Don W. Wilson

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Don W. Wilson
Archivist of the United States
In office
December 4, 1987 – March 24, 1993
PresidentRonald Reagan
George H. W. Bush
Bill Clinton
Preceded byFrank G. Burke
Succeeded byTrudy Huskamp Peterson
Personal details
Born (1942-12-07) December 7, 1942 (age 77)
Clay Center, Kansas
Alma materWashburn University
University of Cincinnati
Occupationhistorian, archivist

Don W. Wilson (born December 7, 1942) was appointed the Archivist of the United States, serving from December 4, 1987, to March 24, 1993.


Wilson earned a bachelor's degree from Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas, and attended the University of Cincinnati, which awarded Wilson both an M.A. and Ph.D. in history. He served on the history faculties at the University of Michigan and Washburn University and worked with the Center for Presidential Studies at Texas A&M University as a research professor. Wilson also worked as Archivist at the Kansas State Historical Society and as Associate Director at the State Historical Society of Wisconsin.

Wilson has extensive experience with presidential libraries, working as Deputy Director of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library, as the first Director of the Gerald Ford Presidential Library, in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1981,[1] as the Executive Director of the George Bush Presidential Library and George Bush Presidential Library Foundation (April 1993 – 1998) at Texas A&M University. The later position was a source of controversy when it was revealed that Wilson made an agreement with Bush that gave the president control over his records that was ultimately judged "arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion and contrary to law."[2]

National Archives[edit]

Dick Cheney administers the oath of office to Don Wilson as Mrs. Wilson and President Ronald Reagan look on, December 4, 1987.
Dick Cheney administers the oath of office to Don Wilson as Mrs. Wilson and President Ronald Reagan look on, December 4, 1987.

President Ronald Reagan swore-in Wilson on December 4, 1987, with US Congressman Dick Cheney, serving as the master of ceremonies.[3][4]

On May 18, 1992, in his official capacity as Archivist, he officially certified the ratification of the Twenty-seventh Amendment to the United States Constitution and on May 19, 1992, printed it in the Federal Register, together with the certificate of ratification.[5] Due to the length of time between the amendment's submission and ratification (more than 202 years), doing this without congressional approval was controversial, with Speaker of the House Tom Foley and others called for a legal challenge to the amendment's unusual ratification.

However, Wilson had acted under statutory authority granted to his office by the Congress under Title 1, section 106b of the United States Code, which states:

Whenever official notice is received at the National Archives and Records Administration that any amendment proposed to the Constitution of the United States has been adopted, according to the provisions of the Constitution, the Archivist of the United States shall forthwith cause the amendment to be published, with his certificate, specifying the States by which the same may have been adopted, and that the same has become valid, to all intents and purposes, as a part of the Constitution of the United States.

On May 20, 1992, each house of the 102nd Congress passed a version of a concurrent resolution agreeing that the amendment was validly ratified, despite the unorthodox period of more than 202 years for ratification. However, neither resolution was adopted by the entire Congress.

During his time at the National Archives and Records Administration, Wilson was a vocal advocate for the preservation of electronic records.[6][7] In spite of his "advocacy" for the preservation of electronic records, late on the night of January 19, 1993 (the day before the end of George H. W. Bush's presidency), Wilson signed a controversial deal, giving President Bush exclusive legal control over 5,000 tapes from White House computers. Three weeks later, Wilson announced that he would become executive director of the Bush Presidential Library Center. Wilson was investigated for conflict of interest; the midnight deal was later declared null and void by a federal judge.

In late 1992 there was also a controversy regarding his prior choice of Lawrence Oberg as NARA Inspector General.[8]


Wilson was a National Defense Fellow from 1964 to 1967 while at the University of Cincinnati, and received an honorary doctorate from the University of Cincinnati in 1988.

Don W. Wilson was honored by having his portrait placed in the grand staircase of the National Archives Building along the National Mall in Washington.[9]


  • Snell, Joseph W., and Don W. Wilson.[10]


  1. ^ Gerald Ford Foundation,
  2. ^ "Judge rules against effort by bush to control his records",
  3. ^ National Archives and Records Administration. Swearing in of Don W. Wilson as the seventh Archivist of the United States, December 4, 1987, National Archives Rotunda. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1988.
  4. ^ Reagan's Remarks at the Swearing-In Ceremony of Don W. Wilson as Archivist of the United States,
  5. ^ Michaelis, Laura (May 23, 1992). "Both Chambers Rush to Accept 27th Amendment on Salaries". Congressional Quarterly. p. 1423.
  6. ^ Preservation of electronic records Letter to the Editor,
  7. ^ Wilson, Don W. Culture and Conflict: Defining the National Archives Archived December 8, 2006, at the Wayback Machine, In Government Information Quarterly 13, no. 2 (1996): 187-195.
  8. ^ Ex-Libris Listserv thread, Re: Archivist's Issues, November 5, 1992[permanent dead link],
  9. ^ National Archives Unveils Portrait of Former Archivist of the United States, NARA Press Release, May 20, 2005. Grandchild Sam
  10. ^ The Birth of The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad Kansas Historical Quarterly 34, no. 2 (Summer 1968): 113-142.,

External links[edit]

Government offices
Preceded by
Frank G. Burke
Archivist of the United States
Succeeded by
Trudy Huskamp Peterson