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Compensated emancipation was a method of ending slavery, under which the enslaved person's owner received compensation in exchange for manumitting them. This could be monetary, or it could be a period of labor, an indenture. Cash compensation rarely was equal to the slave's market value.
An indenture was seen as a compromise between slavery and outright emancipation, an intermediate step. However, a characteristic of compensated emancipation was that no one was very happy with it. Owners complained that their compensation was small compared with their loss; they were paid less, often much less, than what the slaveowner could have sold the enslaved person for (the market value). Governments and non-slaveowning citizens complained about the financial burden of compensating the owners, while for the formerly enslaved it seemed ludicrous that those who had all along benefited from slavery should now receive additional compensation, while its victims received no compensation whatsoever.
To be sure, the indentures system represented for the formerly enslaved an improvement over slavery itself; those indentured could not be forcibly relocated, children and other family members could not be taken away by force, and they could no longer be whipped or raped. However, they were still not free.
Transition away from slavery
Compensated emancipation was typically enacted as part of an act that outlawed slavery outright or established a scheme whereby slavery would eventually be phased out. It frequently was accompanied or preceded by laws which approached gradual emancipation by granting freedom to those born to slaves after a given date. Among the European powers, slavery was primarily an issue with their overseas colonies. The British Empire enacted a policy of compensated emancipation (about 40%) for its colonies in 1833, followed by France in 1848, Denmark, in 1849, and the Netherlands in 1863. Most South American and Caribbean nations emancipated slavery through compensated schemes in the 1850s and 1860s, while Brazil passed a plan for gradual, compensated emancipation in 1871, and Cuba followed in 1880 after having enacted freedom at birth a decade earlier.
In the United States, the regulation of slavery was predominantly a state function. Northern states followed a course of gradual emancipation. During the Civil War, in November 1861, President Lincoln drafted an act to be introduced before the legislature of Delaware, one of the four non-free states that remained loyal (the others being Kentucky, Maryland, and Missouri), for compensated emancipation. However this was narrowly defeated. Lincoln also was behind national legislation towards the same end, but the Southern states, which regarded themselves as having seceded from the Union, ignored the proposals.
Only in the District of Columbia, which fell under direct Federal auspices, was compensated emancipation enacted. On April 16, 1862, President Lincoln signed the District of Columbia Compensated Emancipation Act. This law prohibited slavery in the District, forcing its 900-odd slaveholders to free their slaves, with the federal government paying owners an average of about $300 (equivalent to $8,000 in 2019) for each. In 1863, state legislation towards compensated emancipation in Maryland failed to pass, as did an attempt to include it in a newly written Missouri constitution.
Nations and empires that ended slavery through some form of compensated emancipation
- Bolivia
- British Empire
- Chile
- Danish colonies
- Ecuador
- Kingdom of France, 1315, see Louis X
- French colonial empire
- Mexico and Central America
- Spanish Empire
- Uruguay
- United Kingdom
- United States (District of Columbia only)
- Abolitionism in France
- Abolitionism in the United Kingdom
- Abolitionism in the United States
- Reparations for slavery (proposed payments to former slaves and their descendants)
- Rodriguez, Junius P. (2007). Slavery in the United States: a social, political, and historical encyclopedia, ABC-CLIO, 2007, vol. 2, pp. 238-9. ISBN 9781851095445. Archived from the original on 2019-12-26. Retrieved 2016-02-03.
- Shannon, James (1855). An address delivered before the Pro-slavery convention of the state of Missouri, held in Lexington, July 13, 1855, on domestic slavery, as examined in the light of Scripture, of natural rights, of civil government, and the constitutional power of Congress. St. Louis. p. 20.
- Abraham Lincoln, "Drafts of a Bill for Compensated Emancipation in Delaware," in Roy P. Basler (editor) The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, vol. 5 (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1953): p. 29-31.
- David Goldfield, America Aflame: How the Civil War Created a Nation, 2011, p. 248
- William MacDonald, ed., Select Statutes and other Documents Illustrative of the History of the United States, 1861-1898, 1903, p. 34
- The Historical Encyclopedia of World Slavery Archived 2020-01-01 at the Wayback Machine. Volume 1; Volume 7 Junius P. Rodriguez ABC-CLIO, 1997 805 pages
- History of the United States from the Compromise of 1850 Archived 2019-12-29 at the Wayback Machine. James Ford Rhodes, The Macmillan Company, 1899
- Buying Freedom: The Ethics and Economics of Slave Redemption Archived 2019-12-28 at the Wayback Machine. Anthony Appiah, Martin Bunzl Princeton University Press, 2007
- Paul Finkleman, Macmillan Encyclopedia of World Slavery, 1998, vol. 2, p. 690
- Thomas Cleland Dawson, The South American Republics: Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, Brazil, 1903, pt I, p. 488
- See, for example, Kathleen Mary Butler, "The Economics of Emancipation: Jamaica and Barbados, 1823-1843", 1995.
- Cozart, Daniel (2017). Afro-Peruvian Creoles: A social and political history of Afro-descended Peruvians in an era of nationalism and scientific racism. Ph.D. dissertation, University of New Mexico.
- Augustin Cochin, (trans. Mary L. Booth), The Results of Emancipation, 1864, p. 395
- "The District of Columbia Emancipation Act". U.S. National Archives and Records Administration. Archived from the original on 2017-11-06. Retrieved 2017-11-01.
- Booth, Jon; Stephens, RL II (September 3, 2015). "Were US Slave Owners Really Paid $300 Per Slave?". Orchestrated Pulse. Archived from the original on November 7, 2017. Retrieved 2017-11-01.