National Museum of American History to Display Lincoln Documents from Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library

December 30, 2008
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History will open “America’s New Birth of Freedom,” an exhibition in its new Albert H. Small Documents Gallery, Jan. 16, 2009. The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Ill., has organized the exhibit, which includes a collection of 10 Lincoln documents, including a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation, which declared the freedom of slaves in the rebellious confederate states. The documents will be on display until March 22, 2009.

The principal goal of the documents exhibition is to show Lincoln’s understanding and expression of the relationship between emancipation and the aims of the Civil War. The documents reflect Lincoln’s views on American ideals and how he wanted the country to emerge from the war. The display will coincide with the opening of the museum exhibit “Abraham Lincoln: An Extraordinary Life” and the national celebration of the 200th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth.

“Lincoln’s words transcend time and speak in powerful ways to a global audience,” said Brent D. Glass, director of the museum. “Displaying some of Lincoln’s most memorable words will serve as a fitting tribute to one of America’s greatest presidents.”

This collection of documents reveals Lincoln’s position on emancipation and has become the cornerstone of current thinking on Lincoln and his legacy. For example, in a letter to Gen. John Dix, a major general in the New York Militia, Lincoln suggested sending 2,000 black troops to Yorktown, Va., in order to garrison Fort Monroe. Because of the fort’s strategic position on the Chesapeake Bay, Dix agreed that the post “should be held by the best and most reliable troops the country can furnish…” By the end of the war, almost 200,000 black soldiers and sailors had fought for the Union.

“The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum is delighted to have the opportunity to share some of our most precious Lincoln documents,” said Thomas Schwartz, state historian at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. “The exhibition reminds us both of Lincoln’s vision for a nation remade in the image of the Declaration of Independence and of the terrible price that was paid to defend and shape that vision.”

The 1,500-square-foot Albert H. Small Documents Gallery was created to display rare and historically significant documents that reflect the broad scope and mission of the museum in a secure environment. Due to the conservation requirements of the materials on display, including the Lincoln documents, most exhibitions will be up for no more than three months.

The Smithsonian Institution will commemorate the bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth in 1809 with several exhibitions and opportunities to meet acclaimed Lincoln scholars and tour Lincoln-era sites. The exhibitions and events will allow visitors to immerse themselves in the history of one of the nation’s most transformative leaders. For more information, go to There is a dedicated Web site for the document exhibition at

The National Museum of American History collects, preserves and displays American heritage in the areas of social, political, cultural, scientific and military history. Documenting the American experience from Colonial times to the present, the museum looks at growth and change in the United States. The museum shines new light on American history after having been dramatically transformed by a two-year renovation. To learn more about the museum and its renovation, check where visitors can sign up for an electronic newsletter. For Smithsonian information, the public may call (202) 633-1000, (202) 633-5285 (TTY).