Prologue: Selected Articles
Winter 2000, Vol. 32, No. 4
Living with the Hydra
The Documentation of Slavery and the Slave Trade in Federal Records, Part 2
By Walter B. Hill, Jr.
Slavery sustained a severe blow in 1862, when on April 16 Congress emancipated the slaves residing in the District of Columbia (12 Stat. L. 376). The debate to get rid of the institution in the nation's capital had deep roots as abolitionists, antislavery politicians, and an active free black community had besieged Congress since the establishment of the city. In 1860 the free black population outnumbered the slave population by four to one. Federal mobilization around the city influenced many Maryland and Virginia slaves to seek refugee, and the city soon became a beacon of freedom. Abolitionists, black and white, struck quickly to seek a congressional mandate abolishing the institution. During debate, pro- and antislavery forces compromised, allowing compensation to District slaveholders. The act authorized the President to appoint a board of three commissioners from the District to examine petitions for compensation. A later act of July 12, 1862 (12 Stat. 538), provided slaves whose owners refused to participate with the opportunity to petition the board. The commission's work broke new ground in the debates around emancipation; the quiet transition from a slave-based society to a free-based one in the District established a model for the rest of the nation. That fall the President prepared for a national emancipation.34
The year 1863 became a turning point in relations between the federal government and the slave population. In January 1863 Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation moved the government to a moral position it had long avoided. It had little effect in the rebellious states and failed to apply to the slaveholding border states that had remained loyal to the Union. Even so, the issuance of the Proclamation encouraged slaves to seek the protection of the federal government. Since the onset of the war, slaves had sought the protection of the Union Army, and the Proclamation raised greater expectations for freedom. By the spring of 1863, the growing movement of slaves behind Union lines spurred the federal government to investigate the conditions and status of slaves. Faced with a surging population of escaped slaves, the government, under the guidance of the Treasury Department, had begun to resettle former slaves in contraband camps and assign them to abandoned plantations.35 In time, growing concerns about these short-term solutions and the postwar condition of former slaves led the government to create in March 1863 the American Freedmen's Inquiry Commission. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton appointed three commissioners and instructed them to determine how the government could best support former slaves. The federal government had assumed the role of protector and recognized its obligation to establish an environment of freedom for the former slaves.36
Perhaps the most far-reaching federal initiative concerning slavery in the rebellious and border states was the War Department's General Order 143, which established the Bureau of Colored Troops on May 22, 1863. While Lincoln failed to call specifically upon slaves and free blacks to serve as combatant troops in the war, he inserted military service into the Emancipation Proclamation. He wrote, "And I further declare and make known, that such persons of suitable conditions, will be received into the armed service of the United States to garrison forts, positions, stations, and other places, and to man vessels of all sorts in said service."37 This statement directly applied to slaves in the slave states, and many moved to free themselves. Despite the restriction of the Emancipation Proclamation in loyal border states, Tennessee, and portions of Union-occupied Louisiana, and Virginia, slaves found their way to the Union armies and U.S. recruitment stations while their families remained in slavery. From February to June 1863, the War Department established procedures for the selection, recruitment, and training of blacks, regardless of status, to serve in the U.S. Army, and for a selection process for white officers to lead the troops. From that moment forward, federal military policy assumed an aggressive march to destroy slavery, and one of its targets was the population of thousands of slaves waiting to serve. By the war's end, the U.S. Colored Troops Bureau had recruited over 230,000 black soldiers, more than two-thirds slaves, and some 25,000 as naval personnel. The federal government had made military service one of the vehicles to freedom.
Freedom and slavery evolved simultaneously during the formative years of the nation and the federal government. Their equal coexistence was the great enigma of the nation. How could democratic principles of freedom and equality of the Declaration of Independence be tied to the enslavement of Africans? Slavery and the slave trade became the single most divisive issue for the young government. It emerged as the most crucial and fundamental issue because it had the power to bring disunion. No other issue had such resonance in American politics, life, and culture and was such a disruptive force in conscience, thought, and behavior. From 1776 to 1865, the government swayed to the wishes and dictates of slavery, and the unholy alliance with slaveholders. As George Washington Williams stated, the government could only "purify itself" through the flames of the American Civil War between 1861 and 1865. It unleashed forces that Congress, the military command, the Confederate States of America, and President Lincoln were neither able to realize nor anticipate. The war changed the sentiment in Congress, which amended the Constitution in the fall of 1865 to abolish the institution. While Congress had created laws to suppress the slave trade, questions arose among many inside and outside government as to whether governmental commitment was genuine. This is a question for historical scholarship to pursue. Regardless of what answers are proposed, the government certainly left a record to investigate the relationship with slavery and the slave trade. From the establishment of the Continental Congresses in 1771 and the new government in 1789 to the cessation of armed conflict in 1865, the federal government created an extensive documentation of how it dealt with the "hydra." The records of the Civil War period, uncovered by the Freedom and Southern Society Project, further told the dramatic evolution of the war and the destruction of slavery by the United States Government. Few stories of American history are so dramatically told through the archival records of the federal government.
This article is dedicated to my friend and mentor, Ira Berlin, who corrupted my aspirations to become a professor of history when he brought me to the National Archives in 1978 to work on his new documentary editing project, The Freedmen and Southern Society. NARA became my career after this experience. The author would like to acknowledge Ken Heger, Milton Gustafson, Aloha South, Jeffery Hartley, and Mary Ilario for their timely assistance. Special recognition goes to Maryellen Trautman, who provided valuable assistance with the government publications. Special thanks to Ira Berlin, James O. Horton, and J. Michael McReynolds for providing comments on the article. For records that pertain to slavery, the author is preparing an extensive reference list.
1. John Hope Franklin, Williams's biographer, stated that the twenty-four-year-old graduate, with the help of his mentors, had transformed himself in four years from an uninformed, raw youth to a well-educated man "with a felicitous writing style and a refinement that reflected itself in his bearing and his manners." Franklin stated that it was a remarkable transformation. See George Washington Williams: A Biography (1985) pp. 9 - 11.
2. Although he had no formal historical training, he had long been interested in history, in particular that of the Negro. His preparation for an address on the services of the Negro to the United States for the centennial of American independence in Avondale, OH, influenced his decision to become the first major historian of the race in the postslavery Civil War era and to write the first full-length history of the Negro. See Franklin, ibid., chap. 9; Earl E. Thorpe, Black Historians: A Critique (1969) pp. 46 - 55.
3. William Lloyd Garrison was founder and president of the abolitionist newspaper The Liberator. John David Smith, Slavery, Race, and American History: Historical Conflict, Trends, and Method, 1866 - 1953 (1999). See chap. 8, "A Different View of Slavery: Black Historians Attack the New Pro-slavery Argument, 1890 - 1920." Smith presents an excellent analysis of who these people were, their views on the slavery experience, and the meaning and significance for African Americans and the nation. For discussions regarding blacks and the Garrisonian tradition, see Leonard I. Sweet, Black Images of America, 1784 - 1870 (1976).
4. George Washington Williams, History of the Negro Race in America From 1619 to 1880 (1883), pp. vii - viii.
5. Ibid., p. 412.
6. Ira Berlin, "Time, Space, and the Evolution of Afro-American Society on the British Mainland North America," American Historical Review 85 (February 1980). Berlin broke ground with this article. He treated the institution as a living organism transforming itself in time and in different regions and not as a static institution. He gave crucial and proper analysis to four different regional slave systems on the North American continent. Berlin later expanded on this discussion in Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America (1998).
7. For the historical analysis, see W. B. Hartgrove, "The Negro Soldier in the American Revolution," Journal of Negro History 1 (January 1916): 110 - 131; and Benjamin Quarles, The Negro in the American Revolution (1961). For the debates, one needs to refer to two sources: Index to the Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774 - 1789, comp. Kenneth E. Harris and Steven D. Tilley (1976); and Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774 - 1789, 34 vols., (1904 - 37). For black servicemen, the best compilation is Special List 36, List of Black Servicemen Complied from the War Department Collection of Revolutionary War Records (1974), compiled by Debra L. Newman. The list is based on documentation from three different records series in Record Group (RG) 93, War Department Collection of Revolutionary War Records. See microfilm publications M847, Special Index to Numbered Records in the War Department Collection of Revolutionary War Records, 1775 - 1783; M853, Numbered Records Book Concerning Military Operations and Service, Pay and Settlement of Accounts, and Supplies in the War Department Collection of Revolutionary War Records; and M860, General Index to Complied Military Service Records of Revolutionary War Soldiers.
8. David Brion Davis, The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Revolution, 1770 - 1823 (1975). Davis believed that the war in the North undermined slavery and helped the abolition cause, pp. 24, 76 - 78. Ira Berlin, "The Revolution in Black Life," in The American Revolution: Explorations in the History of American Radicalism, ed. Alfred Young (1976), pp. 350 - 382; Benjamin Quarles, "The Revolutionary War as a Black Declaration of Independence," in Slavery and Freedom in the Age of the American Revolution, ed. Ira Berlin and Ronald Hoffman (1982), pp. 283 - 301. See also Virginia Assembly to the Continental Congress, Papers of the Continental Congress (National Archives Microfilm Publication M247, roll 141, item 124, Vol. 2, pp. 85 - 87), Records of the Continental and Confederation Congresses and the Constitutional Convention, RG 360. The index to the Papers lists five distinct categories: Negroes, Slaves, Slave Trade, Slavery, and Slave Trade. The state categories will also have documents that pertain to these five subject areas.
9. For an early assessment of post-Revolutionary relations between the United States and England regarding the return of slaves, see Arnett G. Lindsay, "Diplomatic Relations between the United States and Great Britain bearing on the Return of Negro Slaves, 1788 - 1828," Journal of Negro History 4 (October 1920): 391 - 419.
Lindsay, a student of Carter G. Woodson, contends that this issue must be examined in its entirety from the American Revolution to final resolution in 1828. He held that Article VII of the Treaty of Paris in 1783 failed, and that while the slave trade received serious discussion but was not stipulated in Jay's Treaty of 1794, it continued to simmer with the outbreak of the War of 1812. The issue finally received resolution under the Treaty of Ghent, December 24, 1814, with the establishment of the Claims Commissions. Lindsay takes the position that the ulterior motive of John Jay's negotiation had more to do with President Washington's desire to resolve the slave refugee issue.
See American State Papers, Vol. 1, pp. 470 - 474. See also Frederick A. Ogg, "Jay's Treaty and the Slavery Interests of the United States." Annual Report of the American Historical Association for the Year 1901, Vol. 1, 1902. Ogg emphasized the slave interest in Jay's mission, and their desire to be compensated for loss property in slaves. He wrote, "It is in the very fact that slavery is not mentioned in the treaty that the point of interest lies. It should of course be understood that the part which the slavery interests played in the history of the Jay Treaty was significant, not so much because by it the immediate event was changed, as because it may be regarded as on this occasion that slavery made its earliest formal entrance into the diplomacy of the nation. Intermittent claims on its behalf had been made before, but now for the first time the force of public sentiment was brought definitely to bear upon the subject" (pp. 278 - 279).
10. For the historical assessment, see Frank A. Cassell, "Slaves of the Chesapeake Bay Area and the War of 1812," Journal of Negro History 67 (1972); Mary Bullard, Black Liberation on the Cumberland Island 1815 (1983); John McNish Weiss, "The Corps of Colonial Marines, 1814 - 1816: A Summary," published paper, 1996. I am indebted to Mr. Weiss for bringing to my attention the federal records that pertain to this history. He has studied and published on the history of slave and free black settlement in Trinidad. See his Free Black Settlers in Trinidad 1815 - 1816 (1995). His current project covers the slave population recruited by the British during the War of 1812 and called the Corps of Colonial Marines. For the relevant federal records, see RG 76, Records of Boundary and Claims Commissions and Arbitrations, National Archives at College Park, MD (NACP). The records series that are critical for this examination are: Records that Pertain to Great Britain, Treaty of 1794 (Art. 6), Miscellaneous Records, 1796 - 1800; Treaty of 1794 (Art. 7); Treaty of 1814 and Conventions of 1818, 1822, 1826. See also Records of the Mixed Claims Commission, and Records of the Domestic Claims Commission.
11. Max Farrand, The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787, Vol. 1 (rev. ed. 1966), p. 486; William M. Wiecek, "'The Blessings of Liberty': Slavery in the American Constitutional Order." in Slavery and Its Consequences: The Constitution, Equality, and Race, ed. Robert A. Goldwin and Art Kaufman, AEI Constitution Studies (1988).
12. Farrand, Records of the Federal Convention, Vol. 2, pp. 9 - 10; Wiecek, "'The Blessings of Liberty'".
13. A. Leon Higginbotham, Jr., Shades of Freedom: Racial Politics and Presumptions of the American Legal Process (1996); see chap. 6, "The Constitutional Language of Slavery." Higginbotham identified the five major clauses of the Constitution that protected slavery. Paul Finkelman, Slavery and the Founders: Race and Liberty in the Age of Jefferson (1996); see chap. 1, "Making a Covenant with Death: Slavery and the Constitutional Convention." Finkelman identified and analyzed five major provisions that dealt directly with slavery and numerous others that indirectly protected the institution (see Slavery and the Founders and his article [p. 233] in this issue of Prologue). Both scholars cited William M. Wiecek, The Sources of Antislavery Constitutionalism in America, 1760 - 1848 (1977). Wiecek covers all the provisions that dealt with the institution and slave trade. In his "The Witch at the Christening: Slavery and the Constitution's Origins," The Framing and Ratification of the Constitution, ed. Leonard Levy and Dennis Mahoney (1987), he takes a strong stand by establishing the fact that the role of slavery at the Philadelphia Convention was central and not peripheral. Delegates wrote generous concessions to slavery into the Constitution that enhanced the political power of the slave states and protected slavery's future. Mary Frances Berry, Black Resistance— White Law: A History of Constitutional Racism in America (1971) certainly merits attention. Berry discusses the institutional racism embedded in law, and she analyzes what she believes to be constitutionally sanctioned violence against African American people.
14. Opinion Book, 1817 - 70, Registers of Letters Received, 1809 - 1863, Letters Received, 1808 - 70, General Records of the Department of Justice, RG 60, NARA. Between 1789 and 1817, no formal recordkeeping system existed in the office, and the new attorney general, William Wirt, had little precedent to address the legal issues confronting the government. When he took office in 1817, he immediately established a recordkeeping system to inform him of these matters. From that period until the end of the Civil War, the office maintained and recorded its dialogue with the chief executive, other governmental departments, and private citizens over the question of slavery. Maryellen Trautman, government document specialist, NARA library, brought to my attention two important publications: Official Opinions of the Attorneys General of the United States, J 1.5:1; and Digest of the Official Opinions of the Attorneys-General of the United States, J 1.6:881. These publications are in RG 287, Publications of the U.S. Government, under Department of Justice. There is a clear distinction between the Legal Opinions Book and the Official Opinions. The former represents the attorney general's legal views of questions posed to him, and he used his knowledge of the current laws. The Opinions Book is the register for the Letters Received. Official Opinions represents the recorded position of the government. Both publications specify the titles of the opinions and note the names and topics associated with slavery and the slave trade. The Supreme Court Case Papers, 1809 - ca. 1870, are miscellaneous records that are a part of the Attorney General's Office records. They became a part of the Attorney General's Office because cases before the Supreme Court in which the U.S. Government was a party to or had an interest in became the oversight of this office.
15. Leon H. Higginbotham, Jr., "Civil Rights in the Federal Courts: A Racial Perspective," The Federal Courts: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (1990), p. 15; Russell R. Wheeler, "The Judiciary Act of 1789: Politics and Principles," ibid., pp. 3 - 10; Finkelman, Slavery and the Founders, pp. 80 - 81.
For federal court records, see RG 21, Records of District Courts of the United States. Cases that pertain to slavery and the slave trade can be found among Admiralty and Prize Records; Bankruptcy Records; Equity Records; and Law and Appellate Records. For a listing of some of the major cases, see Paul Finkelman, Slavery and the Founders. He has also complied a list of the Supreme Court and lower court cases that pertain to slavery and the slave trade. This list is valuable for searching district and circuit courts cases because these records are arranged by name of case, case number, and geographical districts. Court cases will often have dockets, indexes, minutes, judgments and decrees, and case papers.
For records of the Supreme Court, see Records of the Supreme Court of the United States, RG 267. An article that deserves special attention regarding the Supreme Court and slavery is William M, Wiecek, "Slavery and Abolition Before the United States Supreme Court, 1820 - 1860," Journal of American History 65 (1978): 34 - 59.
16. Finkelman, Slavery and the Founders, p. 81.
17. Ibid., pp. 82 - 86; Wiecek, "The Witch at the Christening: Slavery and the Constitution's Origin," pp. 167 - 184. For the debates and discussions regarding the law, see The Annals of the Congress, 1793 - 1795, House of Representatives, 3rd Cong., 1st sess.; for congressional debate and discussion of the law's impact, see index entry for "Kidnapping Negroes" in Annals of the Congress, 1795 - 1797, House of Representatives, 4th Cong., 2nd sess. Using the Sessional Indexes to the Annals of the United States Congress is perhaps to best and easiest way to use the annals through the congressional sessions.
18. See Records of the Committee on Territories for the 31st Congress (31A-H22), Records of the U.S. Senate, RG 46; also Records of the Committee on the Judiciary for the 30th, 31st, and 33rd Congresses (30A-H8.1, 31A-H8.3, 33A-H7.1); 33A-H1.18, Records of the House of Representatives, RG 233. While Congress acted on the protection and restriction of slavery in the District of Columbia in 1850, it had established some precedents in earlier laws. See also the law of March 3, 1801, which provided for the delivery of fugitives from any state to the District of Columbia (The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, Vol. 2). Congress also passed a series of private laws for Edmund Burke (June 30, 1834) and John Carter of Georgetown (March 2, 1841), allowing them to bring their slaves to the District of Columbia, The Private Statutes at Large of the United States of America, Vol. 6. For reaction to the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, see Stanley W. Campbell, The Slave Catchers: Enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Law, 1850 - 1860 (1968), and James Oliver Horton and Lois Horton, In Hope of Liberty: Culture, Community, and Protest among Northern Free Blacks, 1700-1860 (1997).
19. Raymond W. Smock, "The Voice of the People: Untapped Social History in the Early Petitions to the House of Representatives, 1789 - 1817," presented at the Organization of American Historians, Washington, DC, Apr. 1, 1995. While historian of the House, Smock and his staff were in the process of examining petitions of the first fourteen Congresses for publication. There are two large series in the Records of the United States House of Representatives, RG 233, that contain documentation on slavery and the slave trade: Petitions and Memorials and Committee Papers and Reports. The records are arranged by congresses. Also see the General Records of the House of Representatives for Tabled Petitions and Memorials. The House tabled many slavery-related petitions and memorials through the 38th Congress (1863 - 1865). Consult the Guide to the Records of the United States House of Representatives at the National Archives, 1789 - 1989. See also chap. 13, "Public Health and Morality," Petition Histories and Nonlegislative Official Documents, Vol. 8 of Documentary History of the First Federal Congress, 1789 - 1791, ed. Kenneth R. Bowling, William C. DiGiacomantonio, Charlene B. Bickford (1998). Petitions would also come to the U.S. Presidents. Lincoln received several, including one from the Birmingham, England, Antislavery Society with 63,000 signatures on it. See Miscellaneous Petitions and Memorials, General Records of the Department of State, RG 59, NACP.
20. A. Leon Higginbotham, Jr., "Civil Rights in the Federal Courts: A Racial Perspective," paper read at the bicentennial of the federal courts, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, Nov. 3, 1989, in The Federal Courts: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow.
21. See Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, vols. 1 and 2, for the acts cited. The statutes are arranged by individual congress, session, and year. The March 22, 1794, act prohibited carrying on the slave trade from the United States to any foreign place or country; the May 10, 1800, act strengthened the March 22, 1794, act; the February 28, 1803, act prevented the introduction of certain persons into certain states; the March 2, 1807, act prohibited the importation of slaves into any port or place within the jurisdiction of the United States from and after the first of January 1808.
22. For an assessment on the rulings of various admiralty court cases for violation of these laws, see "An Act to prohibit the carrying on the Slave Trade from the United States to any foreign place or country," Statutes at Large, Vol. 1, chap. 11, pp. 347 - 349. These cases and their rulings reveal, through 1820, the restrictions and punishment for violation of the slave trading laws. The international slave trading cases that came before the Supreme Court are summarized in the Reports of Cases in the Supreme Court of the United States under the SuDoc number Ju6.8/1 and are a part of Publications of the United States Government, RG 287. Some of the cases are The Mary Ann, Vol. 8, p. 380; The Merino, Vol. 9, p. 391; The Emily and Caroline, Vol. 9, p. 381; The Antelope, Vol. 10, p. 66; The Josefa Segunda, Vol. 10, p. 312; The Plattsburgh, Vol. 10, p. 133.
23. Report of the Secretary of the Navy, 1830, pp. 211 - 218. See Navy Department, 1828 - 1947, SuDoc number N 1.1, RG 287, for the acts. The acts of March 3, 1819, and May 24, 1828, provided upward of $30,000, and some of the funds were targeted to assist the cost of housing and caring for recaptured Africans; Statutes at Large, Vol. 4. The American State Papers, Naval Affairs, vols. 1 - 4, provide detailed histories of the legislative and executive impact upon the U.S. Navy. Aloha South, Guide to Federal Archives Relating to Africa (1977), is the most comprehensive work that focuses on U.S. naval records and the navy's involvement with the African slave trade.
24. See Records of the United States Custom Services, 1745 - 1982, RG 36. The slave manifests are found in the series Records of Customhouses. Slave manifests for only four ports have been identified in these records: Philadelphia, Savannah, GA, Mobile, AL, and New Orleans. A systematic search of all manifests and other like records may identify some hidden slave manifests in the active and minor ports. Slave manifests were created when captured slavers came under the jurisdiction of the U.S. court districts.
25. For a description of the treaty, see Henry Steele Commager, Documents of American History, 9th ed., (1973), pp. 298 - 300. For a full discussion of the treaty, see Records of the Committee on Foreign Relations, 1816 - 1968, Treaty Files, 1789 - 1968, RG 46. Howard Jones, To the Webster-Ashburton Treaty: A Study in Anglo-American Relations, 1783 - 1843 (1977) provides an excellent examination of the complicated issues associated with the treaty including the two nations' agreements regarding the international slave trade. Warren S. Howard, American Slavers and the Federal Law, 1837 - 1862 (1963), argued that one of the real intents behind the treaty establishing the squadron was to place an American presence on the West Coast of Africa to search American vessels. British searches of American vessels had been a longstanding issue between the two nations. See Hugh G. Soulsby, The Right of Search and the Slave Trade in Anglo-American Relations, 1814 - 1862 (1933).
26. Most of the early scholarship (pre-1980) on the squadron viewed it as ineffectual. What is critical here is that the U.S. Navy captured slavers, and the cases that went through the courts were able to set restrictions on international slave trading and American citizens' participation in the trade. The most famous of such cases was the Amistad, but there were others. For a fine, critical assessment of the squadron, see Alan R. Booth, "The United States African Squadron, 1843 - 1861", Boston University Papers in African History 1 (1964). He viewed the squadron as ineffective because of domestic slavery politics and believed the squadron sought to build American commerce along the African coast. He made a salient point when he said, "America had the laws and the machinery to stop the slave trade; what it needed was the leaders who would use them," p. 109. In Booth's examination, the American secretaries of the navy were the responsible parties for the ineffectual performance of the African Squadron, p. 112. On the Amistad, see Appellate Case File No. 2161, United States v. The Amistad, 40 U.S. 518, Decided March 9, 1841, and Related Lower Court and Department of Justice Records (National Archives Microfilm Publication M2012, 1 roll). This is the most comprehensive collection of records that pertain to the capture of a slaving vessel. Also see Walter B. Hill, Jr. "Federal Historical Records on the Amistad Case," Journal of Blacks in Higher Education 18 (Winter 1997 - 1998). For Perry's letters, see Letter Books of Commodore Matthew C. Perry, 1843 - 1845 (National Archives Microfilm Publication 206, 1 roll); for letters of squadron leaders, see Letters Received by the Secretary of the Navy From Commanding Officers of Squadrons ("Squadron Letters"), 1841 - 1886 (National Archives Microfilm Publication 89, 300 rolls), both in Naval Records Collection of the Office of Naval Records and Library, RG 45, NARA. The letters are arranged by squadron. W.E.B. DuBois, The Suppression of the African Slave Trade to the United States of America, 1638 - 1870 (Harvard Historical Studies, No. 1: 1896) is perhaps the first full-length scholarly examination of the trade.
27. 3 Stat. L. 532, sec. 2 & 7.
28. 12 Stat. L. 531. For the Lyons-Seward Treaty of 1862, see William L. Mathieson, Great Britain and the Slave Trade, 1839 - 1865 (1929); Milne A. Taylor, "The Lyons-Seward Treaty of 1862," American Historical Review 38 (1932): 511 - 525; Richard Van Alstyne, "The British Right of Search and the African Slave Trade," Journal of Modern History 2 (1930): 37-47. Both Taylor and Van Alstyne contended that the right-of-search question had been a long-standing issue in the international slave trade debates between Great Britain and the United States, and the matter was not fully resolved until 1862.
29. The main series of records for researching General Records of the Department of State, RG 59, are the Central Files, 1789 - 1906. All correspondence is arranged by series and by date, and is available on microfilm. Please refer to the microfilm catalog Diplomatic Records (1986; also at www.archives.gov/publications/genealogy/microfilm-catalogs.html#diplomatic). See the series Diplomatic Instructions of the Department of State, 1801 - 1906 (National Archives Microfilm Publication M77, 175 rolls) and Notes to Foreign Legations in the United States from the Department of State (National Archives Microfilm Publication M99, 99 rolls); Consular Correspondence; and Domestic Letters of the Department of State (National Archives Microfilm Publication M40, 171 rolls) and Miscellaneous Letters of the Department of State, 1789 - 1906 (National Archives Microfilm Publication M179, 1,310 rolls). Records of the Foreign Service Posts of the Department of State, RG 84 complements RG 59. These are records created in the embassies around the world, and correspondence documents discussion about the slave trade with other nations. For a history of the secretaries, see the multivolume work The American Secretaries of State and Their Diplomacy, ed. Samuel Flagg Bemis (1958). David Brion David, The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Revolution 1770 - 1823, and Daniel P. Mannix, Black Cargoes (1962). An important article that provides valuable insight into the Department of State is Kinley J. Brauer, "The Slavery Problem in the Diplomacy of the American Civil War," Pacific Historical Review 46 (1977): 439 - 469. Brauer utilizes records from Secretary of State Seward to argue the government's position.
30. The congressional act of May 1820 (3 Stat. L. 600) declared the commerce piracy and requested the British government to concur. See Reports of the Cases in the Supreme Court of the United States, Vol. 10, pp. 1 - 5. See also Report of the Committee on the Suppression of the Slave Trade, 17A-C27.4, RG 233. In Aloha South, Guide to Federal Archives Relating to Africa, see index for "Slavery and Slave Trade." Its coverage and identification of federal sources is enormous and meticulously described. See Records of the Office of the Secretary of the Interior Relating to the Suppression of the African Slave Trade and Negro Colonization, 1854 - 1872 (National Archives Microfilm M160, rolls 1 - 10), Records of the Office of the Secretary of the Interior, RG 48.
31. Prior to 1861, the arrest and prosecution of person engaged in the importation of slaves had been the responsibility of U.S. marshals and district attorneys. See Records of U.S. Attorneys, Southern Judicial District of Alabama, 1824 - 1921, Records of U.S. Attorneys and Marshals, RG 118, National Archives and Records Administration - Southeast Region (Atlanta). The State, Navy, and War Departments had always been involved in the apprehension of slave traders, but the responsibilities of each had never been fully delineated; this act centralized these duties for the first time. The June 16, 1860, congressional act and this new policy, and a new secretary of the navy, had an immediate impact. Before the end of 1861, five slave vessels were seized and condemned, and four slave traders were convicted. See S. Exec. Doc., No. 1, 37th Cong., 2nd sess., serial 1117; for the June 16, 1860, law, see 12 Stat. L. 40 - 41.
32. On the government's efforts to establish a colonization plan under Lincoln, see April 16, 1862, 12 Stat. L. 378; July 16, 1862, 12 L. Stat. 582; and July 17, 1862, 12 Stat. L. 592 - 593. These laws provided appropriations to perform certain duties and gave the President authority to enter contracts with foreign governments for the resettlement of captured Africans. There is additional information regarding the suppression of the trade and colonization plans during this period in H. Exec. Doc. 28, 37th Cong., 3rd sess., serial 1161; H. Exec. Doc. 1, 38th Cong., 2nd sess., serial 1217; and S. Exec. Doc. 55, 39th Cong., 1st sess., serial 1238. For a view of Lincoln's interest in colonization, see Brauer, "The Slavery Problem in the Diplomacy of the Civil War," pp. 452 - 453, which contends that Lincoln's views of racial antagonism in postwar America fueled his desire to institute several colonization schemes.
33. By far the most detailed and comprehensive examination of federal records for the period 1861 - 1870 are the selected documents identified and published by the Freedmen and Southern Society Project based at the University of Maryland, College Park. Using federal records, the project documents the transition from slavery to freedom and the establishment of communities based on free labor. For federal documentation of the end of slavery, see Ira Berlin, et al., The Destruction of Slavery, series 1, Vol. 1 (1985). The literature on the cause of the war and the Lincoln administration is voluminous and reveals several historical revisions. For one of the best, most recent, and concise arguments, see James M. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (1988).
34. Records of the Board of Commissioners for the Emancipation of Slaves in the District of Columbia, 1862 - 1863 (National Archives Microfilm M520, 6 rolls), RG 217, NARA. See also Michael J. Kurtz, "Emancipation in the Federal City," Civil War History 24 (1978): 250 - 267. Kurtz's examination broke ground in the history of emancipation in the District. Ira Berlin et al., The Destruction of Slavery, series 1, Vol. 1, chap. 3.
35. In Records of the Civil War Special Agencies of the Treasury Department, RG 366, see series that pertain to the nine special agencies established throughout the Confederate states. For an excellent treatment of the Treasury Department's involvement with the Davis Bend Experiment, see Steven Joseph Ross, "Freed Soil, Freed Labor, Freed Men: John Eaton and the Davis Bend Experiment," Journal of Southern History 44 (May 1978): 213 - 221. Willie Lee Rose, Rehearsal For Reconstruction: The Port Royal Experiment (1964), remains the standard for this particular land experiment with former slaves. See also James T. Currie, "Benjamin Montgomery and the Davis Bend Colony," Prologue: Journal of the National Archives 10 (Spring 1978): 5 - 21 (reprinted in Prologue 25th anniversary issue (1994): 73 - 85.
36. See War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (1880 - 1901), series 1, Vol. 3, pp. 73 - 74, for Stanton's instructions to the commissioners. See also War of the Rebellion ser. 3, Vol. 3, pp. 430 - 454, for the preliminary report of June 1863, and ser. 3, Vol. 4, pp. 289 - 382, for the May 1864 final report. For testimonies of the commission, see file 328-0-1863, Letters Received, 1805 - 89, Records of the American Freedmen's Inquiry Commission, Records of the Adjutant General's Office, 1780's - 1917, RG 94, NAB. The preliminary and final reports and other records are part of the series.
37. See John Hope Franklin, The Emancipation Proclamation (1963) for an in-depth analysis of Lincoln's focus and intent. Ira Berlin, The Destruction of Slavery series 1, Vol. 1, and The Black Military Experience, series 2 (1982) provide an excellent examination of further governmental response after January 1863.
Walter B. Hill, Jr., is an archivist and subject specialist with the Textual Reference Division, National Archives and Records Administration. He has been with NARA since 1978 and has written and worked on numerous projects relative to African American history and federal records.
|Articles published in Prologue do not necessarily represent the views of NARA or of any other agency of the United States Government.|