Barely a year into the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln suggested buying slaves for $400 apiece under a “gradual emancipation” plan that would bring peace at less cost than several months of hostilities.

The proposal was outlined in one of 72 letters penned by Lincoln that ended up in the University of Rochester’s archives—and thanks to a recent digital scanning project at the university, students, teachers, researchers, and others now have access to the entire collection online.

The correspondence was digitally scanned and posted to the internet last month, along with...

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