The African Colonization Movement, 1816-1865

The African Colonization Movement, 1816-1865

The African Colonization Movement, 1816-1865

The African Colonization Movement, 1816-1865

Excerpt

Professor Hermann von Holst of the University of Freiburg once described the American Colonization Society as a "swindle" without parallel, a "piece of Don Quixoterie," a vicious, hypocritical plot by the "slavocracy" to strengthen slavery by ridding the United States of free Negroes. Southerners, the chief villains in von Holst's tale, "laughed in their sleeve" at their success in deluding the "philanthropists of the north" who thought colonization would Christianize Africa. At length the northern friends of freedom detected the ruse and exposed the "hypocrisy and falsehood" of colonization. Von Holst sorrowfully concluded that colonization was part of "a farcial interlude in the terrible tragedy, which hastened with giant steps towards its issue."

Von Holst's stern judgment exemplified the post-Civil War interpretation of African colonization, and the same theme filled many histories, encyclopedias, and textbooks. Von Holst notwithstanding, the American Colonization Society was not a conspiracy to strengthen the chains of slavery. Colonizationists, like most Americans of the early nineteenth century, were troubled by slavery and wished an end to it. But slavery was not the central problem. From Jefferson forward, colonizationists believed -- and they persuaded a great many Americans to their view -- that the race question was more fundamental than that of chattel slavery. Once this problem was solved, Negro slavery would disappear.

The American Colonization Society, like its many sister "benevolent" societies of the nineteenth century, argued that a ruling Providence guided nations to ruin or salvation. Nations, unlike . . .

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