Saturday, March 08, 2008

Compensated Emancipation and Colonization 1

It's hard for us now to take seriously the ideas of colonization bandied about before the Civil War as a solution for slavery. To modern sensibilities, the idea is offensive, and it's embarrassing that major figures from Jefferson to Henry Clay to Abraham Lincoln found it attractive. In addition, in retrospect colonization plans seem so impracticable and half-baked that you wonder whether people were delusional.

Nonetheless, in this as with other matters, it's crucial to try to put yourself in the shoes of people living at the time. The very persistence and repeated appearances of colonization as a solution suggest that it retained a powerful hold over the imagination of a sizable segment of the population.

Probably the most serious attempt to translate the dream of colonization into reality took place in 1824-25.

On January 17, 1824, the legislature of the State of Ohio passed a resolution concerning emancipation and colonization. The resolution proposed that the federal government enact a law providing for the gradual emancipation of slaves born after passage of the act, with the freedmen to be transported to foreign colonies.

The Ohio legislature clearly framed the proposal in a manner designed to appeal to the southern states. The proposals specified that the law should be passed “with the consent of the slaveholding states” and “without any violation of the national compact, or infringement of the rights of individuals.” What is perhaps the most interesting aspect of the proposal is that the Ohio legislature apparently expected (or at least hoped) that its proposal would meet with a sympathetic reaction even in the deep south. The legislature asked the governor to transmit the resolution to his counterparts in the other states for their consideration:
Resolved by the General Assembly of the State of Ohio; That the consideration of a system providing for the gradual emancipation of the people of color, held in servitude in the United States, be recommended to the Legislatures of the several States of the American Union, and to the Congress of the United States.

Resolved, That in the opinion of the General Assembly a system of foreign colonization, with correspondent measures might be adopted that would in due time effect the entire emancipation of the slaves in our country without any violation of the national compact, or infringement of the rights of individuals; by the passage of a law by the general government (with the consent of the slaveholding states) which should provide that all children or persons now held in slavery, born after the passage of such law, should be free at the age of twenty-one years (being supported during their minority by the persons claiming the service of their parents) providing they then consent to be transported to the intended place of colonization—Also—

Resolved, That it is expedient that such a system should be predicated upon the principle that the evil of slavery is a national one, and that the people and the states of this Union ought mutually to participate in the duties and burthens of removing it.

Resolved, That his Excellency, the Governor be requested to forward a copy of the foregoing Resolutions to his Excellency the Governor of each of the United States, requesting him to lay the same before the legislature thereof: and that his Excellency will also forward a like copy to each of our Senators and Representatives in Congress requesting their co-operation in all national measures having a tendency to effect the grand object embraced therein.

By June 1825, the legislators of eight other states had endorsed the Ohio resolution. It is, perhaps, not surprising that the states included the New England states of Vermont, Connecticut and Massachusetts. They were joined, however, by Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Illinois and Indiana – Northern states that directly abutted the south and were hardly hotbeds of radicalism. The eighth was, amazingly, Delaware, a slave state.

Meanwhile, on Friday February 18, 1825, Senator Rufus King of New York proposed a Senate resolution designed to implement the Ohio resolution. Senator King proposed the establishment of a fund from the sale of public lands. The funds would be used for aiding in the emancipation of slaves and their removal from the United States, as well as the removal of “free persons of color.”

Even more so than the original Ohio resolution, Senator King’s proposal was clearly designed to appeal to – not alienate – the South. It did not require the emancipation of a single slave, or the transportation of any slave or free black. It simply proposed to make funds available for emancipation and transportation of such slaves and freedmen as state law might permit:
Mr. King, of New York, submitted, the following motion for consideration:

Resolved, by the Senate of the United States of America, That, so soon as the portion of the existing funded debt of the United States, for the payment of which, the public land of the United States is pledged, shall have been paid off; then, and thenceforth, the whole of the public land of the United States, with the nett proceeds of all future sales thereof, shall constitute and form a fund, which is hereby appropriated, and the faith of the United States is pledged that the said fund shall be inviolably applied, to aid the emancipation of such slaves, within any of the United States, and to aid the removal of such slaves, and the removal of such free persons of color, in any of the said states, as by the laws of the states respectively, may be allowed to be emancipated, or removed to any territory, or country, without the limits of the United States of America.

It appears that none other than Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri supported Senator King's proposal:
On motion, by Mr. Benton,

Ordered, That it be printed for the use of the Senate.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts with Thumbnails