On August 14, 1862, Abraham Lincoln did something unprecedented in presidential history up to that point: he met with a small delegation of black leaders (all free black clergymen). But the meeting did not auger a decision to give African Americans a voice in government. In essence, Lincoln sought to lobby these men in essence to agree to a divorce. In other words, the President wanted to get black Americans behind his plan to colonize them abroad. The meeting’s minutes recorded:
Having all been seated, the President, after a few preliminary observations, informed them that a sum of money had been appropriated by Congress, and placed at his disposition for the purpose of aiding the colonization in some country of the people, or a portion of them, of African descent, thereby making it his duty, as it had for a long time been his inclination, to favor that cause; and why, he asked, should the people of your race be colonized, and where? Why should they leave this country? This is, perhaps, the first question for proper consideration. You and we are different races. We have between us a broader difference than exists between almost any other two races. Whether it is right or wrong I need not discuss, but this physical difference is a great disadvantage to us both, as I think your race suffer very greatly, many of them by living among us, while ours suffer from your presence. In a word we suffer on each side. If this is admitted, it affords a reason at least why we should be separated.
So, in other words, Lincoln subscribed to the notion common among whites in the North as well as the South that it would be impossible for whites and blacks to live together peacefully in a United States without slavery. Lincoln’s support for colonization was long-standing, the seed planted by his political role model, Henry Clay, who also supported the idea.
The reason Lincoln took the unprecedented step of inviting black leaders to the White House was to convince them to support his murky colonization plan. While Congress had appropriated money for colonization, there was as of August 1862 no definite location decided on for where to colonize the black population after emancipation. At the meeting, Lincoln mentioned Liberia, in West Africa, founded by the American Colonization Society in the 1820s, or some place in Central America or the Caribbean. It was clear that not only did the President want to support of these black leaders for colonization, but he wanted them to sweat the details of where and how colonization would be accomplished. He left them with a charge to come up with an appropriate colonization plan and report back to him when they finished.
While the black leaders that met with Lincoln agreed to consider the idea, no plan ever was forthcoming, as it was clear colonization had little appeal among most members of their race, free or slave. While Africa might be the land of their ancestors, African Americans were as attached to the land of their birth as any white person. A small percentage of black Americans found the idea of colonization appealing or were at least willing to give it a try, but the poor record of Lincoln’s colonization initiatives during the war evaporated most of this support. What most African Americans wanted during the Civil War was freedom and equality in their home country. Given their opposition and the dawning realization over the course of the war that colonization was impractical, Lincoln and other northern leaders gradually gave up on the idea, especially as it became clear that the fears of an emancipation race war were proving unfounded.