In the first Congress under the United States Constitution, Josiah Parker of Virginia attempted to insert a clause in the Tariff Bill to levy a ten dollar tax on every slave brought into this country on foreign ships, and especially those of New England. Parker was supported in this by two other Virginians, Theodoric Bland and James Madison. In a March 1790 Virginia petition to Congress, the slave trade was denounced as “an outrageous violation of one of the most essential rights of human nature.”
In an unclean bargain to extend the slave trade until 1808, the commercial interests of New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Connecticut allied with South Carolina and Georgia rice planters – while Virginia strenuously protested. The slave traders of New England continued their nefarious traffic until the eve of the Civil War.
Virginia’s Efforts to Abolish the Slave Trade
“Despite Virginia’s failure to secure the immediate suppression of the foreign slave trade, her sons were active in their efforts to restrict its growth and at the earliest possible moment to drive the slave ships from the seas.
“ . . . James Madison [declared] . . . By expressing a national disapprobation of that trade it is hoped we may destroy it, and so save ourselves from reproaches and our posterity from the imbecility ever attendant on a country filled with slaves.”
In his message to Congress, at its session 1806-07, Mr. Jefferson, then President, brought to the attention of that body the fact that under the Constitution the time was at hand when the African slave trade could be abolished, and urged a speedy enactment of such a law. He said:
I congratulate you, fellow-citizens, on the approach of a period at which you may interpose your authority constitutionally to withdraw the citizens of the United States from all further participation in those violations of human rights which have so long been continued on the unoffending inhabitants of Africa, and which the morality, the reputation and the best interests of our country have long been eager to proscribe.”
[Later], In his message to Congress, December 5, 1810, President [James] Madison declares: “Among the commercial abuses still committed under the American flag . . . it appears that American citizens are instrumental in carrying on the traffic in enslaved Africans, equally in violation of the laws of humanity and in defiance of those of their own country.”
(Virginia’s Attitude Toward Slavery and Secession, Beverly Munford, L.H. Jenkins, 1909, excerpts pp. 33-35)