Sunday, November 11, 2012

Civil War Sunday - In Lincoln's Handwriting

On November 1, 2012, 150 years plus a little after it was written, Lincoln's Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation came to Binghamton, New York.  I was part of a crowd of people who got the once in a lifetime opportunity to view this document.

This is NOT the "official" Emancipation Proclamation that was declared on January 1, 1863 and freed slaves in all states in rebellion against the Union. Rather,this was a preliminary document, almost a "trial balloon", if you will, released on September 22, 1862 after the Union victory at Antietam, near Sharpsburg, MD.

The New York Department of Education has a wonderful article about Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, a document that is misunderstood by many people. (For example, not all slave states joined the Confederacy, and slaves in those states that stayed in the Union, such as Maryland, remained in slavery.  Of course, the slave owners in the Confederate States of America were not about to free their slaves because Lincoln told them to, so the document was more symbolic than anything else.  But what a symbol it was, as I will blog about as we approach the January 1 2013 150th anniversary.)  The original copy of the 1863 document was destroyed in the Chicago Fire of October 8-10, 1871.

When you think of the old paperback books yellowing and crumbling in your bookcase (I don't know about you, but I have some) the fact that we can view this document is almost miraculous.  What was even more awe-inspiring was being able to see the document at a museum in Binghamton,  and at no admission charge, thanks to the New York State Museum, who normally keeps it in their vault.  This was part of a traveling exhibit that also included a typed speech given by Martin Luther King, Jr. on the 150th anniversary of the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation.

After about 1/2 hour wait, my spouse and I approached the document.  It was in a glass case, with a guard directly in back of it.  Groups of 4 were allowed to approach the case, which was about at my waist level, with the guard explaining certain features and answering general questions. No flash photography was allowed, but, amazingly, we could photograph it.  Out came my iPhone.  The photos aren't the best but we weren't allowed much time to view the display.

Here they are.  I have tried to put these left to right, but I don't think I totally succeeded.
The document, in Abraham Lincoln's handwriting, starts "I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States of America, and Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy thereof, do hereby proclaim and declare ..." (the entire text of both the Preliminary and Final proclamations can be found on
The printed text, the guard explained, was pasted on the document by Lincoln from Acts of Congress.  One of the smudges you can see directly below the first block of printed text may be Lincoln's thumbprint.
Cross outs by Abraham Lincoln.
Another view of the second block of pasted text in the second photo.
The signature of William Steward, Lincoln's Secretary of State (and the same man responsible for the purchase of the land that became Alaska from the Russians.)

Thank you, Roberson Center, for your excellent exhibit and crowd control.

1 comment:

  1. How interesting. I love the cross outs and the fact printed sections were pasted. I wonder if anyone has verified his thumb print and how could one verify that anyway??? Cool...


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