152 years ago President Abraham Lincoln signed a bill ending slavery in the District of Columbia

April 16, 2014

Remember yesteryear

The District of Columbia Emancipation Act -April 16, 1862

On July 9, 1790, the U.S. Congress passed the Residence Act, which approved the creation of a national capital on the Potomac River. The City of Washington was established on Maryland and Virginia land where slavery was the engine of American economic growth.

On April 16, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed a bill ending slavery in the District of Columbia.

Passage of this law came 8 1/2 months before President Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation.

The act brought to a conclusion decades of agitation aimed at ending what antislavery advocates called “the national shame” of slavery in the nation’s capital.

It provided for immediate emancipation, compensation to former owners who were loyal to the Union of up to $300 for each freed enslaved person, voluntary colonization of former enslaved Africans to locations outside the United States, and payments of up to $100 for each person choosing emigration.

Over the next 9 months, the Board of Commissioners appointed to administer the act approved 930 petitions, completely or in part, from former owners for the freedom of 2,989 former slaves.

Although its combination of emancipation, compensation to owners, and colonization did not serve as a model for the future, the District of Columbia Emancipation Act was an early signal of slavery’s death.

In the District itself, African Americans greeted emancipation with great jubilation.

For many years afterward, they celebrated Emancipation Day on April 16 with parades and festivals.

Source: U.S. National Archives & Records

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District of Columbia Emancipation Act

District of Columbia Emancipation Act
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Supplemental Act of July 12, 1862

On July 12, 1862, Congress passed a supplemental bill to the original District of Columbia Emancipation Act which covered another type of claim, allowing enslaved Africans whose masters had not filed for compensation to do so.

An important factor in deciding claims under this Act was that the testimony of both blacks and whites was accepted.

Now, if an owner challenged an enslaved African who petitioned for freedom, the testimony from both was given equal weight, a sharp departure from the previous legal practice in which enslaved Africans or freed blacks could not testify against whites.

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Supplemental Act of July 12, 1862

Supplemental Act of July 12, 1862
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Slave Market of America — Washington, D.C.

Library of Congress Summary: A broadside condemning the sale and keeping of enslaved Africans in the District of Columbia. The work was issued during the 1835-1836 petition campaign, waged by moderate abolitionists led by Theodore Dwight Weld and buttressed by Quaker organizations, to have the US Congress abolish slavery in the capital.

The text contains arguments for abolition and an accounting of atrocities of the system. At the top are two contrasting scenes: a view of the reading of the Declaration of Independence, captioned “The Land of the Free,” with a scene of slaves being led past the capitol by an overseer, entitled “The Home of the Oppressed.” Between them is a plan of Washington with insets of a suppliant slave (see “Am I Not a Man and a Brother?” no. 1837- ) and a fleeing slave with the legend “$200 Reward” and implements of slavery. On the next line are views of the jail in Alexandria, the jail in Washington with the “sale of a free citizen to pay his jail fees,” and an interior of the Wasington jail with imprisoned slave mother Fanny Jackson and her children.

On the bottom level are an illustration of slaves in chains emerging from the slave house of J.W. Neal & Co. (left), a view of the Alexandria waterfront with a ship loading slaves (center), and a view of the slave establishment of Franklin & Armfield in Alexandria.

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Slave Market of America
Source: Library of Congress
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District of Columbia Slavery Code
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Ad in the Alexandria Gazette, Feb. 25, 1861
Ad in the Alexandria Gazette 1861
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Capitol Building Slavery

President Lincoln insisted that construction of the United States Capitol continue during the Civil War
Capitol Building Before New Dome

Capitol Building 1858

United States Capitol
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Video: White House built by enslaved Africans

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Video: How enslaved Africans built the government buildings of Washington, DC
Part 1

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Video: How enslaved Africans built the government buildings of Washington, DC
Part 2

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Video: How enslaved Africans built the government buildings of Washington, DC
Part 3

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