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Paul Cuffe. By: Chester Harding.

Paul Cuffe, by 1816, began making voyages across the Atlantic Ocean to Africa, transporting African-Americans who wished to make a new home in Africa. Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: Transformation of America, 1815-1848, 260.

Cuffe hoped that he could promote emigration to Africa as a way for blacks to have a better life, and he hoped to turn a profit in the process as well. Id. He attracted Congressman Charles Fenton Mercer and Reverend Robert Finley to support him. In turn, they recruited Federalists and Republicans both, partially because whites hoped to deal with the growing black population without freeing them from slavery, as they feared it set a bad example. Id.

White southerners were concerned that emancipation would create a class of black individuals “who could neither be admitted to political participation nor any longer be effectively controlled.” Id. Thomas Jefferson stated that, “we have the wolf by the ears, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go.” Jefferson to John Holmes, April 22, 1820, Thomas Jefferson: Writings, 1434. The colonization of Africa gained momentum from this type of thinking. In fact, the Virginia state legislature “overwhelmingly endorsed colonization in December 1816.” Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: Transformation of America, 1815-1848, 261 citing Douglas Egerton, “A New Look at the American Colonization Society,” JER 5 (1985): 463-80.

In 1819, Congressman Mercer got an appropriation from President Monroe’s administration to subsidize the American Colonization Society, which was a public-private enterprise. Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: Transformation of America, 1815-1848, 262. The American Colonization Society followed the example set by Granville Sharp, who created Sierra Leone in 1787 “as a haven for blacks migrating from England and the empire, some of whom had originally been liberated by the British army during the American Revolution.” Id. citing Simon Schama, Rough Crossings (London, 2005).

In 1821-22, the United States Navy helped the American Colonization Society to purchase land in Africa, which would later be known as Liberia, and name its capital city Monrovia, in honor of President James Monroe. Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: Transformation of America, 1815-1848, 262.

The American Colonization Society presented a new option for America’s problem with slavery: export it. Even as early as 1816, there was a pervasive fear that slavery could not be settled through its abolition or prolonging. While some chose to remain quiet on the issue, others, like those who worked with the American Colonization Society, believed that colonization of Africa with former slaves was the only viable option.

This novel approach to the issue of slavery is notable, however, it should be remembered that even colonization carried the implication that blacks and whites simply could not coincide in American society. In this way, colonization must have been detestable to those who wanted to treat all whites and blacks as simply Americans.

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