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Primary Sources

The Suppression of the African Slave-Trade

Based on his Harvard University doctoral dissertation, The Suppression of the African Slave-Trade to the United States of America, 1638-1870 (1896) was Du Bois' first book. It was published in the Harvard Historical Studies as Volume No. 1 (NY: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1896). Suppression (SAST) received much comment, often generally favorable, and was widely cited in contemporary works from the scholarly and popular presses.

In the SAST's Ch. 12, "The Essentials in the Struggle", Du Bois expressed his understanding—honed during his German university studies (see the "Preface")—of the connection between scholarly inquiry into the truth (the primary goal) and the uses of scholar­ship for social justice; he wrote:
It behooves the United States. . .in the interest both of scientific truth and of future social reform, carefully to study such chapters of her history as that of the suppression of the slave-trade. The most obvious question which this study suggests is: How far in a State can a recognized moral wrong safely be compromised?
This web page is divided into sections containing links to online resources that pertain to:
* the primary text and related items, including Internet-accessible copies of the SAST in various formats;
* book reviews, notes, and notices by contemporaries of Du Bois;
* contemporary secondary sources from Du Bois' era that refer to the book or his related work, directly or indirectly;
* later secondary sources that refer to the SAST directly or indirectly; and
* related works with a bearing on some topic or issue raised in the SAST.
Robert W. Williams, Ph.D.  [Bio] 

LATEST LINK (As of 17 December 2015)
A Related Work
Posted below is an external link to the Ph.D. dissertation of Marlene Santin: From Moral Condemnation to Economic Strategies: Reframing the End of the British Transatlantic Slave Trade (McMaster University, Sociology, 2014).

The Suppression of the African Slave-Trade to the United States of America, 1638-1870 (NY: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1896) is readily and freely available at several web sites.
The 1896 edition is available at the Internet Archive (download page) or at Google Books (About-This-Book page)
The 1904 reprint is available at the Internet Archive (download page) or at Google Books (page for online viewing)
Project Gutenberg has the 1896 text in various formats (HTML, ascii, iso-8859-1 encoding)
The Hathi Trust Digital Library makes available for online viewing digital copies (page facismilies) of the original 1896 edition, as well as the 1904 and 1954 reprinted versions  [Search results]
"Apologia" was written by Du Bois and appended after the bibliography of the 1954 reprinting of Suppression (published by The Social Science Press). In this short piece DuBois reflected on his book from the perspective of fifty years later and from a more leftist theoretical stance.
The Credo online repository provides useful primary and some secondary sources on The Suppression of the African Slave-Trade. The Credo Online Repository is a database of the Du Bois Collection of materials that is housed at the University of Massachusetts Amherst library. One can search the Credo database for the book title: "Suppression of the African Slave-Trade". Or one can search for "slave trade". Note that only the metadata description is searchable (not the actual items themselves). I have related more details at my intra-site About page.
Credo (Special Collections and University Archives, W.E.B. Du Bois Library at the University of Massachusetts Amherst)
In Vol. 1, No. 1 of the American Historical Review (October 1895), within the "American" section that is itself within the "Notes and News" section, an anonymous author/compiler lists the completed dissertations that were pertinent to American history. Therein we find this anonymously written very brief notice: "At Harvard, W. E. B. DuBois, The Suppression of the African Slave Trade in the United States." [no italics in original; p.202 via Hathi Trust Digital Library; p.202 via Google Books]
Permanent link to Volume 1 at Hathi Trust Digital Library
Download page of Volume 1 at the Internet Archive
The Critic, a weekly New York based periodical, announced the publication of SAST in an anonymously penned notice within the "Notes" section of the issue dated October 24, 1896. The notice also contained a brief biographical sketch of Du Bois's life and education. It is presented here verbatim (including its capitalization of the word "Negro") and in its entirety:
    —Messrs. Longmans, Green & Co. are about to issue the first volume of a new series of historical works (Harvard Historical Studies), to be published under the direction of the Department of History in Harvard University, entitled "The Suppression of the African Slave Trade to the United States of America, 1638-1870," by William E. Burghardt Du Bois, a Negro, twenty-eight years of age, born at Great Barrington, Massachusetts. Mr. Du Bois was educated in the public schools of his home, at Fisk University, Nashville, Tenn., at Harvard University (A.B., '90; A.M., '91; Fellow, '91, '92; Ph.D., '95), and at the University of Berlin, being sent abroad for two years by the Trustees of the John F. Slater Fund, to study history and political science, in 1892-4. On his return he became Professor of Latin in Wilberforce University, Ohio, an African Methodist institution, and the oldest of schools for Negro youth. After two years' service there, he was appointed Assistant in Sociology in the University of Pennsylvania, to take charge of a special investigation into the condition of the Negro people of the city of Philadelphia, and has just entered upon his work in that place.
Note (Citation): Anonymous. "Notes" [Announcement of Du Bois, The Sup­pression of the African Slave Trade]. The Critic, No.766 (October 24, 1896): pp.251-252.
Start page of the notice within The Critic at Google Books
An anonymous note appeared in The Yale Review (November 1896) within the "Notes" section. The portion mentioning Du Bois's SAST is presented below verbatim and in its entirety:
    The History of the Negro in the United States receives much new light from two recent monographs. The first and more elaborate study is that of Dr. W. E. B. DuBois on "The Suppression of the African Slave Trade to the United States of America, 1638-1870," published by Longmans, Green & Co., as number one of the Harvard Historical Studies. So far as precision and thoroughness of method are concerned, this is by far the best historical treatment of the slave trade that has been written since Hüne's work in 1820. It is of course more limited in scope, and deals not with the rise but the suppression of the trade. Dr. DuBois's researches have been exhaustive and no pains have been spared to make the book convenient and useful. In addition to his narrative he has prepared a complete calendar of all the colonial and national legislation on the slave trade and a long list of "typical" slavery expeditions from 1619 to 1864.
[The note continues with a brief mention of Charles T. Hickok's The Negro in Ohio, 1802-1870 (1896) (Library of Congress bibliographic data)].
Note (Citation): Anonymous. "The History of the Negro in the United States" [Du Bois, "The Suppression of the African Slave Trade]. The Yale Review, v.5 (November 1896): 316.
The Note is viewable in the full issue of the periodical at Google Books
In Book Reviews: A Monthly Journal Devoted to New and Current Publications (from Macmillan and Co.) there appeared in the November 1896 issue an anonymously written notice in the section "Notes and Announcements" (v.4,n.7 at p.208). The publisher Longmans, Green & Co. was mentioned with regards to two book series, including the one in which the SAST was to be found. After noting the first series, the following notice was made:
 The same firm [Longmans, Green & Co.] will begin their Harvard Historical Studies, with The Suppression of the African Slave Trade to the United States of America, 1638-1870, by William E. Burghardt Du Bois, a colored [sic] graduate of Harvard, a student also at the University of Berlin, Professor of Latin at Wilberforce University, Ohio, etc. Mr. Du Bois is a native of Massachusetts.
Available online at the Hathi Trust Digital Library web site
[Search results page at Hathi Trust Digital Library]
Available at Google Books [Link may not open to page 208]
In The Review of Reviews (December 1896) DuBois's SAST was briefly mentioned within the anonymously written "Notes and Comments on Latest Books" section (v.14, n.6; pp.747-755). The following passage — actually a full paragraph — is excerpted from that longer section and is presented here verbatim:
    Not the least noteworthy thing in connection with the publication of the initial volume of the Harvard Historical Studies (Longmans) is the fact that the volume is the work of a negro.[sic] It is entitled The Suppression of the African Slave-Trade to the United States of America, and deals exhaustively with that subject in its historical relations. The author, Mr. William E. B. Du Bois, is a graduate and former Fellow of Harvard. The second volume in the same series is concerned with the contest over the ratification of the federal constitution in Massachusetts in 1787-88. The author is Samuel B. Harding, some time Morgan Fellow in Harvard University and now assistant professor of history in the University of Indiana. Both volumes are ideal publications of their class as regards typographical arrangement, indexing and bibliographical annotation. This new university series has made a promising start.  [p.748]
Available online at the Hathi Trust Digital Library web site
Available at Google Books [Link may not open to page 748]
The Nation published an anonymously written, favorable review of SAST in Vol.63, No.1644 (31 December 1896): pp.498-500.
The Atlantic Monthly (April 1897) published an anonymously written review of SAST within a larger essay, "Comment on Recent Books in American History" (pp.559-569). The reviewer wrote:
     This initial volume [of the Harvard Historical Studies] is entitled The Suppression of the African Slave Trade to the United States of America, 1638-1870, by W. E. Burghardt Du Bois, who is a professor in Wilberforce University, an institution devoted to the higher education of the colored race. Dr. Du Bois has shown good judgment in the choice of his subject, and has been most industrious in gathering and arranging his material; for though the substance of his monograph may be reached more succinctly in Lalor's Encyclopaedia of Political Science, he has given a very full array of authorities for all his facts, and has furnished a workmanlike chronological conspectus of colonial, state, national, and international legislation, and a good bibliography. All this apparatus looks well, and Dr. Du Bois has laid students under obligation to him, but his own reasoning and what we may call his hortatory application seem to disclose a lack of appreciation of the subject in its historical proportions.  [p.560]
 [Various details of the slave trade were recounted; the anonymous author concluded the review as follows:]
     [...] The fact, however, that this amendment [the 13th Amendment ending slavery] was not unanimous, being ratified by only thirty-one out of thirty-six States, and that the Fifteenth Amendment, which was the corollary of it, was ratified by only thirty out of thirty-seven States, shows that the opposition complained of by Dr. Du Bois in the thirteen original States still existed, and that the suppression of slavery and the slave-trade was not such a simple matter as he considers it. Perhaps that is what he means in his closing enigmatical remark: "The riddle of the Sphinx may be postponed, it may be evasively answered; some time it must be fully answered." We suspect he has failed in a satisfactory answer to the historical problem involved in his thesis by trying to isolate it too completely, not only from the institution of slavery and the interstate slave-trade, but frum those considerations of the development of ethics which lie at the basis of all final political action. It is not difficult to establish, for example, a chain of witnesses against African slavery, from Las Casas to Garrison, but it is quite another thing to demonstrate a common consciousness of the evil during the same period.  [pp.561-2]
Note 1 (Citation): Anonymous Review of Du Bois, The Suppression of the African Slave Trade. The Atlantic Monthly, vol.79, issue 474 (April 1897): 560-562.
 Note 2: "Colored" was not capitalized in the original text. Book titles were not italicized.
 Note 3: The multiple volumes of John Joseph Lalor (Editor), Cyclopaedia of Political Science, Political Economy, and of the Political History of the United States (various years, 1882-1893) can be accessed at Google Books.
Start page of the review in the full issue of the periodical at the website, Making of America, Cornell University Library (page images) . . .seq=0566;node=atla0079-4%3A16
Review's first page in the full issue of the periodical at Google Books . . .
Edward Channing and Albert Bushnell Hart in their Guide to the Study of American History (Boston: Ginn & Company, 1896) compiled numerous bibliographic sources that pertained to various periods and topics in U.S. history. SAST was listed in several topical areas:
   • "Colonial Social Institutions and Slavery" – p.315
   • "Slavery Questions under the Confederation, 1774-1787" – p.320,  p.321
   • "Territorial and Slavery Questions, 1789-1802" – p.337
Of note, Hart was DuBois' Harvard history professor and for whom these words from SAST were directed: "I desire to express my obligation to Dr. Albert Bushnell Hart, of Harvard University, at whose suggestion I began this work and by whose kind aid and encouragement I have brought it to a close...." []
Entire book available at Google Books
John Randolph Spears in his The American Slave-trade: An Account of Its Origin, Growth and Suppression (NY: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1900) acknowledged the usefulness of SAST for his own book:
    This book has been written almost wholly from public documents, biographies, stories of travellers, and other sources of original information. I am under especial obligations to the work of Professor Du Bois on the suppression of the slave-trade for its full lists of references.... [p.ix]
Page ix is viewable at Google Books
Two editions of Spears' American Slave-trade at the Internet Archive
Albert Anthony Giesecke in his American Commercial Legislation Before 1789 (1910) cited Du Bois in the section entitled "Import Duties on Negro Slaves." In Footnote 40 Giesecke wrote:
    40An excellent monograph, including this topic, is The Suppression of the African Slave-Trade to the United States of America, 1638-1870, by W. E. B. DuBois. See especially pp. 7-38, and appendix A. containing an outline of colonial and state legislation (1641-1787) on the importation of negro slaves.
Note 1 (Citation): Albert Anthony Giesecke. American Commercial Legislation Before 1789. University of Pennsylvania; NY: D. Appleton and Company, Agents, 1910.
Note 2: In the original text the book title is not italicized or formatted in any way, and "Negro" is not capitalized.
Note 3: Giesecke cited the SAST on other pages of his book: p.33, n.46; p.34, n.51; p.35, n.57; and p.36, n.58.
The entire book is available at the Internet Archive (download page)
The book is also available at Google Books (search results) . . .editions:qGv4VEJWgK0C
George Lavan wrote a review of the republished Supression (1954) by the Social Science Press. The review is entitled "DuBois's Early Study of the Slave Trade" and was published in the Fourth International, Vol.16, No.3 (Summer 1955): pp.105-106. Lavan discussed Du Bois's book from a materialist perspective, writing:
 [. . . .]
 In looking back over the writing of American history in the past half century, two names stand out: Charles A. Beard and W.E.B. DuBois. Certainly it is a unique and rewarding experience for the latter to witness the republishing of a work he wrote as a young man sixty years ago.
 The author, in this case, however, has done more. He has re-read this first labor of his life and written a critical appraisal of it. He notes, as have all subsequent critics, that the extensive and intensive research into source materials, on which the work is based, was well and scrupulously done. He criticizes the monographic method for the academic limitations it imposes. However, the main point of his "Apologia" is his "ignorance in the waning 19th Century of the significance of the work of Freud and Marx."
 The fact that despite this ignorance, which was the fault not of the author but of the universities of the time, this book is still a precious mine for the student is high tribute indeed to the aspiring young Ph.D.’s scholarship and honesty.
 Back in 1896 DuBois, in common with all other inheritors of the Abolitionist tradition, regarded the anti-slavery conflict as a clear example of a moral struggle. Moral enlightenment and progressive religion and democracy, according to this view, had been arrayed against the darker forces of cruelty, avarice and ethical benightedness.
 While in the course of his book, DuBois faithfully brings in the ethical aspects of the movements against the slave trade and notes here and there that greater moral awareness or courage at this or that point might have had happier results, this does not seriously interfere with the study. He had chosen a subject for investigation that by itself largely nullified all attempts at an idealist interpretation.
 His idealist points are forced into negative formulations for the most part: there was a lack of sufficient ethical force here, moral enlightenment had not spread sufficiently there, etc.
 For the transatlantic slave trade, outlawed in 1808 by Congress, continued without serious hindrance until the Civil War. In tracing the various debates, legislation, violations, defiances and court actions, the author furnishes a mass of economic and political material that enforces an impression on the reader more materialist than idealist.
 The study is extremely comprehensive. It begins with Great Britain securing the Asiento, the treaty monopoly with Spain for furnishing slaves to the New World. Then it traces the divergent interests of the colonists who, from fear of insurrections not moral principles, tried to limit the import of shaves, and the pressure of the British merchants and their government to continue the trade unabated.
 A masterful account of the conflict of interests among the colonies over the slave trade during the Revolution then follows. In his account of the compromise reached on this question in the drawing up of the US Constitution, DuBois briefly anticipates the treatment Beard was to give 16 years later in his landmark work An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States.
 [. . . .]
Frances J. Stafford, in his "Illegal Importations: Enforcement of the Slave Trade Laws along the Florida Coast, 1810-1828" utilized SAST as a documentary reference throughout his article (originally published in the Florida Historical Quarterly, 46:2 (October 1967)).
David Levering Lewis delivered the Keynote Address, entitled "Competing Agendas: Ending the Atlantic Slave Traffic" at the 2008 symposium "Abolition and the Road to Freedom" sponsored by the National Archives Experience (NAE web site). Lewis examined the pioneering significance of DuBois's SAST in the context of later scholarship on ending the slave trade. Lewis also mentioned DuBois's early paper "The Enforcement of the Slave-Trade Laws" (Annual Report of the American Historical Association, 1891 (1892): 161-174).
Lewis's Keynote Address at the NAE Symposium web site (~71K PDF file)
Paul Finkelman in "The American Suppression of the African Slave Trade: Lessons on Legal Change, Social Policy, and Legislation" (Akron Law Review, 2008-2009) examined the compromises made during the Constitutional Convention of 1787 and the internal debates over ending the slave trade. He especially focused on those who would profit from their ability to provide slaves domestically, such as pro-slavery groups in Virgina and Maryland. Finkelman also discussed the slave trade importation debates during the constitution's ratification process and the various pieces of legislation passed in the early-to-mid 19th century. He utilized DuBois' SAST for its documentary evidence.
(Finkelman's faculty page and his web site).
Full text of the article (Akron Law Review, 42:2 (2008-2009): pp.431-467) available online as a PDF file (about 380K)
C.L.R. James (1901-1989), like DuBois before him, sought to analyze the world-historical significance of those from Africa and of the African Diaspora. For example, James in several works examined the Haitian Revolution in more depth than DuBois's discussion in SAST (Ch.VII). In his "The Revolution and the Negro," James (writing as "J.R Johnson" in New International, Vol.V (December 1939): 339-343) analyzed the slave revolt and revolution on the island of San Domingo (San Domingue) in terms of its effects on the eventual abolition of slavery in France and England. James in this essay also studied other significant historical events, such as African Americans fighting in the U.S. Civil War, and suggested the future course of Black participation in revolutions against captialism.
Full text of C.L.R. James' "The Revolution and the Negro" is available at the C.L.R. James Archive
Marlene Santin entitled her Ph.D. dissertation in Sociology From Moral Condemnation to Economic Strategies: Reframing the End of the British Transatlantic Slave Trade (McMaster University, 2014). She mentioned Du Bois briefly in several places, considering his Suppression a "path breaking work" (p.5). We read in her abstract:
 Why did Great Britain abolish the transatlantic slave trade in 1807, after a nearly twenty-year social movement campaign to end it? This question still continues to puzzle scholars despite the vast amount of historical research conducted on the subject since the beginning of the twentieth century. In this dissertation, I use social movement theory and a two-tiered empirical approach to examine British slave trade abolition. Systematic qualitative and quantitative analyses of the legislative debates on the slave trade underscores the importance of abolitionists' rhetorical strategies and the economic utility of Britain's departure from the trade. A frame analysis of abolitionists' speeches made during the parliamentary debates suggests that a law to end the slave trade was passed when abolitionist MPs deliberately reframed their ideological campaign to include an increased number of economic pleas in their arguments. Drawing on key aspects of social movement theory, I examine the relationship between resource mobilization, cultural framing and opportunity structures (both political and non-political) and British abolition. My findings suggest that cultural, economic and political factors help to explain why the British slave trade was finally abolished.
Full text is available at the McMaster University Libraries Institutional Repository  [Catalog page]
The Abolition of The Slave Trade, a website created by the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture [home page], presents the arduous and persevering struggles to end the Atlantic slave trade. On the About This Site page we read:
 The Abolition of the Slave Trade presents more than 8,000 pages of original essays, primary documents—books, pamphlets, articles, and illustrations—as well as secondary sources and original maps. The site is organized around eight themes that tell the forgotten story of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade to the United States and, more generally, to the Western Hemisphere. Each theme is presented through an essay, images, and texts.
 The themes covered: U.S. Slave Trade; African Resistance; Abolitionism; U.S. Constitution and Acts; Celebrations; Illegal Slave Trade; Revival of Slave Trade; and Suppression. Du Bois' SAST is listed as a source on the U.S. Constitution and Acts' Essays: Regulating the Trade page, its Essays: Bibliography page, and its Texts page.
The Abolition of The Slave Trade web site
The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database is a multi-source archive that contains extensive information on slaving voyages that spanned from 1514 to 1866. The data range from ship records, estimates of the numbers of those transported, and the names of those enslaved as well as the particular voyage that brought them to the Americas. In addition, essays and maps provide background history. On the About the Project page we read:
 The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database is the culmination of several decades of independent and collaborative research by scholars drawing upon data in libraries and archives around the Atlantic world. The Voyages website itself is the product of two years of development by a multi-disciplinary team of historians, librarians, curriculum specialists, cartographers, computer programmers, and web designers, in consultation with scholars of the slave trade from universities in Europe, Africa, South America, and North America. The National Endowment for the Humanities is the principal sponsor of the project, and it is an Emory University Digital Library Research Initiative.
  A short video explaining the site can be found on Youtube.
The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database web site
Eric Williams (1911-1981) published Capitalism and Slavery in 1944. While his book is significant in its own right, it is interesting to observe the similarity between the conclusions reached by Williams in 1944 and DuBois in the 1954 reprinting of SAST. Williams provided several interrelated conclusions at the end of his work. For example,
 3. The political and moral ideas of the age are to be examined in the very closest relation to the economic development.
    Politics and morals in the abstract make no sense. We find the British statesmen and publicists defending slavery today, abusing slavery tomorrow, defending slavery the day after. Today they are imperialist, the next day anti-imperialist, and equally pro-imperialist a generation after. And always with the same vehemence. The defence or attack is always on the high moral or political plane. The thing defended or attacked is always something that you can touch and see, to be measured in pounds sterling or pounds avoirdupois, in dollars and cents, yards, feet and inches. This is not a crime. It is a fact. It is understandable at the time. But historians, writing a hundred years after, have no excuse for continuing to wrap the real interests in confusion.[Note removed] Even the great mass movements, and the anti-slavery mass movement was one of the greatest of these, show a curious affinity with the rise and development of new interests and the necessity of the destruction of the old.  [Ch.13: 211]
 Du Bois in his "Apologia"—an appendix added to the 1954 edition—wrote:
     What I needed was to add to my terribly conscientious search into the facts of the slave trade the clear concept of Marx on the class struggle for income and power, beneath which all considerations of right or morals were twisted or utterly crushed. Yet naturally it is too much to ask that I should have been as wise in 1896 as I think I am in 1954. I am proud to see that at the beginning of my career I made no more mistakes than apparently I did.
Full text of Capitalism and Slavery is available at the Internet Archive (in PDF and DjVu formats)
Mary Wills completed her Ph.D.dissertation on The Royal Navy and the Suppression of the Atlantic Slave Trade, c. 1807-1867: Antislavery, Empire and Identity in 2012 (University of Hull, History Department). Within her abstract she wrote:
 This thesis examines the Royal Navy's efforts to suppress the transatlantic slave trade between 1807 and the mid-1860s. The role of the West Africa squadron in detaining slave ships embarking from the West African coast was instrumental in the transformation of Britain's profile from a prolific slave trading nation to the principal emancipator of enslaved Africans. The wider framework for naval suppression encompassed international law, official policy and diplomacy, but at the operational frontline of the campaign were naval personnel. This history of suppression shifts the emphasis from political and diplomatic contexts to the experiences of naval officers tasked with the delivery of the anti-slavery message, positioning them at the heart of Britain's abolitionist campaign on the West African coast. Through officers' narratives and personal testimonies -- found in letters, journals, report books and diaries -- it examines the reactions, relations and encounters of these agents of change, and their contributions to the exchange of information crucial to Britain's anti-slavery efforts in West Africa.  [p.i]
 Du Bois is mentioned once on p.4,n15.
Full text is available at the Digital Repository of the University of Hull  [Catalog page]

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