Could You Really Steal the Declaration of Independence?
This iconic line from the 2004 film “National Treasure” is uttered by Nicolas Cage’s character, Ben Gates, who intends to steal the historical document in order to protect it from thieves. What follows is a cinematic romp through the history of the American Revolution. “National Treasure” is a must-watch while you’re waiting for the fireworks to start on the Fourth of July, and we recently found ourselves asking, “How hard would it be to really steal the Declaration of Independence?”
In a 2004 interview with MTV, Susan Cooper, a spokesperson for the National Archives, where the document is held, said that it would be “very hard … impossible” to steal the Declaration of Independence. Cooper explained that during the day, the Declaration is protected by “bulletproof glass and plastic laminate, surrounded by armed guards and monitored by camera and a computerized system. And as an extra precaution, the document is taken to an underground vault at night.”
These security measures are overcome by Gates and his friends in the movie, but security at the National Archives has changed and improved a lot over the last 16 years. For example, a key part of the plan to steal the Declaration in “National Treasure” involves one character using a laser pointer hidden in a video camera to activate the heat sensors around the document. This wouldn’t be possible today. In 2010, the National Archives banned taking photos and videos because the light from camera flashes can damage old documents. Other modern obstacles include the case housing, ballistics-resistant titanium, and advanced technology monitoring the document.
Even if a thief got as lucky as Gates did in “National Treasure,” their efforts wouldn’t result in much. An artifact like the Declaration of Independence would be too “hot” to ever sell, and you couldn’t exactly show it off in your living room. Unless there really is an invisible map left on the back by the Founding Fathers, we say it’s best to leave the Declaration of Independence where it is.