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Rose Mary
By Rosemary McKittrick
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Secretarial manuscript of Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation. Sold for $607,500. Photo courtesy of Christie's
When Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, witnesses noticed his hands shaking. Lincoln feared he was making a big mistake some historian’s say. Maybe his generals wouldn’t back him. His cabinet was clearly fretting over the outcome.

It was a moment of moral courage for Lincoln. A trembling hand. A gut feeling. A signature. Lincoln somehow understood there was a moral law with regard to slavery that canceled out any man-made law. Lincoln reportedly told Frank Carpenter, his artist friend, that he regarded the Emancipation Proclamation as “the central act of my administration, and the great event of the 19th century.”

Eventually there would be no more auction blocks for slaves. No more whips. No more chains.

In his book the War Years, Carl Sandburg described Lincoln’s remarks that historic afternoon on Jan. 1, 1863. “I never, in my life, felt more certain that I was doing right, than I do in signing this paper. But I have been receiving calls and shaking hands since nine o’clock this morning, ‘til my arm is stiff and numb. Now this signature is one that will be closely examined and if they find my hand trembled they will say he had some compunctions. But anyway, it is going to be done.”

And with that, Lincoln dipped his pen in his inkstand, hesitated for a moment, and then carefully wrote the name Abraham Lincoln at the bottom of the Emancipation Proclamation. Secretary of State Seward signed next, the great seal was affixed, and the document went into the archives of the State Department.

We’ll never know for sure why Lincoln’s hands were trembling that afternoon.

Historians speculate. But in the end we’re left with one unquestionable result. Lincoln signed a document that led to the eventual freeing of over 1 million people.

So much about the man is steeped in folklore and fable. It’s easy to get tangled up sorting out the fine points. Maybe that’s how it’s supposed to be. We seem to need our heroes to be heroes, clothed in their Sunday best. One thing is very clear. Lincoln understood the responsibility that came with being free. So much so he demanded that right for slaves.

A secretarial manuscript of Lincoln’s draft of the Emancipation Proclamation used in Lincoln’s meeting with the Cabinet on or just before Dec. 30, 1862, went on the block at Christie’s, New York on Dec. 10. The document is one of only six Cabinet drafts, possibly Secretary of War Stanton’s, written only 48-hours before the issuance of the Final Emancipation Proclamation.

Of the six drafts, four are part of the Lincoln Papers in the Library of Congress. This manuscript sold in the auction for $607,500. The location of the final manuscript remains a mystery.

Other Lincoln items offered:

Signed document. Abraham Lincoln, President. Engraved document signed Abraham Lincoln as President, countersigned by Secretary of War Simon Cameron, 6 August 1861. President Lincoln and Secretary Cameron appoint Frank Guest Smith Second Lieutenant in the Fourth Regiment of Artillery. $4,370.

Autograph endorsement. Signed A. Lincoln as President to Simon Cameron, 15 July 1861. Recommends a Second Lieutenancy for Levi Davis in the Regular Army. Abraham Lincoln. $5,750.

Autograph letter. Mary Todd Lincoln. First Lady. Autograph letter signed twice to the New York tailor W, Hindhaugh, Washington, D.C., 16 October {1861}. Lincoln’s billed for two suits, one not ordered. $8,625.

Autograph manuscript. Abraham Lincoln, President. A Speech of Welcome to a South American Envoy, 16 March, 1861. On the occasion of the reception of Luis Molina. $63,000.

Political debates. First edition, first issue of Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas “Political Debates” in the celebrated campaign of 1858 in Illinois. One of three known copies inscribed in ink. $96,000.

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