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Lincoln Reads the Emancipation Proclamation to His Cabinet - Rare Variant
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A rare lithographic portrayal of Abraham Lincoln and his Cabinet at a pivotal point in history.

[ABRAHAM LINCOLN]. EDWARD HERLINE. Lithograph. President Lincoln and His Cabinet. Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation. Philadelphia: D. Hensel & Co., Goff & Brother, 1866. 30 x 24 in.

Inventory #25617.01       ON HOLD

Loosely adapted from Francis B. Carpenter’s 1864 oil painting. A lithographic print by Scottish-born Alexander H. Ritchie quickly made the scene very popular; Ritchie’s print is fairly common. Herline and other publishers, including Currier and Ives, soon came out with similar views to meet popular demand.

Rare; apparently none other at auction since Swann Auction Galleries’ May 23, 1985 Lincoln sale (lot 157, in poor condition.)

In Herline’s version, Lincoln sits at the left, with his cabinet members to the right: Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase, Secretary of State William H. Seward (seated), Postmaster General Montgomery Blair, Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles (seated), Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton (seated), Secretary of the Interior Caleb Smith, and Attorney General Edward Bates (seated). The cabinet members’ positions were moved, and Carpenter’s portrayal of Lincoln has been replaced with a profile representation based on a Mathew Brady 1864 photograph of Lincoln with his son Tad.[1]

Historical Background

On July 22, Lincoln read a draft of his preliminary Emancipation Proclamation to his cabinet. In contrast to the Confiscation Acts of 1861 and 1862, the Emancipation Proclamation addressed only property in slaves and liberated all slaves in areas in rebellion, not only those of rebellious masters. At Seward’s urging, Lincoln agreed to withhold announcing it until the Union forces had achieved a victory, so that it did not appear (especially to European observers) to be the desperate act of a losing war effort.

Two months later, when Union troops stopped Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s invasion of Maryland at Antietam Creek, Lincoln finally had his opportunity. On September 22, 1862, Lincoln issued his Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, giving the South 100 days to end the rebellion or face losing their slaves. On both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line, Lincoln’s order was condemned as a usurpation of property rights and an effort to start racial warfare.

When the South failed to acquiesce, Lincoln, as promised, issued the final Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. With this Executive Order, he took a decisive stand on the most contentious issue in American history, redefined the Union’s goals and strategy, and sounded the death knell for slavery. The full text of his proclamation reveals the major issues of the Civil War: slave labor as a Confederate resource; slavery as a central war issue; the status of African Americans who escaped to Union lines; courting border states; Constitutional and popular constraints on emancipation; hopes of reunion; questions of Northern acceptance of black soldiers; and America’s place in a world moving toward abolition. The President took the action, “sincerely believed to be an act of justice,” knowing that it might cost Republicans in the fall 1862 elections.

The final Proclamation showed Lincoln’s own progression on the issue of slavery, and eliminated earlier references to colonizing freed blacks and compensating slave owners for voluntary emancipation. It also added provisions for black military enlistment. Pausing before he signed the final Proclamation, Lincoln reportedly said: “I never, in my life, felt more certain that I was doing right than I do in signing this paper.”

Francis Bicknell Carpenter (1830-1900), a New York artist, was so impressed with Lincoln’s bold act that he recruited Illinois Congressman and abolitionist Owen Lovejoy to arrange a White House sitting. Carpenter met Lincoln on February 6, 1864, and set up a studio in the State Dining Room. His tenure at the White House while he painted also gave him the material for an 1866 book, Six Months at the White House with Abraham Lincoln.

Edward Herline (1825-1902) was born in Germany and emigrated to New York in 1848. He soon relocated to Philadelphia, where he became a lithographer by 1850. From 1857 to 1866, he worked in partnership with Daniel Hensel (1830-1919) in the firm of Herline & Hensel at 630 Chestnut Street. Known for their chromolithographs and bird’s eye views, the firm also produced advertisements, sheet music covers, maps, political cartoons, certificates, and illustrations. Around 1869, Herline took on Howard B. Hamilton as a partner in Herline & Co. until 1872. By 1880, Herline had settled in Hoboken, New Jersey.


Staining to edges, shadow of former matting.

[1] Harold Holzer, Gabor S. Boritt, and Mark E. Neely Jr., The Lincoln Image: Abraham Lincoln and the Popular Print (New York: Scribner Press, 1984; reprint, Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2001), 123-25.

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