As I reviewed the comments offered over the past week I noticed one that compared Lincoln’s advocacy of colonization with Grant’s desire to annex the Dominican Republic. At first glance, this might make some sense. Both plans addressed common concerns: both addressed the issue of racial prejudice, and both sought to give blacks a chance elsewhere. However, that’s about as far as it goes. I’ve written about Grant’s interest in annexation before, and his reasons for it, but for now I’ll make a few short points:
1. Lincoln’s plan for colonization called for the voluntary resettlement of African Americans outside the United States; Grant’s plan for annexation would have made the land in question part of the United States.
2. Lincoln’s plan sought to remove the race issue from the United States; Grant’s plan empowered blacks who wanted to remain by offering them the opportunity to threaten to leave … but just to go to another part of the United States. If blacks threatened to leave the South, Grant reasoned, white southerners, needing a labor force, might well have to respect their rights in order to retain their labor. Grant was giving blacks leverage, while Lincoln was offering them a way out.
3. Lincoln’s plan aimed large part to facilitate the end of slavery by taking off the table whites’ concern about the aftermath of abolition; Grant’s plan addressed concerns that arose in the aftermath of abolition, especially anti-black violence, but also had other imperialistic aspects (including a naval station and raw materials) that were not part of Lincoln’s plan.
4. Lincoln’s plan would have subtracted people of color from the United States, while Grant’s plan would have added people of color to the United States (which is one reason why Democrats and a few dissident Republicans opposed it, although Charles Sumner offered somewhat more principled opposition).
5. Lincoln openly spoke of the advantages of colonization regarding race relations, while Grant remained rather quiet in public comments about how annexation would improve race relations. Lincoln sought to placate white racism, while Grant feared its backlash.
6. Frederick Douglass opposed Lincoln’s plan and supported Grant’s proposal. He understood the difference.
One can discuss and debate the wisdom and practicality of Grant’s proposal, but one should not confuse it with Lincoln’s plan.