Constitutional FAQ Answer #145 – The U.S. Constitution Online – USConstitution.net

Constitutional FAQ Answer #145

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Q145. “What kind of paper was the Constitution
written on?”

A. Urban legend is that the Constitution, Declaration of Independence, and
Bill of Rights were written on hemp paper, hemp being the industrial name for
the fiber of the marijuana plant. For some reason, this “fact” is touted by
those who seek to legalize marijuana for recreational use. First, it is not
clear why the use of hemp as a fiber should mean it should be legalized for
recreational use. Second, the “fact” is not a fact.

The Declaration, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights are currently
housed in the National Archives. All
three are written on parchment, not hemp paper. Parchment is treated animal
skin, typically sheepskin. The Declaration was inked with iron gall ink. The
Jet Propulsion Laboratory was commissioned to create a system to monitor the
physical status of all three. The Charters of Freedom Monitoring System took
digital photos of each sheet of parchment in 1987, each document divided into
one-inch squares. Over time, the photos are retaken and compared to the
original to look for signs of deterioration. Before the charters were recently
reencased for display, a
small tear
in the Declaration was repaired by adding Japanese paper to the
gap. This is the only paper in any of the documents. It is, then, inaccurate to
say that any of these documents was written on hemp.

It is likely, however, that drafts of the documents were written on paper
made from hemp. In that period, most
paper was made from hemp
or flax and a mixture of recycled rags and

Last Modified: 16 Aug 2010

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