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Abstract

Colonization, the state-sponsored emigration and resettlement of freed slaves outside the United States, was a prevalent narrative in the antebellum United States, and had a vocal adherent in Abraham Lincoln. Despite its ideological support, American colonization had few examples of emigration in action, leading to the attempted settlement on the Haitian island of Île à Vache. Led by speculators and Wall Street financiers under the aegis of the Lincoln administration, 453 black settlers departed Virginia in April 1863 for the hopes of a new, prosperous life in Haiti. The venture proved disastrous, however, as the colony was marred by disease, administrative malfeasance, and ultimately mutiny. Within two years, 350 of the emigrants returned to the United States, tattered by the experience. While the dominant historical narratives surrounding colonization have broadly focused on Lincoln’s words in support of such schemes, the tangible failure of Île à Vache provides an example of colonization in action. Following the abject failure of the Île à Vache venture, President Lincoln embraced the nation’s multiracial future and left the ill-fated and ill-advised concept in the past. The failure of state-sponsored immigration on Île à Vache put an end to one of the more controversial elements of Abraham Lincoln’s presidency, and facilitated the transition toward an integrated future.

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