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Abraham Lincoln’s draft message to Congress on D.C. Emancipation, Wednesday, April 16, 1862

President Abraham Lincoln expressed his confidence in Congress’s constitutional authority to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia.  He had supported a plan for compensated emancipation in the nation’s capital since his time as a member of Congress in the late 1840s. This draft of his presidential message is in the handwriting of his private secretary, John Nicolay.

Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

Abraham Lincoln’s draft message to Congress on D.C. Emancipation, Wednesday, April 16, 1862 Abraham Lincoln’s draft message to Congress on D.C. Emancipation, Wednesday, April 16, 1862

The D.C. Emancipation Act

Although the Compromise of 1850 prohibited the slave trade in Washington, D.C., slavery in the nation’s capital remained legal until Congress passed the District of Columbia Emancipation Act in 1862. The act abolished all slavery in the District, provided financial compensation to former slave owners, offered emancipated individuals opportunities to move to colonies abroad, and protected freedmen from future enslavement. Congress finally ended all slavery in the United States with passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, ratified in 1865.