Sebastain Page on Lincoln and Colonization

Sebastian Page, who with Philip Magness wrote a recent study on Lincoln and colonization that stressed Lincoln’s continuing interest in colonization after the release of the Emancipation Proclamation, left a rather lengthy comment on this blog. Posting it there, I’ve also decided to post it as a separate blog post to call attention to it.

“Focusing on a narrow issue, I’ve always had difficulty with the alleged Butler conversations…”

And therein lies the problem: focusing on a narrow issue. (Or making use of those selfsame “blinders,” if you will.)

Something remarkable happens when we stop making accusations of “liar” for a moment: it turns out that there is a consistent, lifelong, and, by the standards of the Lincoln record, large body of evidence of his attachment to colonization. Not an altogether uncritical attachment, but a very real and sincere one that, if anything, derives *more* significance from the continual setbacks and disappointments that the measure brought for the Lincoln administration.

We have established colonization as active policy through early 1864, not only through the discovery of a second wave of schemes but also through hefty additions to the account of ostensibly well-known ones (, mostly based on manuscript accessions from no later than the 1960s. This challenges the standard narrative of Lincoln dropping the idea because of black recruitment, be it more through its practical or its ethical implications, or because of an impressive personal learning curve in policymaking.

Moreover, we have established a pattern of evidence that, while the policy was clearly stymied until the end of the war, Lincoln did not deem it done and dusted, and probably hoped to resume it. He ignored direct appeals from radical opponents to explicitly repudiate colonization. He referred to the rider removing colonization funds in the massive end-of-session appropriations bill for summer 1864 as an “unfriendly act,” which trumps what seem to be John Hay’s vague inferences that Lincoln had “sloughed off” the policy. He sought legal advice to retain his colonization assistant James Mitchell for the policy, also asking his attorney-general whether he could still pursue colonization even with the money gone, and in late 1864 apparently suggested that it was only nascent Confederate debates about black recruitment that held him back from renewing the colonization drive.

It doesn’t stop there. He predicted in his final annual message that “Liberia … may be expected to derive new vigor from American influence, improved by the rapid disappearance of slavery in the United States,” an ultimately cryptic remark, granted, but one with a strong sense of colonizationist import. He left Gideon Welles, a sharp critic of the impracticality of colonization who was also very keen in later years to celebrate Lincoln’s pragmatism at the expense of Seward’s reputation, obliged to admit in his reminiscences that Lincoln had by no means taken the failure of the Ile a Vache expedition as the end of the story. He left a mournful Seward ruing in April 1865 that colonization had been the only policy that ever meaningfully divided them.

And all that is merely on top of what we know down to early 1864! So, no, an argument for Lincoln’s late interest in colonization finds many more baskets for its eggs than that of Butler … but also, Butler does look credible in view of the foregoing. The irony is that, in attempting to fend off neo-Confederate attacks on Lincoln, some of those who have commented on this thread unhesitatingly deploy all the paleo-Confederate calumnies about Benjamin Butler that they can think of. Yet Butler was actually a “kind of favorite with the President,” according to a White House secretary, and indeed generally shows up in the reminiscences of his contemporaries along the lines of “underrated” or “unfairly maligned.”

Taking the wider picture, there has been some talk of “historical method” on this thread, and I think that that is something that we need to address. As historians, surely what we do is seek the best fit for the overall body of evidence. And I’m not sure that picking at each piece in turn, and coming up with what are basically generic objections, really hacks it. (It works well for defense lawyers – but then, if we apply their standards, pretty much everything in the history books has to be disqualified.) More helpfully, we might zoom out and ask why we’re so keen to do a demolition job on the evidence for a topic that we find so awkward, perhaps as much for its impracticality as its immorality. Why do we dismiss Butler’s recollections “because they’re recollections,” but unquestioningly accept, say, Frederick Douglass’s reminiscences of the dignity with which Lincoln treated him? Just who are these dark forces out to discredit Lincoln by leaving evidence that makes him look bad by what were then unforeseeable post-1960s standards of race relations, and – here’s the kicker – why did it take us until the 1960s or so to discover their evil doings?

In truth, the argument that Lincoln abandoned colonization never has had evidence, correctly understood, on its side, apart from an overworked and chronologically superseded Hay diary reference. (There are a couple of other memoirs out there that suppose that he gave up the policy, but they are indeed in the realm of supposition, which comports with the latterly tight secrecy of administration colonization policy; like Hay, they cite nothing explicitly to Lincoln.) The argument for abandonment aspires to be a modestly non-evidentiary one – “well, Lincoln wouldn’t necessarily say that he’d given up colonization” – but as long as it disparages and dismisses perfectly consistent evidence in favor of a rejection recorded nowhere, it’s actually an *anti*-evidentiary argument, and one going round in circles at that.

What *passes* for evidence turns out to be colonization’s presumed relationship with other policies, taken with a heavy dose of mutual exclusion. It shows up each and every time. “Lincoln sought the electorate’s support for colonization, so it was really a public relations exercise” – but don’t politicians normally seek support for their policies, and don’t we also have to account for most of his colonization dealings occurring behind closed doors? “But from 1863, the Lincoln administration [temporarily] enlisted [a minority of] the black population” – and so that solved the problem of meaningful, long-term, nationwide racial integration? “Lincoln gave up colonization because he grew on matters of race” – but how on earth does one grow out of others’ racism, the rationale for colonization that he clearly presented in August 1862, especially the racism of vengeful white southerners in whose vicinity nine-tenths of African Americans would find themselves post-war? “Lincoln cannot have believed in colonization until his death because he latterly supported [tentative, limited] black enfranchisement” – right, assuming that he was too simple-minded to juggle multiple ideas, or that we can safely view his policy in terms of a single stance for some kind of homogenous African American population, an assumption that carries at least a whiff of racial tokenism alongside its dubious factual basis. Weak. Weak.

Time to move on, folks. You don’t have to agree with all that we say, but you do need to hit the “reset” button and to move the burden of proof when it becomes apparent that nobody has known the half of Civil War colonization policy until very recently. Especially when it has been arguments exactly like those seen in this thread that have discouraged scholars from doing focused research in the primary sources since the 1950s.

30 thoughts on “Sebastain Page on Lincoln and Colonization

  1. Al Mackey February 24, 2014 / 1:27 pm

    On June 29, 1864, Secretary of the Interior Usher reported to Lincoln, in conjunction with the requirement by the Senate that Lincoln provide a report on colonization [Resolution passed 25 Mar 1864]. In that report, he said, “On the 11th of March last, I had the honor to submit to you a report, in answer to a resolution adopted by the Senate, in January of the present year, requesting you to inform the Senate, if not in your opinion incompatible with the public interest, whether any portion of the appropriations for the colonization of persons of African descent, residing in the District of Columbia, in Hayti [sic], Liberia, and so forth, had been expended, and what steps had been taken to execute the provisions of the Acts of Congress relating to colonization. In consequence of the importance which had been attached to the subject, I availed myself of that occasion to lay before you the entire correspondence of the Department on the subject of colonization, together with copies of all the contracts or agreements which had been made, and an abstract of the expenditures which had been occurred up to that date. That report was promptly communicated by you to the Senate, but has not yet been printed, so far as I am informed. No further agreements have since been entered into, and no further efforts made, looking to the colonization of persons of African descent beyond the limits of the United States.” [John P. Usher to Abraham Lincoln, 29 June 1864] Lincoln reported to the Senate that “all the official information possessed by the Department on the subject of colonization has already been communicated to the Senate.” [Abraham Lincoln to the U.S. Senate, 29 June 1864]

    It appears to me, then, that Lincoln and his Department of the Interior were telling Congress, in June of 1864, that “No further agreements have since been entered into, and no further efforts made” regarding colonization.

    James Mitchell was a friend of Lincoln’s. He wrote to Lincoln in October, 1864, “It is now near four months sinse [sic] the men of this Department cut off my salary, and assumed the remaining effects of my office (having drawn my files long before).” So Mitchell was without an office, without files, and without funding. There was no chance of him being able to plan or conduct any colonization projects.

    “My means being slender and my expenses sinse [sic] the revolution of political parties … have been a heavy drain on my slender estate–as I have been under salary but a fragment of that long period through which I have looked to something like present results.” [James Mitchell to Abraham Lincoln, 20 October 1864] On September 9, Lincoln had asked Attorney-General Bates to render an opinion whether or not all the requirements Congress laid on the Administration regarding colonization had been met and whether Mitchell could be retained in order to finish whatever requirements remained. Mitchell at this time, according to what he wrote to Lincoln, had no office, no files, and no funding. Bates, on his last day as Attorney-General, told Lincoln, “It is too late for me now to give a formal opinion upon the question, as this is my last day in office. I can only say that, having examined all the acts referred to, I am satisfied that, notwithstanding the act which repeals the appropriation contingently, you still have something to do, under those acts; and therefore, that you have the same right to continue Mr. Mitchell.” [Edward Bates to Abraham Lincoln, 30 November 1864] To me, it looks as though there were some mopping up procedures that needed to be done, such as possibly drafting final reports accounting for actions and expenditures of the Colonization Office, and that Mitchell could be retained in office for the time being in order to complete those actions.

    Lincoln had previously been very public and open in his support for colonization. I find his silence on the issue speaks volumes to me, anyway, that he was no longer so supportive of the measure.

    In 1864, the Dutch were trying to arrange colonization to Suriname with the US. They had even negotiated a treaty to that effect in 1863, but it had not been ratified by the Senate. They were trying to get the administration to put pressure on the Senate to move the treaty forward, but were unsuccessful. In a reply to the Dutch, Secretary of State Seward said, “The American people have advanced to a new position in regard to slavery and the African race since the President, in obedience to their prevailing wishes, accepted the policy of colonization. Now, not only their free labor but their military service also is appreciated and accepted.” [Quoted in Eric Foner, The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery, p. 260] Foner comments on Seward’s wording, saying he was being coy regarding Lincoln’s previous support for colonization, but Seward did certainly say, at least in the way I read it, that colonization at that point was a dead issue. The cable Foner refers to, dated 15 Feb 1864, was to Ambassador Pike, instructing Pike on what to tell the Dutch. It can be found on p. 310 of Papers Relating to Foreign Affairs, US Department of State, 1866:

    “I am obliged to confess that it is not now expected that the treaty in regard to negro emigration will be ratified. The American people have advanced to a new position in regard to slavery and the African class since the President, in obedience to their prevailing wishes, accepted the policy of colonization. Now not only their free labor but their military service also is appreciated and accepted.” Seward tells Pike that the policy has changed. This is what Pike is to tell the Dutch.

    Pike responds to Seward on 16 Mar 1864, on p. 312, “This government receives with regret the intimation that the treaty with regard to emigration to Surinam, lately negotiated here, is not likely to be ratified. Surinam wants labor, and the colonial department is anxious to have the credit of making a treaty that looks to the obtaining of it. I have no doubt, however, of the good policy on our part of rejecting the treaty.” The change of policy has been communicated to the Dutch.

    It does appear to me that the official policy of the Lincoln administration switched from supporting colonization to dropping that support after seeing it lacked viability.

    Lincoln, in 1862, expressed that he felt the intellectual elite of the African-American community in the United States ought to lead the way in supporting colonization: “But you ought to do something to help those who are not so fortunate as yourselves. There is an unwillingness on the part of our people, harsh as it may be, for you free colored people to remain with us. Now, if you could give a start to white people, you would open a wide door for many to be made free. If we deal with those who are not free at the beginning, and whose intellects are clouded by Slavery, we have very poor materials to start with. If intelligent colored men, such as are before me, would move in this matter, much might be accomplished. It is exceedingly important that we have men at the beginning capable of thinking as white men, and not those who have been systematically oppressed.” [Abraham Lincoln to “Deputation of Negros” 14 August 1862, Collected Works, Vol. 5, pp. 372-373] Yet, in 1865, in his Last Public Address, Lincoln to me seems to be accepting African-Americans as citizens, providing support for voting rights for those intellectual elites and for the African-American soldiers who had helped win the war.

    It seems to me that the above appears to corroborate Hay’s claim that Lincoln had “sloughed off” the idea of colonization.

  2. John Foskett February 24, 2014 / 3:34 pm

    Fair enough and point well taken. Not a member of the Lincoln “defense team”, I should have done a better job of making it clear that I find Dirck’s conclusion on this issue reasonable – crediting the plausibility of Lincoln retaining a philosophical belief in colonization without crediting Butler’s account. There was a post here back a couple of years ago or so which quite capably identified certain internal problems with Butler’s story. Externally, I raise the Hampton Roads conference because Butler suggested the failure of that meeting as the context for this alleged conversation. (Its failure by that point was more than two months stale if we accept April 11 as the date but no matter). Given that at that February meeting Lincoln articulated some significant concessions on the “race”/emancipation issue as potential trading cards for an end to the war with agreement on reunification, I find the absence of any mention of the scheme and rationale as asserted by Butler to be puzzling. Not necessarily dispositive but certainly very puzzling. And as we know, Butler was a fellow member of the bar whose sharp, and sometimes distorted, advocacy in the courtroom during the 1840’s and 1850’s was a highly lucrative skill. I know far less about Douglass but Butler certainly had a track record which ought to subject his uncorroborated account to substantial skepticism. That a meeting occurred seems to be pretty well-established. What Lincoln said? A far different proposition

  3. Bob Huddleston February 24, 2014 / 4:43 pm

    Somewhere I have read an argument that AL was never really serious about colonization of the African-Americans, but used it as a sop to the racist white Americans. The argument was (a) he always was careful to make the colonization voluntary and (b) there were simply not enough ships to carry the blacks anywhere. The author’s point was that Lincoln loved mathematics and he could have worked out that it was physically impossible to haul away the blacks. Where would the tax money have come from to take these people. The Irish were, heaven knows, poor but they had enough, or they had sponsors in the US to front the costs. The former slaves had nothing.

    From 1840 through 1860 immigration into the United States totaled about 4.3 million. In reverse it would have taken 20+ years to move the African-Americans – the willing African-Americans – to somewhere else. And no one knew where they would find a haven.

  4. Brad February 25, 2014 / 1:29 pm

    Mr. Page’s post seems to me, with all due respect, like a defensive reaction to people questioning his work, which perhaps seems understandable in that colonization seems the centerpiece of his academic pursuits.

    In addition, this line of inquiry is not new as he wrote an article for the Disunion Blog in December 2012,, which is a somewhat argumentative piece. One of the linchpins of his argument seems to be that “nothing has ever emerged to prove that Lincoln ever repudiated colonization” and that is shown “simply as a sign of that he had not changed his views.” That he didn’t repudiate it didn’t mean he was for or against colonization. One can’t infer anything from that. If one is going to try to convince another of a position, something better than a in your face post would be warranted. Let’s not forget the old saying: you attract more honey with bees than vinegar.

    • John Foskett February 25, 2014 / 4:26 pm

      He does seem to assume that (1) an attack on the reliability of Butler’s suspect account of the alleged conversation with Lincoln is (2) an attack on the theory that Lincoln still believed in the concept of colonization by 1865 (even if he no longer saw it as realistically being in play or intended to ever act on it). That’s either a very strange and strained connecting of dots or an admission that his case turns largely/entirely on the veracity of Butler’s account. If the latter, he’s headed for a very quick rejection by the jury because here’s the problem – Butler’s account is riddled with problems (again, see our host’s cogent May 20, 2011 analysis on this blogsite) and the ever-flexible Butler himself is riddled with problems. If Ben is your lead witness you’re case is already waist-deep in donkey dung. As I keep saying, Hampton Roads was a logical place for Lincoln to at least allude to colonization as an incentive for the CSA to consider peace with reunification. Butler even posits the failed conference as the context of his discussion. Yet we have absolutely nothing suggesting that it came up – whereas other potentially very controversial compromises on race/emancipation did. Another opportunity to “hit the reset button” and “move the burden of proof”. Some folks have to have the “smoking gun” (a statement by Lincoln that finally repudiated colonization). Others look all about the mansion, find nothing in any of the rooms, and conclude that it has already departed.

      • Sebastian Page February 26, 2014 / 10:14 am

        One indeed has to wonder why I suggested that *you* were the one making an unduly strong connection between points (1) and (2). Might it be such remarks as –

        “And, as we agree, putting one’s eggs in the Butler basket is a risky form of the “historical method”.”

        “Not a guy you’d call as your lead witness in an important case.”

        “Clutching Butler’s unsubstantiated “recollection” … looks like someone falling in love with his own theory to the extent that he’s putting on blinders.”

        “If Ben is your lead witness you’re case is already waist-deep in donkey dung.” (This last one coming, remarkably, immediately *after* your attempt to claim that you had viewed points 1 and 2 as quite disconnected.)


        No, the “lead witness” of my case is the consistent, lifelong record of Lincoln’s attachment to colonization. And yes, that includes several positive references to his attempting to keep the policy alive in 1864-65, not merely a failure to repudiate it. (Although, given the direct pressure that he had been under to do so, the “failure to repudiate” argument is still very much stronger than the “apparent failure to bring up a mothballed and complex policy on a single occasion with Confederate negotiators whose accounts historians have otherwise always happily consigned to the ash-heap in any case” argument.)

        • John Foskett February 26, 2014 / 11:11 am

          You’ve apparently missed, or misinterpreted, the qualifier “if”. As you well know, I “narrowly focused” on the Butler account. I rejected the Butler account for good reason (including the internal defects already noted here). Nowhere did I state that rejection of the Butler account = rejection of the possibility that Lincoln still had a belief by 1865 that colonization was a proper alternative, at least on a theoretical level. Nowhere did i state that absent the Butler account there is nothing else to substantiate that Lincoln still had some fealty to colonization. Nowhere. You’re the one who transmogrified my ‘narrow focus” into some general conclusion. And – not surprisingly – you seem to use a similar approach in your assessment of the Confederate commissioners’ accounts of Hampton Roads. By the way, not all who have closely analyzed their accounts have “happily consigned [them] to the ash-heap”. But you knew that already.

          • Sebastian Page February 26, 2014 / 3:57 pm

            No, in what you write, you keep vacillating between claiming and rejecting a wider significance respecting colonization for the Butler story, probably because you’re not clear in your own mind what point you really want to make. For what case is Butler a “lead” witness, which implies the existence of several others? What are these other baskets for eggs of which you speak, with similar implications? What on earth was all that business about the mansion with the vacated rooms and smoking guns, if you wish to merely make an argument about Butler the man? And if Lincoln still believed in colonization in theory so late, why not in practice … and why did you even refer to colonization in what you now claim is merely an argument about the personal reputation of Benjamin Butler?

            My point about the Hampton Roads accounts was merely to draw attention to your inconsistencies in ranking certain kinds of argument, as well as in assessing what other historians tend to accept and not. I withhold judgement on the accounts themselves.

          • John Foskett February 27, 2014 / 8:07 am

            You’re wrong. I began by focusing simply (“narrowly”) on the Butler account – without using its suspect character to make the broader point that “therefore” Lincoln could not still have harbored some belief in colonization. That’s why I’ve referred to Dirck’s assessment. What I’ve said since is that “if” your case depends on the Butler account, the case is weak. That’s all. You’re the one who’s been trying to translate skepticism of Butler’s account into skepticism about the broader concept. Your vigor in doing that implies that in fact Butler’s suspect story is a lynchpin of your theory. I think we’ve made our respective points clear and need not further expand this thread.

          • Sebastian Page February 27, 2014 / 10:21 am

            Completely agreed that we should stop, but to end on some potentially common ground, a bypass for our impasse, could I just highlight once more all the evidence that is *not* based on Butler – which is consistent and lifelong – that I mention above, in my rather lengthy original post?

            That is the source of my vigor. That is my linchpin. (As are the arguments for Lincoln’s, as well as many others’, rationale for colonization, detailed both above and below.)

          • John Foskett February 27, 2014 / 3:09 pm

            Fair enough. As is probably clear, I reject Butler’s account as evidence. I also cannot eliminate, however, the possibility that colonization still resided somewhere in Lincoln’s mind as an option, even if by 1865 I believe that he may no longer have seen it as practical, possible, or in any way as an “action item”.

          • E.W. Sydney February 26, 2014 / 4:14 pm

            The problem with your little Hampton Roads argument, John, isn’t that the source material is doubted by some but believed by others. The opinions of other people assist us in interpreting events. They don’t determine how those events actually happened.

            The problem with your Hampton Roads argument is that your 3 CSA sources are susceptible to the very same faults that cause you to dismiss Butler. They are after the fact recollections. Some of them have details that are quite self-serving. And they are by people who are not especially known for the credibility of their post war memoirs. And you apparently have no problem with that. Even as you hold all of those marks against Butler.

            It’s fine to question credibility if you can show how it discredits what is being claimed as true – not just tossing it all out at once. But it’s a problem if you hold credibility against some people you don’t like and ignore it against others you do. Or others who fit into a convoluted argument about how Lincoln not being recollected as saying something in a partial account of a 4 hour conversation translates into “proof” that he dropped it.

          • John Foskett February 27, 2014 / 8:23 am

            Those are not invalid points. However, you’re taking on three separate witnesses, not one. And given who they were, their relationships, etc., it becomes a strained exercise to find a “conspiracy” among them over time to agree on the significant details – which, as I noted, included several potentially controversial concessions by Lincoln. It would be odd that they wouldn’t include colonization – which, if Lincoln had mentioned it, would have had the benefit of actually being true. After all, their “motivation” by February, 1865 was, to one degree or another, concern about the intransigent stance of their increasingly deluded President in Richmond. With Butler, you have one witness – no conspiracy needed. And, as has been pointed out numerous times, our host’s May 20, 2011 evaluation of Butler’s account demonstrates several other false/suspect statements. One starts to defy the odds when one concedes that Spoons may have been lying about a half dozen items which are objectively refutable but in the same account was telling the truth about what a dead man confided to him. I will add in closing that none of the three Confederate commissioners had Butler’s long track record of corruption and “flexibility”, whatever their documented faults.

          • E.W. Sydney February 27, 2014 / 6:10 pm

            It wouldn’t exactly take a “conspiracy” for one of the Confederates – let’s say Stephens – to publish and widely spread his story about what happened at the conference right after the war. And then the other two – let’s say Campbell and RMT Hunter – start repeating and confirming several of the details he had published in bits and pieces over the next several years.

            It wouldn’t be a stretch to suggest that those other two might have had political reasons to confirm what Stephens made famous.

            It also wouldn’t be hard to demonstrate that Stephens had a bad habit of tweaking his postwar memories in major ways, such as his recollection of the Cornerstone Speech.

            And it wouldn’t be at all strained to point out that a documented embellishment about an actual event, either in Stephens’ case or Butlers’, does not negate that that event still happened.

          • John Foskett February 28, 2014 / 8:06 am

            Nothing’s impossible. But your theory requires a lot more assumptions to fall in place than mine does regarding the Butler account. Go back and read it. Just focus on the Seward elements. Butler was either lying or had a complete memory cramp, because what he says regarding Seward simply cannot be added up in light of undisputed historical facts. Now you’re left with accepting that those parts are false; that others are absurdly improbable (Lincoln told him his movement up the James was “magnificent”??? Come on); and, nevertheless, the conversation about colonization is accurate. That’s not a case you’d ever take to trial.

          • E.W. Sydney February 28, 2014 / 9:37 am

            Butler had lots of problems with “memory cramps,” John. Especially at the end of his life. It is irresponsible to suggest that his credibility is shot simply because he couldn’t remember the exact order of the precise dates 30 years later. That was Mark E. Neely’s argument and Neely’s argument is contradicted in Butler’s papers.

          • John Foskett February 28, 2014 / 4:28 pm

            See Brooks’s reply (and you’d benefit from reading that May 20, 2011 post). In short, the date(s) are only one part of the Seward problem in Butler’s account. And the Seward problem is only one of the many problems in Butler’s account. Simple common sense tells us not to trust a story which only two people can verify, one of whom is dead, when that story appears in the same account with other demonstrably false stories by the same author. It’s a variation on the old definition of insanity – keep doing the same thing expecting a different result.

      • Sebastian Page February 26, 2014 / 10:44 am

        “As I keep saying, Hampton Roads was a logical place for Lincoln to at least allude to colonization as an incentive for the CSA to consider peace with reunification. Butler even posits the failed conference as the context of his discussion.”

        So your chosen example of the then-presumed importance of the Hampton Roads Conference would derive from the recollections of the inherently mendacious Benjamin Butler, would it?

        • John Foskett February 27, 2014 / 10:26 am

          Come on – you can do better than that. I’m not crediting his account/”recollection” in the first place. I’m saying that it is additionally suspect because he claims – note the word, carefully please – that the context was the failed conference. Yet we have no evidence that the alleged subject of the alleged April 11 (to pick one of Ben’s dates) confidence was raised at the very conference which Ben claims led to his conversation.

  5. Lyle Smith February 25, 2014 / 11:07 pm

    Well argued and I totally agree with you. The door for new evidence must always remain ajar.

    • John Foskett February 26, 2014 / 8:08 am

      We agree. It isn’t apparent, however, that anybody was attempting to close the door at this blog site – either in the posts or the comments. There’s a difference between (1) refusing to consider any new or previously-overlooked evidence and (2) scrutinizing all of the evidence – old, long-accepted, new, or previously overlooked. And the source of a particular piece of evidence and other indicia of reliability should always be fair game.

      • Lyle Smith February 26, 2014 / 11:31 am

        I agree, but I think what is being said is not to discredit a source just because a source’s credibility is lacking on other matters. That a source may often lack credibility doesn’t mean they lack credibility always. You have to take each statement or event on its own each and every time. It’s a mistake to start with the assumption that everything from Butler is bad evidence just because some of what he said is balderdash. It doesn’t make for a persuasive historical argument, in my opinion.

        • John Foskett February 27, 2014 / 10:31 am

          The core problem, of course, is that we have good reason to conclude that Butler made several other demonstrably false/inherently suspect assertions in the very same account. At what point do you still cherry pick one assertion as true – especially when also considering (1) the source and (2) the fact that this one involves something which cannot be checked for verification because it’s an alleged one-on-one confidence shared by a dead man who cannot challenge it 27 years later?

  6. jfepperson February 26, 2014 / 8:46 am

    I tried to leave this the other day, but my new laptop had a brain cramp in another program which forced a reboot, so my post was lost. Let me try again.

    There really are two possible meanings to the phrase “Lincoln supported colonization”:

    1. He actively worked for it and believed in it, and thought it a policy worth pushing;

    2. He didn’t object to it and was willing to facilitate someone else’s efforts.

    I see the pre-EP Lincoln in the first camp, clearly. I see the evidence Mr. Page is pushing as putting him in the second camp, post-EP. Butler’s account is key in making the case for a post-EP Lincoln still being in the first camp. I think Lincoln was in the second camp after the EP, as part of his pragmatic nature.

    • E.W. Sydney February 26, 2014 / 11:07 am

      Hrmm. Your parsing of Lincoln into two camps sounds a bit contrived to me.

      What was it about the Emancipation Proclamation that changed everything from 1 to 2?

      How do you explain all of Lincoln’s support for the Kock colony in Haiti which sailed several months after the Emancipation Proclamation?

      That had nothing to do with Butler (and I still havent seen any arguments from people on why Butler is wrong other than people saying he’s not “credible” btw). It happened separate from Butler and it seems like a clear case of #1.

    • John Foskett February 26, 2014 / 11:13 am

      i think that’s a very reasonable interpretation based on the evidence.

    • Sebastian Page February 26, 2014 / 12:03 pm

      That’s a thoughtful point, and one that has cropped up a few times in reference to our work, though I still wonder whether it reflects a desire to hold on to a presumed EP/early 1863 watershed that came to exercise too strong a grasp on the literature in the absence of research on later wartime colonization policy. (Research that was, in turn, discouraged by the very same assumption of an early 1863 watershed; in retrospect, it looks like there was a vicious cycle at work for this topic.)

      Can we discern a change in outlook around the time of the Emancipation Proclamation?

      It all depends on what we see as active and passive about Lincoln’s pursuit of the policy. Absent any hint of coercion from Lincoln, any real ability to force host-states to accept black immigrants, and any success in persuading Congress to go further than the legislation of 1862, in a way, can’t we make the case that Lincoln was *always* out to facilitate other people’s efforts (and potential desires, from the perspective of would-be settlers)?

      Yet mightn’t that be the real significance of colonization: that, for some reason, Lincoln clearly deemed it worthwhile – in the midst of war and personal tragedy – to recur to inherently flawed schemes that brought only disappointing results time and time again? That, for some reason, he supposed that *this* time, a respectable showing of African Americans might leave?

      Therein lies the intellectual challenge of colonization: for Lincoln and most of the idea’s adherents, it was premised on an assessment of wider race relations that assumed that African Americans would want to leave the country. So colonization wasn’t a personal slight about black ability – it wasn’t a point of personal backwardness, and concomitantly mightn’t be a point of personal “growth” for Lincoln, either – but it *was* an idea rather resigned to the inevitability and consequences of white prejudice. Since the ideas that people hold affect what they do (and perhaps what they *don’t* do, where colonization is concerned), colonization does have a real significance, despite its near-invariable failure as policy.

      Indeed, we might turn things on their head and ask how someone as practical, in many respects, as Lincoln – and as utterly resistant to conceding inherent black inferiority – could have done so little to look ahead to the looming question of post-war race relations. Did he ever develop any alternative vision as strongly as he had colonization, an idea which he now seems never to have dropped, and a policy whose failure and disappearance from his public lexicon seems more easily attributed to practical setbacks and political opposition than to a philosophical departure?

      On the nuts and bolts, we can see *some* changes from 1863, though also continuities: an attempted turn to European powers that could properly consent to black resettlement, unlike the Latin American states for which domestic businessmen had purported to speak in 1861-63, though AL’s learning curve and move away from shady territorial concessionaires was rather faltering. Some scholars have tried to say that his second-wave schemes were “private” rather than “official”, but this conflates “*in* private” with merely “private”. As long as a presidential administration pursued those projects, they could not be inherently “private” – and in fact, Lincoln hoped for a long time to bring black emigration treaties to the Senate for ratification, which would have been highly “public”. Also, AL knew that he wasn’t likely to achieve formal annexation of foreign territory from as early as mid-1862, so that’s another point of continuity, across the period of the EP, with the schemes in the European empires.

      • jfepperson February 27, 2014 / 6:41 am

        I did not mean to draw a bright line with the EP as to timing; that was just a convenient dividing line, and like many conveniences, open to misuse. There of course is evidence that AL’s attitude toward blacks evolved, and some of this centered on realizing that they considered themselves Americans, not Africans, and were not interested in going back to a land that none of them knew first-hand. I believe I recall a meeting AL had with a delegation of black clergy in 1862 (?) which was important in this regard.

        • John Foskett February 27, 2014 / 10:20 am

          I think that meeting was in 1864 but am operating from memory.

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