Southerners Righting the Wrongs of the Northern Slave-Trade


Though Northerners like John Quincy Adams sneered at the colonization scheme, we recall that his fellow New Englanders grew rich on the slave trade and that the industrial economy of the northeast was based upon slave profits. The fanatical abolitionists lifted nary a finger to help return the slaves their fathers had brought to the West Indies and North America, but the African found friends in the American South. The humane colonization plan would be thwarted by a combination of factors, most important of which were Northerner Eli Whitney’s cotton gin and the labor needed to keep New England and British textile mills supplied with cotton. Contrary to modern-day claims that Americans did little to end slavery in the early years of our republic, American Southerners clearly led the way toward a moral and Christian solution. As mentioned below, "the coast of Africa was lined with slavers," but no Confederate flag was to be seen.

Bernhard Thuersam, Executive Director Cape Fear Historical Institute Post Office Box 328 Wilmington, NC 28402

Southerners Righting the Wrongs of the Slave-Trade:

"On December 28, 1816, the colonizers assembled in the hall of the House of Representatives. The constitution drafted by (Francis Scott) Key and his colleagues was adopted; and thus was founded the American Colonization Society. The constitution declared the purpose of the society to be the promotion of "a plan for colonizing (with their consent) the Free People of Colour residing in our country, in Africa, or such other place as Congress shall deem expedient."

The organization of the Society was perfected on January 1, 1817 with the election of officers. Justice Bushrod Washington (kin of George) was elected president. The following Vice-Presidents were then selected: Secretary of the Treasury William H. Crawford of Georgia; Speaker (Henry) Clay of Kentucky; William Phillips of Massachusetts; former Governor John Eager Howard, Samuel Smith and John C. Herbert of Maryland; Colonel Henry Rutgers of New York; John Taylor of Virginia; General Andrew Jackson of Tennessee; Attorney General Richard Rush and Robert Ralston of Pennsylvania; General John Mason of the District of Columbia; and Reverend Finley….the first name on the board of managers was that of Francis S. Key.

The lawyers, clergymen, members of Congress, and other public men, who organized the American Colonization Society were idealists. Their aim was to eradicate slavery without causing political or economic violence. Statesmen from the North and South were able to stand together on the platform of the Society. According to some historians, the colonizers were "idealists with troubled consciences." Patrick Henry cried…"I am drawn along by the inconvenience of living without them. I will not, I cannot justify it…Slavery is detested; we feel its fatal effects—we deplore it with all the pity of humanity. But is it practicable, by any human means, to liberate them without producing the most dreadful and ruinous consequences?"

The more practical business men of the country sneered at the scheme. The cold and calculating John Quincy Adams criticized the idea as absolutely visionary. The critics doubted whether the free Negroes would be willing to leave the United States for tropical Africa; and even if they did, whether they would be able to govern themselves after they arrived there. But the colonizers were not discouraged. They believed that as their purpose was humane it had the approval of Providence, and that if they persevered they would meet with success in the end. They also…(believed that) the deported blacks would take with them what they had learned in America and would found in Africa a free and happy commonwealth.

Fortunately (Virginian) James Monroe, who succeeded Mr. Madison in the presidential chair on March 4, 1817, gave his endorsement to the plan of colonization. And in a year or two representatives of the American Colonization Society were on their way to Africa with instructions to explore the west coast of the Dark Continent and to select a location for a colony for the free blacks of America. Before long auxiliary colonization societies were formed in Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York…Early in 1818 the people of Baltimore contributed several thousand dollars to the cause, and the Legislature of Maryland requested the Governor to urge President Monroe and the members of Congress to negotiate for a colony in Africa by cession or purchase. Similar resolutions were adopted by the Legislatures of Virginia, Tennessee, and other States.

As a result of the pleas of the friends of colonization, the Congress, on March 3, 1818, passed an act directing the United States Navy to capture all African slaves found in the possession of American slave-traders, and empowering the President to appoint agents on the coast of Africa to receive, shelter, feed, clothe, and protect the slaves so captured. The passage of this law brought cheer to Francis Scott Key and his associates. It meant the cooperation of the United States Government. The coast of Africa was lined with slavers; and without the aid of the Navy the little colony would be at their mercy."

(Francis Scott Key, Life and Times, Edward S. Delaplaine, Biography Press, 1937)