Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Slavery and the Commerce Power

Slavery and the Commerce Power: How the Struggle Against the Interstate Slave Trade Led to the Civil War

Copyright Date: 2006
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 240
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Slavery and the Commerce Power
    Book Description:

    Despite the United States' ban on slave importation in 1808, profitable interstate slave trading continued. The nineteenth century's great cotton boom required vast human labor to bring new lands under cultivation, and many thousands of slaves were torn from their families and sold across state lines in distant markets. Shocked by the cruelty and extent of this practice, abolitionists called upon the federal government to exercise its constitutional authority over interstate commerce and outlaw the interstate selling of slaves. This groundbreaking book is the first to tell the complex story of the decades-long debate and legal battle over federal regulation of the slave trade.David Lightner explores a wide range of constitutional, social, and political issues that absorbed antebellum America. He revises accepted interpretations of various historical figures, including James Madison, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Abraham Lincoln, and he argues convincingly that southern anxiety over the threat to the interstate slave trade was a key precipitant to the secession of the South and the Civil War.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-13516-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. 1 A Continual Torment
    (pp. 1-15)

    each of them has an entirely different relationship to the traffic in human beings. The first vignette portrays a victim of the traffic, the second a beneficiary of it, and the third an outsider who only looked on uneasily.

    The furious boy who slashed at the bubbles and blossoms was John Parker. In making the long trek from the upper South down to the booming Gulf states, he followed a path that was trod by hundreds of thousands of other enslaved boys and girls and men and women during the antebellum decades of the nineteenth century. At the end of...

  5. 2 This Blind Mysterious Form of Words
    (pp. 16-36)

    Opponents of slavery argued throughout the antebellum period that Congress possessed the power under the Constitution to abolish the interstate slave trade. The idea horrified defenders of slavery, who denied that the framers of the Constitution had vested Congress with any such authority. It is therefore important to explore the origins of the relevant clauses in the Constitution drawn up at Philadelphia in 1787 and in that way seek to answer the question that was so fiercely debated after the Constitution had gone into effect: Did the founders intend to give to Congress the constitutional authority to regulate or even...

  6. 3 Are They Not the Lord’s Enemies?
    (pp. 37-64)

    For many years following the adoption of the Constitution, the question of federal control over the interstate slave trade did not arise. In 1790 the first Congress pondered what it might do about slavery, but nobody suggested that it could attack domestic slave trafficking. In 1798 there was a vigorous congressional debate about the meaning of the 1808 clause, yet remarkably even then no one suggested that the clause empowered Congress to interfere with the interstate slave trade. There may have been isolated individuals here and there who glimpsed the potential of the federal commerce power as a mechanism for...

  7. 4 Different Opinions at Different Times
    (pp. 65-89)

    The excitement engendered by the Missouri Debates had scarcely subsided before the South confronted a new menace to the slave trade, as the United States Supreme Court, in the case ofGibbons v. Ogden,contemplated for the first time the meaning of the interstate commerce clause of the Constitution. But neither then nor at any other time did the Supreme Court ever issue a definitive ruling on whether Congress could use its authority over commerce to suppress the domestic slave trade. Because no act of Congress ever attempted to ban the slave trade, there was no occasion to test the...

  8. 5 The Door to the Slave Bastille
    (pp. 90-112)

    On New Year’s Day 1831 William Lloyd Garrison published the first issue of his new paperThe Liberator.It was the beginning of an organized, militant movement against slavery that was unlike anything America had ever seen before. “I am aware,” Garrison wrote, “that many object to the severity of my language; but is there not cause for severity? Iwillbe as harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice. On this subject, I do not wish to think, or speak, or write, with moderation. . . . I am in earnest—I will not equivocate—I will not...

  9. 6 Little Will Remain to Be Done Except to Sing Te Deum
    (pp. 113-139)

    By 1840 the stage was set for a vigorous political assault upon the interstate slave trade. For a time such an assault occurred. But then everything changed. Instead of increasing in importance, the slave trade issue received less and less attention from antislavery politicians, as the Liberty men of 1840 and 1844 gave way to the Free-Soilers of 1848 and 1852, and then to the Republicans of 1856 and 1860. What is the explanation for this curious waning of an issue that had seemed to offer the avenue for a devastating blow against slavery within the confines of the American...

  10. 7 Great and Terrible Realities
    (pp. 140-164)

    While historians once described the Civil War as arising from a clash over states’ rights and the failure of politicians to compromise their differences in the national interest, such a view is no longer tenable. Implicit in the now discarded interpretation was the assumption that African Americans were marginal to American history and their fate of little consequence. Given that assumption, it followed that antebellum politicians should have made whatever deal was necessary in order to achieve sectional reconciliation. The fact that any such deal necessarily would have included a guarantee that southern slavery might continue indefinitely was glossed over...

  11. 8 The Friction and Abrasion of War
    (pp. 165-180)

    On 12 April 1861 the governor of South Carolina ordered shore batteries in Charleston harbor to open fire on the federal forces occupying Fort Sumter. After thirty-four hours of bombardment, the Stars and Stripes were lowered and the fort surrendered. In response, Abraham Lincoln declared that an insurrection existed and called for 75,000 volunteers to defend the integrity of the nation. Once Lincoln had made it clear that he intended to suppress secession by force of arms, four more southern states—Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina—seceded and joined the Confederacy. Four slave states remained within the Union, but...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 181-219)
  13. Index
    (pp. 220-228)