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Modern Voices
Douglas Egerton on the black support for the ACS
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Q: What motivated the American Colonization Society to support black emigration?
Douglas Egerton

A: Unlike Jefferson, who said he believed in colonization but never practiced what he preached, the white founders of the American Colonization Society in 1816 actually envisioned a country without slave labor, or even free black labor. These were men who owned other people, but very small numbers of slaves. They weren't planters. They were men who had diversified their business interests. They were capitalists, and simply didn't see slavery, or even free black labor, as fitting into the future of the country, which they identified as a profoundly white country.

The leaders of the American Colonization Society were hardly unimportant people. They were Bushrod Washington, the nephew of George Washington, who was also on the Supreme Court; Henry Clay, the Speaker of the House; Francis Scott Key, a very important Georgetown attorney; Charles Fenton Mercer, a long time member of the House of Representatives. These are men who had great power, and believed it was within the realm of possibility to force large numbers of blacks to leave the United States and migrate to Africa. This is the same generation, bear in mind, that forced thousands of Georgia Cherokees to move to Oklahoma. And so the idea of moving people around to make this a more perfect white man's country was not nearly as irrational as it often seems to us.
Douglas A. Egerton
Professor of History
Le Moyne College

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