William Stewart Bodley

Biography from Bodley Family Papers Finding Aid at Filson Historical Society:

William Stewart Bodley was born on June 6, 1806, in Lexington. He received a law degree from Transylvania University in 1825, practiced law in Maysville, New Orleans, and finally moved to Vicksburg, Mississippi in 1830. In 1835 he married Ellen Pearce. The couple stayed in Vicksburg until 1849 when they moved to Louisville. William served in the Kentucky House of Representatives from 1855 to 1857. Bodley died April 8, 1877 in Louisville.1

Frequent correspondent of Jimmie Pindell (his wife’s sister) and George B. Kinkaid (his wife’s sister’s husband). Correspondence with whom can be found in Bodley Family Papers at the Filson Historical Society.

A letter from George B. Kinkead, dated April 22, 1852, asks Stewart whether his “Colonization address” was available yet.2 The printed version of the address was Address of the Hon. William S. Bodley, before the Kentucky Colonization Society, in the City of Frankfort, February 23, 1852 (Frankfort: A. G. Hodges & Co., 1852), and is available in Bodley Family Papers, Folder 155:

The cause of Colonization … has no sort of alliance with any of the controverted questions connected with slavery. It regards that as an existing relation, which it neither applauds nor condemns, nor seeks to extend or limit, perpetuate or abolish, or to interfere with in any mode, or for any purpose whatever. It examines and considers the influence of slavery upon the character, and condition, and numbers of the free colored people, only because the latter are the direct objects of its own action.

It acts upon the free only, and never upon the slave.

Whatever opinions, therefore, amongst the friends and advocates of Colonization, may favor or oppose any contested policy as to slavery, they are exclusively personal to their authors. The Society avows but one purpose—the removal of the free colored people to Africa. It holds no other tenet, and establishes no other creed, but leaves all other points free and open to each friend of the cause, according to his own private judgment of right and expediency.

There is, therefore, nothing in the principles or plans of the Society, which forbids the co-operation of men holding the most opposite views in regard to slavery, concerning which its friends have always differed very widely amongst themselves, and have never hesitated, even as the appointed public advocates of Colonization, freely to express their individual opinions, without claiming or intending to represent them as the views of the Society.

Upon the present occasion, I shall imitate their example, and present my own sentiments with a similar freedom.3

After briefly surveying the history of colonization, and its efforts to prove it was more than “a sublime impracticability” (p. 7), Bosley declared that the cause “has triumphed over every difficulty” and established “a well-ordered and wisely-governed Christian Republic” in Liberia (p. 7). But to make the full plan come to fruition, a national effort was needed to remedy a national evil:

The 420,000 free colored people in the United States are universally acknowledged to be a great national evil. Since the adoption of our Federal Constitution, they have increased faster, in proportion to [p. 9] numbers, than any other class. They are, by common consent, considered to be an injurious element of population, and this opinion exists North and South, and in every place where they are found. The evil is unquestionably great, and clearly national; and the remedy for it should be national also. … No reflecting statesman would be content to allow such a population to remain perpetually amongst us, and it should be removed by national resources (pp. 8-9).

Bosley then discussed the history of “free colored people” and their descent from “a stock originally barbarians in Africa” (p. 9) to their contact with civilization in the United States through the slave trade: “the greatest outrage that blots the history of man, shed the first gleam of hope upon the negro … Few barbarians, in the whole history of man, have been so rapidly elevated into civilization” (p. 10). He contrasts free black population favorably with “the [character of] American Indian: which, proud and intractable, while it excited admiration, debarred improvement, and decreed extinction, instead of civilization, as the general destiny of his race” (p. 10).

The negro, on the contrary, deficient in self-esteem and full of veneration, was not only submissive, but highly imitative in his character. With small intellectual capacity, he improved quite rapidly, in consequence of his facility in acquiring, by copying, the manners, arts, habits, and sentiments of the civilized men around him …" (p. 10)

He hastens to add, however, that there are “vast disparities of individual attainment” of civilization, for “many of them are still but little removed from the leaden dullness and groveling sensuality of the native African, and are, therefore, wholly unsuited for freedom, and, in some form or mode, deserve and absolutely require the protection of salutary restraint” (p. 11). Given the wide variety of conditions, “an undistinguishing emancipation of all, or a sweeping denial of freedom to any of them, would be equally unreasonable and impolitic. Voluntary manumission by the master, furnishes the best practical mode of securing the necessary selection for the state of freedom” (p. 11).

Meanwhile, though, the nearly universal prejudice against free people of color meant, for Bodley, that “no reasonable hope remains for an improvement of the political condition of the free colored people in the United States” (p. 12). “Liberia is their home. … There they can be truly free. Men of their own color make and administer the laws, instruct children, preach the gospel, and fill the most distinguished places in an enlightened commonwealth of blacks” (p. 13). Its nascent success provided “an outlet” for “surplus numbers” of American slaves, “without assailing or disturbing the institution of slavery” (p. 14). He proposes federal funding of a line of steam packets in place of the African Squadron, which does little to suppress the interior slave trade.

Finally, Bosley returns to the evils of the free colored population:

Every one of the States suffers a share of the evils of a free colored population, of which it heartily desires to be relieved; and nearly all of them approve the plan of Colonization as an adequate, if not the only effectual remedy.

These prevailing opinions ought to produce a correspondent legislation, appropriating to that purpose so much money, annually, as will suffice to remove their respective shares of the increase, and ultimately, of the entire mass of that objectionable population.

Yet, with the exception of Maryland and Virginia, none of the States have contributed towards that important object; and these small, dark spots, originally “no bigger than a man’s hand,” are swelling out into clouds of tremendous magnitude and mischief (p. 16).

He hopes that Kentucky, which has just passed a law forbidding manumission except it is accompanied by removal, will act to fund colonization to make such removal practical. The law “describes emancipation as occurring under the Constitution, and within this State; and, to the emancipated slave, makes continued residence here a crime. There obvioulsy devolves upon the State the duty of furnishing the means of removal, since, without the possession of such means, the emancipated slave cannot, with any show of justice, be punished for remaining” (p. 17).

A letter from William S. Bodley to Henry Clay Pindell dated June 10, 1852, further makes it clear that while possibly a colonizationist, Bodley was no abolitionist; he lamented the attempts by Northern Whigs and Democrats to court “free soilers” and “higher law” men: “In my opinion it is true policy, and it unquestionably a duty of patriotism, to throw the free soilers overboard” from the Whig party, which would benefit the party in the long run.4

  1. See Bodley Family Papers, Mss. A/B668e FA, Filson Historical Society. While in Vicksburg he was apparently a judge, which is why he is later referred to as Judge Bodley.

  2. G. B. Kinkead to W. S. Bodley, April 22, 1852, Bodley Family Papers, Mss. A/B668e, Folder 52, Filson Club Historical Society. Also begins the letter by asking Bodley to “ascertain from Mr. Myers if he has received any letters from me.”

  3. All of these are found on p. 5 of the address.

  4. Bodley Family Papers, Mss. A/B668e, Folder 52, Filson Club Historical Society.