HC Deb 06 June 1814 vol 27 cc1078-84

Lord Castlereagh presented a copy of the Treaty of Peace and Amity, signed at Paris the 30th of May 1814, between his Britannic Majesty and his Most Christian Majesty.

The title was read by the clerk, and it was received with loud cheers.

Lord Castlereagh having moved that it do lie on the table,

Mr. Wilberforce

assured his noble friend, that if he had not been able to concur in the salutation with which his noble friend had been welcomed on his return to the House of Commons, it was, not from any want of personal cordiality; but because, seeing the noble lord coming up the House with the French Treaty in his hand, and calling to mind the arrangements made in it respecting the Slave Trade, he could not but conceive that he beheld in the noble lord's hand the deaths warrant of a multitude of innocent victims, men, women, and children, whom he had fondly indulged the hope of his having himself rescued from destruction. To a great extent, indeed, we had their preservation in an own power, to the amount of the importatinos of human beings which would now be made into the colonies we had given up to France, which colonies we should only have surrendered on an express stipulation that no mores slaves should be imported into them; but in the case of these settlements, we had revived or rather we had created, trade in slaves, when it had been altogether extinguished. It was the constant error that prevailed on this subject, and he remarked it in the Treaty before them, to speak of these practices, and to treat them as a traffic; whereas, in fact, it was nothing less than the seizing of an indefinite number of human beings, of both sexes, and all ages, by every species of fraud and force, and the carrying them away in a method which included within it the utmost intensity of suffering, from their parents, their children, their families, their friends, their country, conveying them to a distant land to pass the rest of their lives and their posterity for ever, in a state of degraded and hopeless slavery. To witness, therefore the revival of this dreadful evil, when to so great a degree he had conceived it was extinct, could not but fill his mind with the deepest grief and disappointment; and as for the stipulation, that the French themselves would join in abolishing the trade in five years, at the period of life to trade in five years, at the period of life to which he had arrived, with the experience he had gained, with the historical and diplomatic knowledge he had collected, he could not be at all sanguine in his hopes that this stipulation would actually take effect; and this not from any distrust he entertained personally of the head of the French monarchy, of whom, on the contrary, he was disposed personally to think very favourably. But if now, when the French had no capital engaged in the Slave Trade, not a ship, not a merchant, not a manufacturer, they yet cleaved so closely to this abhorred system, how much more must we fear that they would value and cling to it, when they would have so strong and manifest an interest in adhering to it, as in five years we must expect them to attain. It was not, however, to give vent to the feelings of an overloaded mind, Mr. W. said, that he had now risen, for in truth his feelings were far too deeply seated for him to be thus eased of them: but he rose chiefly to notice two particulars, to which he intreated his noble friend's immediate attention. The first respected the Treaty with Holland, which appeared to have been not yet concluded. If his noble friend could repose so much confidence in the French stipulation to abolish the Slave Trade after five years, he might be inclined to adopt the same principle of distant execution of an agreement to abolish, in the case of Holland also, and we might to her also surrender a great colony, which she would, for five years, be at liberty to cultivate with imported negroes. He enlarged a little on this topic, and expressed his earnest hopes that his noble friend would not then trust to any such distant speculation. The second particular to which he had alluded was the dreadful effects which would follow from fixing any certain number of years, during which the Slave Trade was to go on with out limitation, and at the end of which it was declared before-hand that it should altogether cease. What was this, but to encourage slave-traders to carry off, and planters to purchase, as vast a multitude of slaves as possible, while the opportunity of carrying off or of purchasing should continue to exist; and what was this, in plain terms, but a premium on robber and murder? what, but to encourage the desolating fury of this pest of society to rage with tenfold fury? Well, indeed on a similar occasion, had a passage of Holy Writ been applied, and with a most characteristic propriety of application both in point of matter and of manner—"Woe, woe, to the inhabitants of the earth; for the devil is come down in great wrath, knowing that his time is short." But his noble friend, Mr. W. was persuaded, could not but perceive the fatal consequences which must follow from the admission of this principle, and would be glad if it were possible to admit some modification of it, by limiting the total amount to tonnage which should be allowed, or the quantity of shipping, or the number of slaves which should be licensed to be imported into each particular colony. This, Mr. W. repeated, was a consideration of still more importance, because we had also surrendered to France her former settlements on the coast of Africa. Hence they would have unrestrained access to the African coast, and, alas! to that very part of it which our measures had happily exempted from the ravages of this cruel traffic; and now, just when the chieftains were beginning to open their eyes to their true interests—when the natives were beginning to awaken to the principles of an innocent and peaceful industry, all was to be undone, and again we were to endeavour to call forth their former savage appetites and practices; again to set nation against uation—village against village—family against family. When he considered the miseries that we were now about to renew, was it possible to regard them without the deepest emotions of sorrow? Still, as all this was known to his noble friend, he would not suppose that he could lightly or without what appeared to him the most imperious and almost irresistible necessity, set his hand to such a treaty. For his own part, indeed, he frankly declared no consideration could have induced him himself to consent to it, because it was doing evil that good might come; it was sacrificing an immense number of human beings, in a supposed hope, that at the end of a given period we should accomplish our object with the general consent of all parties. On that head, Mr. W. declared he had already said he scarcely durst be sanguine. Yet was there one consideration, one animating and gratifying object, on which, even now, he could look with great and unalloyed pleasure; for it was solacing and refreshing to the mind, when sickened by the view of low pursuits and mercenary interests, to be cheered by an exhibition of an opposite sort—to contemplate the dignified and generous in human character, the genial and beneficent in personal influence. He had already said with truth that he entertained a favourable opinion of the principles of the king of France; but he was now directing his view to the emperor of Russian—a man whose moral sublimity of conduct in grand and trying circumstances, even more than his military prowess, had excited a hope that he was to be regarded as the true hero the benefactor, not of Europe only, but of the human race. For surely, Mr. W. exclaimed, this great man would never debase his character, and blot his fair fame, by favouring the revival of a traffic of treachery and blood. Rather, he trusted, the emperor Alexander would exert himself the congress which was to be held in securing, if possible, the real execution of the stipulation for the termination of the Slave Trade after five years. Gladly, Mr. W. said, could he dwell on this more agreeable prospect though, after all, he durst not indulge such sanguine hopes of the real termination of the Stave Trade in five years. His noble friend must allow for his extreme regret, that when at length, after a laborious contention of so many years, he had seemed to himself in some degree in possession of the great object of his life—if then, when the cup was at his very lips, it was rudely dashed from them, for a term of years at least, if not for ever—heartily did he wish, that he might hereafter appear to have been too desponding. He would detain the House no longer, but be felt that it was urgently necessary to say what he had done without the least delay; and again be must press on his noble friend most strongly what he had already urged, concerning the extreme importance of applying some principles of limitation, as to the manner of carrying on the Slave Trade, to prevent the dreadful extent to which it must otherwise be carried, during the five bloody years, from the very declaration that it is then to cease forever. Only let him reflect on the dreadful consequences which would but too soon follow from the Treaty which was then before them; and let them consider, how cruelly severe was the fate of that unhappy continent; the cessation of war in this quarter of the globe, was only, to renew hostilities of a still more cruel and desolating character on the unoffending inhabitants of the African continent.

Lord Castlereagh

observed, that in point of order, he might decline discussing this interesting subject on the present occasion. But from respect to his hon. friend, who had so immortally distinguished himself in the great cause which he had undertaken, the abolition of the Slave Trade he would say a few words upon it. He sincerely trusted that, although the Treaty, as it regarded the abolition of that trade, was not so fortunate as to meet with his hon. friend's approbation, it would nevertheless prove a powerful instrument in the accomplishment of that great work in which his hon. friend had been so strenuous and successful a labourer. His hon. friend's feelings were perfectly natural, and he hoped that in his turn his hon. friend would do him (lord C.) the justice to recollect that, since a portion of the public authority had been place in his hands, be had not shown himself unmindful of his duty on the subject. As to the extension to the other ceded colonies of the principle which had accompanied the cessions to France, it must be recollected, that in Holland the deep apprehensions were not to be found which existed in the mind of the French nation with respect to their colonial commerce. But even as far as the French colonies were concerned, without anticipating the discussion on the subject, he could assure his hon. friend, that he acted under the strongest instructions from government at home, to make every possible effort to induce France to relinquish the traffic; and that, if be had relaxed in his demands upon that point, it was because he thought that to relax would be serviceable to the interests of the cause itself; and that to attempt to dictate to that great nation would be the most injurious course that could be pursued with respect to it. But although France was not bound by the Treaty to abolish the trade until after a certain time, he did not despair that before the arrival of that period, at which the prohibition of the trade would become mandatory on her subjects, she would, acting on a liberal and enlightened policy, mitigate the evils, or even accelerate the abandonment of the traffic. And he was convinced, that in confiding in the wisdom and discretion of that monarch who (to the blessing of Europe) now exercised a paternal sway in France, that he would gradually apply those means which his benevolence would suggest. We had acted a more gracious and a more useful part, than if we had ungenerously made use of any imperfect influence that we might possess, to force France to pursue an immediate policy repugnant to her views of her own interest. With respect to the cause itself, it could only be successful when all nations should cordially concur in the abolition; and in this view, it was a subject of pleasing contemplation that France had determined on the complete abolition at no very distant day. He could also assure his hon. friend, that his own wishes to see the abolition complete and universal, were not more ardent than he was enabled authoritatively to state were the wishes of the emperor of Russia. Such were also the feelings of the other two great monarchs—the emperor of Austria and the king of Prussia. And if there were difficulties in other countries, arising out of the peculiar circumstances of their condition; it was no unimportant consideration, that in any future we were sure of the support upon this subject of three great powers of Europe.

The Treaty was then laid on the table.

Lord Castlereagh

moved, that it should be taken into consideration on Friday se'night.

Lord Milton

expressed his satisfaction at the observations which had been made by his hon. friend (Mr. Wilberforce), and trusted they would have their due weight. It was no great consolation to those who were lamenting that the Slave Trade would still be carried on by France, to be told that the emperors of Russia and Austria, and the king of Prussia, none of whose subjects could carry on the trade, were desirous that it should be abolished. He was far from thinking with the noble lord, that at the expiration of the five years France would with great facility relinquish this abominable traffic. If she felt indisposed to abandon it at a time when she reaped no commercial advantage from its existence, what would be her disposition when the extinct commerce of her colonies should begin to revive? He wished then to ask the noble lord and his Majesty's ministers, whether the non fulfilment on the part of France of the article in the Treaty, respecting the Slave Trade, would be considered by them as a sufficient cause for war with France? If they did not go that length, then the hopes entertained by the friends of the abolition were worse than nothing, and they were only lulled into an imaginary security that would soon be completely and miserably dissipated.

The Treaty was then ordered to be taken into consideration on Friday se'nnight.

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