The Role of the American Colonization Society
The American Colonization Society played a key role in Abdul Rahman's emancipation and eventual repatriation to Africa, but it was a controversial group, widely criticized by abolitionists and widely supported by slaveholders across the South and political leaders across the country, including Henry Clay. The injustice of slavery led to ongoing resistance by enslaved people, including violent revolt. The Haitian revolution of 1792, the thwarted insurrection by Gabriel in Virginia in 1800, and other incidents led to increasing concern among white people.
This ongoing fear was one of the key motivations for the formation in 1816 of the American Colonization Society, whose goal was to send free African Americans to Africa to live in colonies there, particularly in Liberia, which had been founded by the ACS. Fundamental to the thinking of ACS members was the idea that black people could never be a full part of life in the United States, either because of their natural inferiority or because of oppression by white people.
While initially supported by a number of key figures in the abolitionist movement, including William Lloyd Garrison and Arthur Tappan, strong opposition by many African American leaders, including David Walker, led to a rejection of the ACS because it did not challenge the institution of slavery, and it accepted a fundamental inequality between black people and white people. By the mid-1830s, colonization had lost steam and gradually faded from view as the abolition movement seeking immediate emancipation gained momentum.
For more information about the American Colonization Society, click here
To read David Walker's Appeal, click here Pay special attention to Article IV, which is a critique of the ACS.
To look at historical records from the ACS, click here
Celebration of the abolition of slavery in Washington, D.C., April 19, 1866
© Courtesy of the Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-33937
Wood carving of Anthony Benezet (Source: Historical poetical and pictorial American scenes / by J.W. Barber, 1850)
© Courtesy of the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library.