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Packer and the American Colonization Society
Robert Finley, a Presbyterian minister, founded The American Colonization Society (ACS) in 1816. The society gained widespread early support from northerners and southerners alike, receiving $100,000 from Congress in 1819. There is some debate on the true purpose of the ACS before the Civil War. Unquestionably, the organization strove to send free, voluntary black Americans, preferably Christians, to Africa as a way to provide cultural uplift for both African-Americans and Africans. However, historians remain divided on the intent of the ACS to end slavery. Some scholars think that the ACS encouraged gradual abolition by providing an outlet for freed ex-slaves to leave the United States, while others argue that the ACS served the interests of slave-owning southern planters by removing free blacks from the American continent. In any case, some early supporters of the ACS, such as William Lloyd Garrison), rejected the society by the 1820s for a perceived weakness in its commitment to ending slavery. Even more damning, ACS members did not believe racial prejudice could be overcome in the United States. Essentially, white ACS leaders believed African-Americans would always remain inferior and under-civilized if they lived in the United States, but a return to Africa provided a sufficient environment for cultural growth.
In the late 1820s, the New York Colonization Society (NYCS) and the Pennsylvania Colonization Society (PCS) emerged as auxiliaries to the national organization. In 1832, the New York and Pennsylvania colonization societies transported willing, free blacks to Bassa Cove, located in modern day Liberia. Although Local Africans destroyed the colony, the Young Man’s Colonization Society of Pennsylvania financed a new voyage in 1836. Eventually, this colony merged with other areas to form Liberia, which declared independence in 1847. In the United States, the 1840s saw funding issues for the ACS, which led to a constitutional change wherein state-level organizations, such as the PCS, gained more power. If the ACS and its state-level branches supported abolition, the Civil War provided the society a new opportunity to reshape its purpose.
Asa Packer did not join the PCS until October 8, 1866, more than a year after the Civil War ended and 10 months after the ratification of the 13th Amendment. Perhaps Packer associate and Episcopal bishop William Bacon Stevens brought Asa into the society’s fold. Why did Packer join the PCS after abolition? Did Packer believe in the racial inferiority of African-Americans? How much money did Packer contribute to the PCS? Like many parts of the Judge’s life, more information simply eludes us. We are left with tantalizingly few tangible pieces of evidence. Perhaps Packer shared PCS President Eli K. Apple’s sentiments contained in an 1868 letter to the society. Apple felt the need for colonization still existed to provide a choice for African-Americans “to return to the land of their forefathers,” a place “beyond the reach of a disparaging social prejudice, from a distinction of color, and find scope for the highest social development.” Apple rejoiced in the restoration of inalienable rights for African-Americans and their freedom to stay in the United States, but felt that the chance to emigrate to Africa, extend Christian civilization, and use the opportunity for cultural growth would sway a large percentage of the African-American population. Like many of Packer’s personal views, it is unclear how deeply he believed in the mission of the society and its larger social implications. In any case, Packer left the society in either 1876 or 1877.