Emancipation gesture

History cop Guy Louis Rocha was no doubt pleased by the reporting on the arrival of the original copy of the Emancipation Proclamation in Reno. Most reports avoided saying that the document, signed by President Abraham Lincoln, freed the slaves.

In the Reno Gazette-Journal, for instance, Susan Skorupa carefully wrote that the document “opened the way to abolishing slavery in the U.S.”

The proclamation did not free slaves. A U.S. president did not have that power, and Congress did not authorize Lincoln to use wartime powers to do it. The proclamation was signed as a gesture to discourage European leaders, who did not know the extent of a U.S. president's powers, from allying with the Confederacy.

The document is in Reno as part of an exhibit at the Nevada Museum of Art on Nevada's 150th anniversary of statehood. The proclamation has nothing to do with Nevada, but helps draw visitors to a larger exhibit that includes other documents with greater linkage to the state.

For instance, the locally famous telegram that wired Nevada's entire proposed state constitution to Lincoln in October 1964 is on display, taken down by hand by telegraphers at the U.S. War Department. There is a message to Congress dealing with Nevada that bears Lincoln's signature, plus documents recording Nevada's approval of the Thirteenth Amendment, which did abolish slavery.