restricted access Slave Smuggling by Foreign Privateers: The Illegal Slave Trade and the Geopolitics of the Early Republic

The article examines the slave smuggling done by French and Spanish American privateers operating along U.S. shores in the 1810s. The illegal, post-1808 slave trade has received significant attention, with historians broadly agreed that the law failed to end the trade. Current explanations focus on the domestic pressures and interests that prevented effective enforcement of the law, such as the demand for slaves, the political strength of southern legislators, and the malfeasance of law enforcementThe slave smuggling carried out by privateers, however, demonstrates the importance of conditions external to the United States. Attempts to abolish the slave trade coincided with the Napoleonic Wars, the War of 1812, and the Latin American Wars of Independence. The fog of these wars, waged near American waters, gave foreign privateers ample opportunity to introduce new slaves to the country by taking advantage of loopholes in the law and weaknesses in foreign policy.Based principally on federal court records, the article describes how foreign privateers smuggled slaves, how the United States responded, and why slave smuggling declined. Altogether, the article argues for the importance of international developments in the persistence of the foreign slave trade.