The End of the Revival Movement

The agitation for the reopening of the transatlantic slave trade exposed regional, social, political, economic, and class fractures within the South. The National Era was elated: "Criminal as this effort to revive the slave trade is, we expect much good to result from it. It must necessarily divide the South, and give rise to issues between Southern men which may become fatal to the system of Slavery." The issue had made strange bedfellows, it asserted: "The large slaveholder, the commercial and manufacturing classes, and the men of integrity and humanity, will take sides against [it], which the demagogues, appealing to the masses, will demand, in the name of the species of equality which is implied in the motto, 'Every citizen a slaveholder.'"

In the end, the revival never took place. It was too divisive an issue at a time when the South, on the verge of secession, needed unity. The Confederacy also wanted support from Great Britain and France in its upcoming war with the Union, and its leaders understood that they would never get it if they did reopen the international slave trade.

In February 1861, Jefferson Davis became president of the Confederacy, and on March 11, the Constitution of the Confederate States of America stipulated in its article I, section IX, "The importation of negroes of the African race from any foreign country other than the slave-holding States or territories of the United States of America, is hereby forbidden."

Sylviane A. Diouf
Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture