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Archive for December, 2012

Emancipation Proclamation: Freedom in Washington, DC

Today’s blog post comes from National Archives social media intern Anna Fitzpatrick.

Image: Petition of Margaret C. Barber, 05/21/1862; Record Group 217; National Archives (National Archives Identifier: 4644520)

Nine months before President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, he signed a bill on April 16, 1862, that ended slavery in the District of Columbia. The act finally concluded many years of disagreements over ending ”the national shame” of slavery in the nation’s capital.

The law provided for immediate emancipation, compensation to loyal Unionist masters of up to $300 for each freed slave, voluntary colonization of former slaves to colonies outside the United States, and payments of up to $100 to each person choosing emigration. Although this three-way approach of immediate emancipation, compensation, and colonization did not serve as a model for the future, it pointed toward slavery’s death. Emancipation was greeted with great joy by the District’s African American community.

The white population of DC took advantage of the act’s promise of compensation. One month after the act was issued, Margaret Barber presented a claim to the Board of Commissioners for the Emancipation of Slaves in the District of Columbia, saying that she wanted to be compensated by the Federal Government, which had freed her 34 slaves.

Image: Petition of Margaret C. Barber, 05/21/1862; Record Group 217; National Archives (National Archives Identifier: 4644520)

Margaret Barber estimated … [ Read all ]

Facial Hair Friday: William and William (A Tale of Two Neck Beards)

Why were neck beards ever socially acceptable? In my humble opinion, they are the facial equivalent of mullets or bowl cuts. Unlike bad haircuts, however, they may have had some useful characteristics. Maybe they kept cold wind from blowing in men’s collars. Maybe their wives objected to prickly beards and mustaches but the husbands still wanted facial hair?

At any rate, two of President Lincoln’s cabinet members had neck beards.

William Fessenden, circa 1860–1865, ARC Identifier 529980

William Fessenden, whose neck hair is on the less-offensive side of neck beards, served as President Lincoln’s Secretary of the Treasury from July 1864 to March 1865. Prior to his appointment, he served as a Whig Representative and then a Republican Senator for Maine, during which time he strongly opposed slavery. Part of the Peace Congress in 1861, he was appointed as Head of the Finance Committee. His fantastic performance on the Committee prompted his appointment as Secretary of the Treasury. He stabilized the national financial situation, then resigned to return to the Senate.

Fessenden headed the Joint Committee on Reconstruction and was responsible for readmitting Southern states to the Union. He recommended procedures based on the Constitution and the Law of Nations and recommended safeguards to prevent future rebellion. He was widely considered the leader of the Senate Republicans. However, during President Johnson’s impeachment trial, he bravely … [ Read all ]

Putting on the glitz!

Today’s blog post comes from Jennifer Johnson, curator at the National Archives.

The National Archives is known as the nation’s record keeper. But you may be surprised to learn that we also have a vast collection of gifts, given to Presidents, Vice Presidents, and their wives, that is astonishing in its variety.

At the National Archives in Washington, DC, we currently provide storage and preservation for over 7,000 Vice Presidential gifts given to Vice President Gore and Vice President Cheney during their administrations, including both domestic and Foreign Official Gifts.

In 2006, this 18-karat white gold sapphire and diamond jewelry set was given to Vice President Dick Cheney’s wife, Lynne Cheney, by the King of Saudi Arabia, His Majesty Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud. (It is currently on display through December 27, 2012.)

18-karat white gold sapphire and diamond jewelry set, National Archives, Presidential Materials Division.

The Foreign Gifts and Decorations Act allows the President and Vice President to accept, for our nation, gifts that are given as part of a centuries-old diplomatic tradition by a foreign official to the President on behalf of his country. The President or Vice President may keep a foreign official gift of less than the minimal value of $350. Most Presidential foreign official gifts go to the administration’s Presidential library.

A Vice President may choose to ask the Archivist of … [ Read all ]

Merry Christmas from Space!

Telegram from Gordon Schorb, December 12, 1958, Eisenhower Presidential Library

Once upon a time, space was quiet. This was before satellites had cluttered the orbit of the earth, beaming TV shows and text messages and GPS coordinates.

Before 1958, space was very quiet.

On December 18, 1958, the Air Force placed the first communications satellite, a Project SCORE relay vehicle, into orbit.

And then, on December 19, the sound of the a human voice was transmitted through space. It was the voice of President Eisenhower, broadcasting a message of peace to the world below.

This is the President of the United States speaking. Through the marvels of scientific advance, my voice is coming to you from a satellite circling in outer space. My message is a simple one. Through this unique means, I convey to you and all mankind America’s wish for peace on earth and good will to men everywhere.

Press release from the White House, December 19, 1958. Eisenhower Presidential Library.

 

Fewer than 100 people knew about the project, called SCORE (Signal Communications by Orbiting Relay Equipment). The goal was to put an Atlas missile into orbit and to show that communications satellites could transmit messages to Earth. It was a huge technological breakthrough and a milestone in the space race.

Sputnik 1 had been successfully launched in 1957 and had an … [ Read all ]

Emancipation Proclamation: My Dear Wife

Today’s blog post comes from National Archives social media intern Anna Fitzpatrick.

Envelope from a letter sent by John Boston to his wife Elizabeth, January 12, 1862, enclosed in a letter from Major General George B. McClellan to the Honorable Edwin Stanton; Letters Received, 1805–1889; Records of the Adjutant General's Office, 1762–1984, Record Group 94; National Archives Identifier 783102.

During the Civil War, the government moved slowly but steadily from an affirmation of the Constitutional protection of slavery to its complete abolition with the Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment. This change was in part forced on the Federal government by the growing numbers of enslaved people who fled and sought protection behind Union lines.

John Boston, fleeing slavery in Maryland, found refuge with a New York regiment in Upton Hill, Virginia, where he wrote to his wife who remained in Owensville. At the moment of celebrating his freedom, his highest hope and aspiration was to be reunited with his family.

My Dear Wife it is with grate joy I take this time to let you know Whare I am
i am now in Safety in the 14th Regiment of Brooklyn . . . this Day i can Adress you thank god as a free man I had a little truble in giting away But as the lord led the Children of Isrel to the

[ Read all ]