Kicking the Abolition Can Down the Road…

Today in History, March 2, 1807:

The US Congress passes a law abolishing the transatlantic slave trade in the US, “An Act to prohibit the importation of slaves into any port or place within the jurisdiction of the United States, from and after the first day of January, in the year of our Lord, One Thousand Eight Hundred and Eight.”

Congress began the habit of “kicking the can down the road” from the very beginning. When the Constitution was ratified, a clause was included that prohibited any laws affecting slavery for 20 years, or 1808.

The clause was included to ensure that southern states would sign off on the union.

By 1794 abolitionist groups were already forming to push for action once the time was up; in 1805 Senator Stephen Row Bradley of Vermont announced his intention to present the bill described here, and did so. The British also outlawed the slave trade in 1807.

However the importation of slaves continued in Central and South America, especially in Brazil where it had begun, until 1860 (officially).

Even this step by US lawmakers was a bit of a cynical compromise…the South signed off on the new law easily because they had enough slaves already in the country that they didn’t feel they needed to import them anymore.