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Emancipation Proclamation On View For 'Watch Night'

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A rare opportunity to view one of our country's most important documents continues through Jan. 1. The National Archives Rotunda Gallery is making the original emancipation proclamation available on it's 150th anniversary.

The fragile handwritten document can only be displayed for a few days each year because of its delicate condition. It will be on extended view New Year's Eve until 1 a.m. Tuesday morning, and then again from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on New Year's Day.

Tonight's viewing is in honor of a tradition that is traced back to Dec. 31, 1862, when abolitionists and enslaved people gathered together on what was known as Freedom's Eve in anticipation of the issuance of the proclamation at the stroke of midnight. When issued, it formally proclaimrf the freedom of all slaves held in areas of the country — many of which were still in revolt during the Civil War. 

While the Emancipation Proclamation didn't end slavery in the nation, it forced the issue to rise to the top of the wartime agenda, adding moral force to the Union cause. It was a significant milestone leading to the ratification of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution in 1865, formally outlawing slavery throughout the nation. Freedom's Eve eventually became known as Watch Night and is celebrated around the country.

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