Today in history, on March 2 1807, President Thomas Jefferson signed an Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves, effectively abolishing the international slave trade.

Having long condemned the slave trade as an unjust institution forced on the colonies by Great Britain, Jefferson made a scathing attack on this policy in his original draft of the Declaration of Independence. His fierce denunciation against the international slave trade was eventually edited out of the document by the Second Continental Congress, but his position on the issue was unmistakable.

During his second term in office, Jefferson had the opportunity to bring his leanings to fruition. Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution allowed Congress to ban the international slave trade after a period of 20 years. In his annual message to Congress in 1806, Jefferson used the opportunity to urge Congress to criminalize the international slave trade at the soonest opportunity:

“I congratulate you, fellow-citizens, on the approach of the 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 been so long 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.”

Congress did just that, and in 1807 responded accordingly, readying legislation for the moment it could be constitutionally enacted. Although most of the states by this point had already independently banned the trade in their own states, the act represented a positive step forward for human liberty.

Dave Benner

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