The American Colonization Society (ACS) was formed in 1817 to send free African-Americans to Africa as an alternative to emancipation in the United States. The majority of members, however, were not interested in liberating additional slaves. In fact, they felt that free African Americans “exhibit few characteristics to encourage hopes of their improvement in this country. Loosed from the restraints of slavery, they utterly neglect, or miserably abuse the blessings which liberty would confer”.
In 1822, the society established on the west coast of Africa a colony that in 1847 became the independent nation of Liberia. Beginning in the 1830s, the society was harshly attacked by abolitionists, who tried to discredit colonization as a slaveholder's scheme. In 1850, Virginia set aside $30,000 annually for five years to aid and support emigration. By 1867, the society had sent more than 13,000 emigrants.
From the start, colonization of free blacks in Africa was an issue on which both whites and blacks were divided. Some blacks supported emigration because they thought that black Americans would never receive justice in the United States. Others believed African-Americans should remain in the United States to fight against slavery and for full legal rights as American citizens. Some whites saw colonization as a way of ridding the nation of blacks, while others believed black Americans would be happier in Africa, where they could live free of racial discrimination. Still others believed black American colonists could play a central role in Christianizing and civilizing Africa.
The American Anti-Slavery Society charged that colonization “widens the breach between the two races; exposes the colored people to great practical persecution . . . and . . . is calculated to swallow up and divert that feeling . . . that slavery is alike incompatible with the law of God and with the well being of man”.
In 1854, Lincoln addressed his own solution to slavery at a speech delivered in Peoria, Illinois: “I should not know what to do as to the existing institution [of slavery]. My first impulse would be to free all the slaves, and send them to Liberia, to their own native land.” While Lincoln acknowledged this was logistically impossible, by the time he assumed the Presidency and a Civil War was underfoot, the nation was in such duress that he tried it anyway. when addressing Congress in December 1862, he asked lawmakers to offer funding. "I cannot make it better known than it already is that I strongly favor colonization," he said.
In April 1862, Lincoln was still of the mind that emancipation and deportation was the key to a peaceful United States. He supported a bill in Congress that provided money “to be expended under the direction of the President of the United States, to aid in the colonization and settlement of such free persons of African descent now residing in said District, including those to be liberated by this act, as may desire to emigrate to the Republic of Haiti or Liberia, or such other country beyond the limits of the United States as the President may determine.”
Lincoln had long favored the "colonization" option, though as a voluntary option rather than a mandated removal. But the Emancipation Proclamation of Jan. 1, 1863, rendered even that voluntary option effectively dead. Lincoln never spoke publicly of colonization after issuing the proclamation, and apparently did little behind the scenes to advance the idea after that date. By 1863, realizing Liberia, Haiti, and the Chiriqui lands were not reasonable for resettlement (Liberia was considered too great a distance to relocate a large number of freed slaves), Lincoln mentioned moving the “whole colored race of the slave states into Texas.” Four days before his death, speaking to Gen. Benjamin Butler, Lincoln still pressed on with deportation as the only peaceable solution to America’s race problem. “I can hardly believe that the South and North can live in peace, unless we can get rid of the negroes … I believe that it would be better to export them all to some fertile country…”
The postwar period saw attempts by US political leaders, including Seward, to resettle freed slaves abroad in either Mexico or Brazil, but the governments of those countries dissuaded Seward from these efforts. Seward had very little faith in the various projects of colonization. He thought that the bulk of the frecdmen would prefer to remain in the United States, and that their labor would be needed there. For those who might prefer to emigrate to regions where their race could have independence and control, he thought that Liberia and Hayti already offered fields.
However, Brazil, where slavery remained legal until 1888, did become a magnet for disaffected Confederates angered by the end of slavery in the United States. Between 3,000 and 20,000 former Confederates resettled in Brazil, although a considerable number returned to the United States. However, William Lidgerwood, the U.S. Chargé d’Affaires in Brazil, recommended that passports be denied for those who had renounced US citizenship. By doing so, Lidgerwood created a class of stateless people, because some former Confederates had renounced their Brazilian citizenship in order to return to the United States. Although many former Confederates were eventually able to return, some remained in Brazil and continued to advocate the proslavery cause.
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