This article examines the divergent responses of Philadelphia sailmaker James Forten (1766–1842) and Liberian governor Jehudi Ashmun (1794–1828) to the question of the destiny of African-descended people in the United States. Forten, a leader in the African American community, came to oppose the American Colonization Society’s plans to promote Black emigration to Liberia. Ashmun, a White teacher and editor from New York state, played a significant role in establishing the colony. Although the two men never met, they led intertwined lives and stood enmeshed in rival transatlantic communication networks transmitting information about conditions in the young settlement. Central to understanding their opposing positions on the possibility and desirability of a biracial society are their contrasting conceptions of the “degraded state” of African Americans.

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