Peter Ivarson and Dustin Nicholson view the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation at Plattsburgh State.
PLATTSBURGH — Abraham Lincoln’s attitude toward African Americans differs, depending on the quote one reads or the scholar writing the paper.
Still, America’s 16th president issued his Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, and by 1865 all black slaves nationwide were freed.
The New York State Museum’s traveling exhibition of the only surviving draft of the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation in Lincoln’s handwriting was recently on display in the Burke Gallery, located in the Myers Fine Arts Building at Plattsburgh State.
“Everyone is very excited that it made it to Plattsburgh,” said Charline Faller, who works at the Plattsburgh State Art Museum. “I think it is a great experience and opportunity for the campus and local community to be part of our nation’s history.”
The exhibit included the draft and the official version of the preliminary document, issued Sept. 22, 1862.
The two documents were displayed along with the manuscript of a Sept. 12, 1962 speech by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to the New York State Civil War Centennial Commission in New York City.
King’s speech – typewritten with handwritten notes throughout – argued that descendants of slaves were still awaiting civil rights.
Lincoln’s draft copy shows he was thinking while writing and toying with the idea of compensating slaveholders. His fingerprint can be seen in the ink.
Lincoln served from March 1861 until his assassination in April 1865 and led the country though the American Civil War.
Lincoln openly disapproved of slavery, in one speech saying, “I hate it because of the monstrous injustice of slavery itself.”
He argued that while the founding fathers didn’t declare all were equal in “color, size, intellect, moral developments or social capacity,” they did consider all men equal in “certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
At one point, Lincoln admitted that as president he would not free a single slave if it meant saving the union, though he pointed out that his personal feelings remained the same.
Lincoln also said during a debate once that whites were superior to blacks.
Frederick Douglass, a former slave, leading abolitionist and writer praised Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, though he also referred to Lincoln as the “white man’s president.”
The Emancipation Proclamation was an executive order issued by Lincoln on Jan. 1, 1863, during the American Civil War and was not a law passed by Congress. It proclaimed all slaves in Confederate territory free, immediately freeing at least 50,000 slaves with the rest freed as Union armies advanced.
The Proclamation did not outlaw slavery or make ex-slaves citizens.
A rare copy of the Emancipation Proclamation sold for more than $2 million at auction in New York City this past June.
The exhibition at Plattsburgh State was accompanied by free-standing pylons that provided context for the historic significance of the three documents.
The New York State Legislature bought the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation in 1865 from Gerrit Smith, a well-known abolitionist.
The exhibition tours New York this month.
A steady crowd of people stood in a line that extended from the museum, down the stairs and to the door leading outside.
“This is a rare opportunity,” said Peter Ivarson, a Plattsburgh State student. “You can’t get much more significant than this.”
Standing behind Ivarson, Plattsburgh State student Dustin Nicholson was eager to take a peek at history.
“I love the idea of coming and looking at history,” he said. “I watch the History Channel all the time.
“I cannot believe this is a handwritten document.”