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Colonization After Emancipation

Lincoln and the Movement for Black Resettlement

Phillip W. Magness and Sebastian N. Page

Publication Year: 2011


History has long acknowledged that President Abraham Lincoln, the Great Emancipator, had considered other approaches to rectifying the problem of slavery during his administration. Prior to Emancipation, Lincoln was a proponent of colonization: the idea of sending African American slaves to another land to live as free people. Lincoln supported resettlement schemes in Panama and Haiti early in his presidency and openly advocated the idea through the fall of 1862. But the bigoted, flawed concept of colonization never became a permanent fixture of U.S. policy, and by the time Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, the word “colonization” had disappeared from his public lexicon. As such, history remembers Lincoln as having abandoned his support of colonization when he signed the proclamation. Documents exist, however, that tell another story.



            Colonization after Emancipation: Lincoln and the Movement for Black Resettlement explores the previously unknown truth about Lincoln’s attitude toward colonization. Scholars Phillip W. Magness and Sebastian N. Page combed through extensive archival materials, finding evidence, particularly within British Colonial and Foreign Office documents, which exposes what history has neglected to reveal—that Lincoln continued to pursue colonization for close to a year after emancipation. Their research even shows that Lincoln may have been attempting to revive this policy at the time of his assassination.



            Using long-forgotten records scattered across three continents—many of them untouched since the Civil War—the authors show that Lincoln continued his search for a freedmen’s colony much longer than previously thought. Colonization after Emancipation reveals Lincoln’s highly secretive negotiations with the British government to find suitable lands for colonization in the West Indies and depicts how the U.S. government worked with British agents and leaders in the free black community to recruit emigrants for the proposed colonies. The book shows that the scheme was never very popular within Lincoln’s administration and even became a subject of subversion when the president’s subordinates began battling for control over a lucrative “colonization fund” established by Congress.



            Colonization after Emancipation reveals an unexplored chapter of the emancipation story. A valuable contribution to Lincoln studies and Civil War history, this book unearths the facts about an ill-fated project and illuminates just how complex, and even convoluted, Abraham Lincoln’s ideas about the end of slavery really were.

Published by: University of Missouri Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-iv


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-x

As unlikely as it may seem in retrospect given the present study it produced, this inquiry began as a simple quest to locate an elusive document from Abraham Lincoln’s presidency. On June 13, 1863, an agent bearing credentials from the British government sat with Lincoln for a highly secretive interview at the White House. Following a brief discussion of the ...


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pp. xi-xiv

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Chapter 1: The Curious Politics of Colonization

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pp. 1-12

“Without being an enthusiast, Lincoln was a firm believer in colonization.” This was the assessment given to him by presidential secretaries John Nicolay and John Hay in a duly celebrated 1890 biography of their late employer.1 The colonization of freed slaves, to either Africa or the tropics of Central America and the Caribbean, featured prominently in Abraham ...

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Chapter 2: American Freedmen, British Labor

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pp. 13-23

In the summer of 1862 Abraham Lincoln approached James Mitchell, his newly appointed commissioner of emigration, with the task of administering the recently appropriated colonization fund.1 The two men were old acquaintances from a prior era of midwestern colonization politics, set to embark on the second decade of their professional relationship. Mitchell ...

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Chapter 3: Mr. Lincoln’s Hobby

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pp. 24-38

Upon receiving word of the January 1, 1863, Emancipation Proclamation, Lord Lyons wryly remarked that it “frees the slaves in all the states or parts of the states in which the United States government has at the present moment no de facto power.” The legation recognized its significance only as a political gamble and speculated about its feared effect of sparking a violent backlash ...

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Chapter 4: The Contrabands Question

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pp. 39-42

Lyons met Hodge’s exuberance over Lincoln’s answer with characteristic cynicism. As he complained to Russell, Lincoln had a habit “of approving papers submitted by subordinates, without coming to an understanding with his Cabinet.” He sent Hodge to New York to locate Usher. Humbled by Lincoln’s order, the secretary conceded “that as the President had given ...

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Chapter 5: This Most Desirable Country

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pp. 43-54

The Antonio Mathe was a “small but stanch brig.” Captained by C. H. Stephens and with an officer’s complement of two, she sailed a mail route between New York and Belize City. The Caribbean hurricane season made summer voyages unpredictable and potentially treacherous for such a mod-est vessel. Departing July 11, she made a particularly stormy run and arrived ...

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Chapter 6: A Self-Supporting Scheme

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pp. 55-62

A combination of Hodge’s personal presence in Washington, D.C., and the simple timeliness of his approach made the British Honduras scheme the most developed of Lincoln’s second wave of colonization projects, those in which the partnership of foreign governments would be sought as a surety against the pitfalls of the 1862 negotiations and the corruption ...


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pp. 63-72

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Chapter 7: Secretary Seward and the Dutch Treaty

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pp. 73-81

If historians have tended to underestimate the complexity of Lincoln’s abstract beliefs on colonization, there has been a danger, too, of over-simplifying the more down-to-earth questions of preference and timing which surround the emigration projects. In the conventional narrative, Chiriquí comes across as rejected outright, then superseded by the ...

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Chapter 8: Administrative Dysfunction, Congressional Displeasure

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pp. 82-95

James Mitchell’s unexpectedly deft political maneuvering in May and June 1863 almost single-handedly reversed the fortunes of the Honduras and Guiana colonization projects. With the British principals disposed to abandon their quest for labor to politics, the lowly emigration commissioner outflanked two hostile members of the cabinet, secured the blessings ...

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Chapter 9: The Indefatigable James Mitchell

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pp. 96-104

Despite his budgetary setbacks James Mitchell continued to press for the British emigration scheme’s revival in the United States. On November 24, 1864, he submitted his promised supplement to the report sought by the Senate in June, hoping that Congress would act to restore his funding in the approaching winter session. He asked Congress to directly appropriate the ...

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Chapter 10: Colonization Repudiated, Colonization Revived?

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pp. 105-117

Abraham Lincoln left little direct indication of his final disposition on the emigration projects in British Honduras or any other Caribbean locale. The president indisputably sustained the schemes throughout 1863, including against the internal resistance of his cabinet. He pitched the West Indies scheme to Lyons at its outset in January, revived it in June when ...

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Chapter 11: Colonization after Emancipation

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pp. 118-128

Lincoln’s colonization policies have always been a troublesome part of his legacy for historians to accept and analyze. Fredrickson touched a nerve in 1975 when, citing the Butler anecdote of a “colonization inter-view” on the eve of Lincoln’s assassination, he wondered whether “Lincoln continued to his dying day to deny the possibility of racial harmony in ...


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pp. 129-158


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pp. 159-160


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pp. 161-164

Back Cover

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p. BC-BC

E-ISBN-13: 9780826272355
E-ISBN-10: 0826272355
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826219091
Print-ISBN-10: 0826219098

Page Count: 178
Illustrations: 10 illus
Publication Year: 2011

Edition: 1