Emancipation Proclamation Goes on Display

President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation (search) declaring the end to slavery goes on public view Friday as part of Black History Month celebrations.

The document will be on display at the National Archives (search), where visitors regularly see the original Constitution and Declaration of Independence.

The poor quality of the paper and ink on the final draft of the Emancipation Proclamation make it vulnerable to light, so it has been only occasionally brought out of storage. It was last seen on Jan. 19, 2004, the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr.

The proclamation, issued in the midst of the Civil War (search) on Jan. 1, 1863, said:

"I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said designated States and parts of States are, and henceforward shall be, free; and that the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authorities thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of said persons."

The proclamation, issued in the midst of the Civil War, applied only to areas under the control of the Confederate States (search) of America. So it had no practical effect on any individual. Slave states which had not joined the confederacy, and areas of others occupied by the Northern forces, were exempted.

But it served the military purpose of making trouble for the South. It asked blacks to refrain from violence but encouraged them to seek the protection of Northern armies. It eroded support of the South by European governments avid for southern cotton.

The proclamation was followed by state and federal action over the next two years until the 13th Amendment (search) to the Constitution was ratified after the collapse of the confederacy and Lincoln's assassination, ending two centuries of bondage in North America.