This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

Sliding Under the Radar: The Illegal Slave Trade in the United States




Livingston, Michael

Type of Degree

Master's Thesis



Restriction Status


Restriction Type

Auburn University Users

Date Available



The Slave Importation Act of 1808 legally prohibited the transport enslaved persons from Africa but failed to prevent illegal smugglers from continuing to import slaves. Before 1808, the Atlantic Slave Trade had been a major part of America’s economic growth and westward expansion. The Act of 1808 was enacted as part of an agreement reached during the Constitutional Convention and to align American policy with changes in European policies. Between 1808 and 1860, the American legal system lacked the resources and desire to end the slave trade. Smugglers routinely outsmarted enforcement agents. The federal government’s lack of enforcement encouraged smugglers to violate American law. Federal court records demonstrate that American law enforcement struggled to enforce the Slave Importation Act of 1808. The Slave Importation Act of 1808 failed to eliminate America’s involvement in the African slave trade because government officials in Mobile ignored their federal duties for their financial gain.