Colonization of Freedmen: Arguments For and Against
The debate on the colonization of freedmen revolved around racial relations, politics, and peace. Advocates of this policy like the American Colonization Society felt that colonial territories in Central America (Haiti) would be more attractive to the black population than those in Africa (Liberia) were after the Proclamation. Their argument for a colonization policy was that it would help cure current and future racial animosities. It would also reduce the political influence of slave owners in the South. They felt that racial prejudice would motivate non-slaveholders to support the colonization of slaves outside their lands. The general belief was that blacks and whites could not coexist in the same society.
Others like John Usher, Lincoln’s interior secretary, saw the policy as a strategy to achieve peace. They argued that the policy would motivate Northern states that are apprehensive of invasion from freed slaves and rebellious territories to unite in the pursuit of peace. They believed that the colonization policy would be attractive to the conservatives who were opposed to emancipation.
Prior to the 1863 Proclamation, Lincoln initiated the Chiriqui plan as a calculated political move to appease the South. He could not declare slave freedom without proposing colonization. By late 1862, the Union military had not triumphed over the confederate resistance, and full emancipation would have implications for future warfare. Thus, the proponents of colonization argued that ending slavery without colonization would be too radical. Such a move would result in the defeat of the Republican Party in the upcoming elections in the North.
Opponents of the colonization plan argued that the program was an economic burden to the Union. Congressman James Brooks stated that the president’s proposal would hurt the economy of the North, as the cost of moving enfranchised blacks would require budgetary appropriations. Further, the large number of freed slaves meant that the Chiriqui project would be very costly. Other critics felt that the colonization policy was pursued in the interest of political expediency. They argued that blacks were loyal to their country and could strengthen the Union’s military force in combat against the confederate troops. They felt that the inclusion of black soldiers into service would give the North an upper hand in the war.