Jump to content

Compensated emancipation

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Compensated emancipation was a method of ending slavery, under which the enslaved person's owner received compensation from the government in exchange for manumitting the slave. This could be monetary, and it could allow the owner to retain the slave for a period of labor as an indentured servant.[1] In practice, cash compensation rarely was equal to the slave's market value.

A number of countries (see "Other nations and empires" section below) enacted forms of compensated emancipation. In the United States, however, no nationwide compensation system was ever put in place. Only the District of Columbia, which was under federal control, used compensated emancipation as part of ending slavery in 1862.


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-slaveholding 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.

Historian Eric Foner wrote, "Even Haiti, where slavery died amid a violent revolution, agreed in 1824 to pay a large indemnity to former slaveholders in exchange for French recognition of its independence.... No one proposed to compensate slaves for their years of unrequited toil."[2] Compensation of slaveholders has been viewed as akin to compensating a thief for returning stolen property, or paying ransom to a kidnapper for releasing his victim, and therefore not so much compensation as a reward for committing what should be a crime.[3]

Transition away from slavery[edit]

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%[4]) 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.[1]

Emancipation via indentured servitude[edit]

To be sure, indentured servitude 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.[1]

United States[edit]

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 $9,000 in 2023) for each.[5]

The 13th amendment abolished slavery and involuntary servitude in the United States, except as a punishment for crime. It provided no compensation either to owners or to the formerly enslaved.

Other nations and empires[edit]

Nations and empires that implemented compensated emancipation:

Further reading[edit]

  • Araujo, Ana Lucia. 2017. "Reparations for Slavery and the Slave Trade: A Transnational and Comparative History", New York: Bloomsbury Academic. pp. 276.
  • Barragan, Yesenia. 2021. "Freedom's Captives: Slavery and Gradual Emancipation on the Colombian Black Pacific (Afro-Latin America)". Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/9781108935890
  • Cox, LaWanda, C. Fenlason. 1981, "Lincoln and Black Freedom: A Study in Presidential Leadership", Columbia: University of South Carolina Press.
  • Holloway, Kaly, March 23, 2020, "Since Emancipation, the United States Has Refused to Make Reparations for Slavery", The Nation.
  • Manjapra, Kris. June 17, 2022. "D.C.'s Enslavers Got Reparations. Freed People Got Nothing", Politico.
  • Manjapra, Kris. 2019. "The Scandal of the British Slavery Abolition Act Loan", Social and Economic Studies, 68(3/4), 165–184. JSTOR 45299245
  • McDowell, Evelyn, and Theresa Hammond. 2023. “A ‘Disguised Scheme for Compensated Emancipation’: Accounting for Gradual Abolition in Nineteenth Century New Jersey.” Accounting History, May, 1. doi:10.1177/10323732231174669

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Rodriguez, Junius P. (2007). Slavery in the United States: a social, political, and historical encyclopedia, ABC-CLIO, 2007, vol. 2, pp. 238-9. Bloomsbury Academic. ISBN 9781851095445. Archived from the original on 2019-12-26. Retrieved 2016-02-03.
  2. ^ Foner, Eric, The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery, W. W. Norton & Co., 2010, p. 15.
  3. ^ Condorcet, J. A. N. de Caritat, marquis de (1788). Réflexions sur l'esclavage des negres. Par M. Swartz [Condorcet's pseudonym], Pasteur du Saint Evangile a Bienne, Membre de la Société économique Nouvelle édition revue & corrigée. Neufchatel et Paris: Froullé.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  4. ^ 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.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  5. ^ "When Congress passed the DC Emancipation Act in April 1862, giving compensation to 'loyal' owners, Coakley [Gabriel Coakley, a leader of the black Catholic community in Washington] successfully petitioned for his wife and children, since he had purchased their freedom in earlier years. He was one of only a handful of black Washingtonians to make a claim like this. The federal government paid him $1489.20 for eight slaves that he 'owned' (he had claimed their value at $3,300)." White, Jonathan W., A House Built by Slaves: African American Visitors to the Lincoln White House, Rowman & Littlefield, 2022, p. 106.
  6. ^ a b c d Paul Finkelman, Macmillan Encyclopedia of World Slavery, 1998, vol. 2, p. 690
  7. ^ a b c d e f Barragan, Yesenia (2023-06-19). "Why Did Governments Compensate Slaveholders for Abolition? | Essay". Zócalo Public Square. Retrieved 2023-07-15.
  8. ^ Thomas Cleland Dawson, The South American Republics: Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, Brazil, 1903, pt I, p. 488
  9. ^ Araujo, Ana Lucia, (2017), Reparations for Slavery and the Slave Trade: A Transnational and Comparative History. New York, Bloomsbury Academic, pp. 75
  10. ^ a b c d Drescher, Seymour. (1988). Brazilian Abolition in Comparative Perspective. The Hispanic American Historical Review, 68(3), 429–460. doi:10.2307/2516515
  11. ^ See, for example, Kathleen Mary Butler, "The Economics of Emancipation: Jamaica and Barbados, 1823-1843", 1995.
  12. ^ Manjapra, Kris (2019). "The Scandal of the British Slavery Abolition Act Loan". Social and Economic Studies. 68 (3/4): 165–184. ISSN 0037-7651. JSTOR 45299245.
  13. ^ a b c d Fogel, Robert William; Engerman, Stanley L. (1974). "Philanthropy at Bargain Prices: Notes on the Economics of Gradual Emancipation". The Journal of Legal Studies. 3 (2): 377–401. ISSN 0047-2530. JSTOR 724019.
  14. ^ a b Araujo, Ana Lucia, (2017), Reparations for Slavery and the Slave Trade: A Transnational and Comparative History. New York, Bloomsbury Academic, pp. 72
  15. ^ Araujo, Ana Lucia, (2017), Reparations for Slavery and the Slave Trade: A Transnational and Comparative History. New York, Bloomsbury Academic, pp. 89
  16. ^ Laurent Dubois (2013), Haiti: The Aftershocks of History, New York:Picador. ISBN 1250002362
  17. ^ Olveda Legaspi, Jaime (June 2013). "La abolición de la esclavitud en México, 1810-1917". Signos históricos (in Spanish). 15 (29): 8–34. ISSN 1665-4420.
  18. ^ Cozart, Daniel (2017). "Afro-Peruvian Creoles: A social and political history of Afro-descended Peruvians in an era of nationalism and scientific racism". History Etds. Ph.D. dissertation, University of New Mexico.
  19. ^ Augustin Cochin, (trans. Mary L. Booth), The Results of Emancipation, 1864, p. 395
  20. ^ "Dozens of nations were involved in the slave trade. How should they compensate descendants?". NBC News. 2021-12-26. Retrieved 2023-07-10. Supporters of the financial claim also note that the British government took out significant loans in 1833 in order to pay 20 million pounds — at the time 40 percent of its entire national budget — to compensate slaveowners for the end of slavery in Britain's colonies. Due to the large amount of interest generated by the loan, the debt was not fully paid off by British taxpayers until 2015.
  21. ^ "Fact check: United Kingdom finished paying off debts to slave-owning families in 2015". USA TODAY. Retrieved 2023-07-10.
  22. ^ "The District of Columbia Emancipation Act". U.S. National Archives and Records Administration. 6 October 2015. Archived from the original on 2017-11-06. Retrieved 2017-11-01.
  23. ^ 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.