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"With the President's Permission..."
New York Acquires The Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation

Partial image of page two of the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, with the 'shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free' phrase highlighted.

Fall 2012

The New York State Legislature purchased the handwritten draft of Abraham Lincoln's preliminary Emancipation Proclamation from famed abolitionist Gerrit Smith in 1865, shortly after Lincoln's funeral train passed through Albany.

Using images and documents from the State Library's Manuscripts and Special Collections, this Fall 2012 exhibit told the story of how this priceless artifact came to Albany, and eventually to the New York State Library.

Gerrit Smith

Gerrit Smith won the document in a lottery at the Albany Relief Bazaar in the winter of 1864. The Bazaar was one of a several so-called "Sanitary Fairs" held throughout the northern states to raise funds for the medical care of wounded soldiers. The lottery to win the proclamation was engineered by a little-known, but powerful, Albany Republican political operative named William Barnes. Through his personal connections to Secretary of State William Seward, he acquired the document for the fair, and appointed a special committee of powerful public men—including Gerrit Smith—to oversee the lottery. After Smith won the lottery, Barnes lobbied the legislature to buy the proclamation from him for the State Library. However the legislature did not act until 1865, after the death of Lincoln.

Raffle ticket

Among the objects on display in this exhibit were:

  • the minutes of the Albany Army Relief Association;
  • rare posters and images of the army relief Bazaar; and
  • a scrapbook containing original Bazaar postage stamps, flyers, and tickets—including an actual lottery ticket for the Emancipation Proclamation.

Just around the corner from lobby display cases is a fourth display case, where a facsimile of the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation is on permanent display.

The New York State Library has more information about Lincoln's draft of the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, including images of all four pages and a complete transcription of the document, in the online exhibit The Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation.

Coinciding with this on-site exhibit, in the Fall of 2012 the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation was on display at several locations across New York State as part of the traveling exhibit "The First Step to Freedom: Abraham Lincoln's Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation" (New York State Museum).

Exhibit curated by Paul Mercer

Last Updated: January 24, 2023