Letter from Lincoln found in state archives


POSTED: Tuesday, June 09, 2009
This story has been corrected.  See below.

Even during the Civil War, the greatest calamity to befall the nation, the wheels of bureaucracy ground slowly but surely. It required President Abraham Lincoln to write hundreds of letters and sign thousands of official statements.

Four of these documents have turned up in the Hawaii State Archives—one of which is a personal letter of condolence to Kamehameha V upon the death of his brother Kamehameha IV. But it is a simple presidential order that has Lincoln scholars excited:

”;I hereby authorize and direct the Secretary of State to affix the Seal of the United States to my Proclamation of this date and signed by me and for so doing, this shall be his warrant.

”;Abraham Lincoln.

”;Washington, 22nd September, 1862.”;

The date is the same as the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, arguably one of the most significant legal orders in U.S. history.

“;Not being Lincoln scholars, we had no inkling that this seemingly insignificant document was associated with the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation,”; said state archivist Susan Shaner.

The Hawaii Lincoln documents actually came to light about five years ago, from a nationwide search by the Lincoln Letters Project, based in Lincoln's hometown of Springfield, Ill., to catalog all of Lincoln's correspondence.

The connection to the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed slaves in rebellious southern states during the Civil War, was recently linked by Lincoln scholar Daniel W. Stowell, director of the Papers of Abraham Lincoln at the Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Ill.

“;It's significant because of its relationship to the Emancipation Proclamation, the only document like this. I've visited something like 450 repositories and private collections in the past five years,”; said Stowell, in Honolulu to examine the documents firsthand.

“;We've cataloged documents from more than 46 states. The only states that don't seem to have any Lincoln letters are Montana and Alaska. ... I've seen multiple presidential orders for a variety of purposes, and this is certainly his signature. I've seen his signature a lot.”;

From the penmanship, different from the signature, it was clearly dictated to an aide or secretary.

“;I'm excited but not surprised,”; said Justin Vance, a Hawaii Pacific University history professor and leader of the Hawaii Civil War Roundtable. “;By the 1860s, Hawaii and the United States already had a deep relationship and routinely exchanged documents.”;

Vance said the Mission Houses Museum might have a pocket watch Lincoln gave to a missionary family whose son fought in the war.

The other two Lincoln documents in the archives concern a consular appointment to the Kingdom of Hawaii and a note to Kamehameha IV. The letter of condolence to Kamehameha V, dated Feb. 2, 1864, begins, “;Great and Good Friend ...”;

There is a similar seal-affixing order in the vaults of the Chicago History Museum, dated the same as the final draft of the Emancipation Proclamation. The actual Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, written in Lincoln's hand, is in the New York State Library in Albany. The Chicago fire of 1871 destroyed the final proclamation.

Although the other three documents are official correspondence to the Kingdom of Hawaii, and thus have a record of possession, the mystery is how the proclamation document wound up in the Hawaii archives.

Research by Shaner and Historical Records Branch chief Luella Kurkjian shows it has been in the collection since 1935. It might have been donated by Lincoln collector Bruce Cartwright.

“;In the birth state of our current president, our first African-American president, it is fascinating to find a document that began the process of emancipation for all African Americans,”; stated Stowell.








Wednesday, June 10, 2009


» The 13th Amendment outlawed slavery in the United States. Originally, this article said it was the Emancipation Proclamation.