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[Detail] United States Capitol [ca 1846]


In 1817, the American Colonization Society established the settlement of Liberia on the west coast of Africa. This colony was created in part for free African Americans to enjoy the civil rights denied to them in the United States. While some documents in the American Memory collection, From Slavery to Freedom, question whether Liberia was a land of opportunity or an opportunity to avoid civil rights issues in the United States, it is clear that many African Americans moved to the colony to start a new life. The American Memory collection, Maps of Liberia, 1830-1870, features a timeline history of Liberia from its early days as a colony to its recognition as an independent nation in 1847.

A search on Liberia in this collection yields a number of portraits from the American Colonization Society. Images include Liberian presidents Joseph Jenkins Roberts and Stephen Allen Benson, senators Edward Morris and Edward Roye, Senate Chaplain Philip Coker, and a number of anonymous colonists.

  • Many daguerreotype galleries showcased portraits of United States politicians to attract interest from the public. Do you think that it was likely that portraits of Liberian politicians were used in the same manner? Why or why not?
  • Are there any other images of African Americans in this collection?
  • What do you think the relationship of the Liberian portraits to the rest of the collection suggests about how they may have been used? What does it suggest about the status of African Americans in the early nineteenth-century?
  • Senator Edward Roye appears with his left hand raised in the air. What do you think might be the significance of this pose?
  • How do the clothing, facial expressions, and poses of these Liberian politicians compare to those of white politicians featured in this collection?
  • Why might differences in these aspects of the portraits exist?
  • What might such differences imply about the efforts of the American Colonization Society?
  • How do you think that the American Colonization Society might have used these images?