Over at Civil War Memory and Crossroads, Kevin and Brooks have noted a new book coming out about Lincoln and colonization. Brooks used the opportunity to explain his interpretation of Lincoln’s views and efforts regarding colonization. I think it is important to note that the idea of colonization was not by any means unique to Lincoln. Many leading Republicans and abolitionists favored some form of colonization for various reasons. Interestingly, I had almost reached the point in my series on Gratz Brown where the issue of colonization arises.
By the time of the Lincoln-Douglas debates, Gratz Brown and Frank Blair were firmly attached to the Republican Party and were the leading voices of free labor in Missouri. In February 1857, Blair had traveled to Springfield, Illinois to confer with Lincoln and other Republican leaders. He had assured Lincoln that the Missouri Democrat would fully support him. He also insisted they should “drop the Negro and go the whole hog for the white man… [T]he territories should be reserved for free white men or be surrendered to the slaves & their masters.” The major challenge for proponents of free white labor was what to do with the freed slaves. It was widely believed that the two races could never live in harmony; that whites would no more relish the competition of free black labor than they did that of slaves, and that emancipation meant equality and intermixing of the races. Frank Blair believed it was this fear that undermined emancipation efforts. He stated: “The idea of liberating the slaves and allowing them to remain in the country is one that will never be tolerated.” The Blairs, Francis, Sr., Montgomery, and Frank became leading proponents of colonization.
In the summer and fall of 1857 Frank began to study the feasibility of sending blacks to Central America by reading every available book on the region. Previous colonization plans (and Lincoln’s own plan) had promoted sending blacks to Africa, but in the 1850s American commercial interests and foreign policy was much focused on Central America. Blair concocted an elaborate scheme whereby “he hoped to induce Congress to grant Missouri all of the remaining public lands within the state, amounting to some 15 million acres, with the understanding that they would be sold and the proceeds used to purchase the state’s slaves and transport them to Central American colonies.”
Blair proposed that the United States should guarantee protection of personal and political rights to blacks should they be willing to colonize. He argued that American blacks would fare better in the tropical climate than whites. Furthermore, because they were superior to the current inhabitants of Latin America, American blacks would improve the Latin races by spreading American values and culture. Blair said, “It is this race of men christianized in our churches, civilized by our firesides, and educated in government by hearing our political discussions’ who could establish the laws, customs, and power of the United States in Central America.” Apparently the irony of lauding African Americans for their “intelligence, industry, and Progressive impulse,” while simultaneously calling for their expulsion from the country was lost on Blair. In January of 1858, Blair proposed in Congress that a committee be appointed to explore the possibility of securing property in Central or South America where a colony could be established, giving a speech in which he propounded his views, but the resolution never came to a vote.
Blair would continue to promote his colonization scheme throughout the country including a major address given to the Mercantile Library Association of Boston in January, 1859. Blair advised federal and state cooperation in the speech he titled “The Destiny of the Races of This Continent.” He attacked the institution of slavery and denounced the Dred Scott decision: “It has obtained the highest judicial sanction for the idea that the negro is a being so alien to our nature as to have no rights which we are bound to respect as appertaining to man; that he is not included as such in the declaration of humanity; and the inference is that he has no soul.” Blair declared this a “monstrous doctrine” and argued that all labor would be degraded to the point of despotism should slavery be allowed to continue. But he could not imagine a post-emancipation society where blacks and whites would live together. He argued that emancipation would take place only when voters knew that emancipation included the removal of blacks from the state. Blair often found receptive Republican listeners. The entire speech and letters of approbation sent to him can be accessed here.
In Missouri, Gratz Brown enthusiastically supported Blair in the pages of the Missouri Democrat throughout 1857-8. Brown advised his readers that Missouri must rid itself of black labor and bring in white immigrants instead. Brown confidently predicted that slavery was as good as dead in Missouri, swallowed up in the advance of free white labor. “The party of free labor,” he said, “is the only party in Missouri that has a future…White men for Missouri, Missouri for white men is the watch word under which we fight.”
Gratz Brown and Frank Blair would eventually have a falling out, however. Among the issues that would divide the cousins was the issue of colonization. Blair would cling to his colonization schemes well into the war years, whereas Gratz Brown would begin to see things differently. In 1862 while Blair was still advocating colonization to Central America, Brown no longer considered colonization practical. It would take too long. He began to argue: “If so many, many thousands of us have thus long borne with [the blacks] presence here as slaves, surely others can endure their abiding here as free men.” Brown believed that slavery was the primary cause of the war, and that the rebellion could only be put down by freeing the slaves. And he began to argue for emancipation on humanitarian grounds and talked of wanting to do “the right thing in this matter of liberating a downtrodden race.”