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Historic Autograph Letters, Manuscripts & Documents

Important Signed & Inscribed Books and Photographs



CLAY, HENRY.  (1777-1852).  American statesman;  known as “The Great Compromiser”; major promoter of the Missouri Compromise (1820) and the Compromise of 1850, both efforts to shield the American union from sectional discord over slavery. Scarce, Partially-Printed Document Signed, “H. Clay” as president of the society.  November 27, 1841.  [Washington, D.C.]  One page,  heavy paper stock, oblong folio.  [approx 7 ½ x 12 inches].  Ornate seal of the society imprinted in the certificate, depicting a 3 masted schooner returning slaves to Liberia, across bottom edge of document, along with images of palm stems and other plant fauna.   Countersigned by John Douglass, Assistant Secretary of the Society.   The Document reads: “This certifies that Rev. T. Thayer is a MEMBER for life, of the AMERICAN COLONIZATION SOCIETY.”   

Founded in 1816, the American Colonization Society attracted a diverse member base that included not only abolitionists, but slave owners as well. Among the Society’s many supporters were Charles Fenton Mercer, Henry Clay, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, John Randolph, and Bushrod Washington.   

On the one hand, abolitionist members felt the society could effect the gradual elimination of slavery and wished to provide newly freed slaves with the opportunity to escape racism and the systematic denial of their rights they faced as citizens of the United States. On the other hand, slave owners saw a threat to their livelihood in the growing free black population and hoped colonization would reinforce and strengthen the institution of slavery in the United States. James Madison, a founding member of the American Colonization Society, discovered in the repatriation of African Americans to Africa a means of reconciling the obvious contradiction between his publicly professed abhorrence of human bondage and his continued ownership of slaves.

Moreover, Madison viewed repatriation as an effective means of combating the emerging sectional differences that threatened the continued stability of the adolescent Union. Even with the divergent goals espoused by abolitionists and slave holders within the American Colonization Society, all society members shared a common foundation: a deep-rooted belief that whites and blacks could never coexist in the United States. This belief led the society to establish Liberia, named by the society’s own R.R. Gurley, on Africa’s western coast in 1820. By the time James Madison assumed the presidency of the American Colonization Society in 1833, more 2,500 African Americans had already been resettled in the colony.

Even in the early 1830s, opposition from radical abolitionists such as William Lloyd Garrison, who attacked colonization as a slaveholder’s scheme to perpetuate slavery, had begun to take its toll on the society. The gap between abolitionists and supporters of colonization widened, yet the society continued its repatriation attempts even after the 1836 death of its nationally recognized president, James Madison. Try as it might, the American Colonization Society saw its supporters steadily decline from 1840 on. By 1867, Liberia had been independent for twenty years, and even though over 13,000 African Americans had emigrated, the total free black population in the U.S. was over 4 million. By its fiftieth year, the society’s goal of total repatriation of free African Americans was more impractical than ever. Still, the society limped on, providing missionary and educational services in Liberia until it disbanded in 1913.

Just an exceptional piece documenting this remarkable period in American history, in fine condition.