On this dayMar 02, 1807

Congress Bans International Slave Trade, But Not Slavery

Image | Everett Historical, Shutterstock.com

On March 2, 1807, Congress approved a bill to "prohibit the importation of slaves" into the United States. The act took effect on January 1, 1808, and provided that violators were to be fined up to $2,000 or imprisoned. The act was poorly enforced; the government often refused to allow the British Royal Navy to search and seize American slave ships and rarely imposed serious punishments against captains, officers, and owners of slave ships participating in illegal slave trading. Consequently, Africans continued to be smuggled into the country, but in smaller numbers. In the two decades following the ban, approximately 10,000 enslaved Africans were brought to the Gulf region, compared to the 73,000 enslaved Africans who arrived in the United States between 1801 and 1808. Mobile, Alabama, holds the distinction of being the port of entry for the last cargo of African people kidnapped and brought into the United States for enslavement and trade in 1859.

The act did not hinder the domestic sale of enslaved people within the United States and it failed to provide a remedy for illegally trafficked Africans. It freed them from the control of the smuggler but left their fates to the mercy of the state where the ship docked which, in most cases, condemned them to slavery. Slavery would not be legally abolished until the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution on December 6, 1865.

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