Saturday, April 27, 2013

Confederate "Heritage" Month, April 27: Colonization and Republican Abolitionism

Historian William Freehling in his two volumes on The Road to Disunion (Vol 1: Secessionists at Bay, 1776-1854 [1990] and Secessionists Triumphant 1854-1861 [2007]) provides some highly informative discussion of interaction among white racism, slavery and Abolitionism. In my last post, I discussed the American Colonization Society, which many white Abolitionists supported but nevertheless promoted and pandered to white hostility toward blacks.

In Secessionists Triumphant, Freehling describes how the new Republican Party founded in 1854 used an advocacy of colonization, i.e., resettling of blacks from the US to Africa, to widen the appeal of their opposition to slavery:

The colonization strategy also helped distinguish radical abolitionists from moderate Republicans. Garrisonian antislavery campaigns assaulted colonizationists as vehemently as slaveholders. These radicals called expelling blacks as repulsive as enslaving the unfortunates.

By embracing supposedly repulsive colonization, Republicans completed the task of drawing the fangs from antislavery radicalism, yet still claiming its moral glory. They sought ultimate freedom from slaveholders for blacks - but immediate freedom from the Slave Power for whites. They favored emancipation in the South-but only if Southerners became the emancipators. They would lure southern emancipators - but only with federal patronage. They would help allay southern racism - but only with freedmen's federal tickets to Africa. [my emphasis](p. 103)
He notes that "Southern ultras" also opposed colonization because they worried about its potential to undermine slavery. "If the general welfare required blacks to be removed, couldn't the general government free more blacks to remove?" is how Freehling summarizes their argument.

Henry Clay (1777-1852), prominent supporter of the American Colonization Society

Henry Clay, known as the Great Compromiser, was a prominent supporter of the American Colonization Society. He explained his support for sending free blacks to African this way: "Of all classes of our population, the most vicious is that of the free colored people. Contaminated themselves, they extend their vices to all around them. They are the most corrupt, abandoned, and depraved." (Quoted by Henry Wilson in History of The Rise and Fall of The Slave Power in America, Vol 1 []1872)

Samuel Eliot Morison, Henry Steele Commager and William Leutchtenburg in A Concise History of the American Republic (1977) briefly recount the history of the American Colonization Society this way:

... in 1817 the American Colonization Society was founded with the aim of doing for American Negroes what the Republic of Israel later did for Jews - to give them back a part of their homeland, though with the frank admission that the Negro, free or slave, had no place in American society. To further this enterprise, the . A.C.S. purchased from native tribes several tracts along the Grain Coast of West Africa; and several thousand American blacks had been settled by 1847, when they organized the Republic of Liberia, with a capital named Monrovia after President Monroe, and a constitution modeled on that of the United States. However, when the A.C.S., having scraped the barrel of private benevolence, appealed to Congress for federal aid in 1827, Southerners opposed the movement as jeopardizing the supply of slaves and abolitionists denounced it as a subtle attempt to increase the value of the remaining slaves in America. The A. C. S., though discouraged, continued its work to the Civil War, but without congressional backing for colonization, moral suasion against slavery appeared to have spent its force. (p. 226) [my emphasis]
John Hope Franklin and Alfred Moss, Jr. in From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African Americans (2003) pointed to the support of the colonization concept by both Abolitionists and slavery advocates, emphsizing here the rejection of it by white Abolistionist leader William Lloyd Garrison:

Although antislavery forces had for years believed that colonization was one way of relieving the country of its dreaded "Negro problem," militant abolitionists were on the whole unalterably opposed to colonization. They were suspicious of it because of the support it received from slaveholders, who could not be interested in putting an end to slavery as an institution. Abolitionists felt, as the great majority of blacks did, that colonization was primarily for the purpose of draining off the free black population in order to make slavery even more secure. Garrison said that the American Colonization Society had "inflicted a great injury upon the free and slave population; first by strengthening the prejudices of the people; secondly, by discouraging the education of those who are free; thirdly, by inducing passage of severe legislative enactments; and, finally, by lulling the whole county into a deep sleep." (p. 195) [my emphasis]
Ultimately, only about 12,000 Americans of African descent were colonized into Africa, almost all of them to Liberia. Franklin and Moss observe, "In Liberia, ... the cost of living was high and the colony's affairs were mismanaged." The motion that the US black population could be successfully colonized into Africa was always very far-fetched. Not only did the idea have limited support among whites, most free blacks also opposed it, especially in the North: "it was not economically feasible to send hundreds of thousands of blacks to African or anywhere else."

Although some slavery advocates worried about the possible antislavery effects of colonization, Franklin and Moss explain that the general attitude among slavery advocates was more inclined to support colonization of free blacks to Africa: "Slaveholders hoped, of course, to drain off the free black population, thereby giving great security to the institution of slavery." Franklin and Moss toward stress that even by the late 1920s, outright hostility toward the colonization project was widespread and intense among free blacks:

Every convention of blacks opposed colonization, and the leaders spoke and wrote against the scheme. Martin R. Delany was especially hostile to the American Colonization Society, which he described as "anti-Christian in its character and misanthropic in its pretended sympathies." He denounced the leaders as "arrant hypocrites" who were conducting an organization that was obviously "one of the Negro's worst enemies." The main motive of colonization, he claimed, was to eliminate blacks from the United States, and for that purpose a government had been set up in Africa that was "not independent - but a poor miserable mockery - a burlesque on a government." (p. 190)
Tags: , , ,

No comments: