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THE FINAL CRISIS. 1850-1870.
80. The Movement against the Slave-Trade Laws.
81. Commercial Conventions of 1855-56.
82. Commercial Conventions of 1857-58.
83. Commercial Convention of 1859.
84. Public Opinion in the South.
85. The Question in Congress.
86. Southern Policy in 1860.
87. Increase of the Slave-Trade from 1850 to 1860.
88. Notorious Infractions of the Laws.
89. Apathy of the Federal Government.
90. Att.i.tude of the Southern Confederacy.
91. Att.i.tude of the United States.
80. ~The Movement against the Slave-Trade Laws.~ It was not altogether a mistaken judgment that led the const.i.tutional fathers to consider the slave-trade as the backbone of slavery. An economic system based on slave labor will find, sooner or later, that the demand for the cheapest slave labor cannot long be withstood. Once degrade the laborer so that he cannot a.s.sert his own rights, and there is but one limit below which his price cannot be reduced. That limit is not his physical well-being, for it may be, and in the Gulf States it was, cheaper to work him rapidly to death; the limit is simply the cost of procuring him and keeping him alive a profitable length of time. Only the moral sense of a community can keep helpless labor from sinking to this level; and when a community has once been debauched by slavery, its moral sense offers little resistance to economic demand. This was the case in the West Indies and Brazil; and although better moral stamina held the crisis back longer in the United States, yet even here the ethical standard of the South was not able to maintain itself against the demands of the cotton industry. When, after 1850, the price of slaves had risen to a monopoly height, the leaders of the plantation system, brought to the edge of bankruptcy by the crude and reckless farming necessary under a slave _regime_, and baffled, at least temporarily, in their quest of new rich land to exploit, began instinctively to feel that the only salvation of American slavery lay in the reopening of the African slave-trade.
It took but a spark to put this instinctive feeling into words, and words led to deeds. The movement first took definite form in the ever radical State of South Carolina. In 1854 a grand jury in the Williamsburg district declared, “as our unanimous opinion, that the Federal law abolishing the African Slave Trade is a public grievance. We hold this trade has been and would be, if re-established, a blessing to the American people, and a benefit to the African himself.” This attracted only local attention; but when, in 1856, the governor of the State, in his annual message, calmly argued at length for a reopening of the trade, and boldly declared that “if we cannot supply the demand for slave labor, then we must expect to be supplied with a species of labor we do not want,” such words struck even Southern ears like “a thunder clap in a calm day.” And yet it needed but a few years to show that South Carolina had merely been the first to put into words the inarticulate thought of a large minority, if not a majority, of the inhabitants of the Gulf States.
81. ~Commercial Conventions of 1855-56.~ The growth of the movement is best followed in the action of the Southern Commercial Convention, an annual gathering which seems to have been fairly representative of a considerable part of Southern opinion. In the convention that met at New Orleans in 1855, McGimsey of Louisiana introduced a resolution instructing the Southern Congressmen to secure the repeal of the slave-trade laws. This resolution went to the Committee on Resolutions, and was not reported. In 1856, in the convention at Savannah, W.B.
Goulden of Georgia moved that the members of Congress be requested to bestir themselves energetically to have repealed all laws which forbade the slave-trade. By a vote of 67 to 18 the convention refused to debate the motion, but appointed a committee to present at the next convention the facts relating to a reopening of the trade. In regard to this action a pamphlet of the day said: “There were introduced into the convention two leading measures, viz.: the laying of a State tariff on northern goods, and the reopening of the slave-trade; the one to advance our commercial interest, the other our agricultural interest, and which, when taken together, as they were doubtless intended to be, and although they have each been attacked by presses of doubtful service to the South, are characterized in the private judgment of politicians as one of the completest southern remedies ever submitted to popular action….
The proposition to revive, or more properly to reopen, the slave trade is as yet but imperfectly understood, in its intentions and probable results, by the people of the South, and but little appreciated by them.
It has been received in all parts of the country with an undefined sort of repugnance, a sort of squeamishness, which is incident to all such violations of moral prejudices, and invariably wears off on familiarity with the subject. The South will commence by enduring, and end by embracing the project.” The matter being now fully before the public through these motions, Governor Adams’s message, and newspaper and pamphlet discussion, the radical party pushed the project with all energy.
82. ~Commercial Conventions of 1857-58.~ The first piece of regular business that came before the Commercial Convention at Knoxville, Tennessee, August 10, 1857, was a proposal to recommend the abrogation of the 8th Article of the Treaty of Washington, on the slave-trade. An amendment offered by Sneed of Tennessee, declaring it inexpedient and against settled policy to reopen the trade, was voted down, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Virginia refusing to agree to it. The original motion then pa.s.sed; and the radicals, satisfied with their success in the first skirmish, again secured the appointment of a committee to report at the next meeting on the subject of reopening the slave-trade. This next meeting a.s.sembled May 10, 1858, in a Gulf State, Alabama, in the city of Montgomery.
Spratt of South Carolina, the slave-trade champion, presented an elaborate majority report from the committee, and recommended the following resolutions:–
1. _Resolved_, That slavery is right, and that being right, there can be no wrong in the natural means to its formation.
2. _Resolved_, That it is expedient and proper that the foreign slave trade should be re-opened, and that this Convention will lend its influence to any legitimate measure to that end.
3. _Resolved_, That a committee, consisting of one from each slave State, be appointed to consider of the means, consistent with the duty and obligations of these States, for re-opening the foreign slave-trade, and that they report their plan to the next meeting of this Convention.
Yancey, from the same committee, presented a minority report, which, though it demanded the repeal of the national prohibitory laws, did not advocate the reopening of the trade by the States.
Much debate ensued. Pryor of Virginia declared the majority report “a proposition to dissolve the Union.” Yancey declared that “he was for disunion now. [Applause.]” He defended the principle of the slave-trade, and said: “If it is right to buy slaves in Virginia and carry them to New Orleans, why is it not right to buy them in Cuba, Brazil, or Africa, and carry them there?” The opposing speeches made little attempt to meet this uncomfortable logic; but, nevertheless, opposition enough was developed to lay the report on the table until the next convention, with orders that it be printed, in the mean time, as a radical campaign doc.u.ment. Finally the convention pa.s.sed a resolution:–
That it is inexpedient for any State, or its citizens, to attempt to re-open the African slave-trade while that State is one of the United States of America.
83. ~Commercial Convention of 1859.~ The Convention of 1859 met at Vicksburg, Mississippi, May 9-19, and the slave-trade party came ready for a fray. On the second day Spratt called up his resolutions, and the next day the Committee on Resolutions recommended that, _”in the opinion of this Convention, all laws, State or Federal, prohibiting the African slave trade, ought to be repealed.”_ Two minority reports accompanied this resolution: one proposed to postpone action, on account of the futility of the attempt at that time; the other report recommended that, since repeal of the national laws was improbable, nullification by the States impracticable, and action by the Supreme Court unlikely, therefore the States should bring in the Africans as apprentices, a system the legality of which “is incontrovertible.” “The only difficult question,” it was said, “is the future status of the apprentices after the expiration of their term of servitude.” Debate on these propositions began in the afternoon. A brilliant speech on the resumption of the importation of slaves, says Foote of Mississippi, “was listened to with breathless attention and applauded vociferously. Those of us who rose in opposition were looked upon by the excited a.s.semblage present as _traitors_ to the best interests of the South, and only worthy of expulsion from the body. The excitement at last grew so high that personal violence was menaced, and some dozen of the more conservative members of the convention withdrew from the hall in which it was holding its sittings.” “It was clear,” adds De Bow, “that the people of Vicksburg looked upon it [i.e., the convention] with some distrust.” When at last a ballot was taken, the first resolution pa.s.sed by a vote of 40 to 19. Finally, the 8th Article of the Treaty of Washington was again condemned; and it was also suggested, in the newspaper which was the official organ of the meeting, that “the Convention raise a fund to be dispensed in premiums for the best sermons in favor of reopening the African Slave Trade.”
84. ~Public Opinion in the South.~ This record of the Commercial Conventions probably gives a true reflection of the development of extreme opinion on the question of reopening the slave-trade. First, it is noticeable that on this point there was a distinct divergence of opinion and interest between the Gulf and the Border States, and it was this more than any moral repugnance that checked the radicals. The whole movement represented the economic revolt of the slave-consuming cotton-belt against their base of labor supply. This revolt was only prevented from gaining its ultimate end by the fact that the Gulf States could not get on without the active political co-operation of the Border States. Thus, although such hot-heads as Spratt were not able, even as late as 1859, to carry a substantial majority of the South with them in an attempt to reopen the trade at all hazards, yet the agitation did succeed in sweeping away nearly all theoretical opposition to the trade, and left the majority of Southern people in an att.i.tude which regarded the reopening of the African slave-trade as merely a question of expediency.
This growth of Southern opinion is clearly to be followed in the newspapers and pamphlets of the day, in Congress, and in many significant movements. The Charleston _Standard_ in a series of articles strongly advocated the reopening of the trade; the Richmond _Examiner_, though opposing the scheme as a Virginia paper should, was brought to “acknowledge that the laws which condemn the Slave-trade imply an aspersion upon the character of the South. In March, 1859, the _National Era_ said: “There can be no doubt that the idea of reviving the African Slave Trade is gaining ground in the South. Some two months ago we could quote strong articles from ultra Southern journals against the traffic; but of late we have been sorry to observe in the same journals an ominous silence upon the subject, while the advocates of ‘free trade in negroes’ are earnest and active.” The Savannah _Republican_, which at first declared the movement to be of no serious intent, conceded, in 1859, that it was gaining favor, and that nine-tenths of the Democratic Congressional Convention favored it, and that even those who did not advocate a revival demanded the abolition of the laws. A correspondent from South Carolina writes, December 18, 1859: “The nefarious project of opening it [i.e., the slave trade] has been started here in that prurient temper of the times which manifests itself in disunion schemes…. My State is strangely and terribly infected with all this sort of thing…. One feeling that gives a countenance to the opening of the slave trade is, that it will be a sort of spite to the North and defiance of their opinions.” The New Orleans _Delta_ declared that those who voted for the slave-trade in Congress were men “whose names will be honored hereafter for the unflinching manner in which they stood up for principle, for truth, and consistency, as well as the vital interests of the South.”
85. ~The Question in Congress.~ Early in December, 1856, the subject reached Congress; and although the agitation was then new, fifty-seven Southern Congressmen refused to declare a re-opening of the slave-trade “shocking to the moral sentiment of the enlightened portion of mankind,”
and eight refused to call the reopening even “unwise” and “inexpedient.” Three years later, January 31, 1859, it was impossible, in a House of one hundred and ninety-nine members, to get a two-thirds vote in order even to consider Kilgore’s resolutions, which declared “that no legislation can be too thorough in its measures, nor can any penalty known to the catalogue of modern punishment for crime be too severe against a traffic so inhuman and unchristian.”
Congressmen and other prominent men hastened with the rising tide.
Dowdell of Alabama declared the repressive acts “highly offensive;” J.B.
Clay of Kentucky was “opposed to all these laws;” Seward of Georgia declared them “wrong, and a violation of the Const.i.tution;”
Barksdale of Mississippi agreed with this sentiment; Crawford of Georgia threatened a reopening of the trade; Miles of South Carolina was for “sweeping away” all restrictions; Keitt of South Carolina wished to withdraw the African squadron, and to cease to brand slave-trading as piracy; Brown of Mississippi “would repeal the law instantly;”
Alexander Stephens, in his farewell address to his const.i.tuents, said: “Slave states cannot be made without Africans…. [My object is] to bring clearly to your mind the great truth that without an increase of African slaves from abroad, you may not expect or look for many more slave States.” Jefferson Davis strongly denied “any coincidence of opinion with those who prate of the inhumanity and sinfulness of the trade. The interest of Mississippi,” said he, “not of the African, dictates my conclusion.” He opposed the immediate reopening of the trade in Mississippi for fear of a paralyzing influx of Negroes, but carefully added: “This conclusion, in relation to Mississippi, is based upon my view of her _present_ condition, _not_ upon any _general theory_. It is not supposed to be applicable to Texas, to New Mexico, or to any _future acquisitions_ to be made south of the Rio Grande.” John Forsyth, who for seven years conducted the slave-trade diplomacy of the nation, declared, about 1860: “But one stronghold of its [i.e., slavery’s]
enemies remains to be carried, to _complete its triumph_ and a.s.sure its welfare,–that is the existing prohibition of the African Slave-trade.” Pollard, in his _Black Diamonds_, urged the importation of Africans as “laborers.” “This I grant you,” said he, “would be practically the re-opening of the African slave trade; but …
you will find that it very often becomes necessary to evade the letter of the law, in some of the greatest measures of social happiness and patriotism.”
86. ~Southern Policy in 1860.~ The matter did not rest with mere words.
During the session of the Vicksburg Convention, an “African Labor Supply a.s.sociation” was formed, under the presidency of J.D.B. De Bow, editor of _De Bow’s Review_, and ex-superintendent of the seventh census. The object of the a.s.sociation was “to promote the supply of African labor.” In 1857 the committee of the South Carolina legislature to whom the Governor’s slave-trade message was referred made an elaborate report, which declared in italics: _”The South at large does need a re-opening of the African slave trade.”_ Pettigrew, the only member who disagreed to this report, failed of re-election. The report contained an extensive argument to prove the kingship of cotton, the perfidy of English philanthropy, and the lack of slaves in the South, which, it was said, would show a deficit of six hundred thousand slaves by 1878.
In Georgia, about this time, an attempt to expunge the slave-trade prohibition in the State Const.i.tution lacked but one vote of pa.s.sing. From these slower and more legal movements came others less justifiable. The long argument on the “apprentice” system finally brought a request to the collector of the port at Charleston, South Carolina, from E. Lafitte & Co., for a clearance to Africa for the purpose of importing African “emigrants.” The collector appealed to the Secretary of the Treasury, Howell Cobb of Georgia, who flatly refused to take the bait, and replied that if the “emigrants” were brought in as slaves, it would be contrary to United States law; if as freemen, it would be contrary to their own State law. In Louisiana a still more radical movement was attempted, and a bill pa.s.sed the House of Representatives authorizing a company to import two thousand five hundred Africans, “indentured” for fifteen years “at least.” The bill lacked but two votes of pa.s.sing the Senate. It was said that the _Georgian_, of Savannah, contained a notice of an agricultural society which “unanimously resolved to offer a premium of $25 for the best specimen of a live African imported into the United States within the last twelve months.”
It would not be true to say that there was in the South in 1860 substantial unanimity on the subject of reopening the slave-trade; nevertheless, there certainly was a large and influential minority, including perhaps a majority of citizens of the Gulf States, who favored the project, and, in defiance of law and morals, aided and abetted its actual realization. Various movements, it must be remembered, gained much of their strength from the fact that their success meant a partial nullification of the slave-trade laws. The admission of Texas added probably seventy-five thousand recently imported slaves to the Southern stock; the movement against Cuba, which culminated in the “Ostend Manifesto” of Buchanan, Mason, and Soule, had its chief impetus in the thousands of slaves whom Americans had poured into the island. Finally, the series of filibustering expeditions against Cuba, Mexico, and Central America were but the wilder and more irresponsible attempts to secure both slave territory and slaves.
87. ~Increase of the Slave-Trade from 1850 to 1860.~ The long and open agitation for the reopening of the slave-trade, together with the fact that the South had been more or less familiar with violations of the laws since 1808, led to such a remarkable increase of illicit traffic and actual importations in the decade 1850-1860, that the movement may almost be termed a reopening of the slave-trade.
In the foreign slave-trade our own officers continue to report “how shamefully our flag has been used;” and British officers write “that at least one half of the successful part of the slave trade is carried on under the American flag,” and this because “the number of American cruisers on the station is so small, in proportion to the immense extent of the slave-dealing coast.” The fitting out of slavers became a flourishing business in the United States, and centred at New York City.
“Few of our readers,” writes a periodical of the day, “are aware of the extent to which this infernal traffic is carried on, by vessels clearing from New York, and in close alliance with our legitimate trade; and that down-town merchants of wealth and respectability are extensively engaged in buying and selling African Negroes, and have been, with comparatively little interruption, for an indefinite number of years.” Another periodical says: “The number of persons engaged in the slave-trade, and the amount of capital embarked in it, exceed our powers of calculation.
The city of New York has been until of late  the princ.i.p.al port of the world for this infamous commerce; although the cities of Portland and Boston are only second to her in that distinction. Slave dealers added largely to the wealth of our commercial metropolis; they contributed liberally to the treasuries of political organizations, and their bank accounts were largely depleted to carry elections in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut.” During eighteen months of the years 1859-1860 eighty-five slavers are reported to have been fitted out in New York harbor, and these alone transported from 30,000 to 60,000 slaves annually. The United States deputy marshal of that district declared in 1856 that the business of fitting out slavers “was never prosecuted with greater energy than at present. The occasional interposition of the legal authorities exercises no apparent influence for its suppression. It is seldom that one or more vessels cannot be designated at the wharves, respecting which there is evidence that she is either in or has been concerned in the Traffic.” On the coast of Africa “it is a well-known fact that most of the Slave ships which visit the river are sent from New York and New Orleans.”
The absence of United States war-ships at the Brazilian station enabled American smugglers to run in cargoes, in spite of the prohibitory law.
One cargo of five hundred slaves was landed in 1852, and the _Correio Mercantil_ regrets “that it was the flag of the United States which covered this act of piracy, sustained by citizens of that great nation.” When the Brazil trade declined, the illicit Cuban trade greatly increased, and the British consul reported: “Almost all the slave expeditions for some time past have been fitted out in the United States, chiefly at New York.”
88. ~Notorious Infractions of the Laws.~ This decade is especially noteworthy for the great increase of illegal importations into the South. These became bold, frequent, and notorious. Systematic introduction on a considerable scale probably commenced in the forties, although with great secrecy. “To have boldly ventured into New Orleans, with negroes freshly imported from Africa, would not only have brought down upon the head of the importer the vengeance of our very philanthropic Uncle Sam, but also the anathemas of the whole sect of philanthropists and negrophilists everywhere. To import them for years, however, into quiet places, evading with impunity the penalty of the law, and the ranting of the thin-skinned sympathizers with Africa, was gradually to popularize the traffic by creating a demand for laborers, and thus to pave the way for the _gradual revival of the slave trade_.
To this end, a few men, bold and energetic, determined, ten or twelve years ago [1848 or 1850], to commence the business of importing negroes, slowly at first, but surely; and for this purpose they selected a few secluded places on the coast of Florida, Georgia and Texas, for the purpose of concealing their stock until it could be sold out. Without specifying other places, let me draw your attention to a deep and abrupt pocket or indentation in the coast of Texas, about thirty miles from Brazos Santiago. Into this pocket a slaver could run at any hour of the night, because there was no hindrance at the entrance, and here she could discharge her cargo of movables upon the projecting bluff, and again proceed to sea inside of three hours. The live stock thus landed could be marched a short distance across the main island, over a porous soil which refuses to retain the recent foot-prints, until they were again placed in boats, and were concealed upon some of the innumerable little islands which thicken on the waters of the Laguna in the rear.
These islands, being covered with a thick growth of bushes and gra.s.s, offer an inscrutable hiding place for the ‘black diamonds.'” These methods became, however, toward 1860, too slow for the radicals, and the trade grew more defiant and open. The yacht “Wanderer,” arrested on suspicion in New York and released, landed in Georgia six months later four hundred and twenty slaves, who were never recovered. The Augusta _Despatch_ says: “Citizens of our city are probably interested in the enterprise. It is hinted that this is the third cargo landed by the same company, during the last six months.” Two parties of Africans were brought into Mobile with impunity. One bark, strongly suspected of having landed a cargo of slaves, was seized on the Florida coast; another vessel was reported to be landing slaves near Mobile; a letter from Jacksonville, Florida, stated that a bark had left there for Africa to ship a cargo for Florida and Georgia. Stephen A. Douglas said “that there was not the shadow of doubt that the Slave-trade had been carried on quite extensively for a long time back, and that there had been more Slaves imported into the southern States, during the last year, than had ever been imported before in any one year, even when the Slave-trade was legal. It was his confident belief, that over fifteen thousand Slaves had been brought into this country during the past year [1859.] He had seen, with his own eyes, three hundred of those recently-imported, miserable beings, in a Slave-pen in Vicksburg, Miss., and also large numbers at Memphis, Tenn.” It was currently reported that depots for these slaves existed in over twenty large cities and towns in the South, and an interested person boasted to a senator, about 1860, that “twelve vessels would discharge their living freight upon our sh.o.r.es within ninety days from the 1st of June last,” and that between sixty and seventy cargoes had been successfully introduced in the last eighteen months. The New York _Tribune_ doubted the statement; but John C. Underwood, formerly of Virginia, wrote to the paper saying that he was satisfied that the correspondent was correct. “I have,” he said, “had ample evidences of the fact, that reopening the African Slave-trade is a thing already accomplished, and the traffic is brisk, and rapidly increasing. In fact, the most vital question of the day is not the opening of this trade, but its suppression. The arrival of cargoes of negroes, fresh from Africa, in our southern ports, is an event of frequent occurrence.”
Negroes, newly landed, were openly advertised for sale in the public press, and bids for additional importations made. In reply to one of these, the Mobile _Mercury_ facetiously remarks: “Some negroes who never learned to talk English, went up the railroad the other day.”
Congressmen declared on the floor of the House: “The slave trade may therefore be regarded as practically re-established;” and pet.i.tions like that from the American Missionary Society recited the fact that “this piratical and illegal trade–this inhuman invasion of the rights of men,–this outrage on civilization and Christianity–this violation of the laws of G.o.d and man–is openly countenanced and encouraged by a portion of the citizens of some of the States of this Union.”
From such evidence it seems clear that the slave-trade laws, in spite of the efforts of the government, in spite even of much opposition to these extra-legal methods in the South itself, were grossly violated, if not nearly nullified, in the latter part of the decade 1850-1860.
89. ~Apathy of the Federal Government.~ During the decade there was some attempt at reactionary legislation, chiefly directed at the Treaty of Washington. June 13, 1854, Slidell, from the Committee on Foreign Relations, made an elaborate report to the Senate, advocating the abrogation of the 8th Article of that treaty, on the ground that it was costly, fatal to the health of the sailors, and useless, as the trade had actually increased under its operation. Both this and a similar attempt in the House failed, as did also an attempt to subst.i.tute life imprisonment for the death penalty. Most of the actual legislation naturally took the form of appropriations. In 1853 there was an attempt to appropriate $20,000. This failed, and the appropriation of $8,000 in 1856 was the first for ten years. The following year brought a similar appropriation, and in 1859 and 1860 $75,000 and $40,000 respectively were appropriated. Of attempted legislation to strengthen the laws there was plenty: e.g., propositions to regulate the issue of sea-letters and the use of our flag; to prevent the “coolie” trade, or the bringing in of “apprentices” or “African laborers;” to stop the coastwise trade; to a.s.sent to a Right of Search; and to amend the Const.i.tution by forever prohibiting the slave-trade.
The efforts of the executive during this period were criminally lax and negligent. “The General Government did not exert itself in good faith to carry out either its treaty stipulations or the legislation of Congress in regard to the matter. If a vessel was captured, her owners were permitted to bond her, and thus continue her in the trade; and if any man was convicted of this form of piracy, the executive always interposed between him and the penalty of his crime. The laws providing for the seizure of vessels engaged in the traffic were so constructed as to render the duty unremunerative; and marshals now find their fees for such services to be actually less than their necessary expenses. No one who bears this fact in mind will be surprised at the great indifference of these officers to the continuing of the slave-trade; in fact, he will be ready to learn that the laws of Congress upon the subject had become a dead letter, and that the suspicion was well grounded that certain officers of the Federal Government had actually connived at their violation.” From 1845 to 1854, in spite of the well-known activity of the trade, but five cases obtained cognizance in the New York district. Of these, Captains Mansfield and Driscoll forfeited their bonds of $5,000 each, and escaped; in the case of the notorious Canot, nothing had been done as late as 1856, although he was arrested in 1847; Captain Jefferson turned State’s evidence, and, in the case of Captain Mathew, a _nolle prosequi_ was entered. Between 1854 and 1856 thirty-two persons were indicted in New York, of whom only thirteen had at the latter date been tried, and only one of these convicted.
These dismissals were seldom on account of insufficient evidence. In the notorious case of the “Wanderer,” she was arrested on suspicion, released, and soon after she landed a cargo of slaves in Georgia; some who attempted to seize the Negroes were arrested for larceny, and in spite of the efforts of Congress the captain was never punished. The yacht was afterwards started on another voyage, and being brought back to Boston was sold to her former owner for about one third her value. The bark “Emily” was seized on suspicion and released, and finally caught red-handed on the coast of Africa; she was sent to New York for trial, but “disappeared” under a certain slave captain, Townsend, who had, previous to this, in the face of the most convincing evidence, been acquitted at Key West.
The squadron commanders of this time were by no means as efficient as their predecessors, and spent much of their time, apparently, in discussing the Right of Search. Instead of a number of small light vessels, which by the reports of experts were repeatedly shown to be the only efficient craft, the government, until 1859, persisted in sending out three or four great frigates. Even these did not attend faithfully to their duties. A letter from on board one of them shows that, out of a fifteen months’ alleged service, only twenty-two days were spent on the usual cruising-ground for slavers, and thirteen of these at anchor; eleven months were spent at Madeira and Cape Verde Islands, 300 miles from the coast and 3,000 miles from the slave market. British commanders report the apathy of American officers and the extreme caution of their instructions, which allowed many slavers to escape.
The officials at Washington often remained in blissful, and perhaps willing, ignorance of the state of the trade. While Americans were smuggling slaves by the thousands into Brazil, and by the hundreds into the United States, Secretary Graham was recommending the abrogation of the 8th Article of the Treaty of Washington; so, too, when the Cuban slave-trade was reaching unprecedented activity, and while slavers were being fitted out in every port on the Atlantic seaboard, Secretary Kennedy navely reports, “The time has come, perhaps, when it may be properly commended to the notice of Congress to inquire into the necessity of further continuing the regular employment of a squadron on this [i.e., the African] coast.” Again, in 1855, the government has “advices that the slave trade south of the equator is entirely broken up;” in 1856, the reports are “favorable;” in 1857 a British commander writes: “No vessel has been seen here for one year, certainly; I think for nearly three years there have been no American cruizers on these waters, where a valuable and extensive American commerce is carried on. I cannot, therefore, but think that this continued absence of foreign cruizers looks as if they were intentionally withdrawn, and as if the Government did not care to take measures to prevent the American flag being used to cover Slave Trade transactions;”