January 1st, 1808: Slave Importation Banned In US

Considering we spend a good deal of time focusing on legislation that protects consumers and/or (usually or) businesses, we thought it appropriate to point out one of the big historical moments of trade law, not to mention human rights—tomorrow marks the “200th anniversary of Jan. 1, 1808, when the importation of slaves into the United States was prohibited.” Hey, it didn’t stop the madness, but at least it was a start.

Eric Foner, a professor of history at Columbia University, argues in an Op-Ed piece that it was in fact this early shaping of the US slave-based economy that helped prevent an even more disastrous human rights scenario by the time the Civil War erupted:

[Without the ban,] it is plausible to assume that hundreds of thousands if not millions of Africans would have been brought into the country.

This most likely would have resulted in the “democratization” of slavery as prices fell and more and more whites could afford to purchase slaves, along with a further increase in Southern political power thanks to the Constitution’s three-fifths clause. These were the very reasons advanced by South Carolina’s political leaders when they tried, unsuccessfully, to reopen the African slave trade in the 1850s.

More slaves would also have meant heightened fear of revolt and ever more stringent controls on the slave population. It would have reinforced Southerners’ demands to annex to the United States areas suitable for plantation slavery in the Caribbean and Central America. Had the importation of slaves continued unchecked, the United States could well have become the hemispheric slave-based empire of which many Southerners dreamed.

Awww snap! Take that, dead Southerners of the 19th century! Y’all didn’t get your empire! Happy new year.

“Forgotten Step Toward Freedom” [New York Times]
(Photo: Getty)


Edit Your Comment

  1. forgottenpassword says:

    Now our slaves are predominantly in the western part of the US. SLaving in farmfields for pennies.

  2. cde says:

    That, or the US would have become like one giant Attica riot. In Attica, the prisoners outnumbered guards 5.8 to 1. Had slavery kept going at the same rate, salves would have outnumbered owners to such a degree that one small revolt would have had a domino effect, and whites would have no chance of fighting back, even with weapons.

    In that case, think Planet of the Apes :/

  3. JustRunTheDamnBallBillick. says:

    If you actually know history, this “Law” was largely BS at the time. The Southern states allowed this to pass because the slave population in America at the time was self-sustaining. Slave owners preferred slaves raised in this country, as they were better behaved, cheaper, and easier to train (Im not sure if this was true, but that was the opinion).

    True, prices went up, as they always do when supplies diminish, but this was a really a set-back to the anti-slavery movement, since the north had to give up a lot of things they wanted (no more expansion in to new territories…) to make this compromise.

  4. homerjay says:

    Wait, does that mean we can still export slaves? Finally a new revenue stream to rebound the economy!

  5. Parting says:

    Woo hoo! Now toys are made by children for children !!!

    And sex trade is flourishing in North America!

    Maybe there should be some better enforced modern laws…

  6. theWolf says:

    December 31, 2007: Slave trade still occurring in Africa.

  7. Kaix says:

    “tomorrow marks the “200th anniversary of Jan. 1, 1808” … gee, I thought it was the 203rd anniversary of Jan. 1, 1808.

  8. Juliekins says:

    @cde: Wow. I see what you did there.

  9. bohemian says:

    I ran into a guy in a nightclub last year who basically had his own slaves. He had three Asian girls working for him, they lived at his house, kept house and he pimped them out. He held their passports and claimed he was helping them get citizenship.

    Not a nightclub I willingly frequent for obvious reasons. The whole thing was just darn creepy.

  10. erica.blog says:

    “Take that, dead Southerners of the 19th century! Y’all didn’t get your empire!”…

    As a former northerner now living in the South, can I ask — PLEEEEEEEEEEEZE do not give them more reason to remember the “War of Northern Aggression” and give me dirty looks because of my accent…

  11. mantari says:

    “I’m glad that was have NAFTA, to save us from all that trade barrier sillyness…”

  12. humphrmi says:

    @erica.blog: yeah. We should all be quiet about slavery, because the southerners might get upset. We got that, coming right up.

  13. KJones says:

    1808: The end to INsourcing of cheap labour.

    Now if business would stop outsourcing it as well….

  14. vongarr says:

    Good thing all of those southerners don’t read consumer blogs, otherwise, they might get offended by all of them’s and they’s being thrown around. Since they were teh evil and all.

  15. bobpence says:

    @KJONES Ah yes, our addiction to cheap labor: African slaves until the Civil War, Chinese quasi-slaves to build the great railroads, now outsourcing and exploitation of illegal immigrants. It is not solely America’s addiction — on the immigration and assimilation front, see Europe for a much worse situation — but it has long been a fault that has led to many problems. Lincoln’s comments on the value of labor are among his best known outside the U.S., and least-cited within.

  16. cde says:

    @FitJulie: No Julie, I did not mean to make a racist comparison, I meant to make a Slaves outnumber Owners and revolt, to the detriment of the owners, and in Planet of the Apes, it cause the complete death of human civilization.

  17. timmus says:

    With many Americans being shackled by ridiculous amounts of debt, I see Mister Bank as being a slave owner. To escape that plantation you have to shun SUVs and plasma TVs, and not get into medical debt.

  18. Balisong says:

    @timmus: So I can’t get an SUV or plasma tv because my budget doesn’t warrant it, um…boo-hoo? I hope that was a slip and you really don’t have that super-America mindset.

  19. Rusted says:

    @timmus: Debt, shackles? Nah. Most people go into debt because they put themselves there. They didn’t have to borrow that money.

    Medical debt, though, it does happen. I owe five grand on my left eye. At least I still have it. I’ll pay that off soon enough. Need a single payer health system instead of this travesty in the US of A.

    @humphrmi: I lived near the Mason-Dixon Line. If I needed to cuss out a Southerner or a Yankee, I just looked in the mirror.

  20. ceejeemcbeegee is not here says:

    @timmus: How in the world do you avoid medical debt, when you have to use Medicare at 65?

  21. ceejeemcbeegee is not here says:

    @cde: Yeah, that was a poor choice in comparisons….

  22. youbastid says:

    I got two words for ya. Ron. Paul.


  23. youbastid says:

    Wow, so I said that, and then I read a number of truly retarded comments. I mean, really, really retarded.

    So one guy makes fun of someone else for saying people are at fault for being in debt, then says he understands because he’s in a whopping 5k of medical debt. Wow, 5K? What a hero. Really taking it on the chin (or the eye) for the rest of us.

    Then ANOTHER person blames stupidity on the reason there is most debt, and follows it up by saying medical debt does happen.

    Hey retards…remember when Bush passed that bankruptcy bill that screwed Americans, and you didn’t care because you thought, I’ll never go into bankruptcy? That only fucks over the assholes that shouldn’t have gotten into debt to begin with? The overwhelming majority of people that it screwed over were those with unpayable medical bills.

    @bohemian: Then THIS douchebag brings to light that he/she was witness to human trafficking, and the best they can do is bring it up on this website instead of calling the cops.

    I hate all of you. Happy New Year!

  24. youbastid says:

    My bad – the two people I referenced that were talking about medical debt were the same person.

    I truly enjoy the source material on this blog, but the commenters are becoming increasingly naive and ill-informed. It says something when consumerist cross posts from another blog, and the commenters there instantly hate it based on the fact that consumerist commenters are commenting there.

  25. @youbastid: I’ll have to pass, thank you.

  26. Andrew says:

    Don’t forget: the Bible says slavery is just super!

  27. cde says:

    @ceejeemcbeegee: Well, racism just didn’t pop into my head. The super dramatic ending where Caesar takes over and does his “The land will become a dead land, the sea a dead sea’ speech infront of a fire did. (Conquest of the Planet of the Apes) Besides, one of the goodguys in Conquest was black, and was directly mentioned as a descendent of slaves.

  28. GothamGal says:


    I totally understand this. As a Bostonian visiting North Carolina, they kept calling me Yankee like it was an insult. Being a Boston Red Sox fan, I was insulted!

    Hmmm, Yankee is a bit better than Racist Redneck.

  29. bohemian says:

    @youbastid: Your assuming I didn’t?

  30. Slvr says:

    CDE’s “Planet of the Apes” comment wasn’t racist, and in fact presents a more plausible scenario than one might think.

    It’s a fully understood truth that slaves received no formal education, had little to no operating knowledge of government or city management or infrastructure, and weren’t exactly exposed to democracy at its finest.

    Therefore, if the slave population had surpassed the slave-owner population so much so that they revolted, killing all of the slave-owners and leaving the country with only slaves, it would be a long, *long* time before the country returned to stability.

    It has nothing to do with skin color. Take any population denied its most basic rights and present them overnight with the chance to structure a government autonomously, and the time it takes to establish stability is very long. The same happened with former Soviet satellite nations, a few of the former British and French imperial states, and is still taking place in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    It’s a little off-putting that a few people called that racist without any additional thought. No one group is immune from the facts that apply to all humanity.

  31. trollkiller says:

    @cde: Don’t sweat the idiots. That was a fine comparison. Only those that have it ingrained in their own heads would equate apes and blacks. Kinda telling ain’t it?

  32. trollkiller says:

    @erica.blog: Thank you for giving the so called civil war the proper name.

  33. youbastid says:

    @bohemian: Well, did you? You implied not, as you insinuated that instead of calling the cops, you just don’t “willingly frequent” the place. Meaning you don’t go there, unless a friend holds a gun to your head and makes you go look at the human slavery.

  34. levenhopper says:

    Come on guys….it’s Jan 2nd now.

    I’m starting to go through Comsumerist withdrawl :(

  35. DallasDMD says:

    @Slvr: Right, Russia and Europe (WWI + WWII) is just like Africa. Not buying it.

  36. @ceejeemcbeegee: Wasn’t Planet of the Apes about racism? It came up in the article about the Wal-mart web site recommending the book for the MLK holiday.


    OK, I don’t know why the comments are gone but there are a couple here: [hello.typepad.com]

  37. Wormfather says:

    This law was BS, slaves were being transported well into the 1830s if not beyond. They just came in via the carribian. Pft.

  38. trollkiller says:

    An interesting note is the Constitution of the Confederate States of America barred the importation of African slaves from any foreign country EXCEPT the United States.

  39. Elviswasntmyhero says:

    Where’s the law to ban racism?

    A Christian nation my $%#@*!

  40. trollkiller says:

    @Elviswasntmyhero: I agree. Where’s the law to ban bleeding heart liberals, pornographers, homosexuals, abortions, and compulsory church attendance.

  41. nardo218 says:

    Meh. Children of slaves were still born into slavery.