Abolitionists and Proslavery Advocates in Antebellum American

The controversial role of American Colonization Society

Membership certificate of ACS

"Abolitionists may talk twaddle till the crack of doom, but after all, Colonization is to be the great cure of negro slavery in this country, or it remains uncured"  --Newspaper editorial, West Chester, Pennsylvania, 1854.

The American Colonization Society (ACS) was  an organization formed in 1817 to deal with the issue of assimilation of African American slaves after they where freed. Its founders were Henry Clay, John Randolph, and Richard Bland Lee. All three being powerful white politicians. Actually, the ACS proposed an alternative form of emancipation, which was to send back the freed African Americans to Africa and for this purpose in 1822, the society The character of the ACS was highly controversial among blacks and whites. Some black abolitionists supported emigration because they believed that blacks belonged to their native homeland. Others believed African Americans should be treated as citizens of America and therefore stay there and fight for full legal rights. Some white philanthropists believed African Americans would be happier in Africa, where they could then live free of racial discrimination and prejudice. Still others thought that this would be a good opportunity for Americans to colonize Africa, spread Christianity and civilize the colonized regions. Many critics said that  ACS was an organization that favored slaveholders and did not want the true abolition of slavery. The controversial character of the ACS and the expensive cost of sending back to Africa huge numbers of African Americans made it an unsuccessful movement. 


Henry Clay, one of the three founders of ACS

William Lloyd Garrison: The "father" of abolitionismi


" I do not wish to think, or speak, or write, with moderation. . . . I am in earnest -- I will not equivocate -- I will not excuse -- I will not retreat a single inch -- AND I WILL BE HEARD".

William Lloyd Garrison, born on December 12, 1805, was a radical abolitionist, journalist, and social reformer from Massachusetts, who fought for the rights of both African Americans and women. He is best known for publishing the anti-slavery newspaper "The Liberator", in which he promoted "immediate emancipation" of African American slaves. In addition, he played a significant role in women rights movement. In 1818, Garrison began his career as a writer and editor in Newburyport Herald and when he was just 25, he became a member of the Abolition movement. An interesting fact about Garrison, was that for a short period  of time Garrison was a member of American Colonization Society but he rejected the organization after realizing that most members had no wish to free slaves. After thirteen years, Garrison published his own anti-slavery newspaper, the Liberator in which he advocated the immediate emancipation of slaves and while many abolitionists believed that free blacks would have difficulties assimilating in American society, Garrison strongly believed not only that African Americans could assimilate but also that  all  free blacks were Americans too and entitled to the same rights declared by the Declaration of Independence. Some other "radical" and  "extreme" beliefs of Garrison were that Anti-Slavery Society and generally anti-slavery movements should have nothing to do with political parties, women should be allowed to be members in Anti-slavery Society and that the U.S Constitution was a document that promoted and preserved slavery. Garrison also did not agree with the use of violence as a way to achieve abolitionism of slavery. He was so different from any other abolitionist of his time. He supported his beliefs with braveness and dignity and even if his life was threaten he never changed his ideology. In my opinion he was the "father" of abolitionism and a precursor of modern  activism.

Anti-slavery Newspaper: The Liberator Boston, October 5, 1860. Edited by William Lloyd Garrison, on of the most outspoken anti-slavery advocates of all time.

John C. Calhoun : The Defender of Slavery

John Caldwell Calhoun, born on March 18, 1782, was a popular politician from South Carolina. John C. Calhoun was the most outspoken supporter of the institution of slavery, which he declared it as a "positive good". Many Historians believe that his powerful and intense speeches,  were responsible for highlighting the differences between South and North and leading the South toward secession.
John C. Calhoun claimed that slavery is good for blacks because it gave them the chance to get civilized. He also stated that black slaves should be happy because they live better than poor people in Europe, because their "caring" masters provide them with clothes, food, and home. And to show the general happiness of slaves Calhoun used the rapid increase in number of slaves as a proof. Calhoun also believed that every great civilization was based on slavery and therefore America needed slavery to achieve "superiority, success, and power". Calhoun defensed slavery by saying "I take higher ground. I hold that in the present state of civilization, where two races of different origin, and distinguished by color, and other physical differences, as well as intellectual, are brought together, the relation now existing in the slave holding States between the two, is, instead of an evil, a good—a positive good... I hold then, that there never has yet existed a wealthy and civilized society in which one portion of the community did not, in point of fact, live on the labor of the other". A year later in the Senate, Calhoun repeated this defense of slavery as a "positive good" rather than a " necessary evil". Calhoun, like William Lloyd Garrison, never changed his ideology. He always supported slavery, white's superiority and even South's superiority towards the North. For the South, Calhoun was a "hero", an intellectual politician with "correct" views , who dedicated his life to maintain America's superiority towards blacks . In contrast, the abolitionists of the North and African Americans saw Calhoun as an enemy, threat and immoral man, In my opinion, Calhoun is an example of how the beliefs of superiority and power can "blind" someone and make him not see the actual truth.

John C. Calhoun pictured on a $100 bill issued by the Confederate States of America


            Did all white people have the same opinion about slavery?

    The answer could not be other than negative. Slavery in antebellum America was not only a controversial issue but also a  crucial debate in which both parts— abolitionists and pro slavery people—were willing to fight for! It is a common  fact that even people who share the same characteristics, develop different ideas and beliefs. In this case, Garrison, and Calhoun were both whites and highly educated and the ACS consisted only of highly educated whites of aristocratic nature.However,  all of them developed different and contradicting ideas about slavery and its abolition.
    The American Colonization Society, was an organization "two‐faced" in which one group of members consisted of people who wanted to correct the "mistake" of slavery by freeing  African American slaves and providing them with the opportunity to return to Africa and the other group was the slave holders who just wanted to "clean" America from blacks. As we mentioned previously, Garrison was also a member of this organization but as the time passed he realized that the real purpose of the ACS was not abolitionism; so, he left. Garrison started his own anti‐slavery newspaper "THE LIBERATOR" which became popular for its advocacy of "immediate emancipation". Using the Liberator Garrison not only attacked the slave holders but also the gradualism of North. I believe that Garrison was one of the brightest and most significant personalities in Antebellum America because his ideas not only set the start for abolitionism but also for the fight for the women rights. Garrison's views, as it is expected, were unpopular in the South and they were even considered a threat for the union and the preservation of slavery in the South. Thus, it is obvious that the Southern politician John C.Calhoun would have had a completely opposite  theory about slavery than Garrison had. As a defender of slavery Calhoun, made arguments explicitly opposed to the Founders' conception of individual rights, insisted that slavery was beneficial to both races, and while other Southern politicians considered slavery as a" necessary evil" and Garrison and other abolitionists as a "sin" and "inhuman action" , he considered it as a "positive good".

    In conclusion, the American Colonization Society, Garrison, and Calhoun are vivid examples of how much the white people's opinions and views about slavery varied depended each time on the individuals' personality, position, state, and perspectives in society.

By Mariana