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.
Chief Justice John Marshall’s
Cooley v. Board of Wardens of the Port of Philadelphia
Johnson and Graham’s Lessee v. McIntosh