HC Deb 16 March 1807 vol 9 cc114-40
Lord H. Petty

moved the order of the day for the third reading of the Slave Trade Abolition bill.

Mr. Hibbert rose

and said:—I do not rise, sir, with the vain hope of changing, by any observations of mine, the determination which the house has expressed, in a manner so decided, upon this question, but rather with an anxious wish to record an opinion, grounded on consistent principles, and unaltered by any thing which I have heard upon a subject so interesting and important. In adherence to consistency, which, rather than popularity, is my object, I shall appear to differ more with the prevailing sentiment of the house than some of my hon. friends have done, who have yet united with me in opposition to this measure; for, after the concessions which they have made upon the points of legality, humanity, and justice, I do not see how we can sit down and deliberate Upon the policy and expediency of keeping open the trade; we fall, too, in so doing, under the censure of the hon. member for Bedford, (Mr. Whitbread) who thinks that in the debate we have "given too much into cool discussion." In which reprehension he includes, I presume, the noble lord (Howick) who introduced bill into the house, and. the noble lord (H. Petty) who sits upon the same bench, and who certainly did not, either of them, encourage that declamatory tone which has too much prevailed in this debate. The hon. member himself took care nut to copy their error, for he asked us whether it was necessary that we should prove that robbery and murder are unlawful? Certainly we need not trouble the hon. gent. for such proof, but if might have been as well if he had shewn how robbery and murder are to be prevented by this bill; in what. sense it is calculated to do good rather than mischief, to confer benefits adequate to the evils it inflicts, and the risques it imposes upon humanity. The hon. member has intimated a conjecture, that the crimes attendant upon the Slave Trade in the West Indies have provoked the judgments of God, and that the hurricanes to which those climates are subject ore the signals of his vengeance. Sir, these is much moral and physical evil in the world, but it is a bold and rash attempt in any mortal to impute that evil as a judgment of Providence upon the heads on which it may chance to fall. Where an individual perishes in the actual commission of a crime, we may be allowed to draw a profitable lesson from so striking an incident; but where calamities consistent with the course of nature extend themselves over large districts, and afflict persons of various descriptions, there is something peculiarly rash in pronouncing that the sufferers are the victims of divine justice. I am better acquainted with the history of Jamaica than with that of any other island in the West Indies. Jamaica has been for 20 years free from hurricanes, that period no way marked by a forbearance as to the purchase or labour of slaves In 4 years, nearly successive, hurricanes have visited that island, and have specially deso lated one of its districts—that district and those years not chargeable with any extraordinary concern with the slave trade. Those calamities have swept away large fleets of British ships returning from conquest over the enemies of their country, in nowise participating in the slave trade; and, what is still more worthy of remark, I do not find that any corresponding judgment has, at those periods, fallen upon British legislators and statesmen, the authors and promoters of the slave trade, who, as I shall shew, did not make their acts of parliament in ignorance, but knew well what they were doing; neither upon them, nor upon the nation whose affairs they administered, did such judgments attach; but, on the contrary, the era in which the slave trade was authorized and encouraged by the British legislature was one of distinguished prosperity in that country, one in inch she became the envy of the world.— Another observa- tion of the hon. gent. (Mr. Whitbread) I will just notice. "All has been assertion," he says, "on our side, against facts proved on theirs" I did not expect this remark from the hon. gent. or from those who vote with him on this subject; for I contend, on the contrary, that the main facts on which the question depends have been asserted over and over again on their side, and never proved. I allude more particularly to their assertions, that the wars, and cruelties, and miseries of Africa, are caused by, and dependant upon, the European resort thither for slaves: and here I will not merely oppose assertion to assertion, but challenge investigation, and ask them where, if the proof they alledge exists, that proof may be found? In their pamplets and publications, though again and again they assume it as proved, I cannot find it, nor does the proof lie in the documents which have been produced on your table. They pretend to value facts only, and to disregard opinions; but opinions are not, in all instances, to be disregarded, nor are the authorities in mar statute-book to be treated with disrespect. I do confess, sir, that when a right hon. gent. (Mr. G. Rose) on the other side, produced a detailed account not only of till the acts, but of the proceedings of parliament, with the opinions of committees of this house, so decidedly and so repeatedly expressed upon the subject of the slave trade, illustrating and explaining, as he read it, the characters of those who introduced and sanctioned those proceedings, I did think that the accumulated authority thus concentrated and brought into a focus, was calculated to make some impression upon this house, and particularly upon its junior members, who might thence be induced to doubt and hesitate at least, and not to remain so confident in opinion as to treat with disregard, nay almost with contempt, the sentiments and arguments of those who yet adhere, with a lingering attachment, to the monuments of the wisdom of our ancestors, to the deliberate judgment of men, with whom I will not say that I would rather sometimes go wrong than always right with others, but of whom I will say that their talents and virtues have not been exceeded by those of their successors. Sir, it is impossible that we can pretend, that upon this subject they legislated in ignorance. The abuses of the slave trade were more flagrant at its commencement than in its progress. It began on the part of the English with acts of violence and rapine. Of those acts it is well known that queen Elizabeth expressed her disapprobation; and in the year 1711, queen Anne, in recommending the subject to the attention of parliament, directs, that they shall enquire into the "nature of the trade." But are not the acts of parliament themselves, and their preambles, quite sufficient to prove that our ancestors were at variance with us in the first principles of the question? When they thought fit to encourage an "African slave trade," for the purpose of "supplying the West India colonies with slaves," was not this the whole of that proceeding, which we now pronounce to be ontrary to justice, humanity, and sound policy? Put the case merely thus, and say nothing of any circumstances not necessarily and indispensably connected either with the purchase of slaves in Africa, with their conveyance to the West Indies, or with their maintenance there as slaves on our plantations, and let me ask the young members who have heard the declamations which this debate has occasioned, whether here he not the sum and substance of that abominable crime which they are about to abolish? Our ancestors indeed distinguished betwixt the trade and its abuses: that they tolerated, these they reprobated; a sufficient proof of which is afforded by the act of 23 Geo. II. c. 31, which, in its preamble, authorises the trade and its application to the West Indies; but, in one of its provisions, enacts penalties upon its abuses— abuses which it pronounces to be "to the prejudice of the said trade." It is in vain then for us to say that we are not completely at issue with our ancestors upon this question, or that we know any thing which they did not know, when they gave repeated legal sanction to that which we seek to abolish.—There are also, sir, other opinions which I am inclined to treat with respect—opinions founded upon facts and observations made in the midst of those very scenes of disgust and horror, which it is the professed object of this bill to prevent: and again let me ask those who have attentively listened to the pathetic representations made in the course of this debate, whether they can conceive it possible that two persons, neither slave traders nor West India proprietors, but impartial, enquiring travellers, should penetrate into the interior of Africa, be witnesses of what is passing there, and of the condition of its inhabitants, and yet come away, the one doubting whether an abolition of the slave trade would answer any good purpose, the other expressly disapproving that measure? What! live and travel in Africa, and even doubt upon the subject? How is it possible? unless indeed it should prove that we at this distance from the scene are deceived by partial views of what, when regarded near and entire, wears another appearance, and produces another effect. Yet is it nevertheless true, that Bruce and Parke, their minds unprejudiced on the subject, or if biassed at all, experiencing a bias against the trade, have [...]eturned, the one from the East, the other from the west of the negro country; Parke intimating his doubts* whether the abolition of the trade would answer the views of its promoters; and Bruce, in the strongest terms, deprecating the measure.†—I have before mentioned, on the authority of Mr. Parke himself, that I believe his book to express, in this respect, his own sentiments, and not those of his editor, Mr. Bryan Edwards: and Mr. Edwards, sir, when he edited that book, was either an abolitionist, or at least wavering in his opinions. He was a man of much genius and ability; if his talents had been cultivated in another direction, he would probably have been an eminent poet or orator, but an orator, I think, rather excelling in the rhetorical than in the logical beauties of the art. He was, upon commercial subjects, and more particularly on the subject of the slave trade, of vacillating opinions; and the West India body, who always respected his abilities, could seldom depend upon the determinations of his judgement. When, in a former debate, I connected the statements of Parke with the comment with which Mr. Malthus has accompanied them, I expressly said (not knowing then that Mr. Malthus had published any opinion about the Slave Trade) that I was not able to say whether that gentleman was or was not a friend to abolition; but the principle he has advanced, and the reasoning he has introduced on this subject, remain unaltered; end when he states that the population of Africa is continually passing beyond the means of its subsistence, and that the condition of the negro nations will experience no amelioration until industry and security of property be introduced among them, these circumstances appear to me to bear strongly upon this question. I shall be told that industry and security of property cannot find their way into Africa until the Slave Trade be abolished; but those who look for an abo- * Parke's Travels, 4to p. 287, 298. † Bruce, 4to. vol. I. p. 3[...]2. lition of the Slave Trade in Africa by a British act of parliament, seem to me to shut their eyes upon the lessons of history and experience.—I will not travel over again the ground I have trodden. I have before stated my opinion, that the little information which we can glean of the state and condition of Africa, before the resort thither of Europeans for colonial labourers, has been either kept back or misrepresented in the publications of the abolitionists; and, when a right hon. gent. (Mr. Rose) alluded to what Leo Africanus relates to us concerning Negro Land, the hon. gent. (Mr. Wilberforce) who has interested himself so much in this question, appeared to me to promise us some comments upon the page of Leo. I shall not have an opportunity of observing upon what may fall from the hon. gent. on this subject, and I am not sure whether his usual ingenuity may not extract from Leo some passages which, in his opinion, favour his own views of the question; but I challenge him to contradict this result, that from the whole tenor of Leo's seventh book, which treats of the negro nations, it appears that before the resort of the Portuguese to the coast could have affected the condition of the interior, wars, both for dominion and plunder, originating as frequently, and from as slight provocations as they do now, were common throughout Negro Land; that the captives taken in those wars were either condemned to slavery, to imprisonment, or to death; that the condition of that slavery was in many instances most cruel and oppressive; that extensive markets for slaves were then open, and that to the Moors and to the eastern countries the sale of slaves was extensive; that in some instances the African Princes invited and even forced the Slave Trade, refusing to pay in gold for what they bought, and compelling the merchants, much against their will, to take slaves in return for their merchandize; and that slaves were at that day so plentiful, and horses for the purposes of war so valuable, that fifteen or twenty slaves were given for one horse. This I assert to be a fair abstract of what we gather from Leo, premising, however, that I am not able to read the original Arabian, nor have I ever met with the Italian translation made by Leo himself. I have, however, compared the Latin Elzevir translation with a French translation published at Lyons, in the sixteenth century, and they correspond in all essential respects. A voyager almost contem[...] orary with Leo, is. Cademosta, who in speaking of the part of the African coast visited by him, tells us, that the negro nations are often at war, that they sell slaves to different nations, "and some to the Christians, since they began to trade with that country," evidently shewing, that when the Christians entered into the commerce, they found it already established and extensive.—I build then, sir, my sentiments upon this question in part upon these authorities: and finding nothing in divine or human law which pronounces the possession, or the purchase, or the use of a slave, to be necessarily and invariably unjust, I cannot see either the obligation or the policy of abolishing that share of the Slave Trade which at present exists for the supply of our own colonies. If I were now to deliberate concerning any society, whether slavery should enter into its constitution, I should say; "Certainly not." If I were laying down regulations, and framing laws for an infant political establishment, I would take into my consideration all the original and abstract rights of man, for such rights do exist, and ought to be venerated, although they cannot often be applied with practical benefit to societies that have long existed under established laws. But we are not now in the case of debating whether our colonies shall or shall not be cultivated by slaves from Africa; they are and ever have been so cultivated; and we know at least that their prosperity has been hitherto dependant upon occasional supplies of the same description of imported population. All the rest is experiment merely, and theory, contradicted too by all that we know from fact and experience. When I before took occasion to observe the inconvenience of adopting in politics a rule so rigid that we would profit by nothing in this world that was connected with vice and abuse, the hon. gent. (Mr. Wilberforce) told me, that "this was ever our way; we wanted to let the Slave Trade pair off with some other tolerated crime." Sir, I do not find myself reduced to the miserable expedient of defending one abuse by another. I shewed how inapplicable these strict drawn rules must prove to the state of the world we live in, and that, if we would be rigidly bound by such principles, we must have neither lotteries nor alehouses; but I did not say that, consistently with the present condition and circumstances of this country, it was expedient that we should abolish either lotteries or alehouses: why then does the hon. gent. taunt me with the charge that I have not attempted to check those evils? Why am I to be summoned to put on the armour of chivalry, and to mount my Rosinante in the hon. gent's suite? Sir, if I should ever sally out upon such adventures, and, stepping beyond the little circle of public or private life, wherein I may have it in my power to he useful, should undertake the reform of the world, I will not forget what is and has been the average state of human life: nor will I attempt to carry legislation beyond its fair and reasonable province.—And now, sir, I Will look towards the West Indies; and here the hon. gent. (Mr. Wilberforce), attempts to pin me down to the statement of progressive population which I have found produced by himself and his friends, and which, believing it to be tolerably exact, I have contended did, when connected with the very moderate supply the islands would need, were they left unthreatened by this measure, prove, that the humane purposes of the Abolitionists were already attained, or in a fair way to be attained, without any violent proceeding. Oh! says the hon. gent., if you admit that, then without any importation, the increase by breeding will soon answer every purpose, except that of extending cultivation, and that is what we cannot encourage. Sir, I believe that the treatment of slaves has been improved by experience and mitigated by civilization; and admit, therefore, that the maintenance of the numbers by breeding may have been progressive to a certain degree; but this goes a very little way towards proving the policy of condemning our colonies to remain for ever without the possibility of an imported supply of population; for after this bill is passed, there is no remedy for any of those various events which are within the compass of possibility, and which may suddenly diminish their population. I have a right to say, that there is not any one in this house, who can at this time conjecture what and how many are the accidents which, in spite of humanity and vigilance, may contribute to the decrease of the negroes in our West India colonies, while, within a few leagues of them, a rival colony shall be flourishing and prosperous, unfettered by that eternal restriction which this bill will impose. A hurricane, and consequent famine, carried off, in Jamaica alone, 15,000 black inhabitants. Epidemics have occasionally prevailed, that have proved nearly as fatal; and, independantly of such accidents, there exists the inequality of sexes, bearing more or less hardly on individuals, and the impe- diments which a laborious manufacture always opposes to population. The house has heard the result of the experience of an hon. gent. near me (Mr. Barham), whose humane endeavours to support his own numbers have hitherto proved ineffectual. My hon. friend (Mr. Ward), who spoke so ably on this question a few nights ago— so ably, that this house must wish that he would more frequently take part in its debates—and whose conviction on the subject I pretend not to say results from any partial view of the case, alluded to an estate which did support its numbers: that estate, sir, is most favourably circumstanced; it is insulated among the high lands of that district where it is placed, and the negroes cannot, without the utmost difficulty, indulge that rambling propensity which they bring with them from Africa, where polygamy is the law of the land. I could tell my hon. friend, that those who have constantly had the care and superintendance of that estate, have had also the care of others in the neighbourhood, to which they have extended exactly the same humane management; and that in no other instance have they found it possible to maintain the numbers without purchase—I am enabled to state a case of peculiar hardship, in respect to an estate called Dean's Valley, in the parish of Westmoreland, Jamaica, which, from 329 negroes which it possessed in the year 1783, ill assorted as to sex, has sustained a gradual decay of its numbers, until, by the last return in the year 1806, the numbers were reduced to 166. This estate, for upwards of 20 years past, has been in a trust under will of the proprietor, who died in 1783;. and the trustees have not been at liberty to purchase a negro. As to the treatment of the negroes in this interval, those who know any thing of that island will rest satisfied, that there has been nothing wanting in humanity or provident care, when I state, that Mr. Mure has had the management of it, having, at the same time, the charge of Mr. Dehany's estates in that neigbourhood, where the numbers have been maintained, and the condition of the negroes generally cited as among the happiest in Jamaica. Sir, other cases of hardship may be stated, if necessary—cases of minors and lessors of estates, who will take back their properties wholly or nearly destitute of labourers, and consequently incapable of being profitably cultivated, and to whom, even in the long interval in which this question has been under agitation, there has not been the power or the ability to provide against the ruin which now awaits them. It has been said, you have had warning. Why have you not imported females and young people? As to the warning, sir, there was not till last year any concurrent decision of the two houses of parliament on this question: and as to the preferable importation of females, has that been at the discretion of the planter? An hon. and learned gent., (the Solicitor General), whose speech made a deep impression on the house, willing to prove that slavery prevailed in Africa in exact proportion with the demand for slaves, and that crimes were invented and forged whenever convicts were wanted, told you that if the planters should even say we will have none but women and children, women and children would be convicted and transported accordingly. Sir, I wish gentlemen would consider what would have been the feelings of the house, and what the tone of declamation that would have been excited, had such a fact been stated in evidence, as that of ships waiting upon the coast of Africa until they could be filled with women and children, because, forsooth, these were the description of slaves most saleable in the West Indies—with what exclamations of horror would such a recital have been received! And because the fact does not exist; because the colonies have been obliged to receive such slaves, and such only, as the laws of Africa have suffered to be exported, is it now to constitute an additional charge against the planters, that they have not assorted the sexes, or imported such only as were best fitted for supporting the population?—" When the condition of the slaves in the West India colonies is taken into consideration by the abolitionists, they first tells us that slavery bids defiance to law. "There are laws 'tis true," says the hon. member for Bedford, "but there are masters of slaves:" and we hear again and again, what cannot be denied, that laws made for a society consisting of a mixture of slaves and freemen, are not susceptible of the force and equal administration which laws have in a country of freemen only. Sir, nobody that I know of has pretended to prefer slavery to freedom, or to contest the point, that slavery does hardly admit of the complete controul of the law. Slavery has been mitigated, and must be mitigated, as civilization is extended. It is mitigated by manners, by opinions, and by examples. But, sir, when the full measure of censure has been poured upon us from this channel (be- cause we found the colonies cultivated by slaves, and must continue so to cultivate them), was it to be expected that we should also be separately arraigned for the insufficiency of those laws, which, with better will than power perhaps, we have endeavoured to apply in regulating this state of society? Was it candid in the hon. and learned gent. (the Solicitor General) to cite, as an instance of West Indian barbarity, a law passed 120 years ago (the date of which he did not tell us till the question was put to him), and in which coarse expressions were found respecting slaves, when that learned gent. well knows that there exist, even in the statute-book of the British parliament (and I believe yet unrepealed), several acts, the provisions of which are a disgrace to humanity?—Sir, the laws which have been passed for the protection of the negroes in the West Indies have not all proved dead letter; they have been enforced and executed in many instances, and they are at least evidences and records of the public opinion, by which the conduct of the whites in the West Indies is in a very considerable degree controlled; nor is it true that those laws, which breathe the mildest spirit, have been wrung from the colonists by the discussion of this question; it is well known that the consolidated slave law of Jamaica (the island which contains one half the slaves of our West India colonies) was passed previous to that discussion.—While I contend, sir, that slavery has been mitigated by civilization, I must express a doubt whether civilization has equally tended to prevent abuses in societies of freemen governed by equal laws; and if a comparison be now drawn, as to the practical result in regard to the happiness of individuals, betwixt the one society and the other, I may assert that, of acts of cruelty and oppression which stain the character of those who commit, and increase the misery of those who suffer them, more instances occur in the cities of London and Westminster in one week, than in one month in the whole island of Jamaica.—The hon gent. has somewhere alleged, that the circumstances of slaves often purchasing their freedom with the money they save, is an indisputable proof that they are miserable in a state of slavery. Sir, a slave, like an English labourer, looks upon a liberation from labour as his sovereign good. It does not follow that he is the happier for having attained it; but it is something to know that these ill-treated slaves do yet frequently save property enough wherewith to purchase their freedom.— Most sincerely do I wish that, respecting the treatment of negroes, either in one island or in one insulated district, an experiment had been made at the expense of government, and upon the maxims of the abolitionists, and that it might have been seen how tar the voluntary services of African negroes could have been obtained, and industry and happiness have been advantageously promoted, under a system essentially differing from that which prevails in our colonies. We should then have proceeded upon sound and safe principles, to innovate upon that which, however imperfect, has conduced hitherto to their prosperity.—The hon. gent. will not admit my supposition that our needful supply (if the dread of abolition were removed) would become very trifling, in comparison with the numbers now in our islands; for he contends that we still desire slaves, for the purpose of extending our cultivation indefinitely, not recollecting how little likely it is that cultivation should be further extended, under the existing discouraging markets for produce; and I have not been surprised, sir, to hear, at the same time, the present distress of the West India trade urged as an argument in favour of the abolition. The abolition, says an hon. gent (Mr. Jacob), will prove a blessing to you, for it will lessen that produce of which you now import too much; while the hon. gent. (Mr. Wilberforce), opposite to me, who had been told by me, that, in opening the case of the West India trade, I should not think it necessary to allude in the most distant manner to this question, and who seemed to approve the distinction, did, upon that occasion, and when I could not reply to him, apply the whole of that case to this question, and expressed his satisfaction that the postponement of this debate had given him an opportunity of previously hearing our case stated, since now it must appear, that 'it was not to the Abolition of the Slave trade that could be imputed the distresses of the colonists.' Sir, I cannot so well answer these extraordinary arguments as by recalling to the memory of the house that there have been periods when, for two or three successive years, those useful and valuable establishments, the public breweries of this country, have been admitted to be unpro[...]table and even losing concerns; and we will suppose that in such circumstances the brewers had found it necessary to lay their case before parliament, requiring some legislative measure for their relief; what should we think of the states- man, who, on such an occasion, should say, sell your drays and your horses, turn away your men, use less malt and hops, pay us less duty, and that will relieve you: or should some hon. gent. in this house, at such a moment, professing an anxiety to assist the brewers, have projected a measure which they believed would set their factories on fire, how consolatory must it be to them to hear him exclaim—Well, I am glad I know your case, for now you cannot say that it is my projected measure which has occasioned your ruin! The distress of the West India colonies at this moment, sir, arises from their having complied with the urgent stimulation of the mother country, in furnishing her not only with produce amply sufficient for her own consumption, but also with a large surplus to enrich her by foreign trade; and, because the foreign market, not by their fault, is denied to the colonists, they ask you to support them under the burthen of producing what has been, and may again be, a most profitable resource to yourselves.—On the political value of the colonies, and the intimate connection of their prosperity with our naval power, having on another occasion spoken, at some length, I will now be silent; and very shortly advert to the danger of insurrection in the islands connected with the present bill. Sir, I do not desire to look on the gloomy side, and will hope that our colonies may not undergo the rapid fate of Saint Domingo; but I cannot forbear to notice what we have heard upon high authority, that the people of France do connect the revolution in Saint Domingo with the abolition of the slave trade. The noble lord (Lauderdale) who, in the course of the late negociation, was thus informed, is said to have replied, that he believed otherwise. I respect much, sir, the manly understanding of that noble lord, but cannot consider his opinion on this subject as of equal value with that generally diffused over the French nation, who witnessed the whole course of that dreadful event, who knew the pains taken by the Amis des Noirs to spread their doctrines in the colonies, and who read the twopenny and threepenny publications, which there too teemed from the press, inviting the negroes "to break their chains upon the heads of their oppressors." Expressions equally inflammatory I could shew the noble lord (Howick) who sits on the bench before me, in the pamphlets which have been circulated here, although I doubt not that his mind has never been sullied by the perusal of them, and that he therefore thought an allusion which I made to them upon a former clay less justifiable than it really was. Sir, it is not the debates of this house (of which we are charged with permitting the circulation in the colonies) that are so much calculated to impress the mind of the negro, as an act of legislation, the operation of which he will immediately see, and the grounds and motives of which he will then naturally make the objects of his enquiry.—This, sir, I think is the proper moment for my acknowledging that protection to our characters, which some hon. gents have thought fit to interpose against the abuse which others have so copiously bestowed upon us. I have, sir, carefully estimated the amount of that protection, and I think it is this: 'these West India planters and merchants,' say they, 'are, for aught we know, anatomically constructed, much like other people; they have a scull, a brain, a pia and a dura mater, like ourselves; but man is the creature of habit, and their habits are detestably bad. Their early associations fill their minds with inveterate prejudices, which prevent them either from understanding or feeling like the rest of the world: but then let us not be too severe upon them; for were we ourselves (lord H. Petty, Mr. Canning) exposed to similar impressions, which thank God we are not! our opinions and conduct might be just like theirs.' I do not know how others may feel on this subject, sir, but I for one desire not to put the gentlemen to this expence of reluctant liberality, to exact from them this tribute of left-handed candour. All that in our defence and justification I would ask of them is, that when they have torn out of the statute-book the acts of one hundred and fifty years, and scattered them upon the floor, they would permit us, humble gleaners, to collect and to carry home with us the fragments; we will treasure up the preambles and provisions which they have contemptuously rejected, and those shall be our justification: for the rest, let them leave us to God and to our own consciences; but if we ask them not to trouble themselves about our defence, let them recollect, that upon the subject of the slave trade it ill becomes a member of the parliament of Great Britain to stigmatize the instruments which that legislature has deluded into a crime (if we are so to call it), of which the nation has pocketted the gains.—I am here led to advert to that compensation which is due, as I think, to those whose properties this bill may injure or destroy, and for which there is, within the bill, no provision, nor has there been any thing like a distinct pledge given. On the contrary, the opportunity of discussing the justice or expediency of such a provision has not occurred, his Majesty's ministers having declared themselves not authorised to express the royal permission for entertaining the question. I had the highest direction in this house, your own, sir, for declining, in merely asking his Majesty's ministers for that permission, to go at length into the general argument; and I am driven now into the necessity of urging what I have to say on the subject as an objection to this bill, which cannot, as I contend, without some such qualification, be reconciled with that regard for justice and for property, which is the acknowledged attribute of a British house of commons: and here I have a right to call upon those for their support, who may be, in all other respects, friends to this bill, but who have invariably maintained that it ought to pass, accompanied with a liberal pledge of compensation to those whose property, hitherto protected by the laws, may he injured by its enactments. I have more particularly a right to expect such support from gentlemen connected with the colonies, and friends of abolition, but who must yet be well aware of the partial injuries it will inflict, and who will not, I trust, vote for this bill, since it contains no pledge of protection to those who may innocently suffer by its operation. Sir, it was objected to me, when I attempted to introduce this question to the house, that it was not the usage of parliament in similar great public regulations, to provide compensation prospectively. But there is the act of 28 Geo. III. cap. 54, which stares us in the face, in direct contradiction to this assertion: that act relates to the regulation of the slave trade on the coast of Africa. It is not my business to make distinctions betwixt the African and West Indian slave trades, but the former is not the part of the trade for which parliament has ever expressed a predilection, and yet, in the 15th section of the act I have mentioned, there is a large and liberal provision of compensation, not merely for property taken away, but for losses to be sustained. How, let me ask, did such a clause find its way into that bill? His Majesty's approbation for the consideration of the subject was certainly first obtained, and then the house did, upon deliberation, see the policy and the justice of admitting that provision. Why then, in the name of justice, has even a deliberation upon the question, as applied to this bill, been denied to us? We are assured that we shall sustain no injury, and, on the contrary, that the colonies are to be greatly benefited by the abolition. Are they sincere who advance this opinion (Messrs. Wilberforce, Jacob, &c. &c.)? Then, sir, at how cheap a rate might they, in this instance, have the grace of relieving apprehensions, of removing objections, and of connecting a measure certainly of innovation and violence with a display of uniform and consistent justice! But, on the other hand, we are told, take care how you admit any consideration of compensation, for the whole revenue of England might not suffice for the claims it would occasion. Are they sincere who advance this opinion (Mr. Whitbread)? Then how cautious should we be of incurring a loss of such magnitude, that the whole revenue of the country may be too little to make it good. l am aware that those who maintain this last opinion have alledged, that compensation may be demanded for voluntary and exaggerated losses, and for a sacrifice of extravagantly computed prospective profits. Sir, there could be no such dangers incurred under a clause wisely restricted to real and substantial losses—a clause framed with reference to precedents that already exist in the statute-book, and expressed in terms of additional precaution, suggested by the present case. Is it pretended, sir, that this bill can operate without unmerited injury to individuals? or does the house adopt the sentiments which I heard, with the utmost surprise, fall from an hon. baronet?—sentiments which did appear to me so extraordinary and objectionable, that I cannot express myself freely concerning them, unless the hon. baronet (sir P. Francis) be present. And now, sir, seeing him present, I shall state what I understood him to pronounce as his deliberate opinion (referring not to slave traders on the coast of Africa, but to the West India planters and merchants); and if I heard him right, it was, that no person who had been concerned in a trade which parliament has recently declared to be contrary to justice, humanity, and sound policy, can, in respect of losses sustained in that trade, make out to parliament a case that ought to be heard for compensation. The hon. baronet thus puts out of the protection of the law a large class of British subjects, who can plead a long series of ancient statutes as their authority, and whose claim is precisely founded on the re- versal of those statutes. Understanding this to be the hon. baronet's opinion (he will correct me if I have mistaken it), I must say, that it is an opinion repugnant to every principle of justice, humanity, and sound policy.—One ill effect that must result from passing the bill, thus unqualified, we shall surely experience, in the discouragement it will cast upon the commercial spirit of the country. What have merchant adventurers to trust to but written laws? They cannot call into question whether the legislators who passed those laws were more or less well informed, and had or had not the fullest lights upon the subject. Sir, twenty-five or thirty years ago, when I commenced merchant, had I canvassed both houses of parliament for an opinion how a mercantile capital could be adventured in foreign commerce the most advantageously to the public, nine out of every ten would have advised me to embark it upon the cultivation of the colonies; and in this reign two acts have been passed, encouraging loans, one from British subjects and one from foreigners, for that purpose; and yet, in this very reign, the security of those who lent money in faith of those acts, is, without compensation, to be violated; for an estate that may be at any time cultivated by the purchase of negroes (whether more or less of that description be now upon it) is, in the West India colonies, a valid security; but land deprived of that privilege and use, is not so. I cannot, sir, but look with despondency to the effect this example must have upon commercial confidence and credit. You will still, I doubt not, have your loan contractors, your lottery contractors, your barrack contractors, and the swarms that hang upon your revenue departments may increase perhaps as the matter they have to feed upon will diminish; but the ardent and adventurous spirit which has created and sustained the commercial character of this country, which has 'raised other fruits beneath another sun,' and rendered every quarter of the world the theatre of British industry, and the source of British wealth, can exist only under an uniform and consistent protection from the legislature, and, wanting that, must expire.—I have, sir, now only a few words to address to my hon. friends connected with the colonies, who have given their support to this bill. Let me ask them what is their situation before it passes, and what will be their situation when it is passed? They have now a long series of legislative authorities to refer to, in support of those establishments and that cultivation on which their property has been embarked. To-morrow those establishments, and that cultivation, will be as it were under an interdict, and as reprobated by the legislature. My hon. friends have, I know, taken up their opinions on conviction, and have rejected with scorn that adulation which has been offered to them, as of a distinct character and class from their fellow colonists. If they could possibly have felt any complacency in that distinction, they must know that to-morrow that too will lose its value. My hon, friends will not believe that I speak my own sentiments, for I acknowledge no guilt imputable to any of us; but those who call us all guilty may look upon them as participes criminis, useful while retained as evidences, or detached from their accomplices, but, when the cause is over, subject to the indifference, not to use a stronger term, which generally attends that description of persons. Are my hon. friends flattering themselves (I know that some of them have so done) that here the matter ends, and that, in future, the colonist will enjoy his property without molestation? Have they not heard, sir, is not the alarm-bell of further innovation yet ringing in their ears, have they not heard a young nobleman, of great hope, and of the highest connections in this country, announce a measure tending directly to emancipation? That young nobleman will be treated like a gallant soldier who outsteps the line, and anticipates the charge; but the line is advancing, and the charge will soon be made. Where then will my honorable friends take their stand? Are they pledged to go all lengths, or are they, by a late hesitation and repentance, to lose the merit of their former concessions? Had they not better, even if they object not to this bill, lay hold of the laws which have hitherto protected them, and demand compensation at least, as the condition of their passive concurrence? they will soon find themselves undistinguished from us who have from the first withstood these innovations—undistinguished, excepting by the bitter consciousness of having been aiding and consenting to their own destruction; and they must be contented with us to walk through the empire with a brand upon their backs; if they enjoy a short prosperity, it will be a prosperity blasted by obloquy and reproach; if they fall, on the contrary, as I believe they will, they will fall unpitied and unprotected.—Sir, if in what I have said I have expressed myself at any time with un- becoming warmth, I shall to-morrow be sorry for it; the house will, I trust, regard it as the effort of an expiring flame, the spasm before dissolution. Believing, as in sincerity and sobriety I do, that if this bill pass, it condemns the colonies to a decay more or less rapid, I could not bring myself to say less in justification of the opposition I have given, and must continue to give to it; but, sir, I have done, and cannot foresee that I shall again at any time have to trouble the house on this subject, unless it chance that on the one hand consequences I do not now look for should demand from me retraction or concessions, which shall, in that case, be freely made before they are called for, or that I should, on the other hand, be compelled to submit to the house cases of individual distress and injury originating in this bill, and humbly praying for compensation; should this last, sir, be my let, and should even the worst I have contemplated come to pass, I shall not think that the language of reproach will avail any thing under such circumstances, neither will I (and for this the hon. gent, whom I oppose ought to thank me) at that time undertake their defence and justification. I will not say that I knew many of these abolitionists who, with the exception of their prejudices on this subject, were much like other men; and that, had I been, as, thank God I was not, like them, misled by delusive theories, deceived by false, exaggerated, or partial accounts of what has passed, and is passing in Africa and the West Indies; instigated by popular clamour (itself artificially and enthusiastically excited); and fascinated by oratory, I might with them, have given my voice for a measure which has proved destructive of its object, and has sacrificed one main source of our national prosperity.

Sir Philip Francis

had never said, that the persons engaged in the slave trade were out of the protection of the law. What he had stated on a former night was, that he would not be a party to any proceeding of that house, which should pledge to any compensation for any future losses that might arise front any measure under discussion. He had asserted that, on general principles, them could be no claim for losses sustained by a transaction which the house had declared to be contrary to justice, humanity, and policy; and he still adhered to that opinion. He had gone further with respect to Trinidad; for that was a modern establishment, and the speculations had been undertaken in that island, with a knowledge of the resolution of parliament of 1792, that the trade should be abolished after a certain time. He should feel it his duty to resist any application from that island, at the same time that he would be as ready as any hon. member to grant compensation for losses which might be sustained by the operation of the bill, upon t special case being made out.

Mr. Lytleton ,

though he had not the presumption to suppose that he could place the arguments that had already been employed in the different stages of this measure in a stronger light, or a more persuasive form, could not yet content himself with giving a silent vote upon this occasion. The slave trade was so enormous and horrible, that there was no parallel to it in the annals of the world. He was glad that the measure of its abolition was at length arrived at its last stage; though he was sorry that any alteration had been made in the preamble, because he could not reconcile to himself any compromise upon the subject. He was convinced that none of the imputed consequences would follow from the adoption of the measure.

Mr. Henry Thornton

observed, that it did not signify to the house what Leo Africanus or Mr. Park might have thought of the slave trade, as they were themselves more competent to decide upon the facts before them. In a communication which he had with Mr. Park, however, that gentleman, though he studiously avoided giving any decisive opinion as to the effects of the abolition of the slave trade, admitted that the justice of such a measure did not allow of an argument. This measure would not only throw wide open the doors of civilization for Africa, but lay the first stone for the establishment of the happiness of the West Indies. As this country was the balance for the great power on the continent, they ought to attend to the grounds upon which its means were founded, and particularly in its colonies. Measures were to be taken for the improvement of the condition of the mass of the people in the sister kingdom; an hon. gent. of great weight in that house (Mr. Whitbread) from his character and talents, had brought forward measures for the improvement of the mass of the people in this country; measures had on a former occasion been taken to correct abuses which were said to have existed in the East Indies; and he would ask, whether it was not right that they should take measures for the improvement of the West India islands? He had paid particular attention to the case of the slaves, and he agreed that the system was more severe. than any that had ever existed in the world. The slave was called to work half an hour before sun rise, and was dismissed from work half an hour after sun set, and this period of labour, with the intermission of two hours in the course of the day, was greater than could be borne in a tropical climate. They were besides worked under the whip, a practice which had never obtained in any years; and men, and boys, and girls of tender age, and women in an advanced stage of pregnancy, were subjected to blows at the discretion of the driver. The slavery in the West Indies was touch more severe than in the ancient world; for shortly after the propagation of christianity, slavery was done away. Here the hon. member read an extract from the historian Gibbon, to shew that, when the sources of procuring slaves were cut off by the union of Asia and Africa with the Roman empire, the Romans obtained them by the more tedious method of propagation, which was promoted by mild treatment, and encouraging marriage. These were the facts upon which the advocates of the bill supported it. But it would likewise have the effect of promoting the civilization of Africa, which was shut out at present from every side of the coast. This measure would place both Africa and the West Indies in a better condition, and have the effect of putting an end to the wars, crimes, and kidnappings, which were resorted to in Africa to obtain slaves. Of all the slaves that were brought from that country, not one was taken upon just grounds; but the instances were numberless of those taken by fraud and criminal artifices. He considered the trade as a crime, and in abolishing it, the house was performing a primary duty; the first duty of parliament being to provide for the freedom of the subject, and that no man should receive injury from another. After a few observations on the Sierra Leone establishment, the hon. member concluded by giving his hearty support to the bill.

Captain Herbert

thought the measure fraught with ruin to the colonies and the commercial prosperity of the country. He complained of the style of declamation and common-place expressions of justice and humanity, generally delivered with munch eloquence, with which this measure had been supported. It was foolish, if not blasphemous, for them to graft on their theories the character of the dispensations of Divine Providence. They ought to consider the good that this measure might do to Africa, and the evil it might do to ourselves, and, having compared the quantity of good and evil that might result from it, if the former should preponderate, to consider whether this was a moment at which they could afford to encounter so much evil. If this country were to withdraw its capital from the slave trade, our enemies would be enabled to carry it on upon better terms, because the price of the slave would be lower on the coast. But the Trans-Atlantic market was but a small part of the slave market. The empire of Morocco, and tile great empires in the interior of Africa, took off the greatest portion of them. If he thought that there existed the cruelties alledged in the treatment of the slaves, he should not oppose the measure. But he had been in all our West India colonies, in all the islands belonging to other nations, and he thought the condition of the labourers in the West Indies as happy as that of the peasantry in any nation of Europe. The sway of the whites was mild, but the tyranny of the blacks was really a whip of scorpions. If this bill were to be passed, the emancipation would follow. He had been in the empire of Hayti, and conversed with all classes from the field negro to the field officer, and he could assert, that they had not wished for liberty when it was offered to them, but preferred the mild government of the whites to the severe oppression of the blacks.

Mr. T. W. Plummer

was as much an advocate for liberty as any man, but thought it very dangerous to propagate such an idea among the unenlightened negroes. It war to be recollected how much Great Britain bad already lost in her colonial strength, by the discussion of these abstract principles; to that she owed the revolt and loss of her American colonies, and it behoved her to be aware of propagating notions of political right among a people so unintelligent and so easily provoked to revolt as the negroes. With regard to the supply of negroes to the colonies, as it appeared on all hands at least questionable point, that the negro population could be kept up without any farther importation, he recommended rather a suspension of the trade than a total abolition, in order that an experiment might be fairly made upon this important question.

Mr. Barham

said, that the total time of labour was only ten hours. The whip of driver was never used, though it was formerly; and it was no more used now than the mace was to knock down members in the lobby. Neither the drivers nor white servants had power to punish without consent of the masters. The negroes preferred the ordinary mode of labour to lashes, as he himself had found by experience. He positively asserted, that when women were pregnant all idea of labour was at an end. His negroes had brought him, on a fear of scarcity, about a thousand pounds in gold; which was a proof that negroes had, in general, not been so harshly treated as had been apprehended.

Mr. H. Thornton

still maintained that he was correct in the points he had stated.

Mr. Secretary Windham

remarked, that although the overseers of plantations made use of the whip, that did not prove that the negroes were treated with cruelty; but, alter all, it was not the intention of the house to abolish slavery, but the slave trade. Therefore, when the anti-abolitionists spoke of the miserable condition of the slaves, they were arguing against themselves, inasmuch as it was no part of the present bill to abolish slavery in the West Indies. Slavery was as ancient as the days of Homer, who said, take from a man his liberty, and you take from him his virtue. Still slavery was a degrading situation for man, and it was to be wished that it could be abolished. Slavery, however, differed very much, as to degree, in different countries; and he could not but believe, upon the testimony adduced, that the authority exercised over the negroes in the West Indies was much less than in most other countries where slavery existed at all. But even if this measure were carried, slavery would continue in the West Indies; and those advocates for the measure were not consistent with themselves, who argued from principles of strict right and justice in favour of the present measure, and yet did not follow up their own principles, by emancipating the present slaves in the West Indies. The right hon. secretary proceeded to observe, that on such a question, the house ought not to go upon abstract principles of right, but upon the consideration of the consequences of the measure, and the possible ruin of the British empire resulting from it. As to Africa, this measure would produce no benefit to that country, for there would not be less slavery after our abolishing the trade than before it: in the West Indies it would tend to produce discontent among the negroes; to individuals it would be a great loss and injustice, and would prove ruinous to numbers who had a claim to the protection of this country. France and other rival nations would most probably refuse to imitate our example, and would redouble this traffic to our ruin. Nor was this a time to venture such an experiment. We were engaged in a dangerous war with a powerful enemy. Was it not also a time to be strictly economical? Were they not called to attend to candle ends and cheese parings? And, at such a time, should parliament think of throwing away such a resource as the West India islands? Did they not see empire after empire tumbling like so many nine pins all around them? He knew there were some of hon. friends who would tell him the present measure tended to security against such dangers. He wished it might, but he feared it. If this question was one of feeling merely, all their feelings must be alike; but he deprecated their feelings running away with their better judgment. Ii was not true that parliament was about to abolish the slave trade; they were only abolishing their share in it; and it was even doubtful, if, after all, this measure would, in any degree, diminish the traffic in slaves on the coast of Africa. He wished his forebodings and fears might go no farther; but, at any rate, he must renounce the honour and glory of effecting a measure which would be productive, as some gentlemen expected, of such salutary effects; as the same time, disclaiming any share in the pernicious consequences, which, to his apprehension, were much more likely to accrue from its adoption.

Mr. Sheridan

replied to his right hon. friend, who, in saying that the same arguments which applied to the abolition of the slave trade, also applied to the abolition of slavery, had blended two things which ought to be kept distinct. The one was in our power, the other was in our hope, but not at present in our power. With respect to the treatment of slaves in the West Indies, he wanted no testimony on that subject. Despotism must lead to cruelty. As in the words of Shakespeare, "Mercy is twice blest, it blesseth him that gives, and him that takes;" so despotism was twice cursed. It cursed him that exercised it, and him on whom it was exercised. He trusted, therefore, that the present measure was the preamble of the future; but at the same time he was aware that the ultimate step must I taken with the utmost tenderness, caution and deliberation. To give immediate freedom to men who had always been accustomed to slavery, would be productive of the most serious consequences. With regard to the wealth derived from the West Indies, we had paid for it more than "human sinew bought and sold" ever produced to this coun- try. He painted in strong colours the morality which took place among our troops in the West Indies, and contended, that if we could recover all our brave countrymen who had been sacrificed in that country, they, would be cheaply purchased by the relinquishment of all the riches which had flowed from it. He ridiculed the idea of the colonies quitting the protection of Britain; they had too much good sense to take such a rash step; for they must well know, that as we were masters of the sea, we must also be masters of the soil. Nor did he apprehend that the abolition of the slave trade would cause any insurrection among the blacks. Had it not been in agitation for 20 years, and had there been the least ferment among them in consequence? After a warm panegyric on his late right hon. friend (Mr. Fox), who had the abolition ever at heart; and on his hon. friend (Mr. Wilberforce), by whose unwearied exertions the question had at length been brought to a successful termination, he concluded by declaring, that he had never given a vote with more heartfelt satisfaction than that which he should give on the motion before the house.

Lord Castlereagh

lamented his difference in opinion from his hon. friend (Mr Wilberforce). However the right hon. gent. who had just sat down, might, by the superior brilliancy of his genius and ingenuity of argument, disguise the question, it was possible that the measure now before the house could ever accomplish what the liberal mind of his hon. friend had for so many years in contemplation. The only result would be, that perhaps the attachment to the mother country would be a little shaken, the people in our West India colonies might be driven to import contrary to the wish and order of parliament, end the number of deaths would most probably be increased.

Mr. Wilberforce

called most seriously the attention of the house to the point to which the question was now brought. They had for the present no object immediately before them, but that of putting a stop directly to the carrying men in British ships to be sold as slaves in the British islands in the West Indies. If that measure was to be shortly carried into execution, he should think that his labour for these 19 years past would be amply rewarded: but still, he must confess, that he should have another object after that in view, and that he looked forward to a still more happy change in the state of the negroes in the West India islands. According to the plain rules of common sense, his logi- cal friend on the other side of the house (Mr. Windham) must be in error; we were not to say that because a man had two wounds we should refrain from curing one, because it was not in our power to heal up both the wounds immediately. The right hon. gent. must see, without entering into any metaphysical discussion, that the great Author of our being had ordained, that the duty and happiness of mankind should be closely connected. It was our duty to put a stop as speedily as possible to the traffic and sale of our fellow men; and notwithstanding the forebodings of the noble lord (Castlereagh), he had reason to hope that we should have the happiness to see that smuggling would be as easily prevented in that as in any article that was at present attempted to be dealt in contrary to law. He thought it to be an act of duty towards the many great and enlightened statesmen that had supported him in the accomplishing of this object which he had most dearly at heart, to acknowledge the liberality with which they had set aside all lesser differences, and united their efforts with this great measure, for promoting the happiness of mankind. The chearfulness with which it was supported by most of the leading members of the present administration, he hoped was a favourable omen of what might be expected from them at any time hereafter, witch questions were to be decided on the great and immutable principles of truth, justice, and humanity.

Mr. Windham ,

stated, in explanation, that his opinions on this question had been uniformly guided by the authority of Mr. Burke, who had entertained an idea of the gradual abolition of slavery, and of course of the slave trade, in a manner totally different from that proposed by the present measure.

Mr. Wilberforce

observed, that the right hon. gent. had never mentioned the name of Mr. Burke in his speech, and therefore had no right to shelter himself under his authority. The plan the right hon. gent. had alluded to, he had often requested to see, and could never obtain a sight of. This, however, he could aver, that Mr. Burka had often stated both in private and in that house, to him and to many others, that he had abandoned his former ideas on the subject, and thought exactly as they did.

Mr. Windham

appealed to the house, whether he had not quoted the authority of Mr. Burke.

Mr. Barham

stated that the plan of Mr. Burke had been put into his hands, for the purpose of his making sonic observations in his place upon it.—The question was then loudly called for, when the gallery was cleared, but the bill was read a third time and passed without a division.

Back to