By Emily Baer
I had the special treat of seeing a piece of American history unveiled today. David Rubenstein, philanthropist and co-founder of private equity firm The Carlyle Group, loaned a recently purchased, original copy of the 13th Amendment signed by Abraham Lincoln, to the Society for viewing through the next month.
The signed copy was unveiled during a short ceremony in the lobby of the Historical Society, where it is being kept in a clear encasement (in case you’re worried about its safety, there about 13 other copies that Lincoln signed, including the original). Although the Emancipation Proclamation is commonly understood to have “freed the slaves”, Lincoln felt that their freedom needed to be enshrined in the Constitution.
Students and teachers from IS 259, Kipp Academy, and Notre Dame Academy were among those invited to partake in the unveiling and ask questions after the opening remarks. Rubenstein said the amendment, which formally abolished slavery, sparked a kind of rebirth for America.
“It symbolizes the country being reborn and getting rid of a fatal flaw,” Rubenstein believed. Because the meaning of the Amendment was so important to President Lincoln at the time he signed it, he signed it by spelling out his full name: Abraham Lincoln, and he only did that on the most important documents he signed.
The text of the amendment is as follows:
Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
Rubenstein has given generously to the Upper West Side; a few years ago, Lincoln Center opened the Rubenstein Atrium on Broadway between 62nd and 63rd Street, and the free weekly concerts there draw huge crowds.
The document will be on view to the public through April 1. Lincoln’s birthday is on February 12. I’m sure, for his birthday present, he would want you to see one of his finest accomplishments.
Amendment image courtesy of NYHS. Rubenstein photo by Emily Baer.