The Emancipation Proclamation, the document that called for the abolition of slavery and changed the course of U.S. history, is on view for the first time in its entirety.
The faded and brittle document will only make a brief public appearance. Unlike the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, which are on permanent display, the Emancipation Proc-lamation has been viewed by the public only once before in the past 60 years.This time it will be displayed at the National Archives for less than 40 hours. Conservators say this is because the earlier documents were drafted on parchment, or animal skin, while the proclamation was written on paper, which is vulnerable to heat and light.
Archives officials predict 30,000 people will view the five-page document during its five-day display.
Issued by President Abraham Lincoln on Jan. 1, 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation declared that "all persons held as slaves . . . shall be thenceforward and forever free."
The document earned Lincoln the title the Great Emancipator. In fact, his famous proclamation did not free anyone. But it was the catalyst that ignited the move to dismantle the institution of slavery. It wasn't until two years later, in 1865, that Congress passed the 13th Amendment outlawing slavery.
Scholars agree Lincoln made the decision to issue the proclamation on practical, not moral, grounds. Faced with a devastating civil war, Lincoln had a serious political dilemma. If he freed the slaves he might lose the pro-slavery border states to the Confederacy. If he didn't, he'd risk losing the support of Britain and France, where anti-slavery sentiment was high.
As it was written, the document had little impact on the well-entrenched slave system.