MADISON, James (1751-1836). Document signed ("James Madison"), as former President, an engraved CERTIFICATE OF MEMBERSHIP IN THE AMERICAN COLONIZATION SOCIETY. Washington, D.C. [1833 or later]. 1 page, an oblong (8¼ x 11 1/8 in.). A fine engraving by Henry Stone" at top, the sun's rays shine from clouds, across which is the bold legend "Office of the Colonization Society." The Society's circular emblem is engraved in a central oval at bottom center (a ship sailing towards Liberia, with Latin motto "Lex in Tenebris"--light amid darkness.). The emblem is flanked by sheaves of banana and palm leaves. Madison signs in ink at lower right.
"THE TWO RACES CANNOT COEXIST" (James Madison)
An uncommon blank membership certificate, signed in advance by the Society's President, Madison, conferring a life membership in the controversial American Colonization Society (officially known as the American Society for Colonizing the Free People of Color of the United States). The Society's mission was to remove free blacks from the United States and relocate them to the African colony of Liberia. Madison, along with Bushrod Washington, James Monroe, Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, Andrew Jackson and Francis Scott Key were among the luminaries who lent their names to this enterprise, but the animating idea behind it--that whites and free blacks could never live together in peace--long pre-dated the Society's creation in 1816. Jefferson urged the removal of blacks when he wrote his Notes on the State of Virginia in 1782: "Deep-rooted prejudices entertained by the whites; ten thousand recollections, by the blacks, of the injuries they have sustained...will divide us into parties, and produce convulsions, which will probably never end but in the extermination of the one or the other race."
Jefferson's disciple in this as in so many other things, Madison also believed that "the two races cannot co-exist, both being free and equal. The great sina qua non, therefore, is some external asylum for the coloured race" (Ketchum, James Madison, 628). With a $100,000 bequest from Congress, the first boat load of settlers arrived in 1822. Most fell victim to diseases within months of their arrival. Only about 2,600 blacks made the journey over the next decade. No more than 15,000 did so over the life of the Society. Most of the members were slaveowners from the upper South, like Madison and Clay. Jefferson realized that colonization would never work. "We cannot get rid of them this way," he said. Yet this strange idea persisted. Lincoln and Grant would briefly toy with colonization schemes during their own presidencies. Only in 1964 did America finally reject the idea of separatism in favor of full legal equality. For it was in that year that Congress passed and Lyndon Johnson signed into law landmark civil rights legislation; and the American Society for Colonizing the Free People of Color of the United States finally dissolved its charter.
Signed membership certificates from the Society are relatively rare. Only four have appeared at auction in the last 30 years.