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The American slave-trade by John Randolph Spears - PDF (1907)

The American slave-trade; an account of its origin, growth, and suppression

The American slave-trade
The American slave trade by John Randolph Spears 


This history of the American slave trade grew out of a study of the history of the American navy. The navy was in a way connected with the slave trade, but the subject was so large that only the briefest mention of what the navy did on the slave coast could be made in "The History of Our Navy." 

The discovery that our naval ships, in forces ranging from a single schooner to a frigate squadron, had cruised on the coast of Africa at intervals during a period of nearly forty years for the proclaimed purpose of suppressing the slave-trade without accomplish- ing so much as a restriction of it, determined me to give the subject a separate consideration. "What I have gathered I have set down here as well as I could. 

As it seems to me, the facts form the most remarkable story known to the history of commercial enterprises. Consider, for instance, the origin of the trade. It was established because of the sincere pity of a tender-hearted and most praiseworthy priest for an outraged people. No other trade ever had such an exalted origin, and yet the cruelties and horrors of it far surpass those described in any other branch of history. 
The soldiers who have looted cities, the pirates who have made passengers and sailors walk the plank, and the religious zealots who have burned their opponents at the stake, were more merciful than the slave traders. Further than that, no trade ever paid such large returns on the investments. More remarkable still, the trade at one time made some who followed it heroes, but at last degraded all who were connected with it beyond the power of words to describe. 

But now that I have written out the facts, 1 am bound to say, here in advance, and to repeat further on, that the intrinsic evil in the slave-trade was not found in the slaughter of the helpless during the raids in Africa or the horrors of the middle passage or the brutality of planters who deliberately worked their slaves to death as a matter of business policy; nor was it in all of these combined. I cannot say all that is in my thought, but it is a fact that the slave trade and the plantations might have been carried on profitably without any cruelty whatever to the slave. 

It is a matter of knowledge among people now living that many planters promoted the physical comforts and added to the mental pleasures of their slaves, while here and there a ship was found to make the middle passage without losing a WW. 

The horrors of the trade that cried aloud to heaven for more than three hundred years were merely the grosser natural outgrowths of the root evil in it. Nor is that all. If we look at the story with a judicial mind (and it is necessary, though difficult, to do so) we shall find that the ills brought on the dominant race by the slave trade and slavery are more to be deplored than those inflicted upon the manifestly oppressed negro. 


At first thought, it may seem a story to make an American ashamed of his country. Certainly, the power of the slave-ship owner in national politics before the civil war was something that makes us marvel now. From the enactment of the law that made the slave-trade piracy until Abraham Lincoln became President the policy of pretense that prevailed in connection with the slave trade was infinitely dis- graceful to the nation. But when all the facts are fairly considered, it is found that we were steadily developing, under adverse circumstances, a love of exact Justice. We washed away our shame, at last, with unstinted blood, and then a time came when our people took up arms to give liberty even to an alien race. 

The history of the slavery days is worth considering if only that it may be contrasted with the history of the end of the Nineteenth Century. This book has been written almost wholly from public documents, biographies, stories of travelers, and other sources of the original information. I am under especial obligations to the work of Professor Du Bois on the suppression of the slave trade for its full lists of references, and to Mr. A. S. Clark, without whose knowledge of the book trade I should have been unable to complete my collection of authorities.

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