174 ABRAHAM LINCOLN QUARTERLY
The Reverend James Mitchell, the recently appointed
commissioner of emigration, introduced the group to the
president and Edwin M. Thomas acted as its chairman and
spokesman. Lincoln explained that he had asked them to
come so that he could speak to them about the colonization
of the Negro race abroad. "And why should the people of
your race... leave this country?" the president asked. He
went on to explain that the two races could not live side by
side because of the great difference between them. "Consider
what we know to be the truth. But for your race among us
there could not be war." Lincoln pointed out that even as
freedmen the Negroes would be better off removed from the
But even when you cease to be slaves, you are yet far removed
from being placed on an equality with the white man. You are
cut off from many of the advantages which the other race enjoys.
The aspiration of men is to enjoy equality with the best when
free, but in this broad continent not a single man of your race
is made the equal of a single man of ours. Go where you are
treated the best and the ban is still upon you.
The president then informed the delegation that an excellent colonization site was available in Central America
where men of their race would be welcome and where an
abundance of coal would immediately put the colony on a
firm financial footing. Lincoln concluded by asking the group
to determine if a number of freedmen with their families
would be willing to go as soon as arrangements could be
There is no evidence that this committee ever reached a
decision on colonization and advised President Lincoln of it.
Lincoln's address to the Negro group appears both in the newspapers of the day,
works about the Lincoln administration contemporary to that period, and in
recent collections of Lincoln's writings. As these accounts are almost identical, it
can be assumed that they are all based on the record preserved by this one man.
0 Henry J. Raymond, The Life and Public Services of Abraham Lincoln (New
York, 1865), pp. 504-508.