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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

David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library


Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, a presidential proclamation and executive order, on September 22, 1862. The United States was in the midst of a civil war in which the southern states, which wanted to continue to enslave human beings, rebelled against the northern states. The proclamation stated that the enslaved people in any rebel state would be freed as of January 1, 1863.

You may not be familiar with the earlier Emancipation Act, passed on April 16, 1862, declaring the freedom of the enslaved people living in the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C. Analyzing the text of a speech given before the U.S. Congress by Edward Henry Rollins (1824-1889) will help you understand the arguments that abolitionists, those in favor of ending the institution of slavery, used to persuade their fellow citizens that slavery was unjust.


Learning Objectives

  • Characterize the abolitionists' arguments against the institution of slavery.
  • Analyze legal documents related to enslavement. 
  • Identify and explain the relationship between the values and rhetoric of the abolition movement and a contemporary social justice movement.