Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Lincoln's Repudiation...Proclamation 99

Colonization for African Americans was not a new idea brought forth following the Civil War. As early as 1816, antislavery societies were discussing the issue of colonization. They firmly believed that ending slavery would not end racism, and that the best solution would be to send freed slaves back to their homeland in Africa.

There were many reasons for colonization. In his book Lincoln, David Herbert Donald, provides:

*many argued that the disruptive problems in the United States could only be solved if the cause of the disruption was removed, e.g. slaves.

*white slave owners would be more willing to free their slaves if they knew they were going to Africa or some other colony

*Northerners would support the plan because freed blacks would not be competing for jobs in free states


*the status of former slaves could be elevated if it was shown they could govern their own colony.

Lincoln and other supporters of colonization never favored forced deportation though Lincoln was discussing the establishment of colonies as early as 1852. In his book, Donald quotes Lincoln…..emigration would succeed "in freeing our land from the dangerous presence of slavery” and “in restoring a captive people to their long-lost father-land with bright prospects for the future.”

After Christmas, 1862, Lincoln met with Bernard Kock. Mr. Kock owned the lease of an island off the coast of Haiti called Ile A’ Vanche or Cow Island, and Lincoln signed a contract with him to establish a colony for freed slaves. Kock’s plan included colonizing the island with 5,000 slaves as well as building schools, churches, and medical facilities. A profit sharing plan was also devised for the colony’s inhabitants.

Soon after signing the contract Lincoln also asked his aides to make agreements with other nations to establish colonies. Other nations included locations in Central America, the Danish West Indies, Dutch Guiana, British Honduras, New Grenada (Panama), and Chiriqui Lagoon.

By the time the summer months rolled around a group of approximately 400 blacks boarded a ship and sailed for Lle A’ Vache. The colony was doomed from the start. First, Kock had declared that he had the necessary support and permission from the Haitian government to establish the colony.

He did not.

Other problems included a lack of leadership, a lack of planning, and a lack of essentials. It didn’t help that many of the colonists contracted small pox on the voyage to Lle A’ Vache.

Plus it didn’t take long for the government to realize Kock was irresponsible and untruthful. There was a rumor floating about Kock was involved with Captain Raphael Semmes, a Confederate privateer. It was thought Kock would turn over colonists to Semmes as runaway slaves. It was at this point that the contract with Kock was cancelled.

Why did Lincoln put his stamp of approval on such a plan anyway? In his book, Donald states…Adherence to such an unworkable scheme was puzzling though not inexplicable – the adherence stemmed from [Lincoln’s] lack of interaction and knowledge of the African-American community.

Hmmmm….well, it is plausible.

However, Lincoln’s Proclamation 99 provides a little more insight…seen here. It states:

Know ye that, whereas a paper bearing date the 31st day of December last, purporting to be an agreement between the United States and one Bernard Kock for immigration of persons of African extraction to a dependency of the Republic of Hayti, was signed by me on behalf of the party of the first part; but whereas the said instrument was and has since remained incomplete in consequence of the seal of the United States not having been thereunto affixed; and whereas I have been moved by considerations by me deemed sufficient to withhold my authority for affixing the said seal

The contact was cancelled legally because of a technicality. The reality, of course was much more involved.

Lincoln biographers Nicolay and Hay advise that after Lincoln issued Proclamation 99, and Kock was out of the picture, the lease of the island was turned over to the investors. Things really weren’t much better. Under this second contract a ship-load of colonists was collected from among the contrabands about Fort Monroe, and during that month the Ocean Ranger sailed for Ile A' Vache with colored emigrants variously stated to number from 411 to 453 persons — about one-third of whom were women and children.

After Kock was dropped from the project, "a group of honest contractors began the export of negroes, receiving fifty dollars for each American negro deported, on official certificate of his having been landed in Hayti," wrote Lincoln biographer William E. Barton. "After about eighty thousand dollars had been expended, it was found that the region set apart for this colony was wholly unsuitable, and the negroes were brought back at the expense of the original agents who had given a fraudulent description of the country."

In his book, Abraham Lincoln, Benjamin P. Thomas writes, “ "Although colonization had been an integral part of Lincoln's emancipation plan, long before the failure of the Ile A’ Vache experiment he had reluctantly concluded that colonization was impracticable and that he must reconcile himself to a program of racial adjustment within the United States. Whites and blacks must learn to live together as free men. Helping to bring Lincoln to this conclusion was a growing conviction that the use of the Negro as a soldier was the only resource left to him to tip the scale of battle."

Richard N. Current, author of The Political Thought of Abraham Lincoln, also agreed. He wrote, "By the end of war, Lincoln had abandoned the idea of resettling free slaves outside the United States. He had come to accept the fact that Negroes, as a matter of justice as well as practicality, must be allowed to remain in the only homeland they knew, given education and opportunities for self-support, and started on the way to complete assimilation into American society."

You can read more about President Lincoln and the issue of colonization here


Anonymous said...

What an interesting post on a complex topic. It seems hard to believe that so many intelligent and capable Americans actually thought that it was feasible to resettle millions of people overseas. It seems like a good example of "magical thinking." Thanks for the in-depth post!

EHT said...

Thanks Frances....I appreciate the comment. It's kind of amazing to me as well.

I was also amazed that it was so difficult for me to find some things regarding the proposed colony in Haiti. Today, Lincoln's dealings with Kock would be scandalous that someone like that was making deals with the executive office.

Paul Swendson said...

When I mention to my students past plans to resettle former slaves in Africa or anywhere else, I compare it to sending me back to Scandinavia. Your post demonstrates how Lincoln's views on slavery were constantly evolving. This man who had believed for decades that abolitionism was impractical eventually became the "Great Emancipator." As you said at the end, he also apparently came to the conclusion over time that his past resettlement ideas did not make any sense. I he had lived to see Reconstruction through, maybe he would have eventually tried to do more for freedmen than he had proposed while the war was still going.