Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Slave Trade

A Slave Ship
Most people today confuse Southern slavery with the slave trade, but they were actually very different things. The slave trade was the process of buying kidnapped slaves from Africa and bringing them over to Europe or America. By the time of the drafting of the US Constitution many people realized that this was an evil that should be outlawed, but because some states would not join the new nation if the slave trade was not protected for some length of time, the Congress was not allowed to outlaw it until 1808. However, it may surprise you which states opposed the slave trade. Virginia, although it had the highest percentage of slaves at 39%, had already outlawed the slave trade and had no problem with the Congress outlawing it has well. It was the states in the deep south that supported the slave trade.

Even though the North did not have a large number of slaves, they were the ones that owned and manned the ships that carried on the slave trade. Thomas Jefferson wrote this about the debate over the Declaration of Independence:
The clause too, reprobating the enslaving [of] the inhabitants of Africa, was struck out in complaisance to South Carolina and Georgia, who had never attempted to restrain the importation of slaves, and who on the contrary still wished to continue it. Our northern brethren also I believe felt a little tender under those censures; for tho' their people have very few slaves themselves yet they had been pretty considerable carriers of them to others.1
By 1808 several more states had outlawed the slave trade and Congress outlawed it on January 1st, the earliest date that it was permitted to by the Constitution. When the Southern States left the Union and formed the Confederacy, not only did they not try to reestablish the slave trade, it was actually outlawed in the Confederate Constitution. They did not want to be associated with what they considered the evil practice of the slave trade.

1. Autobiography of Thomas Jefferson, p. 16-17. Source


Joshua Horn said...

While the fact that most slave traders were Northern does not mean that the North in general supported the slave trade, it does show that the the ones who did this were not all Southerners.

While there were many problems with Southern slavery, the correct response was not to remove it completely. I will discuss this more in the coming days/weeks.

Is your question about the prohibition of the slave trade why the Congress did not outlaw slavery as well?

Joshua Horn

Anonymous said...

It seems somewhat inconsistant for the South to distain the slave trade through federal legislation yet simultaneously continue to embrace slaveholding, since the latter is ultimately dependent upon the former. I nevertheless understand your desire to clarify the inaccurate imputation of the slave trade evils upon the South, which are more severe.

I commend you for bravely addressing a very complicated and often emotional topic.


Stephen Horn said...

In your first post, you quoted the bible saying that kidnapping is a capital crime. In the Penteteuch, it also gives rules regarding slavery. Such as that you must release a Hebrew slave after seven years. At least one of the states(I think Virginia,) had a law that if a slave accepted Jesus, he would be released after seven years. The South was following the bible in disdaining the slave trade, and having slaves.

Also, kidnapping is not the only way to get slaves. The ways in the bible are that you can sell yourself into slavery, you can be sold by your parents, or you are captured in war.


Anonymous said...

Thanks Stephen, I completely agree.


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