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Collection Reference Number GLC00515
From Archive Folder Documents Relating to 1803 
Title Circular letter about an act to protect U.S. seamen
Date 9 April 1803
Author Madison, James (1751-1836)  
Document Type Pamphlet
Content Description Printed circular letter, labeled "Duplicate" at top, regarding an act to further protect American seamen. Mentions the slave trade. Addressed to Thomas Aborn, Commercial Agent of the U.S. at Cayenne. Signed in type by Thomas Jefferson as president and Aaron Burr as vice president.
Subjects President  Law  Government and Civics  Navy  Maritime  African American History  Slavery  Impressment  Global History and Civics  War of 1812  Embargo  
People Madison, James (1751-1836)  Burr, Aaron (1756-1836)  Jefferson, Thomas (1743-1826)  
Place written Washington, D.C.
Theme The Presidency; Law; Naval & Maritime; African Americans; Slavery & Abolition; Foreign Affairs; War of 1812
Sub-collection The Gilder Lehrman Collection, 1493-1859
Additional Information Signer of the U.S. Constitution. It is a striking historical irony that some slaveholders were at the forefront of efforts to suppress the African slave trade. While partly reflecting humanitarian motives, efforts to restrict the slave trade also expressed a variety of other economic and political interests. For example, in 1774, the First Continental Congress prohibited the importation of slaves into the United States and banned American participation as a way of asserting the colonists' economic independence and attaching the moral stigma of slavery to Britain. In 1787, South Carolina temporarily prohibited the slave trade in order to prevent debtors from purchasing slaves rather than repaying creditors. Some Virginians feared that continued imports threatened to reduce their slaves' value and diminish the profitable export of Virginia's surplus slaves to the Deep South and West. The invention of the cotton gin in 1792 had stimulated demand for slaves to raise short-staple cotton. By 1825, field hands, who brought $500 apiece in 1794, were worth $1500. James Madison, who was serving as Secretary of State at the time he wrote this letter, regarded the African slave trade as America's original sin, but anticipated horrendous upheavals if slaves were emancipated.
Copyright The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History
Module Settlement, Commerce, Revolution and Reform: 1493-1859
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