The Emancipation Proclamation bears Lincoln’s name, but it was the product of decades of struggle by numerous people. African Americans, in particular, fought hard to end slavery and were among the first to recognize the Civil War’s potential for emancipation. They pressured Northern soldiers and politicians in numerous ways, especially by fleeing their enslavement to assist the Union war effort.

By the summer of 1862, those efforts and the Confederacy’s stubborn defense had convinced many Northerners that it was time to directly assault slavery. Lincoln was prominently among them and began conceiving of an Emancipation Proclamation, which would take effect on January 1, 1863. It freed all enslaved people in areas under rebellion and opened the door for Black enlistment in the U.S. military. The original document burned in the 1871 Chicago Fire, but this is one of 48 copies Lincoln signed to raise funds for Northern soldiers.

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Lincoln's Life in Letters Emancipation Photos

Images for Lincoln's Life in Letters Emancipation panel

The documents highlighted in this exhibit are all drawn from our own collection. The originals are in our vault and the images were created by our Papers of Abraham Lincoln project. Please visit their website,, to see more documents written to and by Lincoln from all over the world. If you have a Lincoln document, or know someone who does, please reach out to us. We are always looking for new discoveries.

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