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The Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation

A Special Committee to Oversee the Disposition of the Preliminary Draft

A special committee was formed at Albany to oversee the disposition of the preliminary draft.  At its head sat William A. Barnes, a well-known Republican Party official in Albany—and the husband of Emily Weed Barnes. William Barnes' behind-the-scenes role in New York State Republican politics is little known today.  In 1854, he was present at the Saratoga Springs meeting that established the party, and in 1904 was among the dignitaries who appeared and spoke at the 50th anniversary of that convention, also held in Saratoga Springs.12 Although never an office holder—he worked in the relatively unprepossessing State position of Superintendent of Insurance—his maneuvering in ultimately acquiring the Emancipation Proclamation for the New York State Library reveals something of the extent of his political and social connections.

Barnes' political prowess was no doubt enhanced by his marriage to Emily Weed, the daughter of crusading newspaper editor and political boss Thurlow Weed (1797-1882). In both state and national politics, Weed—who had also served in the New York State Assembly—had been a major force behind a long line of presidents and public office holders, including New York governors William A. Morgan, and William A. Seward (Weed's former State Assembly colleague), and President Abraham Lincoln.  Thurlow Weed's house was "like another home for his two married daughters, Maria and Emily, his sons-in-law, Mr. Alden and Mr. Barnes.  One of the rooms was recognized as Mr. and Mrs. F. W. Seward's without whose presence the family circle never seemed quite complete."13

For his committee, Barnes chose a number of prominent regional and national politicians, businessmen, and public figures: John K. Porter a justice of the New York Court of Appeals (who in 1881 would prosecute Charles Guiteau for the assassination of President Garfield); Edward C. Delevan, a wealthy businessman and famous temperance advocate; Gerrit Smith, a leading social reformer, abolitionist and politician; Thomas W. Olcott, a bank president and well-known politician in Albany; James A. Bell, a New York State Senator; and William Cullen Bryant, the American poet, newspaper editor, and political activist. That men of this stature would lend their names to the lottery for the Emancipation Proclamation was in itself enough to demonstrate the importance that was attached to the event. A letter from BryantPDF to William Barnes indicates that, in at least some cases, little more than their names would be added to the effort: "I have just received your letter with a copy of the paper you wish me to sign. I have no objection to being put on the Committee provided it gives me no trouble…" 14 However, one committee member, Gerrit Smith,15 would play a pivotal role in the outcome of the lottery.

"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.


14 Bryant, William Cullen to William A Barnes, January 1864. In Letters, 1864.  New York State Library, Manuscripts and Special Collections, V22980.

15 Born in 1797 in New York, Gerrit Smith was a wealthy land owner, temperance advocate and social reformer, remembered primarily for his efforts on behalf of African Americans. In the 1830s he became an ardent supporter of the abolitionist movement, joining the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1835. Gerrit Smith also advocated land reform and in 1846 decided to give away a large amount of land in a multi-county area of New York. Because free blacks who did not own land were denied the right to vote, Smith decided they would be the beneficiaries of his gift. Although Smith's experiment in land reform largely proved a failure, it was through this project, that he first became acquainted with John Brown. Gerrit Smith became one of a group of New Englanders, who helped finance John Brown's activities. After the raid on Harpers Ferry, Smith denied prior knowledge of the true nature of Brown's activities, a claim he maintained until his death in 1874.

A Special Committee Gallery

Portrait of William Barnes

William Barnes, 1904

Cropped from a larger photo, "Mr. and Mrs. William Barnes, One of the surviving delegates to Saratoga Convention, August 16, 1854."

From: Semi-Centennial of the Republican Party: Proceedings at the Celebration at Saratoga Springs, September 14, 1904, PDF p. 49.

Portrait of Gerrit Smith

Gerrit Smith

Cropped from a larger photo, "Gerrit Smith, Philanthropist."

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 7, p. 68.
New York State Library, Manuscripts and Special Collections V 920 qM57