Hawaii State Archives has rare Lincoln emancipation document
No one knows for sure how it got here, but the Hawaii State Archives is in possession of a rare document signed by Abraham Lincoln.
The confirmation was made today by The Papers of Abraham Lincoln, a project of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Ill.
“In the birth state of our current president, our first African-American president, it is fascinating to find a document that began the process of emancipation for all African Americans,” said Dr. Daniel W. Stowell, the director of the Papers of Abraham Lincoln.
The one-page document, which authorized the Secretary of State to affix the seal of the United States to the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, was partially printed and partially filled in by a clerk, then signed by Lincoln.
The document reads:
“I hereby authorize and direct the Secretary of State to affix the Seal of the United States to my Proclamation of this date and signed by me and for so doing, this shall be his warrant.”
It is signed:
“Abraham Lincoln. Washington, 22nd September, 1862.”
Most of the document is printed. Only “my Proclamation of this date” and “22nd September, 1862” were written by a clerk, and the signature was written by Lincoln. The document does not specify which proclamation, but since the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation was the only proclamation issued on that date, researchers are confident that this order refers to it.
Lincoln issued the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation as a war measure, and he gave the seceded states three months to return to the Union to avoid military emancipation of their slaves. This document, issued just days after the Union victory at Antietam, began the process of the destruction of slavery by declaring that all enslaved persons in states still in rebellion on January 1, 1863, would be “forever free.”
The ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution in December 1865 completed the destruction of slavery within the United States.
The simple order directing the Secretary of State to affix the seal of the United States to the proclamation gave the president’s action the force of law. Such orders often accompanied diplomatic correspondence and presidential pardons for the same purpose.
How this order got into the Hawaii State Archives remains a mystery, although it appears to have been there at least as early as 1935. In the 1860s, Hawaii was an independent kingdom with diplomatic and trading ties to the United States; its 1852 constitution had prohibited slavery in the islands.
“Of the four Lincoln documents at the Hawaii State Archives, the letter of condolences from Lincoln to Kamehameha V on the death of his brother Kamehameha IV has been the document of greatest importance to us as it contains very personal remarks from a remarkable American President to the Monarch of Hawaii,” Hawaii State Archivist Susan Shaner said in a statement.
“Not being Lincoln scholars, we had no inkling that the seemingly insignificant document dated September 22, 1862 was once associated with the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. We are pleasantly surprised and excited to learn of the significance of this rare document and are grateful to Dr. Daniel W. Stowell for his work in identifying this document.”