‘Lincoln tried to deport slaves to British colonies’

Saturday, February 12, 2011

LONDON - US president Abraham Lincoln, known for his campaign against slavery, wanted to send many of the American slaves to British colonies in Caribbean, according to British archive documents.

Academics Phillip Magness and Sebastian Page claim that documents uncovered in British archives show that Lincoln was rather less enamoured by the prospect of a racially-united America than is often assumed, the Daily Mail reported.

The 16th US president is revered for winning the American Civil War (1861-65) and bringing an end to slavery.

Historians have earlier conceded that he proposed sending some of the freed slaves to new colonies, but they have dismissed it as a ruse designed to placate racist voters in the unified America.

However, evidence from the British legation in Washington that has turned up at London-based National Archives show that Lincoln was serious about black colonisation until his assassination in 1865.

According to Magness and Page, just after Lincoln announced the freedom of America’s four million slaves with his historic 1863 Emancipation Proclamation, he authorised plans to set up freedmen’s settlements in what is now Belize and Guyana.

And even as black soldiers were dying for the Union cause and a mission to send 453 freed slaves to colonise a pest-ridden island off Haiti met with a disastrous small pox outbreak, Lincoln was secretly authorising British officials to recruit hundreds of thousands of blacks for a new life on the sugar and cotton plantations of Central America.

Documents show Lincoln personally met agents for the then-colonies of British Honduras and British Guiana and authorised them to go into the camps of the recently-freed slaves and find recruits.

Lincoln also considered a plan to get thousands of black soldiers out of the way after the civil war by sending them down to Panama to build a canal.

The new evidence, contained in a forthcoming book “Colonisation After Emancipation: Lincoln and the Movement for Black Resettlement”, is causing ructions in the US over the legacy of its most revered president.

However, Page, a Fellow of The Queen’s College, Oxford, insisted that it was wrong to conclude Lincoln was a racist.

The documents also show that Lincoln’s plans were foiled, largely because of the reluctance of the British government who feared the pro-slavery South might win the Civil War and sue Britain for its lost slaves.

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