A Group of Crypto Investors Is Trying to Buy the Constitution—Again

For the second year in a row, a DAO is vying to bid on a rare first-edition copy

First-edition copy of the U.S. Constitution
Sotheby's will auction the first-edition copy of the U.S. Constitution on December 13. Sotheby's

A photo of Nicolas Cage wielding a torch in National Treasure serves as the profile picture on ConstitutionDAO2’s Twitter page. It’s a fitting choice. Just like Cage’s character in the film, the people behind ConstitutionDAO2 are after a founding document: a first-edition copy of the Constitution.

For the second year in a row, a decentralized autonomous organization (DAO) is vying to purchase a privately-owned copy of the United States Constitution and bring it to the public. A DAO, a legal structure popularized by cryptocurrency users, is run on blockchain technology, and it has no central governing body. Instead, power is distributed across group members, who vote to make decisions as an entity.

“Exclusive institutions and collectors control some of the world’s most important civic artifacts,” writes ConstitutionDAO2 on its website. “... Rather than burying the artifacts away in private vaults our goal is to ensure the objects which were designed ‘for the people’ are returned to the people, increasing public access, and allowing everyone to learn from the history and values.”

The group is formally titled UnumDAO (taking after the U.S. motto “E pluribus unum,” Latin for “out of many, one”). But it also goes by ConstitutionDAO2, because it considers itself a “spiritual” continuation of ConstitutionDAO, a group formed last year.

In November 2021, ConstitutionDAO took the auction world by storm when it raised upwards of $47 million in just a week in order to bid on another privately-owned copy of the Constitution at a Sotheby’s auction. Because the group operated on blockchain technology, fundraising details were public knowledge.

This transparency may have been ConstitutionDAO’s downfall. “Ahead of the auction, everyone knew the DAO had raised $40 million, including billionaire hedge fund manager Ken Griffin who swooped in with a last-minute bid,” writes Artnet’s Richard Whiddington.

Soon, on December 13, Sotheby’s will auction another first-edition copy of the Constitution. This one last appeared at auction in Philadelphia in 1894 and is estimated to sell for $20 to $30 million.

This time around, UnumDAO has found a way to keep more information behind closed doors: The group is using a mix of public and private fundraising tactics, allowing some donors to conceal their contributions.

So, if UnumDAO is successful in their bid, will token holders become partial owners of the first-edition Constitution? Not exactly. It would be owned by UnumDAO, a nonprofit organization. Token holders would earn the right to vote on the future of the document, such as which museums and exhibition spaces it would go to.

On the other hand, if UnumDAO is unsuccessful, token holders will have 30 days to claim a refund. After that grace period, leftover funds will be transferred to UnumDAO, which will, per the group’s website, “utilize the funds for operational expenses and as a seed fund to purchase and govern other culturally and civically important artifacts.”