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Slavery was a controversial issue at the time of the Constitutional Convention. The convention delegates needed to handle the issue of slavery carefully to avoid ruining the convention. Northern states were against the continued importation of slaves, and the Southern states were for continued importation. The agreed-upon compromise, reflected in Article 1, Section 9, Clause 1, of the Constitution, prevented Congress from outlawing the importation of slaves until 1808. The issue was addressed again when President Thomas Jefferson, in his December 1806 Annual Message, suggested it was time for action. Legislation was passed through Congress to prohibit slave importation in March 1807. The prohibition took effect on January 1, 1808.
This research starter, Antislavery laws of 1777 and 1807 This link opens in a new window, provides background on An Act to Prohibit the Importation of Slaves and its context. Research starters are tertiary sources and not something that would be cited in a paper. They are a good way to quickly gain a basic understanding of a topic. (Please note, encyclopedias/tertiary sources should NOT be cited in your assignment. Scroll down for primary and secondary sources)
Note: For help with citing primary sources properly, check out this FAQ and be sure to reach out to your instructor with any questions you may have. For help citing interviews in particular, click here.
Primary sources include constitutions, statutes, cases, and regulations. The Act of Prohibiting the Importation of Slaves is a primary source as it is the actual text and wording passed by Congress and Signed by President Thomas Jefferson. Read the digitized version from made available by The Avalon Project.
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.(1808). The Avalon Project: Documents in Law, History and Diplomacy.
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. (Mar. 2, 1807). ch. XXII, 2 Stat. 426.
Letters are primary sources. On December 2, 1806, Thomas Jefferson delivered his Annual Message to Congress. President Jefferson wrote Annual Messages to the House and Senate instead of an in-person State of Union address. In his message, Jefferson encourages Congress to pass legislation ending the importation of slaves. See paragraph 14.
Jefferson, T. (1806, December 2). From Thomas Jefferson to United States Congress, 2 December 1806. . Founders Online.
Article 1, Section 9, Clause 1 of the U.S. Constitution protected the slave trade for twenty years. This transcript of the Constitution is a primary source for the wording that led to the 1807 act. The 1807 Act to Prohibit the Importation of Slaves included ten sections designed to eliminate American participation in the slave trade after January 1, 1808, the earliest date possible based on the wording of Article 1, Section 9, Clause 1.
Secondary sources use primary sources and analyze them.
This article is an overview of the Act to Prohibit the Importation of Slaves passed by Congress in March 1807. Included is the full text of the Act as well as an in-depth, analytical essay that places the document in its historical context. The Act is a primary source, but the analysis is secondary. The Act to Prohibit the Importation of Slaves made the trade illegal. In the eight-year prior the United States imported about forty thousand new slaves from Africa. From 1808 until the Civil War broke out in 1861, less than a fifth of that number of slaves would be illegally smuggled into the nation.
Finkelman, P. (2017). Act to prohibit the importation of slaves 1807. In Grey House Publishing (Ed.), Milestone documents: Milestone documents in African American history (2nd ed.). Salem Press. Credo Reference
This article provides a detailed explanation of the debates and issues impacting the final legislation prohibiting the Atlantic slave trade. Included are the arguments presented to the crafting of the act and the reasons for the wording. Also mentioned are reactions to the final passage.
Mason, M. E. (2000).Slavery overshadowed: Congress debates prohibiting the Atlantic slave trade to the United States, 1806-1807. Journal of the Early Republic, 20(1), 59-81.https://doi-org.ezproxy.snhu.edu/10.2307/3124830
The following article presents an analysis of the Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves which was passed by the Ninth U.S. Congress on March 2, 1807. The law prohibited Americans to participate in the slave trade, even on foreign ships, and any participant can be fined up to 10,000 dollars and imprisoned. It is noted that the law and the end of the international slave trade did not result in the outright elimination of slavery in the U.S.
Dorau, B. G. (2017). Analysis: Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves (1807). Defining Documents Online Edition, 1–2.
The following article is optional reading and intended to provide historical context and understanding of the events and legislation leading to the passage and implementation of the law. Regulating the African Slave Trade is a historical focus on the legislation to end U.S. participation in the African slave trade. Many states passed laws banning the slave trade during the Revolutionary War. This article provides background information on the context of Article I, Section 9, Clause 1 of the Constitution. Delegates from Southern states lobbied to protect the slave trade at the Constitutional Convention, leading to debates regarding the ethics of slavery and a provision allowing the continuation of the trade until 1808. Former U.S. President Thomas Jefferson's views on the trade and the legal status of slaves imported illegally are discussed.
Finkelman, P. (2008). Regulating the african slave trade. Civil War History, 54(4), 379–405. https://doi-org.ezproxy.snhu.edu/10.1353/cwh.0.0034