“Better For Us To Be Separated”

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The contradictions between resettlement under pressure and human dignity, as well as the inextricable entanglement of the venture in the sectional quarrel, began to tell. Many disillusioned and discouraged colonizationists defected to the ranks of abolition. State auxiliaries went off in separate directions—those of Maryland, Kentucky, Mississippi, New York, and Pennsylvania created their own settlements of Negroes in Liberia. Such losses multiplied the already serious financial difficulties of the national organization, which had been burdened all along with the cost of having to help support Liberia in addition to its normal organizational costs.

In 1847 Liberia was finally cut loose from the parental purse strings and given independence. The society continued to send out settlers—nearly six thousand in the final thirteen years before the war. Relocation of Negroes still appealed to many Americans, but after decades of denunciation by both sides in the sectional quarrel, the American Colonization Society was in such bad odor it could not even get the federal government to recognize Liberia as a nation until 1862. And by then President Lincoln was considering various resettlement programs of his own and giving Liberia short shrift.

The society outlasted the war and the nineteenth century. In 1909 it had five surviving members, who bequeathed its records to the Library of Congress, and one of its recent historians relates that a “skeletal organization” received “a small legacy” as recently as 1959. Help was given to Negroes immigrating to Liberia until 1899. But long before that year, the nation had turned—however haltingly—to a solution more in keeping with America’s best impulses. “… [i]t is the purpose of God, I am fully persuaded,” Garrison had declared, in a prophecy still not completely realized, “to humble the pride of the American people by rendering the expulsion of our colored countrymen utterly impracticable, and the necessity for their admission to equal rights imperative. … I see them here, not in Africa, not bowed to the earth, or derided and persecuted as at present, not with a downcast air or an irresolute step, but standing erect as men destined heavenward, unembarrassed, untrammelled, with none to molest or make them afraid.”