On April 16, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed a bill ending slavery in the District of Columbia. Passage of this act came
9 months before President Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation. The act 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 of up to $300 for each slave to loyal Unionist masters, 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
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