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National Archives Museum hosts rare display of Emancipation Proclamation

By Danielle Haynes
National Archives Museum hosts rare display of Emancipation Proclamation
The Emancipation Proclamation is seen Monday as a special exhibit to mark its 156th anniversary at the National Archives Museum in Washington, D.C. The document can only be shown for 36 hours a year to preserve it. Photo by Pat Benic/UPI | License Photo

April 15 (UPI) -- For the first time in history, two key documents related to the emancipation of slaves in the 19th century are on display at the same time at the National Archives Museum in Washington, D.C.

The Emancipation Proclamation and the District of Columbia Compensated Emancipation Act of 1862, both signed by former President Abraham Lincoln, are on view through Tuesday in honor of D.C. Emancipation Day.

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Lincoln signed the D.C. act about nine months before the Emancipation Proclamation, the landmark document that paved the way for the freedom of all slaves in the United States and allowed black men into the Union Army and Navy.

"I never in my life felt more certain that I was doing right than I do in signing this paper. ... If my name ever goes into history it will be for this act, and my whole soul is in it," Lincoln said at the time of the latter document's signing.

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The museum said the original Emancipation Proclamation, signed Jan. 1, 1863, is displayed only for three days at a time to limit any damage caused by light exposure. The document has sustained some light damage over its more than 150-year history.

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Museum officials said that unlike other historic documents like the Bill of Rights and Declaration of Independence, the Emancipation Proclamation was not written on durable parchment. Instead, it is on "poor-quality" 19th century paper.

"Since the State Department transferred the Emancipation Proclamation to the National Archives in 1936, the document has been carefully treated and the weak paper support has been mended and reinforced using the latest conservation techniques," the National Archives and Records Administration said. "But repeated handling and exposure to light had already taken their toll on the document."

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The last time it was on view was in February 2018 in honor of African American History Month. Thousands attended the museum to see the document over the course of 36 hours.

The documents are both are display from 10 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Monday and Tuesday in the museum's east and west rotundas. There will be a special joint display between 6 p.m. and 6:45 p.m. Tuesday in conjunction with special DC Emancipation Day programming.

"As a milestone in the long journey toward abolishing slavery, the Emancipation Proclamation has assumed a place among the great documents of human freedom," Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero said. "The story of the Emancipation Proclamation is one that would help to redefine freedom and eventually change the course of history. Both the Proclamation and the D.C. legislation represent a promise of hope, freedom, and justice that continues to inspire and resonate with the American people more than 150 years after its creation."

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