Museum Open Monday

The New-York Historical Society Museum will be open Monday, December 22. For details, please visit our calendar.

Slavery in New York

For most of its history, New York has been the largest, most diverse, and most economically ambitious city in the nation. No place on earth has welcomed human enterprise more warmly. New York was also, paradoxically, the capital of American slavery for more than two centuries. In October 2005, the New-York Historical Society begins an unprecedented two-year exploration of this largely unknown chapter of the city's story. Slavery in New York, the first of two exhibitions, spans the period from the 1600s to 1827, when slavery was legally abolished in New York State. With the display of treasures from The New-York Historical Society, as well as other great repositories, it focuses on the rediscovery of the collective and personal experiences of Africans and African-Americans in New York City.

New York Divided: Slavery and the Civil War

Slavery ended in New York State in 1827, yet this victory did not sever the city's connections to enslaved labor. New York City capitalized on the expanding trade in southern cotton and sugar to become the leading American port, a global financial center, and a hotbed of pro-slavery politics.At the same time, it nurtured a determined anti-slavery movement. In less than half a century, abolitionists convinced many northerners that American slavery could not be reconciled with American freedom. Conflict between the two sides, one favorable to slavery and one opposed, was all but inevitable.
New York Divided, the second of two major exhibits, draws from the New-York Historical Society's rich collection to explore the turbulent half-century of the city's history with southern slavery.

Grant and Lee in War and Peace

Casting a dramatic new light on the events that defined a nation, from the conflicts and rivalries of a fast-growing young republic to the fitful efforts at reconstruction after a terrible Civil War, the New-York Historical Society will present the major exhibition Grant and Lee in War and Peace from October 17, 2008 through March 29, 2009. Organized by the New-York Historical Society in collaboration with the Virginia Historical Society, the exhibitionexplores the most critical decades in American history through the lives of two towering men. By telling the stories of Ulysses S. Grant (1822–1885), commander of the Union armies and later 18th President of the United States, and of Robert E. Lee (1807–1870), commander of the Confederate forces, the exhibition brings to life not only these two compelling figures but the forces that have shaped America, in their time and our own.

Lincoln and New York

Abraham Lincoln—the quintessential westerner—owed much of his national political success to his impact on the eastern state of New York—and, in turn, New York's impact on him.This exhibition of original artifacts, iconic images, and hand-written period documents, many in Lincoln's own hand, will for the first time fully trace the evolution of Lincoln's relationship with the nation's largest and wealthiest state: from the time of his triumphant Cooper Union address here in 1860, to his efforts to hold the Union together in 1861, to the early challenges of recruitment and investment in the Civil War, to the development of new military technologies, and the challenge to civil liberties in time of rebellion. Lincoln's evolving stance on slavery issues alternately pleased and infuriated New Yorkers. African-Americans, many of them veterans of the anti-slavery movement and Underground Railroad activism, saw Lincoln as slow to deal with the numerous slaves escaping during the war. These "contraband" forces clamored to join the Union army which for several years excluded colored troops – be they free men or the newly freed. Meanwhile free black New Yorkers readied volunteer regiments.
New York's role as the Union's prime provider of manpower, treasure, media coverage, image-making, and protest, some of it racist—the 1863 Draft Riots and the robust effort to unseat Lincoln in 1864—will be traced alongside Lincoln's concurrent growth as a leader, writer, symbol of Union and freedom, and ultimately as national martyr. Through all, from political parades to funeral processions, as this show will demonstrate, New York played a surprisingly central role in the Lincoln story—and Lincoln became a leading player in the life of New York. This exhibition commemorates the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial. A catalog will accompany the exhibition.

Making Our Democracy Work: A Judge's View

Speaker: 
Stephen Breyer
Tue, May 31st, 2011 | 7:30 pm

How does the Constitution, an 18th-century document, relate to and dictate the laws of a 21st-century society? Through the analysis of past cases, including those concerning slavery, the Cherokee Indians, and detainees at Guantánamo Bay, Justice Stephen Breyer examines the Court’s arduous—and often turbulent—journey to establish its legitimacy as guardian of the Constitution. Having earned the public’s confidence, he expounds how the Court can continue promoting a workable democracy going forward.
 

Upcoming Seminars

The Institute for Constitutional History sponsors or co-sponsors a variety of events during the academic year. Here is a partial list of upcoming and recent events:

Upcoming Events


HOW SLAVERY KILLED THE CONSTITUTION OF 1787

February 20, 27, March 6, 13, 20 and 27, 2015
Sponsored by the Institute for Constitutional History

Weight: 
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Emancipation Proclamation

Oct 7 2005 - Oct 16 2005

Rarely seen by the public, and considered to be among the three most important documents in the U.S. (along with the Constitution and the Bill of Rights), the Emancipation Proclamation, is on display here for nine days. It is on generous loan from the New York State Archive.

Finding Priscilla's Children: The Roots and Branches of Slavery

Nov 8 2005 - Mar 19 2006

While the vast majority of the 10 million Africans taken across the Atlantic remain nameless, the story of Priscilla—a 10-year-old girl taken on the slave ship Hare from Sierra Leone to South Carolina in 1756—emerges from the pages of history and is told in this exhibition, using original documents from the New-York Historical Society. A wealthy planter named Elias Ball purchased Priscilla and four other children for his Comingtee Plantation near Charleston, giving each child an English name.

Fascimile of the Emancipation Proclamation

Oct 20 2005 - Mar 26 2006

The New-York Historical Society displayed a facsimile of the original hand-written draft of the Emancipation Proclamation that President Abraham Lincoln wrote while waiting in the telegraph office of the War Department for favorable news from the war front during June and July of 1862. It was written in pencil and on paper that was just lying about the office. President Lincoln read this document to his Cabinet on September 22, 1862 and told them that he firmly believed in its principles, though he would accept minor changes of wording. Except for some revisions by Secretary of State William H. Seward and the Chief Clerk, the document is otherwise entirely in Lincoln's hand. Lincoln signed the official Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, which declared, "that all persons held as slaves" within the rebellious states "are, and henceforward shall be free." The proclamation fundamentally transformed the character of the Civil War and announced the acceptance of black men into the Union Army and Navy, enabling the liberated to become liberators. By the end of the war, almost 200,000 black soldiers and sailors had fought for the Union and freedom.

Legacies: Contemporary Artists Reflect on Slavery

Jun 16 2006 - Jan 7 2007

A generation of critically acclaimed contemporary artists has thought deeply about how America's history of racially based slavery has shaped our society. Legacies brings together the works of Faith Ringgold, Carrie Mae Weems, Fred Wilson, Whitefield Lovell, Mel Edwards, Lorenzo Pace, Betye Saar, Marc Latamie, Willie Birch and a host of others in a remarkable ensemble of innovative art and historical reflection. The exhibition embodies provocative interpretations that capture the tension between the reprehensible past and the emotions of the present. This exhibition complements the historical exhibitions mounted by The New-York Historical Society from 2005 to 2007, emphasizing how history affects our current day concerns and perceptions.

Barbara Chase-Riboud, Sojourner Truth Monument Maquette, 1999. Bronze. New-York Historical Society, Purchase, 2007.13

List of Artists

Fatima Allotey
American Anti-Slavery Group
Malcolm Bailey
Willie Birch
Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons
Barbara Chase-Riboud
Renee Cox
Leonardo Drew
Ellen Driscoll
Melvin Edwards
David Hammons
Eli Kince
Leslie King-Hammond and José J. Mapily
Marc Latamie
Joseph Lewis, III
Glenn Ligon
Whitfield Lovell
Kerry James Marshall
Bradley McCallum and Jacqueline Tarry
Algernon Miller
Lorenzo Pace

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