Henry Clay, Speech to the American Colonization Society, 18 January 1848

Speech to American Colonization Society, Washington, D.C.,January 18, 1848. Printed in the Daily National Intelligencer, January 24, 1848.

This speech is notable for having attracted the attention of Frederick Douglass in his speech to the American-Antislavery Society, familiarly titled "We Have Decided to Stay".

Report of Speech1

States that he has been prevailed upon "rather against my own wishes, and quite unexpectedly" to "say a few words," but warns that "I have come here without a solitary note, with no prepared or elaborate speech." Mentions that while he was one of those who formed the colonization society about thirty years before, it has been "some years since l had the honor of sitting in your Society" and "in all human probability this is the last instance in which I shall ever be permitted to do so." Recalls that when the society was formed, its intent was to establish a colony on the shores of Africa "to which free colored persons with their own voluntary consent might go. There was to be no constraint, no coercion, no compulsory process to which those who went must submit …. Far, very far, was it from our purpose to interfere with the slaves, or to shake or affect the title by which they are held in the least degree whatever. We saw and were fully aware of the fact that the free white race and the colored race never could live together on terms of equality. We did not stop to ask whether this was right or wrong: we looked at the fact, and on that fact we founded our operations. I know, indeed, that there are men, many of them of high respectability, who hold that all this is prejudice: that it should be expelled from our minds, and that we ought to recognise in men, though of different color from ourselves, members of our common race, entitled in all respects to equal privileges with ourselves. This may be so according to their view of the matter, but we went on the broad and incontestible fact that the two races could not, on equal terms, live in the same community harmoniously together. And we thought that the people of color should be voluntarily removed, if practicable, to their native country, or to the country at least of their ancestors … we never thought of touching in any manner the title to slave property." Notes that they wanted only to show that colonization was practical and to provide a place where those who owned slaves, if they chose, could liberate and send them.

Points out that from its establishment the society "has had to stand the fire of batteries both in front and rear, and upon both flanks. Extremes of opinion and action, which could unite in nothing else, united in assaulting us," and includes those who fear for the safety of the institution of slavery as well as the abolitionists. Argues that the abolitionists should not oppose colonization since their object "is to emancipate at one blow the whole colored race. Well, if they can do that, then our object begins. The office of colonization commences only where theirs would end … our object is to carry them to a place where they may enjoy, without molestation, all the benefits of freemen."

Refers to the argument that the colonization society can never effect its object without aid from the national government or the states. Says it is their purpose to demonstrate "the power of colonization" to the American people and to convince them that if they "take hold of this great project in their State Legislatures, or otherwise, the end sought is practicable." Also takes up the argument that Africa is not the country of blacks born in the United States. Asserts that "Africa is the real home of the black man, though, as a casual event, he may have had his birth on these shores. There his race was found, and there alone, till it was torn from thence by the hand of violence." Adds that colonization may also be the means of bringing Christianity to Africa. Mentions that there are already twenty-five places of public worship in Liberia, and contends that these colonists can be more effective in spreading Christianity than all the missionaries throughout the world. Contends that there is no place to which they could be sent as cheaply as to Africa where it costs only $50 per person for transportation and maintenance for six months.

Discusses the argument that even the national government could not afford to colonize all the free blacks. States in reply to this contention that immigration from abroad during the last year into the port of New York "was fully equal to the annual increase of the free colored population of the Union [ a footnote states that immigration was 200,000; the increase of free blacks 65,000], and yet all that was done voluntarily." Believes that freed slaves will voluntarily go to Africa when properly informed of the improvement they can make in their condition. Asks why should the free people of color in these United States not have the option of removing to Africa, or remaining where they are, just as they themselves shall choose? That is all we attempt." Disputes the contention that colonization in Africa usually results in death, citing statistics that show the mortality in the twenty-five years of Liberia's existence to be 20%, far less than the death rate in the colonies of Plymouth and Jamestown. To those who say that not much has been accomplished in Liberia, asserts that four or five thousand emigrants reside there besides "thousands more of recaptured Africans" and "many thousands more in the United States now seeking the advantages of colonization." Notes that "it requires time to accomplish great national affairs. The creation of a nation is not the work of a day or of a century." Calls for the state governments to provide aid as Maryland has done. Continues: "I ask of this entire Union (with possibly the exception of Massachusetts).does the black man, however fair may be his character, and from however long a line of free colored ancestors he may proceed, enjoy an equality with his white neighbor in social and political rights. In none: no where. As to social rights, they are out of the question. In no city, town, or hamlet throughout the entire land is he regarded as on an equal footing with us. The laws of all the States (and, in this respect, some of the free States are even more rigorous than the slave States themselves) render it impossible. And so great is the rigor of the laws in some of the States — rendered more vigorous by the schemes and efforts of the abolitionists — emancipation, under any circumstances and with whatever purpose, is absolutely prohibited." Notes that a man in Alabama whom he did not know recently bequeathed him twenty-five or thirty slaves, giving no cause for this action. However, " I had some belief that the design of the testator in consigning these slaves to my care was that they should be sent to Liberia." Since arriving in Washington, has heard that twenty-three of the slaves “have embarked at New Orleans for the coast of Africa." They have done this of their own accord, because in Alabama they could not be free. The colonization society thus furnishes an opportunity to states and to individuals to emancipate their slaves despite laws to the contrary.

States that he will not touch the question of slavery but wishes to conclude by asking all parties, abolitionists and "those who carry the doctrine of slavery to the extreme to look calmly and dispassionately at the great enterprise we have in view." Contends that suppression of the slave trade would be much more effective if the entire coast of Africa were populated by free men of color. Admits that one motive in founding the society was to lessen the bad influence on slaves of free people of color who make up a large portion of the population in jails and penitentiaries. Abolitionists have focused on this single motive and ignored all the others, arguing that colonization was a scheme of slaveholders to protect the institution. This is not a fair argument, he contends, because there were many other motives.

Concludes by congratulating the society on its success to date and urging it to continue the work.

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