Sections 8 through 10 of “An Act to prohibit the importation of slaves into any port or place within the jurisdiction of the United States, from and after the day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and eight” were designed to prevent illegal smuggling of slaves into the country. They did so by imposing restrictions and regulations on domestic transfers of slaves by ship.
The sections distinguished between “any ship or vessel of less burden than forty tons” (Section 8) and “any ship or vessel, of the burden of forty tons or more” (Sections 9 and 10). As to the former, Section 8 imposed a total ban on their transportation, “to any port or place whatsoever,” of “any negro, mulatto, or person of color” “for the purpose of selling . . . the same as a slave.” The Section did contain a proviso that specified that it was not otherwise illegal to transport persons of color within the United States:
And be it further enacted, That no captain [etc.] of any ship or vessel of less burden than forty tons shall . . . transport any negro, mulatto or person of color, to any port or place whatsoever, for the purpose of selling or disposing of the same as a slave . . .: Provided, however, That nothing in this section shall extend to prohibit the taking on board or transporting on any river or inland bay of the sea, within the jurisdiction of the United States, any negro, mulatto, or person of color, (not imported contrary to the provisions of this act) in any vessel or species of craft whatever.
Sections 9 and 10 imposed detailed reporting requirements on vessels of 40 tons or more “sailing coastwise from any port in the United States to any port or place within the jurisdiction of the same, having on board any negro, mulatto or person of color, for the purpose of transporting them to be sold or disposed of as slaves.”
Before departing, the captain of any such vessel was required to fill out, in duplicate, a manifest describing each such slave in detail. He was to deliver the duplicate manifests to the port official, together with his sworn statement and that of the shipper that, to the best of their knowledge, none of the slaves had been illegally imported. The port official certified the manifests, keeping one and returning the other to the captain with a permit “specifying thereon the number, names, and general description of such persons, and authorizing him to proceed to the port of his destination."
When he arrived at his destination, the captain was obligated, before discharging any of the slaves, to deliver the certified manifest to the port official, and swear or affirm to its truth. If satisfied, the port official would issue to the captain a permit authorizing the “unlading” of the slaves.