Archives claims possession of rare Lincoln document

Tuesday - 3/15/2011, 3:35pm EDT

Evan Haning, wtop.com

WASHINGTON -- Papers signed by President Abraham Lincoln have been bought and sold since the end of the Civil War. But the National Archives says they should control one particular document.

The only known Lincoln pardon of an African American who served in the Union Army was recently discovered when Laurie Zook opened an old leather-bound book.

"That's where I found it, as plain as day," she said.

Zook owns Mission Transition in Frederick, Md., a service that helps clients prepare for estate liquidations and relocations.

"The pardon is for a former slave, most likely, by the name of Adam Law," Zook explained. "I've found Lincoln papers before, but this one was special."

Several of her client's documents were purchased in an online auction, including a rare invitation to the president's funeral and another Lincoln document that sold for over $11,000.

When the National Archives learned of the pardon, they contacted the auctioneer with a request that it not be sold until the agency investigated the possibility of adding it to the government's collection.

The Archives believes the stamp from the Office of the Adjutant General may justify their claim of ownership.

"It's a little round stamp the size of a quarter," Zook explained, saying it would be unfair to let the Archives confiscate the pardon that was in her client's possession for over a century.

"I discovered it. It didn't exist until I discovered it. I am under contract to sell it for my client."

Zook would like to see a philanthropist buy the pardon from her client, then donate it to the federal government, but does not know if that will ever happen.

"They say because it is stamped by the adjutant general's office, it is United States property. Therefore, they have rights to it and won't pay the estate for it."

"It's the federal government. What can I do?"

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