§ The House having resolved itself into a committee, to take into consideration the Treaty with Spain for preventing the Slave Trade, [See p. 67.]
said, that in introducing the Treaty to the attention of the House, and in proposing a resolution which should carry its purposes into effect, he could not avoid calling to their recollection their own recommendation to the throne at the end of the last session. It was in strict conformity to that recommendation that those treaties were framed; and he felt confident that the House would be satisfied of 233 their object and effect being most beneficial. What a considerable alteration had been effected in the progress of this great moral question since the period to which he had alluded! It would then have been impossible for the most sanguine to anticipate that, in the short period of the interval that has since occurred, his majesty's government, under whose special protection it was left by the legislature, would have been enabled, not alone to extend the principle of the abolition, but to obtain the co-operation of all the states of Europe, by common regulations, to prevent the possibility of any illicit traffic to the northward of the Equator. In looking at this subject as it now presented itself, he thought he could do nothing better than lay before the House, the state of the abolition at the close of the last session, and then show what had been done since that period. He begged the House to bear in mind that there were two distinct questions involved in this subject. First, What was the actual state of the abolition as a great international law? Secondly, what was its state with a view to giving effect to the whole principle on which it was founded? He would first show the state of the law on this subject. Great improvements were made in the law from year to year; but in no year was the improvement greater than in the last year. To prove this at once, he had only to state, that all the crowned heads of Europe, except Portugal, so far as the south of the line was concerned, had either abolished the slave trade, or entered into stipulations for its abolition at some future period. The House would agree with him, that our own abolition of the trade, and all our enactments against it were nothing, unless we exerted all our power and all our influence to put an end to the trade among other nations. There was, however, no other power whose continuance or discontinuance of the trade was of more importance than the power with whom the present treaty had been formed. When he recollected the disappointment felt by the House at the continuance of the trade by France for a period now nearly elapsed, when he recollected how strongly this disappointment was felt and expressed, he was assured of the satisfaction it must give the House to find Spain, infinitely the most important of all the European powers in this view, both for local authority and extent of colonies, 234 stipulating for the final abolition of the trade. While Spain carried on, and protected by her trade and her flag, this traffic both on the northern and on the southern coasts of Africa, all that France, Holland, and the other powers of Europe could do for the abolition was nugatory. There was no slave trade now to the north of the line: it could be carried on by possibility only to the southward of the line from May 1820. After that period there could be no slave trade to the north of the line: there could be no slave trade carried on with the West Indies. Till this treaty was effected, the legal and illicit trade were so mixed up that the one gave ample protection to the other; but now there was a broad line of demarcation.
There was a wide practical distinction between the abolition by treaty, or by the act of any particular state, and the giving effect to the principle of abolition. The congress at Vienna, if it had no other ground of merit or distinction, was entitled to the gratitude of mankind on this subject; for there all the great powers of Europe made a declaration which stamped the slave trade as disgraceful, and made every state anxious to get out of it as soon as circumstances could conveniently admit of its doing so. The disgraceful practice and the unmanly theory of this trade were from that moment denounced. But, though much had been done at the congress of Vienna (and indeed if nothing more had been effected than the very character the parties to that congress affixed to the prosecution of this traffic, a great moral triumph was achieved, inasmuch as it imposed upon those states. who, from various suggestions of policy, were averse to an immediate abolition, to escape from a course thus solemnly declared to be inconsistent with the dictates of morality and justice); yet still it was painful to state, that from the encouragement which such a traffic held out to the sordid passions of desperate men, neither international conventions, nor municipal law, could have extirpated the evil, so long as a contraband traffic might be carried on under the cover of the flag of any of the nations of Europe.
If this illicit slave trade did not extend itself as far as at any former period, it carried greater cruelty and malignity into it. The peril, the alarm, the violence of the illicit trader inflicted cruelties unknown when the more humane 235 regular trade was concerned. In this state of the trade, more disgraceful and more painful circumstances occurred than before. We had no reason to complain of any government on this point of the subject, for no government gave any encouragement to this illicit trade carried on under its flag. To France, in particular, he must do the justice to say, that she had done every thing in her power to check this illicit trade under her flag. The illicit traffic arose out of the partial abolition, and out of the facilities that the cessation of belligerent rights, in consequence of the peace, created. It was infinitely more easy in peace than during war. In the time of war, tin's country had extensive possessions in several parts of the world. No man would say, that we ought to have retained these in our hands for the purpose of excluding slave traders. In time of war our ships had the right to search neutral ships, and this, too, was a great check. He admitted all these difficulties as they had actually existed. We had now, however, by the conclusion of the present treaty, arrived at the last stage of our difficulties, and the last stage of our exertions. One great portion of the world was rescued from the horrors of this traffic, aggravated as it must be by contraband speculators. For the first time, he believed, in diplomatic history the states of Europe bound themselves by a mutual stipulation to exercise the right of visit over their merchantmen, with the view of giving complete effect to the same laudable object. They felt on the adjustment of these regulations, the difficulties with which they were surrounded—they narrowed the operation so as to avoid all grounds of complaint arising from a wanton exercise of them. Aware that no independent state would consent to any unjustified interference with its flag, they contracted that no visit should be made by a naval commander, without his having special instructions for that purpose, and that detention should not take place, unless slaves were actually found on board. The power with whom the present treaty was contracted, afforded by its flag more protection to illicit slave traders than any other nation. This resource was now taken from that baneful evil. The House must be perfectly sensible of the jealousy which was felt by every maritime power, and of the prejudices that were always created by every proceeding which bore the appearance of 236 an encroachment upon an independent flag. It was due to Portugal and to the zealous exertions of its representative in this country to state that, after a long negotiation that power was the first to concede the right of visit, under certain arrangements and regulations to other nations. A sum of money had been paid to that power by virtue of a treaty similar in principle to the present, and the consideration for which was made up of this concession, and of an indemnity to claimants for restitution against British captors. The Portuguese government had been, however, at that time called upon to determine at what period it would be prepared to adopt measures for the final and entire repression of the slave trade. These representations on our part had been discontinued with increasing-success, aided by the favourable disposition and exertions of the Portuguese resident at the British court; and a treaty had at length been signed by which a certain period was fixed for the total abolition of this evil. The ratifications had not yet been exchanged, but it gave him satisfaction to communicate, that he had received an official notice that it had been approved of by the government, and that the ratifications might be immediately expected. The House would thus see, that a disposition had been unequivocally evinced on the part of Portugal to abandon the traffic in slaves altogether. But it was obvious, that this desirable result could not have been brought about without concessions founded upon a principle of reciprocity; and that, whilst we, as acting in the discharge of a duty, claimed the right of searching Portuguese vessels, for the purpose of detecting an illicit trade, we necessarily subjected ourselves to a counter-claim of the same nature.
The prudential inference from this admission of a reciprocal right was, that it must be for the interest of both parties to place the exercise of it under such regulations as should provide against vexatious disputes, and be so plain and intelligible, that it must be difficult for questionable points to arise in the ordinary course of executing the laws upon this subject. It was, there could be no doubt, desirable that the grounds of detention should have been made more extensive; but he apprehended that the policy of narrowing the exercise of this authority to some particular and palpable cases would appear to be no less manifest. By the present treaty 237 of regulation, no detention tinder the newly stipulated right of search was to take place, except in the case of slaves being found actually on board. There was reason to apprehend, in carrying this right to any further extent, the origin of so many doubtful acts involving questions of a high and difficult nature, that this apprehension alone appeared to him to prove satisfactorily the prudence of such an arrangement. There was, however, another special reason for appointing this limit to the principle of mutual interference. It was necessary that all nations should have an equal right of discovering the illicit practices carried on by the subjects of each other; and he could assure the House, that it would be a great error to believe, that the reproach of carrying on the slave trade illegally belonged only to other countries. In numberless instances, he was sorry to say, it had come to his knowledge, that British subjects were indirectly and largely engaged; and it was reasonable to suppose that there always would be sordid individuals, who would pursue their own interests under foreign disguise, and by the most criminal means.
He wished to see the power of abolishing this illicit trade to be as universal as the law itself. He hoped he should hereafter see the spirit of this universal law wrought into the moral feelings and habits of the whole of Europe. But this effect could not be expected to follow immediately upon the promulgation of the law; some time must be allowed to elapse, as we all knew it had been allowed to elapse in this country after the abolition, before the mind of the public could be prepared to regard it in that view which was now generally entertained respecting it by other powers. The object, therefore, of narrowing the right of detention within the limits he had described, was that of inducing all the different states of Europe to enter into a common system in that form which was most consistent with their own safety, and to which they would have the smallest difficulty in consenting. The absence of that full moral sympathy to which he had alluded, was not the only obstacle which the situation of Spain and Portugal had presented to the exertions of his majesty's ministers for the accomplishment of this end. They were powers whose territories comprised a vast extent of colonial coast, the superintendence over which was not within the reach of any 238 administrative functions which had hitherto subsisted. With regard to France,' he believed that, when the decree of abolition was passed by her government, it was intended to be carried into effect in the largest sense in which that term could be understood. Whether the law had been effectual was a distinct question which the French cabinet was now engagged in considering, together with the expediency of acceding to those arrangements which had at length been concluded between Great Britain and the courts of Portugal and Spain.
On the subject of making the traffic punishable as a crime, he must observe, that this country was the first to set this example. Portugal had the credit of being the first to imitate it, and the Spanish government had the same purpose in contemplation. But even after these legislative penalties should have been enacted, there would still remain a great and obvious danger if the flag of one nation were to be considered as the unique protection against the cruizers of every other. Unless therefore some arrangement were made on the subject all the efforts to destroy the trade would prove abortive. If the abolition of the trade in slaves was of infinite importance to humanity, those regulations by which alone it could be effectually accomplished were ten times more so. We should not do our duty if we stopped short with declaring the abolition of the trade, and refrained even from subjecting ourselves to inconveniencies wholly to suppress the evil. A rational hope might be entertained that the different states of Europe, by combining their efforts and their rights, upon the same general arrangement, and in pursuit of the same end, might ultimately succeed in preventing the flag of any one state from being abused as a cover of their crimes by the subjects of another. Without some system thus efficacious and universal in the principles which it recognized, the House, he thought, would agree with him that they should only have exchanged a regulated for an illicit trade, and that the abolition would only have caused it to be carried on in a more malignant form, and tinctured with a deeper character of atrocity. It was not merely important to obtain a recognition of the principle fully established by the treaties under consideration—he meant the principle of a mutual right of visit—but it became necessary to stipulate also the means of adjudication in 239 cases of detention under the exercise of this right. No independent power could be expected to allow that the property of its subjects in the time of peace should be seized and condemned to the extent of confiscation by the judgments of a foreign tribunal. Yet it was obvious that to leave all such cases to the decision of that court to which the party captured would choose to resort, and which would naturally be that of his own country, would be far from satisfactory. There was equal inconvenience to be apprehended from appointing a tribunal in the country of the captors, and in the country of the captured. The question thus arose, whether some tribunal of a mixed nature was not that which was best calculated to conciliate confidence; and the example of the one appointed by the treaty of France for the determination of colonial claims, afforded an encouraging belief that similar institutions would not operate unsuccessfully in this instance it had appeared to him to be the best mode which had suggested itself of bringing such questions of forfeiture as should occur to an amicable as well as a just determination. All these arrangements, he could assure the House, had been the work of much time, and of protracted negotiation. That negotiation had continued in progress nearly three years, in consequence of the many difficulties which it was necessary to surmount, although the ability and diligence of sir H. Wellesley in pursuing them, and of Mr. Vaughan, the minister at the court of Madrid in his absence had entitled them to the esteem and gratitude of the country. The House might estimate the difficulties with which the court of Spain had to contend on the subject by those which had impeded the progress of the abolition in this country.
In return for the advantages and concessions at length obtained, the House must of course have expected that some claim of compensation would be advanced by Spain. He might, however, assure them, that the difficulty had not lain in the disposition of the Spanish government to much as in the prejudices naturally entertained upon this subject amongst a commercial and colonial people. It was impossible for the government, without doing an imprudent violence to those prejudices, to have terminated the negotiations at an earlier period. With reference to the pecuniary compensation amounting to 400,000l., which it was stipulated by 240 one of these treaties Spain should receive, he had to state, that so far was this from being the only motive on the part of the court of Spain for acceding to the treaty, that the Spanish merchants at the Havannah had offered five times the amount for the privilege of still continuing it. The House had had some experience as to the general nature of this subject, and former discussions had established certain criteria by which it was now necessary in justice to estimate it. On one occasion, which the House must well remember, when his majesty's ministers were pressed to disclose what was the state and course of the pending negotiations on this subject, he had stated that an offer had been made on the part of the British to the Spanish government of the sum of 850,000l. upon the conditions contained in the treaties now concluded, together with a loan of 10,000,000 of dollars, in consideration of an immediate abolition; and that this offer had been refused. Not a voice was then raised in parliament to disapprove of this offer, as excessive or impolitic. Some members there were whom he now saw in their places, who declared their persuasion that it was vain to expect that Spain, however she might negotiate, would ever finally consent to a treaty of abolition. He hoped that, with these recollections, the House would take an honest view of this question, and not shrink from the limited pecuniary sacrifice which they were called upon to make. He had already said, that it did not grow out of any aversion before entertained by the Spanish cabinet to the measure at length happily adopted, though unquestionably the sentiment declared at the congress of Vienna had carried its influence to every court of Europe. The government of Spain had referred the question to the council of the Indies, whose decision admitted the principle of abolition, but under such qualifications as rendered it impossible to view it immediately as a question chiefly of moral feeling. It was undoubtedly true that his majesty's ministers felt not a little embarrassed in their recent negotiations with the Spanish government, by the magnitude of the offer which the British government, encouraged and sanctioned by parliament, had formerly made to Spain. When that offer of 850,000l., and a loan of ten million of dollars was made to Spain, he did not recollect that a single hon. member characterized it as improvident. But however that proposition‡241 might have been thought wise at the time it was made, he repeated, that it was a millstone about the necks of the British government in the late negotiation. His majesty's ministers had been obliged to represent to the court of Spain, that since the offer to which he had adverted England had fought in the cause of the world, and that, having achieved its safety, it had been rendered unable, by its efforts, to expend the sum originally proposed; and therefore, that Spain must confine its claims within narrower limits. In the course of the protracted negotiation that ensued, the reduction had been made which the treaty exhibited; and if the whole of the discussion was before the House, it would appear that ministers had obtained the best terms they could. It was stipulated that the 400,000l. should be paid in one entire sum, and that that portion of it which was to indemnify claimants under illegal captures should be paid to the Spanish government in the first instance, to whom the claimants would then have to look for satisfaction. This last was the course adopted in the Portuguese treaty, and appeared the more proper, as the claims in question were not upon the British government, but upon the captors. It had been requested that arrangements and regulations should be made, by which such claims might be substantiated as might be considered just, and that such compensation as was thought advisable might be given for all losses that would be sustained. Claims were made, and claims to a very large amount indeed, which they were, however, induced finally to withdraw. The articles were, in consequence, altered to the state in which they now appeared. Under all circumstances, then, he trusted that the sum which had been agreed upon had been made as low as possible, and that it went, in reality, very little if at all beyond what the general justice of the country might be supposed to afford. Indeed, it seemed to him, that the affair could not now take another course.
There was one objection which might be urged against this transaction, and that was with respect to the mode in which Spain might perhaps appropriate their money. He trusted, however, that this important subject would not in any way be mixed up with the great question of South America. He should most earnestly deprecate any mixture of so great, 60 distinct a question with the matter now under 242 consideration. And if the government of Spain had shown every disposition to favour this country as far as was consistent with their interests, if they had made great concessions to sound principle, and brought themselves to that situation that they really manifested a desire to meet the feelings of this country, it was nothing more than justice that we should show a cordiality towards that government, and whatever we might do, above all things, we should betray a disposition to show them that we gave them full credit for every thing they had done to advance our plans, and that nothing should embarrass this great bond of union which was now existing between the two countries. Upon the question of South America, he thought that was one of too great magnitude to be discussed incidentally with what was at present before the House. Indeed, he did not think the House could enter into such a discussion for another reason—they had not information sufficient about that country to enable them to consider its bearings upon any question; they did not know precisely the situation in which it stood. That was a question indeed that involved too many great principles for any man hastily to discuss it, and all the complicated policy with which it was connected. He trusted that there was nothing to excite any adverse feelings on the part of any gentleman, but that they would all allow that it was wise and proper to enter into such a treaty; that it was liberal and just; and that under those feelings they would not mix it with grounds which could not properly be discussed till they were fully understood. On the whole he hoped that there would be but one feeling of gratitude to Spain for an exertion which was so much to her honour, and to the benefit of the world—an exertion, he said, for it was a great exertion on her part. He trusted that when that one great effort had been made, no difference would arise between the governments, but that it would be seen and understood; and that Spain intended not only to abolish the slave trade as far as she was concerned, but to effect what would be in fact its complete annihilation. It was evident that it could never have been abolished but for Spain; for though the traffic might have been excluded from our own colonies, and from parts with which we were intimately connected, as long as the Spanish flag should float on her foreign possessions, it would 243 be kept up there, in all the southern provinces of the United States, and in the whole of that depot to which those who employed themselves in such transactions would constantly resort.
He did not know that he had any thing farther of importance to state to the committee, but he was glad that we might congratulate ourselves upon our drawing so nearly to the close of so infamous a traffic. We had one satisfaction—all had been done that was in our power. It was well known how great had been the exertions of the country on the subject. With respect to regulation and treaty, the exertion of that principle had been commenced, and he hoped we should soon see the good effects of the proceedings; although he would not say a word that might prejudge the deliberations of the powers who were now considering the best means of regulation for carrying this desirable object into effect. He was persuaded that no effort would be wanting on their part for the purpose; and whatever repugnance this and other countries might entertain to any interference with their maritime rights, he was persuaded that the strong moral feeling which the present question must necessarily excite, would overcome all prejudices of that nature, and that all nations would become united in the same sentiment with regard to the destruction of this trade. Under these circumstances he should move, "That provision be made for carrying into execution the Treaty between his Britannic Majesty and his Catholic Majesty, signed at Madrid the 23d day of September 1817." And if the House should be of opinion that his motion was such as ought to be entertained, he should move for a bill or bills to be brought in in pursuance of that motion, and when the House went into the committee of supply, should move a resolution for a sum of 400,000l., in consequence of the provisions of those bills. In this, as in all proceedings of a similar nature, it was for the legislature to complete the work. The Crown could only take steps subject to the disapproval or confirmation of parliament. But he did hope, that when the great extent of the benefit that would be conferred was put in comparison with the money that was to be paid, or the inconvenience that might be incurred, parliament would not fail to set an example to all the countries of Europe, and to show, that that power which was so great in point of maritime 244 rights, was the first to submit its flag and those rights to such interference as might prevent them from becoming the cloak of crime and immorality, and of those principles which were now become universally and justly detested by the world.
Sir Gilbert Heathcote,
much as he sympathized in the deplorable situation of those whom it was intended to rescue from slavery and suffering by the measure under consideration, could not help regretting that a vote for so considerable a sum of money should be proposed by the noble lord at such a period. He could not but reflect in what a condition many of his fellow-countrymen were at that moment, and how much might be done for them by the money that was now proposed to be granted to a foreign court; and to a court, and when he said it, he did not mean to offend any party, to say nothing more of it, which was not the most popular in Europe. He was of opinion that the 400,000l. might be much more advantageously distributed in this country. It would furnish the means of giving to 8,000 individuals the sum of 50l. each. To him it appeared to be false humanity to be thus seeking for foreign channels of disposing of our money, however benevolent our intention. Nor did it appear to him that Spain had the power of expediting the abolition of the slave trade to the extent desired. Without touching on the subject, the discussion of which at the present moment the noble lord had very properly deprecated, he might say that the revolt of the Spanish colonies in South America was notorious, that several of those colonies had established their independence, and that probably the whole of Spanish America would eventually be emancipated. What would then be the situation of Spain with reference to colonial possessions? Those possessions would be confined to Cuba, and to the Spanish part of St. Domingo. We should in that case therefore be purchasing humanity at too dear a rate. He was astonished that his majesty's ministers could advise the Prince Regent to accede to such a treaty at such a time. Whether in peace or in war the people of this country were, it seemed, to be goaded into madness by incessant demands on their pockets. It was impossible that we could thus continue to be the general paymasters of Europe. If we were to be compelled to pay money for any phantasy which might enter into the head of any 245 monarch, he could not see how it would be possible to make the income of the country meet its annual expenditure. He was surprised that ministers were not impressed with the necessity of discontinuing so profuse a system of policy. He hoped, however, if the practice was in this instance to be submitted to, that this would be the last payment, and that a strict line of economy would in future be acted upon. If the House wished to regain a part of that public confidence which they ought properly to possess (and of which they had lost much of late years) it would be by well considering grants of the same kind with that now before them: and if they wished to be in the situation of a great and powerful nation, it would be by acting up to the principles of the constitution, and making themselves guardians of the public purse. He was fully aware that the final abolition of the slave-trade had many zealous and able advocates; and he could only say that it was in his opinion most detestable, and no man more desired than himself that it should be abolished in every quarter of the globe. He saw one hon. gentleman who had been the most able supporter, and almost the cause of the abolition, who would, he hoped, be remembered almost to the end of time, at least in this country, the seat of his exertions. But notwithstanding he was so complete an advocate of the abolition, he could not but think that there required some care and precaution before the repeated demands upon the country were complied with. He hoped, as he had said before, that the present would be the last. When so many had stood foremost in support of the just prerogatives of the crown, he hoped that that House would be alive to the feelings and the sufferings of the people, and would therefore keep a vigilant eye upon the acts and proceedings of the government; because to make professions of economy without practice was doing very little for the country. He wished that the House would consider what they were about to do; the grant they were called upon to make would at once add 20,000l. to the national expenditure, as interest for the 400,000l. that was to be paid to Spain in consequence of the treaty. There was a maxim that one ought to be just before one was generous, which was very applicable to our present situation. If the coffers of the country had been full, he should be willing enough to give the no- 246 ble lord even a million of money if he wanted it; but now the coffers were empty, we could not afford unnecessary expenditure, and he was averse to granting 400 pence to any potentate in Europe. Were he to follow his own inclination, it would be to move an address to the Prince Regent, praying that that part of the treaty which regarded the 400,000l. should not be carried into execution. But as it was, he should be satisfied with having entered his protest against such a grant.
§ Mr. Wilberforce
confessed his surprise at the observations of the hon. baronet. He was persuaded that the House would think that the sum of 400,000l. could not be better expended than in the way proposed. As to the proposition for granting 50l. each to 8,000 individuals in this country, the hon. baronet forgot that if the 400,000l. were not voted for the purpose under discussion, it would not be voted for any other. Instead of 8,000 persons, however, among whom this 400,000l. might be divided, or on whom, to take another view of the subject, the expense was to fall, the whole population of the empire ought to be calculated upon, and it would then appear that the relief in the one case, and the burthen in the other, amounted to two-pence half-penny a man; and the question then was, whether for such a consideration, a national object, an object of such unquestionable humanity, an object so connected with the character of the country, should be abandoned. One thing was perfectly clear—that the hon. baronet's proposal could not be adopted, and that the treaty (and with it all hope of the extinction of the slave trade), must be wholly rejected, or that it must be accepted with the pecuniary stipulation under consideration. As one most seriously interested in the abolition of the slave traed, he must say, that he thought the noble lord entitled to his warmest gratitude for the efforts which he had made during a long course of diplomatic attention to the subject, and for the successful issue to which he had eventually brought those efforts. The hon. baronet was taking a very incorrect view of the subject indeed, if he thought the payment of the sum stipulated so much money lost to the country. Supposing that we were really determined to effect the abolition of the slave trade, without the treaty, there could scarcely be any thing more likely to give rise to disputes between this country and others, and a single armament would cost 247 more than the whole amount of this very sum. Nor could he exclude the idea, that we should one day form with the country, to which we were hitherto known only by our guilt, a commercial connexion, that would do much more than repay us for any pecuniary sacrifices which our disposition to atone for that guilt might induce, He was sanguine enough to believe that he should himself see this country beginning to derive the greatest advantages from its intercourse with a people no longer classed with the beasts of the field, but invested with the moral dignity that was the undoubted attribute of all human beings. At that very moment there was on the coast of Africa a free community of from 10 to 12,000 men, chiefly Africans, living under the influence of the British law, and advancing rapidly in the path of civilization. It would be an interesting, and striking, and glorious scene, if we should form a connexion with the interior which would more than compensate for all the trouble and expense of our exertions. The negotiation which led to the treaty now under the consideration of the committee, had been a very protracted one; he was persuaded that its favourable termination arose in a great measure from the foundation laid at the congress at Vienna, and he congratulated the British government on having, in conjunction with the other great powers of Europe, established those principles which had led to so important a result—It might be necessary for Spain to make great sacrifices to her subjects in order to carry the proposed intention into effect.—The simple question was, "Shall the slave trade be abolished, or shall it not? If that was resolved in the affirmative, it would not be found enough that we had ourselves declared for its abolition. It was also necessary that we should arrange with other states the means by which that abolition might be-secured. He hoped to see the day when all the powers of Europe should act in concert on this subject, and when the slave trade should assume its real name and character, be called nothing less than piracy, and be visited with the punishment due to that crime. If such, then, were really the nature and character of that trade; if we carried it on for so many years, and we could so long submit ourselves to such a traffic; if we judged from the tardy justice which we ourselves rendered: if we could continue the trade as we did when we had the means of provid- 248 ing our colonies—if all these things were considered, was there not something due from us? Did we not owe a sort of smart-money for what we had done? To make up for the injuries we had brought upon Africa, we ought not to be unwilling to make such a sacrifice. He did hope sincerely that when the hon. baronet came to reflect a little, he would not think the money given likely to be wasted, or to be improperly bestowed. If, indeed, we only considered it upon the most simple commercial footing, as a common mercantile regulation, we should find it abundantly recompensed by the result; but when there was a nobler inducement to interfere, such a sum as that was might easily be sacrificed. He hoped that other measures would also be adopted. It might be necessary to remind the House, that his noble friend was placed in anew diplomatic path, which had not been trodden before, and that therefore he was surrounded with great difficulties. As an act of generosity even we ought to spare this money. Indeed generosity was only justice, and considering the many blessings which the Almighty had showered on this country, it would be shameful to refuse such a sum for so great a purpose. It was not fair to estimate the whole of the benefit to be derived from the measure by looking at it singly: it was in point of fact nothing more than the foundation stone, or the single arch, from which a building was to arise which would reflect more honour upon the humanity and magnanimity of these times than any other act whatever. He could not but think that the grant would be more than repaid to this country in commercial advantages by the opening of a great continent to our industry an object which would be entirely defeated if this traffic was to be carried on by the Spanish nation. Considering it either with regard to interest or generosity, he felt that it reflected honour on his noble friend who had brought it forward, and on the House which was likely to adopt it.
§ Sir Oswald Mosley
looked on the hon. gentleman who had just sat down as the saviour of the African slave; and it was therefore very painful to him indeed to say any thing against what the hon. gentleman advanced on such a question. But, under the existing circumstances of the country, it was of the utmost importance that when they were about to vote away a large sum of the public money, they should consider well the purpose to 249 which it was to be applied. Millions had already been voted away for objects far from useful, it was necessary to inquire, therefore, how far the present vote was exempted from a similar charge. The noble lord had stated, that if the four hundred thousand pounds was not granted, the object of the whole treaty would be done away; to this argument he should answer, that he would rather see the treaty defeated than the public money voted away unnecessarily. He believed that by the former treaty Spain was bound to discontinue the traffic after the expiration of eight years—[Here lord Castlereagh signified his dissent from the statement.] He had so understood it, but would submit, if he was wrong; but supposing his impression to be correct, why should they not rather wait for the expiration of that period than come forward under the present circumstances of the country, with four hundred thousand pounds. He believed the fact to be, that the court of Spain was too politic for us. The slave trade, after all, was but of little importance to her. She was at war with her colonies; and if in that war she should be unsuccessful, of what use would it be; And what would be the consequence, as far as the object of this vote was concerned? —why we should in all probability be called upon to vote the same sum to that separate independent government, which would in such an event be established. He hoped in God that such a separation would take place. It was the interest of mankind that it should: it was particularly the interest of this fine and commercial country, that other countries should be free, and in a condition to reciprocate commercial advantages upon liberal and enlightened principles; but, if the Spanish colonies achieved their freedom, the grant of this money to Spain, dissevered from them, would not promote our object. His hon. friend had spoken of the compensation which we might expect for this sacrifice, in the civilization of Africa, and the consequent increase of our commerce with that quarter of the world. He would beg leave to remind him what that had cost already, what sums of money had been expended on the colony of Sierra Leone, and how many lives had been lost. His hon. friend had farther stated, that the question amounted to this — Whether the slave trade should be abolished or not? He could by no means agree with him in such 250 an interpretation. He had himself voted for the abolition, and he felt as much pride of heart as any man who had so voted, in having contributed to put down that abominable and inhuman traffic. He objected to this grant the more, because he foresaw the purpose to which the money would be applied by Spain. The question appeared to him to be this— Whether they would grant such a sum to enable Spain to carry on the war against her colonies? And in deciding upon this question, they would do well to consider, whether, by redeeming by such an expedient one African slave, they did not in effect impose slavery upon thousands now struggling for freedom in another quarter of the world? This appeared to him the true state of the question; and he was sure that his hon. friend, if he saw this treaty in the same light, would object to it as much as he felt it his duty to do. He should not trespass any longer upon their time by giving his opinions, which would probably be attended with no effect; but he felt it a duty incumbent on him to state to the House, that he regarded the treaty, as far as concerned the point to which he had directed his observations, one of the most impolitic, nefarious and ruinous that ever was entered into; and, entertaining such opinions, he should feel himself under the necessity of pressing the question to a vote.
in explanation, said that Spain was under no pledge of the nature alluded to by the hon. baronet. The Spanish minister had stated eight years as the period when his Catholic Majesty might find it convenient to enter into arrangements with a view to the abolition of the slave trade, but there was no positive engagement which pledged the Spanish nation to the discontinuance of the traffic at the expiration of eight years. He (the noble lord) attached far more consequence to the articles of regulation in the present treaty than to the formal concurrence of Spain in the abolition.
§ Sir James Mackintosh
said, that he should have contented himself with a silent vote, and have willingly rested the justification of the treaty on the persuasive and affecting appeal of his hon. friend, the member for Bramber, if he had not been called upon to state the grounds of his approbation by the opposition of two respectable and independent gentlemen to a mea- 251 sure which he approved, because he considered it as contributing to the abolition of that detestable system of crimes, which they doubtless abhorred as sincerely and as warmly as he did. He concurred with them entirely in their zeal for economy. He had the same opinion of the faith of the Spanish government, and the same feelings for the people of South America. [Hear!]—If he said no more on these subjects on the present occasion, he must protest against his silence being imputed to lukewarmness or negligence. It arose from his deep conviction, that the abolition of the slave trade was the most important question which could be discussed in the House of Commons; a question, to which every other object, however interesting or important, ought for the time to yield [Hear, hear.!]. He considered the immediate prohibition of the Spanish slave trade on the north of the equator, and the establishment of the right of search to enforce it, as a most important step towards the still distant point of general abolition [Hear hear!]. It was singular that the hon. baronet, thinking as he did of the faith of Spain, should have laid so much stress on the former promise of that country to abolish the trade in eight years, and made so little of the present treaty, which gave the means of enforcing the observance of its stipulations. Both his hon. friends had overlooked the most important, perhaps the only very important, part of this treaty. It was not only a treaty of stipulation, but a treaty of regulation. The right of searching, of detaining, and of bringing in for condemnation, all Spanish ships detected in the crime of slave-trading, ensured the performance of the engagement. The merit of the treaty was, that it contained in itself the means of its own execution; it left nothing to the faith of the Spanish government. The introduction of a right of search, in the maritime law of Europe, for the first time during peace, was a precedent of the utmost importance, and a most valuable confession of the paramount magnitude of the object for which nations thus sacrificed their ancient usages and their most inveterate jealousies. Without the right of search, all promises to abolish were illusory. The right of search was practical abolition. It was obvious that the right of search must be reciprocal. For himself, he felt a pride in the British flag being, for this object alone, subjected to search by foreign ships. He thought 252 it a great and striking proof of magnanimity, that the darling point of honour of our country, the British flag itself, which "for a thousand years had braved the battle and the breeze," which had never been lowered to an enemy, which had defied confederacies of nations, to which we had clung closer and closer as the tempest roared around us, the principal of our hope and safety, as well as of our glory, which had borne us through all perils, and raised its head higher as the storm assailed us more fearfully, had now risen to loftier honour by bending to the cause of justice and humanity. Our pride, which never shrunk from the most powerful enemy, our national jealousy, our most cherished prejudices, were thus voluntarily suspended. That which had braved the mighty, now lowered itself to the feeble and defenceless—to those who, far from being able to make us any return, would never hear of what we had done for them, and probably were ignorant of our name. [Loud cheers.] — He heard with infinite satisfaction from the noble lord, that there was some reason to hope for the adoption of similar measures by France and Holland. As to France, the information was the more gratifying, because appearances had certainly been much against that government. In July, 1815, prince Talleyrand, in his letter to the noble lord, informed him, that the king of France had abolished the slave trade. Four months afterwards, in the definitive treaty of peace, the kings of Great-Britain and France solemnly declared, that they had abolished the slave trade in their respective dominions; — France thus claiming credit for having contributed as much to the abolition on her part, as Great Britain had indisputably done on her's. Yet, in January, 1817, on the application of the British embassador at Paris for copies of "Laws, Ordinances, Instructions, and other public Acts for the Abolition of the Slave Trade," the due de Richelieu had nothing to communicate but a mere colonial regulation, passed eight days before, prohibiting the importation of slaves into French colonies. Notwithstanding the assertion of prince Talleyrand's letter, in spite of the more solemn affirmation of the treaty, it appeared that France had taken no legal measure for the abolition, during eighteen months after she professed that she had adopted it. What she did at that time was imperfect, and it did not appear that she had done any thing since. If, 253 however, she was now to atone for this] remissness, let it be buried in oblivion.— From the former acts of the government of Holland, every thing good was to be naturally expected.—The merit of that government in the abolition was very great. There was no country in which colonial possessions were regarded as so large a part of national greatness; none in which there existed a more powerful colonial interest, more deep-rooted prejudices to be opposed, so much supposed advantage to be hazarded. It was most honourable to the Dutch government, that, in the face of such obstacles, the abolition of the slave trade was one of their first acts, as an independent state.
He approved the present treaty in the highest degree, because it gave the right of mutual search, the only possible security for the execution of laws of abolition, because parliament had already pledged itself to approve and support such measures by those successive addresses in which they had intreated, besought, implored, the Prince Regent to employ all the influence and all the resources of this country, to procure universal abolition; because all partial abolition produced, for a lime, perhaps more guilt and misery than existed before, and was chiefly valuable as one of the steps towards universal abolition, among which this treaty deserved to be viewed as one of the most considerable [Hear, hear!].
Here he should have closed, if he had not been induced, by what he thought a groundless construction of a judgment of a right hon. and most learned person (sir Wm. Scott), whom he was sorry not to see in his place, to state his opinion of the principle and effect of that judgment. It was a judgment in the case of a French slave ship, called the Louis, seized by a British cruiser, condemned by the court of Sierra Leone, and, on appeal, rightly (as he conceived) restored by the high court of admiralty. The judges of that court might, without fear of exaggeration, be called the highest authority on such subjects in Europe. It was therefore of the most serious importance, that nothing which fell from him, especially at this critical moment, should be misunderstood. The grounds on which the Louis was restored were two; first, that the English cruiser, having no right to search French ships in peace, because no treaty had established such a right, could not avail himself of the discovery of slaves on board 254 the French ship, which he had made by his own wrongful act; and secondly, that there was no sufficient proof that the French vessel, in carrying on the slave trade, had disobeyed the laws of her own country. Both these grounds were perfectly solid; but neither of them afforded any principle applicable to this treaty. It had been supposed, that according to the judgment of the Louis, a Spanish slave ship, by assuming French or other foreign colours, might exempt herself from search under this treaty. If this were true, the judgment would in effect abrogate the treaty; but he contended that it was not true. By the true construction of the ninth article of this treaty, he conceived, that if the commander of a British cruiser, duly instructed according to this treaty, were to search a vessel which he had serious grounds for believing to be Spanish, though she had hoisted a foreign flag; and if she should afterwards prove to be a Spanish ship, slave-trading against the stipulations of the treaty, her fraudulent assumption of a foreign flag would not exempt her from condemnation. The letter of the article was sufficient to establish this construction without farther argument. The king of Spain grants the right to search all Spanish vessels. He does not confine his concession to ships sailing under Spanish colours. The captain of the cruizer searches on his own risk a ship which sails under any colours but Spanish. He is answerable to his government, and they to foreign states, for wanton search and vexatious detentions. These were the conditions on which all such powers must be exercised. But if the vessel proves to be Spanish, it follows, that she was liable to search; and if she proves to be a slave trader, that she is liable to condemnation. Both these qualities were wanting in the case of the Louis; both would be found in the case of a Spanish slave ship under foreign colours since this treaty. Who could indeed appear, in such a case, to resist condemnation? Not a Spaniard, for he is bound by the treaty. Not a foreigner, for by the supposition he is only a pretended owner; he would suffer no loss by the condemnation, and can have no interest in the suit.
Mr. C. Grant jun.
said, he felt satisfaction at the judgment adverted to by his hon. and learned friend, but did not see how it could be mistaken. The property of Spaniards in slaves, under any flag, 255 could not be protected from capture. He might illustrate this idea by a reference to the rights of neutrals and belligerents in time of war. A suspected vessel in the latter case, though under a neutral flag, might be detained, and if it carried enemy's property, might be condemned. He would not trouble the House with many observations, as it appeared to be unanimous in its approval of the present treaty. The hon. baronet who spoke last but one had spoken of the application of the money to be granted by the present treaty, and had insinuated that Spain entered into the cause of the abolition merely with a view to this advantage; but he ought to have recollected, that if the Spanish government had merely looked to pecuniary advantage, it might have received a greater sum from its own subjects for leave to continue the trade, than it now obtained from us for abolishing it. The merchants of the Havannah would have given two millions sterling for such a licence. He congratulated the House and the country on the great progress the cause of humanity had made within the last century, and the extraordinary change which had taken place in public opinion. In the beginning of the last century, we deemed it a great advantage to obtain by the As6iento contract, the right of supplying with slaves the possessions of that very power which we were now paying for abolishing the trade. During the negotiations which preceded the treaty of Aix la Chapelle, we higgled for four years longer of this exclusive trade; and in the treaty of Madrid, we clung to the last remains of the Assiento contract. A new era had now dawned: we looked in vain for the barbarities that desolated Africa, which country was at the beginning of the last century the scene of a consecrated rapine, the asylum of legalized violence. Our laws now declared the trade to which we formerly clung to be a crime. Our efforts had been successful in awaking other nations to the same sentiments of humanity with which we were actuated. Much of this favourable disposition of foreign governments to the cause of the abolition was to be attributed to the congress of Vienna. We had there engaged the sovereigns of Europe to stipulate for the abolition of the trade in slaves: we had since made the abolition an indispensable article in all our treaties and negotiations: we had spread light on those cruelties from which we called upon all civilized nations 256 to rescue Africa. The universal abolition was, he trusted, not far distant. The trade had so long continued to disgrace European commerce, because the atrocities in which it originated, and which it tended to perpetuate, were not known in all their enormity. Even in England the public did not for a long time believe them, or view them in their proper light. The ignorance in which the other nations of Europe remained, with regard to this subject, was now nearly dispelled, and we might expect the burst of feeling which appeared in England to become general. Then only would our labours be closed, and our end be attained.
said, there was no person who felt more deeply than he did the calamity under which this country suffered from the heavy load of taxation under which it laboured; yet he believed, that if they went from house to house, they would have no difficulty in raising a contribution for the purpose of putting down this traffic. He begged the House to recollect, that in about a month after the battle by which the Bourbons were placed on the throne, at the expense of British blood, it was signified by the French minister to our own, that as far as France was concerned, the traffic had ceased every where, and for ever. It being discovered in this country, that it was still carried on by France with great vigour, another application was made by sir Charles Stewart, requiring to know what steps had been taken to carry the abolition into effect? The answer was, that some colonial regulation had taken place; but it had subsequently come out in court, that no such order or regulation as was intimated had ever been issued. It made no difference that the trade was not carried on in British vessels, if it was carried on by British capital. An active trade in slaves was well known to have been carried on, up to a very recent period, by French subjects. Since the delivery of Senegal to France, the trade had revived in that part of Africa, and had given rise to all those evils with which it was formerly attended. It had armed nation against nation—tribe against tribe. The kings stripped their villages, to send their people down to the French traders; and those traders were throwing the settlements into that state of misery, distress, and wretchedness in which they had been antecedent to the time when they were rescued from it by the abolition. He 257 would ask the noble lord if we were still to allow ourselves to be deluded by the French government? —Was the old French system again to be acted on? He hoped we should not again from experience, come to the conclusion that we cannot trust them. Was a treaty to be no security? Was there always to be some stroke of policy played off—Was there always to be some trick and subterfuge to avoid carrying the stipulations of a treaty into execution? He knew the faithlessness of the race we had put on the throne. He knew at the same time, that the person to whom they succeeded was still more faithless, and he wag glad to see him where he was. But still he knew what the race were who now ruled the country, and how faithless they had always been. He could not forget the mission to St. Domingo, however that mission might be disowned—and the person who carried with him documents, which were perfectly authentic. Under all these circumstances, he thought some explanation was due from the noble lord as to what he trusted to, that the slave trade would not be carried on with the same vigour on the part of France, that they knew it had within a few months been carried on. He trusted the noble lord would be able to give them some satisfactory answer on the subject.
could not help thinking, that the language of the hon. gentleman, if he was a sincere well-wisher to the cause of the abolition, was not calculated to promote that object; for, if any thing was more calculated than another to discourage the French government from making exertions in the cause of the abolition, it was precisely such language as he had held. He was not French lawyer enough to know what hold the principles of a treaty between the French government and another power had on French subjects, without the authority of a law of the country to give effect to them. This, however, he could say, that no engagement could have recorded in more explicit and comprehensive terms the abolition of the slave trade on the part of France. To his certain knowledge, the French government had immediately acted on the treaty, and sent dispatches to the different ports for the purpose of securing its execution. He could state also that he knew the governor of the island of Bourbon had actually been displaced by the French government for allowing the crime of slave dealing in that colony. 258 And he could also say, that whenever any information had been received by him respecting any traffic in slaves on the part of French subjects, he had transmitted it regularly to the French government, and they had never received it otherwise than with every appearance of the most anxious desire to act on it. But he was not aware that the law in our courts of justice was what it now appeared to be, till the late decision. The French ambassador had actually ran before him in conveying to his court a knowledge of what was going on on the coast of Africa. When he said to the French ambassador, that it was apprehended by lawyers in this country, that France had not done what was necessary to give effect to the treaty, which could only be by embodying into a law the object of it, he undertook immediately to communicate this information to his court, and he was charged by it to request that he might be put in possession of all that it was conceived ought to be done to give the most complete effect to the treaty.
considered the right of search a very great advantage gained by the present treaty. He was aware that. 400,000l. was here given for what could not be received for three years to come; and that this money was given on chance. But he thought the country would very willingly advance this sum, even though they might be deceived: for it would put us in the right, and give us the strongest claims against Spain hereafter. With respect to what had been stated, that the Spanish merchants had offered their government four times this sum for the further continuance of the slave trade, he laid no weight upon it. He did not believe the Spanish merchants possessed so much money to offer; but even if they did, the Spanish government might have been politic in refusing it, for after receiving the 400,000l. from Great Britain, it might then exact the other sum from the merchants. This measure, however, if effectual, must be attended with the best possible effects in promoting the civilization, not only of Sierra Leone, but of the Gold and Ivory coast. The House was aware that a committee had been sitting two years upon those coasts, and that reports had been submitted, proposing great benefits to that part of Africa. Some of them had been happily carried into effect, and he was happy to state, that communications of a friendly nature had lately been 259 made by the king of the Ashantees and Fantees with the forts established in their vicinity.
stated, that many vessels belonging to subjects of Spain and Portugal, engaged in the slave trade, had been in time of peace captured by our cruizers, without any treaty to warrant such a proceeding, and condemned in our courts. The value of the slaves per head, of which they were so deprived, might be calculated at 350 dollars. They had not prosecuted their claims, and the bounty money had been paid to the captors. If they had prosecuted their claims, the sum which these persons would have had to receive would have amounted to much more than the sum stipulated in this treaty. With respect to the objection, that this money might possibly be applied towards carrying on hostilities against South America, they were to consider whether the possible chances of such misapplication ought to outweigh the positive advantages which we gained by this treaty, which, coupled with the treaty which was understood to be concluded at the same time with Portugal, would put the abolition hereafter in our own power. With respect to the appointment of commissioners on the coast of Africa and in the Spanish settlements, for the settlement of differences under this treaty, notwithstanding all the partiality of the member for Bramber, for Sierra Leone, from its geographical position, he conceived it was ill adapted for a situation for commissioners, from its being a great distance directly to the windward of the places where the slave traders principally resorted. He had the authority of sir James Yeo, for saying, that it took frequently ten weeks in beating up to Sierra Leone, and during such a length of time, the mortality in the vessels must be very great. With respect to the conduct of the French government, he could only say, that at Martinique, he had made it his business to inquire into the subject, and he found at that colony, that as soon as could be expected after the treaty, instructions had been sent out in a man of war to Martinique, and from the day of its arrival no vessels had cleared out from the custom-house of Martinique for the purpose of engaging in the slave trade, He thought there was no good ground for accusing the French court of insincerity.
§ Mr. Wilberforce
stated, that he had no 260 particular partiality to Sierra Leone, and should readily assent to the nomination of any other place which might be thought more convenient.
§ Sir W. Burroughs
observed, that the sum which we had stipulated to pay, under this treaty, was nothing more than an act of justice to Spain. Many ships had been employed in time of peace, and it was perfectly clear that we could not be warranted in capturing any vessel because it was engaged in the slave-trade, unless there existed a previous treaty on that subject. This country was bound to make a compensation; and, therefore, on a calculation that there were 5,000 slaves on board these vessels, and valuing them at 75l. a head, if we were answerable for them, we should have to pay upwards of 300,000l. to the Spanish government. He thought the two hon. baronets had viewed the subject in a mistaken light, and he could not withhold his praise for the very able manner in which the noble lord had conducted this negotiation, and the zeal which he had manifested in bringing it to so favourable an issue.
§ The committee divided: Ayes, 56; Noes, 4.