Original Emancipation Proclamation Visits Plattsburgh

Lincoln’s Handwritten Draft of the Emancipation Proclamation to Come to Plattsburgh

PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. (Oct. 11, 2012) — The New York State Museum’s traveling exhibition of the only surviving draft of the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation in Abraham Lincoln’s handwriting will be on display Oct. 19 from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the Burke Gallery, Myers Fine Arts Building on the  SUNY Plattsburgh campus.

“The First Step to Freedom: Abraham Lincoln’s Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation” will include the draft and the official version of the preliminary document, issued Sept. 22, 1862. The proclamation changed the course of history by freeing tens of thousands of slaves and laying the foundation for the end of slavery.

The two documents will be displayed along with the manuscript of a Sept. 12, 1962, speech by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to the New York State Civil War Centennial Commission in New York City.

Dr. King’s speech — typewritten with handwritten notes throughout — argued that the descendants of slaves were still awaiting civil rights and that government could be a powerful force for change.

The Lincoln’s draft copy is “such a handsome, powerful and organic document,” Mark Schaming, director of the New York State Museum said. “It’s on this beautiful old paper, and he’s thinking while he’s writing.”

The draft shows, for example, that Lincoln toyed with the idea of compensating slaveholders — a plan he had considered earlier. Lincoln’s fingerprint can even been seen in the ink, Schaming said.

Lincoln issued the preliminary document to signal his intention to order the freeing of slaves in any Confederate state that did not return to Union control by Jan. 1, 1863 — the day the official Emancipation Proclamation was signed and issued. A rare copy of the Emancipation Proclamation sold for more than 2 million at auction in New York City in June.

The exhibition’s three documents are accompanied by free-standing pylons that provide context for what the documents mean historically and now. The New York State Legislature bought the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation in 1865 from Gerrit Smith, a well-known abolitionist. The state is showing off its jewel as the exhibition tours New York this month, with stops that include the Oncenter in Syracuse, the Burchfield Penney Art Center in Buffalo, the Rochester Museum and Science Center and the New York State Museum in Albany.

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Attached: Photo of the Emancipation Proclamation Exhibition Poster.

If you would like more information about this topic, or to schedule an interview with Cecilia Esposito, please call Connie Nephew at 518-564-2474

The Plattsburgh State Art Museum is a program of SUNY Plattsburgh and is open seven days a week, noon to 4 p.m. and closed national holidays. The facilities are handicapped accessible.

Additional Background Information

The United States of America was born with the declaration that “all men are created equal,” yet this statement would not ring true for people of African descent who were brought here as enslaved laborers during the colonial period. Though freedom and liberty were its ideals, the young nation continued to depend heavily upon slave labor to fuel its economy. When delegates met at the Constitutional Convention in 1787, the document that was created actually protected the institution of slavery.

As America expanded in the 19th century, sectional differences between the North and South grew, and by 1860, the nation was plunged into civil war. The principal cause of the conflict was slavery. President Abraham Lincoln did not want the bloodshed to be in vain, so in 1862 he first proposed the idea of emancipation. The policy took effect on Jan. 1, 1863, when Lincoln signed his formal Emancipation Proclamation ordering freedom for all those in bondage in the rebellious South.

After the Civil War, the 13th Amendment to the Constitution officially ended slavery everywhere in America, but legal equality would be elusive for the newly freed slaves and their descendants for another 100 years.

The documents included in this exhibition — the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation written by President Abraham Lincoln and issued on Sept. 22, 1862, and the Centennial Address written by Dr. martin Luther King Jr. 100 years later — stand as important examples of the path to freedom for African Americans and the nation.

On Sept. 22, 1862, following the Union victory at Antietam, President Lincoln issued this document, ordering that in 100 days the federal government would deem all slaves free in those states still rebelling against the union. The Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation is the only surviving version of the document in Lincoln’s own hand. Lincoln probably glued in sections of the Congressional Confiscation Act to save time — the fingerprint visible on the first page of the document is probably his own.

In 1864, Lincoln donated the document to the U.S. Sanitary Commission, which raffled it off at the Albany Relief Bazaar to help raise money for the Union war effort. Abolitionist Gerrit Smith won the raffle after buying 1,000 tickets at $1 apiece.  Smith then sold the document to the New York State Legislature, with funds going to the Sanitary Commission. The legislature, in turn, deposited the document in the New York State Library, where it remains today.

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