Collection: African American Newspapers
Publication: THE COLORED AMERICAN
Date: February 27, 1841
Title: THE AFRICAN CIVILIZATION SOCIETY AND THE AMERICAN COLONIZATION SOCIETY. SECRETARY OF THE AMERICAN COLONIZATION SOCIETY
Location: New York, New York
the London Patriot.
From the London Patriot. THE AFRICAN CIVILIZATION SOCIETY AND THE AMERICAN COLONIZATION SOCIETY. FROM SIR THOMAS FOWELL BUXTON, BARONET, TO THE REV. R.R. GURLEY, SECRETARY OF THE AMERICAN COLONIZATION SOCIETY.
SIR: - It is with real reluctance that I address you upon the subject of those plans for the African race which you so ably and (I doubt not from a conviction of their excellence,) so zealously advocate, but on which I find myself compelled to differ from you. Some observations which have appeared in certain late American publications, as well as your letter of the 5th September, seem to leave me no plea for silence, since it would be unfaithful to my views of truth, and unfair to you, were I to be withhold a renewed expression of my sentiments with regard to the American Colonization Society.
Before I enter upon it, however, let me thank you for the very friendly mention, (far too flattering indeed,) which you have made of me personally, and let me again assure you, that the difference of our opinions cannot alter my estimate of the sincerity of your desires of the good of Africa.
My opinion of the tendency of the American Colonization Society was, as you are aware, publicly given some years ago; my attention, at that time, was wholly directed to the question of existing negro slavery. The principles of emancipation were then progressing in our land, they were dawning in yours, and believing the Colonization Society to be practically, if not theoretically, an impediment to them, I joined with some of the most tried and experienced English Abolitionists in expressing my dissent. Since then, the question of negro slavery having been, in our case, happily disposed of, my attention has been especially directed to the slave trade; a more close and accurate study has altered, or perhaps, I should rather say, enlarged my opinions upon it, and upon the methods to be employed for its eradication. I can no longer believe in the efficacy of external force, I can no longer rest contented to abide the slow progression of the principles of justice throughout the world. Persuaded as I am, that the slave trade is as great a loss of wealth to the African, as it is a present gain to the European, I now think, that the opening of the eyes of the former to true economies of the case, offers a powerful means of abolishing the traffic, and while I would most joyfully aid in any method of checking the demand, and would also, for a time, continue our measures of compulsion, I would lay by far the greatest stress on all those efforts which may tend to enlighten and civilize the African mind.
These views have been represented as coming round to, and uniting with those of the American Colonization Society, and a misapprehension, I perceive, exists in the minds of some of your countrymen with regard to our Civilization Society, even to denominating it a Colonization Society. This is a serious mistake: it is in spirit, as in name, a society, not for the colonization, but for the civilization of Africa. Our object is to civilize, not to colonize, not to make ourselves masters of the resources of that continent, but to teach its natives their use and value; not to procure an outlet for any portion of our surplus population; but to show to Africa the folly as well as the crime of exporting her own children. It is true, I may be desirous that we should form settlements, and even that we should obtain the right of jurisdiction in certain districts, because we could not otherwise secure a fair trial or full scope for our normal schools, our model farms, and our various projects to awaken the minds of the natives to prove to them the importance of agriculture, and to excite the spirit of commerce. But, beyond the attainment of this object, I have no ulterior views; it is no part of my plan to extend the British Empire, or to encourage emigration to Africa, excepting so far as may be requisite for the benefit of that country.
This is the distinct character and object of our society. Your objects, as I understand them, profess to be primarily, to abolish slavery in the United States, by gradually moving your whole black population to Africa, and secondly, to benefit Africa, and check the slave trade by establishing colonies of emancipated negroes along her coasts.
Our professed objects, therefore, though akin, are not the same; the field of your operation is primarily America, that of ours Africa. But you will say, that since your society collaterally aims at the same end as ours, we ought to give yours that support of name and influence to which you are pleased to attach some importance. We cannot do this; and I will, in a candid and friendly spirit state to you the reasons. But I must premise that I am not prepared to say that Liberia , constituted as it is, may not have been the means of spreading civilization, and thereby diminishing the slave trade of Africa, and so far as the colony has this effect, it has my good wishes that it may continue to prosper. But even as regards Africa, there is a wide difference in our views. We wish to send to Africa but few persons, and these in the character of teachers, - we wish them to be diffused as a leaven amongst her people, not to form colonies for their own advantage. It is my wish to send to Africa none but those who are actuated by an ardent desire for her improvement, and on whose moral and religious principles we can rely.
The purpose of your association is to collect colored people to emigrate to Africa, without, if I am not mistaken, insisting on any very special regard to character or ability. When, however, we come to the American part of the question, I fear we shall be found to differ much more widely. - There is nothing in your institution, abstractedly considered, to which I can object. If the free colored people desire to emigrate from their native soil and to settle elsewhere, I can see no reason why you should not form a society to aid them in so doing; and further, if they be ignorant of the benefit of such emigration, I can see no objection to your enlightening them as to its advantages. If confined to such aid and persuasion, your Society would at least be harmless, and probably beneficial. My objection, then, lies not so much against the principles of the Colonization Society, as set forth by the letter of its constitution, as against those which I find promulgated in the speeches and writings of its advocates, and against what I believe to be the practical tendency of the institution itself. I hardly need tell you that I am, in the fullest sense of the term, an "immediate abolitionist," that I conscientiously believe, that man can have no right to property in man and that the restoration to freedom can in every country be effected without permanent injury to either party, and greatly to the eventual benefit of both master and slave. - With this confession of my faith on this subject, how can I be expected to unite with a society, which, by the mouth of its best advocates and in almost all its public declarations, if it does not justify, yet palliates the iniquity of slavery? which, allowing the system to be an evil, soothes the conscience of the slave owner, by maintaining it to be a necessary evil, obstructs the efforts of the abolitionists by declaring immediate abolition to be impossible, which diverts attention from the great principles of truth on the subject, and, by holding out a hope of emancipation, which too obviously will take centuries to realize, tends practically to rivet the fetters of the slave! Further, I am of opinion that the strong line of demarcation attempted to be drawn between white and black is unjust, and not accordant with the apostle's declaration that "God hath made of one blood all nations of men!" How can I then support a society which acknowledges, excuses, and fosters this spirit of caste?
Again, I apprehend that your Society, though doubtless unintentionally on the part of many of its members, has practically proved an instrument of oppression to the free blacks in your land. In order to induce them to emigrate, various methods, more or less coercive, are resorted to. You have had every opportunity of displaying to them the advantages of the plan, yet throughout the union they refuse to embrace it, or do so, with extreme reluctance; they persist in regarding Liberia rather as a place of exile than a desired home, and prefer their claim to live as free citizens in America. But I have still another objection; were the free people of color even indifferent, and as willing to go as to stay, I question whether, regarding the interest of the slave, it is a justifiable measure to remove them. Those who have escaped from bondage ought to be the natural protectors of those of their color who still remain in slavery, and I think it is hard to press a plan to withdraw from those who have so few friends, their natural allies and ablest champions. The arguments employed for your scheme are, in themselves I must own, repulsive to me. Your language is, "Be abolition a duty or not, the slave States will not abolish slavery - cease, then, your struggle for the slave, employ your benevolence for the free. Whether the feeling against the colored man be a prejudice or not, it is insurmountable. Assist therefore, to remove him to another country."
I grant that slavery and prejudice are now triumphant; but I deny that they will always remain so. It is my conviction that "Truth, by its own sinews will prevail," and that its being borne down for the present is no argument why the efforts of its champions should be relaxed; but on the contrary, the strongest argument why they should be redoubled. I cannot take lower ground than this, and therefore it is, that I cannot join the Colonization Society. Still, in making this declaration, I desire to abstain from any harsh, or even uncourteous expressions towards an institution, which, though as I think, adopting a mistaken line, avows its aim to be the alleviation of human suffering.
I can also feel for the slave owner, and make allowance for the toils cast around him by habit, education and circumstances: but I must reiterate my firm opinion, that for nations, as for individuals, the path of justice is the path of policy. I am persuaded, therefore, that the line of expediency adopted by the Colonization Society, though it may now appear to be the easiest, will not, in the end, be found either so safe or so short a way out of the difficulties of the case as the direct road of strict equity.
And here, sir, allow me to express my hope, that since you possess unusual opportunities of conveying information to your fellow countrymen, having the ear of the south as well as of the north, you may be disposed to acquaint yourself very accurately with the results of our experiment of emancipation for their benefit. You are, I am persuaded, no advocate for the vested right of man, in the blood and sinews of his fellow man. You have repeatedly acknowledged that you are adverse to immediate abolition, only because you fear it would be a source of anarchy, and would entail misery on the negro himself, not because it might, for a time, involve a pecuniary loss to the master. Let me then entreat you to look at the actual condition of our West India Islands; there you will find the utmost social order and political tranquility, and a peasantry as peaceable, and, probably, as moral as any in the world. When you shall have convinced yourself of these facts, I do you the justice to believe no arguments of mine will be needed to induce you to employ your talents and influence in bringing them home to the minds of your countrymen.
Before I conclude, let me express my cordial concurrence in the hope, "that in Africa," as we have similar, though not identical objects, "there will be mutual kindness and co-operation," and let me assure you, that I do not, by any means, underrate the aid of the American public. I still look for the assistance of all foes to the slave trade, however we may differ in our views on any other points. Accept my thanks for the liberal manner in which you have imparted the results of your experience in Africa, and believe me, with sincere respect, Yours, faithfully,
T. FOWELL BUXTON. Northrepps Hall, near Aylsham, Oct. 0, 1840.