Compromise of 1850 Provisions

Banning Slave Trade in Washington DC

As the nation’s capital moved from Philadelphia to Washington DC in 1800 more slaves were needed to build the infrastructure required for the new capital. Alexandria became one of the largest slave trade markets in the US with Franklin & Armfield becoming the largest slave trading companies in the country. The city became a depot for newly arrived slaves on their way to southern lands where their labor would be used in plantations.

DC and much of the north had more moderate slave codes than the south. Slaves could hire their time, live apart from their owners and they were allowed to go to school (segregated).

By the mid 1800s many abolitionists had settled in Washington and had an increasingly powerful voice in the government. They wanted to see slavery abolished if not in the entire country, starting with the District.

The last of the laws of the Compromise of 1850 prohibited the slave trade in DC but slave ownership would continue. This was not enough for abolitionist who wanted slavery banned altogether in the capital. Southerners would not accept a Union’s capital were slavery was illegal as it would set a precedent. They had to reach a compromise and it was in the middle, by banning the trade of slaves.

As a result of the outlaw in slave trade Alexandria, a city that flourished on slave trade, decided to separate from DC and joint the State of Virginia.

Transcription of the provision

Provisions to ban slave trade in the District of Columbia

Section 1

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That from and after the first day of January, eighteen hundred and fifty-one, it shall not be lawful to bring into the District of Columbia any slave whatever, for the purpose of being sold, or for the purpose of being placed in depot, to be subsequently transferred to any other State or place to be sold as merchandize. And if any slave shall be brought into the said District by its owner, or by the authority or consent of its owner, contrary to the provisions of this act, such slave shall thereupon become liberated and free.

Section 2

And be it further enacted, That it shall and may be lawful for each of the corporations of the cities of Washington and George- town, from time to time, and as often as may be necessary, to abate, break up, and abolish any depot or place of confinement of slaves brought into the said District as merchandize, contrary to the provisions of this act, by such appropriate means as may appear to either of the said corporations expedient and proper. And the same power is hereby vested in the Levy Court of Washington county, if any attempt shall be made, within its jurisdictional limits, to establish a depot or place of confinement for slaves brought into the said District as merchandize for sale contrary to this act.

APPROVED, September 20, 1850.