In July 1862, with the Civil War going badly, Abraham Lincoln shared a preliminary draft of the Emancipation Proclamation - a declaration of freedom for slaves - with his cabinet.
When some members expressed worry, Lincoln postponed publishing it to wait for a more favorable occasion.
That occasion arrived Sept. 17 with the Battle of Antietam - an indecisive clash, but with enough elements of success to declare a Union victory.
Lincoln issued the proclamation five days later.
Two days after that, in response to a prior invitation from Pennsylvania Gov. Andrew Curtin, the governors of 13 northern states met at the Logan House in Altoona to reaffirm their loyalty to Lincoln and the Union cause, to urge the president to expand the Army and to applaud the proclamation.
No one died in Altoona, and few are familiar with what happened at the Logan House, yet some historians equate the political significance of the conference with that of Antietam - the bloodiest single day in American history.
The conference occurred 150 years ago this week. To commemorate it, area native Jared Frederick wants to demonstrate its importance.
He has put together an afternoon of lectures at Penn State Altoona starting at noon Thursday and the showing of the movie "Glory" that evening.
He wrote his master's thesis on Curtin. It's his job to make history matter to others, he said.
Jeannine Treese, executive director of the Blair County Historical Society, helped to put together a ceremony set for Friday at Baker Mansion, the society's headquarters.
She's always liked old things.
"If you lose your connection with the past, you lose your direction," she said.
One of the mansion's prized possessions is a 6-foot diameter walnut table used by the governors for their meeting at the Logan House.
The society bought the table in 1941, 10 years after the hotel's demolition, Treese said.
The city held a huge celebration at the 50-year anniversary of the conference in 1912, and President William Howard Taft was part of it.
The area didn't do much in 1962 for the 100th anniversary, according to Treese - although Mirror records show there was a two-day event with a parade and a dinner.
"Now we're trying to make up for that," she said.
The Logan House site was the source of inspiration for the artwork on Page A5 in today's Mirror. Local artist Joe Servello drew it after noticing an historical marker at the site a few months ago and realizing it had been 150 years since the conference.
"I think I'll get something ready for that," Servello said to himself.
The hotel site is now the location of the Altoona Post Office. Murals at both ends of the post office lobby influenced Servello to become an artist in the first place.
His drawing depicts Altoona's historical high point.
Servello likes to make art to serve a community purpose - and be seen by large numbers of people.
"That's why it's great to have something in the newspaper," he said.
At the time of the Civil War, governors played a larger role in military administration than they do today, according to Aaron Sheehan-Dean, professor of Civil War history at West Virginia University.
Initially, all the soldiers responding to the call to serve were militia, under the governors' control, Sheehan-Dean said.
Groups of soldiers in many cases were "officered" and supplied by the states, said Allen Guelzo, professor of Civil War-era studies at Gettysburg College.
They were mustered into federal service for three years.
That meant governors "could make lots of trouble" by withholding supplies or threatening to recall their contingents, Guelzo said.
Moreover, the people of the nation felt closer ties to their state governments than to the federal one, Sheehan-Dean said.
The Democratic governors opposed Lincoln and by mid-1862, even the Republicans were having trouble maintaining morale, Guelzo said.
There was a "huge spectrum of political opinion among northern governors" about what the war was about, how it should be fought and what the relationship of the state and federal governments should be, according to Sheehan-Dean.
That was especially problematic in 1862, after a lost opportunity at Richmond and the Second Battle of Bull Run, according to Frederick.
At Richmond, Gen. Robert E. Lee took command of the southern forces and repelled the Union Army under Gen. George McClellan in the Seven Days Battle - gambling, dividing his army, outflanking the cautious McClellan, using surprise, aiming at vulnerable spots, threatening McClellan's long supply line and causing him to withdraw, Frederick said.
Then in August, the Union suffered maybe its worst disaster of the war at the Second Battle of Bull Run, Frederick said.
It was after that battle that Curtin sent telegrams to several northern governors, suggesting a binding resolution on behalf of Lincoln to firm up political support and "see this thing through," Frederick said.
The southern states seceded after Lincoln's election in 1860 because they feared his policy of limiting slavery to the south would mean eventual overthrow of that institution, as more and more non-slave states tilted the balance "legislatively," according to Frederick.
Most of the people in the north opposed secession not out of opposition to slavery, but to preserve the union, Frederick said.
They believed the republic, with its guarantees of personal liberties, as established by the founders, allowed them to "get a square deal in life" and to "create their own destinies," Frederick said.
They feared that if they allowed the southern states to secede over slavery, any additional state could also secede over any other issue, and their legacy of freedom could disintegrate, according to Frederick.
They believed the alternative was "the stifling embrace of oligarchy," as seen in Europe at the time, according to Gary Gallagher, writing in "The Union War," cited by Frederick.
They believed that if they as "citizen solders" failed to keep the union together, then the "forces of privilege" in Europe and America - including "slaveholding aristocrats" from the south, would pronounce ordinary people incapable of self-government," ending not only American, but all democracy, according to Gallagher.
Lincoln himself considered the American system "the last best hope," Frederick said.
In a 1972 Mirror booklet titled "Bulwark of Loyalty" on the 110th anniversary of the conference, Bellefonte historian Hugh Manchester wrote that Lincoln would not have issued the Emancipation Proclamation without Centre County native Curtin and the event he organized in 1862.
"Loyal sentiment in the Union had to be crystallized," Manchester wrote.
"How to do it? At this juncture Curtin contacted Lincoln and proposed the Altoona Conference of loyal governors," Manchester wrote. "Lincoln approved the idea."
Curtin issued the call for the conference on Sept. 14, according to Manchester.
Altoona was a sensible place to hold the conference, because it was a rail junction with good connections from the west and the east and thence into New England.
Lincoln issued the preliminary proclamation eight days later.
In the same booklet, the author of an unsigned article titled "Governors demanded Emancipation Proclamation" cites a letter from Rhode Island governor and conference participant William Sprague to argue that a telegram from three conference participants to Lincoln led directly to the issuing of the preliminary proclamation.
The three participants - Sprague, avowed abolitionist and Massachusetts Gov. John Andrew and Curtin - arrived at the conference early, on Sept. 20, and sent the telegram under Andrew's signature, stating that "no more men or means shall be furnished by our respective states until after a proclamation of emancipation is issued."
An hour later, a reply arrived from Lincoln to Andrews, stating "The Emancipation Proclamation will be issued tomorrow," according to the author.
And it was.
Sheehan-Dean and Guelzo said they believe there's no real evidence the Altoona conference actually caused the proclamation.
The president issued the proclamation before the conference began, they pointed out.
When the delegation of governors showed up in Washington on Sept. 26, their presentation to Lincoln was anticlimactic, Guelzo said.
Instead of exhorting him to issue the proclamation as they intended, they could do nothing but congratulate him on having done it, Guelzo said.
Lincoln later said he wasn't even aware they had been meeting, he said.
You could make a case that Lincoln knew the conference was going to happen and issued the proclamation before it did to get "out in front" of the governors, Sheehan-Dean said.
But there doesn't seem to be any support for that, either, he said.
Lincoln biographer Carl Sandburg goes further in diminishing the conference in his "Abraham Lincoln: The War Years."
The governors went home from their post-conference meeting with Lincoln "encouraged and refreshed in faith," but their influence on the president "could be estimated at virtually nothing," wrote Sandburg - citing a statement from Andrew to a friend.
"He [Lincoln] could truthfully say that in deciding to proclaim Emancipation, he 'never thought of the governors,'" Sandburg wrote.
Nevertheless, Sandburg doesn't dismiss the conference's significance altogether.
"[P]olitically it counted more than had been expected that the governors of 16 northern free states should formally meet and join hands to uphold the president in his sudden and drastic proclamation of freedom for Negroes," Sandburg wrote.
The conference lent "political heft" to what Lincoln had done and provided insurance against the political risk he had taken with the proclamation, according to Guelzo.
In pushing "side-by-side" with the proclamation, it was a pivotal point in the transition not only toward reunification of the country, but toward the ending of slavery, according to Sheehan-Dean.
The testimony at the conference was an important part of "coalition building" for Lincoln, Guelzo said.
Antietam, the Altoona conference, a letter Lincoln wrote to newspaper editor Horace Greeley, saying that he would free the slaves if it would help the union cause, a meeting with a delegation of black pastors on the possibility of colonizing blacks in other areas of the world and a meeting with ministers in Chicago - all were part of that coalition building, Guelzo said.
"Put all the pieces together," he said. "That way he could turn around and tell the American public, 'look, here are all the questions answered, here is the support.'"
Fulbright Scholar Jonathon W. Penney of Columbia Law School, in a 2009 article from the Cornell Law Library, quotes a letter from Sprague, who seems to go furthest in his assessment of Altoona's influence:
"It was a great idea, and in my opinion was the pivotal point of the Civil War. The Emancipation Proclamation was sent out on Sept. 22, the Loyal Governors ratified it on Sept. 24, the people of the north then fell in line as a unit, and the President with a united people back of him, pushed the war to a successful conclusion."
Similarly, the New York Times at the 50-year anniversary in 1912, called the conference the "the most important civic event" of the war, Penney notes.
Initially, many northerners saw the Emancipation Proclamation only as a weapon for preserving the union.
By encouraging slaves to break free, the proclamation would undermine the Confederate war effort, helping to reduce food and materials production capacity, helping to sow "something like chaos," while forcing women into work roles, which would lead many to write their husbands in the field to urge them to come home, according to Sheehan-Dean.
Eventually, though, the proclamation became more than a war weapon. It became the vehicle for expressing a new and larger purpose for the war, helping turn it into a crusade for freedom - the end of slavery.
Lincoln always believed it was the original intent of the constitution to see slavery "swept from the table," Guelzo said.
Northern soldiers began to see for themselves that slavery was evil as the war dragged on.
African-Americans had largely been an abstraction for many of those soldiers previously, according to Sheehan-Dean. There were few blacks in the north, and most were in big cities.
But when soldiers moved into the south and saw African-Americans in large numbers and saw the cabins, scars, families broken up and the instruments of torture, they understood the reality.
"It was an awakening," Sheehan-Dean said.
In the Declaration of Independence, the founders said all men are created equal.
"The Emancipation Proclamation means we really meant that - we're not kidding," Guelzo said. "We made a mistake in tolerating slavery, and now we're correcting that mistake."
At long last, with the proclamation, there was an acknowledgement in the U.S. that slavery is inconsistent with the founding principles, he said.
The Altoona conference has been "often overlooked," wrote Penney.
In the longest context, it is "part of a 220-year effort" that began with the Declaration of Independence, climaxed with the emancipation of the slaves, continued with the elimination of Jim Crow in the mid-20th century, hit a high point with the election of the first black president and continues today, according to Guelzo.
Despite the initial emphasis on preserving the union, it all came down to slavery, eventually, Guelzo said.
It was part of an evolutionary process to broaden the definition of freedom, according to Frederick.
"[It was part] of a great evolution in political and moral thought," Frederick said.
Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.