restricted access 6. Antislavery Colonies in the Upper South
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Chapter Six ANTISLAVERY COWNIES IN THE UPPER SOUTH In the spring of 1859John C. Underwood wrote to OliverJohnson of the Garrisonian NationalAnti-Slavery Standard to promote a "plan of Christian colonization of the border slave States by organized emigration ." Underwood, a Republican, a former Liberty party abolitionist , and a sometimes resident of the slave state of Virginia, was the leader ofthe American EmigrantAid and Homestead Company. Claiming that his experience in Virginia had convinced him "that a given amount of effort in favor of freedom in the presence of slavery will produce ten times the effect ofthe same effort at a distance," he challenged Johnson and other Garrisonians to become more aggressive in their antislavery work. Were Christ present, Underwood maintained , hewould-unlike "some professed reformers"-go south "despite any consideration of personal peril." Underwood especially wanted wealthy abolitionists to investinVirginian lands, build schools and churches, and introduce the "habits of industry and all the elements of enlightened free society."! Johnson published Underwood's letterwithout comment, and no Garrisonians announced their removal to Virginia. They had little inclination to go, and the southern reaction to John Brown's raid six months later precluded any such undertaking. Underwood's letter, nevertheless, reflected an idea--organized northern colonization of the upper South-thatenjoyed considerable eclatin antislavery circles in the latter halfofthe 1850s. The letter also indicates that there were religious and abolitionist elements in a colonization attempt that has been portrayed as a business-oriented, conservative-Republican scheme aimed at making profits and northernizing the South without confrontation over slavery. 108 The Abolitionists and the South The purpose of this chapter is to modify such portrayals by analyzing the role in abolitionist reform culture of organized efforts to attractnorthern settlersto the upper South. Previouslypublished studies have concentrated on such settlements in Virginia and on the economic motives of their proponents. But a different perspective emergeswhen Underwood's abolitionism isfully considered and when similar efforts to establish northern colonies in Kentuckyare brought into focus. Events in Kentucky lend credence to an interpretation that stresses Underwood's abolitionism and to a contention that moral, as well as political and economic, motives underlay these undertakings. Linking the Virginia colonization scheme to the Republican party and to northeastern business interests is certainly correct. Underwood and his associate Eli Thayer of Massachusetts were prominent Republicans when they began the effort in 1857. They enjoyed the support of major Republican newspapers, as well as that ofthe independent but radically anti-abolitionist New York Herald. In an influential article published in 1945, George W. Smith established that a dozen wealthy New York businessmen and bankers were the principal stockholders in Underwood andThayer's company and that the two men were disciples of Whig political economist Henry C. Carey. Carey argued that the introduction ofmechanized farming and manufacturing into the South would result in a very gradual disappearance of slavery and the transition of blacks from slaves to free laborers.2 Smith portrayed the Virginia colonization scheme as imperialism designed to extend the northern economic system into the agrarian South and to enrich northern capitalists. More recently Eric Foner and others have identified plans for organized northern emigration into the South with Republican economic nationalism aimed at destroying a backward southern economy that supported the political power of an anachronistic slaveholding oligarchy. In this view those who sought to send northern settlers into the South desired to remake the South in the North's image not primarily because they opposed the oppression ofblacks in slaverybutfor the sake ofcapitalism, northern political interests, and free white labor.3 No historical figure better serves these interpretations than Eli Thayer. An odd, egocentric educator and promoter, Thayer is best known for his attempt beginning in 1854 to send New Englanders to Antislavery Colonies in the Upper South 109 Kansas Territory in order to make it a free state under the rules of popular sovereignty. He certainly emphasized profits ratherthan abolitionism in many of his statements concerning the similar Virginia settlementscheme. Because ofremarks he made in the 1880s,Thayer has also been portrayed as a bitter critic of abolitionists in general and the Garrisonians in particular. Like many other Republicans of the late 1850s, he professed concern for free white laborers and, unlike immediatists, demonstrated little sympathy for slaves. He made disparaging remarks about blacks and contended that northern freelabor colonization would end slavery in the upper South not through emancipation but by forcing black labor farther south.4 Ifthis were all there was to...