The Act Abolishing Slavery In The District Of Columbia [April 16, 1862] - History

The Act Abolishing Slavery In The District Of Columbia [April 16, 1862] - History

Senator John McCain

July 16, 2018

“President Trump proved not only unable, but unwilling to stand up to Putin. He and Putin seemed to be speaking from the same script as the president made a conscious choice to defend a tyrant against the fair questions of a free press, and to grant Putin an uncontested platform to spew propaganda and lies to the world.

“It is tempting to describe the press conference as a pathetic rout – as an illustration of the perils of under-preparation and inexperience. But these were not the errant tweets of a novice politician. These were the deliberate choices of a president who seems determined to realize his delusions of a warm relationship with Putin’s regime without any regard for the true nature of his rule, his violent disregard for the sovereignty of his neighbors, his complicity in the slaughter of the Syrian people, his violation of international treaties, and his assault on democratic institutions throughout the world.

“Coming close on the heels of President Trump’s bombastic and erratic conduct towards our closest friends and allies in Brussels and Britain, today’s press conference marks a recent low point in the history of the American Presidency. That the president was attended in Helsinki by a team of competent and patriotic advisors makes his blunders and capitulations all the more painful and inexplicable.

“No prior president has ever abased himself more abjectly before a tyrant. Not only did President Trump fail to speak the truth about an adversary; but speaking for America to the world, our president failed to defend all that makes us who we are—a republic of free people dedicated to the cause of liberty at home and abroad. American presidents must be the champions of that cause if it is to succeed. Americans are waiting and hoping for President Trump to embrace that sacred responsibility. One can only hope they are not waiting totally in vain.”


The Act for the Abolition of Slavery in the District of Columbia.

An Act for the release of certain persons held to service or labor in the District of Columbia.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled. That all persons held to service or labor within the District of Columbia, by reason of African descent, are hereby discharged and freed of and from all claim to such service or labor and from and after the passage of this act neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except for crime, whereof the party shall be duly convicted, shall hereafter exist in said District.

SEC. 2. And be it further enacted, That all persons loyal to the United States holding claims to service or labor against persons discharged therefrom by this act may, within ninety days from the passage thereof, but not thereafter, present to the Commissioners hereinafter mentioned their respective statements or petitions in writing, verified by oath or affirmation, setting forth the names, ages, and personal description of such persons, the manner in which said petitioners acquired such claim, and any facts touching the value thereof, and declaring his allegiance to the Government of the United States, and that he has not borne arms against the United States during the present rebellion, nor in any way given aid or comfort thereto: Provided, That the oath of the party shall not be evidence of the facts therein stated.

SEC. 3. And be it further enacted, That the President of the United States, with the advice and consent of the Senate, shall appoint three Commissioners, residents of the District of Columbia, any two of whom shall have power to act, who shall receive the petitions above mentioned, and who shall investigate and determine the validity and value of the claims therein presented, as aforesaid, and appraise and apportion, under the proviso hereto annexed, the value in money of the several claims by them found to be valid: Provided, howeve, That the entire sum so appraised and apportioned shall not exceed in the aggregate an amount equal to three hundred dollars for each person shown to have been so held by lawful claim: And provided, further, That no claim shall be allowed for any slave or slaves brought into said District after the passage of this act, nor for any slave claimed by any person who has borne arms against the Government of the United States in the present rebellion, or in any way given aid or comfort thereto, or which originates in or by virtue of any transfer heretofore made, or which shall hereafter be made by any person who has in any manner aided or sustained the rebellion against the Government of the United States.

SEC. 4. And be it further enacted, That said Commissioners shall, within nine months from the passage of this act, make a full and final report of their proceedings, findings and appraisement, and shall deliver the same to the Secretary of the Treasury, which report shall be deemed and taken to be conclusive in all respects, except as hereinafter provided and the Secretary of the Treasury shall, with like exception, cause the amounts so apportioned to said claims to be paid from the Treasury of the United States to the parties found by said report to be entitled thereto as aforesaid, and the same shall be received in full and complete Compensation: Provided, That in cases where petitions may be filed presenting conflicting claims or setting up liens, said Commissioners shall so specify in said report, and payment shall not be made according to the award of said Commissioners until a period of sixty days shall have elapsed, during which time any petitioner claiming an interest in the particular amount may file a bill in equity in the Circuit Court of the District of Columbia, making all other claimants defendants thereto, setting forth the proceedings in such case before said Commissioners and their action therein, and praying that the party to whom payment has been awarded may be enjoined from receiving the same and if said Court shall grant such provisional order, a copy thereof may, on motion of said complainant, be served upon the Secretary of the Treasury, who shall thereupon cause the said amount of money to be paid into said Court, subject to its orders and final decree, which payment shall be in full and complete compensation, as in other cases.

SEC. 5. And be it further enacted, That said Commissioners shall hold their sessions in the City of Washington, at such place and times as the President of the United States may direct, of which they shall give due and public notice. They shall have power to subpoena and compel the attendance of witnesses, and to receive testimony and enforce its production, as in civil cases before courts of justice, without the exclusion of any witness on account of color and they may summon before them the persons making claim to service or labor, and examine them under oath and they may also, for purposes of identification and appraisement, call before them the persons so claimed. Said Commissioners' shall appoint a Clerk, who shall keep files, and complete record of all proceedings before them, who shall have power to administer oaths and affirmations in said proceedings, and who shall issue all lawful process by them ordered. The Marshal of the District of Columbia, shall personally, or by deputy, attend upon the sessions of said Commissioners, and shall execute the process issued by said Clerk

SEC. 6. And be it further enacted, That said Commissioners shall receive in compensation for their services the sum of two thousand dollars each, to be paid upon the filing of their Report that said Clerk shall receive for his services the sum of two hundred dollars per month that said Marshal shall receive such fees as are allowed by law for similar services performed by him in the Circuit Court of the District of Columbia that the Secretary of the Treasury shall cause all other reasonable expenses of said Commission to be audited and allowed, and that said compensation, fees and expenses shall be paid from the treasury of the United States.

SEC. 7. And be it further enacted, That for the purpose of carrying this act into effect there is hereby appropriated, out of any money in the Treasury not otherwise appropriated, a sum not exceeding one million of dollars.

SEC. 8. And be it further enacted, That any person or persons who shall kidnap, or in any manner transport or procure to be taken out of said District. The person or persons discharged and freed by the prisoners of this act, or any free person or persons with intent to reenslave or sell such person or persons into slavery, or shall reensalve any of said freed person the person or persons so offending shall be deceased guilty of a felony, and on conviction thereof many court of competent [. ] in said District, maybe imprisoned in the Penitentiary not less than the not from than twenty years.

SEC. 9. And be at further enacted, That within twenty [. ] within such further time as the Commissioners herein provided for a shall limit, after the passage of this act, a statement in writing or schedule shall be filed with the Clerk of the Circuit Court for the District of Columbia, by the several owners or claimants to the services of the persons made free, or manumitted by this act, setting forth the names, ages, sex, and particular description of such persons severally and the said Clerk shall receive and record, in a book by him to be provided and kept for that purpose, the said statements or schedules, on receiving fifty cents each therefor, and no claim shall be allowed to any claimant or owner who shall neglect this requirement.

SEC. 10. And be it further enacted, That the said Clerk, and his successors in office shall, from time to time, on demand, and on receiving twenty-five cents therefor, prepare, sign, and deliver to each person made free or manumitted by this act, a certificate under the seal of said Court, setting out the name, age and description of such person, and stating that such person was duly manumitted and set free by this act.

SEC. 11. And be it further enacted, That the sum of one hundred thousand dollars, out of any money in the Treasury not otherwise appropriated, is hereby appropriated to be expended under the direction of the President of the United States, to aid in the colonization and settlement of such free persons of African descent now residing in said District, including those to be liberated by this act, as may desire to emigrate to the republics of Hayti or Liberia, or such other country beyond the limits of the United States as the President may determine: Provided, The expenditure for this purpose shall not exceed one hundred dollars for each emigrant.

SEC. 12. And be it further enacted, That all acts of Congress and all laws of the State of Maryland in force in said District, and all ordinances of the cities of Washington and Georgetown, inconsistent with the provisions of this act, are hereby repealed.


D.C. Emancipation Act, April 1862

Slavery existed in the nation's capital from the very beginning of the city's history in 1790, when Congress created the federal territory from lands formerly held by the slave states of Virginia and Maryland. The D.C. Emancipation Act was the first of many steps toward equality and enfranchisement for African American citizens — the "beginning of the end" as Frederick Douglass would write.

Contained within this guide are suggested activities for teaching “An Act for the Release of certain Persons held to Service or Labor in the District of Columbia,” known as the D.C. Emancipation Act. Primary documents, questions to direct discussion of the documents, Washington Post articles, and resources for additional study are provided.

In addition to the suggested activities in the lesson, teachers are provided a second resource guide, "The Jim Crow South: Paving the Way for the Modern Civil Rights Movement," that focuses on the periods of Presidential Reconstruction and Radical Reconstruction, Black Codes and Jim Crow laws, and Plessy v. Ferguson

Prepare a Timeline
Social Studies, U.S. History

Students might prepare a timeline of slavery in the Colonies, United States and/or the District of Columbia. If teachers focus only on D.C., begin with establishment of the federal district on July 16, 1790, when Congress authorized President George Washington to select a permanent site for the capital city.

Introduce students to Article 1, Section 8, Clause 17, of the U.S. Constitution that was adopted on September 15, 1787:

To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the Acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States, and to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings

Meet the People
English, Social Studies, U.S. History

Approach the study of emancipation in Washington, D.C., through the individuals who were involved in the District of Columbia’s establishment, development into a slave-holding and slave auction center, and employment as a political battlefield over emancipation.

Individuals who might be researched include:

Review Historic Background
Social Studies, U.S. History

“Slavery in the District of Columbia” gives a quick overview of slavery being introduced in the Colonies and established in the District of Columbia. If teachers have time, further study can be done using the sources listed, reading suggested books and exploring additional research.

This historic overview gives the foundation needed to prepare for a more in-depth study of the Emancipation Act and resulting petitions for manumission.

Read a Transcript
Civics, Social Studies, Government, U.S. History

With an understanding of the cultural, political and economic framework and conditions of slavery in the states and D.C., students should be ready to comprehend the impact of the D.C. Emancipation Act.

“I trust I am not dreaming, but the events taking place seem like a dream,” the orator Frederick Douglass wrote of the D.C. Emancipation Act. “Not only a staggering blow to slavery throughout the country, but a killing blow to the rebellion — and the beginning of the end for both.”

The National Archives transcript of “An Act for the Release of certain Persons held to Service or Labor in the District of Columbia” is included in D.C. Emancipation. It may also be read online in the Featured Documents of the National Archives & Records Administration. The questions that are included in the D.C Emancipation guide after the transcription may be discussed as each section is read or after the whole document is completed.

View a Video
Civics, Social Studies, Government, U.S. History, Visual Arts

Go to the National Archives site or to “Inside the Vaults” to view the video, “National Archives Shares Rarely-Seen Petitions from DC Emancipation Act.” In the video, archivists Damani Davis and Robert Ellis and University of Nebraska-Lincoln scholar Kenneth Winkle take viewers inside the vaults and research rooms at the Archives for an overview of the D.C. Emancipation Act, the petitions and Supplemental Act.

Questions that may be asked include:
1. What were owners of slaves in D.C. required to do in 1862?
2. Why did some slaves flee to Maryland before the Emancipation Act was passed?
3. What kind of information is found on the petitions or schedules?
4. Why was the Supplemental Act passed July 12, 1862, at Lincoln’s urging?

Study Petitions
Civics, Social Studies, Government, U.S. History

Frederick Douglass wrote, that the D.C. Emancipation Act was “a priceless and an unspeakable blessing” for those it freed and “the first great step towards that righteousness which exalts a nation.” Who were these individuals who were blessed and manumitted?

Within the records of the National Archives are the petitions and schedules submitted to the Clerk of the Circuit Court of the District of Columbia. With permission of the National Archives we have reprinted the Petition of Clark Mills. Read through each document to get a picture of Mr. Mills and the slaves he is freeing.

Discussion questions are provided to guide reading of the documents. See “Study the D.C. Emancipation Act Petitions.”

For additional information on using the documents, read "Slavery and Emancipation in the Nation's Capital: Using Federal Records to Explore the Lives of African American Ancestors" in The National Archives' Prologue Magazine.

Get to Know Philip Reid
Art, Journalism, Social Studies, Government, U.S. History

Read The Washington Post article, “Slave named Philip Reid helped create Statue of Freedom that sits atop Capitol.” Guy Gugliotta tells the stories of the creation of the Statue of Freedom, the involvement of the slave Philip Reid in the project and the D.C. Emancipation Act.

Students may also enjoy viewing the historic cartoons video that is based on Flashbacks, A Cartoon History of The District of Columbia. They will learn how Philip Reid became the person to supervise the casting of the bronze statue in Mills’ bronze foundry in Bladensburg.

Draw Upon History
Art, Journalism, Social Studies, U.S. History, Visual Arts

Use Flashbacks by Patrick M. Reynolds as a model for students to relate historic events and individuals through cartoon panels. Flashbacks is published each Sunday in The Washington Post’s Sunday Comics section.

Student groups could be assigned segments of D.C. history from 1800 to 1900 to research, summarize and put into cartoon panels to tell the story. Students could relate the history of slavery and emancipation, of freedmen and indentured servants, or of individuals and different types of employment.

Check the Facts
Journalism, Media Literacy

A journalist is a reporter, a researcher, an editor and a writer. In “Think Like a Journalist” students are asked to be researcher, editor and writer.

Read what the reporter wrote. A reporter is to be unbiased, accurate and clear in his or her reporting. Do you understand what Guy Gugliotta wrote?

Read original documents — the Petition of Clark Mills. Does additional research in the files of the National Archives change what a reporter has written?

Remember — and Celebrate?
Character Education, English, Journalism, Media Arts, Music, Social Studies, U.S. History

April 16 is a holiday in the District of Columbia. How can it be a day of remembrance and celebration? Here are some suggestions to stimulate projects and activities in your school:
• Read the D.C. Emancipation Act. Work with students to prepare an interpretive reading.
• Give art students the D.C. Emancipation Act. Ask them to illustrate the story of slavery and what this document meant to slaves, slave owners and abolitionists.
• Read slave narratives, the works of abolitionists and writings from the time period. Select passages to read in a public performance. Begin with Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, 1861 My Bondage and My Freedom by Frederick Douglass and Amistad.
• Prepare a musical program to tell the story of slavery and emancipation. Include works by D.C. musicians.
• Read about D.C.-born poets, musicians and writers. Also, become familiar with D.C. Renaissance writers. [LINK to previous NIE DC Renaissance guide] Select pieces to include in a reading.
• Broadcast, journalism and Media Arts students could report on programs presented in their school.
• Broadcast and Media Arts students could work on a three- to five-minute short feature to inform the student community about Lincoln’s decision to enact the D.C. Emancipation Act and what it meant to people in the District of Columbia at that time.
• Arrange for a guest speaker to tell how to research genealogy.
• The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) has funded two digital projects: The Freedman and Southern Society Project and Visualizing Emancipation. Although its student writing contest is over, follow its guidelines to respond to or to reinterpret one of the historical documents.
• Prepare a display case to tell the story of slavery and emancipation. Include the Underground Railroad and abolitionists.

Reconstruct Life After the Civil War
Social Studies, U.S. Government, U.S. History

To supplement a study of the D.C. Emancipation Act, the main focus of this curriculum guide, teachers are given a second resource guide. An overview of the history of African American enfranchisement after the Civil War and the path to achieving civil rights is presented in Jim Crow South. Beginning in 1865 with President Andrew Johnson's Presidential Reconstruction and the former Confederate states' laws, known as the Black Codes, students have a jumping off point to discuss and do further research.

The Radical Reconstruction period moved enfranchisement forward until the disputed election of 1876. Approximately 1,500 African Americans held public office in southern states in the period. Filling a vacant seat, Hiram Rhodes Revels was the first African American to serve in the U.S. Congress Blanche Kelso Bruce was the first to be elected to a full term. At the same time, Jim Crow laws, hate groups and intimidation of poll taxes and literacy tests were established. The 1896 Supreme Court case Plessy v. Ferguson is considered in light of the "separate but equal" doctrine that would prevail until 1954. The descendants' personal continuation of Plessy v. Ferguson may be found in the newspaper account, "Plessy and Ferguson unveil plaque today marking their ancestors' actions."

The resource guide includes a look at contemporary enfranchisement considerations of voter identification laws and early voting.

Washington Post columnist Colbert King wrote about parallels between the 2012 voter identification laws and the reconstruction period of Andrew Johnson. Read and discuss his column, "Romney: The new Andrew Johnson?"

Post NIE Guide Editor & Writer | Carol Lange
Post NIE Guide Art Editor | Carol Porter

Abolish Put to an end
Affadavit of Freedom Official records of proof certifying the status of free blacks
Compensation Money or other payment given to pay for loss, damage or work done
Document Written proof
Domestic service Work within the household, as opposed to field work
Emancipation Freedom from slavery
Endentured Contractually committed to work as an apprentice or servant for a specified period
Manumit To free somebody from slavery noun: manumission
Petition A formal request, submitted to a court or a government agency
Slave Person who is forced to work for another person without wages and is regarded as property
Slavery A state of bondage in which African Americans (and some Native Americans) were owned by other people, usually white, and forced to labor on their behalf
Status Category a person has been assigned and the kind of privileges received at that designation
Writ of habeas corpus Court order instructing those accused of detaining another individual unjustly to bring the detainee before the court

ANSWERS. View a Video
1. Document ownership of slaves they owned and establish their value.
2. They feared they would be forced to move to Africa.
3. Names, ages, descriptions and estimated valued
4. Many slave owners did not want to give up their slaves, even if compensation was given. The Supplemental Act allowed slaves themselves to petition for their own freedom. Petitions for 161 persons were submitted.

U.S. History and Geography I: Students explain that some Africans came to America as indentured servants who were released at the end of their indentures, as well as those who came as captives to slavery (9. G,E,S, Grade 8)

U.S. History and Geography I: Students analyze the issue of slavery, including the early and steady attempts to abolish slavery and realize the ideals of the Declaration of Independence. (8.10, Grade 8)

D.C. History & Government: Students describe the effect the Civil War had on life in Washington, DC, and they explain the effects of Compensated Emancipation and the Emancipation Proclamation on the city.
1. Describe how the Union Army transformed the city into an armed camp.
2. Describe the conflicting loyalties of people living in the city.
4. Explain the participation of white and black residents in the Union and Confederate armies.

Social Studies: Students analyze the unique roles and responsibilities of the three branches of government as established by the U.S. Constitution
2. Explain the process through which the Constitution can be amended. (Principles of U.S. Government, Grade 12, 12.3)

Mathematics: Use the four operations to solve word problems involving distances, intervals of time, liquid volumes, masses of objects, and money, including problems involving simple fractions or decimals, and problems that require expressing measurements given in a larger unit in terms of a smaller unit. (Measurement & Date, 4.MD.2)

Social Studies: Analyze the historic events, documents, and practices that are the foundations of our political systems
c. Explain the significance of principles in the development of the Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation, Preamble, U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights (Standard 1.0, Grade 5)

Political Science: Explain how the United States government protected or failed to protect the rights of individuals and groups (Standard 1.0, Topic C, Indicator 2, Grade 8)
a. Describe significance and effects of the Emancipation Proclamation

Political Science: Analyze the impact of historic documents and practices that became the foundations of the American political system during the early national period (1.0,Indicator 2, Grade 8)
g. Evaluate the significance of the Civil War Amendments (13th, 14th and 15th) and how they protected individual rights

Political Science: Examine the principle of due process (Standard 1, Topic C, Indicator 3, Grade 8)
a. Identify how due process of law protects individuals
b. Describe the due process protections in the Bill of Rights and the 14th Amendment

Social Studies: Explain the political, cultural, economic and social changes in Maryland during the early 1800s
b. Describe the importance of changes in industry, transportation, education, rights and freedoms in Maryland, such as roads and canals, slavery, B&O railroad, the National Road, immigration, public schools, and religious freedom (History, Grade 4)


The Compensated Emancipation Act of 1862

W ith a stroke of his pen, President Abraham Lincoln signed into law the Compensated Emancipation Act on April 16, 1862, officially ending slavery in Washington, D.C. The Act reflected a new direction in the longstanding debate over slavery and emancipation in the nation’s capital. While a far cry from full emancipation, it was an important step towards the abolition of slavery.

The law ending slavery in the nation’s capital provided compensation for the owners of the roughly 3,185 slaves it freed. A three-person commission heard petitions of the former slave owners and made determinations on how much money they should receive for the loss of their human property. In the end, the total compensation amounted to nearly one million dollars. A second Compensation Act, which Lincoln signed into law on July 12, 1862, allowed former slaves to petition for reimbursement for their own value, so long as their former masters had not already been compensated. It also allowed former slaves who had purchased the freedom of family members to claim remuneration for the money they had spent to free loved ones. This corrected a flaw in the original Act. Under the original law, black claims were automatically discounted if challenged by a white petitioner. The revision required claims to be weighted equally, regardless of the petitioner’s race.

While a number of states had ended slavery well before it was outlawed in Washington, D.C., these particular acts of emancipation—especially the first one– carried a lot of symbolism. As the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C. was a critical center of nineteenth-century struggles between northerners and southerners over slavery.

At first, few white Americans questioned the institution of slavery in Washington, D.C. The growth of the city after its establishment in 1792 had called for considerable skilled and unskilled labor, and slaves had built more than a few of its buildings. The city was also central to the domestic slave trade. Until the middle of the nineteenth century, slave pens and auctions were a common sight. Hotels rented out basements for holding slaves prior to their sale, and local taverns and hotels around the National Mall frequently hosted slave auctions. Robey’s slave pen (currently the cite of the Federal Aviation Administration building) was among the most well-known of the pens. It stood near William H. Williams’s Yellow House, which served as a private prison for slaves. Robey’s slave pen was made famous by English visitor E. S. Abdy, a Fellow of Jesuit College, Cambridge, who chronicled his impressions during a visit in 1835. Abdy spared no words, calling the pen “a wretched hovel,” and noting that the “inmates” were exposed to the extremes of winter and summer climates.

As D.C. grew, so did its population of free African-Americans, who found the city’s pro-slavery forces moving to place more and more restrictions on their movements, including strict curfews. Under these black codes, there were minimal distinctions between the treatment of free and enslaved African-Americans who violated curfews. And the black codes became even more restrictive as the nineteenth century went on. One 1821 black code required free African Americans to prove their free status by appearing before the mayor with documents signed by three white citizens of “good standing.” As with the enslaved, the mobility of free black Americans and even their very freedom was subject to the whims of white Washingtonians.

The appalling practice of slave sales in the nation’s capital horrified observers, and the closing net around free black Americans worried people who feared that the principle of freedom itself was coming under siege. In 1828, anti-slavery activists unsuccessfully pressed for DC to end slavery. But the city’s status as the seat of national government made the prospect of emancipation particularly contentious, as everyone recognized that the status of slavery there symbolized its status in the nation.

Washington, D.C. began to see more and more physical resistance to slavery. Slave ships regularly sailed along the Potomac, docking near the city’s slave pens. But those ships could be put to the opposite use, too. In 1848, 77 enslaved African-Americans escaped from their plantations and attempted to steal aboard and sail the Pearl up the Potomac to freedom. Slacking winds foiled their attempt, and the slaves and a handful of white collaborators were captured and put in the City Jail. The slaves were later sold south, but their attempt to escape inspired three days of anti-slavery riots, which prompted new congressional debates over slavery in the city. The crisis was not enough to end the institution there, but it did increase sentiments against human bondage. Only two years later, a provision of the Compromise of 1850 banned the slave trade in the city, though it was still legal to own slaves.

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Washington, D.C. was on the front line, wedged between Maryland (a slave-owning border state) and Virginia. Tens of thousands of fugitive slaves flooded the city. Before the war, the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 would have compelled government officials to return those slaves to their owners. But after 1861, they were refugees, their status dependent on the outcome of the war.

In Washington, these refugees were in the forefront of the fight over slavery. Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s military strategy was to invade Washington, D.C., and force U.S. government leaders to sign a truce that would accept the establishment of the slaveholding Confederacy as a neighboring nation. Abraham Lincoln’s decision to sign the Compensated Emancipation Act into law in 1862, amidst an advance into Maryland by Lee’s troops, was deliberately symbolic. While slavery remained legal at the national level, abolishing slavery in Washington meant that the capital of the United States stood in stark contrast to Richmond, Virginia, the seat of the Confederacy. This implied (particularly to African Americans) that the Civil War was about freedom.

Lincoln’s 1863 Gettysburg Address a year later confirmed the centrality of slavery as the cause of the Civil War. Reflecting back on the nation’s founding, Lincoln described the United States as “conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” As he dedicated the Soldiers National Cemetery at Gettysburg, he tied the veneration of the dead to a renewed “devotion” that “this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom.” Both Compensated Emancipation Acts set the a pattern of his administration’s commitment to ending slavery, a pattern Lincoln continued with the January 1, 1863, Emancipation Proclamation and with his commitment to ending racial slavery in America once and for all with the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution.

African Americans, at least, saw April 16 as a key Emancipation Day, a celebration that included a parade that began in Franklin Square, looped through the city, and returned to Franklin Square. for speeches. When the war ended, African-American Washingtonians began to celebrate April 16 not only as the beginning of the end of slavery, but also as a sign of racial progress. In 1866, half the city’s African American population turned out to see the Emancipation Day parade, which included two regiments of black soldiers who had fought in the Civil War. It was a turn of affairs so unthinkable four years before that the hope for racial equality in their lifetimes must have seemed within reach. And even when that hope turned out to be premature, Emancipation Day remained an annual public celebration in Washington, D.C., up until 1901. Then the annual commemoration continued in churches until the larger, more public celebrations were revived in 1991.

The new festivities include a wreath-laying ceremony in Lincoln Park at the foot of a statue of Abraham Lincoln, built by donations from former slaves.

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About the Author

Jessica Parr is a Lecturer in History at Simmons College, and an Affiliate Assistant Professor of Women’s Studies at the University of New Hampshire at Durham. She specializes in the Early Modern Black Atlantic World, with focuses on race, religion, memory studies, and digital history. Parr is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, and has received fellowships from the Boston Athenaeum, Duke University, the Congregational Library, Mystic Seaport, and the Gilder-Lehrman Institute. From 2016-2017, she worked on the $1.3 million IMLS-funded PLACE Project, an interdisciplinary team at the University of New Hampshire, Durham, that designed and built a geospatial interface for digital collections. She was a participant in the NEH’s 2016 Doing Digital History Institute at George Mason University, and is a consultant on the NEH-funded project, “Go Local,” which partners with small museums and libraries in Southern Maine to help build their capacity for digital collections and exhibits. Parr is currently the Managing Editor for The Programming Historian, and writes for The Junto: a Group Blog for Early American History, as well as Black Perspectives, the online journal of the African-American Intellectual History Society. Her first book, Inventing George Whitefield: Race, Revivalism, and the Making of a Religious Icon was published in 2015 by the University Press of Mississippi. The paperback was released in 2016.


Emancipation Day in Washington, D.C.

Congress passed the Compensated Emancipation Act to end slavery in the District of Columbia and President Abraham Lincoln signed the bill into law on April 16, 1862. Three years later, after the Civil War ended and after the 1865 ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution officially abolishing slavery nationwide, African Americans in the District began to celebrate April 16 as a holiday. The day included speeches and, most importantly, a parade, which weaved past the White House. Click here to learn more about the household of President Abraham Lincoln.

Organized by the black elite of the city, the parades began in 1866 as a demonstration of African-American pride and political strength. School children often took a day off in order to watch all the black civic organizations and clubs march in the parade. Militia groups and Civil War veterans marched in full regalia with slogans on banners that called for liberty and equality for all citizens. 1 Rain or shine the emancipation parades went on, all throughout the city in stark contrast to the black codes of the antebellum era, which restricted the movement of African Americans throughout the city. Where slave coffles had once passed, free African Americans now marched openly rejoicing their new status as citizens.

In close proximity to the White House, where many of the domestic staff had been enslaved, witnessing scores of free African Americans in elaborate civilian or military dress was an evocative image. Presidential approval helped make the parades a success and acknowledged African Americans had the right to assemble in Lafayette Square as free people. Presidents Ulysses S. Grant and Andrew Johnson particularly enjoyed the tributes to Lincoln and the Republican Party as emancipators. 2 Presidents usually reviewed at least one of the parades during their administration. Click here to learn more about the enslaved household of President Ulysses Grant. Click here to learn more about the enslaved household of Andrew Johnson.

Historian Craig A. Schiffert asserts these processions ended in 1901 because of class divisions within the African-American community and the specter of segregation in the Jim Crow era. Previous celebrations included a spirited protest against Plessey v. Ferguson, the famous Supreme Court decision in 1896 that legitimized a move toward segregation practices. By the end of the nineteenth century, the parades had become unwieldy "gaining a significant lower class constituency." 3 Occasionally, fights and scuffles, arrests for thievery, public drunkenness and general disorderly conduct marred the events. However, this was not out of the ordinary for public parades during the late nineteenth century or even today.

The African-American bourgeoisie worried the parades demonstrated the "dregs" rather than the progression of the race. To block the tide of segregation and bigotry, the burgeoning black middle class believed they needed a mantle of respectability for protection. The death knell for this holiday arrived when prominent African Americans withdrew their support. 4 Ending in 1901, the parades highlighted a bright legacy in the history of the black community in Washington. The parades represented the pride, dignity, strength and the progress of African Americans.

The city revived the parades in 2002 as a result of the research, lobbying and leadership of Ms. Loretta Carter-Hanes. She started her quest to bring back the parades in the early 1980s. She scoured the archives for any and all information about Emancipation Day and the parades. 5 Starting in 1991, Hanes organized events that would commit the day to public memory. 6 Eventually, Emancipation Day was made an official public holiday in the District of Columbia in 2005.


Contents

The act affected only the import or export of slaves, and did not affect the internal trade in states or between states. During the American Revolution all thirteen colonies prohibited their involvement in the slave trade, but three states later enacted legislation legalizing it again. Article 1 Section 9 of the United States Constitution protected a state's involvement in the Atlantic slave trade for twenty years from federal prohibition. Article 5 said this clause could not be affected by constitutional amendment. Only starting January 1, 1808, could there be a federal law to abolish the international slave trade in all states, although individual states could and did ban it at any time.

The Migration or Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the Year one thousand eight hundred and eight, but a tax or duty may be imposed on such Importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each Person. [1]

By 1775, Africans both free and enslaved made up 20% of the population in the Thirteen Colonies, which made them the second largest ethnic group after English Americans. [2] During the Revolutionary War, the United Colonies all pledged to ban their involvement in the transatlantic slave trade. This was done for a variety of economic, political, and moral reasons depending on the colony. [3] After the American victory in 1783, South Carolina reopened its involvement in the slave trade until prohibiting it again in 1787, but then reopened it in 1803 while North Carolina allowed the trade beginning after the Treaty of Paris until abolishing its involvement in slave trading in 1794 and Georgia allowed the slave trade between 1783, until it closed its international trade in 1798. By 1807, only South Carolina allowed the Atlantic slave trade. [4]

On March 22, 1794, Congress passed the Slave Trade Act of 1794, which prohibited making, loading, outfitting, equipping, or dispatching of any ship to be used in the trade of slaves, essentially limiting the trade to foreign ships. [5] On August 5, 1797, John Brown of Providence, Rhode Island, became the first American to be tried in federal court under the 1794 law. Brown was convicted and was forced to forfeit his ship Hope. [6] In the 1798 act creating the Mississippi Territory, Congress allowed slaves to be imported from the rest of the United States to Mississippi Territory, and exempted the territory from the part of the 1787 Northwest Ordinance that abolished slavery in the Northwest Territory (modern-day Midwest) after 1800. However, the same act also abolished the importation of slaves to the Mississippi Territory from "foreign parts" (foreign nations). [7] The penalty for illegally importing slaves from abroad to the territory was a fine of $300. [8] In the Slave Trade Act of 1800, Congress outlawed U.S. citizens' investment in the trade, and the employment of U.S. citizens on foreign vessels involved in the trade. [9]

On March 3, 1805, Joseph Bradley Varnum submitted a Massachusetts Proposition to amend the Constitution and Abolish the Slave Trade. This proposition was tabled until 1807.

On December 2, 1806, in his annual message to Congress, widely reprinted in most newspapers, President Thomas Jefferson denounced the "violations of human rights." He said:

I congratulate you, fellow-citizens, on the approach of the period at which you may interpose your authority constitutionally, to withdraw the citizens of the United States from all further participation in those violations of human rights which have been so long continued on the unoffending inhabitants of Africa, and which the morality, the reputation, and the best interests of our country, have long been eager to proscribe. [10]

Under Varnum's leadership legislation moved through Congress and passed both houses on March 2, 1807. The House and Senate agreed on a bill, approved on March 2, 1807, called An Act to prohibit the importation of slaves into any port or place within the jurisdiction of the United States, from and after the first day of January, in the year of our Lord, One Thousand Eight Hundred and Eight. The measure also regulated the coastwise slave trade. President Thomas Jefferson signed the bill into law on March 2, 1807. [11] Many in Congress believed the act would doom slavery in the South, but they were mistaken. [12]

The role of the Navy was expanded to include patrols off the coasts of Cuba and South America. The effective date of the Act, January 1, 1808, was celebrated by Peter Williams, Jr., in "An Oration on the Abolition of the Slave Trade" delivered in New York City. [13]

While there are no exact figures known, historians estimate that up to 50,000 slaves were illegally imported into the United States after 1808, mostly through Spanish Florida and Texas, before those states were admitted to the Union. [14] However, South Carolina Governor Henry Middleton estimated in 1819 that 13,000 smuggled African slaves arrived every year. [15] : 160

Carl C. Cutler's classic book on American clipper ships records:

The act outlawing the slave trade in 1808 furnished another source of demand for fast vessels, and for another half century ships continued to be fitted out and financed in this trade by many a respectable citizen in the majority of American ports. Newspapers of the fifties contain occasional references to the number of ships sailing from the various cities in this traffic. One account stated that as late as 1859 there were seven slavers regularly fitted out in New York, and many more in all the larger ports. [16]

In 1820, slave-trading became a capital offense with an amendment to the 1819 Act to Protect the Commerce of the United States and Punish the Crime of Piracy. A total of 74 cases of slaving were brought in the United States between 1837 and 1860, "but few captains had been convicted, and those had received trifling sentences, which they had usually been able to avoid". [17] Nathaniel Gordon, who was hanged in 1862, was the only person to be executed for illegal slave-trading in the United States. [17]

In addition, after the 1808 abolition of the slave trade to the United States, many Americans continued to engage in the slave trade by transporting Africans to Cuba. From 1808 to 1860, almost one-third of all slave ships were either owned by American merchants, or were built and outfitted in American ports. [18] It is possible that U.S. citizens "may have transported twice as many Africans to other countries such as Cuba and Brazil as they did to their own ports". [18]

In the South, the Fire-Eaters—antebellum pro-slavery extremists—proposed repealing the act and once more legalizing the international slave trade in the United States. Historian Erskine Clarke writes that this call "was a shameless expression of their contempt for any antislavery sentiment and a part of their stratagem to divide the nation and create a slaveholding confederacy. Among other things, the Fire-Eaters hoped that a reopened international slave trade would incense the North, and that Northern outrage would cause white Southerns to unite and move toward secession." [19]

In addition to whipping up sectional tensions, Fire-Eaters advocated the reopening of the slave trade in order to drive down the price of slaves to balance the millions of European immigrants who had settled in the North and maintain Southern representation in Congress and assert the morality of slavery: "Slave trading had to be made right, otherwise slavery was imperiled." [20] Fire-Eaters essentially desired to "legitimize the slave trade in order to make the point that both slavery and the African slave trade were morally acceptable practices"—a view intended to be precisely opposite that of the abolitionists, who affirmed the immorality of both slavery and the slave trade. The view alarmed even pro-slavery figures, such as former President John Tyler, who in retirement wrote a widely republished letter condemning the Fire-Eaters' call to abrogate article 8 of the Webster–Ashburton Treaty (which barred the slave trade). Tyler noted that the South had voted to ratify the treaty. [21]

Slavery and the cotton economy boomed during the 1850's, and cotton prices were resurgent after a decline in the 1840's. This in turn drove up the price of slaves, which led to further pressure to re-open the slave trade to meet demand or bring prices down. Not all Southerners felt this way however, as the high price of slaves benefitted slave owners and slave merchants. But the general sentiment called for a re-opening of the trade, as a logical extension of the support of slavery. Southerners reasoned that if slavery was good, then putting more people into slavery must also be good, and that if trading slaves in the South was okay, then trading them from Africa must also be okay. Conventions of Southern planters repeatedly called for the trade to re-open. This of course was a non-starter in Congress. There were also attempts from state legislatures to allow the importation of "apprentices" from Africa, but without success. When trying to repeal the slave act failed, some turned to simply ignoring it. Notable cases during the 1850's included slaves smuggled aboard the Wanderer and the Clotilda. [22]


Did Slavery End on June 19th?

After the end of the War Between the States, the Union army established the District of Texas under the command of Major General Gordon Granger. The Emancipation Proclamation had been enforced by the Union army in every other state of the Confederate States of America which it had occupied. Texas escaped Union occupation during the war and the Union army did not occupy the state or any part of it until after the war’s end. General Granger issued General Order No. 3, which he read publicly in Galveston on June 19, 1865. It stated that all slaves in the state of Texas were free in accordance with the Emancipation Proclamation, which had been issued by President Abraham Lincoln two and a half years earlier. The day, which has been since dubbed Juneteenth, has since come to commemorate the abolition of slavery in Texas. When I lived in Texas in the 1950’s, it was celebrated as such by many of the state’s black citizens. It became an official state holiday in 1979. However, after I moved to Virginia, I never heard of its celebration again until recent years. Now, it is recognized in other states and there is a proposal that it be made a national holiday. But what significance does it have beyond Texas?

Lincoln issued the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862. One month earlier, he stated in a letter to Horace Greely dated August 22, 1862:

“If there be those who would not save the Union, unless they could at the same time save slavery, I do not agree with them. If there be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same time destroy slavery, I do not agree with them. My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union.”

Lincoln had already drafted the preliminary Proclamation before he wrote this. The final Proclamation was issued on January 1, 1863. It declared freedom to the slaves in ten Confederate states: Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas. However, it exempted in Virginia “the forty-eight counties designated as west Virginia, and also the counties of Berkley, Accomac, Northampton, Elizabeth City, York, Princess Ann, and Norfolk, including the cities of Norfolk and Portsmouth.” It also exempted in Louisiana “the Parishes of St. Bernard, Plaquemines, Jefferson, St. John, St. Charles, St. James Ascension, Terrebonne, Lafourche, St. Mary, St. Martin, and Orleans, including the City of New Orleans.” These areas were all under Union control. A circular issued by Union Provost Marshall Captain A.B. Long in New Liberia, Louisiana on April 24, 1863, informed the slaves in St. Martin Parish who thought that they were freed by the Emancipation Proclamation that they were not because that Parish was exempted in it. Furthermore, in addition to West Virginia, the Proclamation left slavery intact in six other states: New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Missouri. All of these states were completely under Union control except for Tennessee, which was mostly under Union control except for East Tennessee, which was of predominantly Union sympathy. Philip Leigh has written more at length about the Emancipation Proclamation than can be covered in this article.

The slaves in the District of Columbia had been freed by act of Congress on April 16, 1862, and those in U.S. territories by the same on June 17, 1862, before the Emancipation Proclamation was issued. Lincoln then tried to get Delaware to be the next entity to free its slaves, but the state refused. The District of Columbia and the territories were the only jurisdictions over which the Federal Government has this authority. Furthermore, the Constitution gives Congress the power to enact laws, not the President, and Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution gives no power over slavery to Congress. Under the Tenth Amendment, authority over slavery in the states was reserved to the states themselves. Therefore, the Emancipation Proclamation did not legally free a single slave.

Four states emancipated their slaves by state action after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued. They were Maryland on November 1, 1864, Missouri on January 11, 1865, West Virginia on February 3, 1865, and Tennessee on February 22, 1865. Even if you still think that the Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves in the ten states in which it declared them free, not only were the slaves in the exempted portions of Virginia and Louisiana not yet free by this time, neither were those in New Jersey, Delaware, or Kentucky. In fact, New Jersey, Delaware, and Kentucky all rejected ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment and their slaves were not freed until it was ratified on December 6, 1865. The only other slave state which rejected the Thirteenth Amendment was Mississippi, which was also the only former Confederate state to do so. Every other slave state ratified it.

The current push to recognize Juneteenth is based on the allegation of its advocates that it brought freedom to the last slaves and, therefore, marked the end of slavery in the United States. However, it is obvious from the historical facts that this is not true. This push points to slavery in the former Confederate states while turning a blind eye to the fact that slavery still existed in three other states for almost six months after Juneteenth. Not only that, but two of those three states, New Jersey and Delaware, were Northern states. Only Kentucky, which was a Border State of the Upper South, was not. There were slave sales going on in Kentucky all the way through November 1865 and they were advertised in the state’s newspapers.

Maps in history books depicting the free and slave states always depict the Mason-Dixon Line as the dividing point. However, Dr. James J. Gigantino II showed this to be untrue in 2015 with the publication of his book The Ragged Road to Abolition: Slavery and Freedom in New Jersey, 1775-1865 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press). When the United States became a nation in 1776, all thirteen states had slavery. Slavery was eventually abolished in all of the New England states and in the Mid-Atlantic states of New York and Pennsylvania. However, this did not happen in the other two Mid-Atlantic states, New Jersey and Delaware. New Jersey passed a law for gradual abolition of slavery in 1804, but gradual emancipation in the state was so dragged out that the last slaves in the state were not freed until the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865. The boundary between free New York and slave New Jersey was the actual northern most dividing point between the free and slave states, not the Mason-Dixon Line. In his book, Dr. Gigantino wrote of the interaction of New Jersey slaves with others in that region, stating:

“The Catherine Market in New York City likewise saw significant interactions between enslaved New Jersey blacks and free New Yorkers on an almost daily basis. Many slaves sold their wares alongside their masters’ and established social and business contacts with whites and free blacks. These social relationships frequently manifested themselves in dance competitions after the market closed. One pitted Ned, the slave of Martin Ryerson of Tappan, against free blacks from across the region.” (p. 126)

Delaware never passed a law abolishing slavery. Furthermore, while both New Jersey and Delaware remained slave states throughout the entire war, every regiment raised from both states fought in the Union army. There was not a single Confederate regiment from either state.

Virginia has now made Juneteenth a state holiday, but the slaves in the southeastern counties of that state which were excluded from the Emancipation Proclamation were not freed until almost six months later, when the Thirteenth Amendment was ratified. That date, December 6, 1865, was the date on which the last slaves were truly freed. Therefore, December 6 should be celebrated as Emancipation Day. But, then, that would not promote the Marxist/politically correct/woke agenda, which includes advocating for Confederaphobic hysteria and which is what the push to make Juneteenth a national holiday and a holiday in states other than Texas is really all about. And that agenda does not care anything about the facts.

About Timothy A. Duskin

Timothy A. Duskin is from Northern Virginia. He has a B.A. degree in history from American Christian College, Tulsa, Oklahoma and a M.A. degree in international relations from the University of Oklahoma. He worked for 22 years as an Archives Technician at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. He has also worked as a Writer for the U.S. Taxpayers’ Alliance in Vienna, Virginia and as a Research Assistant for the Plymouth Rock Foundation in Plymouth, Massachusetts. He has a strong interest in and devotion to history and is active in a number of historical organizations. More from Timothy A. Duskin


The Act Abolishing Slavery In The District Of Columbia [April 16, 1862] - History

  "President Lincoln signed the bill into law on April 16, freeing slaves in the district and compensating owners up to $300 for each freeperson".  That's right, slave owners were paid $300 for every slave they owned. I'm sure this was never taught to you in America's public or private (INDOCTRINATING) SCHOOL SYSTEM. By JJP

  Landmark Legislation: The District of Columbia Compensated Emancipation Act

Celebration of the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia by colored people, in Washington, April 19, 1866

On a visit to Washington, D.C., in 1836, the sight of a slave auction held in the shadow of the Capitol convinced future senator Henry Wilson of Massachusetts to “give all that I had to the cause of emancipation.” Elected to a Senate seat in 1855, Wilson became a leading voice for the abolition of slavery during the Civil War. Throughout the war years, the Senate operated, according to Senator John Sherman of Ohio, like “a laborious committee where bills are drawn as well as discussed.” In addition to fulfilling legislative responsibilities and accomplishments such as funding the war effort and providing for Union troops during this period, a group of elected officials known as the Radical Republicans demanded the abolition of slavery. Many senators believed that only the president had the power to emancipate slaves in the states, but as Senator Sherman explained, “Little doubt was felt as to the power of Congress to abolish slavery in the District.” On April 3, 1862, the Senate passed the District of Columbia Compensated Emancipation Act, originally sponsored by Wilson. Harper’s Weekly reported that the “bill passed by a vote of twenty-nine yeas to fourteen nays. The announcement of the result was received with applause from the galleries.” Two days later, Senator Lafayette Foster of Connecticut proudly declared, “You may strike off the bonds of every slave in the District of Columbia today.”

President Lincoln signed the bill into law on April 16, freeing slaves in the district and compensating owners up to $300 for each freeperson. The Hartford Daily Courant celebrated that, “Not a slave exists in the District of Columbia …Their shackles have fallen, never to be restored.” In the months following the enactment of the law, commissioners approved more than 930 petitions, granting freedom to 2,989 former slaves. “DC Emancipation Day” has been celebrated in the District each year since 1862. Just five months later, in September 1862, using his powers as Commander in Chief, Lincoln announced his intention to emancipate slaves located in states “in rebellion.” On January 1, 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation granted freedom to slaves residing in Confederate states not occupied by Union forces. The Thirteenth Amendment, ratified by the states on December 6, 1865, abolished slavery “within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”


April 16th, 1862

Springtime, unlike the other three seasons is a time of regrowth and renewal. Following the bleak months of winter, it seems as if the earth is being reborn. This transitional period from the winter to the summer months also brings about a shift in feelings from pessimism to optimism. Whether is it due to the difference in temperatures from cold to warm, or the more cheery vegetation seen through the buds on the trees and bushes, the attitudes of individuals around the country change from negative to positive throughout the transition of spring. These attitudes can easily be related to the overarching theme of the spring, specifically the month of April in 1862 in America. During this time period, America was a divided country and both the Union and Confederate states had their share of victories and defeats. There was a feeling of hopefulness looking toward the future on both sides of the war. This hope was not limited to the warzone, but was heavily emphasized at home, far from the actual fighting. In addition to the occurrences on the battlefields, President Lincoln made moves to further unite the country, beginning in the nations capital where he abolished slavery. The signing of the District of Columbia Emancipation Act on April sixteenth along with the celebrations and hopeful attitudes of both the northern and southern victories on and off of the battlefield strengthened the confidence had by the opposing sides of the country.

Remaining optimistic in times of war is a difficult concept to understand. The ability that many people had to remain this way, or move in this positive direction after having a pessimistic attitude can in part be attributed to the change in seasons during the month of April in1862. At this time, a time where slavery was tearing apart the nation, creating a negative attitude in many individuals, President Lincoln made a positive step in the District of Columbia a step that he believed would contribute to the overall positive impact on the future of America regarding slavery.

In order for Lincoln to begin the process of emancipation in all states he decided to begin in a place that was central to the entire nation the capital. On April 16, 1862 a bill was signed that ended slavery in the District of Columbia. Many different sections of the act were written but the main message of the act was that:

“All persons held to service or labor within the District of Columbia by reason of African descent are hereby discharged and freed of and from all claim to such service or labor and from and after the passage of this act neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except for crime, whereof the party shall be duly convicted, shall hereafter exist in said District.”

This act relieved all people of African descent from their service or labor to others in DC, which was formed the foundation to what was to come in the future. These components to the act must have been alarming to many people, as this was the first act that outlawed slavery in the nations capital. Also included in the act were different amounts of money owed to slave owners who were loyal to the Union. In order to prove that they were free, and to recognize their newfound freedom, clerks were to “deliver to each person made free or manumitted by this act, a certificate under the seal of said court, setting out the name, age, and description of such person, and stating that such person was duly manumitted and set free by this act”. Many people living in America did not agree with the freeing of slaves, like southern soldiers that in an article called, From Washington City in the Macon Daily Telegraph, were said to have “threatened to throw up their commissions if the anti slavery program was carried out” (From Washington City). Although many southerners had these aggressive feelings toward him and his signing of the act, Lincoln’s actions regarding the freeing of slaves were for the betterment of the country. The act contributed to the optimistic view had by many individuals in the spring of 1862. Less than a year after Lincoln signed the District of Columbia Emancipation Act on April 16, 1862, he issued the Emancipation Proclamation. The passing and signing of these life-changing documents contributed to the transformation from pessimism to optimism many people felt throughout the nation over the course of the spring. This optimism was displayed publically all over the nation through various ceremonies in both the north and the south.

The results of different battles had by both the Union and Confederate armies brought great joy to not only the soldiers involved in battle, but also to families who were back home. Different celebrations were had in order to spread unity throughout different areas of both the northern and southern states. Parades and ceremonies were often held in order to recognize the men who fought and celebrate the successes of battles. One rather interesting ceremony, which was written about in the Delaware County American on April 16, 1862 consisted of flying a giant balloon. The author speaks about a balloon that was constructed and was to be set free to fly over the Court House in the town. This balloon is described as being, “composed of alternate stripes of red, white and blue, measuring about eight ft. in height, and probably six feet in diameter”. The deeper meaning of this magnificent sight was to celebrate the recent victories of the Union, including the victory at the battle of Shiloh that occurred early in the month of April. It is interesting that this balloon, a simple object often overlooked in society today, created such a large sense of pride in a community. Everyone gathered near the Court House to see the symbolic and patriotic balloon take flight. Although the original plan of sending the balloon soaring a far distance over the community was not successful, this simple idea of a celebratory balloon brought everyone together. One large group of people mesmerized by the great, flying object was the children living in the area. The repetition in the article of the excitement seen by the young children of the community shows that although a war was occurring, life at home did not stop, and something as simple as a balloon soaring through the sky could entertain the younger population. The unification felt by the community, which was brought about by the victories on the battlefield by the Union, aide in the positive attitudes had by many people as spring continued to move forward in 1862. In addition to celebrations due to important victories, other events, and daily routines that had little or nothing to do with the war were still occurring across the nation. The variety of advertisements and notices published in every newspaper highlighted the fact that life goes on even during times of war.

The way in which everyday practices continue is a subject that is often overlooked during a time of war. When looking through advertisements published in newspapers from the month of April in 1862, it is evident that common daily events were still occurring regardless of what was happening on the battlefields or with laws or acts that were being passed in the capital. This was not limited to a specific portion of the country. From the east coast to the west, and the north to the south, during the spring, a time of optimism, people were leading normal lives regardless of the war being fought.

In the classified section of the San Francisco Daily Evening Bulletin on the fifteenth, an abundance of wanted advertisements were printed. Included in this section were various requests for business partners, real estate, property “to let” and housekeepers. One advertisement in particular read, “WANTED – A situation by a respectable young girl to do general housework: Is a good cook, washer and ironer. Apply at the northwest corner of Jessie and Fourth streets.” (Daily Evening Bulletin). The need for help around the house in order to cook, clean and tend to housework reveals the continuity of the regular needs and routines of people, not only in San Francisco but also all over the country.

Looking at the advertisements in a newspaper published in the northeast, specifically in Boston Massachusetts, gives a similar view of life in April. In addition to comparable wanted advertisements in both newspapers, announcements of a variety of different art exhibits and concerts were seen in the Boston Daily Advertise on the sixteenth of April. One specific event that was said to occur the following day was “Wednesday Afternoon Concerts at Boston Music Hall”. The perpetuation of regular activities, such as concerts, experienced by people at the time, help build upon the idea of progress or positivity felt throughout the country in the spring of 1862.

A southern perspective of life regardless of war can be seen through the advertisements in newspapers published in the south as well. Many notices in The Daily Picayune, which is published in New Orleans, Louisiana, have to do with clothing. As stated in an the advertisement, “Clothing at Cost”, “the subscribers are closing their business and will sell for a few days longer at reduced prices. Now is the time to supply the wants for the coming summer”. This announcement in the newspaper emphasizes a shift to a different wardrobe during the hot summer months in the south, a subject that has little to no concern with the Civil War that is occurring. Life in the south continued in a regular way in terms of common rituals and needs of the people. Although it is not obvious in the brief advertisement, one might make the connection that the preparation of the changing of seasons can also relate to the change in attitude, or the progress that the nation as a whole was feeling in the month of April.

Although one might think that in times of war the nation is one hundred percent into everything that is ensuing on the battlefields or even in the government, that is not necessarily the case. As seen in the assortment of articles and advertisements gathered from different locations around the country, people were carrying on with their normal routines.

April 16, 1862 proves to be a noteworthy day within a noteworthy season during the Civil War in America. The nation was greatly affected by the decisions of President Lincoln in the singing of the District of Columbia Emancipation Act, as it freed the slaves in the nations capital. Although it angered a large amount of the population, it helped create a more positive attitude and sense of progress for the nation as a whole. In addition to the act signed by Lincoln, the victories had by the opposing sides, and the celebrations that followed produced tremendous unity and optimism among groups of people in the north and the south. While the Emancipation Act as well as victories celebrated by both sides did make a significant impact on American society, these events did not completely hinder the population’s ability to carry out other everyday routines and activities. This ability that individuals had that enabled them to focus on matters other than that of war and what was occurring in the government helped to instill more optimistic attitudes within the majority of individuals throughout the spring, specifically the month of April in 1862. The springtime, or the time of regrowth, in 1862 ultimately created a sturdier sense of confidence within opposing sides while moving forward during the war.

Accessible Archives: Delaware County American 1862-04-16

“An Act for the Release of certain Persons held to Service or Labor in the District of

Columbia” Approved, April 16, 1862.

Boston Daily Advertiser 16 Apr. 1862, 90th ed., sec. 3: 3. Print.

“Clothes at Cost.” The Daily Picayune [New Orleans] 16 Apr. 1862: 2. Print.

Daily Evening Bulletin, (San Francisco, CA) Tuesday, April 15, 1862 Issue 7 col D


1862 – In the U.S., slavery was abolished by law in the District of Columbia.

On this day in 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed into law a bill ending slavery in the District of Columbia. Congress, acting in the second year of the Civil War, also provided compensation to former slave owners.

In signing the legislation, Lincoln wrote: “I have never doubted the constitutional authority of Congress to abolish slavery in this district, and I have ever desired to see the national capital freed from the institution in some satisfactory way.” It took nine more months for Lincoln to sign the Emancipation Proclamation.

The statute created an Emancipation Claims Commission, which hired a Baltimore slave trader to assess the value of each freed slave. It awarded compensation for 2,989 freed slaves. The 1860 census enumerated 11,131 free blacks and 3,185 slaves then living in the nation’s capital.


District of Columbia abolishes slavery, April 16, 1862

On this day in 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed into law a bill ending slavery in the District of Columbia. Congress, acting in the second year of the Civil War, also provided compensation to former slave owners.

In signing the legislation, Lincoln wrote: “I have never doubted the constitutional authority of Congress to abolish slavery in this district, and I have ever desired to see the national capital freed from the institution in some satisfactory way.” It took nine more months for Lincoln to sign the Emancipation Proclamation.

The statute created an Emancipation Claims Commission, which hired a Baltimore slave trader to assess the value of each freed slave. It awarded compensation for 2,989 freed slaves. The 1860 census enumerated 11,131 free blacks and 3,185 slaves then living in the nation’s capital.

An extensive body of law, developed from the 1660s to the 1860s, governed slavery in the United States. Each slave-holding state had its own codes and court rulings. They uniformly held slavery to be a permanent condition, inherited from the mother. Since slaves were defined as property, like real estate, they could not own property nor become parties to contracts. Slave “marriages” therefore lacked legal standing. Slave codes also dealt with the status of free blacks, often requiring them to leave the state after being emancipated.

When Congress created the District of Columbia in 1800, the laws of neighboring Maryland, including those regulating slavery, remained in place for a time. Subsequently, Congress relaxed the District’s policies: Slaves could hire out their services and live apart from their masters.

In 1850, when pro-abolitionist senators sought to end the slave trade within the 6-square-mile area that composed the District, Southerners resisted furiously. Sen. Henry Stuart Foote (D-Miss.) said such an act would be a “most unpardonable injustice toward the South, which must inflame the public mind and must inevitably awaken apprehension that this is but the entering wedge of other and more aggressive measures which are afterwards to follow.”

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The 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution formally ended slavery in the country. It was proposed on Jan. 31, 1865, and ratified by the necessary 30 of the then-36 states in the same year. (It was ratified in Mississippi in 1995, but because of a clerical error, not made official until 2013.)

On Jan. 4, 2005, Emancipation Day became an official public holiday in the District of Columbia. (Since Emancipation Day falls on a Sunday in 2017, it will be observed on the following day.) Local government offices are closed and many public services do not operate. However, many stores and businesses remain open. Emancipation Day observed will also extend the 2017 deadline for filing an income tax return throughout the nation to Tuesday, April 18.

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