Lincoln Experiments with Colonization

Author:   Abraham Lincoln


For much of his political career, Lincoln, like his political idol Henry Clay, was an advocate of colonization, based on his belief that “the great mass of white people” would refuse to extend equal rights to African Americans. This assumption and prediction, Lincoln believed, “whether well or ill-founded, cannot be safely disregarded.” In 1862, the President met with a group of African Americans at the White House (no previous President had dreamed of inviting blacks to the White House), and, in what was perhaps the lowest point of his presidency, seemed to blame blacks for the Civil War and predicted that they would have to migrate overseas. Lincoln said “your race are suffering, in my judgment, the greatest wrong inflicted on any people…but on this broad continent, not a single man of your race is made the equal of a single man of ours.”

Frederick Douglass condemned the President’s remarks. “No sincere wish to improve the condition of the oppressed has dictated” his words, Douglass wrote. ” It expresses merely the desire to get rid of them, and reminds one of the politeness with which a man might try to bow out of his house some troublesome creditor or the witness of some old guilt.”


In that year, 450 African Americans were recruited to settle on the Island of Vache, off the coast of present-day Haiti. Small pox and mismanagement by a white government-appointed manager contributed to the colony’s failure. The transport ship dispatched by President Lincoln picked up only 368 survivors.


You are directed to have a transport (either a steam or sailing vessel as may be deemed proper by the Quartermaster General) sent to the colored colony established by the United States at the Island of Vache, on the coast of San Domingo to bring back to this country such of the colonists there as desire to return. You will have the transport furnished with suitable supplies for that purpose, and detail an office of the Quartermaster’s Department who, under special instructions to be given, shall have charge of the business. The colonists will be brought to Washington, unless otherwise hereafter directed and be employed and provided for at the camps for colored persons around that City. Those only will be brought from the island who desire to return, and their effects will be brought with them.

Source: Gilder Lehrman Institute

Additional information: Abraham Lincoln to Edwin M. Stanton