Explore the painting by Edward Dalton Marchant

"Abraham Lincoln," by Edward Dalton Marchant currently hangs in The Union League of Philadelphia, a patriotic society founded in 1862 to support Abraham Lincoln and the Union during the American Civil War.

The painting depicts one of the most momentous events during the presidency of Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), 16th President of the United States until his assassination on April 14, 1865, by John Wilkes Booth. On January 1, 1863, President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

Issued as an executive order based on his powers as commander-in-chief, the proclamation declared that all slaves in rebellious states were free. This was a major blow to the Confederacy and transformed the American Civil War into a conflict to end the institution of slavery.

This copy of the Emancipation Proclamation is one of the 26 known copies of the Leland-Boker edition. This "authorized edition" was created in June 1864 for sale at the Great Central Fair of the United States Sanitary Commission in Philadelphia as a fundraiser to help sick and wounded Union soldiers. It was the idea of two Union League members, Charles Godfrey Leland and George Boker. Each document sold for $10.

Forty-eight copies were printed and signed by Abraham Lincoln...

...Secretary of State William H. Seward...

...and the President’s private secretary John G. Nicolay.

Those who favored President Lincoln's proclamation, including many members of the Union League, sought images portraying him as the "Great Emancipator."

Union League members commissioned a portrait of President Lincoln to be painted in this fashion. This painting was the first work of art commissioned by the Union League.

The portrait was destined to hang in Independence Hall, to remind Philadelphians to support their President during the Civil War. In a letter dated December 30, 1862, Union League member John W. Forney wrote:

My Dear Mr. President - The bearer, Mr. E.D. Marchant, the eminent Artist; has been empowered by a large body of your personal and political friends to paint your picture for the Hall of American Independence. A generous subscription is made-- and he visits you to ask your acquiescence, and to exhibit his testimonials. He will need little of your time. There is no likeness of you at Independence Hall. It should be there; and as Mr. Marchant is a most distinguished Artist, and is commended by the most powerful influences, I trust you will give him a favorable reception--

This portrait was painted from life between February and August of 1863, while the artist, Union League member Edward Dalton Marchant, lived in a small apartment in the White House.

President Lincoln is pictured sitting, in a half-length portrait.

In various letters, the artist described his artistic choices and the symbolism throughout the painting.

In a letter to the portraitist Daniel Huntington (1816-1906), Marchant explained his choice of a white cravat:


He rarely wore it, but in some instances had done so, among others at some weddings. This decided me to adopt it for its better pictorial effect...

...The scant neck-tie he usually wore seemed in this case, utterly unsuited to a portrait; its sharp black line, like a gash seemed to sever the head from the body. It appalled me.

In a letter dated May 24, 1863, Marchant explained the symbolism in the portrait that reinforces the idea of President Lincoln as the "Great Emancipator."

As sitting by a table covered with a crimson cloth, on which lies his Emancipation Proclamation, just signed,...

...the pen being still in his hand.

The general attitude, and the expression of the countenance, indicate earnestness and decision, and his head turns to welcome some friend, who is supposed to be just entering the apartment.

A screen of columns in the distant back ground is seen through an opening in the architecture behind him;...

...while nearer, and over his left shoulder, I have placed, in a niche, a statue of the Goddess of Liberty, whose right heel tramples a riven chain. In this I have sought, and I am told with success, to symbolized, on canvas, the great, crowning, act of our distinguished President...

...The act, which more than all others, must signalize the grand epoch in which we are privileged to live.

The painting was placed in Independence Hall, but hung there only briefly. By 1864, it was hanging in the Union League House.

The life portrait of Abraham Lincoln by Edward Dalton Marchant still hangs in The Union League of Philadelphia in Lincoln Hall. It stands as a constant reminder of the Union League's dedication to honoring President Abraham Lincoln and all those who preserved the Union during the dark days of the American Civil War.

Credits: Story

The Abraham Lincoln Foundation of The Union League of Philadelphia

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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