President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation is one of the most celebrated documents in American history. Consisting of two executive orders issued by Lincoln, it freed all slaves in all Confederate States, and prepared the ground for the abolishment of all slavery in America.
Although criticised for only freeing slaves where the Unionists had no control, the Proclamation did free a number of slaves quite quickly. All those in Union-controlled areas of Confederate states were freed, and more as the Unionists advanced, with slaves fleeing to meet them.
Now, the Emancipation Proclamation from the Collection of Robert and Ethel Kennedy is set to come to auction at Sotheby's. The document is one of only nineteen copies of the Proclamation known to survive, of which fourteen are in institutional collections.
Purchased by then-Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy at auction in 1964, the document has hung proudly in their family home, Hickory Hill. The Kennedy Emancipation Proclamation will be exhibited to the public this autumn in Boston, Philadelphia and New York ahead of the December auction.
"On the great ladder to freedom the rungs that raised us highest are those ringing proclamations: Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence and the Gettyburg Address," noted David Redden, Vice Chairman of Sotheby's.
"This latest document, the Kennedy Emancipation Proclamation, links the noblest ideals of the 1860's to the 1960's, links Robert Kennedy and Abraham Lincoln, Civil Rights and Civil War. It is a talisman of two times and a reminder that there is no end to the struggle for freedom."
Selby Kiffer, Sotheby's Senior Specialist for Historic American Manuscripts continued, "The Emancipation Proclamation is one of the great documents of human freedom. It made the moral truth expressed in the Declaration of Independence the law of the land: 'all men are created equal.'
The connection of this copy with Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, who fought courageously to enforce civil rights legislation, is a powerful reminder that great words must be enforced with brave actions."
Signed by President Lincoln on January 1, 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation stripped away the denial that the Civil War was about slavery. The Proclamation clearly demonstrates the President's acknowledgement that the Civil War was fought not only to preserve the Union, but also to abolish slavery, as abolitionists had long maintained.
In 1963, a centennial celebration of the Emancipation Proclamation was held at the White House, and at that time there was agitation about a second Proclamation being issued due to the country's failure to fulfill the promises of the Declaration of Independence and the Emancipation Proclamation.
As Attorney General under his brother, Robert Kennedy was involved on a daily basis in crafting and enforcing Civil Rights legislation.
Inspired by the centennial anniversary, in early 1964 Kennedy purchased at Sotheby's predecessor firm, Parke-Bernet, a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation signed by President Lincoln.
The Proclamation was displayed not in his Justice Department office, but in his home, Hickory Hill. Historians and the public have long linked Presidents Lincoln and Kennedy because of their devotion to freedom and liberty for all American citizens.
As Attorney General and President Kennedy's principal advisor, and later as Senator from New York, Robert Kennedy successfully championed the passage of Civil Rights legislation, completing the great work begun by the Emancipation Proclamation.
The document is estimated to bring $1m-1.5m in the sale which takes place on December 10, 2010.