A handwritten manuscript of an 1864 Abraham Lincoln speech sold for $3.44 million on the bicentennial of his birthday Thursday, setting a new auction record for any American historical document.
The manuscript was sold to an anonymous phone bidder after spirited bidding in a crowded Christie’s auction house room. Proceeds from the sale will go toward a new wing for a library in New York’s Finger Lakes region, where the document has been since 1926.
Thursday’s price was just slightly higher than the previous record of $3.40 million set last year at Sotheby’s, also for a Lincoln document — an 1864 letter the 16th president wrote to a group of youngsters who asked him to free America’s “little slave children.”
The manuscript that sold Thursday is a speech Lincoln delivered at the White House after he was re-elected in the midst of an unpopular Civil War that both he and his opponents believed might cost him his job.
Lincoln delivered the speech to a large crowd on Nov. 10, 1864, after winning a second term with 55 percent of the popular vote. He said the results “demonstrated that a people’s government can sustain a national election in the midst of a great civil war.”
'Our common country'
Lincoln also expressed gratitude to “almighty God for having directed my countrymen to a right conclusion” and called on them to “reunite in a common effort to save our common country.”
Lincoln’s war policies were unpopular and his prospects for a second term had looked bleak. He himself believed that Democrat George B. McClellan, a popular former Union general, would win.
The four-page document remained in the family’s hands until 1916. Lincoln’s son, Robert Todd Lincoln, presented it to New York Rep. John A. Dwight as a “thank you.” Dwight helped secure funding for the construction of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington.
In 1926, Dwight’s widow gave the document to the Southworth Library Association in Dryden, N.Y. According to the library’s Web site, it displayed it only once, during the 1976 bicentennial celebration.