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  • Print publication year: 2019
  • Online publication date: January 2019

2 - Containing a Moral Contagion, 1822–1829


This chapter examines the first legal and diplomatic challenges to the South Carolina Seamen Act. It examines three court cases. In the first case, South Carolina’s highest court upheld the Seamen Act as a valid enactment of state power, while in the second, a federal court judge declared in dicta that the Seamen Act violated the Constitution’s Commerce Clause. A local court in Charleston heard the third case and ruled against the possibility of black citizenship. These three cases left the Seamen Acts in legal limbo. This convoluted legal development occurred in the context of political wrangling between British diplomats and the US State Department in Washington. When federal pressure persuaded local officials to “let the law sleep,” an extralegal, civic organization comprising prominent planters forced the law back into operation.

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