TYLER, John. Autograph letter signed ("John Tyler") with autograph Free Frank ("J Tyler"), to M.D. Philips, Sherwood Forest, [VA], 2 January 1855. 2 1/3 pages, 4to (9 7/8 x 7 13/16 in.), light blue stationery, repair to vertical fold, otherwise fine.
TYLER PRAISES THE AMERICAN COLONIZATION SOCIETY AND FORSEES "A BRIGHT AND GLORIOUS REPUBLIC SUSTAINED AND ADMINISTERED BY BLACK MEN"
A very revealing letter in which Tyler, who strongly opposed the slave trade and believed that slavery in the South must be ended, expresses his candid opinion of the movement for the resettlement of emancipated slaves in Africa, in which he had played an important role. The American Colonization Society, established in 1817, sought to resettle manumitted slaves in a colony in present-day Liberia. Local chapters in every state, churches and some state legislatures provided funds and, by 1860, 15,000 former African slaves were living in the new nation. However, internal dissension and the opposition of extremists on both sides of the issue curtailed its efforts after 1840.
Former President Tyler affirms his conviction that colonization would still prove "its usefulness to all concerned," and that resettlement would be particularly advantageous for "the coloured race of American birth because it elevates that race to the condition of freemen in fact, and not merely in name as in the U. States and confers upon them all the responsibilities of self government." Equally revealing is Tyler's statement of the benefits to the White population: "[it is] 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." And colonization, he argues, "transfers...the arts, in some degree the sciences and sets to blazing the fires of civilization through the instrumentallity [sic] of the Christian religion." Tyler acknowledges his former post as President of the Virginia Colonization Society and praises the success of their initiatives: "The Virginia Colony of Liberia is already emancipated from the controul of the parent society and has established a free republic and...is said to be prosperous and flourishing."
Some proponents of slavery had argued against emancipation on the specious grounds that freed slaves might not prove capable of surviving as free men. Tyler disgrees: "[Liberia] begins the experiment under circumstances the most prospitious to success. Its citizens are emigrants from the freest country upon Earth, and have carried with them principles imbibed in infancy. They commence their career under the governorship of an enlightened and intelligent man of the mixed race. 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 he is designed to be the servitor of other and more intelligent races." Tyler concludes: "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."
Although the American Colonization Society has been criticized for some of the overtly racist motivations of its founders, the country of Liberia survived and flourished. In 1861, Tyler supported his state's secession but maintained his belief that slavery was an outdated institution.
Provenance: Mrs. Philip D. Sang (sale, Sotheby's 31 October 1985, lot 199).