HC Deb 06 March 1807 vol 9 cc59-62

The house, on the motion of lord Howick, resolved itself into a committee on the Slave Trade Abolition bill.

Sir Charles Pole

opposed the measure, not, he observed, with a view to the consideration of any individual interests, but as an object of the utmost national importance. About the year 1780, there were 15,000 persons destroyed by a hurricane in Jamaica; in case of such an event taking place again, it would be found impossible to uphold the state of property in the islands, without importation. On the other hand, if the trade was not permitted by parliament to be continued, it would be found almost impossible to prevent smuggling; or even if we did compleatly abandon the trade, it would be immediately taken up by the enemy, who would increase and strengthen his navy by those means, and we might soon expect to see the downfall of the British empire. At least he thought it might be expedient to give the planters time to add to their number of female slaves, as a probable means of laying the foundation for a better supply in future. He therefore moved, that instead of May, 1807, the words May, 1812, should be inserted, as the time for the commencement of the operation of the bill.

Mr. Ward

contended that our colonies would neither be injured nor ruined by the operation of the immediate abolition, but that on the contrary they would be benefited thereby. The disproportion between births and deaths had been for several Years declining in Jamaica. And the beneficial operation of this measure would leave the effect of reducing that disproportion still more. Besides, the population would be kept up by the kind treatment, which it would then be the interest of the planters to extend to their negroes. He should prefer the rejection of the whole measure to voting for the extension of its commencement for five years, which would be only a com- promise of their consciences, and a disappointment of the wishes of the people.

Sir Philip Francis

argued in favour of the bill. He maintained, that the abolition, so far from being injurous to the navy of this country, would be advantageous to our maritime strength, by preserving our seamen from the mortality which took place in the prosecution of that trade. If it were to be only a question respecting the navy of this country and the navy of France, he should not have any objection that the whole of the French navy should be employed in that trade; and he was convinced that our navy would maintain its superiority, while that of the enemy would be reduced still lower than it was at present. Nothing tended so much to the calamities that had ruined St. Domingo, as the unlimited power that individuals had of increasing the disproportion between the black and the white population. This bill would extinguish that power, and, therefore, secure the tranquillity of the British colonies.

Mr. Fuller

would be extremely glad to hear by what regulations the hon. member's father (Mr. Ward) kept up the population on his estate in Jamaica, and there could not be the smallest doubt of all the other planters being extremely obliged to him, and most cheerfully following his example; He had heard something of its local situation, preventing the negroes from mixing with those on the estates adjoining; their habits were different, and that might in some measure account for the difference in the maintenance of the population on that particular estate. He cautioned gentlemen, however, against being led away by false notions of popularity and humanity. Those who were planter themselves might easily raise a clamour against the cruelty of the planters, &c., but he would have gentlemen to recollect that the West Indies had been the support of the country for many years, both as to seamen and revenue. We might as well say, Oh, we will not have our chimney swept, because it is a little troublesome to the boy, as that we should give up the benefit of the West Indies on account of the supposed hardships of the negro.

General Vyse

vindicated the character of the planters for humanity; but supported the bill most strenuously, on the ground that there was a most shameful abuse of the authority delegated by them.

Sir T. Turton

observed. that if the mea- sure of French iniquity was not yet full, we should surrender up to them this guilty trade, that we might acquit ourselves of any further charge as to this heinous offence; whilst it might complete the catalogue of our enemies' crimes, we, at the same time, might hope to have taken one great step towards averting the wrath of Heaven from us.

Mr. H. Addington

supported the amendment; but at the same time recommended that a parliamentary commission should be sent out to every island in the West Indies, and that parliament might afterwards lay very high duties on the importation of slaves into every island where the traffic was found to be still carried on.

Mr. Whitbread

thought it would be a most tedious and impotent measure to wait until we had the report of as many of the commissioners as might chance to reach home with the report, and then leave the measure in a great degree to the discretion of the governors of the different islands. But there was one point which he thought to be particularly worthy of notice; the council for the planters had acknowledged at the bar of the house of lords, that it was intended to have several new pieces of land cultivated, for which a fresh supply of slaves was wanted; and there was another point to which he thought it necessary to advert; did the gallant admiral opposite suppose that we, as christians, could hope, when visited by the wrath of Heaven, as he had stated, with a hurricane, could we then hope for a blessing from the Almighty by setting off to Africa to rob and murder in order to recruit our stock?

Mr. Rose

entered into a detail of the various proceedings of parliament, and the opinion of the most eminent public men for a century past as to this trade. He concluded by observing, that his late right hon. friend (Mr Pitt) was in his heart a most sincere abolitionist, as well as himself, though there was some difference of opinion between them as to the best means of carrying that principle into execution.

Lord H. Petty

opposed any further delay; he contended that the authorities cited by the right hon. gent. were not conclusive; on speculative truths the most clear and in-Controvertible, there had been in all ages men of probity and wisdom who had their own peculiar and exclusive sentiments. In the parliaments of France how long was it a subject of discussion, whether torture should be sanctioned or not? And yet could there be at this day found a man in civilized Europe who would profess hinself an advocate of torture?—so would it be with the slave trade. As to the necessity of delaying its abolition, what had been said? They set out, said the noble lord, with the proposition that the slave trade is inhuman and unjust, and then they propose to prolong that system of injustice, and continue five years more the practice of that inhumanity.

Mr. Canning

took a view of the subject in three different relations, with respect to Africa, the slave merchants, and the slaves themselves; the arguments advanced by the hon. baronet (sir C. Pole) appeared to him to have been completely overturned by the statement of facts advanced by the gallant general in support of them; he was decidedly for the most speedy abolition of so disgraceful a traffic.

Mr. Bathurst

thought the immediate abolition of the trade imposible.

Mr. Barham

was of a contrary opinion, and thought that the measure, to be effectual, must be speedy.

Mr. Perceval

warmly contended for the necessity of immediate abolition.—The question being loudly called for, the committee divided.

For the immediate abolition 175
Against it 17
Majority 158