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Digital History ID 4573

 

After the War of 1812, antislavery sentiment was deflected by colonization movement, a movement to transport free blacks to Africa.

A number of factors contributed to support for colonization. Racism increased dramatically after the Revolution. African-Americans were shut out from most forms of employment and from most schools, except for a few segregated schools. The strength of racial prejudice convinced some whites and a few African-Americans that it would never be possible for whites and blacks to live as genuine equals.

Slave revolts also led some to support colonization. In the aftermath of Haitian Revolution and Gabriel Conspiracy of 1800 and 1803 in Virginia, colonization seemed like a safe and sane approach to race relations.

During the 1810s and '20s, the colonization movement attracted a highly respectable leadership, including such major political leaders as Henry Clay. Congress helped fund the cost of transporting free blacks to Liberia (a colony and later a country established in West Africa by 83 free blacks).

In the face of this widespread consensus in favor of colonization, staunch opponents of slavery concentrated their efforts on lobbying for state emancipation acts and measures to prevent the kidnapping of free blacks. A few African-Americans supported colonization in the belief that it provided the only alternative to continued discrimination. Paul Cuffe (1759-1817), a Quaker sea captain who was the son of a former slave and an Indian woman, led the first experiment in colonization. In 1815, he transported 38 free blacks to Sierra Leone.

Most African-Americans opposed colonization. In August 1817, over 3000 African-Americans attended a protest meeting against colonization in Philadelphia. But during the 1850s, when many black abolitionists felt a deep sense of pessimism about their cause, colonization sentiment appeared again among free blacks. During the 15 months following passage of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, some 13,000 free blacks migrated to Canada.

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