When President Abraham Lincoln signed the bill emancipating enslaved people on April 16, 1862, he also put into effect the District of Columbia Emancipation Act that promised to pay the union up to $300 for every enslaved person freed.
“That’s right, slaveowners got reparations. Enslaved African Americans got nothing for their generations of stolen bodies, snatched children and expropriated labor other than their mere release from legal bondage,” New York Times reported.
Lincoln hoped to preserve his shaky alliance with slaveholders. The payments to the union outraged abolitionists. William Lloyd Garrison said, “If compensation is to be given at all, it should be given to the outraged and guiltless slaves, and not to those who have plundered and abused them.”
Moderate antislavery advocates like Lincoln disagreed. They believed that “any manumission plan had to placate property rights that were buttressed by the Fifth Amendment, which required ‘just compensation’ for government seizure of private assets.”
The board analyzed more than 1,000 slaveholders’ petitions to claim more than 3,000 enslaved people, and a majority of the petitioners received the full amount allowed. The largest was $18,000 for 69 slaves.
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