This letter was written by Rev. William McLain who was elected as the financial secretary of the American Colonization Society (ACS) in 1844. Rev. McLain was a leader in championing the idea of garnering public and private financial support for sending liberated slaves to Liberia. McLain believed he had President Lincoln’s support for sending the freedmen to Liberia after a face-to-face meeting in 1862, but then felt betrayed by the President when he backed a proposal to send them to Central American instead. [Readers are referred to Michael Vorenberg’s scholarly article entitled, “Abraham Lincoln and the Politics of Black Colonization” appearing in the Journal of Abraham Lincoln, Vol. 14, Issue 2, Summer 1993]
McLain wrote the letter to Ely Augustus Elliot (1791-1871) of Clinton, Connecticut—a successful and retired merchant who partnered with James A. Pratt under the firm name of Pratt & Elliot. In the 1830s, Elliot was commissioned a brigadier general of artillery in the State of Connecticut. He was a member of the ACS in Connecticut.
Washington D. C.
12 October 1866
My Dear Sir,
Shall we send to Liberia all the people who want to go & are able to pay their own expenses? This questions now presses upon us. We are compelled to appeal to our friends for the means to answer it. What shall we say to the following companies already organized who have sent us their names, ages &c., ready to said November 1st viz: in Columbia SC, 205; in Newberry SC, 200; in Macon GA, 288; in Sparta Ga, 46; in Knoxville TN, 200; in other places, 59; in all 998. We have agreed to send 800 who are among the better class families, parents and children, in the prime of life, the very people that Liberia needs. Every settlement there is crying out for more people to help to do the civilizing & missionary work on their hands! Here are the people ready & anxious to go. Where shall we get the means to send them? Our friends have said, in years past, “Yes, certainly we will give, if the people will go.” Now we can say, the people will go.
To send 800 & support them six months, will cost at $60 each, $48,000.00. For this we must appeal to our friends privately & publicly & beg them to help us to the extent of our ability. It is a long time since we have made any special call on them.
We shall be glad to hear from you as soon as possible, with as much as you can.
Yours most respectfully, — W. McLain, Fin. Sec. A. C. S.
[to] E. A. Elliot, Esq., Clinton, Con.