Ile-a-Vache, Abraham Lincoln an Free American Slaves

Abraham Lincoln, before signing the Emancipation Proclamation, struck a deal with the landowner of Ile-à-Vache, a vacant island near the southern coast of Haiti. He contracted to send former slaves there to avoid racial uprisings on U.S. soil. The plan failed and Lincoln's decision has been debated by historians, trying to define his presidential character in the context of it. A perfect storm of disease, greed, and mistrust between government and private individuals brewed destructive forces, foiling a well-intentioned effort to deal with the aftermath of abolition in the U.S.


The ship traveling to Ile-à-Vache suffered an outbreak of smallpox en route. The 4,500 infected settlers were isolated, awaiting a second-supply ship that never arrived. This failure caused conflict to erupt between the landowner, his patrons, and agents of the U.S. government. The 500 unaffected settlers became stranded on Ile-à-Vache, and in rebellion ran the landowner off. Lincoln was forced to return the settlers to the U.S.

Beyond the disappointment of failure, outrage sparked among Blacks over asking former slaves to leave their country of origin. Other Blacks held a more pragmatic view; that they could possibly achieve social and political parity overseas.

As a result of Lincoln's poorly-hatched plan, historians tend to either idealize (in denial of it) or demonize him. But revisionists tell us he did not operate from a pre-conceived ideology, but rather responded to events as they unfolded. As all presidents before and after him, Lincoln made good and bad decisions. The Emancipation Proclamation good, the deportation of former slaves bad.

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Read more: Slavery, Ile-a-Vache, Black American, Abraham Lincoln, Emancipation, Smallpox, Haiti


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