President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. There are many websites that discuss the proclamation, looking at why it was important and what it did and did not do. The National Archives and Records Administration in Washington, D.C. holds the original hand-written proclamation. While it is true that the proclamation freed slaves only in the states in rebellion, it was an important step toward the ending of slavery, and it also officially allowed African Americans to serve in the United States Army and Navy. Click here for a concise description and interpretation of the Emancipation Proclamation from the NARA website, as well as images of the five hand-written pages.
Because of its fading and fragility, the original document at the National Archives is only on display occasionally and for short periods of time. You can, however, view one of the 25 rare surviving copies of an original edition of 48 printed copies of the Emancipation Proclamation that were personally signed by Abraham Lincoln. Each copy was also signed by Secretary of State William H. Seward and Lincoln’s secretary John G. Nicolay. This scarce copy is on display at York County Heritage Trust through March 29th, 2014, courtesy of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
This unique edition was created for the Great Central Fair for the U.S. Sanitary Commission, held in June 1864 at Logan Square in Philadelphia. The copies were sold for $10 each to raise money for the benefit of soldiers. The Sanitary Commission was created by civilians, many of them women, to improve conditions at military camps and then to aid and nurse sick and wounded soldiers. Their fairs, bazaars and festivals were held to raise funds to supplies general supplies, such as bandages. The Philadelphia fair is said to have been the only one personally attended by Lincoln.
How did local people respond to the Emancipation Proclamation? That’s difficult to determine, as the only York newspaper accessible from that period is the very Democratic York Gazette. The weekly Gazette did print the entire proclamation in its January 6, 1863 issue under the headlines “HIGHLY IMPORTANT! EMANCIPATION PROCLAMATION.” The editorial of the day, however, was not favorable, calling it a “high-handed ‘war measure;” issued “in defiance of the Constitution,” and that Lincoln was under the control of the “ultra Abolitionists.”
York County Heritage Trust is at 250 East Market St., York, Pa. Museum hours are from 9 to 4:30 Tuesday through Saturday.