Civil War Troops' Mini Emancipation Book on Display As the Emancipation Proclamation is celebrated in many parts of the U.S. on June 19, or "Juneteenth," a copy of the Miniature Emancipation Proclamation that was distributed to Union troops during the Civil War is on display in New York.
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Civil War Troops' Mini Emancipation Book on Display

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Civil War Troops' Mini Emancipation Book on Display

Civil War Troops' Mini Emancipation Book on Display

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Andrea Seabrook.

In Texas and a few other states, tomorrow is Juneteenth. It marks the day in 1863 when Union soldiers arrived in Galveston to forcibly free slaves.

President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation had gone into effect years before but had gone largely unnoticed in Confederate-held Texas. The story goes that Union soldiers arrived in Galveston carrying tiny bound copies of the Emancipation Proclamation, and as many as one million were distributed. One of these such books is on display in a new exhibit called, "Miniature Books: 4,000 Years of Tiny Treasures." It's at the Grolier Club in New York City. Harold Holzer, co-chairman of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission, went to see the book and describes it for us.

HAROLD HOLZER: It's tiny. It's about the length of one's thumb to one's knuckle vertically, and not much wider. It's on very thin paper, which, I think, was probably chosen so it could pack more easily and more cheaply. And it's very brittle now. I suppose it was then, as well. One can imagine what a chore it must have been to read in its day.

SEABROOK: Why? Why print these on tiny little books?

HOLZER: Well, if the story is true, and we can talk about that in a minute, if the story is true that they were shipped in these mass amounts so that the soldiers fighting in the South would be informed, and so blacks, if they knew how to read, would be informed of their rights, then I suppose the reason for it being only three-by-two inches is that you want to get as many shipped as possible at the cheapest possible cost and as quickly as possible. One can just imagine how many thousands of these would have fit into a single trunk or crate.

SEABROOK: Now, why do you think it may not be true?

HOLZER: Okay, here's the thing. This is the earliest book, and you call it a book no matter how small it is, the earliest book printing of the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. The preliminary proclamation was issued in September. This booklet was issued in December. But the preliminary proclamation didn't declare anyone free. It simply gave fair warning to the states in rebellion that if they didn't return to the Union in a hundred days on January 1st, that their slaves would be confiscated by the Lincoln administration under Lincoln's power as a military commander in chief.

I think that the Forbes edition that we're talking about that's on view at the Grolier Club - and make no mistake, it's a priceless, you know, fantastic piece because it's so small, because the typesetting is so intricate, and because it was a newsworthy thing - I think it was published in editions of thousands, maybe tens of thousands, because it was at least it was fair warning that the proclamation was coming, and maybe the idea was alert as many people as possible as quickly as possible and get the news out.

SEABROOK: Was it common to print these sorts of important notices, government actions and so on in tiny little editions of books?

HOLZER: No. I don't think it was common. But just think of what a soldier is carrying. If you wanted a miniature notice to be useful to soldiers, he's carrying supplies, he's carrying rifles, he's carrying a photograph of his loved one at home, by the way, which is probably about three-by-four or three- by-five inches - or a tintype in a case - he's pretty overloaded. So you're not going to give him a scroll to carry around and unfurl every time he meets a slave family and informs them that the proclamation has taken effect. He's going to need something that's very compressed and easy to carry along.

SEABROOK: Harold Holzer, you went to this exhibit over the weekend and it didn't just have the Emancipation Proclamation. We should say it's an exhibit of miniature books of all kinds. What did you see?

HOLZER: My favorite thing, next to the Emancipation Proclamation, was a book advocating the candidacy of Theodore Roosevelt for president in Yiddish, miniature Yiddish. I've never seen that before.

SEABROOK: Harold Holzer, thank you very much for talking with us.

HOLZER: My pleasure.

SEABROOK: Harold Holzer is co-chairman of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission and has just seen the exhibition of miniature books at the Grolier Club in New York City.

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