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As the country commemorated Juneteenth, thousands of people lined up outside the National Archives in Washington on Monday to see rarely exhibited original versions of the Emancipation Proclamation and General Order No. 3.
The former is President Abraham Lincoln’s order freeing slaves in the Confederacy in 1863, amid the Civil War; the latter is from 1865 when a Union general informed Texas that slaves were now free — on the day that later became Juneteenth.
ABC News reports both documents, while foundational to the United States and the end of slavery, are very fragile and normally kept in a secure climate-controlled vault with limited light exposure to ensure their preservation.
However, the National Archives intends to place the Emancipation Proclamation on permanent display, with select pages rotated to limit exposure.
Juneteenth was designated by President Joe Biden as a federal holiday in 2021.
“I am proud that the National Archives will enshrine this seminal document for public display adjacent to our nation’s founding documents,” the nation’s archivist, Colleen Shogan, said in a statement on Saturday announcing the planned permanent display alongside the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
William Seward, Lincoln’s secretary of state, commented, “We show our symapthy with slavery by emancipating slaves where we cannot reach them and holding them in bondage where we can set them free.”
The Emancipation Proclamation did not free all slaves in the United States. Rather, it declared free only those slaves living in states not under Union control.
According to PBS, Lincoln was fully aware of the irony, but he did not want to antagonize the slave states loyal to the Union by setting their slaves free.
The proclamation allowed Black soldiers to fight for the Union — soldiers that were desperately needed. It also tied the issue of slavery directly to the war.
Currently about half the states in the nation have not made Juneteenth an official state holiday, according to the Congressional Research Service. Efforts to change that are ongoing.