Compensated emancipation was a method of ending slavery in countries where slavery was legal. This involved the person who was recognized as the owner of a slave being compensated monetarily or by a period of labor (an 'apprenticeship') for releasing the slave.
The latter was chosen as a compromise between slavery and outright emancipation, the former slaves receiving a nominal salary, while still being bound in their labors for a period of time. This proved unpopular, as for the slaves it amounted to little more than continued mandatory servitude, while it placed an added burden of wages on the former owner.
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 for its colonies in 1833, followed by Denmark, France in 1848, 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 1861, President Lincoln drafted an act to be introduced before the legislature of Delaware, one of the four non-free states that remained loyal, for compensated emancipation. However this was narrowly defeated. Lincoln also was behind national legislation towards the same end, but the southern states, now in full rebellion, 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 government paying owners an average of about $300 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
- British Empire
- Danish colonies
- French colonial empire
- Mexico and Central America
- Spanish Empire
- United States (Washington, DC only)
- Abolitionism in France
- Abolitionism in the United Kingdom
- Abolitionism in the United States
- Slavery in the United States: a social, political, and historical encyclopedia, ABC-CLIO, 2007, vol. 2, pp. 238-9
- The others being Kentucky, Maryland, and Missouri
- 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, Volume 1; Volume 7 Junius P. Rodriguez ABC-CLIO, 1997 805 pages
- History of the United States from the compromise of 1850 James Ford Rhodes The Macmillan Company, 1899
- Buying freedom: the ethics and economics of slave redemption 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.
- Augustin Cochin, (trans. Mary L. Booth), The Results of Emancipation, 1864, p. 395