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Colonization Society, American

The idea of restoring Africans in America to their native country occupied the minds of philanthropists at an early period. It seems to have been first suggested by Rev. Samuel Hopkins and Rev. Ezra Stiles, of Newport, R. I., where the African slave-trade was extensively carried on. They issued a circular on the subject in August, 1773, in which they invited subscriptions to a fund for founding a colony of free negroes from America on the western shore of Africa. A contribution was made by ladies of Newport in February, 1774, and aid was received from Massachusetts and Connecticut. After the Revolution the effort was renewed by Dr. Hopkins, and he endeavored to make arrangements by which free blacks from America might join the English colony at Sierra Leone, established in 1787, for a home for destitute Africans from different parts of the world, and for promoting African civilization. He failed. In 1793 he proposed a plan of colonization to be carried on by the several States and by the national government. He persevered in his unavailing efforts until his death, in 1803. The subject continued to be agitated from time to time, and in 1815 a company of thirty-eight colored persons emigrated to Sierra Leone from New Bedford.

Steps had been taken as early as 1811 for the organization of a colonization society, and on Dec. 23, 1816, the constitution of the American Colonization Society was adopted at a meeting at Washington, and the first officers were chosen Jan. 1, 1817. All reference to emancipation, present or future, was specially disclaimed by the society, and in the course of the current session of Congress, Henry Clay, John Randolph, Bushrod Washington, and other slave-holders took a leading part in the formation of the society. In March, 1819, Congress appropriated $100,000 for the purpose of sending back to Africa such slaves as should be surreptitiously imported. Provision was made for agents and emigrants to be sent out, and early in 1820 the society appointed an agent, put $30,000 at his disposal, and sent in a government vessel thirty-eight emigrants, who were to erect tents for the reception of at least 300 recaptured Africans. The agents of the United States were instructed not to exercise any authority over the colonists, and the government of the colony was assumed by the society.

A constitution for the colony (which was named Liberia) was adopted (Jan. 24, 1820), by which all the powers of the government were vested in the agent of the colonization society. In 1824 a plan for a civil government in Liberia was adopted, by which the society retained the privilege of ultimate decision. Another constitution was adopted in 1828, by which most of the civil power was secured to the colonists. In 1841 Joseph J. Roberts, a colored man, was appointed governor by the society. Import duties were levied on foreign goods, and out of this grew a temporary difficulty with the British government. British subjects [246] violated the navigation law with impunity, and, when the British government was appealed to, the answer was that Liberia had no national existence. In this emergency the society surrendered such governmental power as it had retained, and recommended the colony to proclaim itself a sovereign and independent state. It was done, and such a declaration of independence was made July 26, 1847. The next year the independence of Liberia was acknowledged by the United States, Great Britain, and France. So the American Colonization Society became mainly instrumental in the foundation of Liberia, and in sustaining the colony until it became self-supporting.

After that consummation the society continued to send out emigrants, and to furnish them with provisions and temporary dwellings; and it materially aided the republic in the development of its commerce and agriculture. It also aided in the dissemination of Christianity in that region, and in the promotion of education and the general welfare of the country. The whole amount of receipts of the society from its foundation to 1875 was, in round numbers, $2,400,000, and those of the auxiliary societies a little more than $400,000. The whole number of emigrants that had been sent out to that date by the parent society was nearly 14,000, and the Maryland society had sent about 1,250; also 5,722 Africans recaptured by the United States government had been returned. The society had five presidents —namely, Bushrod Washington, Charles Carroll, James Madison, Henry Clay, and J. H. B. Latrobe—all slave-holders.

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