The American Colonization Society (ACS) was formed in 1817 to send free African-Americans to Africa as an alternative to emancipation in the US. The first colonists were sent to Africa in 1820 and resided at Sierra Leone. In 1822, the Society established a colony on the west coast of Africa that, in 1847, became the independent nation of Liberia. Beginning in the 1830s, the Society was harshly attacked by abolitionists, who tried to discredit colonization as a slaveholder's scheme. View an example of such criticism, voiced by William Lloyd Garrison in 1832, in this excerpt from "Thoughts on African Colonization."
Selling life memberships was a standard fund-raising practice of benevolent societies and, at thirty dollars each, the memberships were a popular gift for ministers. In 1825, one of the agents who sold the certificates in New England estimated that "not less than $50,000 have in this way been poured into the treasury of the Lord." In March 1825, the ACS began a quarterly, The African Repository and Colonial Journal, edited by Ralph Randolph Gurley who headed the Society until 1844. The quarterly promoted both colonization and Liberia. Among the items printed were articles about Africa, letters of praise, dispatches stressing prosperity and growth of the colony, information about emigrants, and lists of donors.
By the 1840s, Liberia had become a financial burden on the American Colonization Society. In addition, Liberia faced political threats, chiefly from Britain, because it was neither a sovereign power nor a bona fide colony of any sovereign nation. Because the United States refused to claim sovereignty over Liberia, the ACS ordered the Liberians to proclaim their independence in 1846. For many years, the ACS tried to persuade the United States Congress to appropriate funds to send colonists to Liberia. Although the campaign ultimately failed, the society did succeed in its appeals to some state legislatures. In 1850, Virginia set aside $30,000 annually for five years to aid and support emigration. During the 1850s, the Society also received several thousand dollars from the New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Missouri, and Maryland legislatures. By 1867, the Society had sent more than 13,000 emigrants to Liberia. After the Civil War, when many blacks wanted to go to Liberia, financial support for colonization had waned. During its later years, the Society focused on educational and missionary efforts in Liberia rather than emigration. In 1913, and at its dissolution in 1964, the Society donated its records to the Library of Congress.