Washington, D.C. April 20, 1857. p., docketed on verso, "Orders from Com. Conover, July 19th, '57 enclosing a letter from Mr. Cass to Mr. Toucey." Marked "Copy" at head of letter. Original horizontal folds, minor spotting. Very good plus. Item #3339
Following the Slave Importation Act of 1807, which forbade further importation of slaves into the United States, the U.S. Navy waged a generally unsuccessful campaign to interrupt the Transatlantic Slave Trade off the west coast of Africa. The recipient of the present letter, Isaac Toucey, Secretary of the Navy from March 1857 to March 1861, was an advocate of slavery as an institution and therefore no great foe of the slave trade, though he was duty bound to suppress it. The author of the letter, Lewis Cass, lost the presidential election of 1848 largely because of his support for popular sovereignty in the struggle to determine whether new U.S. territories would allow slavery or not. At the time he wrote this letter, Cass was serving as Secretary of State under President James Buchanan.
In the present letter, Cass passes along information from a dispatch written by a U.S. commercial agent at St. Paul de Loando on the west African coast, which contains particularly damning evidence that American vessels have continued to take slaves from Africa. The dispatch reads: "The slave trade on this coast is flourishing. It is said that five vessels have lately left with slaves. The Congo River and its Neighborhood have been the headquarters, and American gold is now quite plenty there, having been brought in vessels which clear from New York."
Apparently this copy of Cass's letter was carried to Commodore Conover, and subsequently sent by him to another vessel in his squadron. Conover enjoyed a long and distinguished career commanding the African Squadron, retiring as a Commodore.
A rare communication among high-ranking American officials directly involving the Transatlantic Slave Trade fifty years after it was outlawed in the United States.