Autographs of President Abraham Lincoln and His Team of Rivals Cabinet, Donated in 1864 to the Metropolitan Fair in New York City to Raise Funds for Sick and Wounded Union Soldiers

It was seen by half a million people, and was auctioned at the Fair, the most successful of all the Civil War Sanitary Fairs

Purchase $35,000

This was the grandest event in New York City between Washington’s inauguration in 1789 and the ticker tape parade for Charles Lindbergh that brought out millions of people

The U.S. Sanitary Commission cared for the Union’s sick and wounded soldiers and promoted clean and healthy conditions in army camps. It was a...

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Autographs of President Abraham Lincoln and His Team of Rivals Cabinet, Donated in 1864 to the Metropolitan Fair in New York City to Raise Funds for Sick and Wounded Union Soldiers

It was seen by half a million people, and was auctioned at the Fair, the most successful of all the Civil War Sanitary Fairs

This was the grandest event in New York City between Washington’s inauguration in 1789 and the ticker tape parade for Charles Lindbergh that brought out millions of people

The U.S. Sanitary Commission cared for the Union’s sick and wounded soldiers and promoted clean and healthy conditions in army camps. It was a privately funded agency and received no government financial support. Instead, it held fairs in large cities around the country, mainly in 1863-4, to raise money for its activities. The fairs attracted patriotic citizens in all walks of life. President Lincoln attended when he could, and he and his Cabinet contributed notes, documents, photographs, and signatures to be sold or auctioned at the fairs with the proceeds going to the Sanitary Commission.

The Sanitary Fair in New York City, known as the Metropolitan Fair, was announced by the New York Times on January 1, 1864, to be held on March 28th of that year. The Sanitary Commission’s brightest luminaries lived in New York, men like explorer, attorney and Union officer Col. Leavitt Hunt and Henry Whitney Bellows, president of the organization. Bellows had a grand vision for this New York City Fair. It was to be Metropolitan, and: “1. On a National scale — its magnitude and results worthy of the occasion, the place, and the necessity. 2. It must be universal. Enlisting all sympathies from the highest to the lowest; democratic, without being vulgar; elegant, without being exclusive; fashionable, without being frivolous; popular, without being mediocre. In short, it must be inspired from the higher classes but animate, include, and win the sympathies and interest of all classes.” So Bellows, Hunt, and the other organizers set about making the event the most memorable in the city’s history.

Hunt focused on President Lincoln. On January 29, 1864, he wrote Lincoln’s secretary John Nicolay, asking for “some autograph of the President for the Sanitary,” noting that his mother, widow of Vermont congressman Jonathan Hunt, had casts of Lincoln’s hands and hoped to append autographs to them for sale to benefit the Fair. The next day Lincoln received a proposal to aid the Sanitary Fair by letting Bell & Bro., photographers, 480 Pennsylvania Ave., make and sell his photograph. But having an upcoming photographic sitting with Anthony Berger, the President declined a sitting with Bell.

Although it does not appear that Lincoln sent Hunt multiple signatures to to affixed to casts of his hands, he did something better to benefit the Fair. On January 31 and February 1, 1864, he and his entire Cabinet signed a presentation memorializing the Union civil leadership at that crucial moment in time. The first sheet has, in a clerical hand (all the presidential Sanitary Fair documents we have seen have clerical titles), the words “The President”, and below that is the famed signature “A. Lincoln.” Under that, again in a clerical hand, are the words “Members of the Cabinet.” First beneath is Secretary of State William Seward, who adds his home of Auburn N.Y. Next is Secretary of the Treasury, Salmon Chase, who simply adds Ohio. Secretary of the Interior J.P. Usher of Indiana follows. At the bottom of the page, just above the date February 1, 1864, appears Secretary of War Edwin. M. Stanton. The next page leads with Navy Secretary Gideon Welles, who has added the date of January 31, 1864. And last is Postmaster General Montgomery Blair, who had appended his native Maryland to his name.

The Metropolitan Fair was postponed to the 4th of April, and it ran until April 23. It was the largest Sanitary Fair ever and raised over $2 million dollars for the Union cause. This was the home front supporting the troops in the field. The Mayor of New York issued a Proclamation making the opening day of the Fair a holiday. Major-General John Adams Dix organized the largest military display ever in New York, with all the U.S. troops in the city. The Metropolitan Fair was officially declared open; there were flags everywhere and the streets, starting from noon, were thronged with half a million people. Then came was a two mile procession to city hall. The Fair itself was a grand, custom-built hall with a model of Washington’s Headquarters at Newburgh, N.Y., and the uniform of Col. Elmer E. Ellsworth, the first Union fatality. The Metropolitan Fair was a combination museum, curiosity shop, theater, state fair, art gallery, war relic and trophy shop, sideshow, rummage sale, and mega–department store, unquestionably the largest exposition of any kind yet organized in a single venue. And all of this was donated to raise funds for the Union cause. And of the treasures to view and bid on, the central one was this very presentation of Abraham Lincoln and his Cabinet.

More than 125,000 paid their $1 admission to enter the hall the first week alone. With attendees approaching half a million all told, it was the greatest event New York had seen since Washington’s inauguration, or would see until 1927, when the city held a ticker tape parade for Charles Lindbergh that brought out millions of people.

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