Emancipation Proclamation Inkstand

Grade Range: K-K
Resource Type(s): Artifacts
Date Posted: 9/10/2015

Abraham Lincoln came to understand that to achieve a lasting peace, slavery must end. He had always opposed slavery, but had never sided with abolitionists who called for its immediate end. Lincoln had sought solutions that would make slavery gradually fade from white society—limit its location, sponsor compensation programs for slave owners, and relocate freed blacks outside the country. By mid-1862 Lincoln saw that a solution to slavery could not wait and that it had to address integrating freed African Americans into American society.

In the summer of 1862, Lincoln drafted an executive order on slavery. Published in September, it declared that, as of January 1, 1863, all persons held in slavery in areas still in rebellion would be “then, thenceforward, and forever free.” Although the Emancipation Proclamation did not directly free any enslaved people in Union-controlled areas, it was widely understood that a Union victory would mean the end of slavery.

This brass inkstand sat on the desk of Maj. Thomas Eckert in the War Department telegraph office. At the time, the War Department handled all the president’s telegrams, and Lincoln often stopped by to learn the latest news of the war. Years later Eckert would recall, “The President came to my office every day and invariably sat at my desk. . . . I became much interested . . . with the idea that he was engaged upon something of great importance, but did not know what it was until he had finished the document and then for the first time he told me that he had been writing an order giving freedom to the slaves of the South, for the purpose of hastening the end of the war. . . . I still have in my possession the inkstand which he used at the time.”

Transfer from the Library of Congress, 1962