emancipation the collective freeing of a slave population in specific countries or colonial territories. The word is of Latin origin, meaning ‘to transfer ownership’. The freeing of slave populations in the Western hemisphere has usually been by issue of a legal decree, i.e. an ‘emancipation proclamation’. Britain abolished slavery in its empire in 1833, while in the US an emancipation proclamation was issued in 1862, but did not take effect until 1865, at the end of the Civil War.