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.
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