Great Again movement which he says are attempting to undermine it.
The National Archives, meanwhile, has been thrust into the national political spotlight in unusual ways lately.
Just days after the president nominated Shogan to be archivist of the United States in August 2022, the FBI raided Trump’s home and seized thousands of pages of documents amid investigations into whether he took classified records from the White House.
“This experiment in democracy hinged on the people, and their ability to claim their rights and hold their elected officials accountable,” Jill Biden said Monday. “That power could only be made real with access to history, unfiltered and uncensored.”
Shogan was confirmed by the Senate in May and succeeds Debra Wall, who served as acting U.S. archivist. The first lady said that the contents of the Nation Archives “are all of our stories – men and women, of all backgrounds, ages, and creeds, what we choose to preserve, and whose voices we deem worthy of placing in our national memory.”
“That’s why this milestone – the first woman head of the National Archives and Records Administration – is so momentous,” she added.
Shogan said she tried to make a point of visiting the Declaration of Independence each day she comes to work, and that she wore white during Monday’s ceremony to honor the legacy of women’s suffragists.
She said that “these documents aren’t just pieces of parchment. They are living promises to hold our government accountable.”
“What prevents us from falling back into the classic pattern of authoritarianism is our right — indeed our responsibility — to hold our government accountable,” Shogan said. “That’s what makes the National Archives so important. Without the National Archives, and the continued fulfillment of its mission, a healthy democracy cannot be sustained.”