Slave trade compromise is one of the compromises accepted by American states’ delegates during the constitutional convention in Philadelphia in 1787. It stated that Congress has no right to ban the slave trade until 1800, subsequently extended until 1808. At the same time, the compromise provisions allowed Congress to levy an import tax of $10 for each slave.


Slave trade compromise is one of the compromises accepted by representatives of 12 American states at a constitutional convention in Philadelphia in 1787. During the discussion, delegates from the states of the north and south were to discuss and review provisions of the Articles of Confederation. States had different concerns and often opposing positions on several issues, and therefore had to reach compromises on specific points.

Slavery and the slave trade were among those issues on which the southern and northern states’ representatives had different perspectives. At that time, the slave trade and the importation of new slaves into America were economic foundations of the southern states. Many delegates spoke in favor of the total abolition of slavery, as it was inconsistent with the high ideals of the Declaration of Independence. It stated that the right to freedom was an inalienable right of everyone.

Nevertheless, the southern states, that had benefited from slavery, categorically disagreed with that condition. Georgia and the two Carolinas stated that they would leave the Union if the Constitution prohibited the slave trade. The special committee then developed a corresponding compromise, which was that Congress had no right to ban the slave trade until 1800. Following the voting of the convention, the term was extended until 1808. At the same time, the compromise provisions allowed Congress to levy an import tax of $10 for each slave.

Slave trade compromise was a forced measure for the northern states, which needed to preserve the political integrity and organizational capacity of the Union. Moreover, the constitutional convention also adopted a number of other compromises that related to public administration, voting, commerce, and legislative powers of Congress. Delegates were interested in the balance and equality of interests between north and south.

The southern delegates, in turn, agreed to revoke a clause under which federal authorities could not pass legislation requiring goods to be transported on U.S. ships, which was very beneficial to northern sailors and shipbuilders. Thus, the states of the north not only maintained the Union through a slave trade compromise but also gained some benefits. The southern states, for their part, had expected this compromise to be a step towards the full legalization of slavery and the slave trade.

In addition to it, the Constitution was also introduced with a fugitive slave clause requiring the northern states to deport runaway slaves back to the south. It bears mentioning that before this provision was adopted, slaves who escaped from their owners to the states of the north were often not extradited to southerners. Thus, although the Constitution document did not contain the word slave, slavery was enshrined and protected by law. Even the import tax on slaves confirmed their status as movable property.

It should be noted that the slave trade compromise only forbade Congress to abolish slavery at the federal level. However, the implementation of such reforms at the state level remained within their authority. Several northern states abolished the slave trade soon after the Philadelphia convention. In addition, Congress applied measures against the slave trade, which were not prohibited by compromise.

Over time, it banned citizens of the United States from trading slaves with foreign countries and from building ships designed for the slave trade. Eventually, in 1807, President Thomas Jefferson signed a law recognizing the importation of slaves from outside America’s borders as illegal. Thus, the plans of the southern slave owners to gradually legalize the slave trade have not been realized, and the United States has embarked on a course towards the total abolition of slavery.