Virginia had fully one-third of the entire slave population of the Union within her borders in 1787, enabled by the British crown and New England slave traders – and despite her protests to cease importation. Georgia originally banned slaves under James Oglethorpe but British avarice eventually overcame his vision of a free colony. No flags of the American Confederacy were observed flying over those slave ships.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org
An Infernal Traffic Originating in Avarice
“The supreme opportunity for suppressing the importation of slaves and thus hastening the day of emancipation came with the adoption of the Federal Constitution. [With] every increase in the number of slaves [imported] the difficulties and dangers of emancipation were multiplied. The hope of emancipation rested in stopping their further importation and dispersing throughout the land those who had already found a home in our midst.
To put an end to “this pernicious traffic” was therefore the supreme duty of the hour, but despite Virginia’s protests and appeals the foreign slave trade was legalized by the Federal Constitution for an additional period of twenty years.
The nation knew not the day of its visitation – with blinded eye and reckless hand it sowed the dragon’s teeth from which have sprung the conditions and problems which even to-day tax the thought and conscience of the American people.
The action of the [constitutional] convention is declared by Mr. Fiske, to have been “a bargain between New England and the far South.”
“New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Connecticut,” he adds, “consented to the prolonging of the foreign slave trade for twenty years, or until 1808; and in return South Carolina and Georgia consented to the clause empowering Congress to pass Navigation Acts and otherwise regulate commerce by a simple majority of votes.”
Continuing, Mr. Fiske says, “This compromise was carried against the sturdy opposition o Virginia.” George Mason spoke the sentiments of the Mother-Commonwealth when in a speech against this provision of the constitution, which reads like prophecy and judgment, he said:
“This infernal traffic originated in the avarice of British merchants. The British Government constantly checked the attempts of Virginia to put a stop to it. The present question concerns, not the importing States alone, but the whole Union . . . Maryland and Virginia, he said, had already prohibited the importation of slaves expressly. North Carolina had done the same in substance. All this would be in vain if South Carolina and Georgia were at liberty to import.
The Western people are already calling out for slaves for their new lands; and will fill that country with slaves if they can be got through South Carolina and Georgia.
Slavery discourages arts and manufactures. The poor despise labor when performed by slaves. They prevent the emigration of whites, who really enrich and strengthen a country. They produce the most pernicious effect on manners. Every master of slaves is born a petty tyrant. They bring the judgment of Heaven on a country. As nations cannot be rewarded or punished in the next world, they must be in this. By an inevitable chain of cause and events, Providence punishes National sins by National calamities.
He lamented that some of our Eastern [New England] brethren had, from a lust of gain, embarked in this nefarious traffic.”
“But these prophetic words of George Mason,” adds Mr. Fiske, “were powerless against the combination of New England and the far South. Governor Randolph and Mr. Madison earnestly supported their colleague . . . and the latter asserting: “Twenty years will produce all the mischief that can be apprehended from the liberty to import slaves. So long a term will be more dishonorable to the American character than to say nothing about it in the constitution.
Thus it was by the votes of New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, and against the votes of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Virginia, that the slave trade was legalized by the National Government for the period from 1787 to 1808.”
(Virginia’s Attitude Toward Slavery and Secession, Beverly B. Mumford, L.H. Jenkins, 1909, pp. 29-31)