The Suppression of the African Slave Trade to the United States of America Part 28

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nevertheless, in this same year, according to Secretary Toucey, “the force on the coast of Africa has fully accomplished its main object.”[82] Finally, in the same month in which the “Wanderer” and her mates were openly landing cargoes in the South, President Buchanan, who seems to have been utterly devoid of a sense of humor, was urging the annexation of Cuba to the United States as the only method of suppressing the slave-trade![83]

About 1859 the frequent and notorious violations of our laws aroused even the Buchanan government; a larger appropriation was obtained, swift light steamers were employed, and, though we may well doubt whether after such a carnival illegal importations “entirely” ceased, as the President informed Congress,[84] yet some sincere efforts at suppression were certainly begun. From 1850 to 1859 we have few notices of captured slavers, but in 1860 the increased appropriation of the thirty-fifth Congress resulted in the capture of twelve vessels with 3,119 Africans.[85] The Act of June 16, 1860, enabled the President to contract with the Colonization Society for the return of recaptured Africans; and by a long-needed arrangement cruisers were to proceed direct to Africa with such cargoes, instead of first landing them in this country.[86]

90. ~Att.i.tude of the Southern Confederacy.~ The attempt, initiated by the const.i.tutional fathers, to separate the problem of slavery from that of the slave-trade had, after a trial of half a century, signally failed, and for well-defined economic reasons. The nation had at last come to the parting of the ways, one of which led to a free-labor system, the other to a slave system fed by the slave-trade. Both sections of the country naturally hesitated at the cross-roads: the North clung to the delusion that a territorially limited system of slavery, without a slave-trade, was still possible in the South; the South hesitated to fight for her logical object–slavery and free trade in Negroes–and, in her moral and economic dilemma, sought to make autonomy and the Const.i.tution her object. The real line of contention was, however, fixed by years of development, and was unalterable by the present whims or wishes of the contestants, no matter how important or interesting these might be: the triumph of the North meant free labor; the triumph of the South meant slavery and the slave-trade.

It is doubtful if many of the Southern leaders ever deceived themselves by thinking that Southern slavery, as it then was, could long be maintained without a general or a partial reopening of the slave-trade.

Many had openly declared this a few years before, and there was no reason for a change of opinion. Nevertheless, at the outbreak of actual war and secession, there were powerful and decisive reasons for relegating the question temporarily to the rear. In the first place, only by this means could the adherence of important Border States be secured, without the aid of which secession was folly. Secondly, while it did no harm to laud the independence of the South and the kingship of cotton in “stump” speeches and conventions, yet, when it came to actual hostilities, the South sorely needed the aid of Europe; and this a nation fighting for slavery and the slave-trade stood poor chance of getting. Consequently, after attacking the slave-trade laws for a decade, and their execution for a quarter-century, we find the Southern leaders inserting, in both the provisional and the permanent Const.i.tutions of the Confederate States, the following article:–

The importation of negroes of the African race, from any foreign country other than the slaveholding States or Territories of the United States of America, is hereby forbidden; and Congress is required to pa.s.s such laws as shall effectually prevent the same.

Congress shall also have power to prohibit the introduction of slaves from any State not a member of, or Territory not belonging to, this Confederacy.[87]

The att.i.tude of the Confederate government toward this article is best ill.u.s.trated by its circular of instructions to its foreign ministers:–

It has been suggested to this Government, from a source of unquestioned authenticity, that, after the recognition of our independence by the European Powers, an expectation is generally entertained by them that in our treaties of amity and commerce a clause will be introduced making stipulations against the African slave trade. It is even thought that neutral Powers may be inclined to insist upon the insertion of such a clause as a _sine qua non_.

You are well aware how firmly fixed in our Const.i.tution is the policy of this Confederacy against the opening of that trade, but we are informed that false and insidious suggestions have been made by the agents of the United States at European Courts of our intention to change our const.i.tution as soon as peace is restored, and of authorizing the importation of slaves from Africa. If, therefore, you should find, in your intercourse with the Cabinet to which you are accredited, that any such impressions are entertained, you will use every proper effort to remove them, and if an attempt is made to introduce into any treaty which you may be charged with negotiating stipulations on the subject just mentioned, you will a.s.sume, in behalf of your Government, the position which, under the direction of the President, I now proceed to develop.

The Const.i.tution of the Confederate States is an agreement made between independent States. By its terms all the powers of Government are separated into as follows, viz.:–

1st. Such powers as the States delegate to the General Government.

2d. Such powers as the States agree to refrain from exercising, although they do not delegate them to the General Government.

3d. Such powers as the States, without delegating them to the General Government, thought proper to exercise by direct agreement between themselves contained in the Const.i.tution.

4th. All remaining powers of sovereignty, which not being delegated to the Confederate States by the Const.i.tution nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people thereof…. Especially in relation to the importation of African negroes was it deemed important by the States that no power to permit it should exist in the Confederate Government…. It will thus be seen that no power is delegated to the Confederate Government over this subject, but that it is included in the third cla.s.s above referred to, of powers exercised directly by the States…. This Government unequivocally and absolutely denies its possession of any power whatever over the subject, and cannot entertain any proposition in relation to it…. The policy of the Confederacy is as fixed and immutable on this subject as the imperfection of human nature permits human resolve to be. No additional agreements, treaties, or stipulations can commit these States to the prohibition of the African slave trade with more binding efficacy than those they have themselves devised. A just and generous confidence in their good faith on this subject exhibited by friendly Powers will be far more efficacious than persistent efforts to induce this Government to a.s.sume the exercise of powers which it does not possess…. We trust, therefore, that no unnecessary discussions on this matter will be introduced into your negotiations. If, unfortunately, this reliance should prove ill-founded, you will decline continuing negotiations on your side, and transfer them to us at home….[88]

This att.i.tude of the conservative leaders of the South, if it meant anything, meant that individual State action could, when it pleased, reopen the slave-trade. The radicals were, of course, not satisfied with any veiling of the ulterior purpose of the new slave republic, and attacked the const.i.tutional provision violently. “If,” said one, “the clause be carried into the permanent government, our whole movement is defeated. It will abolitionize the Border Slave States–it will brand our inst.i.tution. Slavery cannot share a government with Democracy,–it cannot bear a brand upon it; thence another revolution … having achieved one revolution to escape democracy at the North, it must still achieve another to escape it at the South. That it will ultimately triumph none can doubt.”[89]

91. ~Att.i.tude of the United States.~ In the North, with all the hesitation in many matters, there existed unanimity in regard to the slave-trade; and the new Lincoln government ushered in the new policy of uncompromising suppression by hanging the first American slave-trader who ever suffered the extreme penalty of the law.[90] One of the earliest acts of President Lincoln was a step which had been necessary since 1808, but had never been taken, viz., the unification of the whole work of suppression into the hands of one responsible department. By an order, dated May 2, 1861, Caleb B. Smith, Secretary of the Interior, was charged with the execution of the slave-trade laws,[91] and he immediately began energetic work. Early in 1861, as soon as the withdrawal of the Southern members untied the hands of Congress, two appropriations of $900,000 each were made to suppress the slave trade, the first appropriations commensurate with the vastness of the task.

These were followed by four appropriations of $17,000 each in the years 1863 to 1867, and two of $12,500 each in 1868 and 1869.[92] The first work of the new secretary was to obtain a corps of efficient a.s.sistants.

To this end, he a.s.sembled all the marshals of the loyal seaboard States at New York, and gave them instruction and opportunity to inspect actual slavers. Congress also, for the first time, offered them proper compensation.[93] The next six months showed the effect of this policy in the fact that five vessels were seized and condemned, and four slave-traders were convicted and suffered the penalty of their crimes.

“This is probably the largest number [of convictions] ever obtained, and certainly the only ones for many years.”[94]

Meantime the government opened negotiations with Great Britain, and the treaty of 1862 was signed June 7, and carried out by Act of Congress, July 11.[95] Specially commissioned war vessels of either government were by this agreement authorized to search merchant vessels on the high seas and specified coasts, and if they were found to be slavers, or, on account of their construction or equipment, were suspected to be such, they were to be sent for condemnation to one of the mixed courts established at New York, Sierra Leone, and the Cape of Good Hope. These courts, consisting of one judge and one arbitrator on the part of each government, were to judge the facts without appeal, and upon condemnation by them, the culprits were to be punished according to the laws of their respective countries. The area in which this Right of Search could be exercised was somewhat enlarged by an additional article to the treaty, signed in 1863. In 1870 the mixed courts were abolished, but the main part of the treaty was left in force. The Act of July 17, 1862, enabled the President to contract with foreign governments for the apprenticing of recaptured Africans in the West Indies,[96] and in 1864 the coastwise slave-trade was forever prohibited.[97] By these measures the trade was soon checked, and before the end of the war entirely suppressed.[98] The vigilance of the government, however, was not checked, and as late as 1866 a squadron of ten ships, with one hundred and thirteen guns, patrolled the slave coast.[99] Finally, the Thirteenth Amendment legally confirmed what the war had already accomplished, and slavery and the slave-trade fell at one blow.[100]


[1] _British and Foreign State Papers_, 1854-5, p. 1156.

[2] Cluskey, _Political Text-Book_ (14th ed.), p. 585.

[3] _De Bow’s Review_, XXII. 223; quoted from Andrew Hunter of Virginia.

[4] _Ibid._, XVIII. 628.

[5] _Ibid._, XXII. 91, 102, 217, 221-2.

[6] From a pamphlet ent.i.tled “A New Southern Policy, or the Slave Trade as meaning Union and Conservatism;” quoted in Etheridge’s speech, Feb. 21, 1857: _Congressional Globe_, 34 Cong. 3 sess., Appendix, p. 366.

[7] _De Bow’s Review_, XXIII. 298-320. A motion to table the motion on the 8th article was supported only by Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Maryland. Those voting for Sneed’s motion were Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, and Tennessee. The appointment of a slave-trade committee was at first defeated by a vote of 48 to 44. Finally a similar motion was pa.s.sed, 52 to 40.

[8] _De Bow’s Review_, XXIV. 473-491, 579-605. The Louisiana delegation alone did not vote for the last resolution, the vote of her delegation being evenly divided.

[9] _De Bow’s Review_, XXVII. 94-235.

[10] H.S. Foote, in _Bench and Bar of the South and Southwest_, p. 69.

[11] _De Bow’s Review_, XXVII. 115.

[12] _Ibid._, p. 99. The vote was:–

_Yea._ _Nay._ Alabama, 5 votes. Tennessee, 12 votes.

Arkansas, 4 ” Florida, 3 “

South Carolina, 4 ” South Carolina, 4 “

Louisiana, 6 ” Total 19 Texas, 4 “

Georgia, 10 ” Virginia, Maryland, Kentucky, and Mississippi, 7 ” North Carolina did not vote; they either Total 40 withdrew or were not represented.

[13] Quoted in _26th Report of the Amer. Anti-slav. Soc._, p.

38. The official organ was the _True Southron_.

[14] Quoted in _24th Report of the Amer. Anti-slav. Soc._, p.


[15] Quoted in _26th Report_, _Ibid._, p. 43.

[16] _27th Report_, _Ibid._, pp. 19-20.

[17] Letter of W.C. Preston, in the _National Intelligencer_, April 3, 1863. Also published in the pamphlet, _The African Slave Trade: The Secret Purpose_, etc., p. 26.

[18] Quoted in Etheridge’s speech: _Congressional Globe_, 34 Cong. 3 sess. Appen., p. 366.

[19] _House Journal_, 34 Cong. 3 sess. pp. 105-10; _Congressional Globe_, 34 Cong. 3 sess. pp. 123-6; Cluskey, _Political Text-Book_ (14th ed.), p. 589.

[20] _House Journal_, 35 Cong. 2 sess. pp. 298-9. Cf. _26th Report of the Amer. Anti-slav. Soc._, p. 45.

[21] Cf. _Reports of the Amer. Anti-slav. Soc._, especially the 26th, pp. 43-4.

[22] _Ibid._, p. 43. He referred especially to the Treaty of 1842.

[23] _Ibid._; _Congressional Globe_, 35 Cong. 2 sess., Appen., pp. 248-50.

[24] _26th Report of the Amer. Anti-slav. Soc._, p. 44.

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