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8.9.5 Republic of Liberia

Map, labeled Republic of Liberia, showing Liberian coastal area and insets of settled areas such as Monrovia as well as physical features such as the Junk River.

United States. Navy Department; Lynch, William Francis, 1801-1865.
Library of Congress

United States. Navy Department. Republic of Liberia / drawn under the superintendence of Com. Lynch, U. S. N. , at Wm. Sides Office, Balt. [Washington, D. C. : U. S. House, 1853] Scale [ca. 1:485,000] (W 120--W 80/N 70--N 50).

Soon after the founding of the United States, in 1817, a group of white Americans formed the American Colonization Society (ACS) with the goal of sending free blacks to Africa. The society also encouraged slave owners to free their slaves with the promise that the society would send them out of the country. Colonization was one way to address the concern that some people had about what would happen to American society as enslaved people became free. This map shows the colony of Liberia in West Africa, established in 1824 by the ACS with the help of the US government. Only a very few black Americans supported the idea of colonization. Why do you think that was the case? Why do you think some Americans supported colonization? What do you think local people in West Africa thought of the new US-supported colony?

Many white Americans supported the idea of colonization based upon the belief that blacks and whites could never coexist peacefully or successfully. The ACS had supporters in most upper-South states and in nearly all parts of the North during the 1820s and '30s. Two hundred local groups supported the ACS in these years, and private funding from members helped with the purchase of land in Africa and the cost of transportation. The federal government also supported the colonization plan, with President James Monroe securing additional funding — prompting the naming of Liberia's capital as Monrovia. The first 86 settlers arrived voluntarily. Other settlers arrived via US Navy ships after the Navy intercepted illegal slave-trade ships. While most blacks in America rejected the idea of forced colonization, many abolitionist societies lent support to colonization plans in the 1820s and into the 1830s, including the Pennsylvania Abolition Society. Some of the members believed that only in Africa would blacks find true freedom; others feared social upheaval when the millions of blacks in slavery eventually became free. For several reasons, the idea of colonization became less popular beginning in the 1830s. There were practical concerns, such as the limited ability to move several million people across the Atlantic Ocean. Also, as the value of slaves grew, fewer slaveowners released people from bondage. Finally, abolitionist groups became outspoken about the need for improving race relations in the United States and increasingly viewed colonization as racist in its own right. Liberia declared itself independent from the United States in 1847.