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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 cloth.


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