The Lost Museum Archive

An address to the free people of color of the state of Maryland, 1859

by James Hall, General Agent of the Maryland State Colonization Society

Henry Clay presided over the first American Colonization Society meeting in 1816, and in 1819 the organization received $100,000 from Congress to fund ships full of freedmen to emigrate to Africa, specifically Liberia (present day Sierra Leone). In 1847, Liberia declared itself an independent state, and the United States finally recognized the nation’s African leadership in 1862. In this 1859 address, a white supporter of colonization mixes bleak assessments of the present and future prospects for African Americans in the U.S. with respectful predictions about the possibilities of black manhood in a land unhampered by racism.

. . . At the outset, I will affirm, that the result of my long intercourse with the race to which you belong, the native African, the slave, and the free, in this and other lands, is a firm conviction, that, as a race--or a variety of the human species--you are capable of attaining the full stature of Manhood: not equalling some other varieties in intellectual power and ability, but surpassing others, and inferior to none in moral endowments and the capabilities for the rational enjoyment of human life. Did I believe otherwise, the counsel, I now propose to give, would be but an absurdity.

With capabilities for the highest, what is the position you now occupy? In a legal point of view, you are disfranchised, you cannot hold any office of trust or profit in the government. You have not the right of trial by a jury of your peers--your jurors are of your masters. Your testimony, where the property or person of a white man is concerned, is not admitted in any court. You are declared not citizens of the United States, or of any State, by a decision of the highest tribunal in the land. You are not allowed to take part in any election or vote for any office. You are not permitted to bear arms in defence of the country in which you live, or for personal protection. You are taxed for the support of a Government in which you can take no part, and of schools, from which your own children can receive no benefit--and lastly, you are subject to a special legislation, from time to time, further circumscribing your personal liberties in various ways. . . .

I cannot believe you so lost to all sense of independence, manhood and self respect, that you are content to live and die in such a state of absolute inferiority. Is there hope of improvement in the future? To judge the future by the past--none. There are, doubtless, those among you who have cast a vote in the elections of the State, or who remember to have seen some of your people do it. Now, what greater absurdity could be imagined than for a black man to present himself at the polls. You all must know that the Legislation of the State, in regard to the "free people of color," is becoming more and more stringent, that every session of the Legislature adds one or more chapters to the statute book, curtailing, in some degree, your shadowy rights and privileges. And is there any prospect that this policy of the State will be soon changed? None!

In your social relations to the whites, do you see any indications of improvements? I venture to assert, none--on the contrary, the line of separation becomes broader and broader every year. The more you advance in intelligence, the more you elevate yourselves, the nearer you assume an erect, independent position, the more obnoxious you become to the dominant race. Hence, your exclusion from many employments in the free cities of the North, and hence, the Legislation in various Northern States preventing your immigration.

. . . The alternatives, therefore, are, to continue a life of base subordination, or to flee. . . Go where you can become men-- freemen--MEN, in the largest sense of the word.

In all this world, but one spot offers, what you would desire. No where else, but in Liberia, does the man of color live under a free Government of his own organization and administration. Go where else you will, and you but partially relieve yourself from the disabilities under which you now labor. . . . You cannot compete with the white man in the cold climate of the North. Remove every restraint, legal and social, and the superior energy of the European will ever surpass your best efforts, and confine you to the most menial employments. . . .

Source: From Slavery to Freedom: The African-American Pamphlet Collection, 1822-1909—American Memory Collection, Library of Congress