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America's Paper Treasures

Although the National Archives in Washington, D.C., is rapidly adjusting to the computer age, it is best known as the home of America's priceless paper documents.

Some months ago, the Archives and the magazine U.S. News & World Report invited citizens to rank America's top 100 historic documents, as selected by the Archives' curators. Since the vote, the Archives has published a book called Our Documents that describes these treasures in detail.

Not surprisingly, the 1776 Declaration of Independence from Britain, and the U.S. Constitution -- both of which tourists come from around the world to view at the Archives -- finished in first and second place in Americans' esteem. Each got more than 27,000 votes. Other landmark documents like President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, which declared that slaves in the rebellious southern states "are, and henceforward shall be, free," rounded out the top ten.

If you're curious which document came in last -- number 100 -- it's the De Lome Letter, which got all of 97 votes. Not a single person we asked had heard of the De Lome Letter, but here's its story:

In 1898, Enrique De Lome, Spain's minister to the United States, sent a letter to a friend calling U.S. President William McKinley "weak, catering to the rabble." Somebody intercepted it and snuck a copy to newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst. He printed it, fanning the flames for what became the Spanish-American War.

In this day and age, when leaked private letters and conversations are so often in the news, it seems fitting that a leaked letter would round out the list of America's greatest documents.