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Chapter 17: Colonization

I have had a good deal to say about Anti-Slavery societies. There was another society which was called into existence by the slavery situation. Whether it was pro-slavery or anti-slavery was a question that long puzzled a good many people. It was the Colonization Society. A good many Anti-Slavery people believed in it for a time and gave it their support. “I am opposed to slavery, but I am not an Abolitionist: I am a Colonizationist,” was a declaration that, when I was a boy, I heard many and many times, and from the lips of well-intending people.

It did not take the sharp-sighted leaders of the Abolition movement very long to discover that one of the uses its managers expected to make of the Colonization Society was as a shield for slavery. It kept a number of excellent people from joining in an aggressive movement against it, took their money, and made them believe that they were at work for the freedom of the negro.

Strangely as it might appear, the negroes, who were assumed to be the beneficiaries of the colonization scheme, were opposed to it. Quicker than the white people generally did, they saw through its [129] false pretense, and, besides, they could not understand why they should be taken from the land of their nativity, and sent to the country from which their progenitors had come, any more than the descendants of Scotch, English, and German immigrants should be deported to the lands of their ancestors.

Equally strange was it that the Colonization Society, if really friendly to the negro, should find its most zealous supporters among slaveholders. Its first president, who was a nephew of George Washington, upon learning that his slaves had got the idea that they were to be set at liberty, sent over fifty of them to be sold from the auction block at New Orleans. That was intended as a warning to the rest. One of its presidents was said to be the owner of a thousand slaves and had never manumitted one of them. The principal service that the colonization movement was expected to do for the slave-owners was to relieve them of the presence of free negroes. These were always regarded as a menace by slave-masters. They disseminated ideas of freedom and manhood among their unfortunate brethren. They were object-lessons to those in bondage. The slave-owners were only too glad to have them sent away. They looked to Liberia as a safety-valve. It did not take long for intelligent people who were really well-wishers of the black man to perceive these facts.

The severest blow that the Colonization Society received in America was from the pen of William Lloyd Garrison, who, under the title of Thoughts on African Colonization, published a pamphlet that had [130] wide distribution. It completely unmasked the pretended friendship of the Colonizationists for the negroes, free or slave. From that time they lost all support from real Anti-Slavery people. There was, however, to be a battle fought, in which the Colonization Society figured as a party, that furnished one of the most interesting episodes of the slavery conflict.

England, at the time of which we are speaking, was full of Anti-Slavery sentiment. Slavery, at the end of a long and bitter contest, had been abolished in all her colonies. Her philanthropists were rejoicing in their victory. The managers of the Colonization Society resolved, if possible, to capture that sentiment, and with it the pecuniary aid the British Abolitionists might render. It was always a tremendous beggar. They, accordingly, selected a fluent-tongued agent and sent him to England to advocate their cause. He did not hesitate to represent that the Colonization Society was the especial friend of the negro, working for his deliverance from bondage, and, in addition. that it had the support of “the wealth, the respectability, and the piety of the American people.”

When these facts came to the knowledge of the members of the newly formed New England Anti-Slavery Society, they were naturally excited, and resolved to meet the enemy in this new field of operations. This they decided to do by sending a representative to England, who would be able to meet the colonization agent in discussion, and otherwise proclaim and champion their particular views. For this service the man selected was William [131] Lloyd Garrison, who was then but twenty-eight years old.

Remarkable it was that one who was not only so young, but imperfectly educated, being a poor mechanic, daily toiling as a compositor at his printer's case, should be chosen to meet the most polished people in the British Empire, and hold himself ready to debate the most serious question of the time. That such a person should be willing to enter upon such an undertaking was almost as remarkable. But Garrison showed no hesitation in accepting the task for which he was selected.

On his arrival in England, Garrison sent a challenge to the colonization agent for a public debate. This the Colonizationist refused to receive. Two more challenges were sent and were treated in the same way. Then Garrison, at a cost of thirty dollars, which he could ill afford to pay, published the challenge in the London Times, with a statement of the manner in which it had been so far treated. Of course, public interest was aroused, and when Garrison appeared upon the public platform, as he at once proceeded to do, he was greeted with the attendance of multitudes of interested hearers. Exeter Hall in London was crowded. The most distinguished men in England sat upon the stage when he spoke, and applauded his addresses. Daniel O'Connell, the great Irish orator, paid them a most florid compliment. They were, unquestionably, most remarkable samples of effective eloquence-plain in statement, simple in style, but exceedingly logical and forcible. They were widely published throughout England at the time of their delivery. [132]

One of the results was that the leading emancipationists of Great Britain signed and published a warning against the colonization scheme, denouncing it as having its roots in “a cruel prejudice,” and declaring that it was calculated to “increase the spirit of caste so unhappily predominant,” and that it “exposed the colored people to great practical persecution in order to force them to emigrate.”

As for the poor agent of the Colonizationists, seeing how the battle was tending, he left England in a hurry, and was nevermore heard of in that part of the world.

Garrison's personal triumph was very striking, and it was splendidly earned. He was made the recipient of many compliments and testimonials. A curious incident resulted from this great popularity. He was invited to breakfast by Sir Thomas Buxton, the noted English philanthropist, with a view to making the acquaintance of a number of distinguished persons who were to be present. When Mr. Garrison presented himself, his entertainer, who had not before met or seen him, looked at him in great astonishment.

“Are you William Lloyd Garrison?” he inquired.

“That is who I am,” replied Mr. Garrison, “and I am here on your invitation.”

“But you are a white man,” said Buxton, “and from your zeal and labors in behalf of the colored people, I assumed that you were one of them.”

Garrison left England in what, metaphorically, might be described as “a blaze of glory.” Hundreds attended him when he went to embark on his homeward voyage, and he was followed by their [133] cheers and benedictions. Wonderfully different was the treatment he received on his arrival in his own country. Not long afterwards he was dragged through Boston streets by a hempen rope about his body, and was assigned to a prison cell, as affording the most available protection from the mob.

Nevertheless, we have had some excellent people --not slave-owners-who, out of compassion for the black man, or from prejudice against his color, and, perhaps, from a little of both, have favored a policy of colonization in this country. Mr. Lincoln was one of them. “If all earthly power were given me, I should not know what to do with the existing institution. My first impulse would be to free the slaves and send them to Liberia.” So said Mr. Lincoln in one of his debates with Douglas.

“I cannot make it better known than it already is,” said Mr. Lincoln in a message to Congress, dated December I, 1862, “that I strongly favor colonization.”

At Lincoln's instance Congress appropriated several large sums of money-then much needed in warlike operations — for colonizing experiments. One of these has a curious and somewhat pathetic history. A sharper by the name of Koch, having worked himself into the confidence of the President and some other good people, got them to buy from him an island in the West Indies, called Ile a Vache, which he represented to be a veritable earthly paradise. Strangely enough, it was wholly uninhabited, and therefore ready for the uses of a colony. Several hundred people-colored, of course — were collected, put aboard a ship, and dumped upon this unknown [134] land. It will surprise no one to learn that pretty soon these people, poisoned by malaria, stung by venomous insects and reptiles, and having scarcely anything to eat, were dying like cattle with the murrain. In the end a ship was sent to bring back the survivors.

Nevertheless, the kind-hearted President did not give up the idea. At his request a delegation of Washington negroes called upon him. He made them quite a long speech, telling them that Congress had given him money with which to found a colony of colored people, and that he had found what seemed to be a suitable location in Central America. He appealed to them to supply the colonists. The negroes, not anxious for exile, diplomatically said they would think the matter over. In the end it was discovered that Central America did not want the negroes, and that the negroes did not want Central America.

A story that is curiously illustrative of Mr. Lincoln's attachment to the policy of removing the colored people is told by L. E. Chittenden in his Recollections of President Lincoln. Mr. Chittenden was a citizen of Vermont and Register of the Treasury under Lincoln, with whom he was in intimate and confidential relations:

During one of his welcome visits to my office,

says Mr. Chittenden,

the President seemed to be buried in thought over some subject of great interest. After long reflection he abruptly exclaimed that he wanted to ask me a question.

“Do you know any energetic contractor?” he inquired; “one who would be willing to take a large contract attended with some risk?” [135]

“I know New England contractors,” I replied, “who would not be frightened by the magnitude or risk of any contract. The element of prospective profit is the only one that would interest them. If there was a fair prospect of profit, they would not hesitate to contract to suppress the Rebellion in ninety days.”

“ There will be profit and reputation in the contract I may propose,” said the President. “It is to remove the whole colored race of the slave States into Texas. If you have any acquaintance who would take that contract, I would like to see him.”

“I know a man who would take that contract and perform it,” I replied. “I would be willing to put you into communication with him, so that you might form your own opinion about him.”

By the President's direction I requested John Bradley, a well-known Vermonter, to come to Washington. He was at my office the morning after I sent the telegram to him. I declined to give him any hint of the purpose of my invitation, but took him directly to the President. When I presented him I said: “Here, Mr. President, is the contractor whom I named to you yesterday.”

I left them together. Two hours later Mr. Bradley returned to my office overflowing with admiration for the President and enthusiasm for his proposed work. “The proposition is,” he said, “to remove the whole colored race into Texas, there to establish a republic of their own. The subject has political bearings of which I am no judge, and upon which the President has not yet made up his mind. But I have shown him that it is practicable. I will undertake to remove them all within a year.”

It is unnecessary to state that the Black Republic of Texas was a dream that never materialized.

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