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The Suppression of the African Slave Trade to the United States of America.
by W. E. B. Du Bois.
This monograph was begun during my residence as Rogers Memorial Fellow at Harvard University, and is based mainly upon a study of the sources, i.e., national, State, and colonial statutes, Congressional doc.u.ments, reports of societies, personal narratives, etc. The collection of laws available for this research was, I think, nearly complete; on the other hand, facts and statistics bearing on the economic side of the study have been difficult to find, and my conclusions are consequently liable to modification from this source.
The question of the suppression of the slave-trade is so intimately connected with the questions as to its rise, the system of American slavery, and the whole colonial policy of the eighteenth century, that it is difficult to isolate it, and at the same time to avoid superficiality on the one hand, and unscientific narrowness of view on the other. While I could not hope entirely to overcome such a difficulty, I nevertheless trust that I have succeeded in rendering this monograph a small contribution to the scientific study of slavery and the American Negro.
I desire to express my obligation to Dr. Albert Bushnell Hart, of Harvard University, at whose suggestion I began this work and by whose kind aid and encouragement I have brought it to a close; also I have to thank the trustees of the John F. Slater Fund, whose appointment made it possible to test the conclusions of this study by the general principles laid down in German universities.
W.E. BURGHARDT DU BOIS.
WILBERFORCE UNIVERSITY, March, 1896.
1. Plan of the Monograph.
2. The Rise of the English Slave-Trade.
1. ~Plan of the Monograph.~ This monograph proposes to set forth the efforts made in the United States of America, from early colonial times until the present, to limit and suppress the trade in slaves between Africa and these sh.o.r.es.
The study begins with the colonial period, setting forth in brief the att.i.tude of England and, more in detail, the att.i.tude of the planting, farming, and trading groups of colonies toward the slave-trade. It deals next with the first concerted effort against the trade and with the further action of the individual States. The important work of the Const.i.tutional Convention follows, together with the history of the trade in that critical period which preceded the Act of 1807. The attempt to suppress the trade from 1807 to 1830 is next recounted. A chapter then deals with the slave-trade as an international problem.
Finally the development of the crises up to the Civil War is studied, together with the steps leading to the final suppression; and a concluding chapter seeks to sum up the results of the investigation.
Throughout the monograph the inst.i.tution of slavery and the interstate slave-trade are considered only incidentally.
2. ~The Rise of the English Slave-Trade.~ Any attempt to consider the att.i.tude of the English colonies toward the African slave-trade must be prefaced by a word as to the att.i.tude of England herself and the development of the trade in her hands.
Sir John Hawkins’s celebrated voyage took place in 1562, but probably not until 1631 did a regular chartered company undertake to carry on the trade. This company was unsuccessful, and was eventually succeeded by the “Company of Royal Adventurers trading to Africa,”
chartered by Charles II. in 1662, and including the Queen Dowager and the Duke of York. The company contracted to supply the West Indies with three thousand slaves annually; but contraband trade, misconduct, and war so reduced it that in 1672 it surrendered its charter to another company for 34,000. This new corporation, chartered by Charles II.
as the “Royal African Company,” proved more successful than its predecessors, and carried on a growing trade for a quarter of a century.
In 1698 Parliamentary interference with the trade began. By the Statute 9 and 10 William and Mary, chapter 26, private traders, on payment of a duty of 10% on English goods exported to Africa, were allowed to partic.i.p.ate in the trade. This was brought about by the clamor of the merchants, especially the “American Merchants,” who “in their Pet.i.tion suggest, that it would be a great Benefit to the Kingdom to secure the Trade by maintaining Forts and Castles there, with an equal Duty upon all Goods exported.” This plan, being a compromise between maintaining the monopoly intact and entirely abolishing it, was adopted, and the statute declared the trade “highly Beneficial and Advantageous to this Kingdom, and to the Plantations and Colonies thereunto belonging.”
Having thus gained practically free admittance to the field, English merchants sought to exclude other nations by securing a monopoly of the lucrative Spanish colonial slave-trade. Their object was finally accomplished by the signing of the a.s.siento in 1713.
The a.s.siento was a treaty between England and Spain by which the latter granted the former a monopoly of the Spanish colonial slave-trade for thirty years, and England engaged to supply the colonies within that time with at least 144,000 slaves, at the rate of 4,800 per year.
England was also to advance Spain 200,000 crowns, and to pay a duty of 33 crowns for each slave imported. The kings of Spain and England were each to receive one-fourth of the profits of the trade, and the Royal African Company were authorized to import as many slaves as they wished above the specified number in the first twenty-five years, and to sell them, except in three ports, at any price they could get.
It is stated that, in the twenty years from 1713 to 1733, fifteen thousand slaves were annually imported into America by the English, of whom from one-third to one-half went to the Spanish colonies. To the company itself the venture proved a financial failure; for during the years 1729-1750 Parliament a.s.sisted the Royal Company by annual grants which amounted to 90,000, and by 1739 Spain was a creditor to the extent of 68,000, and threatened to suspend the treaty. The war interrupted the carrying out of the contract, but the Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle extended the limit by four years. Finally, October 5, 1750, this privilege was waived for a money consideration paid to England; the a.s.siento was ended, and the Royal Company was bankrupt.
By the Statute 23 George II., chapter 31, the old company was dissolved and a new “Company of Merchants trading to Africa” erected in its stead. Any merchant so desiring was allowed to engage in the trade on payment of certain small duties, and such merchants formed a company headed by nine directors. This marked the total abolition of monopoly in the slave-trade, and was the form under which the trade was carried on until after the American Revolution.
That the slave-trade was the very life of the colonies had, by 1700, become an almost unquestioned axiom in British practical economics. The colonists themselves declared slaves “the strength and sinews of this western world,” and the lack of them “the grand obstruction”
here, as the settlements “cannot subsist without supplies of them.”
Thus, with merchants clamoring at home and planters abroad, it easily became the settled policy of England to encourage the slave-trade. Then, too, she readily argued that what was an economic necessity in Jamaica and the Barbadoes could scarcely be disadvantageous to Carolina, Virginia, or even New York. Consequently, the colonial governors were generally instructed to “give all due encouragement and invitation to merchants and others, … and in particular to the royal African company of England.” Duties laid on the importer, and all acts in any way restricting the trade, were frowned upon and very often disallowed.
“Whereas,” ran Governor Dobbs’s instructions, “Acts have been pa.s.sed in some of our Plantations in America for laying duties on the importation and exportation of Negroes to the great discouragement of the Merchants trading thither from the coast of Africa…. It is our Will and Pleasure that you do not give your a.s.sent to or pa.s.s any Law imposing duties upon Negroes imported into our Province of North Carolina.”
The exact proportions of the slave-trade to America can be but approximately determined. From 1680 to 1688 the African Company sent 249 ships to Africa, shipped there 60,783 Negro slaves, and after losing 14,387 on the middle pa.s.sage, delivered 46,396 in America. The trade increased early in the eighteenth century, 104 ships clearing for Africa in 1701; it then dwindled until the signing of the a.s.siento, standing at 74 clearances in 1724. The final dissolution of the monopoly in 1750 led–excepting in the years 1754-57, when the closing of Spanish marts sensibly affected the trade–to an extraordinary development, 192 clearances being made in 1771. The Revolutionary War nearly stopped the traffic; but by 1786 the clearances had risen again to 146.
To these figures must be added the unregistered trade of Americans and foreigners. It is probable that about 25,000 slaves were brought to America each year between 1698 and 1707. The importation then dwindled, but rose after the a.s.siento to perhaps 30,000. The proportion, too, of these slaves carried to the continent now began to increase. Of about 20,000 whom the English annually imported from 1733 to 1766, South Carolina alone received some 3,000. Before the Revolution, the total exportation to America is variously estimated as between 40,000 and 100,000 each year. Bancroft places the total slave population of the continental colonies at 59,000 in 1714, 78,000 in 1727, and 293,000 in 1754. The census of 1790 showed 697,897 slaves in the United States.
In colonies like those in the West Indies and in South Carolina and Georgia, the rapid importation into America of a mult.i.tude of savages gave rise to a system of slavery far different from that which the late Civil War abolished. The strikingly harsh and even inhuman slave codes in these colonies show this. Crucifixion, burning, and starvation were legal modes of punishment. The rough and brutal character of the time and place was partly responsible for this, but a more decisive reason lay in the fierce and turbulent character of the imported Negroes. The docility to which long years of bondage and strict discipline gave rise was absent, and insurrections and acts of violence were of frequent occurrence. Again and again the danger of planters being “cut off by their own negroes” is mentioned, both in the islands and on the continent. This condition of vague dread and unrest not only increased the severity of laws and strengthened the police system, but was the prime motive back of all the earlier efforts to check the further importation of slaves.
On the other hand, in New England and New York the Negroes were merely house servants or farm hands, and were treated neither better nor worse than servants in general in those days. Between these two extremes, the system of slavery varied from a mild serfdom in Pennsylvania and New Jersey to an aristocratic caste system in Maryland and Virginia.
 This account is based largely on the _Report of the Lords of the Committee of Council_, etc. (London, 1789).
 African trading-companies had previously been erected (e.g. by Elizabeth in 1585 and 1588, and by James I. in 1618); but slaves are not specifically mentioned in their charters, and they probably did not trade in slaves. Cf. Bandinel, _Account of the Slave Trade_ (1842), pp. 38-44.
 Chartered by Charles I. Cf. Sainsbury, _Cal. State Papers, Col. Ser., America and W. Indies, 1574-1660_, p. 135.
 In 1651, during the Protectorate, the privileges of the African trade were granted anew to this same company for fourteen years. Cf. Sainsbury, _Cal. State Papers, Col. Ser., America and W. Indies, 1574-1660_, pp. 342, 355.
 Sainsbury, _Cal. State Papers, Col. Ser., America and W.
Indies, 1661-1668_, — 408.
 Sainsbury, _Cal. State Papers, Col. Ser., America and W.
Indies, 1669-1674_, —- 934, 1095.
 Quoted in the above _Report_, under “Most Material Proceedings in the House of Commons,” Vol. I. Part I. An import duty of 10% on all goods, except Negroes, imported from Africa to England and the colonies was also laid. The proceeds of these duties went to the Royal African Company.
 Cf. Appendix A.
 Bandinel, _Account of the Slave Trade_, p. 59. Cf. Bryan Edwards, _History of the British Colonies in the W. Indies_ (London, 1798), Book VI.
 From 1729 to 1788, including compensation to the old company, Parliament expended 705,255 on African companies. Cf.
_Report_, etc., as above.
 Various amendatory statutes were pa.s.sed: e.g., 24 George II. ch. 49, 25 George II. ch. 40, 4 George III. ch. 20, 5 George III. ch. 44, 23 George III. ch. 65.
 Renatus Enys from Surinam, in 1663: Sainsbury, _Cal.
State Papers, Col. Ser., America and W. Indies, 1661-68_, — 577.
 Thomas Lynch from Jamaica, in 1665: Sainsbury, _Cal.
State Papers, Col. Ser., America and W. Indies, 1661-68_, — 934.
 Lieutenant-Governor Willoughby of Barbadoes, in 1666: Sainsbury, _Cal. State Papers, Col. Ser., America and W.