Prohibition of Slave Trade Act 2 Stat. 426 (1807)

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Colonial legislatures had often tried to restrict the importation of slaves for economic reasons, and thomas jefferson's famous deleted passage in the declaration of independence denounced the royal disallowance of these bills. After Independence, all the states (except Georgia until 1798) prohibited the importation of slaves from abroad. The constitutional convention of 1787 permitted Congress to legislate against the international trade but at the insistence of the South Carolina delegates prohibited it from exercising that power for twenty years (Article I, section 9). After 1790, the Pennsylvania Abolition Society and the American Convention of Abolition Societies demanded interim legislation against the trade. Their lobbying produced the Act of March 22, 1794, prohibiting Americans from fitting out in American ports for the international trade. But South Carolina shocked the nation's conscience by reopening the trade in 1803.

President Jefferson urged Congress to ban the international trade at the earliest possible moment, and Congress responded with the Act of March 2, 1807, which prohibited the importation of slaves from foreign nations and dependencies, penalized persons engaging in the trade and purchasers from them, and provided for forfeiture of slaving vessels. The Act of May 15, 1820, declared slaving to be piracy, punishable by death. But enforcement of the ban was deliberately half-hearted, and the illegal trade brought in approximately a thousand blacks a year from Africa and the Caribbean. Though some southern spokesman in the late 1850s demanded a reopening of the trade, the confederate constitution also prohibited it.

William M. Wiecek

(see also: Slavery and the Constitution.)


Wiecek, William M. 1977 The Sources of Antislavery Constitutionalism in America, 1760–1848. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.