Americans often remember the battle cry of Patrick Henry “Give me liberty,” though many forget that with the liberation of America in the 1770s from British control, Black Americans remained in bondage in this nation. The American Revolution revealed the hypocrisy of liberty; as the colonies fought for independence, enslavement remained an integral part of the new nation. Liberation was the idea that men had certain inalienable rights that were deemed “god given. ” The problem with having these rights was that they were exclusive to white, land owning men.
The segregation of black men specifically allowed the institution of enslavement to scourge the land with fear of societal upheaval. Prior to the formation of the American Colonization society there were several instances of slave rebellions the most notable of which were that of Nat Turner, Gabriel Prosser, and Denmark Vesey. Gabriel Prosser enabled the enlightenment of slaves in a time when less than five percent were literate by marching under the banner of liberty. This display of dissonance inspired Turner to revolt against an establishment contrived entirely to oppress black people, which lead to the deaths of 55 to 60 white people.
Which in turn inspired Denmark Vesey, who had his family stripped from him with the procurement of his own freedom, to preach liberty and revolt. Denmark’s words eventually laid the ground for the abolitionist movement. Black American responses to enslavement and anti-Black racism panicked Southern slaveholders and Northern merchants alike. Thus prompting discussion about the “removal of Blacks,” on a National level. The purpose of this essay is to examine the complexities of liberty in the New Republic with regards to the American Colonization Society, from 1820 to 1847.
One solution for this fear was to take free black people and send them to Africa for the colonization of Liberia. “Stephen Duncan, one of the wealthiest planters in the state and president of the Mississippi Colonization Society urged vigilance in Adams County, as slaves outnumbered whites five to one and admitted in 1831, ‘tho’ [sic] I do have apprehension that we will one day have our throats cut in this country. ’” (Dennis, TMCEL, 2011, p. 128). This elevated level of fear mongering lead the Mississippi Colonization Society, a state auxiliary ociety of the American Colonization Society to alleviate approximately five hundred and seventy one black men of their inalienable rights between 1829 and 1860 via removal from Mississippi to Liberia.
Thomas Jefferson advocated for the exportation of the free black people well before the formation of an official American Colonization Society. “Since the early date of 1714 its removal to some territory beyond the limits of the United States or to an unsettled area of our public lands has been advocated. (Sherwood, TFACS, 1917, p. 209). Jefferson vocalized, wrote, and advocated for black American colonization dating back to 1773. (Sherwood, TFACS, 1917, p. 210). The activity came to a head with the beginning of a forced migration of black men to Liberia. By Sherwood’s account “private enterprise alone could make little headway in the actual colonization of the Negroes in a territory sufficiently distant to be beyond the pale of the white population. ”(TFACS, 1917, p. 209).
In 1815 Paul Cuff brought thirty-eight black American to West Africa. Colonization advocacy began to gain public support and spurred the January 1817 creation of the “American Society for Colonizing the Free People of Color of the United States. ” This organization included Thomas Jefferson and the concept that the best place for colored people to be was on the west coast of Africa. As their ideas caught on, other organizations such as the Union Humane Society began to spring to life focusing on anti-slavery ideals.
These decisions for social change lead to a meeting with Congress in Frankfort on October 18-19 1815 which deemed, “…that a suitable territory ‘be laid off as an asylum for all those negroes and mulattoes who have been, and those who may hereafter be, emancipated within the United States; and that such donations, allowances, encouragements, and assistance be afforded them as may be necessary for carrying them thither and settling them therein; and that they be under such regulations and government in all respects as your wisdom shall direct. ” (Sherwood, TFACS, 1917, p. 211).
During the congressional meeting there was discussion of sending Black Americans to colonize the North Pacific in order to create physical distance. The December 21, 1816 congressional meeting lead to the formation of the American Colonization Society. Their ideas became the motif of mislabeled liberty and freedom by nearly fifty years of wealthy white people in Liberia. The foundation of the ideology behind the ormation of this society was based in fear that black and white men and women could not and should not be harmonious. Many of the documents addressing the idea of freed men in the early 1800s suggested that they be shipped away as though their very presence was in insult. This idea was based in the lingering problem of slavery and the discourse by which America addressed slavery following the revolution for independence from Britain.
Fear of upheaval and rebellion began to linger in the ears and minds of the common person as the rebellions of Nat Turner and Denmark Vesey perturbed slave holders. There could be no freedom without dissonance, “We are not given liberty we take it. ” (Dr. Dennis oral quote). The years of oppression faced by men and women of color lead white people realized the magnitude of this perpetual enslavement beyond the length of a chain. As revolt became more common so did the fear faced by the oppressors.
The enlightenment period lead to the epiphany that, “The memorialists recognized that many slaves had been emancipated; that the same principles that prompted past manumissions would gradually effect the freedom of all others; that freedmen should be able ‘to rise to that condition to which they are entitled by the laws of God and nature’; therefore, they should be separated from the whites and placed in a favorable situation, possibly Africa. ” (Sherwood, TFACS, 1917, p. 214). The social dialog did not include the ideology that black and white families can live together.
This was based in the devastating social inequality that was plaguing the new nation. A self-report from a black scholar from Damascus stated, “Some of you may find me offensive. I shall therefore sit and eat apart. ” (Davis, IB, 2006, p. 63). This dialog was ingrained in the persons of color since before the notion of liberty were ever spoken. As the notion of liberty began to develop as a result of the enlightenment so did the notion of a liberated black populous. As the “liberation” took place these people were lest the rights of a white man as they were looked down upon.
The guise of liberty was laced with the connotation that freeing the black people would leave them with distaste for their captors. “We must save the Negroes or the Negroes will ruin us,” wrote Samuel J. Mills, a Christian missionary circa 1815. (Sherwood, TFACS, 1917, p. 215). White people generated fear with their dialog as the men and women of color began to ask for rights, neigh on demanding them. In 1800 Gabriel Prosser demanded, “Death or Liberty,” yet was met with the gallows on August 30 1800.
Inspired by his demand for god given rights, Nat Turner liberated 70 slaves with weapons and militarized them, which left him, “rendered to grease. ” (Gates, DAASR, 2013, pbs. org). Nat Turner lead a revolt which left 15 homes ransacked and 55-60 white people bludgeoned to death. They utilized fear and planned on continuing their plot for revenge, but were betrayed by some of their coconspirators. These types of displays only drove the concept of fear deeper. The actions further enabled a solution of colonialization and with the guise of humanitarianism.
Further enabling the first and only American colony which would address two narrative grievances: what to do with the freed black people and how to perpetuate the capitalist machine. According to Sarah Josephine Hale, Liberia’s narrative mimicked the American narrative equipped with the Mayflower though the declaration of independence. One might imagine that also entailed skirmishes with the natives and dutifully taking from other people. Other parties disagreed with the social narrative, “…Hale’s Liberia is a colony-nation invented, crafted and imagined by the ACS and Hale’s story telling. (Taketani, PL:SJHA, 2002, p. 481).
The freed slaves colonizing Liberia would serve a greater purpose for the government then they had intended. The shift in mindset of the slave holding land owner, that occurred as a result of the Nat Turner Rebellion gave speed to the development of more colonization projects. One of the more notable prospects was headed by Stephan Duncan, a wealthy slave holder with neither need nor desire for philanthropy, who established the Mississippi Colonization Society, a state auxillary society, the same year as the Nat Turner rebellion.
His concerns littered the minds of white people stating proclaiming fear in being outnumbered by blacks five to one. With the rebellions gaining success, some white people took it upon themselves to motivate blacks to leave the community and take up ventures. Some of the more “friendly” and forthright people belonged to the Klu Klux Clan. “As Charles Sydnor noted, so distressed were slaveholders by the increased numbers of free Blacks, the state passed a law in 1831, which required all adult free blacks to leave Mississippi. (Dennis, TMCEL, 2011, p. 128).
Though the argument occurred that there would not have been a colonization society without a large black population, a fact arose upon research that, “…551 freed slaves, obtained freedom in the state during a brief window of opportunity in the form of a necessary evil, the Mississippi State Colonization Society. ” (Dennis, TMCEL, 2011, p. 129). This would lead one to believe that slaves were freed upon advantage of their holders in this time, without the only other option being to remain a slave.
Upon arrival they were greeted with disease and the first attempt to settle Liberia was ended abruptly with the spread of yellow fever. “The American settlers had reached the Kru tribale area in 1837, under the auspices of the Mississippi Colonization Society, and established ‘Mississippi in Africa’…” (Fraenkel, SCKCL, 1966, p. 156). This ordeal lead to countless skirmishes and even all-out war for the first fifty years. The small farms which drew scarcely enough food for personal use left the “colonists” in poverty. This type of action seems to mimic a displacement rather than a colonization.
As colonization implies a certain amount of liberty and establishing a colony would further entail a certain amount of liberty. Mississippi Colonization Society entertained a plantation and governance until the Kru would no longer tolerate them and ended their rule by killing the governor. The liberty enjoyed by the Mississippi colonists ended at the tip of a spear or poverty. With even their own declaration of independence they remained highly dependent and controlled by Presidents of colonization societies, a patriarchy.
The paternalism enjoyed by these figureheads were monetarily well endowed with backing from the federal government. A man of color could find no liberty in the 1800’s. Weather the oppressed or the oppressor, a man could have no life. Expectations arose that men would become the colonist continuing the oppressive nature they knew. In 1823 James Monroe enacted the Monroe doctrine which indicated that any European power showing hostility toward each other or America would be deemed an act of war.
The colonization of Liberia continued to gain support by placing Americans closer to the pulse of European empires like Spain and England, which converted to a land grab cosponsored by the American government and the ACS. The Monroe Doctrine further empowered taking and gaining massive lands, leading to the justification of settling Liberia, whose capitol city would be named Monrovia after President Monroe. The contradiction established by America in Liberia established its precedence from England’s role in colonial America.
Liberty cannot be achieved under the oppression of an imperial governance. Liberia was to all intents and purposes a de facto colony of the United States, but the time was approaching when it should become necessary to define more precisely the legal relations, if any, which bound it to the mother country. ” (Falkner, TUS&L, 1910, 534-535). The level of intention for the inclusion of the United States in growth and policy produced in the African colony acted like a codependent stronghold. Some reports alleged white men forcing their own narratives to promote violence toward the natives from the colonial Americans. It must have been difficult to idealize liberty when they were fighting for survival.
The aim of this paper was to address the role of the American Colonization Society from 1820 – 1847, upon research I have been able to conclude a few little known truths. The American Colonization Society played an immense role in the generation of a consistent narrative which would continue the institution of slavery. One must furthermore note that ACS and all other colonization societies were regulated and run by white, slave holding men who greatly controlled the narrative. The role of the “freed man” in Liberia was to remain loyal to the institution of slavery.
African Americans may have been regarded as free by name and idea, were left in the predisposition of working and warring without pay. One must read dialogue with a critical eye and note that few writings maintain an unbiased perspective. The role of the Mississippi free man in the liberty of Liberia is a myth due to the mythology of liberty. Furthermore the incorporation of the Monroe Doctrine enabled the militarization of a slave based society in order to control a foot hold on another continent, duplicating the American circumstance prior to the revolutionary war.