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John Randolph, one of the three founders of the ACS
Henry Clay, one of the three founders of the ACS

The American Colonization Society (in full, The Society for the Colonization of Free People of Color of America) was an organisation that founded Liberia, a colony on the coast of West Africa, in 1822 and transported free blacks there from the United States. Some say it was a racist society, while others point to its benevolent origins and later takeover by men with visions of an American empire in Africa. The Society closely controlled the development of Liberia until 1847, when it was declared to be an independent republic. By 1867, the ACS had assisted in the movement of more than 13,000 Americans to Liberia. The organization was formally dissolved in 1964.[1]

The society was supported by Southerners fearful of organized revolt by free blacks, by Northerners concerned that an influx of black workers would hurt the economic opportunities of indigent white, by some who opposed slavery but did not favor integration, and by many blacks who saw a return to Africa as the best solution to their troubles.

Contents

History

The ACS had its origins in 1816, when Charles Fenton Mercer, a Federalist member of the Virginia state assembly, discovered accounts of earlier legislative debates on black colonization helped in the wake of Gabriel's conspiracy. Mercer pushed the state to support the idea, and one of his political contacts in Washington City, John Caldwell, in turn contacted his brother-in-law, a Presbyterian minister, the Reverend Robert Finley, who endorsed the scheme.

The American Colonization Society was established in Washington at the Davis Hotel on December 21, 1816. Among the delegates attending were Henry Clay, John Randolph of Roanoke, Richard Bland Lee, and the Rev. Robert Finley; colonization mastermind Charles Fenton Mercer remained a member of the Virginia legislature and was unable to be in Washington. Although the eccentric Randolph believed that the removal of free blacks would "materially tend to secure" slave property, the vast majority of early members were philanthropists, clergy and abolitionists who wanted to free African slaves and their descendants and provide them with the opportunity to return to Africa. Very few members were slave owners who feared free people of color and wanted to expel them from America, and in fact the Society never enjoyed much support among planters in the Lower South.

Despite being antislavery, Society members were openly racist and frequently argued that free blacks would be unable to assimilate into the white society of this country. John Randolph, one famous slave owner, called free blacks "promoters of mischief." At this time, about 2 million African Americans lived in America of which 200,000 were free persons of color. Henry Clay, a congressman from Kentucky who was critical of the negative impact slavery had on the southern economy, believed that because of "unconquerable prejudice resulting from their color, they never could amalgamate with the free whites of this country."

Finley suggested at the inaugural meeting of an African Society that a colony be established in Africa to take free people of color, most of whom had been born free, away from the United States. Rev. Finley meant to colonize "(with their consent) the free people of color residing in our country, in Africa, or such other place as Congress may deem most expedient." The organization established branches throughout the United States. It was instrumental in the establishment of the colony of Liberia.

During the next three years, the society raised money by selling membership. The Society's members relentlessly pressured Congress and the President for support. In 1819, they received $100,000 from Congress and in January 1820 the first ship, the Elizabeth, sail from New York headed for West Africa with three white ACS agents and 88 emigrants.

The ACS purchased the freedom of American slaves and paid their passage to Liberia. Emigration was offered to already-free black people. For many years the ACS tried to persuade the United States Congress to appropriate funds to send colonists to Liberia. Although Henry Clay led the campaign, it failed. The society did, however, succeed in its appeals to some state legislatures. In 1850, Virginia set aside $30,000 annually for five years to aid and support emigration. In its Thirty-Fourth Annual Report, the society acclaimed the news as "a great Moral demonstration of the propriety and necessity of state action!" During the 1850s, the society also received several thousand dollars from the New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Missouri, and Maryland legislatures.

The Society controlled the colony of Liberia until 1847 when, under the perception that the British might annex the settlement, Liberia was proclaimed a free and independent state, and provided with a constitution that was said to be fashioned after the American model. By 1867 the Society had sent more than 13,000 emigrants. After the Civil War, when many blacks wanted to go to Liberia, financial support for colonization had waned. During its later years the society focused on educational and missionary efforts in Liberia rather than further emigration.

Preparation of colony

Jehudi Ashmun, an early leader of the American Colonization Society colony, envisioned an American empire in Africa. During 1825 and 1826, Ashmun took steps to lease, annex, or buy tribal lands along the coast and along major rivers leading inland. Like his predecessor Lt. Robert Stockton, who in 1821 established the site for Monrovia by "persuading" a local chief referred to as "King Peter" to sell Cape Montserado (or Mesurado) by pointing a pistol at his head, Ashmun was prepared to use force to extend the colony's territory. His aggressive actions quickly increased Liberia's power over its neighbors. In a treaty of May 1825 deposited by the ACS in the U.S. Library of Congress, King Peter and other native kings agreed to sell land in return for 500 bars of tobacco, three barrels of rum, five casks of powder, five umbrellas, ten iron posts, and ten pairs of shoes, among other items.

First colony

The ship arrived first at Freetown, Sierra Leone then sailed south to what is now the Northern coast of Liberia and made an effort to establish a settlement. All three whites and 22 of the emigrants died within three weeks from yellow fever. The remainders returned to Sierra Leone and waited for another ship. The Nautilus sailed twice in 1821 and established a settlement at Mesurado Bay on an island they named Perseverance. It was difficult for the early settlers, made of mostly free-born blacks, who were not born into slavery, but were denied the full rights of American citizenship. The native Africans resisted the expansion of the settlers resulting in many armed conflicts. Nevertheless, in the next decade 2,638 African-Americans migrated to the area. Also, the colony entered an agreement with the U.S. Government to accept freed slaves captured from slave ships.

Expansion and growth of the colony

During the next 20 years the colony continued to grow and establish economic stability. Since the establishment of the colony, the ACS employed white agents to govern the colony. In 1842, Joseph Jenkins Roberts became the first non-white governor of Liberia. In 1847, the legislature of Liberia declared itself an independent state, with J.J. Roberts elected as its first President.

The society in Liberia developed into three segments: The settlers with European-African lineage; freed slaves from slave ships and the West Indies; and indigenous native people. These groups would have a profound affect on the history of Liberia.

African Repository and Colonial Journal

In March 1825, the ACS began a quarterly, The African Repository and Colonial Journal, edited by Rev. Ralph Randolph Gurley (1797-1872), who headed the Society until 1844. Conceived as the Society's propaganda organ, the Repository promoted both colonization and Liberia. Among the items printed were articles about Africa, letters of praise, official dispatches stressing the prosperity and steady growth of the colony, information about emigrants, and lists of donors.

Lincoln and the ACS

Since the 1840s Lincoln, an admirer of Clay, had been an advocate of the ACS program of colonizing blacks in Liberia. In an 1854 speech in Illinois, he points out the immense difficulties of such a task are an obstacle to finding an easy way to quickly end slavery.[1]

Early in his presidency, Abraham Lincoln tried repeatedly to arrange resettlements of the kind the ACS supported, but each arrangement failed (See Abraham Lincoln on slavery). By 1863, most scholars believe that Lincoln abandoned the idea following the use of black troops. Biographer Stephen B. Oates has observed, Lincoln thought it immoral to ask black soldiers to fight for the United States and then remove them to Africa after their military service. Others, like Michael Lind, believe that as late 1864 or 1865 Lincoln continued to hold out hope for colonization, noting that he allegedly asked Attorney general Edward Bates if the Reverend James Mitchell could stay on as "your assistant or aid in the matter of executing the several acts of Congress relating to the emigration or colonizing of the freed Blacks." General Benjamin F. Butler claimed that only two weeks before he died Lincoln had asked him to investigate the possibility of colonizing colored troops to Panama in order to build a canal because Lincoln feared that they might initiate a "race war" after the Civil War ended.[citation needed]. In his second term as president, on April 11, 1865, Lincoln gave a speech supporting suffrage for blacks.

Criticism and Decline of the ACS

Beginning in the 1830s, the society was harshly attacked by some abolitionists, who tried to discredit colonization as a slaveholders' scheme and the American Colonization Society as merely palliative propaganda for the continuation of slavery in the United States. The presidents of the ACS tended to be Southerners. The first president of the ACS was the nephew of former U.S. President George Washington, Bushrod Washington, an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court. Statesman Henry Clay of Kentucky was ACS president from 1836 to 1849.

Lemuel Haynes, a free black Presbyterian minister at the time of the Society's formation, argued passionately that God's providential plan would eventually defeat slavery and lead to the harmonious integration of the races as equals.

Three of the reasons the movement never became very successful were the objections raised by blacks and abolitionists, the enormous scale of the task of moving so many people (there were 4 million free blacks in the USA after the Civil War), and the difficulty in finding locations willing to accept large numbers of black newcomers.

Library of Congress

In 1913 and again at its formal dissolution in 1964, the Society donated its records to the U.S. Library of Congress. The material contains a wealth of information about the foundation of the society, its role in establishing Liberia, efforts to manage and defend the colony, fund-raising, recruitment of settlers, conditions for black citizens of the American South, and the way in which black settlers built and led the new nation.

See also

Sources

  • Allen, Richard, "Freedom's prophet", NYU Press, New York, 2008.
  • Barton, Seth, "Remarks on the colonization of the western coast of Africa", Cornell University Library, 1850.
  • Boley, G.E. Saigbe, "Liberia: The Rise and Fall of the First Republic", Macmillan Publishers, London, 1983.
  • Burin, Eric. Slavery and the Peculiar Solution: A History of the American Colonization Society. University Press of Florida, 2005.
  • Cassell, Dr. C. Abayomi, "Liberia: History of the First African Republic", Fountainhead Publishers Inc., New York, 1970.
  • Egerton, Douglas R. Charles Fenton Mercer and the Trial of National Conservatism. University Press of Mississippi, 1989.
  • Jenkins, David, "Black Zion: The Return of Afro-Americans and West Indians to Africa", Wildwood House, London, 1975.
  • Johnson, Charles S., "Bitter Canaan: The Story of the Negro Republic", Transaction Books, New Brunswick, NJ, 1987.
  • Liebenow, J. Gus, "Liberia: The Evolution of Privilege", Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY, 1969.
  • Miller, Floyd J., "The Search for a Black Nationality: Black Emigration and Colonization, 1787–1863", University of Illinois Press, Urbana, Illinois, 1975.
  • West, Richard, "Back to Africa", Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, Inc., New York, 1970.
  • Yarema, Allan E., "American Colonization Society: an avenue to freedom?", University Press of America, 2006.

References

 This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the Library of Congress.

  1. ^ http://academic.udayton.edu/race/02rights/slave07.htm#Free%20them

External links

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