National Archives News

Visitors Get a Rare Opportunity to See the Emancipation Proclamation

By Kerri Lawrence  |  National Archives News

WASHINGTON, February 14, 2018 — Visitors to the National Archives will have the rare opportunity to view the original Emancipation Proclamation in the East Rotunda Gallery during the weekend of February 17-19, 2018, in observance  of African American History Month and Abraham Lincoln’s birthday.  

President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, during the American Civil War, formally proclaiming the freedom of all slaves held in areas still in revolt.

Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero explains that although it did not abolish slavery altogether, the document is said to have become a symbol of hope and freedom during the war.

“...It captured the hearts and imagination of millions of Americans and fundamentally transformed the character of the war,” Ferriero explained in his February 8, 2018, AOTUS blog post. “After January 1, 1863, every advance of federal troops expanded the domain of freedom. Moreover, the Proclamation announced the acceptance of black men into the Union Army and Navy, enabling the liberated to become liberators. By the end of the war, almost 200,000 black soldiers and sailors had fought for the Union and freedom.”

In a recent Pieces of History blog post, “The ‘EP’ at the National Archives,” agency historian Jessie Kratz shares the fabled history of the document from its inception to it current status.  

A National Archives video created in 2012 also shares the significance of the document and its history and measures the agency has taken to preserve it.

For conservation reasons, the original document of January 1, 1863, is only displayed a few days at a time under extremely low light to protect it from damage. The last time the original was displayed in Washington, DC, was for its 150th anniversary from December 30, 2012, through January 1, 2013.

Visitors can view the document between 10 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. from Saturday, February 17, 2018, through Monday, February 19, 2018, in the National Archives East Rotunda Gallery in Washington, DC. Admission is free and open to the public.

Hands-on activities centering around the Emancipation Proclamation will also be available for visitors at the museum’s Boeing Learning Center on Saturday, February 17, 2018, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Visitors of all ages can participate free of charge in a variety of writing, mapping, or puzzle activities.

For more a detailed history, including transcripts, of the document, see the Emancipation Proclamation page on View and download high-resolution images of the Emancipation Proclamation in the National Archives Catalog. For a chance to see how much you know about this historic document, be sure to take the National Archives quiz on this page and test your expertise.