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Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation on display in New York City

The fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation. . . . In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free—honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve. We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best, hope of earth. President Abraham Lincoln, 1862.

Two original versions of President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation will be displayed together for the first time in the Schomburg Center in New York City from September 21 to 24.

This is a rare opportunity to see the signed draft that is part of the holdings of the National Archives. This document represents the transformation of the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation from intent to action. On September 22, 1862, Lincoln’s handwritten draft was transcribed, affixed with the Seal of the United States, and signed by him. The Proclamation now carried the force of law.

The Proclamation had been in development since the summer. In July 1862, President Lincoln read his “preliminary proclamation” to his Cabinet but decided to wait for a Union military victory to issue it. On September 17, 1862, over 6,000 Union and Confederate men died at Antietam in the bloodiest day in American history. Thousands more were wounded or missing. It was also the 75th anniversary of the signing of the Constitution.

On September 22, 1862, after the Union victory at Antietam, he signed the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation.

President Abraham Lincoln and his generals after Antietam, 1862 (ARC 527118)

The die was cast. Lincoln had formally alerted the Confederacy of his intention to free the slaves in the rebelling states.

The preliminary version includes President Lincoln’s controversial recommendation that citizens be compensated for the loss of slaves. But by January 1, 1863, the final Emancipation Proclamation made no reference to compensation. President Lincoln had determined that freeing the slaves was not only a means of preserving the Union but an explicit goal of the war itself.

The Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation is part of the New York State Museum’s traveling exhibition “The First Step to Freedom: Abraham Lincoln’s Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation.” The documents will travel to eight cities in the state of New York.

“As a milestone on the path to slavery’s final abolishment, the Emancipation Proclamation has assumed a place among the great documents of human freedom. We are honored to share this official Preliminary Proclamation in the ‘First Step to Freedom’ celebration,” said Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero.

The final version of the Emancipation Proclamation, also part of the holdings of the National Archives, will be on display at the National Archives from December 30, 2012, to January 1, 2013.

Page one of the Emancipation Proclamation, January 1, 1863 (ARC 299998)

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