Phillip W. Magness

Historian – 19th century United States

The Book

Colonization After Emancipation: Lincoln and the Movement for Black Resettlement

By Phillip W. Magness and Sebastian N. Page (University of Missouri Press, 2011) ISBN: 0826219098

Abraham Lincoln’s legacy as the “Great Emancipator” has made him one of the most widely recognized figures in American history. Relatively little attention has been paid, however, to Lincoln’s plans for the slaves freed by his famous Proclamation of January 1, 1863.

For the first few years of his presidency, Lincoln toyed with the policy of colonization – the resettlement of former slaves by transporting them to the tropical locations abroad. Historians have long debated the significance of his involvement in this peculiar and controversial “solution” for a post-slavery America, though interest in colonization seemed to wane as the Civil War progressed.

Documents exist, however, that tell a different story. Along with co-author Sebastian N. Page, Dr. Magness combed through extensive archival materials to  expose what history has neglected to reveal—that Lincoln continued to pursue colonization for close to a year after emancipation. Magness and Page’s “Colonization after Emancipation: Lincoln and the Movement for Black Resettlement” reveals the hidden history of Abraham Lincoln’s negotiations with the British government and other colonial powers to establish settlements for the freed slaves in the Caribbean and Central America.

Lincoln initiated the project only weeks after signing the Emancipation Proclamation during a highly secretive visit  with Lord Lyons, the British minister to the United States. In the months that followed, a plan emerged to relocate the slaves to such locales as British Honduras, Guiana, and the neighboring Dutch colony of Suriname under the direction of the United States Emigration Office and its sometimes irascible commissioner, James Mitchell. Lincoln’s final colonization program collapsed before the end of the war amidst political wrangling and behind-the-scenes intrigue at the highest levels of the cabinet, but not before it left a little-noticed paper trail spanning three continents.

Magness and Page’s work reveals this new chapter in the presidency of Abraham Lincoln, while also exploring evidence that he may have been planning to revive the colonization project on the eve of his assassination. A valuable contribution to Lincoln studies and Civil War history, “Colonization after Emancipation” presents a groundbreaking account of forgotten history and illuminates just how complex, and even convoluted, Abraham Lincoln’s ideas about the end of slavery really were.

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