• Last updated on November 11, 2022

While acknowledging that the slave trade was contrary to principles of natural justice, the Supreme Court nevertheless recognized the authority of sovereign nations to enact laws allowing the practice.

Pirates seized a Spanish vessel, The Antelope, carrying a large cargo of African slaves. A U.S. naval ship subsequently captured the ship with its cargo and took it to Savannah, Georgia. Spanish and Portuguese slave traders sued to have their property restored. Because Congress had outlawed U.S. participation in the slave trade in 1808, many jurists argued that the captured slaves should be repatriated to Africa.SlaveryNatural law;Antelope, The[Antelope]International law;Antelope, The[Antelope]Slavery

Chief Justice John Marshall’sMarshall, John;Antelope, The[Antelope] opinion for the Supreme Court had three parts. First, the “abhorrent” trade in slaves was indeed “contrary to the law of nature”; however, the trade, long accepted throughout the world, was not condemned by the positive law of nations. Second, the United States had no power to impose its laws on other countries; therefore, a ship captured in a time of peace must be restored with its cargo. Third, based on the evidence for the claims of ownership, some of the slaves were returned to the Spanish claimants, and the remainder were repatriated to the American Colonization Society’s colony in Liberia.[case]Antelope, The[Antelope]

Cooley v. Board of Wardens of the Port of Philadelphia

Johnson and Graham’s Lessee v. McIntosh

Natural law

Slavery

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