Imagine if the whole African American race in the United States was absent. Not only would the people themselves removed from the country but all of their culture to. Things like jazz just erased from American culture as a whole. What event could lead to this kind of massive change in the United States history and culture? What if I told you the sixteenth president of the united states also known as President Lincoln tried to relocate all of the African American race? What if I told you it was a massive failure? This could have been the fate of African Americans just before the Civil War. There was a lot more that went on to abolish slavery before it actually happened. Many people know the basic history of the end of slavery but you should know about the radical plans that came before it.
Slavery in America dates back to went the first slaves stepped off the boat in 1619. As the colonies grew so did the demand for slaves and freedom from the British Empire. This sparked a revolution and the birth of a new country. With this new found freedom some people saw the hypocrisy of how they felt that they were treated as slaves of the British empire while at the same time they were literally enslaving people. This realization and aided into the creation of the abolitionist movement, which sought to immediately end slavery. There was many different ways to accomplish this goal and relocation was one of them. The American Colonization Society or ACS were the first to try this specific method. The Organization was created in 1816 by Roberts Finely and successfully relocated “thousands of free blacks, who faced legislated restrictions in much of the U.S., moved to Liberia. By 1867, the ACS had assisted in the emigration of more than 13,000 Americans to Liberia”(American). Although there was a respectable amount of people relocated this did not reach the goal of relocating the 1,775,515 slaves in the US at the time. Despite the incomplete success of the ACS this method was also experimented with by a prominent US president.
President Abraham Lincoln was a man that changed the very way that our country operated. He was elected as the 16th president of the United States. One of his goals as president was to end slavery. In his own words he said “I think slavery is wrong, morally, and politically. I desire that it should be no further spread in these United States, and I should not object if it should gradually terminate in the whole Union”(Lincoln). In the beginning he made several attempts to at least regulate slavery, for example “Lincoln maintained the principle that there should be no extension
of slavery into the areas where it did not then exist”( Burlingame). He had to make his moves carefully and gradually for at this time any sudden attempts to abolish slavery would surely end in war (spoiler alert). He also believed that after slavery was abolished that African Americans and white people would never be able to co-exist due to deep rooted racism. He took this belief to his grave as on his deathbed he said “I can hardly believe that the South and North can live in peace, unless we can get rid of the Negroes … I believe that it would be better to export them all to some fertile country…”(Parkinson). This belief prompted him to look into the method of relocation for an ultimate long term solution for slavery.
This kind of a feat takes all of two things support from African Americans and support from the rest of the country. Lincoln knew that such an exodus, even with a suitable place for them to go was found, could never happen unless the people that were being evicted would support it. This was why he “invited five prominent black men to the White House. The topic was simple, that white and blacks cannot coexist and that separation is the
most expedient means to peace”(Parkinson). Lincoln stated that his “first impulse would be to free all the slaves, and send them to Liberia, to their own native land”(Parkinson). His first solution was identical to the ACS, however it was not nearly as successful as he tried to use a small slave population in Delaware to test this option’s viability to which he was met with “fierce opposition from abolitionists when it went public”(Parkinson). With Liberia out of the picture he started secret scouting missions to various places such as modern day Panama. A man by the name Ambrose Thompson offered his land in Panama for slave refugees who would sustain the new settlement with the natural coal deposits on the land. This could have been the new home for millions of slaves, however, the coal that resided on the land turned out to be worthless. With the relative support of the slave community he still needed a suitable place to send them which led him to…
With little hope left and rising tensions between the North and South Lincoln gave this idea one last shot. This final shot consisted of a small island of the coast of Haiti called cow island. The land was owned by an american land developer named Bernard Kock. For this colonization to take place so close to Haiti he would need to get permission from the Haitian government. Instead of doing this he lied and said that he did indeed receive permission for an African American settlement. With a new settlement scouted out Lincoln sent approximately 450 settlers down, this is
where the first problem arose in the form of a smallpox outbreak. Once they arrived to the island they were abandoned with no housing or infrastructure as Kock had promised. Things only got worse as it was reported that “the soil on Cow Island was too poor for any serious agriculture”(Johnson). The inability to farm made the island uninhabitable due to lack of food that lead to starvation. These three factors contributed to the fact that “nearly 25% had died due to poor nutrition and disease”(Parkinson). With no food, housing, and disease the remainder of the settlement required rescue. In January of 1864 rescue came in the form of the US navy. This massive failure was never spoken about again by Lincoln and was relatively forgotten in US history.
Most people know about the end of slavery with the most basic knowledge after taking a history class. However, there were many radical plans that happened before the termination of slavery. The task of colonizing one race completely out of the United States proved to be too large of a task for the United States government at the time of unrest between the north and the south to handle. This plan to separate the African American race from the US needs to be known because people should know about the crazy plan to deport slaves from the colonies. So next time you hear the end of slavery discussed make sure that people know about the great plan before it and the people that died with the hope of colonization.
By Hank Sanford and Nico Gambetta
“American Colonization Society.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 19 Sept. 2017,
“Lincoln on Slavery.” National Parks Service, U.S. Department of the Interior,
Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: “Abraham Lincoln and Slavery.”Abraham Lincoln’s Classroom, Johns Hopkins
Press, 2 Sept. 2008,
Parkinson , Hilary. “Lincoln to Slaves: Go Somewhere Else.” National Archives and Records Administration, National
Archives and Records Administration, 1 Dec. 2010,
Johnson, Eric. “7 Civil War Stories You Didn’t Learn in High School.” Mental Floss, 7 Aug. 2013