By Sebastian N. Page
This article looks at Abraham Lincoln’s pursuit of colonization in the Chiriquí region of Colombia (now Panamá), conventionally known as one of just two places that he seriously considered with respect to his policy of relocating African Americans. Challenging the standard account of the scheme’s demise around October 1862 due to vehement Central American protest, this piece questions whether such a development really took the president by surprise. The two weak threads running through the Chiriquí proposal were its scope for diplomatic upset and the embarrassment that might arise from its corrupt proponents’ links to the administration. The author argues that Lincoln was aware of both issues from an early date – even if they each became more complicated than he had initially realized – but that he made persistent attempts to address them. The administration was also more concerned about the ramifications of divisions within Colombia than the widespread isthmian outcry at colonization. Lincoln accordingly tried to place colonization policy on a sounder diplomatic and legislative footing as it became apparent that his contract with a domestic businessman also carried international implications. Yet ultimately, it was the Chiriquí venture’s corruption that killed it when the president discovered that it went all the way to the cabinet.
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