Special Document Display: Emancipation Proclamation

The National Archives marks the 156th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation with a special 3-day display of the original document.

The National Archives will display the Emancipation Proclamation in the museum’s East Rotunda Gallery from April 14 through 16, coinciding with the anniversary of Lincoln’s death on April 15. Concurrently, the District of Columbia Compensated Emancipation Act of 1862 will be featured in the West Rotunda Gallery from April 12 through 16 in celebration of DC Emancipation Day on April 16.

On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which declared “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are, and henceforward shall be free.”

Emancipation Proclamation, 1/1/1863. View the full document in the National Archives Catalog

As a milestone in the long journey toward abolishing slavery, the Emancipation Proclamation has assumed a place among the great documents of human freedom. 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 DC 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.

Both documents allowed for the freedom of slaves. President Abraham Lincoln signed the District of Columbia legislation on April 16, 1862, almost nine months before signing the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863.

For conservation reasons, the original Emancipation Proclamation document of January 1, 1863, is displayed only a few days at a time under extremely low light to protect it from damage. This year, visitors can view the documents between 10 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. in the National Archives East and West Rotunda Galleries in Washington, DC. Admission is free and open to the public.

Additionally, the Emancipation Proclamation and the DC Compensated Emancipation Act will be on special display together between 6 p.m. and 6:45 p.m. on Tuesday, April 16, 2019, in conjunction with a related public program that evening.  

The National Archives will host the program, “DC Emancipation Day and the Emancipation Proclamation,” on Tuesday, April 16, 2019, at 7 p.m. in the William G. McGowan Theater at the Washington, DC, museum. A panel will discuss the history and political implications of both documents. Reservations are recommended but not required. Special performances by the Artists Group Chorale of Washington will take place during the display and at the start of the program.

This document display is made possible in part by the National Archives Foundation, through the generous support of The Boeing Company.

You can learn more about the significance of the Emancipation Proclamation, its history, and the measures the National Archives has taken to preserve it in our video .

For a more detailed history, including transcripts, of the document, see the Emancipation Proclamation page on Archives.gov. Visit our Catalog to view and download high-resolution images of the Emancipation Proclamation and the District of Columbia Compensated Emancipation Act of 1862.

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