The squadron was an outgrowth of the 1819 treaty between the United States and the United Kingdom that was an early step in stopping the trade, and further defined by the Webster-Ashburton Treaty of 1842. Although technically coordinated with a British West Africa Squadron based in Sierra Leone, in practice the American contingent worked on its own. The squadron also lacked support from the Navy itself; Secretary of the Navy Abel Parker Upshur (1790-1844) was a Southerner and an extreme supporter of States rights and slavery, and assigned only a handful of ships mounting a total of 80 guns between them.
The squadron was generally ineffective, since the ships were too few, and since much of the trading activity had shifted to the Niger River delta area (present-day Nigeria), which was not being covered. In the two years of Perry's leadership, only one slaver was reported to be captured, and that ship was later acquitted by a New Orleans court. In the 16 years of squadron operation, only 19 slave ships went to trial. These slavers were acquitted or only lightly fined. Other commanders, however, were more successful.