WASHINGTON – On the eve of the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln signing the Compensated Emancipation Act, which freed slaves in Washington, D.C., a celebration was held at his cottage.
Lincoln signed the bill on April 16, 1862, two days after it was sent to him. About 3,100 slaves were freed in the district. To make it happen, the federal government paid slave owners $300 for each slave they held.
The bill also came nine months before President Lincoln signed his famous Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, eventually leading to the end of slavery in the United States.
“This is one of the days that we should celebrate and commemorate, more than any other day in the District of Columbia,” said D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, who spoke on the front porch of the presidential cottage during the program.
The Honorable Frank Williams, a Lincoln scholar, says the president insisted on three tenets the bill should contain — a gradual emancipation, compensation for slave owners and a vote by the people. He settled on the compensation portion, the only tenet to make it into the bill, in signing the act for D.C.
Williams quoted Lincoln upon signing the bill:
“I have ever desired to see the nation’s capital freed from the institution in some satisfactory way.”
D.C Councilmember Vincent Orange was a key figure in making Emancipation Day an official holiday in the city.
“It’s a great time to be living to witness this history that we are achieving to see that America has come a long way,” Orange said.
The city will hold a parade Monday to commemorate the day, as well as a street festival and fireworks show.