A brief guide to colonization documents omitted from the Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln

For more than half a century the Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, edited by Roy P. Basler, has been the standard go-to volume for a compendium of known documents authored by Abraham Lincoln. As might be expected with any collection that attempts to aggregate the writings of a prolific political figure, many documents were overlooked in this series. To address this issue, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library is currently undertaking an extended scouring of archival repositories to update Lincoln’s papers, having added hundreds of new items to the Basler series in the process.

The project has direct relevance to my primary area of study, Lincoln and the black colonization movement during the Civil War. Indeed, many important colonization documents that originated from Lincoln’s pen were not known to Basler and did not make it into the 1953 publication or any of its addenda. I have maintained an index to several of these on my website for some time (located here) and continue to post new discoveries periodically. As an update to this ongoing project though, I’m offering the following guide to colonization-specific documents by Abraham Lincoln that do not appear in the Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln.

Most of these come from the “Slave Trade and Negro Colonization Records” (STNCR) of the Department of the Interior, Record Group 48 at the U.S. National Archives, which Basler’s team did not extensively consult. This is the largest U.S. government collection of colonization records (although it is also an incomplete one as I note here – a large portion of this collection was lost around the turn of the last century and likely contained additional Lincoln items). They appear chronologically as follows:

Abraham Lincoln to Alexander Crummell and J.D. Johnson
Date: May 5, 1862
Source: Published in the Boston Herald, May 15, 1862
Contents: Letter sent by Lincoln to two representatives of the Liberian government, clarifying an April 17 meeting to discuss colonization at the White House.


Abraham Lincoln’s appointment of James Mitchell

Date: August 4, 1862
Source: NARA, RG 48, STNCR (copy of lost original)
Contents: Appointment paper for James Mitchell to administer the newly formed Emigration Office



Addendum to Chiriqui Colonization Contract
Date: September 15, 1862
Source: NARA, RG 48, STNCR (original document)
Contents: Additional article to the proposed colonization contract with the Chiriqui Improvement Company for a settlement in modern-day Panama.


Abraham Lincoln to John P. Usher
Date: January 30, 1863
Source: NARA, RG 48, STNCR (copy of lost original)
Contents: Letter authorizing funding to pay for the passage of Rev. Chauncey Leonard to Liberia for the purpose of investigating a colonization site on the St. John River.


Contract with Bernard Kock for the colonization of Ile a Vache, Haiti
Date: December 31, 1862
Source: NARA, RG 48, STNCR (original document)
Contents: Contract with Bernard Kock for the colonization of the Ile a Vache, Haiti


Amended Contract with Paul M. Forbes and Charles K. Tuckerman for the colonization of Ile a Vache, Haiti
Date: April 13, 1863
Source: NARA, RG 48, STNCR (original document)
Contents: Lincoln’s authorization to execute an amended colonization contract for the Ile a Vache, Haiti


Lincoln to Hodge and Dickson
Date: June 13, 1863
Source: Copies existent in the National Archives of the United Kingdom, the National Archives of Jamaica, and the Belize Archives and Record Service. Copies depicted below include the Belize version and a transcript made from a now-lost original by the Macon Telegraph, September 13, 1904
Contents: Authorization by Lincoln to colonial representatives from British Honduras and Guiana to recruit and colonize freedmen from the United States

Lincoln to Hodge and Dickson, 6/13/1863 - Macon Telegraph Lincoln-Belize_colonization

Abraham Lincoln to Edward Bates
Date: September 9, 1864
Source: Original lost to a fire in 1866, receipt of Lincoln’s letter is recorded in NARA, RG 60, Register of Letters Received, Office of the Attorney General
Contents: Letter by Lincoln requesting an opinion from the Attorney General about his ability to employ James Mitchell for colonization work following the repeal of the colonization budget by Congress, and endorsing Mitchell’s attached petition to have his salary reinstated.