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soon come to believe that we ourselves were not Christians. Why has it not, says he, entered into the heads of the European princes, who make so many useless conventions, to make one general stipulation in favour of humanity? We shall see presently that this suggestion was, in some degree, carried into practice by a modern European congress.
The constitution of the United States laid the foundation of a series of provisions, to put a final stop to the progress of this great moral pestilence, by admitting a power in Congress to prohibit the importation of slaves, after the expiration of the year 1807. The constitution evidently looked forward to the year 1808 as the commencement of an epoch in the history of human improvement. Prior to that time, Congress did all on this subject that it was within their competence to do. By the acts of March 22d, 1794, and May 10th, 1800, the citizens of the United States, and residents within them, were prohibited from engaging in the transportation of slaves from the United States to any foreign place or country, or from one foreign country or place to another, for the purpose of traffic. These provisions prohibited our citizens from all concern in the slave trade, with the exception of direct importation into the United States; and the most prompt and early steps were taken, within the limits of the constitution, to interdict that part of the traffic also. By the act of 2d March, 1807, it was prohibited, under severe penalties, to import slaves into the United States, after the 1st January, 1808; and, on the 20th April,
a L'Esprit des Loix, liv. 15. ch. 5.
b The Continental Congress which assembled at Philadelphia in 1774, gave the first general and authoritative condemnation of the Slave Trade, by the resolution not to import, or purchase any slave imported after the first day of December in that year, and wholly to discontinue the trade. Journals of Congress, vol. 1. p. 32. The Convention of Delegates of the People of Virginia had anticipated this measure, for in August preceding they resolved to discontinue the importation of slaves. Pitkin's History, vol. 1. app. n. 16.
1818, the penalties and punishments were increased, and the prohibition extended not only to importation, but generally against any citizen of the United States being concerned in the slave trade. It has been decided, that these statute prohibitions extend as well to the carrying slaves on freight, as to cases where they were the property of American citizens, and to carrying them from one port to another of the same foreign empire, as well as from one foreign country to another. The object was to prevent, on the part of our citizens, all concern whatever in such a trade.
The act of March 3d, 1819, went a step further, and authorized national armed vessels to be sent to the coast of Africa, to stop the slave trade, so far as citizens or residents of the United States were engaged in that trade; and their vessels and effects were made liable to seizure and confiscation. The act of 15th May, 1820, went still further, and declared, that if any citizen of the United States, being of the crew of any foreign vessel engaged in the slave trade, or any person whatever, being of the crew of any vessel armed in whole or in part, or navigated for or on behalf of any citizen of the United States, should land on any foreign shore, and seize any negro or mulatto, with intent to make him a slave, or should decoy, or forcibly bring, or receive such negro on board such vessel, with like intent, such citizen or person should be adjudged a pirate, and, on conviction, should suffer death.
It is to be observed, that the statute operates only where our municipal jurisdiction might be applied consistently with the general theory of public law, to the persons of our citizens, or to foreigners on board of American vessels. Declaring the crime piracy, does not make it so, within the
a The Merino, 9 Wheaton, 391. The declarations of the master, connected with his acts in furtherance of the voyage, have been held to be evidence on an indictment against the owner of the ship, under the act of 20th April, 1818. United States v. Gooding, 12 Wheaton, 480.
purview of the law of nations, if it were not so without the statute; and the legislature intended to legislate, only where they had a right to legislate, over their own citizens and vessels. The question, notwithstanding these expressions in the statute, still remained to be discussed and settled, whether the African slave trade could be adjudged piracy, or any other crime, within the contemplation of the code of international law. It has been attempted, by negotiation between this country and Great Britain, to agree that both nations should consider the slave trade piratical; but the convention for that purpose between the two nations has not as yet been ratified, though the British nation have carried their statute denunciation of the trade as far as the law of the United States.
The first British statute that declared the slave trade unlawful, was in March, 1807. This was a great triumph of British justice. It was called for by the sense of the nation, which had become deeply convinced of the impolicy and injustice of the slave trade; and by the subsequent statute of 51 Geo. III. the trade was declared to be contrary to the principles of justice, humanity, and sound policy; and lastly, by the act of Parliament of 31st March, 1824, the trade is declared to be piracy. England is thus, equally with the United States, honestly and zealously engaged in promoting the universal abolition of the trade, and in holding out to the world her sense of its extreme criminality. Almost every maritime nation in Europe has also deliberately and solemnly, either by legislative acts, or by treaties and other formal engagements, acknowledged the injustice and inhumanity of the trade, and pledged itself to promote its abolition. By the treaty of Paris of the 30th May, 1814, between Great Britain and France, Lewis XVIII. agreed that the traffic was repugnant to the princi. ples of natural justice, and he engaged to unite his efforts at the ensuing congress, to induce all the powers of chris
a Stat. 47 Geo. III.
tendom to decree the abolition of the trade, and that it should cease definitively, on the part of the French government, in the course of five years. The ministers of the principal European powers who met in congress at Vienna, on the 8th February, 1815, solemnly declared, in the face of Europe and the world, that the African slave trade had been regarded by just and enlightened men, in all ages, as repugnant to the principles of humanity and of universal morality, and that the public voice in all civilized countries demanded that it should be suppressed; and that the universal abolition of it was conformable to the spirit of the age, and the generous principles of the allied powers. In March, 1815, the emperor Napoleon decreed that the slave trade should be abolished; but this effort of ephemeral power was afterwards held to be null and void, as being the act of an usurper; and in July following, Lewis XVIII. gave directions that this odious and wicked traffic should from that present time cease. The first French decree, however, that was made public, abolishing the trade, was of the date of the 8th January, 1817, and that was only a partial and modified decree. In December, 1817, the Spanish government prohibited the purchase of slaves on any part of the coast of Africa, after the 31st of May, 1820; and in January, 1818, the Portuguese government made the like prohibition as to the purchase of slaves on any part of the coast of Africa north of the equator. In 1821, there was not a flag of any European state, which could legally cover this traffic, to the north of the equator; and yet, in 1825, the importation of slaves covertly continued, if it was not openly countenanced, from the Rio de Plata to the Amazon, and through the whole American Archipelago."
a Report of a Committee of the House of Representatives of the United States, February 16th, 1825. See also, the Q. Review, No. 68. and No. 89. p. 243–246. in which it appears, from a reference
The case of the Amedie was the earliest decision in the English courts on the great question touching the legality of the slave trade, on general principles of international law. That was the case of an American vessel, employed in carrying slaves from the coast of Africa to a Spanish colony. She was captured by an English cruiser, and the vessel and cargo were condemned to the captors, in a vice-admiralty court in the West Indies, and, on appeal to the Court of Appeals in England, the judgment was affirmed. Sir Wm. Grant, who pronounced the opinion of the court, observed, that the slave trade being abolished by both England and the United States, the court was authorized to assert, that the trade, abstractedly speaking, could not have a legitimate existence, and was, prima facie, illegal, upon principles of universal law. The claimant, to entitle him to restitution, must show affirmatively a right of property under the municipal laws of his own country; for, if it be unprotected by his own municipal law, he can have no right of property in human beings carried as his slaves, for such a claim is contrary to the principles of justice and humanity. The Fortuna, was condemned on the authority of the Amedie, and the same opinion was again affirmed. But in the subse
to various documents, that the African slave trade was carried on to an enormous extent down to the year 1830. The trade was principally between Africa and Brazil and Cuba. In 1828, 45,000 African slaves were imported into the city of Rio Janeiro. But by a convention between England and Brazil, in 1826, it was made piratical for the subjects of Brazil to be engaged in the trade after the year 1830; and it is understood that the government of Brazil, in 1831, not only put a stop by law to the importation of slaves, but declared that all slaves thereafter imported should be free, and imposed a heavy assessment on the importers, and provided for the transportation of such negroes back to Africa.