Lot 78
  • 78

Abraham Lincoln, as sixteenth President

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  • The "Authorized Edition" of the Emancipation Proclamation, signed by President Abraham Lincoln
  • Paper, Ink
"By the President of the United States of America. A Proclamation. Whereas, on the twenty-second day of September, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-two, a proclamation was issued by the President of the United States ... 'That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever, free'; ... I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, by virtue of the power in me vested as commander-in-chief of the army and navy of the United States, in time of actual armed rebellion against the authority and government of the United States, and as a fit and necessary war measure for suppressing said rebellion, 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 upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice warranted by the Constitution upon military necessity, I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind and the gracious favor of Almighty God. ... Done at the City of Washington this first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States of America the eighty-seventh."

Printed broadside document (16 1/4 x 9 1/2 in.; 411 x 235 mm), single column, 52 lines and headline, signed by President Lincoln ("Abraham Lincoln"), countersigned by the Secretary of State ("William H. Seward") and by the President's Private Secretary ("Jno. G. Nicolay"), who certifies that this printing of the Emancipation Proclamation is "A true copy, with autograph signatures of the President and the Secretary of State." [Philadelphia: Printed by Frederick Leypoldt for George Henry Boker and Charles Godfrey Leland to benefit the United States Sanitary Commission, June 1864]; several inches of blank margin trimmed from the original sheet, mat burn at edges just touching the Nicolay signature but not affecting text or Lincoln and Seward's signatures, a few small and light foxing spots. 


Belding Memorial Library, Ashfield, Massachusetts (Sotheby's New York, 31 October 1989, lot 104)

Sotheby's thanks Seth Kaller for providing the census and assistance in cataloguing this lot. Additional information on the "Official Edition" of the Emancipation Proclamation can be found at www.Freedomdocuments.org. 


Randolph G. Adams, "Hudibrastic Aspects of Some Editions of the Emancipation Proclamation," in To Doctor R. (Philadelphia, 1946); Michael Burlingame, ed., At Lincoln's Side; John Hay's Civil War Correspondence and Selected Writings (Carbondale and Edwardsville, 2000); Charles Eberstadt, Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation (New York, 1950); Daniel Farber, Lincoln's Constitution (Chicago, 2003); Eric Foner, the Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery (New York, 2010); John Hope franklin, The Emancipation Proclamation (New York, 1963); Allen C. Guelzo, Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America (New York, 2004); Harold Holzer and Sara Vaughn Gabbard, ed., Lincoln and Freedom: Slavery, Emancipation, and the Thirteenth Amendment (Carbondale and Fort Wayne, 2007); Seth Kaller, "The Emancipation Proclamation: The Document that Saved America," in The Rail Splitter, Vol. 8, No. 3; Abraham Lincoln, The Collected Works, ed. Roy P. Basler (New Brunswick, 1953–55); Mark E. Neely, Jr., The Last Best Hope of Earth: Abraham Lincoln and the Promise of America (Cambridge, etc., 1993); Charles Stillé, Memorial of the Great central Fair for the U.S. Sanitary Commission (Philadelphia, 1864)


Printed broadside document (16 1/4 x 9 1/2 in.; 411 x 235 mm), single column, 52 lines and headline, signed by President Lincoln ("Abraham Lincoln"), countersigned by the Secretary of State ("William H. Seward") and by the President's Private Secretary ("Jno. G. Nicolay"), who certifies that this printing of the Emancipation Proclamation is "A true copy, with autograph signatures of the President and the Secretary of State." [Philadelphia: Printed by Frederick Leypoldt for George Henry Boker and Charles Godfrey Leland to benefit the United States Sanitary Commission, June 1864]; several inches of blank margin trimmed from the original sheet, mat burn at edges just touching the Nicolay signature but not affecting text or Lincoln and Seward's signatures, a few small and light foxing spots.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note




Abraham Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation

But while Frederick Douglass—a frequent critic of the President—and many of his contemporaries welcomed the Emancipation Proclamation as a signal achievement in American history, today the act seems just as well known, as Allen Guelzo commented, "for what it did not do" as for what it did accomplish. Two principal failings have been ascribed to the Proclamation. First, that it is not as eloquent as Lincoln's other most famous writings, principally the Gettysburg Address and the Second Inaugural Address. Second, that it freed slaves only in territories of active rebellion against the United States—the very territories, presumably, where the federal government had the least ability to enforce its provisions. Both of these points have been employed to justify the belief that Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation grudgingly and without personal zeal. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Lincoln is, of course, now susceptible to the charge that he was not an "abolitionist," meaning one who called for the immediate cessation of slavery. He recognized constitutional and practical limits to the ability of the nation to curtail the institution. Thus, within the first few minutes of his First Inaugural Address, 4 March 1861, he stated, "I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so." Lincoln is equally susceptible to the charge that he was not free from the racial prejudices of his time. But Lincoln is not susceptible to the charge that he was not wholly and passionately opposed to slavery.

In 1855, Lincoln confided to his good friend Joshua Speed that he was still tormented by the memory, from fourteen years earlier, of having seen a group of shackled slaves while he was travelling by steamship from Louisville to St. Louis. While Lincoln had been anti-slavery for decades, he only began to openly express those views when he ran for the United States Senate against Stephen Douglas in 1858. As candidate Lincoln said at a Chicago rally in July of that year, "I have always hated slavery, I think, as much as any Abolitionist. I have been an Old Line Whig. I have always hated it, but I have always been quiet about it until this new era of the Nebraska Bill began."

A triumvirate of brilliant indictments of slavery from the period of the late 1850s survived among the pre-presidential papers that Lincoln entrusted to Mary Todd Lincoln's cousin and close friend, Elizabeth Todd Grimsley, when he departed Springfield for Washington as president-elect. These all likely date to a two-year period, June 1857 through June 1859, when Lincoln, who had served a single term in the House of Representatives a decade earlier, reentered politics and made himself a viable candidate for national office. These fragments include Lincoln's earliest formulation of his "House Divided" doctrine, which demonstrated his willingness to confront an issue that most politicians chose to avoid ("I believe this government can not endure permanently, half slave, and half free"), as well as his famous syllogism on slavery ("If A. can prove, however conclusively, that he may of right, enslave B. why may not B. snatch the same argument, and prove equally that he may enslave A?").

In the third manuscript, Lincoln condemns not simply the threat posed by slavery to the solvency of the American union, but the fundamental evil of slavery in any circumstance. The injustice of slavery is, Lincoln writes, "So plain that no one, high or low, ever does mistake it, except in a plainly selfish way; for although volume upon volume is written to prove slavery a very good thing, we never hear of the man who wishes to take the good of it, by being a slave himself." Lincoln recast this conceit when addressing the 140th Indiana Regiment during the final weeks of the Civil War: "I have always thought that all men should be free; but if any should be slaves it should be first those who desire it for themselves, and secondly those who desire it for others. Whenever I hear any one, arguing for slavery I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally."

But despite his personal abhorrence of slavery, Lincoln was constrained not just by the Constitution, but also by political and military reality. Horace Greeley's letter-editorial, "The Prayer of Twenty Millions," published in the New York Tribune, perfectly expressed the frustrations of those who called for full and immediate emancipationGreeley accused the President of being "strangely and disastrously remiss" by delaying emancipation; of being "unduly influenced by the counsels ... of certain fossil politicians hailing from Border Slave States"; and of seeming to pursue a "preposterous and futile" strategy by attempting "to put down the Rebellion and at the same time uphold its inciting cause."

Greeley printed Lincoln's response in the 25 August 1862 issue of the Tribune: "As to the policy I 'seem to be pursuing' as you say, I have not meant to leave any one in doubt. I would save the Union. I would save it the shortest way under the Constitution. The sooner the national authority can be restored; the nearer the Union will be 'the Union as it was.' If there be those who would not save the Union, unless they could at the same time save slavery, I do not agree with them. If there be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same time destroy slavery, I do not agree with them. My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union. I shall do less whenever I shall believe what I am doing hurts the cause, and I shall do more whenever I shall believe doing more will help the cause. I shall try to correct errors when shown to be errors; and I shall adopt new views so fast as they shall appear to be true views."

Lincoln ended his letter to Greeley with a noteworthy coda, "I have here stated my purpose according to my view of official duty; and I intend no modification of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men every where could be free." The President chose not to share with Greeley and the Tribune readers a more momentous statement: that he had, in fact, already drafted a proclamation of emancipation and was simply awaiting an auspicious time to promulgate it. Lincoln knew that if the Union could be saved "without freeing any slave," its salvation would be short-lived.  

Lincoln read the first draft of what came to be known as the preliminary emancipation proclamation to his cabinet on 22 July 1862. Given the criticism directed at Lincoln for moving too slowly on the issue of emancipation, it is worth noting that this first reading took place just sixteen months after he had pledged not to "interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists." He continued to revise the document throughout the summer and, following the Union victory at Antietam, he issued the preliminary proclamation—which managed to balance daring with prudence—on 22 September. This first proclamation essentially gave the Rebel States one hundred days to return to the Union, after which period any slaves within their borders would be "then, thenceforward, and forever free." Any rebellious states that returned to the Union in the interim would be able to adopt immediate or gradual—and compensated—abolition of slavery within their borders.

Although immediate reaction to the preliminary proclamation was favorable, criticism soon followed. Some Federal Army officers resigned their commissions rather than command troops in what was likely to become a war of abolition. At the same time, the anti-slavery faction in the North attacked Lincoln for allowing slavery to remain in effect in Unionist Border States and former Confederate territories now under Union control.

The preliminary proclamation did help solidify European support of the Federal cause, but otherwise the one hundred days were discouraging for Lincoln: the Federal Army suffered a humiliating defeat at Fredericksburg on 13 December, and a crisis in his Cabinet nearly resulted in the resignations of secretaries Seward and Chase. Still, Lincoln continued resolute and on Christmas Eve he confided to the Senate's most ardent abolitionist, Charles Sumner of Massachusetts, that the Emancipation Proclamation would be issued. The following week, Lincoln listened to suggestions and amendments from his Cabinet and then retired to draft the final version of the historic document.

To ensure that the Emancipation Proclamation could withstand court challenges to its constitutionality, Lincoln's prose is legalistic. Because of his allegiance to due process—and his pragmatic balancing of necessity and possibility—he withheld emancipation from the Border States, from Union-controlled parishes in Louisiana, and from the forty-eight Virginia counties that were in the process of reconstituting themselves as West Virginia, it is because of his allegiance to due process.

He would make this clear yet again in an April 1864 letter to A. G. Hodges of Frankfort, Kentucky: "I am naturally anti-slavery. If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong. I can not remember when I did not so think, and feel. And yet I have never understood that the Presidency conferred upon me an unrestricted right to act officially upon this judgment and feeling. It was in the oath I took that I would, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States. I could not take the office without taking the oath."

Even while acknowledging the restraints placed on him by the Constitution, Lincoln did more than anyone before or since to bring freedom to America's slaves, and he rightly earned the title of the Great Emancipator. When on 1 January 1863 he left the annual White House New Year's Day reception to sign into law the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln observed, "I never in my life, felt more certain that I was doing right than I do in signing this paper."

With his signature he declared nearly four million slaves to be free—the first time that the federal government had set slaves free; in practical terms, as many as 50,000 men, women, and children were immediately freed. The Emancipation Proclamation provided, also for the first time, that former slaves "will be received into the armed service of the United States," and by the conclusion of the Civil War, more than 180,000 free blacks—most of whom were emancipated slaves—had worn the blue uniform of the Federal Army. The Emancipation Proclamation also eliminated the references in the preliminary proclamation to compensated emancipation and colonization of former slaves, thus indicating, albeit subtly, that the newly freed persons would make their future lives within the United States. Decades of political and moral compromise in the name of "Union" were ended: the war to restore the Union became a war of liberation, and the way was made clear for the Thirteenth Amendment, which Lincoln would proudly see sent to the states but would not live to see ratified.

If the language of the Emancipation Proclamation was not eloquent, its intention and result were. And any lack of eloquence was compensated for by the conclusion of Lincoln's annual message to Congress, delivered on 1 December 1862, exactly a month before he signed the Proclamation. In this State of the Union speech, Lincoln could write of his desire—and the country's need—for emancipation without the worry of legal challenges: "Fellow-citizens, we cannot escape history. We of this Congress and this administration, will be remembered in spite of ourselves. ... The fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation. We say we are for the Union. The world will not forget that we say this. We know how to save the Union. The world knows we do know how to save it. We—even we here—hold the power, and bear the responsibility. In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free—honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve. We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best, hope of earth."

Due to Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, the last best hope of earth was nobly saved.

The United States Sanitary Commission and the Authorized Printing of the Emancipation Proclamation

The United States Sanitary Commission was established in June 1861 to assist sick and wounded Union soldiers and their dependent families. The Commission was supported almost entirely by private contributions and provided aid in myriad ways, including hospital assistance, field ambulance and hospital service, field and camp rations, blankets and tents, and financial assistance for medical care for veterans and for the families of soldiers killed in action. The work of the Sanitary Commission was absolutely vital for the Federal Army, especially their maintenance of hygienic hospital and camp conditions: a soldier in the Civil War was in fact twice as likely to die of disease as of a wound.

The most successful source of funding for the Sanitary Commission was a series of "Fairs" held in major cities: Boston, Cincinnati, Brooklyn, Baltimore, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, and elsewhere. These Fairs displayed a huge range of donated goods, both antique and newly manufactured, that were sold to benefit the Commission. Just three months after its founding, Lincoln sent a strong endorsement to General Winfield Scott: "The Sanitary Commission is doing a work of great humanity, and of direct practical value to the nation, in this time of its trial. It is entitled to the gratitude and confidence of the people, and I trust it will be generously supported. There is no agency through which voluntary offerings of patriotism can be more effectively made."

The President often donated autographs to the Fairs. Indeed, he gave his original autograph draft of the Emancipation Proclamation to the Northwestern Fair for the Sanitary Commission, held at Chicago in the autumn of 1863. Lincoln made the donation somewhat reluctantly, writing the Ladies Committee in charge of the Fair that "he had some desire to retain the paper; but if it shall contribute to the relief or comfort of the soldiers that will be better." (The draft was purchased at the Fair by Thomas W. Bryan, who presented it to the Chicago Soldiers' Home. It was subsequently lost in the Great Chicago Fire.)

One of the largest and most successful Sanitary Commission Fairs was held at Philadelphia from 7 to 29 June 1864. The Great Central Fair (so-called because the central states of New Jersey and Delaware joined with Pennsylvania in sponsoring it) was housed in temporary buildings that spanned Logan Square and offered an astonishing variety of merchandise, including finely bound books, jewelry, clothing, carpets, china and porcelain, shoes and boots, musical instruments, photographs, perfume, prints and pictures, stoves and ranges, a yacht, battlefield relics, all manner of foodstuffs, and autograph letters and documents of the presidents and other persons of note.

All of these goods were gathered together to celebrate what committee member Charles Stillé termed the twin sisters of the Civil War: "patriotism and holy charity." In his Memorial of the Great Central Fair for the U.S. Sanitary Commission, Stillé wrote that "No sooner has the smoke cleared away from the battle-field, than—to borrow the language of Mr. Everett, in his Gettysburg oration—angel visitants, in the shape of those whose hearts are stronger than their hands, have hastened to soothe and relieve those who have suffered in their stead. ... The Great Central Fair is then to be considered not merely as a grand collection of all that was curious and valuable in works of industry and art, freely offered in aid of a benevolent enterprise; but also as one, and a most significant one, of the many indications of the truest and most wide-spread patriotic enthusiasm." After expenses (which were confined almost entirely to the cost of erecting and then striking the elaborate temporary exhibition halls), the Great Central Fair raised over $1,010,000 for the Sanitary Commission.

President Lincoln was invited to attend the opening celebration, but had to postpone his visit until 16 June. On that day he addressed the organizers and attendees, thanking them for proving to the soldier in the field that "he is not forgotten" and praising donors for their "voluntary contributions, given freely, zealously, and earnestly, on top of all the disturbances of business, of all the disorders, the taxation and burdens that the war has imposed upon us, giving proof that the national resources are not at all exhausted, that the national spirit of patriotism is even firmer and stronger than at the commencement of the rebellion."

Although Lincoln attended the Great Central Fair for only one day, his presence pervaded the event in the form of a specially printed and signed authorized edition of the Emancipation Proclamation. Despite some initial lack of enthusiasm to the preliminary proclamation (and retrospective criticism of the final proclamation itself), many in the North quickly embraced and celebrated the Emancipation Proclamation. In less than two years, more than fifty separate editions—including many decorative broadsides—were issued to meet public demand for the text.

Two ardent Unionists from Philadelphia, George Henry Boker (1832–1890) and Charles Godfrey Leland (1824–1903), conceived the idea of printing a limited edition of the Proclamation for sale at the Great Central Fair. Earlier in 1864, a fundraising broadside of the Proclamation was printed in San Francisco, and three surviving copies of this printing have Lincoln's signature. However, the San Francisco broadside published only about half of Lincoln's words. The Leland-Boker broadside is the only printing of the full text of the Emancipation Proclamation to be signed by President Lincoln; it is additionally signed by Secretary of State Seward and John G. Nicolay, the President's personal secretary.

Boker and Leland were both men of letters and strong supporters of Lincoln's emancipation policy. Boker was a founding member of Philadelphia's Union League, and in his capacity as president of that organization he conferred on Lincoln an honorary membership. Boker was not a strict partisan, however, and among other occasional poems of the Civil War he satirized Mary Todd Lincoln's White House excesses in "The Queen Must Dance." He later served in ministerial posts to Turkey and Russia.

Leland edited Continental Monthly during the war years and wrote many pro-Union editorials and pamphlets. He is credited with (or blamed for) helping to moderate Northern policy from abolition to emancipation. Leland's most enduring creation was the dialect-humor character of Hans Breitmann. His Ye Book of Copperheads was owned by Lincoln. Leland took up the sword as well as the pen in the Union cause and actually saw action during the Gettysburg campaign as an enlisted man. From shortly after the end of the war until his death, Leland lived in Europe as an expatriate.

The Leland and Boker broadside edition was publicized in the 17 June 1864 issue of Our Daily Fare, the promotional newspaper of the Great Central Fair. "The original Proclamation of Emancipation, signed by President Lincoln, sold at the Chicago Fair for three thousand dollars. A few duplicates, with the 'veritable and authenticated' signatures of Abraham Lincoln, Secretary Seward, and Mr. Nicolay, are for sale at the Daily Fare table; price only ten dollars. Every branch of the Union League, and indeed every patriot, should be proud to own one of these. They were obtained for the Fair, by Messrs. George H. Boker and Charles Godfrey Leland, who guarantee the authenticity of the signatures."

A few copies of the Authorized Edition of the Emancipation Proclamation were unsold during the three weeks of the Fair. Some of the unsold copies were presented to libraries and five others were sold for the benefit of the Sanitary Commission at the National Sailors Fair, held at Boston in November 1864 (where this copy was likely originally acquired).

Census of Surviving Copies of the Leland-Boker Authorized Edition of the Emancipation Proclamation

Institutional Collections 

Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, Springfield, Illinois
Boston Athenaeum, Boston, Massachusetts
British Museum, London
Brooklyn Historical Society, Brooklyn, New York
Gilcrease Museum, Tulsa, Oklahoma
Gilder Lehrman Collection on deposit at The New-York Historical Society, New York, New York 
Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania  
Huntington Library, Pasadena, California
Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana
Library of Congress, Washington, DC
Lincoln Financial Collection, Indiana State Museum, Indianapolis, Indiana
Meisei University, Tokyo, Japan
National Constitution Center, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
New-York Historical Society, New York, New York
Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey
Union League Club of Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois
University of Delaware, Wilmington, Delaware
University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Private Collections 

In addition to the present example, seven other copies are currently known in private hands. Several of those are either committed, or at least more likely, to be donated to institutions than to come back on the market.