In early 1861, Congress proposed a 13th amendment to the Constitution that would have protected slavery by preventing it from being outlawed in states where it already was allowed. President Lincoln, the man who took office just after the proposal was approved and who eventually freed slaves, sent letters to all states asking them to ratify the amendment.
His letter to North Carolina's governor is one of just five such letters known to still exist. Lincoln researchers from Illinois found the letter in North Carolina's archives.
"We think it's priceless, but if it were on an open market, it would probably be worth millions of dollars," said Jeffrey Crow, deputy secretary of the state Office of Archives and History.
"To see his autograph and how he touched this paper is a thrill," said Charles Malone, who went downtown Wednesday to view the document.
The proposed amendment quickly faded away as the Civil War broke out. Ironically, the resolution that did become the 13th Amendment after passage by Congress and ratification by the state abolished slavery.
"(This is) the evil twin of the 13th Amendment because this is the 13th amendment that did not pass," said Libba Evans, the secretary of the state Department of Cultural Resources.
Although the amendment was never ratified, it also has never died, which is why it's often called the "Ghost Amendment." Lawmakers never put a time limit on the resolution, so states could still vote to protect slavery.
In 1963, some Texas lawmakers unsuccessfully tried to ratify the Ghost Amendment. A movement is under way to get Congress to rescind the proposal altogether.