American Colonization Society

The American Colonization Society (in full, The Society for the Colonization of Free People of Color of America), founded in 1816, was the primary vehicle to support the return of free African Americans to what was considered greater freedom in Africa. It helped to found the colony of Liberia in 1821–22 as a place for freedmen. Among its founders were Charles Fenton Mercer, Henry Clay, John Randolph, and Richard Bland Lee.

Paul Cuffee, a wealthy mixed-race New England shipowner and activist, was an early advocate of settling freed blacks in Africa. He gained support from black leaders and members of the US Congress for an emigration plan. In 1811 and 1815–16, he financed and captained successful voyages to British-ruled Sierra Leone, where he helped African-American immigrants get established. Although Cuffee died in 1817, his efforts may have "set the tone" for the American Colonization Society (ACS) to initiate further settlements.

The ACS was a coalition made up mostly of evangelicals and Quakers who supported abolition, and Chesapeake slaveholders who understood that unfree labor did not constitute the economic future of the nation. They found common ground in support of so-called "repatriation". They believed blacks would face better chances for full lives in Africa than in the U.S. The slaveholders opposed state or federally mandated abolition, but saw repatriation as a way to remove free blacks and avoid slave rebellions. From 1821, thousands of free black Americans moved to Liberia from the United States. Over twenty years, the colony continued to grow and establish economic stability. In 1847, the legislature of Liberia declared the nation an independent state.

Critics have said the ACS was a racist society, while others point to its benevolent origins and later takeover by men with visions of an American empire in Africa. The Society closely controlled the development of Liberia until its declaration of independence. By 1867, the ACS had assisted in the movement of more than 13,000 Americans to Liberia. From 1825 to 1919, it published a journal, the African Repository and Colonial Journal. After that, the society had essentially ended, but did not formally dissolve until 1964, when it transferred its papers to the Library of Congress.

Read more about American Colonization Society:  Origins, Motives, Preparation of Colony, First Colony, Expansion and Growth of The Colony, African Repository and Colonial Journal, Lincoln and The ACS, Criticism and Decline of The ACS, Dissolution

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