[LINCOLN, Abraham SLAVERY]. Engraved document signed ("G.A. Grow") as Speaker of the House, with secretarial (proxy) signatures of Abraham Lincoln and Vice-President Hannibal Hamlin, and signature of Clerk Enoch Etheridge, "AN ACT TO SECURE FREEDOM TO ALL PERSONS WITHIN THE TERRITORIES OF THE UNITED STATES", Washington, D.C., June 1862. 1 page, large folio (21¼ x 15¾ inches), ON PARCHMENT, bold decorative calligraphic text at top: "Congress of the United States," engraver's imprint "J.V.N. Throop, D.C." at center, boldly accomplished in manuscript by a clerk, narrow red and blue ruled borders, slight fading, bottom edge chewed..
"NEITHER SLAVERY NOR INVOLUNTARY SERVITUDE": THE CONGRESSIONAL ACT BANNING SLAVERY IN THE TERRITORIES
The Congressional Act to free the slaves in the territories of the United States was approved by President Abraham Lincoln on June 19, 1862, and along with the better-known act outlawing slavery in the District of Columbia, constitutes an important instrumental predecessor to the Emancipation Proclamation. The central issue of the 1860 election, and of epic and heated political battles for several decades since the 1820 Missouri Compromise, was the issue of federal power to prohibit slavery in the vast territories being rapidly opened up by the nation's westward expansion. The Missouri Compromise had provided that slavery would be prohibited in all territories north of a line 36o 30' N. lat.. This effectively suppressed the divisive issue until 1850, when the admission of California as a free state resulted in the repeal of the Compromise and the passage in 1854 of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, based on the concept of popular sovereignty, by which the voters in each terrirory or state would determine, by referendum, whether slavery would be allowed or disallowed in that state. Bloody conflict between slavery's supporters and opponents broke out in Kansas and the issue was again at the fore-front of politics. The Dred Scott decision of 1857, which attempted to take the question out of the political arena, categorically declared the Missouri Compromise to be unconstitutional and void. Federal control over slavery's expansion played a central role in the subsequent decision of the southern states to secede from the union. Historian James McPherson succintly captures the southern mentality; "What were these rights and liberties for which Confederates contended? The right to own slaves; the liberty to take this property into the territories; freedom from the coercive powers of a centralized government." (McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom, p. 241)
Secession brought Civil War. In the midst of the conflict, Lincoln sought to complete that which he had been elected for. On April 16, 1862, Lincoln approved a congressional act to end slavery in the District of Columbia. Two months later, he approved the present act to abolish slavery in the territories. The accomplished top portion of this copy of the act indicates that it was enacted by the second session of the 37th Congress on 2 December 1861." It stipulates, simply, that "from and after the passage of this Act there shall be neither Slavery nor Involuntary Servitude in any of the Territories of the United States now existing, or which may at any time hereafter be formed or acquired by the United States otherwise than in punishment of crimes whereof the party shall have been duly convicted." Written below in red ink is the word "Duplicate." The date of approval above the secretarial signature of Lincoln has been left uncompleted and reads "June 1862." Shortly after this act was approved, Lincoln announced the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation.
It is unclear why the present elaborate copy of the Act, signed by Republican Galusha A. Grow of Pennsylvania with proxy signatures of Lincoln and Hamlin, was created by a Congressional clerk, but perhaps it was intended to commemorate what must have been a momentous event, to those accustomed the the rancorous debates over this issue. Similar "souvenir" copies were prepared for the 13th Amendment, but we are not aware of another copy of the present Act. To our knowledge, no copy has appeared at auction in at least two decades.