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.
April 16, 1862 – President Jefferson Davis signed a bill into law requiring all able-bodied white men between the ages of 18 and 35 to serve at least three years in the Confederate military. This was the first national draft in American history.
By this time, Federal forces were closing in on Richmond, New Orleans, and vital points along the Mississippi River and Atlantic coast. The Confederates had just lost thousands of men in the largest battle ever fought in America up to that time, and many men who had enlisted in the Confederate army for 12 months at the beginning of the war were about to go home.
All these factors led to a growing call for conscription, which had been intensely debated in the Confederate Congress. Opponents argued that it violated the same civil liberties southerners had seceded to uphold. Some claimed that forcing men into the army showed weakness by indicating that volunteerism alone was no longer enough to maintain the war effort.