When Emancipation came to Washington D.C. the slaveowners were paid reparations.

Slavery in Washington, D.C.

When Emancipation came to Washington D.C. the slaveowners were paid reparations.

It’s true.

What could be more – what? – ironic, given the current debate over reparations for the decendents of American enslavement?

On April 16, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed a bill emancipating enslaved people in Washington. But to ease slaveowners’ pain, the District of Columbia paid those loyal to the Union up to $300 for every enslaved person freed.

Slaveowners got reparations. Enslaved African-Americans got nothing for generations of slave labor.

Lincoln’s actions were important to the war effort because it was the first time that the federal government authorized abolition of slavery, predating the Emancipation Proclamation which we now celebrate as a national holiday on Juneteenth.

Lincoln hoped the freeing slaves in Washington offered concrete proof to the enslaved people in the Confederacy and those in the North that the Union was actually serious that the war was a fight for an end to the system of slavery and not just to preserve the Union.

But even Lincoln thought the slaveowners should be compensated for the loss of property. No matter that the property were human beings.

Not everyone thought paying reparations to slaveowners was a good idea.

 “If compensation is to be given at all,” the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison said at the National Anti-Slavery Convention in Philadelphia in 1833, “it should be given to the outraged and guiltless slaves, and not to those who have plundered and abused them.”

In the United Kingdom, there was a similar story of reparations.

In 1833, Britain used 40% of its national budget to buy freedom for all slaves in the Empire.

The final cost of reparations to the slave owners wasn’t paid off until 2015.

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