Document Type


Publication Date

Winter 2013

Department 1

Civil War Era Studies

Department 2



“There is a clause in the Act which is likely to meet with misconstruction in Europe,” wrote Frederick Milnes Edge about the legislation that emancipated the slaves of the District of Columbia in April 1862, “namely the appropriation for colonizing the freed slaves.” Ignore it, Edge advised. It only “was adopted to silence the weak-nerved, whose name is legion—and to enable any of the slaves who see fit to emigrate to more genial climes.” And this, for a long time, has been the way that most commentators have understood colonization—a plan ostensibly designed to expatriate any emancipated blacks to Africa or the West Indies or South America, but offered mostly as a placebo to reassure nervous white Americans that their hiring halls and neighborhoods would not be swamped with cheap (and presumably undesirable) freedmen. [excerpt]