The life-size bronze figures of Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) and Frederick Douglass (1818-1895) that stand at either entrance to the New-York Historical Society bring to life the story of freedom that is deeply embedded in American history and is a primary focus of New-York Historical's programs. Throughout his candidacy and presidency, Lincoln emphasized a new birth of freedom for the United States and identified slavery as a moral and political issue that threatened the nation’s survival. Although Lincoln’s home state was Illinois, it was New York politicians, journalists, and imagemakers who engineered his rise to the top of the Republican ticket in the 1860 election. His assassination in 1865 united New Yorkers, who turned out en masse to file by the casket lying in state at City Hall and participate in the funeral procession.
Abolitionist Frederick Douglass, born a slave in 1818 on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, became a free man in New York in 1838 after boarding a train for the north with the borrowed identity papers of a free black man. In his autobiography, Douglass vividly described his first experience of freedom: “After an anxious and most perilous but safe journey, I found myself in the big city of New York, a free man—one more added to the mighty throng which, like the confused waves of the troubled sea, surged to and fro between the lofty walls of Broadway.”
Lincoln and Douglass had a complicated personal relationship forged through a shared commitment to freedom. Though Frederick Douglass had initially been critical of Lincoln, he became close to the sixteenth president following the Emancipation Proclamation. Shortly after the president’s death, his grieving widow, Mary, presented Douglass with one of Lincoln’s walking sticks as a memento of the great man. Fifteen years after the assassination, Douglass described Lincoln as “one of the noblest wisest and best men I ever knew.”
Bronze statues created by StudioEIS, Brooklyn, New York, 2011