The biggest question facing the leaders of the United States in the early 19th century was what to do about slavery. Should it continue or should the U.S. abolish it? Could the country really be home to free black people and enslaved black people at the same time? And if the U.S. ended slavery, would freed men and women remain in the country or go somewhere else?
Many white people at this time thought the answer to that last question was to send free black Americans to Africa through “colonization.” Starting in 1816, the American Colonization Society—which counted future presidents James Monroe and Andrew Jackson among its members—sought to create a colony in Africa for this purpose. This was 50 years before the U.S. would abolish slavery. Over the next three decades, the society secured land in West Africa and shipped people to the colony, which became the nation of Liberia in 1847.