Midwest Social Sciences Journal


In March 1836, nine Hanover College and Indiana Theological Seminary students, almost certainly including Benjamin Franklin Templeton, a former slave enrolled in the seminary, formed an antislavery society. The society’s Preamble and Constitution set forth abolitionist ideals demanding an immediate emancipation of Southern slaves with rights of citizenship and “without expatriation.” Thus they encountered the ire of Hanover’s Presbyterian trustees—colonizationists who believed instead that free blacks and educated slaves, gradually and voluntarily emancipated by their owners, should leave the United States and relocate to Liberia, where they would experience greater opportunity, equality, and justice than was possible here in the United States and simultaneously exercise a civilizing and Christianizing influence on indigenous West Africans. By separating the races on two different continents with an ocean between them, America’s race problem would be solved. The efforts of the colonizationists failed, in part because of a lack of sufficient resources to transport and resettle three million African Americans. Then, too, few Southern slaveholders were willing to emancipate their slaves and finance those former slaves’ voyages, and most free blacks refused to leave the country of their birth. In Liberia, left largely to their own resources, colonists encountered disease, the enmity of local tribes, the threat of slavers, and difficulties in farming that left these former slaves struggling for existence, even if free blacks who engaged in mercantile trade there fared well. In the United States, the trustees’ conviction that American society was racist beyond reform, together with their refusal to confront the system of slavery in the South in hope of preserving the Union and their refusal to allow even discussion of the subject of slavery on the Hanover campus, left their central question unanswered: Would it ever be possible for people of color and whites to reside together in the United States peaceably and equitably? The trustees’ decision exerted another long-term impact as well. Although today the campus is integrated, Hanover College would not admit an African American student until 1948.