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“If we restrain ourselves,” Abraham Lincoln implored the New York State Legislature when he visited Albany in February 1861 en route to his inauguration, “I still have confidence that the Almighty…will...bring us through this as He has through all the other difficulties of our country.”

Before Lincoln reached Washington for his swearing in, however, seven Southern states had seceded from the Union and formed a separate government dedicated to the preservation of slavery at all costs. When the Civil War erupted in April, New York rallied behind the Union.  Democrats and Republicans alike rushed to enlist in what they confidently assumed would be a short and bloodless war. It was anything but.

By the time the guns ceased firing four years later, New York State had provided more men more matériel, more financing, more innovative technology, more charity—and suffered more casualties—than any other state in the country. No armies met in battle here, but New York endured press suppression, violent resistance to the draft, and bloody street riots. Emancipation elicited much hostility, and Lincoln himself earned fewer votes in his second run for the presidency than he had in his first. Yet New York and its citizens of “all tongues and kindred,” as Lincoln put it, provided the glue that held the country together during its greatest trial.

The story of the state’s crucial role in winning the Civil War and ending slavery has never before been fully told through the artifacts of the era. Together, those assembled for this exhibit show why New York—even then, even in the crucible of military and social revolution—was truly the state of the Union.


—Harold Holzer



"It is an irrepressible conflict between opposing and enduring forces, and it means that the United States must and will, sooner or later, become either entirely a slave-holding nation or entirely a free-labor nation."

- William H. Seward, former Governor of New York
  October 5, 1858