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    John Tyler discusses the benefits of the work of the American Colonization Society, "the great missionary"

    John Tyler Autograph Letter Signed "John Tyler" with Free Frank "J. Tyler". Two and one-half pages, 8" x 10", January 2, 1855. Written "hastily" in response to an inquiry by M. D. Philips, former President John Tyler expresses his optimistic feelings about the relocation of African-American slaves to Liberia through the efforts of the American Colonization Society. Tyler replies to Philips' inquiry: "You ask me my opinion of the practicability and use fullness to all concerned of the scheme of the American Colonization Society. I reply that its practicability is fairly tested by the fact that colonies are planted, are growing, and are flourishing. Of its usefulness to all concerned I have never doubted useful to the coloured race of American birth, because it elevates that race to the condition of freemen is in fact, and not merely in name as in the U. States and confers upon them all the responsibilities of self government. Useful to the white race since it rescues it from an anomylous position in regard to a race which it can never raise to a footing of equality with itself by intermarriage by social intercourse or political rights. Useful in Africa in an unlimited degree because it transfers further the arts, in some degree the sciences and sets to blazing the fires of civilization through the instrumentalists of the Christian religion." Tyler's hopes for the endeavor rested on the principle that "[The relocated] are emigrants from the freest country upon Earth, and have carried with them principles imbibed in infancy. . . . They have the countenance of an enlightened Society on this side of the Atlantic, and the good wishes of the world and if under these circumstances they fall into despotism or relapse into barbarism, then indeed I shall think that the curse of Cain is upon the black man, and that they are designed to be the servitor of other and more intelligent races. I hope they may observe the law of progress and that the influence of a bright and glorious republic sustained and administered by black men may be felt all over a dark and benighted continent."

    As a slave-holding Virginian, John Tyler believed that blacks were inferior to whites and would never be permitted to live in the U.S. with equal rights, a common view of white Americans at the time, including Abraham Lincoln. Because of that belief, he favored colonization. The goal of the American Colonization Society was to relocate American slaves to the colony of Liberia in western Africa, a task that began in 1821; the colony declared its independence in 1847. Many Southerners, including Henry Clay, James Madison, James Monroe, and John Randolph, took active roles in the Society. In 1838, John Tyler began his service as president of the Virginia Colonization Society, an organization with the same goals as the American Colonization Society. He had begun his acquaintance with the American Colonization Society, though, much earlier: "I was present at the first meeting of the Society at Washington and at the time of going into the Presidency of the U. States, was the President of the Virginia Colonization Society . . . my opinions have long been found upon the questions you ask me." Tyler held high expectations for the organization and their efforts: "The Colonization Society is the great missionary, in comparison to which all other missionaries among the heathen, sink into comparative insignificance."

    Though hastily written, this letter contributes significantly to our understanding of John Tyler, who, as a Virginian, sided with the Confederacy during the Civil War. It is written from Sherwood Forest, the name of Tyler's plantation along the James River. With tape repair along the central vertical fold. Small amount of paper loss at original seal, though no loss of text. Fine condition. Ex. Sang Collection, Forbes Collection.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    October, 2009
    16th-17th Friday-Saturday
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