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The Slave Trade in the District of Columbia: When DC was part of the South

The foreign slave trade (bringing new slaves into the United States from outside nations) was abolished by an Act of Congress in 1808. The domestic slave trade, meaning the sale of slaves from one area of the country to another, remained active and legal. Slave auctions in the nation’s capital were a moral affront to abolitionists and most Northerners. Other nations had abolished the institution of slavery—Britain in 1807, much of the remainder of Europe in the Congress of Vienna in 1815, and most Latin American nations in the years following independence from Spain. The Southerners were equally indignant. Slaves were property pure and simple. Many Southern Congressmen had brought their domestic slaves with them to their residences in Washington, D.C. and believed they were entitled to purchase additional slaves as needed. The Compromise of 1850 was achieved, in part, by terminating the sale of slaves in the District of Columbia, but allowing the institution of slavery to continue untouched.