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The Emancipation Act and the Emancipation Proclamation

This learning module provides three primary documents for students to analyze, compare, and contrast: the Emancipation Act that freed enslaved people living in Washington, D.C.; Rep. Edward Henry Rollins' speech in support of the Emancipation Act; and th




Your instructor will break the class into pairs or small groups and ask that one person in each group serve as reporter.

Activity I: The Rhetoric of Social Justice

Review Congressman Rollins’ speech. Make a list of his arguments in favor of abolishing slavery in Washington, D.C.

  • Can you identify a current social movement that uses similar arguments to persuade people to support their cause?  
  • What are the similarities and differences between the abolitionist arguments and those of the current social movement you have identified

Discussion Questions

  • How did Rollins appeal to the “better angels” of his listeners?
  • Are these still effective arguments today?
  • What social justice movement(s) did you discuss?

Activity II: Compare the Emancipation Act and the Emancipation Proclamation

Return to the small groups. Review the District of Columbia Emancipation Act and the Emancipation Proclamation.

  • Are financial resources pledged to facilitate the goal of freeing enslaved people? If so, how will the money be used?
  • Do you notice any of the ideas expressed by Representative Rollins in the text of the Emancipation Act and/or the Emancipation Proclamation?
  • If you could travel back in time to advise President Lincoln, what provisions would you recommend that he add to these documents?

Discussion Questions

  • What surprised you about the differences between the two documents?
  • What was left out?
  • What questions about abolition and emancipation would you like to explore further?

Developed By:

Elizabeth Dunn

Research Services Librarian