Lincoln: The Image

The Emancipator

"If my name ever goes down in history," Abraham Lincoln confided the day he signed the Emancipation Proclamation, "it will be for this act." America's printmakers came to agree, eventually flooding the market with images of the president as "The Great Emancipator." In some prints, he was shown literally lifting slaves from their knees as if he had personally gone to their plantations to unshackle them.

But, such images did not greet the Proclamation - or its author - immediately. Though it went into effect on January 1, 1863, the document did not inspire prints until 1864, when they became fodder in the presidential campaign. Many more Emancipation prints bear a copyright date after 1865 - when Lincoln's death and martyrdom transformed his most controversial act into his most sacred effort.

These images illustrate how people viewed President Lincoln as the emancipator.