First Advisor

John J. Navin


On December 21, 1822, South Carolina's legislature passed the Negro Seamen's Act in response to the Denmark Vesey conspiracy, a slave uprising that was thwarted five months earlier in Charleston, South Carolina. The Negro Seamen's Act was designed to prevent the local slave population from revolting against the authorities. As a result free black sailors entering the port of Charleston were apprehended upon arrival to prevent them from spreading ideas of revolution and freedom to local slaves. Northern states and foreign nations whose seamen were imprisoned in Charleston jails without committing a crime were appalled. Attorney Benjamin Hunt stressed that South Carolina did have the power to pass such a law and that it was a power, "upon the exercise of which, her dearest and most vital interests depend -- That such a power is the rightful and inalienable attribute of a sovereign state -- That its exercise must depend upon the views of policy, and upon the individual discretion of the State -- which can alone, safely decide in matters, involving self-preservation." The question of constitutionality and states' rights surrounding this law drove a wedge between the free and slave states from its passage until the Civil War.



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