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Congressman Abraham Lincoln’s Draft of a Bill to Abolish Slavery in the District of Columbia, January 1849

As a junior congressman from Illinois, Lincoln drafted a bill to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia. His cautious proposal offered payment to slave owners and only emancipated children born after 1850. Lacking support for the bill, Lincoln abandoned it. In 1862, as president, he signed an act emancipating slaves in the nation’s capital.

Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

Congressman Abraham Lincoln’s Draft of a Bill to Abolish Slavery in the District of Columbia, January 1849

Abolishing Slavery - 1

By the mid-19th century, slavery became the most divisive issue Congress faced. While committed foremost to preserving the Union, Abraham Lincoln opposed the expansion of slavery. His plans for gradual emancipation, which recognized states’ rights and the economic ramifications of slavery, were not effective. It took a civil war and the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution in 1865 to bring slavery to an end.