Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Emancipation Observance to Open State Museum Exhibit

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Emancipation Observance to Open State Museum Exhibit

Article excerpt

Historian Harold Holzer says it's no accident that the last five American presidents -- three Republicans and two Democrats -- were big admirers of Abraham Lincoln.

"Lincoln's appeal is a unique combination of someone who was able to express in sublime language why democracy and equality were worthy ideals and who personally lived the American dream," Mr. Holzer said. "He went from a log cabin to the White House. America promises that opportunity, and Lincoln took advantage of it.

"His words and his life continue to resonate with us."

Mr. Holzer will be the featured speaker Friday at the opening of a new exhibit at The State Museum of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg called "Emancipation: Lincoln and His Proclamation." Visitors will see a rare copy of the famous executive order, signed by Lincoln, that freed all slaves living in the Confederate states.

This month marks the 150th anniversary of the proclamation.

"It was a controversial act at the time," historian Rick Beard said of Lincoln's decision. Conflicting reactions are reflected in two letters from Union soldiers that are part of the museum exhibit.

One soldier writes of his renewed admiration for "Father Abraham" and his willingness to continue to fight in the war.

"In another letter, a soldier writes that Lincoln is a despot and all he cares about is Negroes -- but he uses a much more objectionable term," Mr. Beard said.

"He wrote that he hoped the rebels would burn Harrisburg to alert the North about all the bad things Lincoln had been doing."

Mr. Beard is senior adviser to Pennsylvania Civil War 150, which is coordinating the state's sesquicentennial commemoration of the nation's bloodiest conflict.

The exhibit also includes satirical cartoons, drawings and engravings, almost all of which come from the state museum's archives.

One item is a color lithograph of the 1864 Great Central Sanitary Fair in Philadelphia. Similar fairs were held during the war in other northern cities, including Pittsburgh, to raise funds for the care of wounded and sick Union soldiers.

Organizers of the Philadelphia event had printed 48 copies of the Emancipation Proclamation, and Lincoln agreed to sign them as a fundraising project. Secretary of State William Seward and one of Lincoln's private secretaries, John Nicolay, also signed the documents.

They were then sold for $10 each, the equivalent of at least $148 in modern currency.

The copy included in the state museum exhibit is on short-term loan from The Union League of Philadelphia, a private club.

Mr. Holzer will make his presentation at 7:30 p.m. Friday. The free program will center on his book, "Emancipating Lincoln: The Proclamation in Text, Context and Memory." The event is sponsored by the Pennsylvania Heritage Foundation and includes a preview of the exhibit. …

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