The American Colonization Society (ACS; in full, "The Society for the Colonization of Free People of Color of America"), established in 1816 by Robert Finley of New Jersey, was an attempt to satisfy two groups in America. Ironically, these groups were on opposite ends of the spectrum involving slavery in the early 1800s, as well as the primary vehicle to support the colonization of free African Americans because their presence served as "a perpetual excitement" to the enslaved blacks. All of the early organizers of the Society were slaveowners, who hoped thereby to strengthen the institution of slavery, according to the annual reports of the Society. It helped to found the colony of Liberia in 1821–22 as a place for free-born blacks. Among its supporters were Charles Fenton Mercer, Henry Clay, John Randolph, and Richard Bland Lee.
Beginning in 1786, just after the American Revolution the British society, the Committee for the Relief of the Black Poor, launched its efforts to establish the Sierra Leone Province of Freedom for escaped colonial slaves. Paul Cuffee, a wealthy mixed-race New England shipowner and activist, was an early advocate of settling freed blacks in Africa. He gained support from black leaders and members of the U.S. Congress for an emigration plan. In 1811 and 1815–16, he financed and captained successful voyages to British-ruled Sierra Leone, where he helped African-American immigrants get established.Although Cuffee died in 1817, his efforts may have inspired the American Colonization Society to initiate further settlements.
The ACS was a coalition made up mostly of evangelicals and Quakers who supported abolition, and Chesapeake slaveholders who understood that unfree labor did not constitute the economic future of the nation. They found common ground in support of so-called "repatriation". They believed blacks would face better chances for full lives in Africa than in the United States. The slaveholders opposed state or federally mandated abolition, but saw repatriation as a way to remove free blacks and avoid slave rebellions. From 1821, thousands of free black Americans moved to Liberia from the United States. Over twenty years, the colony continued to grow and establish economic stability. In 1847, the legislature of Liberia declared the nation an independent state.
Critics have said the ACS was a racist society, while others point to its benevolent origins and later takeover by men with visions of an American empire in Africa. The Society closely controlled the development of Liberia until its declaration of independence. By 1867, the ACS had assisted in the movement of more than 13,000 Americans to Liberia. From 1825 to 1919, it published the African Repository and Colonial Journal. After 1919, the society had essentially ended, but it did not formally dissolve until 1964, when it transferred its papers to the Library of Congress.
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