Lincoln’s Colonization versus Grant’s Annexation

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.

24 thoughts on “Lincoln’s Colonization versus Grant’s Annexation

  1. Matt McKeon March 23, 2011 / 2:15 pm

    Good post.

  2. Chuck Brown March 23, 2011 / 3:03 pm

    Thanks for clarifying the two positions, Brooks.

  3. Patrick March 24, 2011 / 5:00 pm

    Interesting post on an issue (or rather two issues) that isn’t covered very often. I don’t think the differences are as clear cut though.

    For Lincoln especially, the lines between colonization abroad in another country and colonization into something under U.S. control were actually pretty blurry. Sure, his attempt to colonize an island off of Haiti was certainly under a foreign government. So was Liberia.

    But it’s difficult to look at all his colonization activity in Panama and not recognize a dual purpose of establishing a U.S. foothold on the commercially and militarily strategic isthmus crossing. Ben Butler’s story even had Lincoln proposing the colonists being employed to dig the canal. And domestically, Lincoln was exploring possible “colonization” schemes that would simply resettle the slaves on vacant lands in west Texas or central Florida.

    I also think Lincoln’s motives were much closer to Grant’s & that he was far less concerned about appealing to white racists in the north as he was about alleviating anti-black violence.

    And there were even “imperial” attributes to Haiti and Liberia – notice that Lincoln coupled colonization to these places with the exchange of ambassadors with both countries – the first time the U.S. had ever recognized a black-run foreign government, even though both countries had been in existence for decades. Haiti in particular was of strategic importance as one of the few overtly pro-Union locales in the Caribbean when most of the islands there were providing shelter to the Confederate commerce raiders like the Alabama.

    • Brooks D. Simpson March 24, 2011 / 11:02 pm

      Most people would not see relocation schemes within the US as equivalent to colonization, and certainly Lincoln’s advocacy of it through 1863 concerned removal from the US; we really need to move beyond Butler if we are going to explore a proposed Panama project.

      I’m not sure I’d define exchanging diplomatic representatives (not ambassadors) as a sign of imperialism.

      • Patrick March 25, 2011 / 6:57 am

        I don’t think that was the case at all. Look up any thorough biography of Sen. Jim Lane. He wrote a proposal for Lincoln that would use the colonization funds to set up a site in Texas once the war was over. It was just one of many similar schemes that usually used the unsettled western lands, or sometimes Florida out of the belief that the slaves would do better in a “tropical” location. And they were always seen as just a domestic version of the same thing they were doing in Haiti and Panama and Liberia.

        • Brooks D. Simpson March 25, 2011 / 7:55 am

          Ezcept, of course, that they are not the same thing. One involved emigration from the United States, another involved relocation within the United States. Lincoln publicized the former and not the latter, so he understood the difference.

          • Patrick March 25, 2011 / 3:17 pm

            Look up Jim Lane’s proposal. He was very clear that Texas was to be nothing more than a domestic version of Liberia and Haiti, which he supported for the exact same reasons. So did most others who talked about Texas or Florida or the western territories as a home for blacks.

          • Brooks D. Simpson March 25, 2011 / 9:44 pm

            I think you’re missing the point, as what you say simply doesn’t address what I’ve said. You’re free to show us a public address by Lincoln on plans for Texas or Florida.

          • Patrick March 25, 2011 / 10:47 pm

            Lincoln never made a public address announcing a ship containing 500 ex slaves had just left for Haiti. That doesn’t mean it didn’t happen though. In fact almost everything he did in Haiti was in private until the press got hold of it. So listing his silence from selected public speeches just doesn’t hold water as an argument.

            My second point is that we know Lincoln’s contemporaries considered colonization abroad and colonization in the unsettled western lands of the U.S. to be two directly related variations of the same thing. With that in mind what basis do we have for just assuming that Lincoln must have viewed them with a rigid and incompatible distinction despite him never articulating one?

            Lincoln and Grant were looking at the same issue for similer reasons and had two variations on what they intended to be the same policy.

          • Brooks D. Simpson March 25, 2011 / 11:10 pm

            Lincoln offered public statements on colonization as removal from the United States. He offered no statements on relocation within the United States in Texas and Florida. Somehow you just can’t get around that fact, although you don’t seem to believe it means anything. But you’ve offered absolutely nothing in the way of evidence on Lincoln’s policies, just your own assertions. Now, if you have evidence on Lincoln’s intentions … not Jim Lane’s … then offer them regarding Texas and Florida.

            Somehow Frederick Douglass understood the difference between Lincoln’s and Grant’s policies. What do you know that he did not?

            The two approaches aren’t the same policy. One’s exclusion, one’s inclusion. Your repeated claims that they are the same won’t change that fact.

          • Patrick March 26, 2011 / 7:50 am

            Jim Lane made it very clear that that he saw Texas and Haiti as two approaches to the same policy. So did many other contemporaries who supported him such as James R. Doolittle – the Senate’s own “Mr. Colonization” if there ever was one.

            That tells me it was very common for politicians of the 1860’s to see the two as parts of the same plan. And that your assertion that they simply must be unrelated or exclusive to each other isn’t a sound one.

            Or to borrow from you argument, what did they know about colonization that you do not?

  4. Patrick March 26, 2011 / 7:51 am

    Jim Lane made it very clear that that he saw Texas and Haiti as two approaches to the same policy. So did many other contemporaries who supported him such as James R. Doolittle – the Senate’s own “Mr. Colonization” if there ever was one.

    That tells me it was very common for politicians of the 1860′s to see the two as parts of the same plan. And that your assertion that they simply must be unrelated or exclusive to each other isn’t a sound one.

    Or to borrow from you argument, what did they know about colonization that you do not?

    • Brooks D. Simpson March 26, 2011 / 9:23 am

      Well, Patrick, you haven’t offered any evidence as to Lincoln’s intentions, which is what we’re discussing. I’m surprised you haven’t brought up Jacob Cox or other plans. You cite James Rood Doolittle, who offered a plan after Lincoln had died, as if that somehow tells us something about Lincoln’s thinking. Interesting.

      But all of that has no bearing on Lincoln’s plans. Others can weigh in on the soundness of either argument, and you can continue to argue that because other people believed something, Lincoln must have believed it as well. I don’t think that is a particularly sound argument, especially given the lack of evidence. Others may think it is.

      • Patrick March 26, 2011 / 9:51 am

        So Lane, Doolittle and Cox considered domestic locations and foreign locations to be part and parcel with the same policy – the policy of colonization. You, on the other hand, contend that they were inherently different animals.

        So I’ll ask again. What did Lane, Doolittle, and Cox know about colonization that you do not?

        • Brooks D. Simpson March 26, 2011 / 10:27 am

          Patrick, try to recall that this discussion is about Abraham Lincoln’s policies. That you cite policies offered after Lincoln’s death as telling us what he believed is curious.

          You attribute to me positions I have not offered about proposals about colonization and relocation in general, and you confuse the two policies. Then you offer questions based upon that mistaken understanding. Lane, Cox, and Doolittle knew the difference, and you don’t.

          So let’s conclude that I recognize a difference between resettlement within the United States and emigration outside the United States, while you don’t, or you dismiss national borders and sovereignty as irrelevant. Lane, Cox, and Doolittle recognized those differences, and you don’t. I understand that these proposals shed no light on Lincoln’s thinking. You think otherwise.

          What I know is what Lincoln proposed. Apparently you don’t. Maybe you confuse Lincoln with Cox, Lane, and Doolittle. I don’t.

          As you are not offering anything new, I’m moving on.

          • Patrick March 26, 2011 / 11:08 am

            Let’s clarify some issues then.

            1. Per the opening post, this discussion is NOT strictly about Lincoln’s colonization policies but also how they compare to Grant and specifically whether a domestic resettlement plan is analogous to a foreing colonization one.

            2. You argued in the opening and many times since that there is some fundamental difference between colonization abroad and resettlement within the United States. This is not a misrepresentation of your position – it’s in your own words many times, e.g. “Most people would not see relocation schemes within the US as equivalent to colonization”

            3. I’ve provided evidence that Lane and Doolittle DID see relocation schemes within the U.S. as equivalent to colonization in Haiti.

            4. I’ve provided evidence that Lane and Doolittle even talked about them simultaneously as if they were interchangeable components of the exact same policy. That means your claim that “Lane, Cox, and Doolittle knew the difference” is without a basis.

            5. Lane proposed his Texas plan in 1863 and Doolittle was one of its supporters. That was BEFORE Lincoln’s death. Who knows what kind of conversations they had about it with Lincoln but at the very least it was on the table when Lincoln was alive and Lincoln certainly knew about it. If anything YOU are reading something into Lincoln’s words when you say that “he understood the difference” even though he didn’t really leave anything showing that to be so.

            6. As a broader point, the fact that Lincoln’s contemporaries Cox, Lane, and Doolittle all saw resettlement abroad and resettlement at home as two parts to the same policy proves that people living in the 1860’s DID think of Lincoln and Grants proposals in a similar way.

          • Brooks D. Simpson March 26, 2011 / 11:18 am

            Thank you for offering your opinions, Patrick.

            You simply offer no evidence on Lincoln’s policies. As for Grant’s proposal: Lane could not have offered an opinion on Grant’s policy, as he was dead when Grant advanced his proposal. Cox opposed it. Doolittle was by then a Democrat, and Democrats opposed it, including the Democrats who nominated him to run for governor. So they understood the difference, even if you omitted that critical fact. Apparently they knew something you didn’t.

          • Patrick March 27, 2011 / 9:10 pm

            If you want evidence for the Florida scheme, see Roy P Basler, Collected Works, Vol. 6, p. 108.

            On Feb 17 1863 Lincoln met with a committee to discuss a plan to colonize free blacks in Florida drafted by Eli Thayer. According to Thayer’s description: “Northern men going there to cultivate the lands would employ the negroes at remunerative wages; and the negroes would go there from the Northern and Border States from choice, because they would there find labor remunerated and a more genial climate. “

          • Brooks D. Simpson March 27, 2011 / 10:52 pm

            Thayer wanted to colonize Florida with white northerners who would employ blacks already living there, as the NY Times report indicates. Clearly he anticipated other blacks migrating to take advantage of the opportunity. That’s not the same thing as having blacks relocate outside of the United States, unless you don’t think Florida’s part of the United States. Moreover, a committee meeting with Lincoln to offer a proposal is not the same thing as Lincoln adopting a policy. You’re still struggling with offering proof about Lincoln’s policies.

          • Patrick March 28, 2011 / 7:26 am

            Did you not read the part about “and the negroes would go there from the Northern and Border States from choice, because they would there find labor remunerated and a more genial climate”????

            It sounds like he wanted both. And he wanted the 7,000 blacks already in Florida to stay there and become voters in the political system. Basically making the state a home for black self-governance. Since Thayer also supported black colonization in Panama, it’s not at all a stretch to conclude that this was a big part of his motive in Florida as well.

            Paul D. Escott agrees. See “What Shall We Do With the Negro?” p. 58.

            And Lincoln did give them a positive sign. He told the committee he’d like to consider their proposal but it would probably have to wait until the war was over. See Recollected Words of Lincoln by Fehrenbacher p. 10.

          • Brooks D. Simpson March 28, 2011 / 9:22 am

            I see nothing in the above about Lincoln’s thinking on the matter. What I see is something of a brushoff, a promise to think about it sometime in the future.

            I read the entire article, and so I understand the comment you highlight in its proper context, a context you seemed reluctant to discuss. The entire piece suggests that your emphasis on a single line is misleading and distorting of the true thrust of the proposal.

  5. Seb March 30, 2011 / 7:10 am

    I find this a fascinating – no, an utterly compelling – thread, as I see exactly where you’re *both* coming from on this question of Lincoln and internal/external colonization.

    I agree that Lincoln himself showed a strong preference for foreign colonization, and find no evidence that *he* backed its internal counterpart in any kind of public address. (Though I think that the point is well taken that many of the keener, more vociferous colonizationists around him were flexible on the difference, and that divining his colonization policy from his public words alone is fraught [cf. British and Dutch schemes, and even Vache], even though this does not detract from Brooks’s point about the significance of the *appeal* that was being made.)

    You may know of this already, but Lucius Chittenden (a Treasury official) later recalled a seemingly distracted Lincoln approaching him around New Year 1863, and asking if he knew “an energetic contractor…one who would be willing…to remove the whole of the colored race of the slave states to Texas.” Chittenden summoned a Vermonter, John Bradley, who spent almost two hours with Lincoln; but the president then told Chittenden that he didn’t think that Bradley showed the persistence and concentration level that would be needed to do the job thoroughly. (Chittenden, Recollections of President Lincoln and his Administration, 1891, 336-40.)

    So, nothing came of that, and it was in private. Chittenden recalls people speaking slightly melodramatically and unrealistically in this volume, but he seems a trustworthy source as to the underlying facts of such conversations. Indeed, far from trying to posthumously claim Lincoln as a wise prophet of racial separation (which might have been tempting for some, given the situation of the late 19th C), Chittenden speculated that he was never serious, and called it a ludicrous idea. A letter in the Blair papers at the LoC reveals that Francis Sr had indeed discussed Texan colonization in summer 1862 with Lincoln. He didn’t record the president’s response, sadly, but maybe it planted the idea in his mind.

    The timing is interesting, as the Chittenden meeting was roughly when Chiriqui seemed to have fallen through, the Ile a Vache project was only just under way (and put on ice in early Jan 1863), and to cap it off, there was now an Emancipation Proclamation whose outcome was yet to be seen. So, was Texas a second-best kind of scheme, pursued briefly when nothing else was guaranteed, and that at a crucial time?

    This may explain why it cropped up again under Lane in early 1864, as the pursuit of new foreign projects had hit a wall, Vache had been recalled, and the colonization appropriations (framed for foreign schemes only, if I remember rightly) were up for repeal. Brooks is right that you just can’t pin any of this on Lincoln, but the idea that he was still in circles discussing colonization (internal or external) seems worth throwing out there, even if we can’t ever know. It would be consistent with his earlier interest in colonization for him to be thinking about it, and to be thinking about it in flexible terms as to destination, means, etc.

    There is a difference on key aspects between internal and external colonization, but in the big picture, they’re both similar in being premised on supposed racial incompatibility, even if the source and nature of that incompatibility was contested. Internal colonization may not reduce the US black population, but surely the critical motivation is keeping African-Americans at arm’s length? Some of the statistical/constitutional/political differences arising from the contrasting ways of doing this may be more of an outcome than an actual motive in themselves, then. (I say this more with respect to the different ideas during the Civil War, not Dominican annexation as compared to Civil War colonization.)

    Obviously in the normal sense of the word, “colonization” would seem to evoke imperial annexation (as contrasted to domestic resettlement schemes), but it strikes me that this is more a semantic quirk of its use in 19th C America. “Colonization” carried a lot of baggage and negative connotations, especially for African-American emigrationists trying to drum up support; but again, perhaps we shouldn’t let contemporaries’ self-presentation and niceties allow us to uncritically miss the wood for trees. People might say that they did not support “colonization”, whilst advocating ideas that still sounded a lot like it, in its kernel of geographical racial separation.

    To pick up on one of Brooks’s points, though, it’s interesting how some people who found the foreign schemes objectionable did see something in the internal ones. (Though as he says, that’s more a matter of *their* understanding that Florida might take blacks; L. didn’t say this.) Perhaps this prefigures the mixed and even favourable reactions to Dominican annexation?

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