Blue Greenberg: Preliminary copy of Emancipation Proclamation on view at state museum
“Freedom Coming, Freedom for All,” with original Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, N.C. Museum of History, 5 E. Edenton St., Raleigh, through June 16. The exhibition will re-open July 1 with North Carolina’s original copy of the 13th Amendment through Oct. 6. Beginning Oct. 14 and continuing through Jan. 26, 2014, the exhibit will feature a handwritten copy of the 13th Amendment. For information, call 919-807-7900 or visit www.ncdcr.gov/ncmoh/Home.aspx.
A copy of the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, signed by Abraham Lincoln, is on view at the N.C. Museum of History for one month, and it is a big deal. Unless you are a history buff beyond the movie “Lincoln” you may not know there was a Preliminary Proclamation issued on Sept. 22, 1862.
In the preliminary, there is a carrot and stick proviso: If the seceded states return within 100 days they may voluntarily adopt immediate or gradual abolishment of slavery and the U.S. will continue its effort to colonize “persons of African descent with their consent” to governments, with their consent, and slave holders will be compensated for their losses. Since those states did not return, all incentives disappeared and the Final Proclamation was issued on Jan. 1, 1863, declaring the abolishment of slavery in the states that had seceded.
The war was not going well for the Union, and Secretary of State William Seward advised Lincoln not to issue the preliminary document until the Union could claim a victory. On Sept. 17, 1862, the Union and Confederate armies met in the Battle of Antietam near Sharpsburg, Md., and, although 23,000 Union and Confederate men were slaughtered, Lincoln declared it a victory and issued the preliminary document.
History confirms this as a turning point: The document expanded the war beyond preserving the union to freeing the slaves. It also deterred France and England from recognizing the Confederacy as a separate country. Lincoln had died and the war was over when the 13th Amendment was finally ratified by each state and the abolition of slavery became the law of the land.
That is the main theme of this exhibition, but the back story is equally fascinating. The stars were in exact alignment when the Freedom Project Board decided they wanted the Emancipation Proclamation in Raleigh. Those stars included Dianne Pledger, executive director of the North Carolina Freedom Monument Park; David Ferriero, archivist of the United States and former chief librarian at Duke University; and David Rubenstein, founder of the Carlyle Group, a donor to Duke University and its library. Rubenstein is also the owner of an original copy of the Emancipation Proclamation, a handwritten copy of the 13th Amendment and an original copy of the Magna Carta, all of which he has loaned to the federal government.
The galaxy also included Ken Howard, director of the N.C. Museum of History; Susan Ross of Moss+Ross, whose company is working with the freedom project to develop its capital campaign strategy; Jeffrey Crow, North Carolina’s chief archivist; and Earle Ijames, curator of the exhibit and a Civil War historian.
For more than 10 years the Freedom Monument Park project has been planning a public
art park on a site between the Legislative Building and Governor’s Mansion. Eight months ago the project finally got the land lease for the site and the board sprang into action. Pledger announced, “We have to get a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation,” and Ross said she knew Ferriero and Rubenstein and maybe they would help. A few days later Ross saw Ferriero at a Duke event and made the request. Ferriero advised them to write a letter. Ross reported back and Pledger went to work. She wrote the letter, asked Crow to make the formal proposal and Howard to exhibit the document and partner with the project. With everyone on board, the package went to Washington. They had an answer in three days.
A few weeks ago Ferriero was at Duke to receive an honorary degree and had time to sit with me and talk about the Raleigh exhibit. I asked him just how the request for the proclamation came about and he confirmed the conversation with Ross. He then said anyone or any institution can borrow anything from National Archives as long as they can meet their standards of security and climate control. In Raleigh, however, the feeling is this all came together in such a short time because Ferriero knew the Triangle and the people involved.
Since Rubenstein was to be their back-up plan, I contacted Christopher Ullman, his assistant, to ask about a telephone interview. Rubenstein was unavailable but Ullman said he would try to answer any factual questions. I asked how Rubenstein felt about being able to lend such historic documents to the government and he answered, “He [Rubenstein] said that his country has been very good to him and he feels obligated to give back in this way.”
Actually, the request was for the Final Proclamation and the suggestion came back, “take the Preliminary because the Final is so worn and fragile.” According to historians there were four dozen copies of the Final Emancipation Proclamation, handwritten by scribes and signed by the president; they sold for $10 each and the money went to help provide medical care for wounded soldiers. Many are still unaccounted for.
Accompanying the Preliminary Proclamation to Raleigh was Terry Boone, National Archives exhibits conservator. She supervised the installation of the seven-page document marked as an engrossed copy. She explained that “engrossed” means there is a red ribbon threaded through the pages to hold them in place; the ribbon ends at page seven with the presidential seal and Lincoln’s signature.
She also said opening it to pages two and three, which spells out the inducements offered to the seceded states, is never done; most want the first or last page. Because the paper is so fragile, the document usually gets only 30 hours of light per year. It rarely travels; it literally came out of the vault for Raleigh.
Blue Greenberg’s column appears each week in Entertainment and More. She can be reached at email@example.com or by writing her in c/o The Herald-Sun, 2828 Pickett Road, Durham, NC 27705.