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National Archives Plans to Add Emancipation Proclamation to Rotunda in 2026.

By Wendy Swanson

Washington, D.C.

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

The Emancipation Proclamation will go on permanent display in the rotunda of the National Archives in January 2026. Archivist of the United States Colleen Shogan has announced.

In the past, the document from the pen of President Abraham Lincoln has rarely been on public view, largely because of its fragility.

However, a year ago, the Archives said it planned to permanently display the Emancipation Proclamation in the Rotunda along with three other national treasures: the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Yet before the document could assume its new place of honor, much work was needed, including an assessment of possible display environments to best preserve the delicate document.

The planned date for adding the proclamation to the Rotunda display is an appropriate one. 2026 will mark the Declaration of Independence's 250th anniversary, and Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863.

The announcement came as the Archives kicked off its latest brief display of the proclamation. The document is on exhibit with another symbol of freedom, U.S. Major General Gordon Granger's Special Order No. 3, which notified the enslaved population in Texas, 250,00 in all, of their emancipation. The date of that order, June 19, 1865, became a day of celebration for the newly freed and eventually gave birth to our newest federal holiday, Juneteenth. The 2024 display, running only from June 18 to 20, is in honor of Juneteenth. The above banner hangs over the case displaying the proclamation at the exhibit.

In discussing the proclamation, Shogan emphasized that "democracies require hard work and transformations." She added that the proclamation represents one of the nation's transformations and, in fact, "a refounding of the nation." As such, the proclamation rightly deserves a place of honor with other pivotal documents displayed in the rotunda.

Lonnie G. Bunch, secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, added that "the document speaks of freedom and a place of freedom for all." He noted that our country is "a work in progress." Simply stated, the "Emancipation Proclamation profoundly changed the nation."

In the photo to the left, visitors view Special Order No. 3. Many visitors expressed astonishment at the order's story and the fact that the abolition of slavery in Texas did not take place until 2 1/2 years after the proclamation as issued. After the end of the Civil War, Texas remained the "last stand" for slavery. The length of time that elapsed before the enslaved in Texas learned of their freedom illustrates the nature of the struggle for freedom for all.

The Archives visit introduced many to an "unexpected Lincoln." Those who have viewed the founding documents in the rotunda might be familiar with the Barry Faulkner murals of the Charters of Freedom, painted in 1936. In his mural on The Declaration of Independence, there is a dark cloud over the head of Thomas Jefferson. Many have seen in those clouds a profile of Abraham Lincoln. Shogan noted this observation in her remarks, adding that "Lincoln will be looking down on the Emancipation Proclamation, once the document is on display in 2026."

The above photo shows a portion of the Declaration of Independence mural. At the left of this photo is Thomas Jefferson. Many see a profile of Lincoln in the dark above Jefferson's head.

This mural was created in 1936, so the artist would have been aware of the nation's struggles that occurred after the revolution. Do the dark clouds symbolize the struggles to come?   To see a photo of the entire mural, click here.

(Photos by Wendy Swanson)


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