The United States Congress passed the Slave Trade Act in 1794; the bill was signed into law by President George Washington on March 22 that year. As the first of several anti-slavery trade-acts to be approved by the United States Congress, the 1794 members received accolades for the move.
Many critics believe the American Congress possessed a hypocritical intent in drafting the Slave Trade Acts. What many people – including some prominent activists did not notice was that the 1794 Slave Trade Act did not in any way prove that America was against the slave trade.
A closer look into the document reveals that the Slave Trade Act only aimed to limit American involvement in the international slave trade. The United States Congress was still in full support of the slave trade in America until it declared domestic trade and owning of slaves illegal after the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1865.
The actual reason behind the U.S. congress Slave Trade Act was in fulfillment of America's obligation in the Treaty of Amity, Commerce, and Navigation, between His Britannic Majesty and the United States of America, commonly known as the Jay Treaty.
The Jay Treaty was a 1795 treaty between the United States and Great Britain that averted an impending war and resolved issues remaining since the Treaty of Paris of 1783 (which ended the American Revolutionary War). In passing the Slave Trade Act, America surrendered the control of slave exportation from Africa to Great Britain as part of a bargain to prevent war.
Critics believe that this hypocrisy birthed the American Declaration of Independence, signed into law by Thomas Jefferson – a man who was known to have inherited and owned a large number of slaves.
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." So begins the Declaration of Independence, the document that eventually led to the creation of the United States.
Although the opening sentences to the Declaration of Independence contain a compelling message, critics claim that the hypocritical intent of those who drafted it has rendered it worthless – one reason racism remains alive and well in America today, 244 years since the document was adopted.
The intention of the United States Congress concerning Slave Trade reveals the shameful paradox on which America was built.
As of 1799, five years on after the Slave Trade Act was enacted, children born after July 4, 1799, in New York were only legally free when they turned 25 if they were women, or 28 if they were men.
This law was meant to compensate slaveholders by keeping people enslaved during their most productive years.
In 1808, Congress reviewed the 1794 Slave Trade Act and implemented a law that put new emphasis on the domestic slave trade. The new law relied on buying and selling enslaved black people already in the country, often separating them from their loved ones.
Despite the numerous anti-slavery laws, America continued to engage in slave importation from Africa illegally. According to records, the last slave ship that touched the shores of America arrived at the Mobile Bay, Alabama, between autumn 1859 and July 9, 1860, with 110–160 slaves on board the schooner Clotilda.
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