colonization to africa -- 11/19/18

Today's selection -- from Waking Giant by David S. Reynolds. The colonization of blacks to Africa:

"At the nation's founding, ten of the thirteen states had allowed free blacks to vote. By the eve of the Civil War, only five of America's thirty states -- New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Maine, and Rhode Island -- did so, and these states contained a tiny fraction of the nation's total free black population. ...

"If free blacks increasingly lost the vote during Monroe's presidency, they also faced the threat of being relocated abroad. Monroe had long advocated colonization, or shipping free blacks to a colony on the west coast of Africa or elsewhere. Monroe was among a group of political leaders -- others included Henry Clay, Andrew Jackson, John Randolph, and William Crawford -- who met in Washington in January 1817 to found the American Colonization Society. The ACS consisted of two groups from opposite sides of the political spectrum: slave-owners who wanted to solidify slavery by ridding the country of free blacks, who, they feared, might incite slave revolts; and antislavery philanthropists and clergymen who saw colonization as a way of funneling off blacks once they were emancipated from slavery.

"Both groups assumed the blacks could not be successfully integrated into American society. One famous slave-owner, Henry Clay, said that because of 'unconquerable prejudice resulting from their color, [blacks] never could amalgamate with the free whites of this country." Another, John Randolph, called free blacks 'promoters of mischief.'

"A tenth of the two million blacks' then living in America were free persons of color. The prospect of shipping them to Africa was daunting, but the ACS eagerly pursued the goal. At Monroe's urging, Congress in 1819 gave $100,000 to the ACS. The next year, the society's first ship, carrying eighty-eight blacks and three whites, set sail for Sierra Leone. The deaths of the whites and many of the blacks during the voyage did not discourage Monroe, who sent another ship in 1821. In the next decade, over two thousand blacks were relocated to the newly formed Afri­can colony of Liberia, whose capital city was named Monrovia in honor of Monroe's contribution to the cause of colonization.

Paul Cuffee in 1812.

"Over time, the achievements of the ACS proved numerically insig­nificant. By the end of the Civil War, it had managed to deport only around thirteen thousand blacks, a small portion of the total black popu­lation during this period. But colonization had vast symbolic importance. As an idea, it had far greater acceptance among prominent Americans than did the radical abolitionism of William Lloyd Garrison. Among notables who endorsed some version of colonization (besides those al­ready mentioned) were Thomas Jefferson, Daniel Webster, John Mar­shall, Francis Scott Key, Catharine Beecher, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Henry David Thoreau, and Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln typified the anti­slavery side of colonization, which he promoted until the second year of the Civil War. He thought free blacks must be shipped abroad because he thought there was a physical difference between whites and blacks that forbade their enjoying equal rights in America. He explained, 'What I would most desire would be the separation of the black and white races.'

"Blacks were understandably ambivalent about colonization. Many, appalled by racism within the movement, insisted that free blacks should be integrated into American society. In 1817, just after the launching of the ACS, blacks in Philadelphia organized a large rally in support of a petition saying, 'We have no wish to separate for any purpose whatso­ever.' Similar demonstrations followed over the next two years.

"Some blacks, however, viewed colonization as a potential source of empowerment. In 1815 Paul Cuffee, a Quaker ship owner of black and Native American ancestry, had led a group of thirty-eight African Americans who relocated to Sierra Leone. Later black separatists such as Martin Delany, the Rev. Henry Highland Garnet, Alexander Crum­mell, and Henry McNeal Turner also endorsed colonization, envisaging an independent black state in a spirit anticipatory of Marcus Garvey's back-to-Africa movement in the twentieth century. Ironically, Liberia in fact resembled Southern slave society: It had a peonage system like slavery, it profited from the slave trade, and a number of its towns were named after places in the South such as Louisiana and Virginia. Also, racial and class prejudice tainted the relationship between mulattoes and pure blacks there. Still, Liberia remained a symbol of liberty for both black and white colonizationists in America."



David S. Reynolds


Waking Giant: America in the Age of Jackson


Harper Perennial


Copyright 2008 by David S. Reynolds


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