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Averting a Crisis: The Proslavery Critique of the American Colonization Society Douglas R. Egerton "The hatred of an Abolitionist is never so intense," sighed Philip Slaughter in 1 855, "as when a colonizationist is the object ofit."1 Except, Slaughter might have added had he lived in a different century, when modern scholars of the abolitionist movement write about the American Colonization Society. Following the lead of William Jay and William Lloyd Garrison, who charged that the Society was a "conspiracy" to hold Southern slaves "more securely in bondage," recent writers have alleged that "the movement had no antislavery goals" and that racism "served as one of the main bulwarks" of the organization, which "probably strengthened the hold of racial prejudice on the minds of white Americans." As a "Southern dominated organization," the Colonization Society wished only to remove free blacks, "those thorns in the side of slavery." Unfree labor was "not its true target," for human bondage was, "after all, a solution" to racial control inAmerica. In short, the "American Colonization Society was not antislavery."2 These eminent scholars are of course right—but only to a point. For all of its institutionalized racism, all of its spectacular inaction regarding slavery, the 1 Philip Slaughter, The Virginian History ofAfrican Colonization (Richmond: MacFarlane and Fergusson, 1855), vii/12. 2 William Jay, Inquiry into the Character and Tendency of the American Colonization, and American Anti-Slavery Societies (New York: R. G. Williams, 1838); and William Lloyd Garrison, Thoughts on African Colonization (Boston: Leavitt, 1832), 10. These historians are, respectively, C. Peter Ripley, ed.. The Black Abolitionist Papers, 5 vols. (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1991), 3:7; Merton Dillon, "The Failure oftheAmericanAbolitionists," Journal ofSouthern History 25 (May 1959): 166; Merton Dillon, The Abolitionists: The Growth of a Dissenting Minority (New York: Norton, 1979), 22; Vincent Harding, There Is a River: The Black Strugglefor Freedom in America (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1981), 66; Charles I. Foster, "The Colonization of Free Negroes in Liberia, 1816-1835," Journal ofNegro History 38 (Jan. 1953): 47; William E. Cain, ed., William Lloyd Garrison and the Fight Against Slavery: Selectionsfrom The Liberator (New York: St. Martin's, 1995), 9. Civil War History, Vol. xmi. No. 2 © 1997 by The Kent State University Press THE AMERICAN COLONIZATION SOCIETYI43 Colonization Society was hardly the planter-run organization its Northern critics (and their modern chroniclers) depicted it to be. This essay argues that the greatest challenge facing the border South businessmen who ran the organization was the bitter enmity of their deep South planter brethren. Proslavery writers correctly understood Society leaders to be politically powerful advocates of a diversified free labor market economy, in which black Americans, bond or free, would play no role. Not content merely with refusing to debate the liberation and colonization of their slave labor force, cotton state politicians excoriated the Society in the most brutal terms and even threatened its advocates with physical violence. By focusing on the clamorous rift between the Garrisonians and the colonizationists, or on the enormous disdain with which the majority of blackAmericans regarded the Society, historians have tended to ignore the even larger gulf between the upper South politicians, most of them National Republicans, who created and ran the organization in its early decades , and Southern Democrats, who loudly depicted the Society as a treasonous abolitionist organization, thereby forcing Southern moderates and urbanités to remain silent on the question of colonization.3 Founded by just such Southern moderates and urbanités in December 1816, the American Colonization Society proved to be precisely the kind of morally repugnant enterprise that ideologues on both sides of the slavery question could fear and despise. Ostensibly founded to promote the "colonizing [of] the free blacks of the United States," the Society's leadership boasted some of the wealthiest and most influential names in the young republic. Supreme Court Justice Bushrod Washington served as its figurehead president. House Speaker Henry Clay acted as vice president and chaired most of its meetings. Georgetown banker John Stull and Maryland Federalist senator Robert H. Goldsborough added their wealth and prestige, whileWashington attorneys Francis Scott Key and Elias B. Caldwell labored on the board of managers...