§ The House having resolved itself into a committee on the Bill to prohibit British subjects, or persons resident in the United Kingdom, from lending capital or doing other acts to assist the carrying on of the Slave Trade to colonies belonging to foreign states,
rose to object to the Bill in its present state, particularly as it was to have an immediate operation in the different quarters of the world. He was ready to concur in any measure which tended to crush this odious traffick. Let the measure of punishment be capital, if they pleased, although he saw no reason to think the last Act had proved inoperative; but let it not at once confound the innocent with the guilty. The clause to which he particularly objected, was that which rendered it penal, and punished as felons, those who lent any money upon mortgage, bond, or loan, in any of the islands which still trafficked in slaves. This unqualified sweep would at once extinguish the trade which existed between this country and the Spanish settlements; for it was impossible to carry on this trade without that species of credit, which would be made criminal by this Act.
§ Mr. Barham
suggested the propriety of allowing the Bill to go through its present stage; he would then be ready to adopt any suggestion which his hon. friend might deem expedient.
suggested, that with reference to the time of the Bill's operation, "from and after the 1st of August," would be a desirable introduction.
§ Mr. Barham
replied, that the reason why he wished it to stand from the present period was, that there were persons now in London endeavouring to procure money for the Slave traffick, who would thereby be deterred from following up their speculation.
said, that the 1st of August would not be a sufficient time for our subjects in the East Indies.
§ Sir J. Newport
could see no necessity for this notice, as the Legislature was not introducing a new punishment for a new offence, but augmenting a penalty already enacted for an old one.
§ Mr. Finlay
thought it advisable that persons who had pecuniary concerns with the colonies, should know how they might be affected by this Act.
§ Mr. W. Smith
agreed with his right hon. friend (sir J. Newport), that there was no necessity for granting this concession—it would be quite different if they were about to punish a new species of offence. They might as well expect, that, if an increase of punishment was about to be attached upon pick-pockets, those worthy persons should have the privilege of their ingenuity with impunity, until they could be courteously informed of the additional penalty which they would incur. If the Act was already forbidden, that was notification enough. Suppose, for instance, the present penalty for being connected with the Slave Trade, was 50l. per man, and it was intended to make it 100l. would it be deemed necessary to slay the enactment until due notice were served upon the probable delinquents? The principle was inadmissible, and seemed, indeed, to savour a little of that spirit which looked on the Slave Trade as if it were not a crime.
regretted that any thing which fell from him in the committee, could be so misconstrued as to imply his toleration of so odious a crime. It was a little too hard that gentlemen who merely wished to amend the form of a measure, should be stigmatised with a charge so seriously affecting their character, as that of being friendly to this detestable traffick. They only wanted that the clause should be filled up consistently with justice, and that an Act passed in England on the 5th of May, should not commence its operation in India, on the day after, it had been argued as if it were a mere question of a pecuniary nature, when, in fact, it was the application of a crime of felony, towards persons who had no knowledge of the consequences they were incurring, by a disposal of money in the fair course of trade with those islands, but who were thereby exposed to the in- 170 fliction of a severe punishment, for the commission of an offence of which they were wholly ignorant. Was this consistent with common sense, common justice, or common law?
thought the case of offenders under the present Act, was different from that of persons who had notoriously violated the law.
§ Mr. D. Giddy
contended for the safe principle of promulgating a law, before it was called into active operation.
disavowed having any interest in countenancing the Slave-trade, but thought it advisable that his friends in the Cape of Good Hope and the East Indies should be aware of the alteration proposed, for the purpose of guarding themselves against its consequences.
§ Mr. W. Smith
applauded the manly feeling which pervaded all who had already spoken upon this subject, and fully disavowed having meant to cast any improper reflection on any of those with whom he differed, particularly his hon. friend (Mr. Baring).
After a few words from lord Milton and sir James Mackintosh, relative to the regulation of the foreign boundaries, the following clause was adopted: "That the Bill should have operation within three months after its enactment, in all parts of Europe, Africa, the West Indies, and the Eastern coasts of the Mediterranean; and, in six months, in all the parts of the world beyond the Cape of Good Hope, Cape Horn, the East Indies," &c.
On the clause making it felony in any British subject to lend money on the security of any land or other property in any foreign island or colony, in which the Slave-trade is not abolished,
objected strongly to the extent of this provision, because it would serve to put an end to all traffick on our part with the places alluded to, for without credit trade could not go on. There were, it was notorious, several British and other merchants in those places, who were engaged in many commercial transactions unconnected with the Slave-trade; and would it be just to prohibit British subjects from making any advance to, or receiving any security from such places? He was aware of the motives which gave birth to this clause. An apprehension prevailed among British planters, and probably in the mind of the hon. mover, that British merchants were in the same habit of making loans to the planters of 171 foreign colonies as to our own planters, but this he knew to be an unfounded, or at least, a very exaggerated apprehension. From the Brazils, however, our merchants were obliged to receive securities to a considerable amount in return for our exports, and our trade from that quarter must cease, if the acceptance of such securities were made a felony. Another point to which he objected, was the summary tribunal, which was to judge of the guilt of transactions, often, from their nature, very complicated. The supposed offenders were to be tried in the same manner as pirates; that is, it was competent for any naval captain, afloat or ashore, to call together a council of seven persons, not under the rank of mates (which was little better than a common sailor's station), and to decide as they thought proper upon the quality of an offence for which such a punishment was prepared. Let the Act be made as strong as possible to visit those who might be found connected with the Slave-trade, but let it not be open to the introduction of so many abuses.
proposed the addition of the words "or other dominions or territories," in order to render the clause sufficiently comprehensive.
thought the clause unnecessarily extensive, even with a view to the hon. mover's object, and, declaring that he should have no objection to the measure, if duly limited, proposed the insertion of these words, "for the purpose of carrying on the Slave-trade:" To this trade, he was as averse as any gentleman in that House; but he felt it just and expedient to protect other commercial dealings from the visitation of this law.
§ Mr. Barham
opposed this amendment. He first corrected a mistake of his hon. friend, relative to the mode of trying offenders. The tribunal which had been stated, could only exist where the parties Were tried on the high seas. If the amendment were adopted, the whole Bill would be rendered nugatory. It would be then a declaratory, not a binding enactment. With reference to the trade which the hon. member supposed would be interrupted by this Bill, unless it had lately become greatly altered indeed, so far from protecting it, its discouragement would, in a political sense, be highly salutary. The House would not, he trusted, after their efforts for twenty years, enter into 172 this question with a view of discussing it upon its quantum of profit, instead of its quantum of guilt. The clause as it then stood was actually necessary, otherwise the greatest temptation to evasion would be afforded, with the utmost facility of success. The Bill was, in fact, to prevent, as far as legislative interposition, could accomplish, the crime of the Slave-trade where it still existed. Suppose, for instance, a planter at Cuba, St. Croix, or any other place, wants to raise money from a merchant to carry on this traffick— they knew well a respectable individual would not enter into a connexion of this sort, but they also knew there were many others who would. The planter will not say, "Lend me 10,000l. to buy 40O slaves," for be knows the merchant could not make that contract; but he will say, "You shall have a mortgage for that sum, on your own terms, upon my estate." This at once decided the matter—the money bargain was closed. Now let the House look to the temptation for entering into such contracts. The price of slaves for Cuba, including every expense of risky, except that which this Bill imposed, was about 25l. each: for our own islands, the price was 100l.; it followed, therefore, that the price of labour was four times cheaper in the former, and the profit four times as great as in our own islands. If it created a profit of 10 per cent. in the latter, it produced 40 in the other, thereby leaving to the planter and merchant a dividend of 20 per cent. By British capital, all the Spanish Slave-trade, a great part of the Portuguese, and one half the Danish, was carried on. Eleven millions had been sent to Demerara upon a former occasion to form a capital for this trade, and considerable sums had been sent out since the last peace for a similar purpose. He was well informed, that there were persons in this town at the present moment negociating for loans, with a view to gain by the nefarious traffick to which the Bill applied. But it was impossible that Parliament would allow such speculations to succeed; for, exclusive of its desire to discountenance the Slave-trade, there were various considerations of general policy applicable to both war and peace, which should urge us to discourage the investment of British capital in foreign dominions. He concluded with observing, that the original clause would render the general measure effective, show the world that we were sincere in our professions, 173 and anxious to do what we called on other nations to perform.
Mr. Serjeant Onslow
thought the adoption of the amendment would render the Bill a solemn mockery, and make it wholly nugatory. He said that Spain and Portugal were more than usually desirous to stock their colonies with slaves, which they never could accomplish without the assistance of British capital. In support of this opinion, the learned Serjeant, mentioned the sentiments of the Spanish ambassador. In allusion to Cuba particularly, British capital was advanced to proprietors in that island, upon mortgages of land and other property; and by means of that, Cuba was rapidly advancing in agricultural improvement, and in the increase of its slaves. If the committee did not pass the Bill as it originally stood, they would hold out a premium to other nations, to the detriment of our own colonies. But, independent of all commercial considerations, the Bill ought to receive their assent, as it would be a complete answer to all the calumnies thrown out by other countries, on the motives which influenced England in desiring the general abolition of the Slave Trade, and who said that it was a measure rather of policy than of humanity. He declared, that sooner than admit the amendment, he would reject the Bill altogether.
thought that the other clauses of the Bill were effectual and valid provisions, and would have a beneficial operation, even though the particular one under discussion, to which he had a decided objection, were thrown out. If that clause were agreed to, it would interdict all our trade with the Brazils, the Caraccas, and Buenos Ayres; and when it was remembered, according to documents before the House, that the amount of that trade was ten millions annually, would it be said it was not an object worth retaining? He was at a loss to conceive for what purpose it was introduced. It could not be for the sake of abolishing the Slave-trade, because it related to a trade which was perfectly innocent and legitimate.
§ Sir James Mackintosh
said, he really could not comprehend the proposition that British capital being vested in the transactions of foreign planters in islands where the Slave-trade was still carried on, did not tend to encourage and promote that trade. Suppose those planters, by the use and application of that capital, were enabled to increase their plantations 174 five or tenfold, would they hot require a proportionate increase of slaves to cultivate the soil? Would any man say, that permitting such an application of British capital was not perpetuating that detestable traffic? But it was doing more also; it was positively affording a premium on the produce of those islands, belonging to governments which had not yet abolished the Slave-trade, and, at the same time, inflicting a penalty on the colonies of such sovereigns as had listened to the voice of justice and humanity, spoken to them by the British nation. He was quite sure that the predictions of commercial loss that would be sustained by abolishing that supplementary and auxiliary Slave-trade, would prove as groundless as the prophecies that were uttered when the original measure was discussed. If they rejected the principle of the clause, they might as well reject the Bill, for where the strength; of temptation, and the facility of evasion were so great, nothing but making the practice penal could prevent its existence.
contended, that while the Spanish trade was supported by British capital, it was England who carried on the Slave-trade; and said that it was the opinon of sir Henry Wellesley, that the Spanish trade was carried on solely by British capital. He thought the House ought to consider whether the clause was necessary, and if necessary, it ought to be adopted. For his part, he conceived it his duty to connect it with the original abolition.
lamented that the gentlemen who had opposed the amendment had such little practical knowledge of trade, for he was convinced that their objections arose from misconception. He disclaimed every wish of increasing the Stave-trade, and believed, most conscientiously, that not an additional slave would be created by it. He could not think any commercial advantages a sufficient justification for the revival of that traffick. He said, that the Slave-trade was regarded with the utmost abhorrence, by every English merchant, and nothing could induce them to afford it the least support; but he was convinced, that if the clause in the Bill were known generally, every commercial body in England would send petitions against its enactment.
§ Sir S. Romilly
argued against the amendment, which, he said was a solemn mockery, and tended to destroy the prin 175 ciple of the Bill. He asked, would any man in lending his money insist on knowing for what purpose it was designed? and contended, that by permitting money to be borrowed on any security, would facilitate the stocking of the Spanish islands with slaves. He objected to the extent of punishment proposed in the Bill; felony was much too severe, as it was attended with the forfeiture of all a man's goods and chattels. This, he was aware, was the usual routine of legislation; but it arose from the inattention of gentlemen to its nature, and by its extreme severity, rendered many laws totally ineffectual. He thought the offence should be designated a misdemeanour, punishable by fine and imprisonment; the forfeiture being to the amount of two or three times the sum advanced.
§ Mr. W. Smith
thought that the object would be as much defeated by allowing those securities to be taken for goods sold, as if it was for money lent. It would require no great ingenuity or contrivance to lend money to promote the Slave-trade, under the appearance of sending goods to the Spanish collates, which were to be secured by mortgage.
said, that it was often necessary, in payment for goods sent out, to take such security as could be got. No British merchant would voluntarily lend money on the security of Spanish plantations, as the legal rate of interest there would not reimburse them. To prevent British merchants, however, from getting any security for the payment of goods sent out there, would be highly injurious to the general interests of British trade.
stated his reasons for supporting the amendment; he conceived that the original clause was attended with many disadvantages, without attaining the great object it professed to have in view. He was aware that no British merchant would advance capital to support the Slave-trade, but there was nothing to prevent the application of it indirectly to that purpose.
§ Sir J. Newport
supported, the clause. This country, he said, had already made great and meritorious sacrifices for the destruction of the trade. In order to convince the other nations of Europe that we were thoroughly sincere, he thought we should not object to this further sacrifice.
§ Mr. Barham
complained that gentlemen would not assist him in framing such amendments as would attain the object of 176 their general wishes. He would, however, with, a desire of gratifying all, propose to the committee, that no security should be taken of lands, houses, slaves, or growing crops, leaving still open all the floating capital. This, he hoped, would meet their approbation.
§ Mr. Wilberforce
supported the clause. As to what had been said of the Spanish laws being an obstruction to British merchants lending on such security, it must be recollected, that the Spaniards could alter their laws when it suited their interests. They had very lately, in the case of the Slave-trade, altered their laws, so as to allow slaves to be imported in foreign ships.
Mr. Serjeant Onslow
said, that a persevering legislature would bear down every attempt to evade their enactments. He thought that if they now showed themselves determined to apply a remedy, to the evil pointed out to them, there was no danger of their not being able to prevent an evasion of their laws.
The Committee divided: For the Amendment 7; Against it 52. Mr. Barham then proposed his amendment on the original clause, to which Mr. Baring objected, and proposed to amend the amendment, by leaving out 'growing crops and buildings.'
§ Sir James Mackintosh
said, the whole object of the clause would be defeated, if it did not apply to growing crops. He hoped the amendment would be negatived.
said, that if the Bill were to pass without this amendment, it would destroy the foundation of all our commerce with the Spanish and Portuguese colonies. The great advantage possessed by Great Britain in trading with these colonies consisted in the power of making advances.
§ Mr. Barham
thought the conduct of the gentlemen who opposed the clause was most extraordinary. He had agreed to leave out ships, buildings, and other matters which they considered objectionable, but this would not satisfy them; they now demanded that growing crops should be exempted from the operation of the Bill; to which he could not consent.
contended, that the exemption of growing crops, while it would be a great convenience to the commerce of the country, would not at all interfere with the object of the hon. gentleman.
§ Mr. Finlay
conceived, if the security of the growing crop were not excepted, the effect would be to curtail very important branches of commerce.
The Committee then divided: For the Amendment 11; Against it 49.
§ Sir James Mackintosh
moved an amendment to the clause, providing that persons offending against the Act should be treated as felons, which went to enact that they should be punished by fine and imprisonment; the fine in all cases to be three times the amount of the sum lent; a moiety of it to go to the King, and the other moiety to the informer, provided the information should be given within five years after the commission of the offence.
A desultory conversation took place between sir J. Mackintosh, Mr. Serjeant Onslow, and Messrs. Bathurst, J. P. Grant, Baring, Finlay, and Marryat, which ended in sir J. Mackintosh agreeing to substitute three years instead of five, and omitting any mention of action for debt. The clause, thus amended, was carried. On the clause, pointing out the mode of trial for offenders against the provisions of the Bill, being read, Mr. Baring objected to it, as trenching on the liberty of the subject. Unless some learned gentleman could explain it satisfactorily to him, he should divide the committee on it. After some observations from Mr. Barham, Mr. J. P. Grant, and sir J. Mackintosh, the Committee divided: For the clause 33; Against it 11. The House then resumed, and the report was ordered to be received on Tuesday.