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The Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation

The President's Gift

On January 4, 1864, Assistant Secretary of State, Frederick William Seward 7 wrote the following letter to Emily Weed Barnes (PDF, 1.2 MB):

My dear Mrs. Barnes,

I have the pleasure of sending you, with the President's permission, the original draft of his September proclamation. The body of his own handwriting, the penciled additions in the hand of the Secretary of State, and the formal beginning and ending in the hand of the Chief Clerk.8

This gift by the President was a major donation to the Albany Bazaar, and an irreplaceable historical artifact.  It had been written almost entirely in Lincoln's own hand in September 1862 and was, as Seward noted, the original draft of the proclamation that would lead to the freeing of all slaves still held in the United States.  Autographed letters and documents, especially those signed by celebrated political and military leaders were especially sought after as collectibles to be sold or raffled at sanitary fairs. In particular, fair organizers were eager to get presidential papers, which presumably would command the highest prices.  For instance, the city of New York, for its "Metropolitan Fair," solicited a hand-written copy of the Gettysburg Address, which Lincoln obligingly wrote out—as he had done for other fairs, including Baltimore, for which two were written out.9

The final draft proclamation (dated January 1, 1863) had likewise been donated to a sanitary fair—the Northwestern Soldiers' Fair held in Chicago in October 1863.  In sending that document, Lincoln noted, "The formal words at the top, and the conclusion, except the signature, you perceive are not in my hand-writing. They were written at the State Department by whom I know not."10 Lincoln was well aware of these documents' historic value, but sacrificed them willingly for what he perceived as the greater good: "I had some desire to retain the paper; but if it shall contribute to the relief or comfort of the soldiers, that will be better."11

"With the President's Permission..." How New York Acquired the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation was written by Paul Mercer which is located in The Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation and related documents from the collections of the NYS Library.


7 Frederick was the son of Lincoln's Secretary of State, William Seward, a former Governor of New York.

8 Frederick William Seward. Letters, 1864-1906.  New York State Library, Manuscripts and Special Collections, 14977.

9 Kantor & Kantor, Sanitary Fairs: A Philatelic and Historical Study of Civil War Benevolence. (Glencoe, Illinois: SF Publishing, 1992), p. 107.  The proliferation of these copies—all genuinely written out by Lincoln—has led to some confusion as to which (if any) could be called the "original" manuscript of the address.

10 Abraham Lincoln ALS, Washington, 26 October 1863. Reproduced in Kantor, Sanitary Fairs, p. 172.

11 Ibid.  The final draft, auctioned at Chicago, fetched a price of $3000.00.  It was later donated to the Chicago Historical Society, but eventually it was lost in the 1871 Chicago fire.