LINCOLN, Abraham, President. Autograph endorsement signed ("A. Lincoln") as President, comprising 3 lines plus date and signature, [Washington, D.C.], 14 APRIL 1865. [With:] JOHNSON, Andrew, Vice-President. Endorsement signed ("Andrew Johnson") as Vice-President, Washington City, 12 April 1865, comprising 8 lines plus place, date and signature. 1 page, 6 5/16 x 3½ in., probably a portion of a larger sheet.
GOOD FRIDAY, 1865: IN ONE OF HIS LAST OFFICIAL ACTS BEFORE HIS ASSASSINATION, LINCOLN GRANTS AMNESTY TO A GROUP OF CONFEDERATE PRISONERS
A document which records an act of mercy by the President whose life would be violently taken by an assassin within a scant twenty-four hours. Signed by both Vice President Johnson and Lincoln, it is one of only a handful of documents signed by the President on April 14, 1865, the last day of his life, still in private hands. During the late phases of the war, with the collapse of the Confederacy, large numbers of Confederate prisoners, civilian and military, sought release from Union imprisonment under the terms first promulgated by Lincoln in his December 1863 Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconciliation, which stipulated that individuals willing to take a prescribed oath not to act against the Federal government, might be pardoned and released. That clearly was the situation reflected in the present document. At the top of the sheet, Vice-President Johnson states "the release of the within named prisoners of war is recommended, upon condition that they take the oath of amnesty as prescribed in the President's Proclamation of December 8, 1863." In the bottom portion, Lincoln has granted amnesty:
"Let these men be released on taking the oath of Dec. 8, 1863.
Ap. 14 1865"
In the wake of Lincoln's assassination the events of Good Friday 1865, the last day of his life, have been documented with unusual thoroughness. After waking at about seven o'clock, he worked on papers at his desk in the oval office, then, over breakfast, listened raptly to his son Robert's first-hand account of Lee's surrender at Appomattox, five days earlier (Captain Robert Todd Lincoln was present as a staff officer attached to Grant's command). Next, Lincoln met with a succession of government officials including House Speaker Schuyler Colfax, California Congressman Cornelius Cole, a Detroit Postmaster, Senator Creswell of Maryland, the recently appointed Minister to Spain and a Mississippi riverboat captain, Charles Scott. After a brief carriage ride with General Ulysses S. Grant, he visited the telegraph office in the War Department, seeking additional news from the Union armies. At 11 he convened a meeting of the cabinet, at which he described to Gideon Welles an alarming dream of a ship. In mid-afternoon, he and Mary Lincoln rode together in an open carriage about Washington, and, at the Navy Yard on the Potomac, Lincoln briefly toured a Union ironclad damaged at Fort Fisher, N.C. "Throughout the afternoon he was 'cheerful-almost joyous,' his wife recalled, and his spirits were so high that she said to him, laughing, 'Dear Husband, you almost startle me by your great cheerfulness.' 'And well I may feel so, Mary,' he responded, 'I consider this day, the war has come to close'" (D.H. Herbert, Lincoln, p.593).
Upon returning to the White House, Lincoln again received visitors, including Illinois Governor Richard J. Oglesby and General Isham Haynie, to whom he read aloud sections from The Nasby Letters (humorous satires on slavery and reconstruction by an Ohio copperhead, David Ross Locke). After an early dinner, the Lincolns left for Ford's Theatre, to attend a performance of the well-known comedy, Our American Cousin, starring Laura Keene, even though Lincoln had been repeatedly warned by his bodyguard, Ward H. Lamon, and by Secretary of War Stanton, to avoid such public gatherings.
Very few documents signed by Lincoln on his last day remain in private hands. Basler and its supplements cite a total of 12 letters and documents dated April 14, most of them endorsements, many of them already in permanent institutional collections. In the last 25 years, only 3 examples, including the present, are recorded at auction (the most recent, similar to the present but without the Vice-President's note, sold at Willis Henry Auctions, for $100,000). Apprently unpublished, not in Basler, or Supplements. See E.S. Meirs, Lincoln Day by Day, p.329-330.
Provenance: Philip D. Sang (sale, Sotheby Parke Bernet, 14 November 1978, lot 503).