By the summer of 1862, Lincoln had come to the conclusion that he would have to free the slaves in the Southern states in order to win the war.

Lincoln read the first draft of the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation to his cabinet in July of 1862, but calculated he would need a military victory to provide justification and credibility for its execution. The Union victory at the Battle of Antietam (September 17, 1862) gave Lincoln his victory. On September 22, Lincoln published his Preliminary Proclamation as a warning to states still at war with the Union. If they did not cease their fire, their slaves would become forever free on January 1, 1863.

What was Lincoln’s principal motive behind the Emancipation Proclamation? Did he really care about abolishing slavery, or did he just want to win the war? Most historians agree that Lincoln wanted to accomplish both, but that his primary goal at the time was to preserve the Union. In a letter explaining his position to New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley, Lincoln wrote:

“If there would 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 destroy slavery.”

At this point in his presidency, Lincoln saw it as his duty to place the preservation of the Union above all other goals, even though his personal belief was that all men should be free.

The Emancipation Proclamation
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On January 1, 1863, Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves in all Southern states still in rebellion against the Union, with the exception of Tennessee, southern Louisiana, and parts of Virginia.

This manuscript draft was written on the morning of January 1 and rushed to the State Department to be engrossed. It was then returned for Lincoln’s signature. Lincoln signed the manuscript, along with his secretary William H. Seward. But while or shortly after signing his name, the President noticed an error in the subscription at the end of the document. It read: “In testimony whereof I have hereunto set my name and cause the seal of the United States to be affixed.” This phraseology was used to proclaim treaties that had been ratified by Congress. But since the Emancipation Proclamation was Lincoln’s own executive order, the correct phraseology should have been: “In witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand...”

Lincoln did not want to risk confusion in the official copy of state, or worse, provide an opening for legal challenge. The President directed that a new copy be made, which he finally signed late in the day. At some point during its journey to and from the State Department, however, the first manuscript containing the error was leaked to the Washington Evening Star, which published it in the early afternoon. At least one other newspaper printed the erroneous version before the President signed and issued the official, corrected Proclamation.

Lincoln bibliographer Charles Eberstadt believed that Seward likely kept this first manuscript, containing the “testimony...” error. He notes: “...[the manuscript] passed to [Seward’s] Albany associate, Senator Cole...From Cole it passed to his secretary, Frank A. Smith, and from him to his grandson, Francis S. Marlow; it then went to Joseph F. Sabin and, later, to Stan V. Henkels, from whom it was acquired by the late Oliver R. Barrett.”

Cornell University Library has owned this manuscript of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation since 1952. Nicholas H. and Marguerite Lilly Noyes purchased the manuscript at Parke-Bernet Galleries, Inc. on February 20, 1952, at the third session of the Oliver R. Barrett Lincoln Collection sale. It was purchased for $18,000 by David Randall for Charles Scribner’s Sons, representing the Noyeses.

Cornell’s copy of the Emancipation Proclamation is in the hand of a secretary. There were once two copies of the Emancipation Proclamation in Lincoln’s handwriting: a preliminary and a final copy. The final copy was acquired by the Chicago Historical Society, where it burned in the 1871 Chicago Fire. In 1865 the preliminary copy was acquired by the New York State Library in Albany, where it remains today.

The official, engrossed copy, which Lincoln signed and sent to the State Department, is now in The National Archives.

A Proclamation of Emancipation. Printed Broadside. Offered for sale by the New York Tribune. In Andrew Dickson White Rebellion Miscellany Scrapbook. Volume 4, pages 2-3.
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Andrew Dickson White, Cornell University’s first president, was a life-long book collector. In these scrapbooks he carefully collected and saved primary printed materials documenting the progress of the Civil War, knowing that future generations of scholars would find in them essential resources for describing and interpreting this defining period in American history.

Proclamation of emancipation, by the President of the United States, January 1st, 1863. [Boston, ca. January 20, 1863.]
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This small pamphlet printing of the Emancipation Proclamation was created for distribution to Union soldiers and others along the battle fronts. Railroad magnate and abolitionist John Murray Forbes produced it to ensure that Lincoln’s intentions would be widely known and easily circulated.

Andrew Dickson White’s Civil War scrapbook displays the front cover of this pamphlet. The back cover of another copy is also shown.

“Reading the Emancipation Proclamation.” Engraved by J.W. Watte, after a drawing by H. W. Herrick. Hartford: Lucius Stebbins, 1864.

This is one of the few engravings to depict the first reading of the Emancipation Proclamation by those who had just been freed by it. The scene shows a Union soldier reading Lincoln’s order aloud to an ecstatic gathering of slaves.

Kellogg, Robert H. Life and Death in Rebel Prisons... Hartford: L. Stebbins, 1865.

An advertisement for the engraving appears at the end of Robert Kellogg’s Life and Death in Rebel Prisons.

First Anniversary of the Proclamation of Freedom in South Carolina, held at Beaufort, S.C., January 1, 1864. Beaufort, S.C.: Free South Print, Wilkes & Thompson, proprietors, 1864.
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