Monthly Archives: December 2012

Celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation

Abraham Lincoln spent the morning of Dec. 31, 1862 meeting with his cabinet to revise the final text of the Emancipation Proclamation, which was due to go into the effect the next day. On the morning of January 1, 1863, after an 11 A.M. reception at the White House, he signed the final, official copy of the document, which had been prepared by the State Department. Frederick Seward, the son of Lincoln’s Secretary of State, was an eyewtiness:

At noon, accompanying my father, I carried the broad parchment in a large portfolio under my arm. We, threading our way through the throng in the vicinity of the White House, went upstairs to the President’s room, where Mr. Lincoln speedily joined us. The broad sheet was spread open before him on the Cabinet table. Mr. Lincoln dipped his pen in the ink, and then, holding it a moment above the sheet, seemed to hesitate. Looking around, he said:

“I never in my life felt more certain that I was doing right, than I do in signing this paper. But I have been receiving calls and shaking hands since nine o’clock this morning, till my arm is stiff and numb. Now this signature is one that will be closely examined, and if they find my hand trembled they will say ‘he had some compunctions.’ But anyway, it is going to be done.”

So saying, he slowly and carefully wrote his name at the bottom of the proclamation. The signature proved to be unusually clear, bold, and firm, even for him, and a laugh followed at his apprehension. My father, after appending his own name, and causing the great seal to be affixed, had the important document placed among the archives. Copies were at once given to the press.

Many abolitionist churches in the North and communities of contraband slaves in Union camps in the South held watch night services on Dec. 31 to await the final proclamation. This year, on the 150th anniversary of the proclamation, some organizations are continuing this tradition, and the document is on exhibit for a limited time at the National Archives.

A Union soldier reads the proclamation to an enslaved family in this 1864 engraving by J.W. Watts. Division of Rare & Manuscript Collections, Carl A. Kroch Library, Cornell University

You can read the final proclamation’s text in the Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln:

Now, therefore I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, by virtue of the power in me vested as Commander-in-Chief, of the Army and Navy of the United States in time of actual armed rebellion against authority and government of the United States, and as a fit and necessary war measure for suppressing said rebellion, do, on this first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty three, and in accordance with my purpose so to do publicly proclaimed for the full period of one hundred days, from the day first above mentioned, order and designate as the States and parts of States wherein the people thereof respectively, are this day in rebellion against the United States, the following, towit:

Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, (except the Parishes of St. Bernard, Plaquemines, Jefferson, St. Johns, St. Charles, St. James[,] Ascension, Assumption, Terrebonne, Lafourche, St. Mary, St. Martin, and Orleans, including the City of New-Orleans) Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South-Carolina, North-Carolina, and Virginia, (except the fortyeight counties designated as West Virginia, and also the counties of Berkley, Accomac, Northampton, Elizabeth-City, York, Princess Ann, and Norfolk, including the cities of Norfolk & Portsmouth [)]; and which excepted parts are, for the present, left precisely as if this proclamation were not issued.

And by virtue of the power, and for the purpose aforesaid, I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said designated States, and parts of States, are, and henceforward shall be free; and that the Executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authorities thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of said persons.

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The amendment, the conference, and Hollywood’s Lincoln

At his Crossroads blog, historian Brooks Simpson examines the chronology of the Hampton Roads Conference and the Thirteenth Amendment’s passage in Congress, which are the two events at the center of the film Lincoln.

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Your chance to see Lincoln’s first draft of the Emancipation Proclamation

Lincoln’s handwritten draft of the Emancipation Proclamation will be on display to the public at the Library of Congress for six weeks beginning in January 2013.  This special limited engagement is part of the LOC’s special Civil War exhibition, which runs through next June.

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Kentucky Historical Society releases Lincoln tour for app

The Kentucky Historical Society has released a new tour for its “Explore KY History” smartphone app.  The new tour showcases Kentucky sites associated with Lincoln, allowing you to access maps, photos, and other material to guide you on your own trip through Lincoln’s home state.  Two other tours featuring Kentucky’s Civil War and War of 1812 sites are also included.  You can download the Explore KY History app for free through iTunes.

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Senators join together to host Lincoln screening

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have jointly invited their fellow lawmakers to attend a special screening of Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln next week, followed by a discussion with Spielberg, Daniel Day-Lewis, screenwriter Tony Kushner, and Doris Kearns Goodwin.  The two Senate rivals note that the story “depicts the good which is attainable when public servants put the betterment of the country ahead of short-term political interests.”

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WaPo readers’ picks for best presidential biographies

Not long ago we mentioned an informal poll conducted by The Washington Post, asking readers to name the best biographies of each American president.  The results of that survey are in.  The volumes selected for Lincoln include recent single-volume treatments by David Herbert Donald and Stephen B. Oates alongside older works by Carl Sandburg and Lord Charnwood, as well as Doris Kearns Goodwin’s bestselling Team of Rivals.

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Seward biographer on Hollywood fact and fiction

Walter Stahr, author of a new biography of William H. Seward, shares his thoughts on Spielberg’s Lincoln at the Wall Street Journal‘s website.

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