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The Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation

A Prize of Great Magnitude

A prize of this magnitude demanded pride of place in the fair schedule, and it was decided that the drawing for it would be the grand finale on the closing day.  A limited number of tickets, not to exceed five thousand, were to be sold at $1.00 each.  In a fitting ceremonial flourish, the winning ticket would be drawn, using "the same wheel used by the Provost Marshall of the 14th Congressional District of the State of New York in making the draft of Soldiers for the said district."

From the first days of the fair, the President's gift was an object of considerable attention.  A local wag wrote anonymously in The Canteen:

The President sent in a Draft—;
What else could be expected,
From one who's dealt in nothing else
Ever since he was elected?16

The sale—for $3,000—of the final Emancipation Proclamation at Chicago's Northwestern Soldier's Fair, the previous October, had no doubt increased the public interest in the outcome of the Albany lottery.  For his part, Barnes promoted the view that the preliminary draft was the more important—and thus more valuable—document: 

I think the 22nd Sept. [i.e. the preliminary draft] is really more valuable than the 1st of Jany. [i.e. the final proclamation.] …The Judgment was really pronounced in Sept. Jany. was only enforcing Execution. The Sept. Proclamation first embodied the President's plan on foolscap…the Sept. document was really the effective Proclamation of Freedom.17

The final day of the fair was March 9, 1864.  (Originally scheduled to close on March 5, the fair's run had been extended for an extra week by popular demand.)  The closing day drew an enormous crowd: "The crowd was absolutely stifling.  Every inch of standing and resting space was occupied."18 As the fair opened that day, there were still unsold tickets for the Emancipation Proclamation:  "Yesterday morning, nearly a thousand tickets were unsold; but the committee 'took off their coats' and…by 9 PM all but 8 had been disposed of."19  All of this activity no doubt increased the interest of the large crowds in the final drawing as reported by the next day's Albany Evening Journal:

There was a good deal of excitement as the drawing was commenced, and when the venerable Gerrit Smith was announced as the holder of the successful ticket, a loud and hearty cheer went up.

It might be expected that, since he was a member of the committee charged with administering the lottery, Smith's good fortune would be questioned (especially since he had reportedly enhanced his odds by buying a thousand tickets.) However, according to Barnes, this was not the case, and the public jubilation, probably as a result of Smith's general popularity, was genuine: "There was a great shout of approval when the draft which gave you the Proclamation [was announced]. Everyone was satisfied and seemed better pleased than to claim it themselves."20

The very next day (March 10), Barnes wrote to inform Smith. "You have the Proclamation. The disposition of it although by chance is eminently just. Mrs. B. and I send congratulations."21 Even at that early date, Barnes clearly wanted the proclamation ultimately to remain in Albany and suggested so to Smith: "It should go by your will to the State Library, allow me to suggest." On March 12, Smith replied, characteristically stating:

I have never been proud of owning houses and lands, but I confess that I am somewhat elated by being the owner of this glorious Proclamation of Freedom, in the very form in which it came from our President's strong and honest hand.22

Acknowledging that he had already been beset by people with suggestions for how he should best dispose of the document, Smith continued:

I feel bound to adhere to my purpose when I purchased the tickets.  That purpose was to let it go to the individual or association, who would pay the largest price for it to the Sanitary Commission…You will please retain the Proclamation in your office until the purchaser shall call for it.

Barnes replied on March 17, that he would do just as Smith wished, but at the same time indicating that he was already lobbying behind the scenes to acquire the document for New York State:  "I saw Mr. Stevens of Buffalo, the chairman of the Com. On Ways & Means & have given him a draft of a SS for the Supply Bill approving funding of $1,000 for the Proclamation for the State Library."23

Barnes evidently persisted in his efforts despite an apparent unwillingness on the part of the legislature to act, and Smith's intention to raise as much as he could, even if it meant entertaining foreign offers. "I do not see how any offer of more than a $1,000 can easily be advanced for it unless Great Britain or California may make such an offer.  You have it in your discretion and will of course wait until you are satisfied that the highest offer has been received."24 Meanwhile Frederick, P. Stevens, the Buffalo assemblyman who, as chairman of the influential Ways and Means Committee, was central to Barnes' scheme, was defeated in an 1864 election.

In the interim, the Proclamation was, by Smith's decree under the control of the U.S. Sanitary Commission, although it is unclear whether it ever actually left Barnes' Albany office. Evidently Smith had at least considered giving it to the New York Metropolitan Fair—although Barnes had his doubts, expressed in his March 10 letter to Smith: "I hope you will not think it expedient or best to send it to the Fair in N.Y I have had a correspondence with them, and I don't want them to have it from the spirit exhibited by them. I think we had better save the document from a bad or improper disposition which corruption or chance might give to it if again exposed for further sale."25

The question was ultimately settled by the New York State Legislature in 1865, when, after Lincoln's funeral train visited Albany, they voted to pay the Sanitary Commission $1,000 for the document, as part of a general appropriation bill (Laws 1865, chapter 598, 88th session, p. 1239).  The clause authorizing the purchase, read:

For Henry W. Bellows, president of the U.S. Sanitary Commission, for the use of said commission, the sum of one thousand dollars, as a consideration for the original draught of the President's first Emancipation Proclamation, dated September twenty-second, Anno Domini, eighteen hundred and sixty-two, to be placed in the State Library.

In the same bill, the legislature also voted a substantial sum to drape the capitol in mourning for the recently assassinated Lincoln.  It was a fitting memorial.  Lincoln's body lay in state in the Capitol for twelve hours, during which thousands of local citizens paid their respects.  Clearly the national tragedy inspired the legislators to finally vote on the purchase of Lincoln's Proclamation, thus fulfilling the wishes of Barnes, and making the Emancipation Proclamation once and for all a treasure of the New York State Library. 

"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.


16 The Canteen, Vol. 1, No. 1 (February 22, 1864), p. 2. This humorous comment hints at the political controversies attending not only the Emancipation Proclamation but also the military draft, then in effect.  That the two were somehow connected, at least in the public imagination, is also suggested by the intentionally symbolic use of the same wheel for both the Emancipation Proclamation lottery and the military draft lottery.

17 William Barnes, Letter to Gerrit Smith, 22 March 1864. Gerrit Smith Papers, 1775-1924, Arents Library, Syracuse University. (Microfilm held by New York State Library, MB/FM 974.7 S648)

18 Albany Evening Journal, (March 10, 1864) p. 2.

19 Ibid.

20 William Barnes, Letter to Gerrit Smith, 17 March 1864. Gerrit Smith Papers, 1775-1924, Arents Library, Syracuse University. (Microfilm held by New York State Library, MB/FM 974.7 S648)

21 Barnes, Letter to Gerrit Smith, 10 March 1864. Gerrit Smith Papers, 1775-1924, Arents Library, Syracuse University. (Microfilm held by New York State Library, MB/FM 974.7 S648)

22 Gerrit Smith to William Barnes, 12 March, 1864. Quoted in "Remarks to the Exchange Club of Albany…April 24, 1963." New York State Library. Papers Relating to the Emancipation Proclamation. New York State Library, Manuscripts and Special Collections, SC16651, Box 1, Folder 5.

23 Letter to Smith, 17 March 1864, Gerrit Smith Papers.  Actually Barnes first mentions discussions with Stevens in a short note, written on March 12, which had evidently crossed in the mail with Smith's reply.

24 Letter to Smith, 22 March 1864, Gerrit Smith Papers. Barnes' March 12 note had also alluded to an offer from Great Britain, (with Mr. Delevan acting as intermediary).

25 Letter to Smith, 10 March 1864, Gerrit Smith Papers.  The New York fair followed the Albany Bazaar by a month. Whatever Barnes' doubts about the New York Fair may have been, there was no further correspondence on this topic.

A Prize of Great Magnitude Gallery

ticket information including date, location, item name, and handwritten signature of the bazaar chairman and ticket issue number

Lottery Ticket for the "Original Draft of the President's First Emancipation Proclamation"

Larger version of ticket (PDF, .5 MB)

Photograph of NY City Hall front fa├žade with crowds of mourners lining the stairs and a sign that says 'The Nation Mourns'

New York City Hall draped in mourning for Abraham Lincoln

Cropped from a larger photo, "City Hall, New York: Crowd waiting to view the body of Lincoln."

From: Meserve, Frederick Hill comp. Historical portraits: a collection of photographs printed directly from the original negatives. (New York: Privately Printed for the New York State Library, 1913). Volume 27, p. 86.
New York State Library, Manuscripts and Special Collections, V 920 qM57