“Every year in our country, the legal and social equality of all races continues to come closer to our ideal,” said James M. Cornelius, curator of the Lincoln Collection at the Presidential Library and Museum. “The great break with the past, the seminal event, the leap forward, began with Lincoln's pen in September 1862. People at the time - black or white, American or European, North or South - knew this, and their experience tells us to celebrate this document and its anniversary.”
The Emancipation Proclamation is one of the officially printed commemorative copies that Lincoln signed in full, along with Secretary of State William Seward and Lincoln’s private secretary, John G. Nicolay. The President signed the original Emancipation Proclamation in private with only a few witnesses at his side – no “photo opportunity” as we like to say today.
It is fortunate that the commemorative printing was ordered, because Lincoln’s original manuscript was lost in the Chicago Fire of 1871. The Proclamation measures approximately 27 by 20 inches. It was most recently displayed during a five-day special viewing around his birthday in 2012, and during the 2009 Lincoln Bicentennial.
Next to it will be two artifacts never before displayed. One, created in the 1870s, is a bronze statue of Lincoln breaking the shackles of a slave. The sculptor was probably a Frenchman, Léon Falconnier. It was inspired by a giant Washington, D.C., statue by Thomas Ball for which Frederick Douglass gave the dedication speech in 1876. In that speech Douglass declared Lincoln “the white man’s president,” though he had earlier deemed him “the black man's president.” Falconnier may have wanted to capitalize on Ball's work, which, though less popular today, was commissioned and paid for by freedmen and helped solidify the image of Lincoln as the liberator of a race. Lincoln in fact had urged freedmen to show their gratitude to God and not to him, since freedom is a human right.
Visitors will be asked to give their thoughts about the sculpture as part of an “interactive experience” about this trio of historic objects.
The other item on view for the first time will be an 1864 notice of a slave sale in Louisville, Kentucky. This sale, held nearly two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued, shows that the Proclamation did not apply to the border states during the Civil War, thus keeping these slave-holding states in the Union. The next year, Congress voted to change the U.S. Constitution with the 13th Amendment, which outlawed slavery in the entire United States.
For more information about programs and exhibits at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, visit www.presidentlincoln.org.