Was the South Guilty of Perpetuating the African Slave Trade?
With the short-lived exception of Georgia and South Carolina, no Southern colony or State was ever a willing participant in the slave trade, which traffic most Southerners viewed with abhorrence. The English Crown was the leader in the trade throughout the Eighteenth Century, it having been declared by Parliament in 1749 "to be very advantageous to Great Britain, and necessary for supplying the plantations and colonies thereunto belonging with a sufficient number of negroes at reasonable rates." On the other hand, the colonial legislature of Virginia attempted on several occasions to stem the importation of Africans only to be consistently overruled by King George III, who refused to assent to any law "by which the importation of slaves should be in any respect prohibited or obstructed." Not long after declaring her independence, the fledgling State of Virginia, under the governorship of Patrick Henry, became the first political community in the civilized modern world to legislate against the slave trade. In the Act For Preventing the Farther Importation of Slaves of 5 October 1778, it was declared that "no slave or slaves shall hereafter be imported into this Commonwealth by sea or land, nor shall any slaves so imported be bought or sold by any person whatsoever." The penalty provided for violation of this law was the forfeiture of "one thousand pounds for every slave so imported," and "five hundred pounds for every slave so bought or sold." It was further provided that "every slave imported into this Commonwealth, contrary to the true intent and meaning of this act, shall, upon such importation, become free."