HC Deb 07 July 1819 vol 40 cc1542-7
Mr. Wilberforce

said, that the object of his present motion was, that the efforts of his majesty's ministers should be renewed with those foreign powers that had formerly carried on the Slave Trade, but had passed laws for abolishing that trade, in order to induce those powers to take measures for the more effectually carrying the abolition into execution. In consequence of the communications made by his noble friend (Castlereagh) to the powers assembled at Vienna, one of the most forcible declarations ever penned was unanimously adopted by all the great powers at Vienna, denouncing the African slave trade, as contrary to every principle of humanity, and as one of the greatest practical evils that ever existed. There was now but one single power, Portugal, which had not declared the slave trade a mass of injustice and cruelty, and fixed a definite time for the termination of that trade. Spain bad abolished it absolutely to the north of the line, and fixed a period for its termination to the south of the line. So that Portugal alone bad not fixed a period when the slave trade should absolutely terminate. With suspect to the trade, he regretted to say, however, that notwithstanding the laws passed in several countries for its abolition, it was still carried on—it had been found impossible to sweep away at once that incurable race of free-booters who infested Africa. The persons carrying on the trade were of all nations, English, Dutch, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and American? But at length a system of international policy had been adopted with respect to this subject, so that it was to be hoped those persons would not be able to escape the punishment they deserved. Unhappily, however, two great powers had hitherto refused to enter into these arrangements, and he could not but regret that these powers had not of themselves taken measures for rendering the abolition of the trade effectual. It grieved him to think that a great and high-minded people, a nation of cavaliers like the French, should refuse to take the proper measures for putting an end to this trade; while we, who had been called a shop-keeping nation, had given up the trade, it was not a little surprising that it should be taken up by a high-minded nation, who had never been considered in any great degree as possessing a commercial character, and most of all, that they should think of assuming that character, in the instance of a traffic like this. Surely a few predatory men would not be suffered to injure the character of a great country. With regard to the United States of America, he was still more hurt that they did not take effectual means to put a stop to this trade. They were the first to declare that the slave trade should be abolished. As soon as the forms of the constitution admitted of it, they passed a law for the abolition. Many states of the Union were perfectly sincere in their wish to put an end to the trade; but unfortunately, there were other parts where a similar wish was not so generally prevalent, and which would not consent to measures for rendering this abolition effectual. The Congress, however, had lately passed a law on the subject, appointing a large naval force, and giving a bounty for bringing in ships engaged in the trade. He trusted that the United States would provide fur the practical execution of their benevolent intentions, as parts of Africa were in a way to show what the friends of Africa always asserted, that but for the disadvantages under which they had been placed the genius and temper of the inhabitants would have secured them a progress in civilization equal to other quarters of the world. The much calumniated colony of Sierra Leone, now presented the spectacle of a flourishing settlement: 2,000 children were in a course of instruction, and 8 or 9,000 free blacks were beginning to taste the advantages of civilization. He was perfectly sure that the best means of inducing other countries to make efforts for the final abolition of this trade, was, to show them how much we had at heart to afford Africa reparation for the injury she had; suffered at our hands. It was only because it was supposed that the victory was gained that the country was quiet; if they knew that the contrary was the fact, they would show that they did not feel in this great cause less earnestly.—The hon. member concluded by moving, That an humble Address be presented to his royal highness the Prince Regent, to assure his royal highness, that we acknowledge, with becoming thankfulness, the zealous and persevering efforts which, in conformity with former addresses of this House, his royal highness has made for accomplishing the total annihilation of the African Slave Trade, by all the foreign powers whose subjects had hitherto been engaged in it:—That we also congratulate his Royal Highness on the success with which his efforts have been already attended; that guilty traffic having been declared, by the concurrent voice of all the great powers of Europe assembled in Congress, to be 'repugnant to the principles of humanity and of universal morality:'— That, consequently, on this declaration, all the states, whose subjects were formerly concerned in this criminal traffic, have since prohibited it; the greater part absolutely and entirely; some for a time, partially, on that part of the coast of Africa only which is to the north of the line: of the two states which still tolerate the traffic, one will soon cease to be thus distinguished; the period which Spain has solemnly fixed for the total abolition of the trade being near at hand: one power alone has hitherto forborne to specify any period when the traffic shall be absolutely abandoned:—That the United States of America were honourably distinguished as the first which pronounced the condemnation of this guilty traffic; and that they have since successively passed various laws for carrying their prohibition into effect: That, nevertheless, we cannot but hear with feelings of deep regret, that, notwithstanding the strong condemnation of the crime by all the great powers of Europe, and by the United States of America, there is reason to fear that the measures which have been hitherto adopted for actually suppressing these crimes are not yet adequate to their purpose:—That we never, however, can admit the persuasion, that so great and generous a people as that of France, which has condemned this guilty commerce in the strongest terms, will be less earnest than ourselves to wipe away so foul a blot on the character of a Christian people:—That we are, if possible, still less willing to admit such a supposition in the instance of the United States, a people derived originally from the same common stock with ourselves, and favoured like ourselves, in a degree hitherto, perhaps, unequalled in the history of the world, with the enjoyment of religious and civil liberty, and all their attendant blessings:—That the consciousness that the government of this country was originally instrumental in leading the Americans into this criminal course, must naturally prompt us to call on them the more importunately to join us in endeavouring to put an entire end to the evils of which it is productive:—That we also conceive that the establishment of some concert and co-operation in the measures to be taken by the different powers for the execution of their common purpose, may, in various respects, be of great practical utility; and that, under the impression of this persuasion, several of the European states have already entered into conventional arrangements for seizing vessels engaged in the criminal traffic, and for bringing to punishment those who shall still be guilty of these nefarious practices:—That we therefore supplicate his royal highness, to renew his beneficent endeavours, more especially with the governments of France and of the United States of America, for the effectual attainment of an object which we all profess equally to have in view; and we cannot but indulge the confident hope, that these efforts may yet, ere long, produce their desired effect, may ensure the practical enforcement of principles universally acknow- ledged to be undeniably just and true; and may obtain for the long-afflicted people of Africa the actual termination of their wrongs and miseries, and may destroy for ever that fatal barrier, which, by obstructing the ordinary course of civilization and social improvement, has so long kept a large portion of the globe in darkness and barbarism, and rendered its connexion with the civilized and christtian nations of the earth a fruitful source only of wretchedness and desolation.

Sir J. Mackintosh

said, that the motions needed no recommendation, and had it needed any, it could have had none more powerful and appropriate than the speech of his hon. friend. As to the conduct of Portugal on this question, it was impossible to speak at once with truth and decorum. She chose to hold herself in solitude in the civilized world, and alone in Europe, after concurring with others in the sentence of condemnation on the slave trade, continued to carry on indefinitely this detestable traffic. With respect to the United States of America, he had a perfect confidence that they were sincere in their declarations. It was within twelve months that England and the United States both passed their abolition laws, and history would not fail to record that two nations of English race, separated by the calamity of civil war, had, to the honour of their common blood and common liberty in one year, without previous agreement, performed this act of reparation to the principles of justice and humanity. It was more to the credit of the Americans that this had been done, considering they had slave holders in their legislature; but how much more would it redound to the credit of the Independent States of South America, where the slave holders also had supreme power, that in spite of their prejudices and their supposed interest, their first acts had been to abolish the slave trade. As to France, he was afraid that the colony of St. Louis was nothing but a factory of slave traders. Whether this conduct received any countenance at home he knew not, but he was convinced that a proper application to the French government, or even a knowledge of the fact in France, would go far towards the removal of this disgrace from the French name. Every friend of the human race must wish for the stability of the present government in France. The spirit, combined with order in their legislative pro- ceedings, allowed them to indulge a hope that the calamities of Europe would be overpaid by the establishment of a reasonable liberty, which would secure Europe against despotism and convulsions. He hoped the honest representatives of France would raise their voice against this blot on the French character.

Lord Castlereagh

said, that no incitement was wanting to induce his majesty's government to use their utmost efforts for the abolition of the slave trade, though he was far from objecting to the motion as an expression of the sense of the House. Though he was unwilling to repress any expression of feeling, it would not be just to Portugal not to state that the time during which she had stipulated for the continuance of the slave trade (eight years), had not elapsed; so that she could not yet be accused of a direct breach of promise, nor had she finally refused to abolish the slave trade. During the period of eight years, she could not be accused of injustice. The declaration of the powers at Aix-la-Chapelle had been sent to the court of Brazil, but no answer had yet been received. He was convinced the French government was anxious for the execution of its own laws, as they had sent out considerable squadrons to the coast of Africa for that purpose. He assured the House, that nothing could exceed the earnest wishes of the Prince Regent for the accomplishment of the objects of the Address.

The Address was agreed to nem. con.