It’s nearly impossible these days, with the Academy Awards at the end of this month, to discuss the Emancipation Proclamation without also talking about Steven Spielberg’s film Lincoln, which goes into the awards with 12 nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Daniel Day-Lewis), and Best Supporting Actress (Sally Field). Based on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book Team of Rivals: the Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, there’s a pivotal moment in the film when Lincoln discusses the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed those slaves in Confederate states still in rebellion, and his fear that he may not have had the complete authority on January 1, 1863, to issue it. Hence his strong desire to pass the 13th Amendment before the war’s end and the possible questioning of the Proclamation. It’s a fascinating scene, played with honesty and humility by Day-Lewis that underscores Lincoln’s penchant for risk for the sake of conviction.

The 13th Amendment was passed, of course, and the Emancipation Proclamation one of the most important documents in American history. The chance


President Abraham Lincoln and
the Emancipation Proclamation.
Courtesy of the U.S. National Archives.

 to see in person the original document, signed by Lincoln, is a rare opportunity. To see it in Nashville is a once-in-a-lifetime one. Middle Tennesseans and people throughout the Southeast will have that chance when the document comes to the Tennessee State Museum (TSM) on February 12, 2013, to open the Discovering the Civil War exhibit, on loan from the National Archives in Washington, DC. The document, which is making its only Southeastern U.S. stop here, will be on view for only 72 hours spread over seven days from Tuesday, February 12, to Monday, February 18. After that date, a facsimile of the document will be in the exhibit.

Admission is free, but because visitors to see the document in Michigan stood in line for up to seven hours, TSM officials are using a reservation system. Reservations can be made now for $1 at or by calling 615-782-4040. The last fifteen minutes of each hour will be given to walk-ins. Special museum hours during the viewing, including earlier openings and later closings, are also available at the website. Organizers estimate that 300 people will be able to see the document each hour.  

“The National Archives are very strict about controlling the amount of light which is shown on the document. We have 72 hours of viewing, no more, so we have to make sure everyone who buys a reservation gets in to see it,” said Lois Riggins-Ezzell, TSM Executive Director.

Once the Emancipation Proclamation moves on, Discovering the Civil War, an exhibit made possible in part through the collective efforts of Senator Lamar Alexander and his wife, Honey, Governor Bill Haslam, and the Tennessee State Legislature, will continue at the museum through September 1, 2013. Many of the rare items on display include the original copy of the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery and South Carolina’s 1860 declaration of secession.    

or more information on the Tennessee State Museum and the Discovering the Civil War exhibition, visit

 How much do you know about the Emancipation Proclamation?

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