No reform movement of nineteenth-century America had a more diffuse meaning than African colonization. Depending on the perspective [End Page 540] of those interpreting it, African colonization served as a proslavery ruse meant to strengthen slavery, a benevolent effort to liberate and uplift enslaved blacks, a religious enterprise intended to spread Christianity, a pernicious attempt to remove free African Americans, a vehicle for ending the Atlantic slave trade, a means for civilizing pagan Africans, or a strategy for mitigating the pernicious effects of urbanization, among other perceptions.
Despite colonization's multiple meanings, historians have for generations been especially fixated on the pro- or antislavery intentions of colonizationists. In large part, they have one man to thank. When William Lloyd Garrison, taking his cue from northern free blacks, famously denounced the American Colonization Society (ACS) as inimical to abolition, he polemicized the colonization movement. Yet works over the last two decades have increasingly recaptured the genuinely antislavery aims of many colonizationists. This turn in the historiography has helped pave the way for pushing past the well-worn debate Garrison helped ignite.
The collection of essays under review seeks to do just that. In her introduction, Beverly Tomek foregrounds the volume as looking "to move beyond the black-and-white argument of whether colonization was pro-slavery or antislavery and reveal the movement's complexity" (17). To capture this complexity, Tomek and her coeditor, Matthew Hetrick, include sixteen essays that analyze the scope and substance of African colonization from a dizzying array of angles.
The collection is divided into three parts. Part 1 approaches the colonization movement as a missionary venture. Gale Kenny depicts New England colonizationists as contributing a "missionary sensibility" to colonization that mixed a denouncement of racial prejudice with a sharp disconnect from the intended recipients of their benevolence—a formula for missionary outreach that would long outlast the colonization movement itself. If black and white American ideas of African colonization often diverged, Ben Wright shows what united these disparate groups by spotlighting the shared, cross-racial emphasis on the Christian conversion of Africa. Andrew Wegmann and Debra Ham round out this section by taking on the exclusive perspective of people of color. Wegmann underscores the importance of the African American missionary Lott Cary in setting out a black-led Christian vision of Liberia that in many ways did not mesh with that of the ACS and its elite black allies, while Ham demonstrates the centrality of women of color to on-the-ground missionary work in early Liberia.
Essays in part 2 shift focus to African colonization's ties to the politics and diplomacy of nineteenth-century America. David Ericson substantiates enduring federal support for the activities of the ACS in the years [End Page 541] before slavery was abolished: overwhelmingly to fund the resettlement in Liberia of Africans seized by the U.S. Navy in suppressing the African slave trade. The first U.S. president to support the ACS was James Monroe. Daniel Preston provides an in-depth look at Monroe's understanding of slavery, emancipation, and the slave trade. If federal support for the ACS persisted through the Civil War, Nicholas Wood captures the shifting political climate that sunk the ACS as a national entity of social reform—by 1820 the organization was met with suspicion by both supporters and defenders of slavery. Brandon Mills and Bronwen Everill next situate colonization in an imperial context. By analyzing African colonization as an iteration of U.S. expansion, Mills finds in Liberia early characteristics of later American imperialism. Meanwhile, Everill compares Sierra Leone and Liberia to contrast British and American ideas of what she calls "extra-territorial representative citizenship" (200). She concludes that race limited the inclusion of Liberia and its citizens in the American nation, while Britain fit Sierra Leoneans under its territorial umbrella. Sebastian Page details how colonizationists ultimately fumbled the best chance they had to realize extensive black resettlement during the American Civil War.
The third and final section...