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After its demise was announced in the Constitution, after its official prohibition on March 2, 1807, after decades of illicit trafficking that could bring death to the "pirates," the international slave trade still had much support among some southerners. They viewed it as a necessity and agitated for making it legal once again.

The reopening was first advocated in 1839 in the New Orleans Courier, but the campaign to make that wish a reality started in earnest in the early 1850s. Within a few years, the cry for the revival of the transatlantic slave trade had reached the Southern Commercial Conventions, the Houses of Representatives, and the Congress of the United States and had come to dominate the southern discourse.

Among its most outspoken advocates were Leonidas W. Spratt of the Charleston Standard; Robert Barnwell Rhett of the Charleston Mercury; James Hopkins Adams, governor of South Carolina; William Lowndes Yancey, a former U.S. senator from Alabama; and James De Bow, the influential editor of De Bow's Review. Mississippi senator Jefferson Davis was all for it but only in Texas and the western territories; he was firmly against the introduction of Africans into his own state, where the enslaved population was large enough, he asserted, although it was not well distributed.

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