“‘A terror to others’: Thomas Jefferson’s Quiet Campaign Against the Slave Trade, 1801-1807,” Contextualizing Jefferson Colloquium with Andrew J. B. Fagal (Thomas Jefferson Papers) and Craig Hollander (College of New Jersey)


For the second installment in our new “Contextualizing Jefferson” Colloquium Series, Andrew J. B. Fagal, Associate Editor of The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, and College of New Jersey Associate Professor of History Craig Hollander will examine how the Jefferson administration, along with various other institutions acting under his direct orders, waged a victorious campaign against the international slave trade prior to 1808 through the enforcement of existing anti-slave trade legislation. The talk will be held via Zoom at 3:30pm on February 5, and interested parties can email Thomas Kane, KaneTC@missouri.edu, to be added to an email list of people who receive Zoom links for all Kinder Institute talks on the day of events.


On May 9, 1803, President Thomas Jefferson wrote to political ally Senator Christopher Ellery of Rhode Island to explain why he would not pardon a convicted slave trader. Despite a petition signed by what must have seemed every person of note in that state, the individual in question would have to serve at least two years in prison “as a terror to others meditating the same crime.”

Jefferson’s forceful condemnation of this enslaver was indicative of a larger campaign waged by his administration against the slave trade. This essay examines an understudied aspect of Jeffersonian governance in the early American republic: the ways in which the federal government acted to suppress the slave trade prior to 1808. Beginning in 1801, the Jefferson administration waged a vigorous campaign against the international slave trade by strictly enforcing anti-slave trading laws passed in 1794 and 1800. Additionally, the administration utilized an 1803 act that made it a federal crime to violate state laws prohibiting the slave trade and ramped up prosecutions in 1803, which eventually contributed to South Carolina reopening its trade in December 1803. This governance required the active participation of customs officers, revenue cutter captains, consuls, and U.S. district attorneys. Together, these institutions acting under direct orders from Jefferson were able to secure several important legal victories spanning the eastern seaboard from Massachusetts to Georgia.

The essay which this talk will provide an overview of utilizes sources from The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, The Papers of James Madison: Secretary of State Series, the microfilm collection of Albert Gallatin’s papers, various National Archives record groups, especially Record Group 21: the District Courts of the United States, and sundry other archival collections such as the Edward Livingston (Princeton University) and David Gelston (Mystic Seaport) papers.


Andrew J. B. Fagal is an associate editor with The Papers of Thomas Jefferson at Princeton University. He has served as an editor since 2014 and has participated in compiling volumes No. 42, onward. A political historian, he completed his Ph.D. in 2013 at Binghamton University, State University of New York, where he authored a dissertation on the political economy of war in the early republic under the supervision of Douglas Bradburn. Andrew’s peer-reviewed publications have appeared in New York HistoryThe New England Quarterly, and Enterprise & Society. Forthcoming articles on Thomas Jefferson and military technology will be appearing in the Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society and The Mariner’s Mirror.

Craig Hollander received his B.A. from Columbia University and his Ph.D. in 19th-century history from The Johns Hopkins University. He is currently Associate Professor of History at The College of New Jersey, where he came after serving as the Behrman Postdoctoral Fellow in Princeton’s Department of History. His dissertation, Against a Sea of Troubles: Slave Trade Suprressionism During the Early Republic, won the 2014 C. Vann Woodward Prize from the Southern Historical Association and the 2014 SHEAR Dissertation Prize. His manuscript is currently under contract to be published as part of University of Pennsylvania Press’ Early American Studies series. Prof. Hollander is the past recipient of the Alexander Butler Prize, the Hodson Fellowship in the Humanities, a Doris G. Quinn Fellowship, and the Barra Dissertation Fellowship from Penn’s McNeil Center for Early American Studies, among other awards and fellowships.