DC Emancipation Act Featured on National Archives Web Site
Press Release · Tuesday, February 26, 2002

College Park, MD

April 16, 2002 marks the 140th anniversary of the signing of the bill by President Abraham Lincoln that ended slavery in the District of Columbia. The original Act which is housed at the National Archives College Park facility, is featured on the National Archives web site: The site also includes the text of the Act and related information.

The passage of the District of Columbia Emancipation Act came nine months before President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation and 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 9 months, the federal government paid almost $1 million for the freedom of approximately 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.

For additional PRESS information, please contact the National Archives Public Affairs staff at (301) 837-1700 or by e-mail. Visit the National Archives Home Page on the World Wide Web at


This page was last reviewed on August 16, 2018.
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