The Suppression of the African Slave Trade to the United States of America Part 24

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[64] _Senate Exec. Doc._, 28 Cong. 2 sess. IX. No. 150, p. 72.

[65] _Ibid._, p. 77.

[66] _House Doc._, 27 Cong. 3 sess. V. No. 192, p. 4. Cf.

_British and Foreign State Papers_, 1842-3, p. 708 ff.

[67] _House Journal_, 27 Cong. 3 sess. pp. 431, 485-8. Cf.

_House Doc._, 27 Cong. 3 sess. V. No. 192.

[68] Cf. below, Chapter X.

[69] With a fleet of 26 vessels, reduced to 12 in 1849: _British and Foreign State Papers_, 1844-5, p. 4 ff.; 1849-50, p. 480.

[70] _Ibid._, 1850-1, p. 953.

[71] Portugal renewed her Right of Search treaty in 1842: _Ibid._, 1841-2, p. 527 ff.; 1842-3, p. 450.

[72] _Ibid._, 1843-4, p. 316.

[73] _Ibid._, 1844-5, p. 592. There already existed some such privileges between England and Texas.

[74] _Ibid._, 1847-8, p. 397 ff.

[75] _Ibid._, 1858-9, pp. 1121, 1129.

[76] _British and Foreign State Papers_, 1859-60, pp. 902-3.

[77] _House Exec. Doc._, 36 Cong. 2 sess. IV. No. 7.

[78] _Ibid._

[79] _Senate Exec. Doc._, 37 Cong. 2 sess. V. No. 57.

[80] _Senate Exec. Journal_, XII. 230-1, 240, 254, 256, 391, 400, 403; _Diplomatic Correspondence_, 1862, pp. 141, 158; _U.S. Treaties and Conventions_ (ed. 1889), pp. 454-9.

[81] _Diplomatic Correspondence_, 1862, pp. 64-5. This treaty was revised in 1863. The mixed court in the West Indies had, by February, 1864, liberated 95,206 Africans: _Senate Exec.

Doc._, 38 Cong. 1 sess. No. 56, p. 24.

_Chapter X_


74. The Economic Revolution.

75. The Att.i.tude of the South.

76. The Att.i.tude of the North and Congress.

77. Imperfect Application of the Laws.

78. Responsibility of the Government.

79. Activity of the Slave-Trade.

74. ~The Economic Revolution.~ The history of slavery and the slave-trade after 1820 must be read in the light of the industrial revolution through which the civilized world pa.s.sed in the first half of the nineteenth century. Between the years 1775 and 1825 occurred economic events and changes of the highest importance and widest influence. Though all branches of industry felt the impulse of this new industrial life, yet, “if we consider single industries, cotton manufacture has, during the nineteenth century, made the most magnificent and gigantic advances.”[1] This fact is easily explained by the remarkable series of inventions that revolutionized this industry between 1738 and 1830, including Arkwright’s, Watt’s, Compton’s, and Cartwright’s epoch-making contrivances.[2] The effect which these inventions had on the manufacture of cotton goods is best ill.u.s.trated by the fact that in England, the chief cotton market of the world, the consumption of raw cotton rose steadily from 13,000 bales in 1781, to 572,000 in 1820, to 871,000 in 1830, and to 3,366,000 in 1860.[3] Very early, therefore, came the query whence the supply of raw cotton was to come. Tentative experiments on the rich, broad fields of the Southern United States, together with the indispensable invention of Whitney’s cotton-gin, soon answered this question: a new economic future was opened up to this land, and immediately the whole South began to extend its cotton culture, and more and more to throw its whole energy into this one staple.

Here it was that the fatal mistake of compromising with slavery in the beginning, and of the policy of _laissez-faire_ pursued thereafter, became painfully manifest; for, instead now of a healthy, normal, economic development along proper industrial lines, we have the abnormal and fatal rise of a slave-labor large farming system, which, before it was realized, had so intertwined itself with and braced itself upon the economic forces of an industrial age, that a vast and terrible civil war was necessary to displace it. The tendencies to a patriarchal serfdom, recognizable in the age of Washington and Jefferson, began slowly but surely to disappear; and in the second quarter of the century Southern slavery was irresistibly changing from a family inst.i.tution to an industrial system.

The development of Southern slavery has heretofore been viewed so exclusively from the ethical and social standpoint that we are apt to forget its close and indissoluble connection with the world’s cotton market. Beginning with 1820, a little after the close of the Napoleonic wars, when the industry of cotton manufacture had begun its modern development and the South had definitely a.s.sumed her position as chief producer of raw cotton, we find the average price of cotton per pound, 8_d._ From this time until 1845 the price steadily fell, until in the latter year it reached 4_d._; the only exception to this fall was in the years 1832-1839, when, among other things, a strong increase in the English demand, together with an attempt of the young slave power to “corner” the market, sent the price up as high as 11_d._ The demand for cotton goods soon outran a crop which McCullough had p.r.o.nounced “prodigious,” and after 1845 the price started on a steady rise, which, except for the checks suffered during the continental revolutions and the Crimean War, continued until 1860.[4] The steady increase in the production of cotton explains the fall in price down to 1845. In 1822 the crop was a half-million bales; in 1831, a million; in 1838, a million and a half; and in 1840-1843, two million. By this time the world’s consumption of cotton goods began to increase so rapidly that, in spite of the increase in Southern crops, the price kept rising. Three million bales were gathered in 1852, three and a half million in 1856, and the remarkable crop of five million bales in 1860.[5]

Here we have data to explain largely the economic development of the South. By 1822 the large-plantation slave system had gained footing; in 1838-1839 it was able to show its power in the cotton “corner;” by the end of the next decade it had not only gained a solid economic foundation, but it had built a closed oligarchy with a political policy.

The changes in price during the next few years drove out of compet.i.tion many survivors of the small-farming free-labor system, and put the slave _regime_ in position to dictate the policy of the nation. The zenith of the system and the first inevitable signs of decay came in the years 1850-1860, when the rising price of cotton threw the whole economic energy of the South into its cultivation, leading to a terrible consumption of soil and slaves, to a great increase in the size of plantations, and to increasing power and effrontery on the part of the slave barons. Finally, when a rising moral crusade conjoined with threatened economic disaster, the oligarchy, encouraged by the state of the cotton market, risked all on a political _coup-d’etat_, which failed in the war of 1861-1865.[6]

75. ~The Att.i.tude of the South.~ The att.i.tude of the South toward the slave-trade changed _pari pa.s.su_ with this development of the cotton trade. From 1808 to 1820 the South half wished to get rid of a troublesome and abnormal inst.i.tution, and yet saw no way to do so. The fear of insurrection and of the further spread of the disagreeable system led her to consent to the partial prohibition of the trade by severe national enactments. Nevertheless, she had in the matter no settled policy: she refused to support vigorously the execution of the laws she had helped to make, and at the same time she acknowledged the theoretical necessity of these laws. After 1820, however, there came a gradual change. The South found herself supplied with a body of slave laborers, whose number had been augmented by large illicit importations, with an abundance of rich land, and with all other natural facilities for raising a crop which was in large demand and peculiarly adapted to slave labor. The increasing crop caused a new demand for slaves, and an interstate slave-traffic arose between the Border and the Gulf States, which turned the former into slave-breeding districts, and bound them to the slave States by ties of strong economic interest.

As the cotton crop continued to increase, this source of supply became inadequate, especially as the theory of land and slave consumption broke down former ethical and prudential bounds. It was, for example, found cheaper to work a slave to death in a few years, and buy a new one, than to care for him in sickness and old age; so, too, it was easier to despoil rich, new land in a few years of intensive culture, and move on to the Southwest, than to fertilize and conserve the soil.[7]

Consequently, there early came a demand for land and slaves greater than the country could supply. The demand for land showed itself in the annexation of Texas, the conquest of Mexico, and the movement toward the acquisition of Cuba. The demand for slaves was manifested in the illicit traffic that noticeably increased about 1835, and reached large proportions by 1860. It was also seen in a disposition to attack the government for stigmatizing the trade as criminal,[8] then in a disinclination to take any measures which would have rendered our repressive laws effective; and finally in such articulate declarations by prominent men as this: “Experience having settled the point, that this Trade _cannot be abolished by the use of force_, and that blockading squadrons serve only to make it more profitable and more cruel, I am surprised that the attempt is persisted in, unless as it serves as a cloak to some other purposes. It would be far better than it now is, for the African, if the trade was free from all restrictions, and left to the mitigation and decay which time and compet.i.tion would surely bring about.”[9]

76. ~The Att.i.tude of the North and Congress.~ With the North as yet unawakened to the great changes taking place in the South, and with the att.i.tude of the South thus in process of development, little or no constructive legislation could be expected on the subject of the slave-trade. As the divergence in sentiment became more and more p.r.o.nounced, there were various attempts at legislation, all of which proved abortive. The pro-slavery party attempted, as early as 1826, and again in 1828, to abolish the African agency and leave the Africans practically at the mercy of the States;[10] one or two attempts were made to relax the few provisions which restrained the coastwise trade;[11] and, after the treaty of 1842, Benton proposed to stop appropriations for the African squadron until England defined her position on the Right of Search question.[12] The anti-slavery men presented several bills to amend and strengthen previous laws;[13] they sought, for instance, in vain to regulate the Texan trade, through which numbers of slaves indirectly reached the United States.[14] Presidents and consuls earnestly recommended legislation to restrict the clearances of vessels bound on slave-trading voyages, and to hinder the facility with which slavers obtained fraudulent papers.[15] Only one such bill succeeded in pa.s.sing the Senate, and that was dropped in the House.[16]

The only legislation of this period was confined to a few appropriation bills. Only one of these acts, that of 1823, appropriating $50,000,[17]

was designed materially to aid in the suppression of the trade, all the others relating to expenses incurred after violations. After 1823 the appropriations dwindled, being made at intervals of one, two, and three years, down to 1834, when the amount was $5,000. No further appropriations were made until 1842, when a few thousands above an unexpended surplus were appropriated. In 1843 $5,000 were given, and finally, in 1846, $25,000 were secured; but this was the last sum obtainable until 1856.[18] Nearly all of these meagre appropriations went toward reimbursing Southern plantation owners for the care and support of illegally imported Africans, and the rest to the maintenance of the African agency. Suspiciously large sums were paid for the first purpose, considering the fact that such Africans were always worked hard by those to whom they were farmed out, and often “disappeared” while in their hands. In the accounts we nevertheless find many items like that of $20,286.98 for the maintenance of Negroes imported on the “Ramirez;”[19] in 1827, $5,442.22 for the “bounty, subsistence, clothing, medicine,” etc., of fifteen Africans;[20] in 1835, $3,613 for the support of thirty-eight slaves for two months (including a bill of $1,038 for medical attendance).[21]

The African agency suffered many vicissitudes. The first agent, Bacon, who set out early in 1820, was authorized by President Monroe “to form an establishment on the island of Sherbro, or elsewhere on the coast of Africa,” and to build barracks for three hundred persons. He was, however, warned “not to connect your agency with the views or plans of the Colonization Society, with which, under the law, the Government of the United States has no concern.” Bacon soon died, and was followed during the next four years by Winn and Ayres; they succeeded in establishing a government agency on Cape Mesurado, in conjunction with that of the Colonization Society. The agent of that Society, Jehudi Ashmun, became after 1822, the virtual head of the colony; he fortified and enlarged it, and laid the foundations of an independent community.

The succeeding government agents came to be merely official representatives of the United States, and the distribution of free rations for liberated Africans ceased in 1827.

Between 1819 and 1830 two hundred and fifty-two recaptured Africans were sent to the agency, and $264,710 were expended. The property of the government at the agency was valued at $18,895. From 1830 to 1840, nearly $20,000 more were expended, chiefly for the agents’ salaries.

About 1840 the appointment of an agent ceased, and the colony became gradually self-supporting and independent. It was proclaimed as the Republic of Liberia in 1847.[22]

77. ~Imperfect Application of the Laws.~ In reviewing efforts toward the suppression of the slave-trade from 1820 to 1850, it must be remembered that nearly every cabinet had a strong, if not a predominating, Southern element, and that consequently the efforts of the executive were powerfully influenced by the changing att.i.tude of the South. Naturally, under such circ.u.mstances, the government displayed little activity and no enthusiasm in the work. In 1824 a single vessel of the Gulf squadron was occasionally sent to the African coast to return by the route usually followed by the slavers; no wonder that “none of these or any other of our public ships have found vessels engaged in the slave trade under the flag of the United States, … although it is known that the trade still exists to a most lamentable extent.”[23] Indeed, all that an American slaver need do was to run up a Spanish or a Portuguese flag, to be absolutely secure from all attack or inquiry on the part of United States vessels. Even this desultory method of suppression was not regular: in 1826 “no vessel has been despatched to the coast of Africa for several months,”[24] and from that time until 1839 this country probably had no slave-trade police upon the seas, except in the Gulf of Mexico. In 1839 increasing violations led to the sending of two fast-sailing vessels to the African coast, and these were kept there more or less regularly;[25] but even after the signing of the treaty of 1842 the Secretary of the Navy reports: “On the coast of Africa we have _no_ squadron. The small appropriation of the present year was believed to be scarcely sufficient.”[26] Between 1843 and 1850 the coast squadron varied from two to six vessels, with from thirty to ninety-eight guns;[27] “but the force habitually and actively engaged in cruizing on the ground frequented by slavers has probably been less by one-fourth, if we consider the size of the ships employed and their withdrawal for purposes of recreation and health, and the movement of the reliefs, whose arrival does not correspond exactly with the departure of the vessels whose term of service has expired.”[28] The reports of the navy show that in only four of the eight years mentioned was the fleet, at the time of report, at the stipulated size of eighty guns; and at times it was much below this, even as late as 1848, when only two vessels are reported on duty along the African coast.[29] As the commanders themselves acknowledged, the squadron was too small and the cruising-ground too large to make joint cruising effective.[30]

The same story comes from the Brazil station: “Nothing effectual can be done towards stopping the slave trade, as our squadron is at present organized,” wrote the consul at Rio Janeiro in 1847; “when it is considered that the Brazil station extends from north of the equator to Cape Horn on this continent, and includes a great part of Africa south of the equator, on both sides of the Cape of Good Hope, it must be admitted that one frigate and one brig is a very insufficient force to protect American commerce, and repress the partic.i.p.ation in the slave trade by our own vessels.”[31] In the Gulf of Mexico cruisers were stationed most of the time, although even here there were at times urgent representations that the scarcity or the absence of such vessels gave the illicit trade great license.[32]

Owing to this general negligence of the government, and also to its anxiety on the subject of the theoretic Right of Search, many officials were kept in a state of chronic deception in regard to the trade. The enthusiasm of commanders was dampened by the lack of lat.i.tude allowed and by the repeated insistence in their orders on the non-existence of a Right of Search.[33] When one commander, realizing that he could not cover the trading-track with his fleet, requested English commanders to detain suspicious American vessels until one of his vessels came up, the government annulled the agreement as soon as it reached their ears, rebuked him, and the matter was alluded to in Congress long after with horror.[34] According to the orders of cruisers, only slavers with slaves actually on board could be seized. Consequently, fully equipped slavers would sail past the American fleet, deliberately make all preparations for shipping a cargo, then, when the English were not near, “sell” the ship to a Spaniard, hoist the Spanish flag, and again sail gayly past the American fleet with a cargo of slaves. An English commander reported: “The officers of the United States’ navy are extremely active and zealous in the cause, and no fault can be attributed to them, but it is greatly to be lamented that this blemish should in so great a degree nullify our endeavours.”[35]

78. ~Responsibility of the Government.~ Not only did the government thus negatively favor the slave-trade, but also many conscious, positive acts must be attributed to a spirit hostile to the proper enforcement of the slave-trade laws. In cases of doubt, when the law needed executive interpretation, the decision was usually in favor of the looser construction of the law; the trade from New Orleans to Mobile was, for instance, declared not to be coastwise trade, and consequently, to the joy of the Cuban smugglers, was left utterly free and unrestricted.[36]

After the conquest of Mexico, even vessels bound to California, by the way of Cape Horn, were allowed to clear coastwise, thus giving our flag to “the slave-pirates of the whole world.”[37] Attorney-General Nelson declared that the selling to a slave-trader of an American vessel, to be delivered on the coast of Africa, was not aiding or abetting the slave-trade.[38] So easy was it for slavers to sail that corruption among officials was hinted at. “There is certainly a want of proper vigilance at Havana,” wrote Commander Perry in 1844, “and perhaps at the ports of the United States;” and again, in the same year, “I cannot but think that the custom-house authorities in the United States are not sufficiently rigid in looking after vessels of suspicious character.”[39]

In the courts it was still next to impossible to secure the punishment of the most notorious slave-trader. In 1847 a consul writes: “The slave power in this city [i.e., Rio Janeiro] is extremely great, and a consul doing his duty needs to be supported kindly and effectually at home. In the case of the ‘Fame,’ where the vessel was diverted from the business intended by her owners and employed in the slave trade–both of which offences are punishable with death, if I rightly read the laws–I sent home the two mates charged with these offences, for trial, the first mate to Norfolk, the second mate to Philadelphia. What was done with the first mate I know not. In the case of the man sent to Philadelphia, Mr.

Commissioner Kane states that a clear prima facie case is made out, and then holds him to bail in the sum of _one thousand dollars_, which would be paid by any slave trader in Rio, on the _presentation of a draft_. In all this there is little encouragement for exertion.”[40] Again, the “Perry” in 1850 captured a slaver which was about to ship 1,800 slaves.

The captain admitted his guilt, and was condemned in the United States District Court at New York. Nevertheless, he was admitted to bail of $5,000; this being afterward reduced to $3,000, he forfeited it and escaped. The mate was sentenced to two years in the penitentiary.[41]

Also several slavers sent home to the United States by the British, with clear evidence of guilt, escaped condemnation through technicalities.[42]

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