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The Act of 1820

by Welcome to Harlem

5/15/1820: U.S. Congress declares the foreign slave trade an act of piracy, punishable by death on this day.  The Act of 1820 was the final statute to regulate the trade was passed in 1820, with the unlikely title “An Act to continue in force ‘An act to protect the commerce of the United States, and to punish the crime of piracy,’ and also to make further provisions for punishing the crime of piracy.” The key element of the law were two sections declaring that any American citizen engaging in the African slave trade “shall be adjudged a pirate; and on conviction thereof before the circuit court of the United States for the district wherein he shall be brought or found, shall suffer death.”  Nathaniel Gordon was the only American slave trader to be tried, convicted, and executed “for being engaged in the Slave Trade” under this law. He was hanged in New York on February 21, 1862.


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