Abstract: Slave Manumissions: A Mechanism of Plantation Management in the Old South

Eric Burin


In 1816, whites who wanted to remove blacks from the United States founded the American Colonization Society (ACS). Soon thereafter, the ACS established the colony of Liberia in West Africa as a place for black settlement. By 1860, 560 slaveholders had sent, collectively, 6,000 bondpersons to Liberia. This paper explores the ideology and intentions of "ACS manumitters." Philosophical, religious, and economic forces prompted ACS emancipators to question slavery's morality and viability. They consequently concocted time-consuming manumission programs. The emancipators announced that the schemes would prepare slaves for freedom in Liberia, but they also assumed that the projects would serve their own interests—that the lure of liberty would coax obedience and loyalty from bondpersons. To them, manumission was an absolutely necessary, morally upright, and economically astute mechanism of slave management, an administrative strategy that could put one's conscience at ease, one's finances in order, and one's slaves in their place.