Introduction

February 12, 2009 marks the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln’s birth. The Great Emancipator remains equal in estimation to just one other president, George Washington. As the Civil War reached a successful conclusion, these two icons were celebrated throughout the country and enshrined forever in the Pantheon of American heroes: Washington the Founder of our Country and Lincoln its Savior. How appropriate to celebrate the life of our sixteenth president at the site our first took his Oath of Office back in 1789: Federal Hall in New York City.

The Rail Splitter, a national organization of Lincoln scholars, in association with the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission and the Abraham Lincoln Institute, is proud to have been chosen to host an exhibit of authentic, period Lincoln memorabilia to be displayed from February to April 2009 at Federal Hall in lower Manhattan. The exhibit, under the auspices of the National Park Service, will draw upon public and private collections and showcase unique treasures of American history—most never before seen in public. The objects will include original photographs, manuscripts, ephemera and a wide and colorful assortment of political artifacts... all of which articulate a cohesive story: how the image of Lincoln was formed and shaped for the national stage and the role New York played in sending him to the White House. While Lincoln commissions have been organized in most states—from California to Idaho, state groups are sponsoring celebrations and exhibits—little of substance has been planned here. (The one exception is a traveling exhibit sponsored by the New York Historical Society.) This event promises to be quite exciting. The concentration of media in the metropolitan area will insure extensive exposure and tremendous attendance. Federal Hall and Wall Street are established tourist destinations with a steady flow of visitors throughout the year. Working closely with National Park Service Interpretive Historians, school groups from the entire Northeast region will be guided through the exhibit—one that will prove memorable.

New York City is a particularly appropriate location for celebrating Lincoln. He arrived here in February 1860 to deliver his career-making address at the Cooper Institute. He was a guest at the Astor House Hotel and walked to Mathew Brady’s Photographic Gallery on Broadway to have his portrait taken—an image widely reproduced during the presidential campaign. (Lincoln credited this one photograph with helping him get elected.) He made New York a stop on his pre-inaugural tour to visit with Mayor Fernando Wood and give several speeches. And sadly, after his assassination, his body passed through this city in a large funeral procession.

The exhibit highlights the role New York played in each part of the Lincoln story. These range from displays of the horror of the 1863 New York Draft Riots to the irony of a famous photograph that captured seven-year old Teddy Roosevelt leaning out the window of his family brownstone to watch the New York funeral procession as it proceeded down Broadway in 1865.

The display will humanize this great man—a flawed human being who reached levels of greatness without a formal education. A man with a predilection for storytelling... and rather bawdy jokes. Throughout the exhibit we will intersperse and highlight the writing of Lincoln—the acknowledged master of the spoken word. These timeless statements are an enduring reflection of his leadership qualities and commitment to the office of the presidency and the cause of the Union.

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Federal Hall National Memorial is located at 26 Wall Street in New York City.