Not A Single Former Slave Involuntarily Removed

Here is something to think about from James Oakes’s Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery in the United States, 1861-1865.

It is not hard to understand the flurry of support for colonization during the Civil War.  Notwithstanding the opposition of radical abolitionists, colonization presupposed emancipation, and whenever talk of emancipation arose, so too did talk of colonization.  The more difficult question to answer is why it came to so little.  In the modern world, wars of unification, especially civil wars inflamed by ethnic nationalism, commonly lead to forced population transfers and sometimes genocide.  The Civil War in the United States was certainly a war of national unification, and the Republicans exhibited more than their fare share of ethnic nationalism.  Nor was the idea of forced expulsion unheard of in the United States.  Most Republican policymakers were old enough to remember the brutal “removal” of the southeastern Indians during Andrew Jackson’s administration.  And during the Civil War itself the Union army forcibly expelled some ten thousand whites from their homes in Missouri.  The same army systematically uprooted tens of thousands of slaves from their plantations to relocate them in areas safe from the reach of their former masters.  And yet not a single emancipated slave was involuntarily “removed” from the United States in the wake of emancipation. (p. 281)

Oakes goes on to suggest an explanation, but for now I am going to leave you with just the excerpt.

Searching for Black Confederates: The Civil War’s Most Persistent Myth

“Levin’s study is the first of its kind to blueprint and then debunk the mythology of enslaved African Americans who allegedly served voluntarily in behalf of the Confederacy.”–Journal of Southern History

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16 comments… add one
  • Bob Huddleston Mar 8, 2013 @ 13:51

    No matter how much AL was in favor of sending the African-Americans back to Africa, it is significant that he always insisted it had to be voluntary. Somewhere I have read an analysis that Lincoln, quite a good mathematician, knew that the entire US merchant marine did not have the capacity to carry 4 million people to Africa in a reasonable time — especially since the numbers of new born would have swamped the effort. Compare the immigration of the Irish to the New World: in the 15 years from the Potato Famine to the start of the war, total Irish immigration was about 1.5 million.

    • Don Mar 9, 2013 @ 23:54

      Colonization After Emancipation: Lincoln and the Movement for Black Resettlement, Magness, Page.

      Per this title Lincoln wanted to resettle slave in Haiti, Panama, Brazil, etc….

      When emancipation occurred in 1862 in DC, owners were paid up to $300 for “the loss of their property” but freed slaves were offered $100 to emigrate. There are some reports that individuals were coerced to leave..

      • Kevin Levin Mar 10, 2013 @ 2:42


        Thanks for the comment. I’ve heard about the Magness book, but have not had a chance to read it. Can you provide references for these “reports”?

        • Don Mar 10, 2013 @ 19:56

          I ran into a blog a while ago that was very virulent on the subject of colonization. It was hosted by an African American who held it to be the epitome of racism. He did not discuss the Magness book but did refer to the DC emancipation and quoted some letters from unhappy emigrants who claimed to have been tricked into going to Panama. He supposed that others left the US in the same way…

          His main focus was Liberia. If I run into it again I will share… couldn’t find it from some brief searching.

  • Joe Fiffick Mar 7, 2013 @ 12:08

    I would argue that there were 3 reasons for this. First and foremost, the enormous cost involved in the transportation of over 4 million black Americans would have been prohibitive. There was nowhere to easily send them even if there was strong support for idea. The proposal of Liberia or South America would have required ship transportation that would have taken decades to accomplish. There was no good land destination such as Canada or Mexico or carving out a territory in the west. Economic factors alone doomed this idea.
    Secondly it was easier for white northerners to leave the majority of blacks in the South as the problem with their integration into society was a Southern problem. They didn’t have to personally deal with the issue as they had small black populations. The South did take care of the problem with white northern racist approval by allowing white terrorism against blacks which resulted in Jim Crow, Prisoner Leasing, etc.
    Lastly I would argue you would have had strong opposition from the black community and their white allies. The colonization idea was heavily debated in the black community during the antebellum period but once the Civil War started, blacks started returning from places such as Canada to take part in the fight for black freedom. Mary Ann Shadd was originally a strong supporter of immigration of blacks to Canada but she returned during the Civil War and never went back. Frederick Douglas was ready to migrate to Haiti but the war also scuttled those plans and he decided to stay and fight for a better life for blacks in America. This was their country and they planned to stay and fight for equal rights.

  • GDBrasher Mar 6, 2013 @ 15:59

    Kevin, I suspect that you are more favorable to this book than I am (but I could be wrong), but Oakes’s handling of colonization is just one of the many aspects of this work that is troubling. (I’ve got a review coming out soon that will make my qualms more clear, especially his handling and mishandling of sources, as well as unsubstantiated claims). But as to this specific posting, I’ll just make one comment . . . yes, there were forced removals in this country, but the uprooting of thousands—even tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands—and relocating them to different parts of North America, can not in any way compare to the difficulties that would have handicapped the removal (forced or voluntary, a distinction he is wise in making) of 4 million slaves, not to mention free blacks in the north, to distant continents. To equate the two seems rather ridiculous. The explanations for colonization’s failures are myriad, but the financial and tactical difficulties can not be overlooked simply by saying something akin to “well, we successfully did it with other groups, so the explanation for why it was abandoned must lie elsewhere.” In fact, it seems to me, one must begin there, and then move on to more complex explanations. In one of your replies just now, you’ve alluded to his ultimate argument about why the Republicans abandoned the policy. Notice how he offers no primary sources to support this assertion (he cites only Foner’s discussion of the Union army’s implementation of a wartime free labor system for southern slaves–which ironically includes a statement by Foner which is at odds with Oakes’s assertions about the state of slave emancipation in late 1861 and early 1862, but thats another issue) . A far better (and better supported) analysis of why the Republicans abandoned colonization can be found in an essay by Mark Neely Jr. in _Lincoln’s Proclamation; Emancipation Reconsidered_ (edited by Blair and Younger).

    • Kevin Levin Mar 6, 2013 @ 16:07

      Hi Glenn,

      Thanks so much for this comment. I don’t know if I am more favorable, but I am enjoying it. The book covers so much ground and there are so many sub-topics that are brought up that I often simply don’t know what to make of it. You are right to raise the claims that you do in the comment and I look forward to reading your review. I completely agree with your emphasis on the myriad logistical challenges as well as what is likely a weak comparison. At the same time I appreciate it when authors force me to look at a question from a different angle. I never really thought about it before. Finally, I have to admit that I have not spent much time in the footnotes.

      • GDBrasher Mar 6, 2013 @ 16:15

        He definitely has a different angle on a lot of things, that is for sure. I’ve heard some people write this book off as not really saying anything new. On the contrary, it says a LOT that is new.

  • Rob Baker Mar 6, 2013 @ 15:02

    Does the author examine how formidable the opinion of colonization was in Congress? With Republicans in control, the colonization idea would have to permeate their emancipation ideology in order for it to be a possibility.

    BTW Kevin, I like your new format. The simplicity of it is easy on the eyes.

    • Kevin Levin Mar 6, 2013 @ 15:05

      Hi Rob,

      Not sure what you mean by “permeate their emancipationist ideology.” Oakes argues that colonization never got off the ground because Republicans needed former slaves to perform essential labor thus demonstrating the superiority of free labor ideology.

      Glad you like the new format. There is something about a completely stripped down site that is aesthetically pleasing. It’s the default WordPress theme. We will see how long it lasts. 🙂

      • Rob Baker Mar 6, 2013 @ 16:18

        Sorry for not being clear. What I meant can be best summed up in a question. How many congressmen felt colonization of emancipated slaves was the proper course of action? Your response more than answers the question, thank you.

  • Jim McGhee Mar 6, 2013 @ 13:41

    Kevin: Does the author provide a source for the explusion of ten thousand white Missourians from the state? That sounds terribly high to me.

    • Kevin Levin Mar 6, 2013 @ 13:46

      Good question. Unfortunately, he doesn’t.

      • Don Mar 8, 2013 @ 21:09

        General Order #11…. 25 Aug 1863 forced evacuation of four counties in western Mo (Cass, Bates, Jackson and Vernon)….issued by General Thomas Ewing….In retaliation for Quantrill’s raid on Lawrence, Kansas. Animals and farm animals were stolen or destroyed….houses, barns and outbuildings burned. Crops confiscated or destroyed. Some civilians summarily executed…Known afterwards as the burnt district… Long trains of wagons carried booty back to Kansas. Depopulated but later allowed to return and repurchase farms…

  • Leslie Schwalm Mar 6, 2013 @ 11:56

    …Which isn’t to say that it wasn’t attempted. The state of Iowa, for example, attempted to evict a former slave who had escaped slavery during the war and settled near Des Moines–the case went to the state supreme court where the court finally struck down state law banning in-migration of people of African descent.

    • Kevin Levin Mar 6, 2013 @ 12:46

      Hi Leslie,

      Thanks for the comment and for sharing that reference, which unfortunately I know nothing about.

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