For the first time in 15 years, the Library is displaying Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation in the continuing "American Treasures of the Library of Congress" exhibition; it can be seen through May. "American Treasures" is a permanent, rotating exhibition that features different significant documents every three months, giving the public the opportunity to experience the richness and diversity of the Library's American historical collections. The Emancipation Proclamation was displayed to the public briefly in 1983 and 1975, and for a longer period in 1962-1963.
Almost from the beginning of his administration, Lincoln was pressed by abolitionists and radical Republicans to issue an Emancipation Proclamation. In principle, Lincoln approved, but avoided action against slavery until he had the support of the American people. The passage of the Second Confiscation Act by Congress on July 17, 1862, which gave Union forces the right to confiscate, or free, slaves held by Southern rebels of the government, provided the desired signal. Not only had Congress relieved the president of the considerable strain of the administration's limited initiative on emancipation, it was acting on an increasing public abhorrence of slavery.
At the passage of the Second Confiscation Act, Lincoln had already drafted what he termed his "Preliminary Proclamation." He read this initial Emancipation Proclamation draft to Secretary of State William H. Seward and Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles on July 13, 1862. Both men were rendered speechless. Quickly collecting his thoughts, Seward said in light of recent Union military losses, it would "be viewed as the last measure of an exhausted government, a cry for help," but with Welles apparently too confused to respond, Lincoln let the matter drop.
Nine days later, on July 22, Lincoln raised the issue in a regularly scheduled Cabinet meeting. The reaction was mixed. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, correctly interpreting the Proclamation as a military measure designed both to deprive the Confederacy of slave labor and bring additional men into the Union Army, advocated its immediate release. Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase was equally supportive, but Montgomery Blair, the Postmaster General, foresaw defeat in the fall elections. Attorney General Edward Bates, a conservative, opposed civil and political equality for blacks but gave his qualified support. His mind made up as to the substance of the Proclamation, Lincoln waited for a Union victory before issuing it.
On Sept. 22, 1862, four days after the Union victory at Antietam, Lincoln gave his preliminary Emancipation Proclamation as a direct order to the Army. He also discussed the Emancipation Proclamation at a Cabinet meeting that day, which resulted in the political and literary refinement of the July draft. The preliminary version differs from the final version of Jan. 1, 1863, in placing a greater emphasis on the preservation of the Union as a motivating force for the Proclamation.
On Jan. 1, 1863, Lincoln signed the final Emancipation Proclamation, which more clearly defined the areas in rebellion, specifically excepting some cities and counties. It also expressly stated that former slaves were eligible for military service and said that they were to be paid reasonable wages.
In the final Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln ordered that states in rebellion return to the Union as of Jan. 1, 1863. He named districts "wherein the people ... are this day in rebellion" and ordered "that all persons held as slaves ... [in those areas] are, and henceforward shall be, free."
The original Jan. 1, 1863, Proclamation was lost in the Chicago fire of 1871. Surviving photographs of the original document show it primarily in Lincoln's own hand. The title and ending are in the hand of a clerk, and printed insertions are from the Sept. 22, 1862, preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. The official, or engrossed, version of the final Emancipation Proclamation is in the National Archives.
In addition to the only surviving copy of the first draft of the Emancipation Proclamation, in the hand of Abraham Lincoln, July 22, 1862, the exhibition will include: a first printing of the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, Sept. 22, 1862; Salmon Chase's diary, recording Lincoln's presentation of the preliminary version of the Emancipation Proclamation on Sept. 22, 1862; a photographic copy of Abraham Lincoln's draft of the final Emancipation Proclamation, Jan. 1, 1863; a letter from Abraham Lincoln to Albert G. Hodges, editor of the Frankfort (Ky.) Commonwealth, April 4, 1864, in which Lincoln explained his view of slavery; and Southern sympathizer Adalbert Volk's savage caricature of Lincoln writing the Emancipation Proclamation.
The Lincoln items in the exhibition come from two sources in the Library. One is the Robert Todd Lincoln Family Papers, housed in the Manuscript Division. Donated by Abraham Lincoln's only surviving son, this collection of approximately 15,000 items contains primary correspondence and papers accumulated during Lincoln's presidency. The other is the Alfred Whital Stern Collection in the Rare Book and Special Collections Division. The Stern Collection contains more than 10,500 books, pamphlets, broadsides, sheet music, autograph letters, prints, cartoons, maps, drawings and other memorabilia that offer a unique view of Lincoln's life and times.