It’s a question that has historians all over the nation puzzled: what is a note from President Abraham Lincoln written before the Civil War doing in Hawaii?
A mysterious historical proclamation signed by Lincoln has been at home in Hawaii since at least 1862. Because there was no documentation with the paper, no one knew for a long time what it was.
Over the years, it has been identified as being tied to the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, an official warning from Honest Abe to rebellious Southern states to either return to the Union within three months or face military emancipation of their slaves.
Hawaii's archives also contain one letter each from Lincoln to King Kamehameha IV and to his brother, King Kamehameha V, along with a note from Lincoln appointing a new U.S. consul, Alfred Caldwell, to the Kingdom of Hawaii.
"Those three all make sense to be in the Hawaii State Archives," said Daniel Stowell, director of the Papers of Abraham Lincoln, a part of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Ill. But Stowell said the Proclamation document is “a fish out of water.”
"I mean, it doesn't fit. Why is it here?" Stowell asked.
According to the Honolulu Star Bulletin, the documents first came to light five years ago, when the Lincoln Letters Project, based in Springfield, Ill., held a nationwide search for letters written by Lincoln.
"We've cataloged documents from more than 46 states. The only states that don't seem to have any Lincoln letters are Montana and Alaska. ... I've seen multiple presidential orders for a variety of purposes, and this is certainly his signature. I've seen his signature a lot,” Stowell told the Star Bulletin.
The rest of the document seems to have been dictated to a scribe because the penmanship does not match the signature.
And how did it get to Hawaii? Luella Kurkjian, chief of the archives' historical records branch, believes it may have been donated in a collection, by a man named Bruce Cartwright Jr. in the 1920s. One of those donated items was the Lincoln-signed note announcing Caldwell's appointment, Kurkjian said.
"It's my guess that (Cartwright) is the donor" of the proclamation memo "and, for whatever reason , it wasn't properly documented," she said. "I can't prove it. I've been trying."
There's no proof, either, that the document was brought to Hawaii by ancestors of President Barack Obama, who has been compared to Lincoln more than once. Even if it's a stretch, it could bring the tale of two Illinois presidents full circle.
The Chicago History Museum owns a document similar to the one confirmed at the Hawaii State Archives -- it is dated January 1, 1863, the same date as the final Emancipation Proclamation, and similarly authorizes the fixing of the U.S. seal to that document. The Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation in Lincoln’s hand is owned by the New York State Library in Albany, along with a nineteenth-century photograph of the final Emancipation Proclamation signed by Lincoln. The original Emancipation Proclamation was destroyed while stored in a supposedly "fireproof" building during the Chicago Fire of 1871.