The Act of 1818

In 1818 Congress passed an elaborate new act, technically an amendment to the 1807 law, but really more like a new statute. The new law tinkered with the penalties for various offenses. For example, the maximum fine for fitting out a ship was reduced to $5,000 and the jail time was reduced to no more than seven years. The reduction in penalties probably did not reflect any sense that the trade was less heinous. Rather, the original penalties were probably out of line with norms for punishments at the time. The most significant change in the law was the standard by which courts would judge those charged under the 1818 act. The new law shifted the burden of proof from the prosecution to the defendant. It required that defendant to "prove that the negro or mulatto, or person of colour, which he or they shall be charged with have being brought into the United States, or with purchasing ... was brought into the United States at least five years previous to the commencement of the prosecution." This section of the law created a statute of limitation of five years on the law banning the trade; but it also made prosecutions easier within those five years. Under this law, anyone in possession of an African-born slave might have to prove how he acquired him or her, demonstrating that person was in the United States at least five years before any prosecution. The "Africanness" of the individual would be prima facie evidence against an owner, to be rebutted only by contrary evidence the owner had to produce.