Last updated: March 30, 2023
Use this guide to research national monuments established by presidential proclamation under the authority of the Antiquities Act of 1906.
What is a national monument?
A “national monument” is a type of park designation. The Antiquities Act at Section 2 defines national monuments as: “confined to the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected[.]” According to the National Parks Index, “A national monument is intended to preserve at least one nationally significant resource. It is usually smaller than a national park and lacks its diversity of attractions.”
Not all national monuments are established the same way. Some are created by presidents using the authority of the Antiquities Act. Congress also creates national monuments through the legislative process.
Where can I find presidential proclamations?
For proclamations issued up to 2001:
For proclamations issued after 2001:
Search the internet for keyword combinations, such as “Obama proclamation stonewall” or “grand canyon proclamation 1907.”
Search Govinfo, a database which includes presidential proclamations, by national monument name: “Stonewall National Monument” or “Grand Canyon National Monument.”
Proclamations typically include: reference to the legal authority/authorities, date of signing/date of establishment, president’s name, a description of scientific values (the rationale for setting aside the national monument), description of boundaries, designation of federal agency manager, and amount of land set aside.
Where can I find the laws passed by Congress to create or alter national monuments?
Congress passes laws to establish national monuments, often as part of larger land, defense or other bills. It does not establish national monuments using the Antiquities Act; this power is assigned to the President. Search Govinfo by national monument name to find laws ranging from boundary expansions or reductions, designation changes, authorization of special resource studies, to testimony surrounding the laws.
Congress typically renames national monuments. A list of recent changes to the National Park System includes new national monuments established by presidential proclamation or the legislative process, as well as name changes to existing national monuments.
How have Antiquities Act national monuments figured in NPS history?
Each national monument has a historical context, and each plays a part in the development of the National Park System. How and why a national monument came to be proclaimed relates to trends and patterns in the nation's history.
Useful texts for understanding national monument history include:
America's National Park System: The Critical Documents. Lary M. Dilsaver, ed. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Lanham, MD. 1994.
The National Parks: Shaping the System. Barry Mackintosh. National Park Service, Washington, DC. 1991.
America's National Monuments: The Politics of Preservation. Hal K. Rothman. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KA. 1994.
The Antiquities Act of 1906. Ronald F. Lee, National Park Service, Department of the Interior, Washington, DC. Originally published 1970, electronic edition, 2000/2020.
Edgar Lee Hewett and the Political Process. Raymond Harris Thompson, Journal of the Southwest 42(2):271–318. Originally published 2000, electronic edition, 2005.
- Park Administrative History program
- National Monuments and the Forest Service, Gerald W. Williams, USDA Forest Service.
Particularly important events included:
On August 25, 1916, Congress passed the Organic Act, which created the National Park Service to “promote and regulate the use of the Federal areas known as national parks, monuments, and reservations.” Many national monuments managed by other agencies were reorganized under NPS.
President Jimmy Carter established 17 national monuments in Alaska on December 10, 1978, including ten new and three expanded parks for NPS to manage.
What role does NPS play regarding historic properties on national monuments managed by other federal agencies or bureaus?
All national monuments, whether they be managed by NPS or another federal bureau, have historic properties. “Historic property” has specific legal connotations, as established by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966. The NPS manages two lists, the National Register of Historic Places and National Historic Landmarks, which collect qualified historic properties. Find assistance on how to find National Register files and National Historic Landmarks files.