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John Marshall Letter, American Colonization Society


This letter excerpt written by Chief Justice John Marshall on December 14, 1831, was included in a meeting address of the American Colonization Society. Marshall served as president of the Virginia Colonization Society, dedicated to helping slaves and their descendants emigrate to West Africa.


"The great object of the Society, I presume, is to obtain pecuniary aids. Application will undoubtedly be made, I hope successfully, to the several State Legislatures, by the societies formed within them respectively. It is extremely desirable that they should pass permanent laws on the subject: and the excitement produced by the late insurrection, makes this a favourable moment for the friends of the Colony to press for such acts. It would be also desirable, if such a direction could be given to state legislation, as might have some tendency to incline the people of colour to migrate. This, however, is a subject of much delicacy. Whatever may be the success of our endeavours to obtain acts for permanent aids, I have no doubt that our applications for immediate contributions, will receive attention. It is possible, though not probable, that more people of colour may be disposed to migrate than can be provided for, with the fund the Society may be enabled to command. Under this impression I suggested, some years past, to one or two of the Board of Managers, to allow a small additional bounty in lands, to those who would pay their own passage whole or in part. The suggestion, however, was not approved.

"It is undoubtedly of great importance to retain the countenance and protection of the general government. Some of our cruizers stationed on the coast of Africa would, at the same time, interrupt the slave trade--a horrid traffic, detested by all good men, and would protect the vessels and commerce of the colony from pirate s who infest those seas. The power of the government to afford this aid, is not, I believe, contested. I regret that its power to grant pecuniary aid, is not equally free from question. On this subject, I have always thought, and still think, that the proposition made by Mr. King, in the Senate, is the most unexceptionable, and the most effective that can be devised.

"The fund would probably operate as rapidly as would be desirable, when we take into view the other resources which might come in aid of it; and its application would be, perhaps, less exposed to those constitutional objections which are made in the south, than the application of money drawn from the treasury and raised by taxes. The lands are the property of the United States, and have heretofore been disposed of by the government, under the idea of absolute ownership."