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

5 - “Foreign” Emissaries and Rights Discourse, 1842–1847


Congressional inaction in 1842 motivated two sets of “foreign emissaries” to craft new strategies to combat the Seamen Acts. One strategy was devised by the British consul in Charleston, who covertly lobbied state lawmakers in hopes of liberalizing the Seamen Act. Rather than focus on black citizenship, he instead requested black Britons be allowed to remain aboard their vessels. In effect, the British state sought to protect black bodies, but only by conceding to Southern officials that black Britons were not citizens and could be treated differently than white Britons. The second strategy was employed by “foreign” Massachusetts officials. The Bay State sent agents to New Orleans and Charleston for the explicit purpose of using the Privileges and Immunities Clause to bring the Seamen Acts before the federal courts.Unlike the British Foreign Office, Massachusetts explicitly sought a judicial remedy predicated on the citizenship rights of black people. However, local authorities in New Orleans and Charleston evicted the Massachusetts emissaries before any litigation commenced.

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