Emancipation in the District of Columbia

by Donna M. Wells

     April 16th marks the 138th anniversary of the emancipation in Washington, D.C. On that day in 1862, nine months before he issued the Emancipation Act, President Abraham Lincoln signed the bill which ended slavery in Washington. The District of Columbia Emancipation Act provided for the immediate emancipation of approximately 3,100 slaves, compensation of up to $300 for each slave to loyal Unionist masters, voluntary colonization of former slaves to colonies outside the United States, and payments of up to $100 to each person choosing emigration. Washington, D.C. is the only example of compensated emancipation in the United States. Below is a hand-colored drawing of the emancipation celebration in Washington on April 19, 1866 from Harper’s Weekly. To view the accompanying text in Harper’s Weekly, click here.

To view the District of Columbia Emancipation Act visit the National Archives and Records Administration website at:  http://www.nara.gov/exhall/featured-document/dcact/dcproc.html


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 Celebration of the Abolition of Slavery in the District of Columbia by the Colored People, in Washington, April 19, 1862,
sketched by F. Dielman. In Harper’s Weekly, May 12, 1866.
Prints & Photographs Department, Manuscript Division,
Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Howard University


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February 2000