This Crypto-Fueled Internet Collective Raised More Than $40 Million to Buy a Rare Copy of the Constitution

The United States Constitution is more than just another document: It’s the foundation upon which this entire country has been built. In the most significant possible sense, it’s what attempts to guarantee that the people making decisions on behalf of the public represent the opinion of those citizens in the fairest and most just way possible. It’s part of a delicate system of checks and balances that wants to make sure that people who hold power are accountable to the people.

Many consider the Constitution a masterpiece of writing, and although one is on display in Washington, D.C., many people don’t realize that there are more copies out there — 13 “copies” of the definitive, approved Constitution were given to each of the original colonies for ratification. Because photocopying didn’t exist in those days, each one was handwritten, but they were considered official documents, nonetheless.

Over the years, some copies were lost to the ages. One of those copies was found and, in 2021, was put up for auction by Sotheby’s. In a decidedly modern twist, an internet collective known as ConstitutionDAO was able to almost immediately raise $5 million in an attempt to buy it  one of the only copies in existence that isn’t in private hands.

If that $5 million figure outlined above sounds impressive, it should  but that is far from where the story ended.

The internet and the Constitution

When you join a DAO (decentralized autonomous organization), you usually need to use some form of cryptocurrency to do so. You exchange digital funds for tokens, which themselves essentially give you “voting power” within the group. The more tokens you’re able to buy, the more powerful your voice happens to be. With respect to ConstitutionDAO, Forbes revealed that it cost approximately $4,600  or a million tokens  to enter the conversation at all.

ConstitutionDAO is an internet collective of cryptocurrency investors who, as the name suggested, attempted to buy a rare copy of the United States Constitution. The copy in question was one of those above 13 original copies, and it was the first time that one had come up for auction in more than three decades.

The organization’s goal was to then seek an “esteemed partner” (as per language on their website’s “frequently asked questions” page) to display the document publicly. They were requesting the expertise of someone who could adequately house, store and maintain this most precious of artifacts. ConstitutionDAO also wanted whichever partner was selected to make it available to the public free of charge and cover all costs associated with the above.

ConstitutionDAO raised more than $40 million worth of funds a significant feat that reveals the financial potential of collective organizing online. But in the end, it wasn’t enough. An anonymous private collector spent $43.2 million on the document, more than twice Sotheby’s initial estimate. 

The near-success raises new questions without easy answers

ConstitutionDAO pulled in more than 17,000 donors with a median donation size of $206.26. A statement posted on the group’s main page indicated that a sizable portion of these came from cryptocurrency wallets used for the first time. But Sotheby’s had never worked with a DAO community before, which led to a wide range of different questions that didn’t have easy answers. 

Part of the trouble may have also had to do with the origin of the group itself. It began life a week before the auction via a semi-comical series of Twitter exchanges. But five days later, history had been made  and the auction day hadn’t even arrived yet.

A DAO records every one of its members in the blockchain, which is a type of digital ledger that is publicly available and cannot be changed. It would be rare for “members” to meet in the same room simultaneously; instead, efforts like this one were all executed through various messaging apps.

To their credit, the organizers of ConstitutionDAO have already indicated that people who donated to the cause will be able to get a refund if they so choose  minus specific applicable fees. Had they won the auction, they would have submitted a proposal for what to do with the money that their decidedly large community would then vote on. 

It’s important to note that had the collective won the rare copy of the Constitution, those 17,000-plus people would not have gotten “ownership rights” over the document. The ConstitutionDAO site was clear that people who donate were receiving a “governance token,” not fractionalized ownership. As defined by organizational leadership, this meant that this included a chance to advise on where the Constitution should ultimately be stored and displayed (essentially voting rights), along with how it should be displayed. The people who gave donations would also have a say in “the mission and values of Constitution DAO.”

The website also shows that even if you have governance tokens, you accept them with “no profit expectations.” They were also not tax-deductible.

The future of the DAO

Even though the bid for the Constitution was lost, it’s still the type of action that could be a sign of much bigger things to come. The idea of a DAO is an attractive one for young people in particular, and especially for those who have been able to navigate the ever-changing world of cryptocurrency up to this point.

With talk of where any non-refunded money will go, people have said they “need to do something equally as epic” because the bar has been set so high. What that means remains to be seen. It could be more auctions for precious historical artifacts in the future, or it could be something else entirely. But from a particular perspective, the people have spoken. They’ve raised an incredible amount of money for a group that has no specific leader, and whether you think this is a good thing or a bad one, it’s a trend that shows absolutely no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

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