January 1, 2013

Emancipation Proclamation at 150: A great document of human freedom

Abraham Lincoln's original is put on rare public display for the anniversary of its issuing.

By J. FREEDOM DU LAC, The Washington Post

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But while original copies of the first four documents are on permanent display at the Archives, the Emancipation Proclamation lives in an environmentally controlled storage vault, out of public sight for all but a few days each year. Its stand-in: A facsimile on permanent display at the back of the Public Vaults, near the Rotunda.

The original five-page proclamation was handwritten on poor-quality paper -- not the sort of durable animal-hide parchment used for the country's founding documents; in the years before it was turned over to the National Archives, in 1936, the Emancipation Proclamation was damaged by exposure to light and indelicate human handling.

The paper is now discolored and decaying, which is why it's infrequently displayed, and only a few pages at a time.

Now, pages two and five are on display, with the Archives using high-quality facsimiles for pages one, three and four. On Sunday, many visitors lingered over the fifth page, which bears the presidential seal and Lincoln's signature.

"I think it's an underappreciated asset in American history," said Templeton, the historian from California. "There should be more of a clamor for it to be displayed and seen."

The document was available for public viewing again Monday until 1 a.m. Tuesday, with a ceremonial bell-ringing scheduled for midnight -- a nod to the Watch Night tradition that began on Dec. 31, 1862, as congregants at black churches awaited word of Lincoln's executive order.


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 recognize 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-defence; 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 service of the United States to garrison forts, positions, stations, and other places, and to man vessels of all sorts in said service.


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