HC Deb 01 June 1821 vol 5 cc1068-73
Mr. J. P. Grant,

on moving the second reading of this bill, said the application was made from motives of humanity. He yielded to no man in wishing emancipation to the negroes. If he thought the effect of this bill would be to injure the negro population, he would never have introduced it. He was sure there was no man to whose care the welfare of those people could be confided with greater security, than to Maxwell. The fact was, that the negroes on his estate at Antigua could not support themselves; nor for sixty years past was a single negro introduced to supply the casualties which must necessarily have ensued. The soil besides was rendered less productive, in consequence of the want of hands to cultivate it; and to make up this two-fold loss, Mr. Maxwell now appealed to the House for a dispensation of the law which prevented the removal of slaves. He did not mean to enter into the question as to the policy of general removal, but he was sure no population was more likely to outgrow its means of subsistence than a slave population. He saw no danger of the present measure becoming a precedent, for no such application could be made unless in a case which would go all fours with it. If the House allowed the bill to go into the committee, he pledged himself to oppose it, if all the particulars of the preamble were not fully proved.

Mr. Goulburn

felt it his duty to oppose the bill, on the broad ground that, under no circumstances, the removal of slaves from insular to continental possessions ought to be countenanced. Parliament could not pass the present bill in favour of Mr. Maxwell, and refuse similar applications on the part of other proprietors; and many persons were waiting for the result of the present proceeding, and who regarded the application of Mr. Maxwell as a sort of forlorn hope. Should it succeed, the doors of parliament would be surrounded with persons urging similar claims. Besides, to grant such exemptions would be equally impolitic and unjust. It would be highly dangerous to transport slaves from insular possessions, to which they were attached, and on which the British navy could be easily brought to operate in case of any insurrectionary movements; and, with respect to the slaves themselves, to tear them away from the place of their birth—from a country where the arts of social life had advanced, to remote and uncivilized regions would be highly oppressive. Under all the circumstances, he felt it his duty to move, as an amendment, that the bill be read a second time that day three months.

Mr. Calcraft

was for sending the bill to a committee, where objections, if any existed, would be urged against it.

Dr. Phillimore

considered the bill unjust and oppressive, because it was a measure for the transportation of 329 persons from a dry and healthy climate to a new country.

Mr. Wilberforce

opposed the bill, its object being to remove 329 human beings from the place of their nativity. To tear people from a good dry soil to the swamps of Demerara, was an act to which he never would become a party. Besides, their food would be changed, and their work augmented, Now, every one knew how different were the conditions of Antigua and Demerara; in fact, no greater difference could be conceived than existed between these colonies. In Antigua, such was the progress of improvement, that the coloured people voted at elections, and were allowed to give testimony in civil as well as in criminal cases; but in Demerara they were slaves in every sense of the term. What compensation, then, could be given these 329 negroes for removing them from a place where, by their industry, they could purchase their manumission and become useful members of society, to a quarter where a dungeon would be their abode, and where, with a stinted food, they would be compelled to additional labour? Again, in Antigua a great portion of the population, enjoyed the blessings of Christianity. Were these 329 persons to be reduced to such a deteriorated condition, in order that the plantation of an individual might be made to yield a heavier crop? Whatever the humanity of Mr. Maxwell might be, sure he was, that the House would give its opposition to such a claim.

The Marquis of Londonderry

said, that if the principle of the bill was good, it should be generalised. The question was, whether the learned mover was prepared to put the proposition on its general footing. If they opened all the fertile lands of the British possessions on the continent to the negroes of persons in the situation of Mr. Maxwell, they sealed the depopulation of the West India Islands. The stream of emigration once opened, must continue to flow in; and the question was, would it be advisable to change the degree of advancement and civilization which existed among the negroes in the islands, for that which was likely to be offered on the continent? He thought not; and as he was not prepared to admit it the general principle he saw no reason for establishing an exception in the case of Mr. Maxwell. That gentleman might transport the slaves to his own estate in Grenada; but he was not entitled, on ground of dry colonial speculation, to transport them to Demerara.

Sir J. Mackintosh

said, that those who were unacquainted with the subject, must have supposed that, as the law stood, Mr. Max well was obliged to keep his slaves in the; island of Antigua; else to what purpose speak of the cruelty of tearing men from their connexions, of the supposed excellence of the laws of the society, or the moral and religious state of the island? The same statements were also contained in: a paper, which came, he believed, from its eloquence, from a learned friend of his (Mr. Stephen), no longer a member of the House. But how did these ardentia verba apply? It was certain that the slaves could not continue in Antigua; that Mr. Maxwell must be ruined* if he continued the cultivation of his estate with them; and the question was, whether it was better that they should be dispersed, as the chance of traffic directed, or should be kept together in one body, under the paternal management under which they had been for 60 years? As to the estate Mr. Maxwell had in Grenada, it was merely twenty short of the full number of hands, and that deficiency arose from his not having ever purchased any slaves. The two questions respecting the bill were, as to the happiness of the negroes, and the danger of the example. As to the first, he thought it would be necessary to make out a very, strong case against Demerara before they could decide that it would be worse to send the negroes there in a body with all their friends and neighbours, than to disperse them with all the chances of cruel masters and cruel overseers. The objections to Demerara were, that the laws were bad. It was the fault of the House if they were so; and surely that was not an argument which they, whose duty it was to amend the laws, should use. If the laws were too bad for 329 new slaves, they were certainly too bad for the 100,000 who were now in the colony. As to the climate, he would not support the bill if it should not be satisfactorily proved that it was not destructive. An objection had been raised because this was a private bill; but it was attended with this advantage, that Mr. Maxwell was strictly bound to proof. As to the danger of example he now proposed to withdraw the present, preamble, and to recite the facts of the case as they should be proved. Mr. Maxwell was also willing to stipulate that he should establish a precedent in favour of the negro population, by being bound to purchase an estate and keep them together on it. He was ready also to have it made imperative upon him to purchase only such a place as the authorities, of the colony should certify the salubrity of. He was ready to build a church, and to endow it for a minister of the church of England or Scotland, for the benefit of the negroes. No danger therefore could result from the precedent which this bill would establish.

Sir R. Wilson

expressed his surprise that it should be attempted to make this enlightened country incur the disgrace of extending slavery on the continent of South America, while the principles of liberty were rapidly advancing in that quarter of the world.

Mr. Baring

said, that gentlemen were under a misconception, if they supposed that the rejection of this measure would contribute to the happiness of the slaves in Antigua, as, on the contrary, that rejection would serve to involve them, in inevitable misery. He would be among the, last to support such a bill, if he thought its adoption would interfere with the happiness of the negroes. The bill was evidently grounded upon the principle that prompted this country occasionally, to take measures for getting rid of its surplus population through the medium of emigration; and he begged the House to consider, that if no vent were allowed for the surplus population in a particular colony, that surplus was but too likely to be slighted. For the same reason, then, that almost every parish in England was crying out for the means of removing its surplus population, he called upon the House to agree to this bill, particularly for the sake of the blacks themselves.

Mr. Peel

strenuously resisted the measure. Viewing it merely as a matter of mercantile speculation, it gave the possessor of these slaves an unfair advantage. But if it was objectionable as a precedent, he thought it still more objectionable in regard to its consequences. It did not appear that the slaves could not be maintained on other estates in the island; and if so, they ought not to be subjected to the grievous suffering of being separated from the soil to which they had become accustomed, and sent to such a colony as Demerara. He trusted, on every account, that the bill would be indignantly rejected.

Mr. Barham

shortly supported the second reading. He wished Mr. Maxwell to have the opportunity of proving his facts; if he did not establish them, then would be the time for throwing out the measure.

Sir I. Coffin

believed, from what he knew of the situation, that the slaves would rather have their throats cut than be removed to Demerara.

The House divided: Ayes, 47; Noes, 98. The second reading was then put off for three months.

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