–by Joanna Hallac

Today essentially marks two anniversaries: the first occurring in 1862 and the second in 1865, both of significance in our country’s history. On June 19, 1862, President Lincoln signed into law a bill that was passed by both the House and Senate that stated,

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That from and after the passage of this act there shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in any of the Territories of the United States now existing, or which may at any time hereafter be formed or acquired by the United States, otherwise than in punishment of crimes whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.”

This law would ban slavery in the existing and future federal territories of the United States, thus following the April 1862 emancipation of the slaves in the District of Columbia and preceding both the Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1863 and the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which was passed by Congress on January 31, 1865 and ratified on December 6, 1865.

On June 19, 1865, a declaration was made in Galveston, Texas by Union Army Major General Gordon Granger stating that “In accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.” Despite the fact that the Emancipation Proclamation had been issued two and half years earlier and the 13th Amendment was awaiting ratification by the states, it was a momentous occasion all the same. What has since been known as “Juneteenth,” this day marks the celebration of the end of slavery in the United States, which is certainly something to celebrate.

People celebrating Juneteenth in Austin, Texas on June 19, 1900 (Austin Public Library)

The history of slavery in the United States is one that will forever be a dark mark upon our country and is an issue which we have yet to fully come to terms with in a manner suitable to the horrors we inflicted upon millions of our brothers and sisters, most of whom were forced, generations earlier, to come to this land. We have come a considerable distance, however, in trying to stem this tide and the opening of the long-overdue Smithsonian Museum on African American History and Culture on the National Mall here in D.C. in 2015 will be another good step in the right direction.

Be sure to look for our post on Thursday, which will be a celebration of the Congressional Seersucker Caucus’s “Seersucker Thursday,” where members of both parties in both chambers of Congress show off their best seersucker suit every June–always a nice and welcome departure from the usual partisanship on the Hill.

Sources consulted:

Library of Congress