A decentralized group of more than 8,000 cryptocurrency investors plans to bid on a Sotheby's auction this week for one of 11 known existing copies of the U.S. Constitution. Since the group's launch last week, it has raised more than $3 million.
“After memeing it for awhile [we said] ‘What if we actually do this?’ and then we all joined a call,” 19-year-old contributor Miguel Piedrafita told Motherboard. “I honestly was really hyped but had no expectation of this actually turning into a real thing, and then [contributor] Austin [Cain told us] ‘we’ve been talking to these museums and investors’ and stuff. He actually had a plan which was what was missing for the meme to actually make it really explode.”
The group is called "ConstitutionDAO," and is a 'decentralized autonomous organization,' a buzzy type of blockchain organization that is most often governed by automatically-executing smart contracts on a blockchain. Many DAOs operate democratically, meaning decisions are made by direct vote. It is unclear what would it would mean for a loose collective of crypto investors to have one of the very few original copies of the U.S. constitution. Sotheby's estimates that this copy of the Constitution will sell for between $15 and $20 million.
While many specifics remain up in the air, the group hopes to ensure access to the physical copy, ideally in a museum that does not charge admissions. In addition, they hope to structure the auction such that anyone can participate with any amount of contribution. “To have this document actually owned by the people is really powerful, and then there’s also the meme which is Nicolas Cage, which is trying to do this sort of renegade thing, those two levels really play well together” contributor Julian Weisser, who is referring to the movie National Treasure, where Cage steals a copy of the Declaration of Independence, said. “It is also really funny that your group of friends says ‘We’re going to buy the Constitution’ and then actually does that,” Piedrafita added.
The DAO's plan mirrors that of PleasrDAO, which purchased a one-of-a-kind Wu Tang Clan album once owned by Martin Shrkeli for $4 million. While some see such efforts as somewhat misplaced or better directed elsewhere, others see large DAO crowdfunds as a validation of the possibilities of decentralized technologies. “ConstitutionDAO marks another step towards a kind of absurdist view of our existing institutions in late-stage capitalism” Scott Moore, the co-founder of Gitcoin, a web3 community focused on digital public goods, said. “But within that absurdity is a renewed optimism around our ability to coordinate through memes, and shape the world we live in using new technology. Perhaps we just need Nicolas Cage to help us take back the climate as well.”
The group has split to handle the various tasks associated with the project. One team handles legal challenges, like taxes on contributions and the logistics of getting funds to the auction house. Others focus on administrative tasks like building the website and crowdfunding, or marketing the project to influencers and online. The time pressure has motivated an intense work culture—the group works across time zones and late hours into the night, switching off based on who has free time or is awake. “I think that if this was nine months out, three months out, maybe even a month out I don’t think you could rally the energy that we have right now,” Weisser said.
The group is also currently building out answers to commonly asked questions on the Discord. “Does it come with the Bill of Rights?” Answer: “No.” There is also discussion about the $PEOPLE token that’s being created to manage the project. “Will PEOPLE be the final name of the governance token? (a bit problematic to say stuff like ‘I’m gonna buy/sell/own some $PEOPLE’)”
The group hopes to keep barriers to entry low so that a large group can collectively own the document if they're able to raise enough money. The message seems to resonate. “We’ve spoken to a lot of people who were thinking of participating individually in the bid, and instead they’ve said ‘this sounds really amazing, I actually want to participate with you all instead,” Weisser said. At one point Sunday night, the group raised $600,000 within 45 minutes.