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State and Federal Efforts to End Slavery

State and Federal Efforts to End Slavery

Several states abolished slavery long before the famous Emancipation Proclamation came into effect on January 1, 1863. States' efforts to end slavery began in 1774 when a slave won a jury verdict in the Essex, Massachusetts Superior Court of Commons, declaring that his master (named Caleb Dodge) was restraining his liberty. In setting him free, the jury ruled that there was "no law of the Province to hold a man to serve for life." In 1783, although public opinion had opposed slavery for more than 30 years, the case of Quock Walker finally abolished slavery in Massachusetts.  Other states used legislative enactments to end slavery. In 1777, slavery was abolished by constitutional provision in Vermont. Pennsylvania abolished slavery by statute in 1780; Rhode Island and Connecticut followed in 1784. In 1799, the New York legislature passed a bill that gradually eliminated the system of slavery. As a result of this act, all male children born to slave mothers after July 4, 1799, were to be freed at the age of 28 and all female children at the age of 25. In 1802, the new Ohio State Constitution abolished slavery. Two years later slavery was abolished in New Jersey. The state of Indiana followed this example in 1816, and in 1857, slavery was abolished in New Hampshire. 

Federal efforts to end slavery also started prior to the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation. On March 2, 1807, a law prohibiting the African slave trade was passed in Congress.  In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation stated:

". . . all persons held as slaves within any State, or designated part of the State, the people whereof shall be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever, free."