On April 16, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed this
bill ending slavery in the District of Columbia. Passage of this act came
8 1/2 months before President Lincoln issued his Emancipation
Proclamation. The act brought to conclusion decades of agitation aimed
at ending what antislavery advocates called "the national shame"
of slavery in the nation's capital. The law provided for immediate
emancipation, compensation to loyal Unionist masters of up to $300 for
each freed slave, voluntary colonization of former slaves to colonies
outside the United States, and payments of up to $100 to each person
choosing emigration. Over the next nine months the federal government
granted almost $1 million for the freedom of approxiamtely 3,100 former
slaves. The District of Columbia Emancipation Act is the only example of
compensated emancipation in the United States. Though its three-way
approach of immediate emancipation, compensation, and colonization did not
serve as a model for the future, it was an early signal of slavery's
death. Emancipation was greeted with great jubilation by the District's
African-American community. For many years afterward, black Washingtonians
celebrated Emancipation Day on April 16 with parades and festivals.
The text of all federal laws is published in the U.S.
Statutes at Large, a multivolume publication available at libraries
nationwide. Exhibit history: "An Act for the Release of Certain
Persons..." National Archives Rotunda, April 14-May 1, 1995.
President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation
Proclamation on January 1, 1863, as the nation approached its third
year of bloody civil war. The Proclamation declared "that all persons
held as slaves" within the rebellious states "are, and
henceforward shall be free." Despite that expansive wording, the EmancipationProclamation was limited in many ways. It applied only to states
that had seceded from the Union, leaving slavery untouched in the loyal
border states. It also expressly exempted parts of the Confederacy that
had already come under Northern control. Most important, the freedom it
promised depended upon Union military victory. Although the Emancipation
Proclamation did not immediately free a single slave, it fundamentally
transformed the character of the war. After January 1, 1863, every advance
of Federal troops expanded the domain of freedom. Moreover, the
Proclamation announced the acceptance of black men into the Union Army and
Navy, enabling the liberated to become liberators. By the end of the war,
almost 200,000 black soldiers and sailors had fought for the Union and
freedom. From the first days of the Civil War, slaves had acted to secure
their own liberty. The Emancipation Proclamation confirmed their
insistence that the war for the Union must become a war for freedom. It
added moral force to the Union cause and strengthened the Union both
militarily and politically. As a milestone along the road to slavery's
final destruction, the Emancipation Proclamation has assumed a
place among the great documents of human freedom.
Exhibit History: "The Emancipation Proclamation,"
National Archives Rotunda, September 15, 1997, January 31-February 6,
1997, January 11-January 18, 1996, January 12-January 19, 1995, January
13-January 20, 1994, December 31, 1992-January 4, 1993. Museum of Our
National Heritage, Lexington, MA, September 1983-April 1984. Nelson
Gallery of Art, Kansas City, MO, May 14-May19, 1980. "The Written
Word Endures," National Archives Circular Gallery, May 1976-August
1979. Lyndon Baines Johnson Library, Austin, TX, December 1972-May 1973.
"Centenial Exhibition," National Archives, Washington, DC, 1963.
American Stamp Dealers Association, National Postage Stamp Show, New York,
NY, November 19-November 21, 1954. "Freedom Train," National
Archives, 1950. "Freedom Train," (traveling), September
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