As I mentioned yesterday, in the course of looking through my notes to compile a couple of lists for a blog post or two, I ran across something that I had forgotten. When rereading it, I thought it might be of value to go ahead and post it.
It might come as a surprise to some readers that the American Colonization Society continued into the Civil War, and even years after. It might be even more of a surprise to hear the type of content that continued to come out of the ACS, even after the South had seceded, and the majority of the Society’s Southern membership was no longer present.
The following is not one of those items from the ACS, but is part of a speech delivered to the ACS at their annual meeting, in January, 1863. Of course, before reading this, please remember what had happened by the time of this meeting… namely the Emancipation Proclamation and the opening efforts to recruit black troops.
With this in mind… here’s a portion of that speech (I’ve added emphasis to alert readers to specific areas in the text):
THE AFRICAN QUESTION.
It is to this country what the Roman question is to Europe, only more important, more imminent. The problem presented to the founders of your Society a half century ago…So, now, notwithstanding the demonstrations of the Almighty, inventive politicians announce extraordinary solutions of this problem. One says bind the African on this continent in indissoluble bonds. Give him no means; if possible, extinguish his desire for development and progress in the scale of civilization; teach him no letters; give him no books; rivet him like Prometheus to the eternal rock of servitude; deny him all legal rights of marriage and of parentage; deprive him of free will; subject him to the will of another. Direct what faculties he has to physical production, for the benefit of another. Let his merit or his extraordinary diligence go to the emolument of the master, but in no case to the elevation of the slave. Contempt for the color, without respect for the quality, is the maxim. Build the foundation of society from this quarry; but whatever the grain of any slab, however, fine the polish it might take, whatever the demands of the edifice, let none of this marble rise in the superstructure. Let the African in America be either a perpetual slave, or an outcast, an outlaw.
This, in the plain language of results, is the solution presented by one very large class of people, extending more or less over all parts of the United States at this moment.
Elsewhere we hear another solution. Its current run thus: The African is here without his fault. Give back to him, here, at once, the physical freedom, at least, to which he would have been entitled on his original continent. Give him a status in the courts which shall recognize the humanity of his race, rather than its vendibility. Guarantee to him that primary element of civilization, the family relation with all its rights. Give him the alphabet and all its combinations to which his capacity shall be found equal. Give him wages adequate to his labor. Impose no other restraints upon him than are imposed on other laborers. Then let him stay forever, as a race, upon the same soil, and in the same climate with the Caucasian, and develop as he may in the progress of events. These views are also entertained by very large numbers of people, and usually prevail most where this questionable race prevails the least. Those who entertain them are mainly guided by the light of Christian sentiment, and by the political principles established at our independence, but they do not solve the question. They only shift the difficulty. They reach the question of the African slave, but not the question of the African, which is by far the most difficult.
The former solution, which is directly antagonistic to this, also ends the question of the slave; but stops at that of the African…
Now, sir, when this war is ended, and however ended, what a magnificent preparation is made for the separate progress of this race, and for the progress of colonization! Whether slavery remains to perpetuate the struggle against the imperishable ideas of the founders of our nationality, or itself presently or prospectively perishes, restoring harmony to all our institutions, in either event a new vigor and a new support should be given to the operations of colonization.
Take, if you please, the hypothesis that personal servitude continues. Here are thousands of Africans, freedmen, who to remain free must extricate themselves from the scenes, the climate, the ties to which they have been accustomed, and must labor among strangers, deprived of the society of their own race in many cases, and of the means gratifying the social instinct so strong with that people. While enjoying his natural rights, he will not be admitted to, nor fitted for, the regulated civil rights which would imply the equality of the races. What road to the pursuit of happiness is open to him as a freedman, other than migration to a colony where his own race legitimately opens to him all the privileges of social and political equality? There he may use all the agricultural and mechanical arts he has acquired in America, and make them the instruments of personal independence, civil elevation, and wealth.
Then take your military organizations of that race; no use for them remains after the special emergency has passed, which called them into existence. They will not be retained in a reduced military establishment, not disposed to return to the dull routine of labor-forced among strangers, and possessed of the advanced ideas which could be inculcated by their military training; what shall they do but emigrate to a congenial climate, where they may be the more effectually for their new training, serve to extend civilization by increasing both the civil and military power of the colony. They should be the explorers of the interior of that great continent to which your eyes have been so long directed. Livingstone’s explorations have not only disclosed the existence in that interior of animal wealth, but also of mineral wealth, and of high and healthy plains and valleys. These military colonists, accustomed to discipline and hardy exercises, and capable of fighting their way, if necessary, should in the course of a few years crown and surpass the labors of Park and Maxwell, and Livingstone, and of others who have painfully sought the course of the Niger, and the sources of the Nile. That almost fabulous mineral wealth exists in the interior of Africa, no geographer can doubt. The domestic African lacks the intelligence to discover or develop it. The domestic African lacks the intelligence to discover or develop it. The Caucasian lacks the physical characteristics to endure the climate. What remains but a loud call to the more intelligent African race in America, which has produced an astronomer like Banneker, a philanthropic voyager like Captain Paul Cuffee, to assume the discovery, and if necessary, the conquest of Ethiopia and its geological treasures, hidden for ages. The earth there awaits the arrival of this more intelligent part of the race to return to us an exuberance of such staples as coffee, cotton, and other tropical products which insure wealth to intelligent labor. Sir, there are two thoughts we must banish from our minds, that Ethiopia is the blank represented on the maps of our boyhood; and that the Almighty in the progress of the human race is knowledge and enterprise.
If, on the other hand, this personal servitude is ended by the war, the foregoing views receive additional force.
I am not reckoned with those who think the African here is useless unless a slave.
But his sudden removal would not only be impracticable, but inexpedient. Let him go gradually, and the white race gradually occupy the lands vacated. He is not welcome as a freedman to the colder States, and among his own people.
This reduces the question to his condition in the States where he has been a slave. In cases where his treatment has been controlled by the law of kindness, which I believe will embrace the majority of cases, the change would hardly be sensible. The master calls his servants and says to them, “you are freemen; you are entitled to wages for so much labor as you do for me; I can’t sell you now if I wish to, nor can anybody buy you; but I can turn you off my plantation if you do not work well, and behave well. If you stay with me, you must do both; I will feed you and your families, and clothe you, and give you what more you may earn. When you show me what you will do, I can tell you what I will pay you beside. If you don’t earn your living, because you won’t work, I will drive you off.”
Who has lived in the midst of this race and does not know no other law or regulation would be needed by the great majority of the race, when governed by one who understood their character.
But while this would serve the purpose with the greater number, there would inevitably be some whose vicious and wasteful qualities would subject them to banishment.
Leaving without a character, they would be rejected when applying for employment elsewhere. Others would be arrested, as whites are, for infractions of the penal law. The objections to voluntary and compulsory emancipation have always been that freedmen would become vicious, and would corrupt the slaves. It may at first appear paradoxical, but it is true nevertheless, that this apprehension was more justifiable when freedmen were the exceptions than it would when all are freedmen. In the former case, he was regarded with suspicion by the master, and perhaps with envy by the slave. He had a status between the two, and admitted to an equality with neither. He fears no loss of property. The late slave and the former freeman are then equal, and subject to the same laws and rules of humanity.
Still there would be a necessity to provide for the only two evils which the white race, living in the midst of freedmen, would fear – vagrancy and crime. All other ills would be corrected by the common law of kindness extended by the superior to the inferior, by the laws of society and of self-interest. In other respects, the hypothetical change of institutions would be effected with hardly a ripple upon the surface of daily duties on the plantation of an upright master.
I propose the subject for the consideration of a Society which has always been characterized by a regard for the best interest of both races; and upon which it is possible new duties may be imposed by the extraordinary events now transpiring, and by the prospective legislation of the several States, or of the United States, opening the war. If they make special provision for the unproductive and vicious portions of the race, the country would wait more patiently for such enlargement of the means of colonization as shall induce an emigration equal to the annual increase of that race within the United States. This rate of increase may be estimated for the future at about two per cent, or about 80,000 per annum. During the last census decade the ordinary commercial facilities afforded means for introducing , on the average, about 270,000 immigrants, therefore, which is practicable, time would terminate the domestic contact of the races in the United States.
Clearly, this speech would not pass muster in today’s views on racism. Yet, it was not a speech delivered by a Southerner. Even so, I think the objective is clear, and echoes sentiments held by many that many felt at that time, and therefore, it was more feasible… Christian and humane (to them)… to see the colonization succeed.
Allow me to back up a minute. I need to make something clear. I don’t bring this up to point at the North and say “see, it was just as bad up there!” No, I bring this up to show folks that there was a norm in place, and for that time.
So, who made this speech? Would you be surprised to learn that it was Iowa’s representative on the platform committee, of the 1860 Republican National Convention? Furthermore, would it be even more surprising to know that “he was one of five delegates on the subcommittee responsible for reconciling competing resolutions into a coherent platform, and in the end was the principal draftsman of the final product, including the antislavery planks that were referenced by southern states as they seceded upon Abraham Lincoln’s election“?
Allow me to form the question this present:
“You mean that the man who was responsible for the antislavery planks that led to the secession of the lower South actually held views on race that we, today, find offensive?”
The name of the man who delivered the speech was John Adam Kasson. Frankly, I had no idea who Kasson was until I ran across the speech and looked into Kasson’s history. Nonetheless, I did find various aspects of his life and political career very interesting. For starters, Kasson… a Vermont man… “After graduation [from the University of Vermont]… took up a series of temporary tutorial positions in Virginia. Although the young man developed a liking for Southern whites and harbored no moral objections to life in a slaveholding society, he observed the thinness of the soul and the wasteful farming practices of the Virginians. The ‘niggers’, he wrote, were kindly treated but were ‘as lazy as the land is lean.’
Kasson returned to New England in the summer of 1843, and began his training as a lawyer, eventually settling in New Bedford, Massachusetts.
The following (as did the quote above) comes from The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa (David Hudson, Marvin Bergman, etc.) p 275 – 276:
There this erstwhile Jacksonian Democrat first became involved in politics, joining the new Free-Soil Party, which, for a brief moment in 1848, threatened to secure dominance over the nation’s two main parties. Kasson’s flirtation with the antislavery Free-Soilers evidenced no conversion to abolitionism but rather his desire to join a new organization that would circumvent the power of the older political elites. Shortly after marrying Caroline Eliot, the daughter of his New Bedford law partner and a woman scarcely less pious than his own mother, Kasson migrated westward to St. Louis. Although he acquired a domestic slave named Lydia as well as his own law office, he quickly attacked himself to the free-soil wing of the local Democratic Party led by the old Jacksonian warrior Thomas Hart Benton and his chief lieutenant, Francis P. Blair. Restless, vain, and ambitious, Kasson moved on again in 1857 – this time to Des Moines, the ramshackled new capital of Iowa.
“Although his conservatism was not shared by radical antislavery Republicans, it helped to moderate the party’s dangerously sectional image in the eyes of many Northern voters. At Chicago, Kasson worked closely with the influential New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley. Greeley was far more progressive than Kasson on the slavery question, but both men understood that the party’s radical instincts had to be curbed if Abraham Lincoln was to be elected. Kasson’s empathy for Southern whites resurfaced after Lincoln’s victory in November 1860. Unlike most of his copartisans, he argued that the seceding states should be allowed to leave the Union in peace.
During the Civil War, Kasson established himself as a staunch supporter of President Lincoln, initially in his capacity as first assistant postmaster general and then, from 1863, as an Iowa congressman. He advanced his political career in both positions in part through his continuing contacts with the conservative Blair family, whose influence Lincoln’s cabinet was regarded with suspicion by growing numbers of Republicans.
I don’t know about you, but I think it would have been fascinating to hear Kasson and Greeley as they worked together. How difficult, I wonder, was it for the two to compromise?
This also makes me think more about a recent action by the Connecticut Democratic Party (by removing the names of Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson from their annual fundraising dinner)*. How many, I wonder, might others find “unsavory” under our modern lens? It’s not that I agree with the measures taken by the Connecticut Democratic Party. No, I think it’s horribly flawed… even dangerous (if we consider how this type of action might go further and distance us from the positive attributes of founding fathers who owned slaves). Personally, I think it’s like tossing out a bushel of sweet peaches simply because someone finds the pits offensive. At what point does the scrub make it convenient to forget the good? Furthermore, when we think of the position on race held by people like Kasson… well, you see where this goes?
But, before I go too far down that trail, back to the discussion at hand. We don’t need to have too many distractions. Or… is this actually of value when we consider the ACS?
More to follow, in this series of posts about the American Colonization Society.
*I see now that Georgia has followed Connecticut. I’m pretty sure I pointed to “the slippery slope”, a few weeks ago.