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tendom to decree the abolition of the trade, and that it should cease definitively, on the part of the French government, in the course of five years. The ministers of the principal European powers who met in congress at Vienna, on the 8th February, 1815, solemnly declared, in the face of Eu. rope and the world, that the African slave trade had been regarded by just and enlightened men, in all ages, as repugpant to the principles of humanity and of universal morality, and that the public voice in all civilized countries demanded that it should be suppressed; and that the universal abolition of it was conformable to the spirit of the age, and the generous principles of the allied powers. In March, 1815, the emperor Napoleon decreed that the slave trade should be abolished; but this effort of ephemeral power was afterwards held to be null and void, as being the act of an usurper; and in July following, Lewis XVIII. gave directions that this odious and wicked traffic should from that present time cease.
The first French decree, however, that was made public, abolishing the trade, was of the date of the 8th January, 1817, and that was only a partial and modified decree. In December, 1817, the Spanish government prohibited the purchase of slaves on any part of the coast of Africa, after the 31st of May, 1820; and in January, 1818, the Portuguese government made the like prohibition as to the purchase of slaves on any part of the coast of Africa north of the equator. In 1821, there was not a flag of any
European state, which could legally cover this traffic, to the north of the equator ; and yet, in 1825, the importation of slaves covertly continued, if it was not openly countenanced, from the Rio de Plata to the Amazon, and through the whole American Archipelago."
a Report of a Committee of the House of Representatives of the United States, February 16th, 1825. See also, the Q. Revieu, No. 68. and No. 89. p. 243—246. in which it appears, from a reference
The case of the Amedie was the earliest decision in the English courts on the great question touching the legality of the slave trade, on general principles of international law. That was the case of an American vessel, employed in carrying slaves from the coast of Africa to a Spanish colony. She was captured by an English cruiser, and the vessel and cargo were condemned to the captors, in a vice-admiralty court in the West Indies, and, on appeal to the Court of Appeals in England, the judgment was affirmed. Sir Wm. Grant, who pronounced the opinion of the court, observed, that the slave trade being abolished by both England and the United States, the court was authorized to assert, that the trade, abstractedly speaking, could not have a legitimate existence, and was, prima facie, illegal, upon principles of universal law. The claimant, to entitle him to restitution, must show affirmatively a right of property under the municipal laws of his own country; for, if it be unprotected by his own municipal law, he can have no right of property in human beings carried as his slaves, for such a claim is contrary to the principles of justice and humanity. The Fortuna, was condemned on the authority of the Amedie, and the same opinion was again affirmed. But in the subsequent case of the Diana," the doctrine was not carried so far as to hold the trade itself to be piracy, or a crime against the law of nations. A Swedish vessel was taken by a British cruiser on the coast of Africa, engaged in carrying slaves from Africa to a Swedish island in the West Indies, and she was restored to the owner, on the ground that Sweden had not then prohibited the trade, and had tolerated it in practice. England had abolished the trade as unjust and criminal, but she claimed no right of enforcing that prohibition against the subjects of those states which had not adopted the same opinion; and England did not mean to set herself up as the legislator, and custos morum, for the whole world, or presume to interfere with the commercial regulations of other states. The principle of the case of the Amedie was, that where the municipal law of the country to which the parties belonged had prohibited the trade, English tribunals would hold it to be illegal, upon general principles of justice and humanity, but they would respect the property of persons engaged in it under the sanction of the laws of their own country.
to various documents, that the African slave trade was carried on to an enormous extent down to the year 1830. The trade was principally between Africa and Brazil and Cuba. In 1828, 45,000 African slaves were imported into the city of Rio Janeiro. But by a convention between England and Brazil, in 1826, it was made piratical for the subjects of Brazil to be engaged in the trade after the year 1830 ; and it is understood that the government of Brazil, in 1831, not only put a stop by law to the importation of slaves, but declared that all slaves thereafter imported should be free, and imposed a heavy assessment on the importers, and provided for the transportation of
negroes back to Africa. a 1 Acton's Rep. 240. bi Dodson, 81.
The doctrine of these cases is, that the slave trade, abstractedly speaking, is immoral and unjust, and it is illegal, when declared so by treaty, or municipal law; but that it is not piratical or illegal by the common law of nations, because, if it were so, every claim founded on the trade would at once be rejected every where, and in every court, on that ground alone.
The whole subject underwent further, and a most full, elaborate, and profound discussion, in the case of the Le Louis. A French vessel, owned and documented as a French vessel, was captured by a British armed force on the coast of Africa, after resistance made to a demand to visit and search. She was carried into Sierra Leone, and condemned by a court of vice-admiralty, for being concerned in the slave trade contrary to the French law. On appeal to the British High Court of Admiralty, the question respecting the legality of the capture and condemnation was argued, and it was judicially decided, that the right of visitation and search, on the high seas, did not exist in time of peace. If it belonged to one nation, it equally belonged to all, and would lead to gigantic mischief, and universal war. Other nations had refused to accede to the English proposal of a reciprocal right of search in the African seas, and it would require an express convention to give the right of search in time of peace. The slave trade, though unjust, and condemned by the statute law of England, was not piracy, nor was it a crime by the universal law of nations. To make it piracy, or such a crime, it must have been so considered and treated in practice by all civilized states, or made so by virtue of a general convention. On the contrary, it had been carried on by all nations, even by Great Britain herself, until within a few years, and was then carried on by Spain and Portugal, and not absolutely prohibited by France. It was, therefore, not a criminal traffic by the law of nations; and every nation, independent of treaty, retained a legal right to carry it on. No one nation had a right to force the way to the liberation of Africa, by trampling on the independence of other states; or to procure an eminent good by means that were unlawful; or to press forward to a great principle, by breaking through other great principles that stood in the way. The condemnation of the French vessel at Sierra Leone was, therefore, reversed; and the penalties imposed by the French law, (if any there were,) were left to be enforced, not in an English, but in a French court.
a 1 Dodson, 95.
6 2 Dodson, 210.
The same subject was brought into discussion in the K. B. in 1820, in Madrazo v. Willes. The court held, that the British statutes against the slave trade, were only applicable to British subjects, and only rendered the slave trade unlawful when carried on by them. The British parliament could not prevent the subjects of other states from carrying on the trade out of the limits of the British dominions. If a ship be acting contrary to the general law of nations, she is thereby subject to condemnation ; but it is impossible to say that the slave trade was contrary to the general law of nations. It was, until lately, carried on by all the nations of Europe; and a practice so sanctioned can only be rendered illegal, on the principles of international law, by the consent of all the powers. Many states bad so consented, but others had not, and the cases had gone no further than to establish the rule, that ships belonging to countries that had prohibited the trade, were liable to capture and condemnation, if found engaged in it.
a 3 Barnewall & Alderson, 353,
The final decision of the question in this country, has been the same as in the case of the Le Louis. In the case of the La Jeune Eugenie," it was decided in the Circuit Court of the United States, in Massachusetts, aster a masterly discussion, that the slave trade was prohibited by universal law. But, subsequently, in the case of the Antelope," the Supreme Court of the United States declared that the slave trade had been sanctioned, in modern times, by the laws of all nations who possessed distant colonies; and a trade could not be considered as contrary to the law of nations, which had been authorized and protected by the usages and laws of all commercial nations. It was not piracy, except so far as it was made so by the treaties or statutes of the nation to which the party belonged. It might still be lawfully carried on by the subjects of those nations who have not prohibited it by municipal acts or treaties.
a 2 Mason, 409.
b 10 Wheaton, 66.