April 10, 1862 – President Abraham Lincoln signed a joint congressional resolution pledging Federal compensation to states that implemented programs to free slaves.
Lincoln had asked Congress to endorse his plan by which the loyal slave states (Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri, as well as western Virginia) would receive “pecuniary aid” if they voluntarily agreed to plans for gradual emancipation. The states would then use the funds however they saw fit, including to pay for freed slaves’ job training, education, welfare, or deportation; or to compensate slaveholders for their loss of labor and property.
Since the Federal government had no right to regulate slavery within the states, this measure sought to encourage the slave states with money to decide on a process to end the institution themselves. Lincoln had implicitly warned the political leaders of these states that if they did not accept this Federal offer, wartime exigencies could someday force him to free slaves involuntarily and without compensation.
The Republican press in the northern states overwhelmingly supported this resolution. An article in the New York Tribune declared, “This message constitutes of itself an epoch in the history of our country. It is the day-star of a new National dawn.” However, the more moderate New York Times questioned the large costs of such a program.
Some Radical Republicans in Congress argued that this plan was too lenient toward slaveholders. Abolitionists contended that bribing states to end slavery was immoral. Constitutionalists asserted that paying slave states to end slavery upset the Federal requirement to deal with all states equally, as the slave states would receive special treatment at the expense of the free states.
In the end, the resolution was approved by a vote of 88 to 31 in the House of Representatives, and 32 to 10 in the Senate. It was rejected by 85 percent of the Democrats and slave-state Unionists in Congress. This discouraged Lincoln because it demonstrated no change in their stance against it since he had met with the slave state congressmen in March. Moreover, this resolution was never enforced because none of the slave states would voluntarily end slavery.
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