The Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation: Preservation and Presentation


The Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation is presently housed in a double chamber case which is flooded with nitrogen gas.  The gas helps stabilize the temperature and humidity in this closed environment.  When it is on display, the Proclamation in its sealed container is placed in a reconfigured safe designed with various security measures built into the structure to ensure the document's safety.

The four-page manuscript is believed to be made of good quality loose ruled sheets of rag paper.  It is written in dense brown-black ink, presumably iron gall.  The paper and writing inks of this time period are highly sensitive to light.

Conservators recommend documents from this time period be on exhibit for limited periods of time, even at low lighting levels, to prevent as much cumulative damage as possible.  For this reason, experts recommend the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation only be on display for a maximum of 80 hours per year.


Booklet cover, showing Army guards carrying the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation past the statue of Abraham Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Cover of the "Emancipation Centennial Issue (PDF, 76.2 MB), the September-October 1962 issue of New York State and the Civil War, published by the NY Civil War Centennial Commission.

In more recent years, the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation has been put on display periodically for special events with a limited time period in order to continue to keep it safe and in good condition for future generations.

  • 1950 and 1951 - The Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation toured New York State on the Freedom Train, an exhibit of New York's most valuable historical treasures exhibited in specially constructed railroad cars. It was the longest time that the Proclamation was absent from Albany since its purchase.
  • September 1962 - The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a featured speaker at the New York Civil War Centennial Commission's 100th anniversary celebration of the Emancipation Proclamation in New York City.  New York's manuscript draft copy of the preliminary proclamation was then displayed at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.
  • October 7, 2004 – Albany City School District students and their parents and guests viewed the Library's manuscript draft copy of the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation as part of a special program held in the New York State Museum.
  • October 7–16, 2005 – The Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation was on display at the New York Historical Society’s exhibit "Slavery in New York."
  • March 11, 2007 – The public had a rare opportunity to view the Library's manuscript draft copy of the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation when it was displayed in the New York State Capitol Building.
  • September 19, 2010 - The Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation was on display in the Cultural Education Center in Albany in conjunction with the traveling exhibit "Forever Free: Abraham Lincoln's Journey to Emancipation," which the New York State Library was hosting.

Text by Liza Duncan, New York State Library, 2010.

Last Updated: September 13, 2012