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04-16   Print  E-mail
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In 1849, Illinois Congressman Abraham Lincoln attempted to introduce a bill for gradual emancipation of all slaves in the District. Although the District's slave trade ended the following year, his emancipation attempt was aborted by Senator John C. Calhoun and others.

As president, Lincoln was better able to effect the issue. He saw slavery as morally wrong yet held it to be an institution dying under its own weight, to be abolished by voter consent. But, as commander in chief, Lincoln also realized the military expediency of emancipation. He abolished slavery in the Capital five months prior to issuing his preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. The law he signed eventually provided District slave holders compensation for 2,989 slaves.

Twenty-one years later, on April 16, 1883, Frederick Douglass spoke at a commemoration of abolition in the District. He called attention to African Americans' continued struggle for civil rights:

It is easy to break forth in joy and thanksgiving for Emancipation in the District of Columbia, to call up the noble sentiments and the starting events which made that measure possible. It is easy to trace the footsteps of the [N]egro in the past, marked as they are all the way along with blood. But the present occasion calls for something more. How stands the [N]egro to-day?

Address by Hon. Frederick Douglass, delivered in the Congregational Church, Washington, D.C., April 21, 1883.
African American Perspectives, 1818-1907.


 

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