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Lincoln letter expressing hope of an end to slavery sells for $3.4m

Abraham Lincoln's heartfelt letter to youngsters who asked him to free America's "little slave children" has been sold at auction for $3.4m (£1.7m).

The 1864 letter set a record for a Lincoln manuscript, as well as for any presidential and American manuscript, said the auctioneers Sotheby's. It was bought by an anonymous American private collector.

Lincoln's hand-penned reply was contained in a letter to a woman who had mailed the children's petition from Concord, Massachusetts. "Please tell these little people I am very glad their young hearts are so full of just and generous sympathy," he wrote.

The sale broke the previous record for a Lincoln manuscript of $3.1m, for a speech outlining his postwar reconstruction strategy.

The president, who guided the nation through the 1861-1865 Civil War, was deeply moved by the request he received in April 1864 from the children, reading: "Children's Petition to the President asking him to free all the little slave children in this country."

Lincoln answered with a passionate expression of his desire to end slavery, saying it was God's will to free slave children "and that, while I have not the power to grant all they ask, I trust they will remember that God has, and that, as it seems, He wills to do it."

By 1864, Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation, which declared millions of slaves free, but all of them were not freed until July 1865.