Today in History

Today in History: July 26

The American Colonization Society

Joseph Jenkins Roberts
Joseph Jenkins Roberts [detail],
President of Liberia,
circa 1851.

Jane Roberts
Jane Roberts [detail],
First Lady of Liberia,
Rufus Anson, photographer,
between 1851 and 1860.
America's First Look into the Camera: Daguerreotype Portraits and Views, 1839-1862

Joseph Jenkins Roberts declared Liberia, formerly a colony of the American Colonization Society, an independent republic on July 26, 1847. He was elected the first president of the republic in 1848.

A native of Petersburg, Virginia, Roberts immigrated to Liberia in 1829 at the age of twenty under the auspices of the American Colonization Society. The Society was organized in late December 1816 by a group which included Henry Clay, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, Francis Scott Key, Bushrod Washington, and Daniel Webster. The colonization scheme, controversial from the outset among blacks and whites alike, was conceived as an alternative to emancipation. The idea grew from the recognition of the difficulty that the Republic would face should it choose the path of becoming an integrated nation.

Map of the West Coast of Africa from Sierra Leone to Cape Palmas, including Liberia
Map of the West Coast of Africa from Sierra Leone to Cape Palmas, including the Colony of Liberia,
Maps of Liberia, 1830-1870
This map was compiled chiefly from the surveys and observations of the Reverend Jehudi Ashmun, who led the settlement of what was to become the country of Liberia.

With difficulty, funds were found for the venture and, after an initial unsuccessful attempt, a colony was finally founded at Mesurado Bay on an island of Perseverance in 1822. Reverend Ashmun negotiated with the native people to grant a tract of land at Cape Mesurado at the mouth of the Saint Paul River.

Expansion of the original colony at times resulted in conflict with indigenous Africans. The colony grew as it became a home for freed African Americans and slaves released from the West Indies and from slave ships as well as many native tribal people. Nevertheless, confrontations between the descendants of African Americans and indigenous tribes have remained a factor in Liberian politics through the twentieth century.

Learn more about the colonization movement in the online exhibition The African American Mosaic. The first section of the exhibition, entitled "Colonization," includes an overview of the origins of the American Colonization Society and the founding and early history of Liberia. Of particular interest is a treaty between the American Colonization Society and African tribal leaders for rights to tribal lands along the Grain Coast and on major rivers leading inland.

New York Ratifies Constitution

On July 26, 1788, the Convention of the State of New York, meeting in Poughkeepsie, voted to ratify the Constitution of the United States.

With its ratification of the Constitution, New York entered the new union as the eleventh of the original thirteen colonies to join together as the United States of America.

Str. Albany and Poughkeepsie Bridge
Steamer Albany and Poughkeepsie Bridge,
Poughkeepsie, New York,
between 1900 and 1910.
Touring Turn-of-the-Century America: Photographs from the Detroit Publishing Company, 1880-1921

The city of Poughkeepsie, where ratification took place, is approximately eighty miles north of New York City and eighty-five miles south of Albany, the state capital. The city is located along the Hudson River, which flows more than 300 miles from its source in the Adirondacks to the New York Harbor.

The natural beauty of New York State includes an abundance of rivers, streams, lakes, ponds, and coastal waters—from the Hudson Valley to the Finger Lakes region in central New York to Niagara Falls.

Niagara Falls
Niagara Falls from Prospect Point,
William Henry Jackson, photographer,
between 1898 and 1912.
Touring Turn-of-the-Century America: Photographs from the Detroit Publishing Company, 1880-1920

In 1879, one of the first state-level conservation efforts in America took place in New York. In a report from the collection, Evolution of the Conservation Movement, James T. Gardiner, director of the New York State survey, and landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, outline plans for restoration and preservation of Niagara Falls:

The value of Niagara to the world, and that which has obtained for it homage of so many men whom the world reveres, lies in its power of appeal to the higher emotional and imaginative faculties, and this power is drawn from qualities and conditions too subtle to be known through verbal description.

Special Report of New York State Survey on the Preservation of the Scenery of Niagara Falls, 1879.
The Evolution of the Conservation Movement, 1850-1920

Panorama of Lake Panorama of Lake Panorama of Lake
Lake Skan[e]ateles. New York, between 1890 and 1901.
Touring Turn-of-the-Century America: Photographs from the Detroit Publishing Company, 1880-1920