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A Nation Divided.  The Civil War in contemporary prints

Emancipation Proclamation

From the beginning of the war, Lincoln had tread very carefully around the issue of freeing the slaves, fearing any such move might cause the loyal slave states to join the Confederacy. For instance, he countermanded orders emancipating slaves by two of his commanders, General Fré in Missouri in September 1861 and General Hunter in the southern-most states in May 1862. However, by July 1862, things had changed.

First, Congress was aggressively pushing the issue of emancipation, passing the Second Confiscation Act on July 17, which declared that all slaves owned by rebels were henceforth freed. Meanwhile, despite Lincoln's many pleas, the border states refused to accept gradual emancipation in return for federal compensation. And finally, the failure of McClellan's plan to take Richmond forced Lincoln realize he needed to add new vigor to the Union; "What was needed was a new cause, not to supplant, but to supplement the old..."

Thus Lincoln decided it was time for a decisive move to seize the initiative and reinvigorate Union sentiment. He prepared an Emancipation Proclamation, which he read to his cabinet on July 22. This proclamation freed any slave in territory under rebellion as soon as Union armies could make that effective. The cabinet, however, was concerned that this proclamation would seem an act of desperation, so it was agreed that it would not be publicly announced until there was a significant Union victory, something which for which Lincoln would have to wait for another two months.


Proclamation of Emancipation
W.H. Pratt. "Proclamation of Emancipation." Davenport, Iowa: W.H. Pratt, 1865. Lithograph by A. Hageboeck. 11 3/8 x 9. Very good condition. Eberstadt 40. Holzer, Lincoln Seen and Heard, p.17.

In this artifact of Civil War Americana, fascination with Abraham Lincoln and the end of slavery coincide with the aesthetic tradition of fine penmanship and meticulous engraving. A popular format throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the calligraphy portrait is used here to unite the martyred president with his most famous document, the Emancipation Proclamation. Written either by W.H. Pratt or by E.C. Smith (examples crediting both exist), the calligraphic portrait is a masterful manipulation of letterform to achieve a well-known likeness and joins the plethora of images of Abraham Lincoln that came on the market after his assassination. Printed in Iowa, the state that sent the most soldiers to the front per capita in the Civil War, this print would have been a powerful visual reminder of one of the outcomes of a costly struggle. A popular image and a rare example of fine engraving from the a small printing center of the Midwest. $1,200



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©The Philadelphia Print Shop, Ltd. March 10, 2014