The Suppression of the African Slave Trade to the United States of America Part 11

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[23] _Ibid._, I. 317.

[24] P.L. Ford, _Pamphlets on the Const.i.tution_, p. 331.

[25] _Ibid._, p. 367.

[26] McMaster and Stone, _Pennsylvania and the Federal Convention_, pp. 599-600. Cf. also p. 773.

[27] See Ford, _Pamphlets_, etc., p. 54.

[28] Ford, _Pamphlets_, etc., p. 146.

[29] “Address to the Freemen of South Carolina on the Subject of the Federal Const.i.tution”: _Ibid._, p. 378.

[30] Published in the _New York Packet_, Jan. 22, 1788; reprinted in Dawson’s _Foederalist_, I. 290-1.

[31] Elliot, _Debates_, II. 452.

[32] Elliot, _Debates_, IV. 296-7.

[33] Published in _Debates of the Ma.s.sachusetts Convention_, 1788, p. 217 ff.

[34] Elliot, _Debates_, IV. 100-1.

[35] Published in _Debates of the Ma.s.sachusetts Convention_, 1788, p. 208.

[36] _Ibid._

[37] Elliot, _Debates_, III. 452-3.

[38] Walker, _Federal Convention of New Hampshire_, App. 113; Elliot, Debates, II. 203.

[39] Elliot, _Debates_, IV. 273.

[40] Updike’s _Minutes_, in Staples, _Rhode Island in the Continental Congress_, pp. 657-8, 674-9. Adopted by a majority of one in a convention of seventy.

[41] In five States I have found no mention of the subject (Delaware, New Jersey, Georgia, Connecticut, and Maryland). In the Pennsylvania convention there was considerable debate, partially preserved in Elliot’s and Lloyd’s _Debates_. In the Ma.s.sachusetts convention the debate on this clause occupied a part of two or three days, reported in published debates. In South Carolina there were several long speeches, reported in Elliot’s _Debates_. Only three speeches made in the New Hampshire convention seem to be extant, and two of these are on the slave-trade: cf. Walker and Elliot. The Virginia convention discussed the clause to considerable extent: see Elliot. The clause does not seem to have been a cause of North Carolina’s delay in ratification, although it occasioned some discussion: see Elliot. In Rhode Island “much debate ensued,”

and in this State alone was an amendment proposed: see Staples, _Rhode Island in the Continental Congress_. In New York the Committee of the Whole “proceeded through sections 8, 9 … with little or no debate”: Elliot, _Debates_, II. 406.

[42] South Carolina, Georgia, and North Carolina. North Carolina had, however, a prohibitive duty.

_Chapter VII_


40. Influence of the Haytian Revolution.

41. Legislation of the Southern States.

42. Legislation of the Border States.

43. Legislation of the Eastern States.

44. First Debate in Congress, 1789.

45. Second Debate in Congress, 1790.

46. The Declaration of Powers, 1790.

47. The Act of 1794.

48. The Act of 1800.

49. The Act of 1803.

50. State of the Slave-Trade from 1789 to 1803.

51. The South Carolina Repeal of 1803.

52. The Louisiana Slave-Trade, 1803-1805.

53. Last Attempts at Taxation, 1805-1806.

54. Key-Note of the Period.

40. ~Influence of the Haytian Revolution.~ The role which the great Negro Toussaint, called L’Ouverture, played in the history of the United States has seldom been fully appreciated. Representing the age of revolution in America, he rose to leadership through a b.l.o.o.d.y terror, which contrived a Negro “problem” for the Western Hemisphere, intensified and defined the anti-slavery movement, became one of the causes, and probably the prime one, which led Napoleon to sell Louisiana for a song, and finally, through the interworking of all these effects, rendered more certain the final prohibition of the slave-trade by the United States in 1807.

From the time of the reorganization of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society, in 1787, anti-slavery sentiment became active. New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia had strong organizations, and a national convention was held in 1794. The terrible upheaval in the West Indies, beginning in 1791, furnished this rising movement with an irresistible argument. A wave of horror and fear swept over the South, which even the powerful slave-traders of Georgia did not dare withstand; the Middle States saw their worst dreams realized, and the mercenary trade interests of the East lost control of the New England conscience.

41. ~Legislation of the Southern States.~ In a few years the growing sentiment had crystallized into legislation. The Southern States took immediate measures to close their ports, first against West India Negroes, finally against all slaves. Georgia, who had had legal slavery only from 1755, and had since pa.s.sed no restrictive legislation, felt compelled in 1793[1] to stop the entry of free Negroes, and in 1798[2]

to prohibit, under heavy penalties, the importation of all slaves. This provision was placed in the Const.i.tution of the State, and, although miserably enforced, was never repealed.

South Carolina was the first Southern State in which the exigencies of a great staple crop rendered the rapid consumption of slaves more profitable than their proper maintenance. Alternating, therefore, between a plethora and a dearth of Negroes, she prohibited the slave-trade only for short periods. In 1788[3] she had forbidden the trade for five years, and in 1792,[4] being peculiarly exposed to the West Indian insurrection, she quickly found it “inexpedient” to allow Negroes “from Africa, the West India Islands, or other place beyond sea”

to enter for two years. This act continued to be extended, although with lessening penalties, until 1803.[5] The home demand in view of the probable stoppage of the trade in 1808, the speculative chances of the new Louisiana Territory trade, and the large already existing illicit traffic combined in that year to cause the pa.s.sage of an act, December 17, reopening the African slave-trade, although still carefully excluding “West India” Negroes.[6] This action profoundly stirred the Union, aroused anti-slavery sentiment, led to a concerted movement for a const.i.tutional amendment, and, failing in this, to an irresistible demand for a national prohibitory act at the earliest const.i.tutional moment.

North Carolina had repealed her prohibitory duty act in 1790,[7] but in 1794 she pa.s.sed an “Act to prevent further importation and bringing of slaves,” etc.[8] Even the body-servants of West India immigrants and, naturally, all free Negroes, were eventually prohibited.[9]

42. ~Legislation of the Border States.~ The Border States, Virginia and Maryland, strengthened their non-importation laws, Virginia freeing illegally imported Negroes,[10] and Maryland prohibiting even the interstate trade.[11] The Middle States took action chiefly in the final abolition of slavery within their borders, and the prevention of the fitting out of slaving vessels in their ports. Delaware declared, in her Act of 1789, that “it is inconsistent with that spirit of general liberty which pervades the const.i.tution of this state, that vessels should be fitted out, or equipped, in any of the ports thereof, for the purpose of receiving and transporting the natives of Africa to places where they are held in slavery,”[12] and forbade such a practice under penalty of 500 for each person so engaged. The Pennsylvania Act of 1788[13] had similar provisions, with a penalty of 1000; and New Jersey followed with an act in 1798.[14]

43. ~Legislation of the Eastern States.~ In the Eastern States, where slavery as an inst.i.tution was already nearly defunct, action was aimed toward stopping the notorious partic.i.p.ation of citizens in the slave-trade outside the State. The prime movers were the Rhode Island Quakers. Having early secured a law against the traffic in their own State, they turned their attention to others. Through their remonstrances Connecticut, in 1788,[15] prohibited partic.i.p.ation in the trade by a fine of 500 on the vessel, 50 on each slave, and loss of insurance; this act was strengthened in 1792,[16] the year after the Haytian revolt. Ma.s.sachusetts, after many fruitless attempts, finally took advantage of an unusually bold case of kidnapping, and pa.s.sed a similar act in 1788.[17] “This,” says Belknap, “was the utmost which could be done by our legislatures; we still have to regret the impossibility of making a law _here_, which shall restrain our citizens from carrying on this trade _in foreign bottoms_, and from committing the crimes which this act prohibits, _in foreign countries_, as it is said some of them have done since the enacting of these laws.”[18]

Thus it is seen how, spurred by the tragedy in the West Indies, the United States succeeded by State action in prohibiting the slave-trade from 1798 to 1803, in furthering the cause of abolition, and in preventing the fitting out of slave-trade expeditions in United States ports. The country had good cause to congratulate itself. The national government hastened to supplement State action as far as possible, and the prophecies of the more sanguine Revolutionary fathers seemed about to be realized, when the ill-considered act of South Carolina showed the weakness of the const.i.tutional compromise.

44. ~First Debate in Congress, 1789.~ The attention of the national government was early directed to slavery and the trade by the rise, in the first Congress, of the question of taxing slaves imported. During the debate on the duty bill introduced by Clymer’s committee, Parker of Virginia moved, May 13, 1789, to lay a tax of ten dollars _per capita_ on slaves imported. He plainly stated that the tax was designed to check the trade, and that he was “sorry that the Const.i.tution prevented Congress from prohibiting the importation altogether.” The proposal was evidently unwelcome, and caused an extended debate.[19] Smith of South Carolina wanted to postpone a matter so “big with the most serious consequences to the State he represented.” Roger Sherman of Connecticut “could not reconcile himself to the insertion of human beings as an article of duty, among goods, wares, and merchandise.” Jackson of Georgia argued against any restriction, and thought such States as Virginia “ought to let their neighbors get supplied, before they imposed such a burden upon the importation.” Tucker of South Carolina declared it “unfair to bring in such an important subject at a time when debate was almost precluded,” and denied the right of Congress to “consider whether the importation of slaves is proper or not.”

Mr. Parker was evidently somewhat abashed by this onslaught of friend and foe, but he “had ventured to introduce the subject after full deliberation, and did not like to withdraw it.” He desired Congress, “if possible,” to “wipe off the stigma under which America labored.” This brought Jackson of Georgia again to his feet. He believed, in spite of the “fashion of the day,” that the Negroes were better off as slaves than as freedmen, and that, as the tax was partial, “it would be the most odious tax Congress could impose.” Such sentiments were a distinct advance in pro-slavery doctrine, and called for a protest from Madison of Virginia. He thought the discussion proper, denied the partiality of the tax, and declared that, according to the spirit of the Const.i.tution and his own desire, it was to be hoped “that, by expressing a national disapprobation of this trade, we may destroy it, and save ourselves from reproaches, and our posterity the imbecility ever attendant on a country filled with slaves.” Finally, to Burke of South Carolina, who thought “the gentlemen were contending for nothing,” Madison sharply rejoined, “If we contend for nothing, the gentlemen who are opposed to us do not contend for a great deal.”

It now became clear that Congress had been whirled into a discussion of too delicate and lengthy a nature to allow its further prolongation.

Compromising councils prevailed; and it was agreed that the present proposition should be withdrawn and a separate bill brought in. This bill was, however, at the next session dexterously postponed “until the next session of Congress.”[20]

45. ~Second Debate in Congress, 1790.~ It is doubtful if Congress of its own initiative would soon have resurrected the matter, had not a new anti-slavery weapon appeared in the shape of urgent pet.i.tions from abolition societies. The first pet.i.tion, presented February 11, 1790,[21] was from the same interstate Yearly Meeting of Friends which had formerly pet.i.tioned the Confederation Congress.[22] They urged Congress to inquire “whether, notwithstanding such seeming impediments, it be not in reality within your power to exercise justice and mercy, which, if adhered to, we cannot doubt, must produce the abolition of the slave trade,” etc. Another Quaker pet.i.tion from New York was also presented,[23] and both were about to be referred, when Smith of South Carolina objected, and precipitated a sharp debate.[24] This debate had a distinctly different tone from that of the preceding one, and represents another step in pro-slavery doctrine. The key-note of these utterances was struck by Stone of Maryland, who “feared that if Congress took any measures indicative of an intention to interfere with the kind of property alluded to, it would sink it in value very considerably, and might be injurious to a great number of the citizens, particularly in the Southern States. He thought the subject was of general concern, and that the pet.i.tioners had no more right to interfere with it than any other members of the community. It was an unfortunate circ.u.mstance, that it was the disposition of religious sects to imagine they understood the rights of human nature better than all the world besides.”

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