The antebellum idea of compensated emancipation for slaves never gained traction as the North would not agree to help fund the repatriation of Africans’ they themselves had grown wealthy importing to the Americas for 100 years or more. Abraham Lincoln was an avid proponent of colonization once his armies overran the South and created refugees, knowing the North would not accept them flooding northward. Lincoln’s Caribbean colonization schemes are mentioned below and further detailed in the soon-to-be-released “Rather Unsafe for a Southern Man to Live Here: Key West’s Civil War,” by Bernhard Thuersam. www.shotwellpublishing.com.
Emancipation and Colonization
Hugh Talmadge Lefler and Albert Ray Newsome well-explained antebellum views toward slavery in their History of North Carolina (Chapel Hill, 1954). They wrote that slavery was the most serious antebellum controversy between North and South with people in both sections criticizing it as a moral, economic and social evil. But importantly, the United States Constitution recognized those held to labor and left the States with complete authority over the question within their own borders. Though every Northern State took action to begin gradual emancipation by 1804 – with many selling their slaves southward – no Southern State followed suit because of economic, social and racial considerations.
Lefler and Newsome wrote that “Many Southerners opposed slavery and realized its dangerous possibilities, but most of the early Southern opposition to the slavery was conditioned upon the “antislavery” idea of gradual emancipation to owners, and colonization to Africa or elsewhere. The colonization plan, sponsored by various manumission societies, proved impractical, though Liberia on the African coast was begun as a result of a few thousand Negroes being colonized there by the joint efforts of these societies and acts of Congress.”
The question of colonization was on the mind of Abraham Lincoln once his 1861 invasion destroyed Upper South plantations and produced numerous black refugees. It was Lincoln’s early intention to emancipate by decree through constitutional amendments and compensating owners – but this failed to gain support in his fractious party.
Author Michael J. Douma has written extensively of Lincoln’s colonization plans and noting that “Historians have long known that in the summer of 1862 Lincoln announced his intention to negotiate with foreign powers concerning the colonization of freedmen abroad.” For the next two years federally-funded initiatives arose to settle freedmen in Chiriqui [Panama] and Haiti – in addition to the British Honduras, Guiana and Dutch Surinam. These talks were quite serious and continued even after the war, anticipating the transport of freedmen to these islands as laborers.
The Danes also expressed interest in colonizing unwanted contrabands to work their plantations on St. Croix, now the US Virgin Islands. In 1862 Seward signed an agreement with the Danes to take all captured aboard slave ships in the Atlantic to St. Croix to work as plantation labor despite Danish acknowledgement that workers on the island would not find conditions much different from previous slavery, but they would be technically “free.” To facilitate the process of removal the Lincoln authorized Danish ships to sail down the US east coast to recruit freedmen. The Danish minister viewed South Carolina as a highly fertile recruiting ground which was seconded by Secretary of State Seward. The Dutch were also fascinated with freedmen and actively sought them as labor for their colony of Suriname on South America’s northeast coast.
Lincoln and Seward were not the only proponents of colonization as they were ably supported by leading Republicans Charles Sumner, Francis Blair, Preston King and Benjamin Wade. Though supportive before 1863, all became aware of the value of black troops used to invade the South as white volunteers became hard to find or had to be paid astronomical financial bounties to enlist. Few black men stepped forward and many had to be coerced, but by war’s end the colonization to the Caribbean regained speed.