American Colonization Society

Founded in 1816, the American Colonization Society hoped to alleviate what organizers viewed as the inevitable incompatibility of blacks and whites by expatriating free blacks and manumitted slaves out of the United States. Colonization proposals surfaced during the colonial period, and the American Revolution heightened discussion of colonization as a remedy for slavery, the international slave trade, and discrimination facing free blacks. Early proposals fizzled, but impetus for colonization increased after the War of 1812. Concerned about the growing free black and slave populations, politicians and clergyman held a series of meetings in December 1816 that led to the creation of the society. Part of the so-called "Benevolent Empire" that rose after the War of 1812, the society received support from Congregational and Presbyterian clergy, as well as Henry Clay, John Randolph, Daniel Webster, and other notable politicians. Several state legislatures also endorsed the society. Convinced that expatriation of free blacks and manumitted slaves was best for blacks and whites, the society in 1822 established the colony of Liberia as a place for black settlement. Securing federal funds and private donations, the society began paying for the relocation of African Americans to Liberia. During the 1820s, 2,638 blacks migrated, with the number growing annually. The victory of Andrew Jackson in the presidential election of 1828, however, put an end to federal support, and in the 1830s, the society came into conflict with both abolitionists, African American leaders, and pro-slavery advocates. Mounting debts and internal strife also hurt the organization. Rising sectional tensions in the 1840s and 1850s, however, increased interest in colonization. Liberia's declaration of independence in 1846 lifted a heavy financial burden, and the society experienced a revival. Support for the society and colonization remained strong during the Civil War and Reconstruction, though the Radical Republicans and most African American leaders repudiated the society and attacked its solutions for alleviating racial conflict as essentially racist and impractical.

Eric Burin, Slavery and the Peculiar Solution: A History of the American Colonization Society (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2005), 1; William G. Shade, "American Colonization Society," Dictionary of American History, rev. ed. (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1976), 1:100-101.