February 25, 1998 Emancipation Proclamation to Go on Display in "American Treasures of the Library of Congress"

Document Last Displayed in 1983

Contact: Yvonne French (202) 707-9191

For the first time in 15 years, the Library of Congress will display Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation in the continuing "American Treasures of the Library of Congress" exhibition beginning Feb. 25. 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.

Background of the Emancipation Proclamation

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
  • 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.

Some of the documents in the exhibition and other Lincoln materials not in the exhibition may be seen on the Library's Web page at http://lcweb2.loc.gov/ammem/alhtml/alhome.html, where a preview of the new site, "Mr. Lincoln's Virtual Library," is now available. The digitization of the Lincoln materials is being made possible by a $1 million donation to the National Digital Library Program from Donald G. Jones, Terri L. Jones and the Jones Family Foundation.

Exhibition Information

"American Treasures of the Library of Congress" is the Library's first permanent exhibition. Its selection of rare books, music, manuscripts, maps, photographs, drawings, audio clips and videotapes gives visitors a firsthand look at a cross section of the vast repository that has been called "America's Memory." Highlights of the exhibition include the contents of Lincoln's pockets on the night of his assassination, the first surviving book printed in North America, early baseball cards and a photograph of the Wright brothers' first flight taken at the instant of takeoff.

The exhibition displays 240 items arranged in the manner of Thomas Jefferson's library, the seed from which the present Library of Congress collections grew. The exhibition is made possible by a grant from the Xerox Foundation.

An audio tour featuring selections from the Library's collection of sound recordings provides an array of memories, many of them drawn from the early years of radio and TV broadcasting archived in the Library's collections. Listeners can hear both narration about and the actual voices of presidents, poets and other famous figures, including Theodore Roosevelt, Robert Frost and Woodrow Wilson. The random-access audio device also features music, including the voices of Beverly Sills and Jelly Roll Morton. Visitors may rent the wand for $2.50.

On Feb. 25, Manuscript Historian John Sellars of the Library's Manuscript Division will discuss the Emancipation Proclamation in one of a continuing series of "Treasure Talks." The scholarly talks are given by the curators describing particular items in the exhibition. The free, half-hour sessions are held at noon each Wednesday at the featured display case in the exhibition hall. For information, call (202) 707-5223.

Harry N. Abrams Inc. has published a companion volume with an introduction by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Garry Wills and a foreword by Librarian of Congress James H. Billington. American Treasures in the Library of Congress: Memory/Reason/Imagination ($39.95) is available in the Library sales shops and wherever books are sold.

The exhibition is on the second level of the gloriously restored, 100-year-old Thomas Jefferson Building, located at First Street and Independence Ave. S.E. near the Capitol South Metrorail station. Exhibition hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. The Library is closed on Sundays and federal holidays. Both the building and the exhibition are barrier-free and accessible to persons with disabilities. Entrance is free. Groups of 10 or more are requested to call the Visitor Services Office at (202) 707- 9779 to arrange a tour. For recorded information about the exhibition, call (202) 707-3834, (202) 707-6200 TTY.

Note to press: a color slide of the Emancipation Proclamation and Lincoln's letter to the Kentucky editor are available from the Public Affairs Office. Call (202) 707-9191 for delivery of duplicates.


PR 98-025
ISSN 0731-3527