Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves

The Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves of 1807 (2 Stat. 426, enacted March 2, 1807) is a United States federal law that stated that no new slaves were permitted to be imported into the United States. It took effect in 1808, the earliest date permitted by the United States Constitution.

This legislation was promoted by President Thomas Jefferson, who called for its enactment in his 1806 State of the Union Address. He had promoted the idea since the 1770s. It reflected the force of the general trend toward abolishing the international slave trade which Virginia, followed by all the other states, had prohibited or restricted since then. South Carolina, however, had reopened its trade. Congress first regulated against the trade in the Slave Trade Act of 1794. The 1807 Act ended the legality of trade with the U.S. from abroad. However, it was not always well-enforced and slaves continued to be smuggled illegally in limited numbers. The 1807 law did not change that—it just made importation from abroad a crime. The domestic slave trade within the U.S. was unaffected by the 1807 law. The United Kingdom, the major power involved in the Atlantic slave trade, had passed the comparable Abolition of the Slave Trade Act, on February 23, 1807 (achieving royal assent on March 25, 1807), preceding the outlawing of slavery throughout the British Empire through the Slavery Abolition Act 1833.

Act Prohibiting Importation of African to be enslaved
Great Seal of the United States (obverse)
Long titleAn Act to prohibit the importation of slaves into any port or place within the jurisdiction of the United States, from and after the first day of January, in the year of our Lord, One Thousand Eight Hundred and Eight
Enacted bythe 9th United States Congress
EffectiveJanuary 1, 1808
Public law9-22
Statutes at LargeStat. 426
Legislative history


Article 1 Section 9 of the United States Constitution protected the slave trade for twenty years. Article 5 said this clause could not be affected by constitutional amendment. Only starting January 1, 1808, could there be a federal law to entirely abolish the international slave trade, although individual states could and did ban it at any time.

The Migration or Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the Year one thousand eight hundred and eight, but a tax or duty may be imposed on such Importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each Person.[1]

In the 18th century, Great Britain had become the world's largest slave trader.[2] During the American Revolution (1775–1783) against Great Britain, all the states banned the international slave trade. This was done for a variety of economic, political, and moral reasons depending on the state. The trade was later reopened in South Carolina and Georgia.[3]

On March 22, 1794, Congress passed the Slave Trade Act of 1794, which prohibited making, loading, outfitting, equipping, or dispatching of any ship to be used in the trade of slaves, essentially limiting the trade to foreign ships.[4] On August 5, 1797, John Brown of Providence, Rhode Island, became the first American to be tried in federal court under the 1794 law. Brown was convicted and was forced to forfeit his ship Hope.[5] In the 1798 act creating the Mississippi Territory, Congress allowed slaves to be imported from the rest of the United States to Mississippi Territory, and exempted the territory from the part of the 1787 Northwest Ordinance that abolished slavery in the Northwest Territory (modern-day Midwest) after 1800. However, the same act also abolished the importation of slaves to the Mississippi Territory from "foreign parts" (foreign nations).[6] The penalty for illegally importing slaves from abroad to the territory was $300.[7] In the Slave Trade Act of 1800, Congress outlawed U.S. citizens' investment in the trade, and the employment of U.S. citizens on foreign vessels involved in the trade.[8]

Passage of the Act

On December 2, 1806, in his annual message to Congress, widely reprinted in most newspapers, President Thomas Jefferson denounced the "violations of human rights" attending the international slave trade and called for its criminalization on the first day that was possible (January 1, 1808). He said:

I congratulate you, fellow-citizens, on the approach of the period at which you may interpose your authority constitutionally, to withdraw the citizens of the United States from all further participation in those violations of human rights which have been so long continued on the unoffending inhabitants of Africa, and which the morality, the reputation, and the best interests of our country, have long been eager to proscribe.[9]

The House and Senate agreed on a bill, approved on March 2, 1807, called An Act to prohibit the importation of slaves into any port or place within the jurisdiction of the United States, from and after the first day of January, in the year of our Lord, One Thousand Eight Hundred and Eight. The bound measure also regulated the coastwise slave trade. President Thomas Jefferson signed the bill into law on March 2, 1807.[10] Many in Congress believed the act would doom slavery in the South, but they were mistaken.[11]

The role of the Navy was expanded to include patrols off the coasts of Cuba and South America. The effective date of the Act, January 1, 1808, was celebrated by Peter Williams, Jr., in "An Oration on the Abolition of the Slave Trade" delivered in New York City.[12]

Effectiveness and prosecutions for slaving

While there are no exact figures known, historians estimate that up to 50,000 slaves were illegally imported into the United States after 1808, mostly through Spanish Florida and Texas, before those states were admitted to the Union.[13]

Carl C. Cutler's classic book on American clipper ships records:

The act outlawing the slave trade in 1808 furnished another source of demand for fast vessels, and for another half century ships continued to be fitted out and financed in this trade by many a respectable citizen in the majority of American ports. Newspapers of the fifties contain occasional references to the number of ships sailing from the various cities in this traffic. One account stated that as late as 1859 there were seven slavers regularly fitted out in New York, and many more in all the larger ports.[14]

In 1820, slave-trading became a capital offense with an amendment to the 1819 Act to Protect the Commerce of the United States and Punish the Crime of Piracy. A total of 74 cases of slaving were brought in the United States between 1837 and 1860, "but few captains had been convicted, and those had retrieved trifling sentences, which they had usually been able to avoid".[15] Nathaniel Gordon, who was hanged in 1862, was the only person to be executed for illegal slave-trading in the United States.[15]

In addition, after the 1808 abolition of the slave trade to the United States, many Americans continued to engage in the slave trade by transporting Africans to Cuba. from 1808 to 1860, almost one-third of all slave ships were either owned by American merchants, or were built and outfitted in American ports.[16] It is possible that U.S. citizens "may have transported twice as many Africans to other countries such as Cuba and Brazil as they did to their own ports".[16]

Antebellum proposals by Fire-Eaters to reopen

In the South, the Fire-Eaters—antebellum pro-slavery extremists—proposed repealing the act and once more legalizing the international slave trade in the United States. Historian Erskine Clarke writes that this call "was a shameless expression of their contempt for any antislavery sentiment and a part of their stratagem to divide the nation and create a slaveholding confederacy. Among other things, the Fire-Eaters hoped that a reopened international slave trade would incense the North, and that Northern outrage would cause white Southerns to unite and move toward secession."[17]

In addition to whipping up sectional tensions, Fire-Eaters advocated the reopening of the slave trade in order to drive down the price of slaves; to balance the millions of European immigrants who had settled in the North and maintain Southern representation in Congress; and assert the morality of slavery: "Slave trading had to be made right, otherwise slavery was imperiled."[18] Fire-Eaters essentially desired to "legitimize the slave trade in order to make the point that both slavery and the African slave trade were morally acceptable practices"—a view intended to be precisely opposite that of the abolitionists, who affirmed the immorality of both slavery and the slave trade. The view alarmed even pro-slavery figures, such as former President John Tyler, who in retirement wrote a widely republished letter condemning the Fire-Eaters' call to abrogate article 8 of the Webster–Ashburton Treaty (which barred the slave trade). Tyler noted that the South had voted to ratify the treaty.[19]

See also


  1. ^ U.S. Constitution – Article 1 Section 9
  2. ^ "European traders". International Slavery Museum. Retrieved 8 July 2014.
  3. ^ Finkelman, Paul (2007). "The Abolition of The Slave Trade". New York Public Library. Retrieved 25 June 2014.
  4. ^ Timeline: The Atlantic Slave Trade Archived March 11, 2010, at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ Papers of the American Slave Trade
  6. ^ Arthur Scherr, John Adams, Slavery, and Race: Ideas, Politics, and Diplomacy in an Age of Crisis (ABC-CLIO, 2017), p. 198.
  7. ^ United States; Joseph Story (1827). The public and general statutes passed by the Congress of the United States of America: from 1789 to 1827 inclusive, whether expired, repealed, or in force: arranged in chronological order, with marginal references, and a copious index : to which is added the Constitution of the United States, and an appendix. Wells and Lilly.
  8. ^ "REGULATING THE TRADE". New York Public Library. Retrieved December 5, 2015.
  9. ^ John Paul Kaminski (1995). A Necessary Evil?: Slavery and the Debate Over the Constitution. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 256.
  10. ^ United States (1850). The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America. Charle C. Little and James Brown. pp. 426–430.
  11. ^ Peter Kolchin, American Slavery (1993) p 80
  12. ^ Pater Williams, Jr., An Oration on the Abolition of the Slave Trade; Delivered in the African Church in the City of New-York, January 1, 1808, Paul Royster, Ed., online pdf version, Digital Commons, University of Nebraska—Lincoln, accessed 31 May 2012
  13. ^ Randy J. Sparks, Africans in the Old South: Mapping Exceptional Lives Across the Atlantic World (Harvard University Press, 2016), p. 80.
  14. ^ Cutler, Carl C. (1984). Greyhounds of the Sea (3rd ed.). p. 39.
  15. ^ a b Hugh Thomas, The Slave Trade: The Story of the Atlantic Slave Trade: 1440-1870 (Simon & Schuster, 1997), p. 774.
  16. ^ a b Matt D. Childs, "Cuba, the Atlantic Crisis of the 1860s, and the Road to Abolition" in American Civil Wars: The United States, Latin America, Europe, and the Crisis of the 1860s (ed. Don H. Doyle: University of North Carolina Press, 2017).
  17. ^ Erskine Clarke, By the Rivers of Water: A Nineteenth-Century Atlantic Odyssey (Basic Books, 2013), p. 324.
  18. ^ Erik Calonius, The Wanderer: The Last American Slave Ship and the Conspiracy That Set Its Sails (St. Martin's Griffin, 2006), pp. 43-43.
  19. ^ Edward P. Crapol, John Tyler, the Accidental President (University of North Carolina Press, 2006), pp. 247-48.

Further reading

External links

1808 in the United States

Events from the year 1808 in the United States.

Blockade of Africa

The Blockade of Africa began in 1808 after the United Kingdom outlawed the Atlantic slave trade, making it illegal for British ships to transport slaves. The Royal Navy immediately established a presence off Africa to enforce the ban, called the West Africa Squadron. Although the ban initially applied only to British ships, the UK negotiated treaties with other countries to give the Royal Navy the right to intercept and search their ships for slaves. A notable exception was the United States, which refused such permission. The 1807 Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves technically abolished the intercontinental slave trade in the United States but the ban was not widely enforced and many of the slave ships which escaped the blockade were destined for the southern United States.

From 1819, some effort was made by the United States Navy to prevent the slave trade. This mostly consisted of patrols of the shores of the Americas and in the mid-Atlantic, the latter being largely unsuccessful due to the difficulty of intercepting ships in mid-ocean. As part of the Webster–Ashburton Treaty of 1842 it was agreed that both countries would work together on the abolition of the slave trade, which was deemed piracy, and to continue the blockade of Africa. US Navy involvement continued until the beginning of the US Civil War in 1861; the following year the Lincoln administration gave the UK full authority to intercept US ships. The Royal Navy squadron remained in operation until 1870.

Credit-ticket system

The credit-ticket system was a form of emigration prevalent in the mid to late nineteenth century, in which brokers advanced the cost of the passage to workers and retained control over their services until they repaid their debt in full. It generally refers to the immigration of Chinese to California, but migrants to Hawaii, British Columbia, and Australia participated in a similar process. Controversy exists over whether or not the credit-ticket system was actually voluntary. The association of Chinese laborers with involuntary contract labor during a time in which it was illegal exacerbated the public’s anti-Asian sentiments. However, because of the lack of documentation regarding the credit-ticket system, it is difficult to prove whether or not Chinese laborers were truly free agents.

Dick the Mockingbird

Dick the Mockingbird was the name of one of U.S. president Thomas Jefferson's pet birds. Although there had been previous presidential pets, Jefferson is thought to be "the first president to have a pet [that lived] in the White House..." Prior to his term in the Oval Office, Jefferson bought his first mockingbird in November 1772 from a slave of his father-in-law John Wayles for five shillings. Birds were Jefferson's favorite animal and Dick was the favorite from among at least four mockingbirds the president had while in office. During his time in the White House, Jefferson wrote observations on the types of birds that he spotted in the area. In May 1793, in response to a letter from his son-in-law Thomas Mann Randolph, Jefferson wrote: "I sincerely congratulate you on the arrival of the mockingbird. Teach all the children to venerate it as a superior being which will haunt them if any harm is done to itself or its eggs."

Importation Act

Importation Act may refer to:

Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves, a United States federal law that stated that no new slaves were permitted to be imported into the United States

Importation Act 1667, an Act of the Parliament of England which banned Irish cattle from being sold in England

Importation Act 1815, a tariff designed to support domestic British corn prices against competition from less expensive foreign-grain imports

Importation Act 1846, a repeal of Importation Act 1815

Isham Randolph of Dungeness

Isham Randolph (December 1684 – November 1742), sometimes referred to as Isham Randolph of Dungeness, was the maternal grandfather of United States President Thomas Jefferson. Randolph was a planter, a merchant, a public official, and a shipmaster.

Jane Randolph Jefferson

Jane Randolph Jefferson (February 10, 1720 – March 31, 1776) was the wife of Peter Jefferson and the mother of US president Thomas Jefferson. Born in the parish of Shadwell, near London, she was the daughter of Isham Randolph, a ship's captain.

Jefferson's Garden

Jefferson's Garden is a 2015 play by Timberlake Wertenbaker. It premiered at the Watford Palace Theatre from 5 to 21 February 2015, with Jefferson played by William Hope. It begins in the 1750s, but is centred on the period from 1776 to the early 1790s, covering the American Revolutionary War and its aftermath. It is named after Thomas Jefferson's gardens at Monticello and contrasts his part in writing the American Declaration of Independence with the continuation of slavery in the American colonies and on Jefferson's lands after independence.

Land Ordinance of 1784

The Ordinance of 1784 (enacted April 23, 1784) called for the land in the recently created United States of America west of the Appalachian Mountains, north of the Ohio River and east of the Mississippi River to be divided into separate states.

Lucy Jefferson Lewis

Lucy Jefferson Lewis, née Lucy Jefferson (October 10, 1752 – 1811) was a younger sister of United States President Thomas Jefferson and the wife of Charles Lilburn Lewis.

Mary Jefferson Eppes

Mary Jefferson Eppes (August 1, 1778 – April 17, 1804), known as Polly in childhood and Maria as an adult, was the younger of Thomas Jefferson's two daughters with his wife who survived infancy. She married a first cousin, John Wayles Eppes, and had three children with him. Only their son Francis W. Eppes survived childhood. Maria died months after the birth of her third child.

Mobile–Tensaw River Delta

The Mobile–Tensaw River Delta is the largest river delta and wetland in Alabama. It encompasses approximately 260,000 acres (110,000 ha) in a 40-by-10-mile (64 km × 16 km) area and is the second largest delta in the contiguous United States.The delta's northernmost point is the confluence of the Tombigbee and Alabama rivers and follows a southerly direction that ultimately opens into the head of Mobile Bay through the Mobile, Tensaw, Apalachee, Middle, Blakeley, and Spanish rivers near the Battleship Parkway. It is contained within sections of Baldwin, Clarke, Mobile, Monroe, and Washington counties.

Peter Jefferson

Peter Jefferson (February 29, 1708 – August 17, 1757) was the father of US President Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826). A surveyor and cartographer, his "Fry-Jefferson Map" of 1751—created in collaboration with Joshua Fry—accurately depicted the Allegheny Mountains for the first time and showed the route of "The Great Road from the Yadkin River through Virginia to Philadelphia distant 455 Miles"—what would later come to be known as the Great Wagon Road.

Presidency of Thomas Jefferson

The presidency of Thomas Jefferson began on March 4, 1801, when he was inaugurated as the third President of the United States, and ended on March 4, 1809. Jefferson assumed the office after defeating incumbent President John Adams in the 1800 presidential election. The election was a realigning election in which the Democratic-Republican Party swept the Federalist Party out of power, ushering in a generation of Democratic-Republican dominance in American politics. After serving two terms, Jefferson was succeeded by Secretary of State James Madison, also of the Democratic-Republican Party.

Jefferson took office determined to roll back the Federalist program of the 1790s. His administration reduced taxes, government spending, and the national debt, and repealed the Alien and Sedition Acts. In foreign affairs, the major developments were the acquisition of the gigantic Louisiana Purchase from France in 1803, an embargo against trade with both Great Britain and France, and worsening relations with Britain as the United States tried to remain neutral in the midst of the Napoleonic Wars that engulfed Europe. He established a military academy, used the Navy to protect merchant ships from Barbary pirates in North Africa, and developed a plan to protect U.S. ports from foreign invasion by the use of small gunboats (a plan that proved useless when war came in 1812). He also authorized the Lewis and Clark expedition to explore the Louisiana Territory and the Pacific Northwest.

During his second term, Jefferson's attention was focused on the trial of then former Vice President Burr for treason, which resulted in an acquittal, and on the issue of slavery, specifically the importation of slaves from abroad. In 1806, he denounced the international slave trade as a "violation of human rights" and called upon Congress to criminalize it. Congress responded by approving the Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves the following year. Rising tensions between the United States and Britain dominated the final years of Jefferson's second term, as the Royal Navy began impressing sailors from American ships and attacking American shipping. Jefferson rejected war and instead used economic threats and embargoes that ultimately hurt the U.S. more than Britain. The disputes with Britain continued after Jefferson left office, eventually leading to the War of 1812.

Jefferson, whose reputation has ebbed and flowed through the years, has been memorialized in numerous ways. He is, as a result of his contribution in shaping the nation's republican political philosophy, consistently ranked—in surveys of academic historians and political scientists or popular opinion—as one of the nation's most esteemed presidents.

Slave Trade Act

Slave Trade Act is a stock short title used for legislation in the United Kingdom and the United States that relates to the slave trade.

The "See also" section lists other Slave Acts, laws, and international conventions which developed the concept of slavery, and then the resolution and abolition of slavery.

Slave act

Slave Act may refer to:

The Fugitive Slave Act of 1793, a law passed by the United States Congress.

The Slave Trade Act of 1794, a law passed by the United States Congress.

The Slave Trade Act 1807, an Act of Parliament in the United Kingdom.

The Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves, a United States federal law from 1807.

The Slave Compensation Act 1837, an Act of Parliament in the United Kingdom.

The Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, a law passed by the United States Congress.

Thomas Jefferson (Bitter)

Thomas Jefferson is one of several versions of a statue of Thomas Jefferson executed by Karl Bitter.

USS Gallatin (1807)

USS Gallatin (1807) was a post-Revolutionary War sailing vessel that the U.S. Department of the Treasury purchased at Norfolk, Virginia, for the Revenue Cutter Service in December 1807. An explosion on board destroyed her in 1813.

Winney Grimshaw

Winney Grimshaw (1826-?) was an enslaved African American woman at Mount Airy Plantation in Richmond County, Virginia. The Grimshaws are one of the most well-documented enslaved families who lived at Mount Airy. Grimshaw’s life stands as a case of the exploitation and abuse that many enslaved women faced in early America. Though the Grimshaws were a well-regarded slave family at Mount Airy, it wasn’t enough to keep their master from dissolving her family ties.

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