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A Presidential Fundraiser

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“BY THE PRESIDENT…(EMANCIPATION PROCLAMATION)” Philadelphia: Leypoldt, 1864. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress.

“That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom.”

In January 1863, as the nation began its third year of a bloody war pitting its very own citizens against each other, Pres. Abraham Lincoln signed an executive order proclaiming the emancipation of slaves in Confederate territory. By issuing the Emancipation Proclamation, he created one of American history’s most iconic documents.

The Library holds a broadside edition of the proclamation – one of only 48 copies printed – signed by Lincoln, Sec. of State William H. Seward and Presidential Secretary John G. Nicolay. The document, never before on public view, will be featured in the upcoming exhibition, “The Civil War in America,” opening Nov. 12. The edition was specifically created to raise funds for the Sanitary Commission at the Great Central Sanitary Fair held in Philadelphia in June of 1864.

The United States Sanitary Commission (USSC) was a private agency that held events around the country to raise money for Union soldiers. These sanitary fairs helped provide medical supplies, establish field hospitals, fund the hiring of nurses and care for wounded soldiers during and after the war. It was, in fact, a mission near and dear to Lincoln’s heart.

“The Sanitary Grand March,” by Edward Mack. Philadelphia, 1864. Music Division, Library of Congress.

President Lincoln, his wife Mary and son Tad visited the Great Central Sanitary Fair held in Philadelphia on June 16, 1864, and the day ended up being a highly lucrative fundraising effort. Admission was doubled, and more than 100,000 people flocked the grounds to see the president. Signed editions of the Emancipation Proclamation could be purchased for $10. Ultimately, the Great Central Fair raised more than $1 million for the USSC through admissions, concessions and the sales of goods and mementos like the proclamation.  Of the many Northern cities that hosted major sanitary fairs between 1863 and 1865, Philadelphia was second only to New York City in money raised.

Make sure to check back next Wednesday for another spotlight on other items from “The Civil War in America.” Until then, you can read about them in previous blog posts here, here and here.

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