LONDON, UK (CMC) – Two British academics say former United States President Abraham Lincoln, renowned for his campaign against slavery, wanted to send many American slaves to British colonies in the Caribbean.
Phillip Magness and Sebastian Page claim in their forthcoming book, Colonisation After Emancipation: Lincoln and the Movement for Black Resettlement, that documents uncovered in British archives show that Lincoln was rather less enamoured by the prospect of a racially-united America than is often assumed.
The 16th US president is revered for winning the American Civil War (1861-65) and bringing an end to slavery.
Historians have earlier conceded that Lincoln proposed sending some of the freed slaves to new colonies, but they have dismissed it as a ruse designed to placate racist voters in the unified America.
But, according to Magness and Page, evidence from the British legation in Washington has turned up at the London-based National Archives, showing that Lincoln was serious about black colonization until his assassination in 1865.
The academics say shortly after Lincoln announced the freedom of America's four million slaves, with his historic 1863 Emancipation Proclamation, he authorized plans to set up freedmen's settlements in what is now Belize and Guyana.
They also say, even as black soldiers were dying for the Union cause and a mission to send 453 freed slaves to colonize a “pest-ridden island” off Haiti met with a disastrous small pox outbreak, Lincoln was “secretly authorizing” British officials to recruit hundreds of thousands of blacks for a new life on the sugar and cotton plantations of Central America.
Magness and Page say the documents show Lincoln personally met agents for the then-colonies of British Honduras and British Guiana and authorized them to go into the camps of the recently-freed slaves and find recruits.
Lincoln also considered a plan to get thousands of black soldiers out of the way after the civil war by sending them to Panama to build a canal, the academics say.
Page, a Fellow of The Queen’s College, Oxford, however, insists it was wrong to conclude Lincoln was a racist.
He says blacks had been lynched during recent race riots in New York and the president was motivated by a fear that the freeing of black slaves would cause serious racial strife.
In addition, he says Lincoln always made it clear that the emigration would be voluntary.
“I don’t think it was ever about any personal dislike for blacks,” Page told reporters here on Saturday.
“That said, that’s not to let him off the hook, because if you’re backing black colonisation you’re kind of putting your blessing on racism,” he added. “But he saw strife coming.”
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