Abraham Lincoln in His Own Words (N-Y Historical Society)





A draft of the epoch-making “House Divided” speech, stirring notes for an address against slavery, a telegram encouraging General Ulysses S. Grant at a turning point in the Civil War, and the resolution for the Thirteenth Amendment bearing the President’s signature: These are among the rare and important letters, papers and official documents in Abraham Lincoln’s own hand that will be on display, as the New-York Historical Society presents, in partnership with the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, the exhibition Abraham Lincoln in His Own Words.

Opening on February 12, 2009 (the 200th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth) and remaining on view through July 12, Abraham Lincoln in His Own Words is the latest offering in the Historical Society’s Lincoln Year of exhibitions, lectures, events and public programs commemorating the bicentennial. The Lincoln Year will culminate in the Historical Society’s major exhibition for 2009, Lincoln and New York (opening October 2), for which the distinguished Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer has served as chief historian.

“Nothing matches the immediacy of approaching a great figure through authentic objects,” stated Dr. Louise Mirrer, President and CEO of the New-York Historical Society. “Visitors to Abraham Lincoln in His Own Words will experience this thrill of physical presence, as they view Abraham Lincoln’s life and career in the original, from his period as an attorney and legislator in Illinois through his assassination and its aftermath.”

“As Lincoln begins his third century in American memory, we hope these documents will help illuminate his unique contribution to our country’s history,” stated James G. Basker, President of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.

In addition to seeing handwritten public documents by Lincoln, visitors will also encounter his more personal side, in letters to a struggling school friend of his eldest son and to his wife Mary (the latter written days before his death). Also on view are first edition texts, including a signed lithograph of his Emancipation Proclamation, a broadside of his Second Inaugural Address distributed in 1865, and a copy of his First Inaugural Address as published in 1861 in the Chicago Tribune.

Lending dramatic context to these items are a variety of other remarkable period objects, such as photographs, prints, sculptures, testimonies, and more. Visitors will see a cast of Lincoln’s face made in 1860 by sculptor Leonard Volk; a photograph by Alexander Gardner of Lincoln and General McClellan in the field in 1862; a Currier & Ives print of the fall of Richmond in 1865; and a letter of condolence to Mary Todd Lincoln from Frederick Douglass, written in August 1865. Rounding out the exhibition are the original artists’ models by Daniel Chester French for the Lincoln sculpture commissioned by Lincoln, Nebraska (1911) and for the colossal seated figure at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. (1916).

With the exception of the sculptures, all objects in the exhibition are drawn from the Gilder Lehrman Collection, which is on deposit at the New-York Historical Society. An accompanying illustrated book, Great Lincoln Documents: Historians Present Treasures from the Gilder Lehrman Collection, has been published by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, featuring essays by ten noted historians, including James McPherson, Allen Guelzo, David Blight, Richard Carwardine, and Harold Holzer.

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