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American Colonization Society

It was against the background of the public debate in the United States over efforts to halt the slave trade and repatriate recaptured blacks (commonly referred to as recaptives) that the American Colonization Society (ACS; formally, the American Society fin? Colonizing the Free People of Color in the United States) was founded in Washington, D.C., in December 1816. Its purt)clsc was to sponsor the settlement of "free persons of color" in Africa. The society, whose first president, Bushrod Washington, was an associate justice of the Supreme Court and the nephew of George Washington, counted among its founding members other such luminaries of the day as Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, and Francis Scott Key, as well as a number of eminent churchmen and philanthropists. It lead also enlisted, the support of the recently elected United States president, James Madison, and former president Thomas Jefferson. In association with church and other antislavery groups, the ACS lobbied effectively for legislation to suppress the slave trade that would have a direct impact on its ef forts to establish a colony of free American blacks in Africa.

The ACS was motivated by a variety ofconcerns. Some of its, white American supporters wished to correct tile injustices done to blacks through the institution of slavery in the United States. Others considered the existence in American society of free blacks threatening. The society's founders expressed the belief that blacks, who had been held in submission for two centuries in America, could best achieve their full potential in Africa, where they would thrive in an atmosphere of self?government. Some also emphasized the contribution that a community of black Christian settlers from the United States could male in extending missionary activity in Africa and in "civilizing" the indigenous population.

Colonization was specifically reserved for free persons, but organizers saw in the scheme a means, to bring about tile eventual emancipation of large numbers of slaves. It was argued, for instance, that southern slaveholders would be encouraged to be more liberal in granting man manumission if an outlet were made available for removing liberated blacks who were considered to constitute a threat to the prevailing economic and social system in the slave states. In 1820 there were already more than 200,000 free blacks and persons of mixed racial origin (then commonly called mulattoes) living in the South as well as in those states where slavery was illegal. In the latter, the settlement of free blacks in Africa was promoted by those who considered a multiracial society without strife impossible. Another problem addressed by the ACS was the well?being and disposition of Africans brought to the United States after having been rescued at sea from the slavers. The colonization movement therefore attracted supporters who, for a variety of reasons ranging from moral concern to self?interest, wished to reduce the number of blacks in the United States through emigration to Africa. In 1818 the ACS dispatched two agents to West Africa to seek out a suitable place for a settlement.

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