Civil War Washington, DC: Looking for Emancipation in the Shadow of Liberty Written by Jen J., Museum Educator 4/6/12
April marks the sesquicentennial of the passage of the District of Columbia Compensated Emancipation Act. Abraham Lincoln passed the law on April 16, 1862 nine months before he issued the Emancipation Proclamation. The Act freed 3,100 slaves in the District of Columbia and represents the federal government’s first attempt to free individuals enslaved in the United States.
Many Americans are unfamiliar with the Capital’s long history of slavery and quests for emancipation. Most envision Washington, DC as the seat American democracy and the spiritual embodiment of the Nation’s founding ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Yet, as historian John Hope Franklin stated, for almost a century Washington, DC was "the very seat and center of the slave trade."
Since the federal district’s creation in 1790, slavery and the slave trade flourished in the Capital. The city’s geographic location along the Potomac River made the sale and shipment of slaves relatively easy and extremely profitable. As a result, pens for holding the enslaved were common sights throughout the district and were visible from the Capitol and the White House. In addition, slaves were commonly seen working on docks and in hotels, homes, and restaurants.
The Compensated Emancipation Act ended this firmly rooted system of slavery in Washington, DC. The Act would ultimately affect the Civil War, alter Washington, D.C. society, and influence abolitionists’ quests for freedom throughout the United States. The Act’s success demonstrated that emancipation was something that could become a reality.
Tuesday, April 10, 2012
Save the Date: Monday, April 16th
Monday, April 16th is Emancipation Day in the District. DC residents who were enslaved were the first freed by the federal government on this date in 1862, nine months earlier than the rest of the country. Many interesting events have been organized to commemorate the 150th anniversary of this great day, including Northwestern University History Professor Kate Masur's talk "Runaway Slaves and the Origins of Emancipation in Washington, DC" at 4pm on Thursday at GWU's Gelman Library. Her talk promises to be fascinating. Here is some interesting information below from H-DC: