Lincoln's Life in Letters:

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A Proclamation

   Whereas, on the twenty-second day of September, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-two, a proclamation was issued by the President of the United States, containing, among other things, the following, to wit:
   “That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever, free; and the Executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom.
   That the Executive will, on the first day of January aforesaid, by proclamation, designate the States and parts of States, if any, in which the people thereof, respectively, shall then be in rebellion against the United States; and the fact that any State, or the people thereof, shall on that day be in good faith represented in the Congress of the United States, by members chosen thereto at elections wherein a majority of the qualified voters of such State shall have participated, shall, in the absence of strong countervailing testimony, be deemed conclusive evidence that such State, and the people thereof, are not then in rebellion against the United States.”
   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 the 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, publically proclaimed for the full period of one hundred days from the first day 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, to wit: Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, (except the Parishes of St. Bernard, Plaquemines, Jefferson, St. John, St. Charles, St. James, Ascension, Assumption, Terre Bonne, 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 forty-eight counties designated as West Virginia, and also the counties of Berkeley, Accomac, Northampton, Elizabeth City, York, Princess Anne, and Norfolk, including the cities of Norfolk and 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 recognized and maintain the freedom of said persons.
   And I hereby enjoin upon the people so declared to be free to abstain from all violence, unless in necessary self-defense; and I recommend to them that, in all cases when allowed, they labor faithfully for reasonable wages.
   And I further declare and make known that such persons, of suitable condition, will be received into the armed services of the United States, to garrison forts, positions, stations, and other places, and to man vessels of all sorts in said service.
   And upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice warranted by the Constitution upon military necessity, I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind and the gracious favor of Almighty God.
   In witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington this first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States of America the eighty-seventh.

By the President:                        Abraham Lincoln

William H. Seward, Secretary of State.

A true copy, with the autograph signatures of the President and the Secretary of State.

Jno. G. Nicolay
Priv. Sec. to the President.

Forever Free

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 only 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.

Lincoln and his Cabinet deliberate over the Emancipation Proclamation. Treasury Secretary, Salmon Chase, stands between Lincoln and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, who sits furthest left. Gideon Welles, Navy Secretary, sits across the table from Secretary of State William H. Seward. Caleb Smith, Secretary of the Interior, stands left of Postmaster General Montgomery Blair, while Attorney General Edward Bates sits at the far right end of the table.
Artist Francis Carpenter’s depiction of Lincoln reading the Emancipation Proclamation to his cabinet.
Eighteen African American soldiers sit in a line. Dressed in military uniform, most men hold books indicating that they have been taught to read. Behind the men stands two white women and three white regiment officers.
A group of African American Civil War soldiers.
Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Twenty-three formerly enslaved individuals gather outside of a building in Virginia. Few men are present in the picture. Men and boys wear trousers and hats. Women wear dresses and cloth head coverings. Many older women also wear aprons and two women hold babies.
African American refugees from slavery during the Civil War.
Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
A soldier reads the news of Emancipation to a family of eleven individuals. A boy stands on a chair holding a torch to light the newspaper. The news shocks and excites the adults in the room. Only the youngest children seem unaware as they cling to their kneeling mother.
A contemporary imagining of African Americans reading the Emancipation Proclamation.
Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Gettysburg Address

Mary Lincoln

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. To see more documents written to and by Lincoln from all over the world, please visit 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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