§ Mr. Fowell Buxton
rose, and addressed the House nearly as follows:—
Sir; I feel so sure, that every gentleman is prepared to ask me one obvious question, that I cannot do better than save the time and curiosity of the House, by affording that question an immediate answer. The question which, as I suppose, gentlemen are anxious to put, is, Why do you move in this question? What right have you to interfere in this great cause? Is there not in the House, and even by your side, a man to whom, when a motion on slavery is to be made, I all eyes naturally turn; a man who now, for a period very little short of forty years, has been the faithful, indefatigable, eloquent, and, upon one great occasion, the victorious advocate for the negro? I hope there is no one, who deems so meanly, and I will say so unjustly of me, as to suppose that I encroach uninvited on the province of my hon. friend. It is in compliance with the earnest request—it is in obedience to the positive injunction of him whom I honour as the father of the cause, and who, no matter who may introduce the subject, must ever be recognized as its truest and best advocate—it is at his express bidding that I now rise.
Before, however, I enter on the important, and, as some gentlemen deem it, the very perilous question of which I have given notice, I feel myself called upon to advert to the advice which I have received, and to the warnings with which have been favoured, of dreadful evils likely to be produced in the West Indies by the agitation of this subject. It is no slight matter, I have been told, and I admit it, to agitate the question at all. It is I no slight matter to excite apprehensions, oven the most groundless, in the minds of persons so respectable as those who signed the petition which has just been presented by the hon. member for Taunton. I can truly say, that I feel no degree of animosity, I harbour no species of prejudice, either against the whole body,*From the report published by the Society for the Mitigation and gradual I Abolition of Slavery.258 or against any individual of the body of persons connected with the West Indies. I consider them as eminently unfortunate; particularly the hereditary proprietors, in this, that their predecessors were tempted to embark their property in a species of investment which, at that time, was considered to be moral and consistent with justice; but which, when the subject has been thoroughly sifted, is found to be irreconcileable with the principles of justice and humanity. With these feelings to Wards the West-Indians, deeming them rather unfortunate than culpable, I do consider it no slight matter to introduce any motion painful to their feelings.
It is no slight matter to drag into public view before the nation, and before surrounding nations, jealous of the reputation of this country, the worst, perhaps the only capital stain, on British policy; at a moment, too, when we have felt so keenly, and expressed ourselves so warmly, and all but incurred the hazards of war, for the sake of a nation threatened with political servitude: it is, I say, no slight matter to divulge the fact, that, of British subjects, there are one million living in personal slavery—not Spaniards, but our own fellow subjects; not threatened with, but enduring, not political interference, but personal slavery,—"personal slavery, in comparison of which," said Mr. Fox, "political slavery, much as I hate it, is a bare metaphor."
I have heard much privately—and the House has heard somewhat publicly—of the responsibility which I incur by the agitation of this question. And I admit, that a man ought to be pretty sure that his cause is good, as I am; and not only that his cause is good, but that the time is discreetly chosen, as I am; and that he is free from all personal considerations and prejudices, as I am; before he ventures to reject such advice, and to incur such responsibility. Why, then, do I incur that responsibility? First, because I am quite sure that the dangers, if not absolutely groundless, if not utterly imaginary, as I believe they are, have been much over-rated: and, secondly, because I am sure, that it is impossible to over-rate the real and substantial blessings that will accrue to a million of men, by the agitation of this subject in this House. I have not a notion that slavery can endure investigation. It must perish when once brought under the public eye. And I 259 feel confident that a few minutes ago, we commenced that process which will conclude, though not speedily, in the extinction of slavery throughout the whole of the British dominions.
The good, then, to be obtained is incalculable. Now let us consider, for a moment, the price we are to pay for it. We have heard a good deal of late of the danger of insurrection in the West Indies. If this were the first time that slavery had ever been mentioned in this House; if I were the first rash man who had ever ventured to commiserate the condition of the negroes, perhaps there might be something alarming in the allegations of danger. But, it docs so happen, that this same subject of slavery, and that infinitely more delicate subject of emancipation from slavery, to name which in this House, said the hon. member for Taunton, is to shed blood in the West Indies, have been debated again and again and again within these walls. It does so happen, that a committee of this House sat some thirty years ago, took evidence on this subject, and, what was unusual then, published it to the world. A committee of the House of Lords did the same. A committee of the privy council did the same. And it does so happen, that during those thirty years, every man of distinction in this House, without exception, has put forth his opinions on these subjects: not only the men professing to be the most eager for liberty, and who, therefore, might be supposed to overlook all dangers in pursuit of their favourite object—such men as Mr. Fox, Mr. Sheridan, Mr. Whitbread, and sir Samuel Romilly—but the very opposite of these in every point, except in point of talents; men, whose whole strength was opposed to the pursuit of ideal good, at the expense of present danger. When such men as Mr. Burke, Mr. Dundas, Mr. Pitt, Mr. Windham, and my lord Grenville: when such men as these unreservedly and repeatedly avowed their sentiments on the condition of the slave; when they saw no danger in the avowal; when, of these cautious men the most cautious, Mr. Dundas, and the least addicted to change, Mr. Burke, each of them prepared, and one of them introduced into parliament, a bill for emancipation of the negroes, which, if it had passed, would have been in operation three-and-twenty years ago, and would have liberated, by this time, half the slaves in the West Indies—when, I say, 260 these men thus thought, spoke, and acted; when they did so, in despite of those very arguments, and, as I will presently show, in defiance of those very warnings which have been offered to the House this night, I should feel that I betrayed a good cause if I suffered myself to be intimidated by any such extravagant apprehensions, or amused from my purpose by predictions which the fact, hitherto, has never failed to falsify.
It is at least a singular fact, that no motion was ever made in this House, on the subject of negro slavery, which has not been met with just the same predictions. No. matter what the motion was; it was always attended with the same predictions in almost the same language.
In the year 1787, a very feeble attempt was made to abate the horrors of the middle passage—to admit a little more air into the suffocating and pestilent holds of the slave-ships. The alarm was instantly taken. The cry of the West-Indians, as we have heard it to-night, was the cry of that day. An insurrection of all the blacks—the massacre of all the whites—was to be the inevitable consequence. In the House of Lords, a man of no mean consideration in point of rank, the duke of Chandos, besought their lordships not to meddle with this alarming question. He might, he said, pretend to know a little more of the subject than their lordships—that his pockets were filled with letters from his correspondents in the West Indies, who declared, that the English newspapers were read by the negroes as regularly as the ships brought them; and that, so soon as they should come to the paragraph announcing that their lordships had thought it fit to lessen the sufferings of the middle passage, they would burst out into open rebellion! The bill passed, however; and, somehow or other, the prediction was not verified. About the same year, my hon. friend commenced that career with which his name will always be coupled; and which he brought to a glorious termination twenty years afterwards. Let any gentleman look to the proceedings in any one of those twenty years, and he will find three things:—First, an effort made by my hon. friend on behalf of the negro: next, on the part of the West-Indians, a prediction of insurrection amongst the blacks: and, thirdly, that prediction contradicted by the events of the year. Not only was each separate prophecy falsified by the fact; but, it is really remarkable to 261 observe, if you place the whole train of prophecy on the one side, and the whole train of events on the other, how fully the latter refutes and overturns the former. Those twenty years, which, if the West-Indians are true prophets, ought to have been marked with perpetual violence, bloodshed, and desolation, were, in point of fact, remarkable for a degree of tranquillity in the British West Indies, unexampled in any other period of their history.
Again: at that time, this country was so greedy of the gains of slave-trading, that she not only supplied her own colonies with slaves, but became the carrier of other nations. My hon. friend, with his usual vigilance, discovered this; and introduced a bill to stop the practice. The cry of danger was revived. "If you stop that trade," said, in this House, the agent of one of the West-India islands, "you will occasion an insurrection of all the blacks. You will cause the murder of all the whites." But this—perhaps the fiftieth prediction of the same kind—was utterly falsified by the fact. Our negroes actually did not rebel because we ceased to supply rival colonies with slaves.
In the year 1802, lord Seaforth discovered a series of the most horrid and shocking murders that have ever been brought to light. I will not vex the feelings of the House, by detailing the barbarous particulars. But many hon. gentlemen will, no doubt, remember them-particularly the fact of the boy, who was killed in the gully. In short, never were there greater cruelties, than those perpetrated at that time in Barbadoes, by white men upon black. Some persons were brought to trial; convicted upon the clearest evidence; and punished with all the rigour of the law. And—what was all the rigour of the law? A fine, somewhat less than we, in this country, impose upon a man for killing a partridge: eleven pounds, four shillings, was the fine for these detestable murders. The governor proposed to the legislature of the island, that murder should be made a capital offence. The answer was precisely the same as that contained in the petition laid upon the table this evening—"It will cause a rebellion." The negroes, no doubt, would have been so shocked at the possibility of a white man suffering death, merely for killing one of themselves, that they would have taken to arms!
I will only notice one other prediction 262 of the same kind. In 1817, little more than five years ago, governor Maxwell stated in a letter to lord Bathurst, that, "many acts of undue and unlawful severity towards the slaves had come to his knowledge, and particularly some cases where iron collars and chains had: been added to their punishment, after they had undergone a severe whipping." He then states the following "cases of negroes, who were brought to governor Maxwell in chains, in which they were obliged to work, by their owners or managers, during the last three months:
What was the effect of the discovery of this abuse? The effect was, that the grand jury of Dominica, who met a few days afterwards, presented their governor as a nuisance. Here is the presentment of the grand jury of Dominica, dated 26 August, 1817.
- "1st, A boy, about fifteen years of age: a large iron chain round his neck, fastened with a padlock, total weighing 22 lbs.
- "2d. Two girls, of twelve years of age, much marked by the effects of the cart-whip; fastened together with iron chains round their necks, padlocked, weighing 18 lbs.
- 3d, A full grown man, after a severe flogging with the cart-whip, loaded with an iron collar and chains, weighing 21 lbs.
- "4th, An old man, apparently sixty years of age, after having been severely beaten by his master, was placed in the stocks, with an iron collar round his neck, and chains, weighing 20 lbs.
- "5th, A boy, about twelve years of age, loaded with an iron collar, chains, and log of wood, weighing 26 lbs."
"The grand jury of our sovereign lord the king do present: first, That they find the gaol in the same state as in February last, notwithstanding the repeated presentments of former grand juries: secondly, The grand jury lament, that they are under the necessity of noticing an improper interference, on the part of the executive, between master and slave, which has caused considerable agitation and discontent amongst the negroes, and if persevered in, is likely to lead to the most ruinous consequences."
Now, Sir, if the grand jury had said, that these whippings, and "iron torments," as the governor calls them, had produced agitation amongst the blacks, and that the interference of the governor 263 had produced dissatisfaction; among the whites, the presentment would have been very intelligible. But, when they say—and in such a formal manner too—that the slaves would be dissatisfied at the interference of the governor, which was intended, for their protection—as if they felt themselves, as of right, entitled to be flogged, chained, ironed, and padlocked; and as if they were so tenacious of this, their precious right, that they would burst into rebellion, if any symptom were shown of a disposition to rob them of it;—this is really a little too much for English ears!
Precisely parallel, however, to this is the argument against me. I interfere, it is true. I shall offer suggestions, tending to improve the condition of the negroes. But, I should be glad to know which of these is likely to produce agitation and discontent amongst them. One of our first propositions is, That the slave shall have Sunday for rest and religious instruction; and that another day in the week shall be allowed him for the cultivation of his provision-ground. Is there any thing irritating in this?—Next, we say, That all Negro children, born after a certain day, ought to be free—free from their birth—never subjected to be bought and sold, and whipped, and brutalized. Surely, such a provision will be far from producing discontent! I am informed, on what I consider the best authority—that of a person intimately acquainted with the feelings of the negro population—that he knows of no bond, so likely to secure their fidelity, as benefits conferred on their children—the advantages of education—and freedom.—Next, we propose to get rid of the cart-whip. Will the negro be offended at that? Is he so fondly attached to the cart-whip, that, in order to secure the continuance of its use, he will rise in rebellion? In point of, fact, all we propose to do is this—to ameliorate the condition of the negro—to give him something like the protection of British law—to reduce, not so much the power, as the possible abuse of power, in the master—and, above all, to rescue his children from that terrible condition, of which he well knows the bitterness. And, what is there in all this, calculated to rouse he, furious passions of the negro? On the contrary, I am fully persuaded, that security is to be found—and is only to be found—in justice towards that oppressed people If wish to preserve 264 the West Indies—if we wish to avoid a dreadful convulsion—it must be by restoring to the injured race, those rights which we have too long withheld.
I must notice one point requiring consideration, both from the West-Indians and from the members of his majesty's government: I mean the great change which has taken place during the last twenty or thirty years. What does the negro, working under the lash on the mountains of Jamaica, see? He sees another island, on which every labourer is free; in which eight hundred thousand blacks, men, women, and children, exercise all the rights, and enjoy all the blessings—and they are innumerable and incalculable—which freedom gives. Hitherto, indeed, no attempt has been made, from that quarter. The late emperor Christophe, and the president Boyer, may have been moderate men; or they may have found at home sufficient employment. But, who will venture to secure us against the ambition of their successors? It would be singular enough, if the only emperor who did not feel a desire to meddle with the affairs of his neighbours should be the emperor of Hayti. I touch lightly upon this subject. Let government—let the West-Indians—justly appreciate the danger with which they may be menaced from that quarter. It is a danger, however, which is aggravated by all the hardships you inflict upon the slave, and is abated exactly in proportion as-you abate the misery of his lot.
Look at America. She may send at her own leisure, and from the adjacent shore, an army to Jamaica, proclaiming freedom to all the slaves. And—what is worse still—she may do so in exact conformity to our own example; not only in the first American war, but in the recent contest of 1813. Surely there is a lesson in this. And what is the lesson it teaches? That we ought to grind down the negro, until almost any change will be for the better—or that we shall upraise him in the scale of being, till almost any change will, be for the worse? Mr. Pitt declared, that "it was impossible to increase the happiness, or enlarge the freedom,: of the negro, without, in an equal degree, adding to the security of the colonies, and of all their inhabitants."
I do not mean to say, that there are not very great perils connected with the present state of the West Indies. On the 265 contrary, I am quite sure—as sure as it is possible for any man in the House or in the country to be—that there is imminent peril will the present moment; and that that peril will increase, unless our system he altered. For I know, wherever there is oppression, there is danger—wherever there is slavery, there must be great danger—danger, in proportion to the degree of suffering. But the question is, how that danger can be avoided. I answer, that it is to be avoided by that spirit of humanity which has avoided it in other places—by doing justice to those whom we now oppress—by giving liberty for slavery, happiness for misery. But even supposing the danger of giving to be as great as the danger of withholding; there may be danger in moving, and danger in standing still—danger in proceeding, and danger in doing nothing: then, I ask the House—and ask it seriously—whether it be not better for us to incur peril for justice and humanity, for freedom, and for the sake of giving happiness to millions hitherto oppressed; or, whether it be better to incur peril for slavery, cruelty, and injustice—for the sake of destroying the happiness of those wretched beings, upon whom we have already showered every species of calamity?
I now come to tell gentlemen the course we mean to pursue: and I hope I shall not be deemed imprudent, if I throw oft' all disguise, and state frankly, and without reserve, the object at which we aim. The object at which we aim, is the extinction of slavery—nothing less than the extinction of slavery—in nothing less than the whole of the British dominions:—not, however, the rapid termination of that state—not the sudden emancipation of the negro—but such preparatory steps, such measures of precaution, as, by slow degrees, and in a course of years, first fitting and qualifying the slave for the enjoyment of freedom, shall gently conduct us to the annihilation of slavery. Nothing can more clearly show that we mean nothing rash, nothing rapid, nothing abrupt, nothing bearing any feature of violence, than this—that if I succeed to the fullest extent of my desires, confessedly sanguine, no man will be able to say, I even shall be unable to predict, that at such a time, or in such a year, slavery will be abolished. In point of fact, it will never be abolished: it will never be destroyed, it will subside£ it will de- 266 cline; it will expire it will as it were, hum itself down burn itself down into its socket and go out We are far from meaning to at tempt to cut down slavery in the full maturity of its vigour. We rather shall leave it gently to decay—slowly, silently almost imperceptibly; to die away and to be forgotten.
Now, see the operation of our principle We say—No more slaves shall be made; no more children shall be enslaved. At present, we have in our colonies, a certain body of slaves. This will be reduced (to use a military phrase) by all casualties; but it will not be replenished and re-inforced by any new recruits At present, the number is about a million Next year, that number will be some what abated. In ten years' time, it will be visibly diminished. In twenty or thirty years' time, all the young, the vigorous, and those rising into life, will be free; and the slaves will be those who have passed the meridian of their days;—who are declining into age—the aged and the decrepid. Every year, then, will make a considerable change: every child born will increase the one body—every Slave dying will reduce the other. A few years further, and you will find, only here and there, scattered over the face of the country, a remnant of slavery. A very few; years further, he too will have followed his brethren, and slavery will be no more.
Now observe. This is not speculation. It is not a theory which has never been tried: it is not one of the new lights" to use the expression of the hon. Member for Taunton: but it has taken place, and in a country too with which that hon member is very familiar. It may perhaps;, nevertheless, be unknown to part of the House, that just in this way slavery has. gone out and expired in New York. Thirty years ago, New York was what is called a slave-state; that is, a proportion of its labourers were slaves; and it was liable to those evils which slavery never fails to generate. The principle which I now advocate was applied; and—without rebellion, without convulsion, without single riot, without any thing that deserves the name of inconvenience—slavery has gone out in the state of New York. The same thing' has been done in Philadelphia, new Jersey, and several other of the United States. If any man asks me, with'; what effect this has been done; I answer that there is not a person connected with that part of the World, who will not ac- 267 knowledge, that much as it has contributed to the happiness of the blacks, it has in no less degree promoted the happiness, the moral improvement, and even the pecuniary prosperity of the whites. The fact is, every American from that part of the country is ready to acknowledge, that the worst of all curses has fled away, and left them. Here, then, the principle which I now recommend has begun, and concluded, its operation.
There are other parts of the world where the same principle is now in action, where slavery is gradually and quietly working itself out. And now, Sir, I am going to take a great liberty—just to put a question to each gentleman in the House. Does he know in what part of the British dominions this very principle is in action? The point in dispute, be it observed, is this. I say, that our principle operates without noise and tumult. My opponents say, that it will be attended with violence and convulsion. Then, I put it to my opponent, if he know where this noisy, turbulent, convulsive, principle is at work? If he do not know, my point is proved—its quiet, peaceable, silent, nature is proved.
It is in full operation at this moment, in Ceylon; and has been so since 1816. The activity of the governor, general Brownrigg, and of sir Alexander John-stone, there introduced it; and, as yet, it has produced no ill effect of any kind. The same thing occurred at Bencoolen, under the administration of sir Stamford Raffles. The same, at Saint Helena. Now, this last does tell positively in my favour. Public curiosity has recently been excited in an extraordinary degree. Books, enough to fill a library, have been written, detailing the administration of sir Hudson Lowe. Acts the most slight—anecdotes the most trivial—expressions the most unmeaning, have been recorded with exact fidelity. Generations yet unborn shall know, that on such a day in July, sir Hudson Lowe pronounced that the weather was warm; and that on such a day of the following December, Bonaparte uttered a conjecture that it would rain in the course of the week. Nothing has escaped the researches of the historian—nothing has been overlooked by the hungry curiosity of the public—nothing—Yes one thing only has never been noticed; namely, that sir Hudson Lowe gave the death-blow to slavery at Saint Helena.
268 The same principle, only upon a much larger scale, has been operating in South America. By a fundamental law of Columbia, every child born after the day when the Constitution was proclaimed, is, ipso facto, free. They did that at which I am now aiming; and they did more. They liberated the children, but they also took measures for emancipating the parent, They levied a legacy duty, varying from three to ten per cent, upon all disposable personal property: they set apart this fund for a special object; and they declared, that no power should exist in the state to alter the destination of a single shilling. The purchase to which that tax is devoted, is the purchase of negroes from personal slavery, and it is to continue till no slave remains in Columbia. If ever there was an opportunity of trying, whether the principle was productive of peace or of convulsion, that opportunity was now afforded. Columbia was overrun by hostile armies. The masters were often obliged, to abandon their property. The black population amounted to nine hundred thousand persons. An hon. friend of mine, on a former occasion, contended, that the numbers were inconsiderable. He was mistaken. I have in my hand a letter from Mr. Ravenga, in which he states, that, in a population of three millions, the number of Blacks and Indians is nine hundred thousand. Now, of these a large number were suddenly emancipated. Bolivar gave liberty to seven hundred. Others acted in the same way. The law to which I have alluded, which liberates all the children, is rapidly liberating the adults. What has been the effect? Where the opportunities of insurrection have been so frequent and so tempting, what has been the effect? Mr. Ravenga authorizes me to say, that the effect has been, a degree of docility on the part of the Blacks, a degree of confidence and security on the part of the Whites, unknown in any preceding period of the history of Columbia.
Now for the application of this principle. What we contend for is this, that we should cut off the supply; that we should intercept the fountain by which slavery is fed; that all Negro children, born after a certain day, should be free I have already shewn the safety and practicability of acting upon this principle. Will any man deny its propriety and justice A Negro child is born to-day. What right on earth have we to say, that 269 that child shall be a slave? I want to know by what authority we act, under what warrant we proceed, when we say, that that child shall eat the bitter bread, and do the bitter labour of a bondsman, all the days of his life? I know the answer that will be given me: "The father is mine; the mother is mine; and therefore the child is mine." That is, you have made his parents eat the bitter bread, and do the bitter labour of slaves; and this crime, which you have committed against his parents, is to be your apology for the crime which you design to commit against him.
But, Sir, I hope that every man in this House, nay, that every man and woman in Great Britain, will seriously weigh this question. By what principle of justice, by what tenet of religion do we act, when we say to the planter, "There! a Black child is born to-day: take him: do what you like with him: make him a brute, if it so please you; a brute in his labour, a brute in ignorance; feed him like a brute, flog him like a brute!" I say, how are we authorised, on a child that has done no wrong, to pronounce that sentence, to inflict that curse?
It is a crime to go to Africa, and steal a man, and make him a slave. For two centuries this was no crime at all. It was most just and innocent commerce. My hon. friend (Mr. Wilberforce) instituted an inquiry into this innocent traffic, and it turned out to be a most intolerable enormity. It is a crime, then, by the laws of England, to make the full-grown African a slave. And how is it less a crime, to make a new-born Creole a slave? I say, it is as great, it is even a greater crime. The African has at least passed a considerable portion of his life in freedom: for twenty or thirty years, he has tasted the innumerable enjoyments which liberty confers. But, the child who is made a slave from his birth, knows nothing but servitude and misery. Then, as to guilt. Formerly we divided it with another party. The black factor made the man a slave; that was his share of the guilt. We kept him as a slave; that was our share. But, in the case of the child whom we enslave, the whole abomination is our own. We make him a slave, in the first place: we use him as a slave, in the second. It is a crime to murder a man: it is no less a crime to murder a child. It is a crime to rob a man: it is no less a crime to rob a child. It is a crime to enslave a man: and; is it no crime to enslave a child?
270 Now, Sir, Jet the House observe the moderation with which we proceed. We say, "Make no more slaves—desist from that iniquity—stop—abstain from an act, in itself as full of guilt, entailing in its consequences as much of misery, as any felony you can mention." We do not say, "Retrace your steps;" but "Stop." We do not say, "Make reparation for the wrong you have done;" but, "Do no more wrong; go no further." Slave-trading and slavery (for they are but two parts of the same act), are the greatest crime that any nation ever committed: and when that day comes, which shall disclose all secrets, and unveil all guilt, the broadest and blackest of all will be that, the first part of which is Slave-trading, and the last part slavery; and no nation under heaven has ever been so deeply tainted with both the one and the other as we have been. To a nation thus steeped in this species of iniquity, can less be said than this: "We do not ask that you should suffer punishment; we do not ask that you should undergo deep humiliation; we do not ask that you shall make reparation to those you have wronged; we do not even say, cease to enjoy those acts of criminality which you-have begun; but, take the full benefit and fruition of past and present injustice; complete what you have commenced; screw from your slave all that his bones and his muscles will yield you: only stop there; and, when every slave now living shall have found repose in the grave, then let it be said, that the country is satiated with slavery, and has done with it for ever."
This, after all, is the main point. It secures, a distant indeed, but a certain extinction of slavery. And I give notice to his majesty's ministers—I give notice to the gentlemen connected with the West Indies, that if they concede every thing else, but withhold this, we shall not relax in our exertions. The public voice is with us; and I, for one, will never fail to call upon the public, loudly to express their opinion, till justice has so far prevailed as to pronounce that every child is entitled to liberty.
Now, for the existing slaves. Slaves they are. Slaves, I fear, they must too generally continue; but Slaves, under a description of servitude considerably mitigated.
I cannot say I deserve any credit for abstaining to liberate them at the present 271 moment I must confess, that if I conceived it were possible for the slaves to rise abruptly from their state of bondage, the happier condition of freemen; if we could clothe them, not only with the rights and privileges, but with the virtuous restraints of social life; if I did not know that the same system which has reduced them to the condition of brutes, has brutalized their minds; if, in fact, I deemed them ripe for deliverance, my moderation, confess it, would be but small. I should say, "The sooner you cease from doing injustice, and they from enduring it, the better. I should take no circuitous course: I should propose no tardy measures of amelioration I should name no distant day of deliverance: but this night, at once and for ever, I should propose to strike off their chains; and I should not wait one moment, from a conception that the master has the least shadow of a title to the person of the slave. But, alas, Sir! the slave is not ripe for liberty. The bitterest reproach that can be uttered against the system of slaver}', that it debases the man, that it enfeebles his powers, that it changes his character, that it expels all which is naturally good; this, its bitterest reproach, must be its protection. We are foiled by the very wickedness of the system. We are obliged to argue in a most vicious circle. We make the man worthless; and, because he is worthless, we retain him as a slave. We make him a brute, and then allege his brutality, the valid reason for withholding his rights.
Now, one word as to the right of his master. There are persons (not in this House, I trust) whose notions of justice are so confused and confounded by slavery as to suppose that the planter has something like an honest title to the person of the slave. We have been so long accustomed to talk of "my slave," and "your slave," and what he will fetch if sold, that we are apt to imagine that he is really yours or mine, and that we have a substantial right to keep or sell him. Then, let us, just for a moment, fathom this right. Here is a certain valuable commodity; and here are two claimants for it—a.white man, and a black man. Now, what is the commodity in dispute? The body of the black man. The white man says, "It is mine;" and the black man says, "It is mine." Now, the question is, if every man had his own, to whom would that black body belong? 272 The claim of the black mart to his own body, is just this—nature gave it him He holds it by the grant of God. That compound of bone and muscles is his, by the most irreproachable of all titles—a title which admits not, what every other species of title admits—a suspicion of violence, or fraud, or irregularity. Will any man say, he came by his body in an illegal manner? Does any man suspect, that he played the knave, and purloined his limbs? I do not mean to say the negro is not a thief; but he must be a very subtle thief indeed, if he stole even so much as his own little finger.
At least, you will admit this—the Negro has a pretty good primâ facie claim to his own person. If any man thinks he has a better, the onus probandi is on him. Then we come to the claim of the white man. What is the foundation of your right? It shall be the best that can be conceived. You received him from your father. Very good! Your father bought him from a neighbouring planter. Very good! That planter bought him of a trader, at the Kingston slave-market: and that trader bought him of a man-merchant in Africa. So far you are quite safe! How did the man-merchant acquire him? He stole him—he kidnapped him! The very root of your claim is robbery, violence, inconceivable wickedness. If any thing on earth was ever proved by evidence, it was proved, before the slave-trade committee, that the method of obtaining slaves in Africa was robbery, man-stealing, and murder. Your pure title rests on these sacred foundations! If your slave came direct from Africa, your right to his person is absolutely nothing. But, your claim to the child born in Jamaica is (if I may use the expression) less still. The new-born infant has done—can have done—nothing to forfeit his right to freedom. And, to talk about rights, justice, equity, and law, as connected with slavery, is to talk downright nonsense. If we had no interest in the case, and were only speaking of the conduct of another nation, we should all use the same language; and we should speak of slavery, 8S we now speak of slave-trading: that is, we should call it rank, naked, flagrant, undisguised injustice.
But when I say, that the planter has no claim against the slave, I do not say, that he has no claim against the British nation. If slavery be an injustice, it is an injustice which has been licensed by British law.
273 But, whatever may be the claim of the planter against the British government, he can pretend to none to the person of a child because he happens to be born of negro parents.
I will now take the liberty of reading a short extract of a letter which, on the 11th of last April, I addressed to my hon. friend opposite, in order to put lord Bathurst, and his majesty's government, in full possession of our views and intentions:—
The subject divides itself into two: the condition of the existing slaves, and the condition of their children. With regard to the former, I wish the following improvements:—
"These are the proposed qualifications. of the existing slavery. But any far more anxiously bent upon the extinction of slavery altogether, by rendering all the negro children, born after a certain day, free. For them it will be necessary to provide education. God grant, that his majesty's ministers may be disposed to accomplish these objects, or to permit ethers to accomplish them!"
- "1. That the slave should be attached to the island, and, under modifications, to the soil.
- "2. That they cease to be chattels in the eye of the law.
- "3. That their testimony may be received, quantum valeat.
- "4. That when any" one lays in his claim to the services of a negro, the onus probandi should rest on the claimant.
- "5. That all obstructions to manumissions should be removed.
- "6. That the provisions of the Spanish law (fixing by competent authority the value of the slave, and allowing him to purchase a day at a time,) should be introduced.
- "7. That no governor, judge, or attorney-general should be a slave-owner.
- "8. That an effectual provision shall be made for the religious instruction of the slave.
- "9. That marriage should be enforced and sanctioned.
- "10. That the Sunday should be devoted by the slave to repose and religious instruction; and that other time should be allotted for the cultivation of his provision-grounds.
- "11. That some (but what I cannot say) measures should be taken, to restrain the authority of the master in punishing his untried slave, and that some substitute should be found for the driving system.
274 For all the blood spilt in African wars fomented by English capital—for civil war which we contrived to render. interminable—for all the villages set in. flames-by the contending parties—for all the horrors and the terrors of these poor creatures, roused from their rest by the yells of the man-hunter whom we sent—for civilization excluded—for the gentle arts which embellish life excluded—for honest and harmless commerce excluded—for Christianity, and all that it comprehends, expelled for two centuries from Africa—for the tens and tens of thousands of men murdered in these midnight marauds—for the tens and tens of thousands suffocated in the holds of our slave-ships—for the tens and tens of thousands of emaciated beings, cast ashore in the West Indies, emaciated beings, "refuse men" (for such was the mercantile phrase) lingering to a speedy death—for the tens and tens of thousands still more unhappy who, surviving, lived on to perpetual slavery, to the whip of the taskmaster, to ignorance, to crime, to heathen darkness—for all these, we owe large and liberal atonement. And I do thank God, we still have it in our power to make some compensation. We have it in our power to sweeten a little the bitterness of captivity—to give the slaves of the West Indies something to render life more endurable—to give them something like justice and protection—to interpose a jury between the negro and the brutality of his master's servant—to declare that the slave shall not be torn from the cottage he has built, from the children he has reared, from the female whom he loves—above all, for that is effectual compensation, we may give him the truths of the Christian religion, which, as yet, we have withheld.
For his children, there is a wider range of recompence. We may strip them of every vestige of servitude; and, by taking upon ourselves, for a season, the whole burthen of their maintenance, education, and religious instruction, we may raise them into a happy, contented, enlightened, free peasantry. I conclude, as I concluded my letter to lord Bathurst—God grant, that his majesty's ministers may be disposed to accomplish these objects, or to permit others to accomplish them!—I move,
"That the State of Slavery is repugnant to the principles of the British constitution, and of the Christian religion; 275 and that it ought to be gradually abolished throughout the British colonies, with as much expedition as may be found consistent with a due regard to the well-being of the parties concerned."
Mr. Secretary Canning
said:—Sir, the appeal to his majesty's ministers wish which the hon. gentleman concluded his speech, makes me feel it my duty to address myself to the House at this early I period of the debate, for the purpose of stating, without reserve, the opinions entertained by myself and my colleagues with respect to this most important, and I must say, at the same time (notwithstanding what has fallen from the hon. gentleman), this most fearful question.—I never in my life proceeded to the discussion of any question under a stronger impression of its manifold difficulties: not indeed in reference to the principles on which my opinions are grounded, nor with respect to the practical conclusion to which I may think it expedient to come; but on account of the dangers, which, even after all that the hon. gentleman has said to the contrary, appear to mc to attend a discussion, in which one rash word, perhaps even one too ardent expression, might raise a flame not easily to be extinguished.
I mention these circumstances, Sir, not for the purpose of imputing any blame o the hon. gentleman, or to those friends in conjunction with whom he has brought forward the resolution in your hands, nor for that of discouraging fair and free deliberation; but I take the liberty of throwing out a caution to those who, in a more advanced stage of the discussion, and when conflicting opinions may have produced a warmth which I do not feel, might be induced to colour more deeply the pictures which the hon. gentleman himself has sketched with no light hand; and who might thus excite feelings which it is not necessary to awaken for the accomplishment of any practical good, but which, if awakened, might either impede the attainment of that good, or expose it to gratuitous hazard.
And here the hon. gentleman must allow me to ask. What had the latter part of his speech to do with his present purpose? Why did he think it expedient to recur to the former delinquencies of this country, which, if capable of expiation, have been expiated Why did he go back to a state of things in the West Indies, to which, so far as they could be 276 remedied, remedy has been applied? Why did he go out of his way to recall the horrors and cruelties connected with the now abolished slave trade, which were at former times brought under the notice of parliament? Why, when he was stirring a question totally new (and I mention that character of the question, not as matter of blame but as matter of fact)—why did he mix it up with that other odious question, often, indeed, discussed, but long ago decided, with which, during an agitation of twenty years, it was never before placed in juxta-position, but for the purpose of being contrasted with and separated from it? In all former discussions, in all former votes against the slave trade, it cannot surely be forgotten, that the ulterior purpose of emancipation was studiously disclaimed. I have myself frequently joined in that disclaimer on former occasions. In doing so, I certainly did not mean to advance so untenable a proposition as that it was intended to purchase the abolition of the slave trade by an indefinite continuance of slavery. Undoubtedly that was not my meaning; but what I at least did mean—what in all fairness any man who look the same distinction must be held to have meant—was, that the two questions should be kept separate, and argued on their separate grounds; that the odium of that which we were labouring to abolish should not be brought to bear with increased intensity on that of which we were compelled to allow the continuance. Slavery, not willingly, but necessarily, was allowed to continue. I do not say that it is therefore to continue indefinitely; I speak not of it as a system to be carefully preserved and cherished, but as one to be dealt with according to its own nature, and with reference to its inherent peculiarities. We must be considered as having tacitly, if not expressly, taken the engagement, not, on every subsequent discussion, to look back to atrocities which have ceased, not to revive animosities which have been extinguished, and to throw in the teeth of those whose interests are at hazard, cruelties with which they in fact had no concern. After such an implied pledge, it is somewhat hard in the hon. gentleman to revert to those past-gone topics, instead of confining himself to facts and arguments which properly belong to the motion which he has introduced.
I will not follow the hon. gentleman through the various matters of this kind 277 which he has brought to his aid; but I will here take the liberty to dismiss the consideration of the slave trade as of a thing forgotten and gone by: and I will entreat the House to look at the present situation of the West Indies, not as at a population accumulated by a succession of crimes such as those which the hon. gentleman has detailed, but simply as it is.
The hon. gentleman has treated this subject rather with powerful declamation than with sober statement: for I must beg leave to consider as a figure of eloquence, rather than as a practical argument, the intimation that we must deal with this question, not as a matter of justice and judgment, but of impulse and feeling. That is not a ground on which parliament can be called upon to act. The manner in which the black population of the West Indies has been collected, may indeed be the subject of reflection to the historian, or discussion to the moralist: but, in calling upon the legislature to adopt a measure of the greatest importance, and of the utmost difficulty, the hon. gentleman addresses himself, not to the prudence, but to the feeling of the House, I confess it seems to me that he pursues the course least likely to lead to a satisfactory result.
Looking, then, at the present condition of the West Indies, I find there a numerous black population, with a comparatively small proportion of whites. The question to be decided is, how civil rights, moral improvement, and general happiness are to be communicated to this overpowering multitude of slaves, with safety to the lives and security to the interests of the white population, our fellow-subjects and fellow-citizens. Is it possible that there can be a difference of opinion upon this question? Is it possible that those most nearly concerned in the present state of property in the West Indies, and those who contemplate the great subject with the eye of the philosopher and the moralist, should look at it in any other than one point of view? Is it possible for a member of parliament, still more for a member of the government, to say that he does not wish, so far as is consistent with other great considerations necessarily involved, to impart every improvement which may tend to raise in the scale of being the unfortunate creatures now in a state of servitude and ignorance? Undoubtedly, sacrifices ought to be made for the attainment of so great 278 a good; but would I, on this account, strike at the root of the system—a system the growth of ages—and, unhesitatingly and rashly level it at a blow? Are we not all aware that there are knots which cannot be suddenly disentangled, arid must not be cut—difficulties which, if solved at all, must be solved by patient consideration and impartial attention, in order that we may not do the most flagrant injustice by aiming at justice itself?
The hon. gentleman begins his resolution with a recital which I confess-greatly embarrasses me: he says, that "the state of slavery is repugnant to the principles of the British constitution, and, of the Christian religion." God forbid that he who ventures to object to this statement, should therefore be held to assert a contradiction to it! I do not say that the state of slavery is consonant to the principles of the British constitution; still less do I say that the state of slavery is consonant to the principles of the Christian religion. But though I do not advance these propositions myself, nevertheless, I must say, that in my opinion the propositions of the hon. gentleman are not practically true. If the hon. gentleman means that the British constitution does not admit of slavery in that part of the British dominions where the constitution is in full play, undoubtedly his statement is true; but it makes nothing for his object. If, however, the hon. member is to be understood to maintain that the British constitution has not tolerated for years, nay more, for centuries, in the colonies, the existence of slavery, a state of society unknown in the mother country—that is a position which is altogether without foundation, and positively, and practically untrue. In my opinion, when; a proposition is submitted to this House for the purpose of inducing the House to act upon it, care should be taken not to confound, as I think is done in this resolution, what is morally true with what is historically false. Undoubtedly, the spirit I of the British constitution is, in its principle, hostile to any modification of slavery. But, as undoubtedly, the British parliament has for ages tolerated, sanctioned, protected, and even encouraged a system of colonial establishment of which it well knew slavery to be the foundation.
In the same way, God forbid that I should contend that the Christian religion is favourable to slavery. But I confess I 279 feel a strong objection to the introduction of the name of Christianity, as it were bodily, into any parliamentary question. Religion ought to control the acts and to regulate the consciences of governments, as well as of individuals; but when it is put forward to serve a political purpose, however laudable, it is done, I think, after the example of ill times, and I cannot but remember the ill objects to which in those times such a practice was applied. Assuredly, no Christian will deny that the spirit of the Christian religion is hostile to slavery, as it is to every abuse and misuse of power: it is hostile to all deviations from rectitude, morality, and justice; but if it be meant that in the Christian religion there is a special denunciation against slavery, that slavery and Christianity cannot exist together—I think the hon. gentleman himself must admit that the proposition is historically false; and again I must say, that I cannot consent to the confounding, for a political purpose, what is morally true with what is historically false. One peculiar characteristic of the Christian dispensation, if I must venture in this place upon such a theme, is, that it has accommodated itself to all states of society, rather than that it has selected any particular state of society for the peculiar exercise of its influence. If it has added lustre to the sceptre of the sovereign, it has equally been the consolation of the slave. It applies to all ranks of life, to all conditions of men; and the sufferings of this world, even to those upon whom they press most heavily, are rendered comparatively indifferent by the prospect of compensation in the world of which Christianity affords the assurance. True it certainly is, that Christianity generally tends to elevate, not to degrade, the character of man; but it is not true, in the specific sense conveyed in the hon. gentleman's resolution; it is not true, that there is that in the Christian religion which makes it impossible that it should co-exist with slavery in the world. Slavery has been known in all times, and under all systems of religion, whether true or false. Non meus hic sermo: I speak but what others have written on this point; and I beg leave to read to the House a passage from Dr. Paley, which is directly applicable to the subject that we are discussing:
"Slavery was a part of the civil constitution of most countries when Chrisanity appeared yet no passage is to be 280 found in the Christian scriptures by which it is condemned and prohibited. This is true; for Christianity, soliciting admission into all nations of the world, abstained, as behoved it, from intermeddling with the civil institutions of any. But does it follow, from the silence of scripture concerning them, that all the civil institutions which then prevailed were right; or that the bad should not be exchanged for better! Besides this, the discharging of all slaves from all obligation to obey their masters, which is the consequence of pronouncing slavery to be unlawful, would have no better effect than to let loose one-half of mankind upon the other. Slaves would have been tempted to embrace a religion which asserted their right to freedom; masters would hardly have been persuaded to consent to claims founded upon such authority; the most calamitous of all consequences, a bellum servile, might probably have ensued, to the reproach, if not the extinction, of the Christian name. The truth is, the emancipation of slaves should be gradual, and be carried on by the provisions of law, and under the protection of civil government. Christianity can only operate as an alterative. By the mild diffusion of its light and influence, the minds of men are insensibly prepared to perceive and correct the enormities which folly, or wickedness, or accident, have introduced into their public establishments. In this way the Greek and Roman slavery, and since these the feudal tyranny, had declined before it. And we trust that, as the knowledge and authority of the same religion advance in the world, they will abolish what remains of this odious institution."
The hon. gentleman cannot wish more than I do, that under this gradual operation, under this widening diffusion of light and liberality, the spirit of the Christian religion may effect all the objects he has at heart. But it seems to me that it is not, for the practical attainment of his objects, desirable that that which may be the influencing spirit should be put forward as the active agent. When Christianity was introduced into the world, it took its root amidst the galling slavery of the Roman empire; more galling in many respects; (though not precisely of the same character) than that of which the hon. gentleman, in common I may say with every friend of humanity, complains. Slavery at that period gave to the master the 281 power of life and death over his bondsman: this is undeniable, known to every body: "It a servus homo est!" are the words put by Juvenal into the mouth of the line lady who calls upon her husband to crucify his slave. If the evils of this dreadful system nevertheless gradually vanished before the gentle but certain influence of Christianity, and if the great Author of the system trusted rather to this gradual operation of the principle than to any immediate or direct precept, I think parliament would do more wisely rather to rely upon the like operation of the same principle, than to put forward the authority of Christianity, in at least a questionable shape. The name of Christianity ought not to be thus used unless we are prepared to act in a much more summary manner than the hon. gentleman himself proposes. If the existence of slavery be repugnant to the principles of the British constitution and of the Christian religion, how can the hon. gentleman himself consent to pause even for an instant, or to allow any considerations of prudence to intervene between him and his object? How can he propose to divide slaves into two classes; one of which is to be made free directly, while he leaves the other to the gradual extinction of their state of suffering? But if, as I contend, the British constitution does not, in its necessary operation, go to extinguish slavery in every colony, it is evident that the hon. gentleman's proposition is not to be understood in the precise sense which the hon. gentleman gives to it; and if the Christian religion does not require the instant and unqualified abolition of slavery, it is evident, I apprehend, that the hon. member has misstated in his resolution the principle upon which he himself is satisfied to act. But while I contend against the literal sense, and too positive language, of the hon. gentleman's resolutions; and while I declare my unwillingness to adopt them as the basis of our proceedings; let me not be misunderstood as quarrelling with their intention. I admit as fully as the hon. gentleman himself, that the spirit both of the British constitution and of the Christian religion is in favour of a gradual extermination of this unquestioned evil: and I am ready to proceed with the hon. gentleman to all reasonable and practicable measures for that purpose.
On these principles I feel disposed to agree in much that the hon. gentleman 282 has said. To many of his measures of detail I have not the slightest objection; without, however, admitting the solidity of all his ingenious illustrations, or subscribing to the correctness of all his arguments. I think the House will be of my opinion, that at this time, of day we must consider property as the creature of law; and that, when law has sanctioned any particular species of property, we cannot legislate in this House as if we were legislating for a new world, the surface of which was totally clear from the obstruction of antecedent claims and obligations. If the hon. gentleman asks me, on the other hand, whether I maintain the inviolability of property so far as to affirm the proposition, that the children of slaves must continue to be slaves for ever—I answer frankly, No. If again he asks me how I reconcile my notions of reverence for the sacredness of property with the degree of authority I am prepared to exercise for the attainment of my object; I answer with equal frankness, in accomplishing a great national object, in doing an act of national justice, I do not think it right to do it at the exclusive expense of any one class of the community. I am disposed to go gradually to work, in order to diminish both the danger to be risked and the burden to be incurred. My opinion is also, and I am prepared to state it (the hon. gentleman having made his appeal to the government on this question some weeks ago) as the opinion of my colleagues as well as my own—that in order that the object which we have all in view may be undertaken safely and effectually, it is better that it should be left in the hands of the executive government.
With that view I have taken the liberty of preparing certain resolutions, which I shall propose to substitute for those of the hon. gentleman. Between the two sets of resolutions the substantial difference, it will be seen, is not very essential; but from the difference of responsibility between the hon. gentleman and myself, I must of necessity lay down my principles with greater caution than he has done; and proceed more coolly, and considerately, so as to avoid the liability to misrepresentation. Not that I wish to shrink; from particulars, so far as it may be expedient to enter into them.
I may say, then, that there are two or three points referred to by the hon. gentleman, to which I cannot refuse my con- 283 currence. For instance, He asks if the present mode of working—that which is described by the term, driving—the slaves, by means of a cart-whip in the hand of one who follows them, ought to be allowed? I reply, certainly not. But I go further; I tell the honourable gentleman, that in raising any class of persons from a servile to a civil condition, one of the first principles of improvement is in the observance paid to the difference of sexes. I would therefore abolish, with respect to females, the use of the whip, not only as a stimulant to labour in the field; I would abolish it altogether as an instrument of punishment—thus saving the weaker sex from indecency and degradation. I should further be inclined to concur with the hon. gentleman as to the insufficiency of the time allowed to the negroes for religious and moral instruction, so long as the cultivation of his provision-ground and his marketting occupy the greater part of the Sabbath. In this point I am anxious to introduce improvement into the present system.
These are points on which I have no hesitation in agreeing with the hon. gentleman; but there are some others requiring more mature consideration in practice, although, in principle, I feel hound to say that I agree with him. I agree with him in thinking that what is now considered, by custom, and in point of fact, the property of the negro, ought to be secured to him by law. I agree with him in thinking that it would be beneficial if the liberty of bequest were assured to him: perhaps it might be made conditional upon marriage. I agree with him in thinking that it may perhaps be desirable to do something with regard to the admitting the evidence of negroes; but this I hold to be a much more difficult question, and one requiring more thorough deliberation than I have yet had time to give to it. It is a point of such extreme delicacy, and demands so much local and practical knowledge, that I hardly feel justified in pronouncing at this moment any decided opinion upon it. Thus far I concur, that it well merits favourable and patient investigation; and for myself, and those who act with me, I can say that we should commence that investigation with a leaning to the view of the subject taken by the hon. gentleman. More at present I will not say.
I agree further with the hon: gentleman in thinking, that (though great difficulties 284 may be experienced, not from the moral but from the legal part of the question) the process of the writ of venditioni exponas, by which the slaves are sold separately from the estates, ought, if possible; to be abolished.
I have mentioned these particulars as those which have most immediately attracted the attention of his majesty's servants. I can assure the hon. gentleman and the House, that they have looked at this subject with a sincere desire to render all possible assistance to the undertaking of the hon. gentleman, and to co-operate in every practicable measure for ameliorating the condition of the negroes.
I should ill discharge my duty this day, after the warning of the last few weeks, during which this great subject has been in discussion, if I were not to say, that, upon most of the particulars which I have mentioned, if not upon all, there is every disposition among those who may be considered as representing the colonial interests in this House and in this country, to give them a fair, liberal, and candid consideration.
The immediate question before the House may therefore be narrowed to this point—whether it is better to enter upon this question in a temper of mind unembittered by the retrospect of past evils and atrocities, and with a chance of carrying with us a degree of consent on the part of those most interested and most exposed to the hazard of injury from any change; or, at the risk of angry discussions, which, however innoxious in this House, yet, if echoed in other places, might be attended with the most frightful consequences, to adopt at once the propositions of the hon. gentleman. The question is, whether, upon the declaration of principles now made to the House, the hon. gentleman and his friends will be contented with the resolutions which I shall have the honour to propose, or will press his motion to a division, at all the hazards which I would rather leave to be imagined than describe.
There, is, however, one point in the hon. gentleman's statement upon which I certainly entertain a difference of opinion: I mean, the proposal of fixing a period at which the children of slaves shall be free. I doubt—not from any peculiar knowledge that I have of the subject, but upon the general principles of human nature—whether the measure recommended by the hon. gentleman would produce the degree of satisfaction which he anticipates, and 285 whether it might not produce feelings of an opposite nature. I doubt whether in its operation it would not prove at once the least efficient and the most hazardous mode of attaining his own object. But I throw out these observations with the same frankness and candour with which I have expressed myself in approval of those points of the hon. gentleman's propositions in which I have had the pleasure to concur. I desire not to be bound by these observations any more than I feel myself bound to carry into effect, at all risks, and at all hazards, those points upon which I have given a favourable opinion. I declare openly and sincerely my present impressions, formed after the best deliberation that there has been time to give to the consideration of the subject. I trust and believe that I have not spoken positively upon any thing upon which there is a probability of my having hereafter to retract what I have said. I speak doubtfully on some points, even where the bent of my opinion is very strong: but the one thing I am most anxious to avoid, is the declaration of any pledge of an abstract nature; the laying down any principle, the construction of which is to be left to those whose feelings and prejudices and passions must naturally be awake to these discussions, and who, when they learn by a declaration of this House, that "the continuance of slavery, and the principles of the Christian religion, are incompatible," might imagine they saw, in such a declaration, what, I say, in abstract reasoning I have, I think, shown the would be fairly entitled to see in it—their own immediate and unqualified emancipation. Lay down such principles I say, and those persons would have a right to draw that conclusion; and when the House had once made such a declaration, the qualification would come too late.
I am therefore peculiarly desirous that the qualification should be embodied in the same vote which affirms the principle, and that nothing should be left to inference and construction: that even the hopes held out for the future should be qualified with the doubts, with the delays, and with the difficulties to be surmounted before they can possibly be realized.
I will now, with the leave of the House, read the Resolutions which I propose to submit to the House for its consideration.
If the House should be inclined to adopt these resolutions, I shall then follow them up with moving,
- 1st. "That it is expedient to adopt effectual and decisive measures for ame-
286 liorating the condition of the slave population in his majesty's colonies.
- 2nd. "That, through a determined and persevering, but at the same time judicious and temperate, enforcement of such measures, this House looks forward to a progressive improvement in the character of the slave population, such as may prepare them for a participation in those civil rights and privileges which are enjoyed by other classes of his majesty's subjects.
- 3rd. "That this House is anxious for the accomplishment of this purpose, at the earliest period that shall be compatible with the well-being of the slaves themselves, with the safety of the colonies, and with a fair and equitable consideration of the interests of private property."
4th. "That the said resolutions be laid before his majesty by such members of this House as are of his majesty's most honourable privy council."
There now remains but one point, which, after having so fully expressed my sentiments to the House, I am peculiarly anxious to impress upon its consideration: I mean the mode of execution—the manner in which the executive government would have to act in respect of these re solutions, in the event of their adoption. The House is aware, that over certain of the colonies in the West-Indies, the Crown exercises immediate power, with out the intervention of any colonial legislature. In their case, the agency of the Crown, of course, will be more free and unfettered than in colonies having their own separate government. At the same time, I must declare, that we have aright to expect from the colonial legislatures a full and fair co-operation. And, being as much averse by habit, as I am at this moment precluded by duty, from mooting imaginary points, and looking to the solution of extreme though not impossible questions, I must add, that any resistance which might be manifested to the express and declared wishes of parliament, any resistance, I mean, which should par take, not of reason, but of contumacy, would create a case (a case, however, which I sincerely trust will never occur) upon which his majesty's government would not hesitate to come down to parliament for counsel.
I will not prolong a discussion (which it has been my object to bring to a lose) 287 by any general reflections further than this, that giving every credit as I do to the motives which have actuated the hon. gentleman, I am sure he will feel that it is perfectly consistent with a complete sympathy with his moral feelings, and consistent equally with my duty, that I should look at this subject more practically, more cautiously, and more dispassionately, and (if the hon. gentleman will permit me to say so much) more prudently than the hon. gentleman; whose warmth however, though I must not imitate, I do not mean harshly to blame.
And further, I would assure those whose interests are involved in this great question, that whatever may be the result of the present discussion, I and my colleagues are not more anxious, on the one hand, to redeem the character of the country, so far as it may have suffered by the state of slavery in the colonies, than we think ourselves bound, on the other, to guard and protect the just interests of those who, by no fault of their own, by inheritance, by accident, by the encouragement of repeated acts of the legislature, find their property vested in a concern exposed to innumerable hazards and difficulties, which do not belong to property of another character; such as, if they had their option (as their ancestors had), they would doubtless, in most cases, have preferred. If they have stood these hazards, if they have encountered these difficulties—and have to stand and encounter them still—we may not be able to secure them against the consequences of such a state of things; but at least we have no right to aggravate the hazards or the difficulties which we cannot relieve.
The original resolution and also the amendment was then read by the Speaker. After which,
§ Mr. Wilberforce
rose and said:—Before, Sir, I enter into any discussion of the question before the House, I think it necessary to say a few words in vindication of the line pursued by my hon. friend near me (Mr. F. Buxton) on the present occasion; more particularly with reference to the proposition with which my hon. friend commenced his speech. My hon. friend addressed himself to a British parliament, and fully, fairly, and candidly, told, the House what were his real intentions in submitting his motion to its consideration—a gradual but total extinction of slavery in the colonies of this country. With powerful eloguence and the justest 288 reasoning, my hon. friend appealed to the understandings of hon. members and called to their recollection the sound and wholesome principles of the British con stitution—principles which declared to be objectionable, in the highest degree, the very existence of slavery. But it is rather my wish to avoid any useless repetition of points on which there is no dispute; and to adopt the opinions and principles which have already been fully acknowledged, and indeed justly respected.
It is with no little pleasure that I heard my right hon. friend accede to several of the propositions made by my hon. friend near me. I refer particularly to the abolition of the system of female punishment; the reservation of certain days to the negroes for labouring on their own account; the discontinuance of the practice of working on Sundays; the abolition of the Sun day markets; the abolition of the driving system, or of urging the field slaves to their labour by the whip; and, above all, the introduction and universal establishment of a system of religious instruction, and of the moral reformation of the slaves, of which marriage was of course to be one of the principal particulars. But I wish my right hon. friend to consider, what I think he does not seem sufficiently to bear in mind, in relation to what has been often alleged of the mischiefs likely to arise from the discussions of this question, that whatever may be the dangers to be apprehended from such discussions, there are yet no dangers so great, or so for midable, as those which must arise from a continuance of the present West-Indian system. And therefore I must assure my right hon. friend, that in directing a super intending and vigilant eye to the state of things in the West Indies, and by en deavouring to apply remedies to the existing grievances, with a fair regard to the interests and well-being of all the parties concerned, he is doing no more than discharging duties powerfully incumbent on him as a member of the British legislature, and still more as a minister of the Grown, and a watchful guardian of the general interests of this country.
And now, Sir, let me say a word or two on my hon. friend's haying laid the grounds of his resolution, in the principles of the Chrsitian religion. What could be more reasonable, what more appropriate, in the senate of a nation which calls itself. Christian and, acknowledges the Divine authority of the holy 289 Scriptures?—Again, let me remind my right hon. friend and the House, that it was necessary for my hon. friend boldly to assert and maintain the rights and privileges of the black population in the West Indies. At the same time, I am thoroughly convinced, that there is no man more ready than my hon. friend fairly to consider the situation in which many of the West-Indian proprietors would be placed in the event of the execution of his plans, the effect of which, undoubtedly, would be gradually to extinguish slavery in the West Indies. I entirely agree with my right hon. friend, in thinking, that nothing would be more I unfair than to consider those whose interests are involved in this question, in any invidious point of view: but, surely, on the other hand, if we are really desirous: of putting an end to slavery, it is absolutely necessary boldly to state that it is a great and intolerable grievance.
With respect to the dangers which may arise from a discussion of these points, lean only state, that my right hon. friend must I enter into an investigation of the requisite measures for putting an end to the evils acknowledged to exist, with a recollection of the infinite danger which must attend a continuance of the present system of slavery. Many reasons present themselves to my mind why it is far safer to get rid of these evils altogether, than to modify them. But I must remind the House, that, as to the discussion being so dangerous as has been frequently alleged by those who oppose any alteration in the present system, the notion has been in fact contradicted and exploded by the West-Indians themselves, who from time to time have been in the habit of inserting in their colonial newspapers articles which might be supposed to be of the most dangerous tendency, calculated to inflame the minds of the black population, and even to tempt them to insurrection. Now, Sir, this fact—and it is impossible to dispute it—is a great encouragement to us in the present discussion: for the House must be now aware, that whatever apprehensions concerning the effects on the minds of the negro slaves, of discussions in this House, might be deemed reasonable by individuals resident in this country, yet that these alarms have not been felt in the slightest degree by those resident on the spot where danger only could arise, and where the probabilities of it might be most justly estimated. There 290 are, doubtless, however, dangers great and serious, and even formidable, to be en countered; but they are such as arise out of the state and circumstances of our West-Indian colonies, in relation both to their insular and their continental neighbours; and on the whole, they are such as would be lessened rather than augmented by the reforms in the contemplation of my hon. friend.
I cannot forbear alluding to another point, which I confess has made a strong impression upon my mind. We hare had laid before us returns of the slave population of the West-India Islands. I do not know whether my right hon. friend is aware of this important circumstance, that there is every reason to believe that, in all the West-India islands, the population has been for some years past, and is at this very time, decreasing. I beg the very particular attention of my right hon. friend to this fact; and let the House also attend to it, because it will be a sort of specimen of the difficulties we may in future have to encounter. It is an established and well-known fact, that in our West-India islands, the slaves, though in a climate similar to their own, instead of keeping up their numbers, have for a long series of years been gradually decreasing; and though the decrease has been gradually lessening, yet these returns clearly show that it still continues. This decrease is the more extraordinary, because the Negro race is found to have greatly increased its numbers in every other country, even in the, to them, uncongenial climate of North America. The causes to which the abolitionists chiefly referred this deviation from the ordinary course of nature, this exclusion from the benefit of the fundamental law of nature established by the Almighty on the first formation of man, "Increase and multiply," were over-working, under-feeding, and licentiousness.
The West Indians themselves, though acknowledging that the general licentiousness operated powerfully in producing this effect, ascribed the decrease of the black population chiefly to the numerical disproportion of the sexes; the number of the women, they alleged, being greatly inferior to that of the men. We acknowledged, indeed, that, of the original importations, the greater proportion of almost every one consisted of men. But we maintained, that in almost all our islands, more especially in the two greatest, 291 Jamaica, and still more Barbadoes, as the numbers born of the two sexes would only show the ordinary small deviation from a complete equality, the inequality arising from the importations must long ago have ceased to exist. The West Indians, however, went on contending for a large inferiority of number in the women, assigning in a great degree to this the strange phenomenon, that the slaves diminished, and thereby negativing the operation of those circumstances in their treatment to which we ascribed the diminution. At length, however, the establishment of a registry gave us a nearer approximation than ever before to the real numbers of the slaves; and then what, Sir, was proved to be the real fact? That in every one of the West-India islands, so far was it from being true that it was this alleged disproportion which prevented the increase of the negroes, there has been in truth no such disproportion existing; and that in fact in all our islands, except the lately settled island Trinidad, the women are in greater numbers than the men. As the whole population is made up; of that of the different estates and families of domestic slaves, and as every owner had an accurate account of the number of his own, it is very surprising, indeed, quite unaccountable, how the hypothesis, universally prevalent and enforced on us, could be believed; and yet such was the account invariably given to us. "Let this, then, be a proof that we ought not to trust implicitly to the accuracy of the statements received from the West Indies. But the important inference to be drawn from the decrease of the slaves, even under the circumstances of an equality of the sexes, is, that we must find the means of encouraging the natural increase of the negroes, or that the planters will lie under the strongest temptations to resort once more to the old source of the slave trade, carrying it on illicitly. Something must be done, to effect an entire reformation in the system, not merely with a view to justice and humanity, but also to sound policy: for however this country may be determined net to permit the recommencement of such traffic, the temptation to renew it, which the deficiency of slaves would hold out, would be too much for human nature, at least for human nature in the West Indies. The registry bills that have been enacted by the different colonial assemblies, are altogether inadequate to their effect. I 292 freely confess that I cannot depend upon them for producing the desired effect of preventing the illicit importation of negroes; and, let any one who may have any doubt on this head, remember what was formerly stated by the colonial assemblies themselves, that if the abolition law should be passed, it would be practically impossible to enforce it.
There are only two other matters on which I am anxious to say a few words. First, I entirely concur with my right hon. friend in thinking, that it is highly to be wished that the conversion of the slaves into a free peasantry should rather be the gradual effect of the operation of moral causes, than that it should be suddenly effected by an act of parliament. But he will allow me also to tell him, and to tell the House, that when we consider the claims of these unhappy people, and the time that has been already lost in accomplishing this great and high duty, we ought not to prolong their slavery an hour longer than is absolutely necessary with a view to their own benefit, as well as to the interests of other parties. I believe most sincerely that any reform which should convert the slaves into a free peasantry would be no less advantageous to the planters themselves than to those who are at present in bondage to them. Still it is deserving of serious consideration, whether it would be either wise, or just, or prudent, to leave to time the emancipation of the slaves, allowing it to become general merely by the operation of principles such as have been alluded to or whether it would not be fit to adopt something like the plan recommended about thirty years ago by the late lord Melville, and Which, if carried into effect, would have left at this time scarcely a single slave in the whole of our West-Indian possessions. I cannot reflect that this plan was not carried into effect, without deep concern.
But there is another point, of extreme importance, on which practically all parties ought to agree. It is, whether the improving of the condition of the negroes ought to be the work of the British parliament; or whether it ought to be left to the colonial legislatures? For myself, I frankly confess, that if the colonial legislatures would make the reform, I should greatly prefer it. But how is it possible for me to expect that they will-do it? Have we not large experience on this head; and does not all our experience show, that they will not do 293 their duty? Do we not remember, that, from the first moment when any proceedings were commenced for the amelioration of the condition of the slaves, the colonial legislatures invariably opposed every endeavour of the kind? There were no consequences so fatal, no injuries so great, that were not in the first instance predicted as certain to be the effect of any interference, even to lessen the horrors of, the Middle Passage; by which, it may; be now necessary to state, was meant the conveyance of the wretched victims from Africa to the West Indies. Let me also call to the recollection of the House, that such was the case, not only when propositions of the kind came from persons who might be looked upon as obnoxious to the West-Indians, or likely to be suspected by them, but when they were; brought forward by individuals most respectable from their rank and fortune, and character, and who had long been regarded by the planters with favour, as decidedly partial to their cause. In 1797, an hon. gentleman now sitting opposite to me (Mr. C. Ellis), who had shewed a disinterested spirit of benevolence towards I the negroes on his own properties, wished to prevail on the colonist to adopt some general reforms. The personal efforts he had used, and the sacrifices he had made, were a testimony of his unquestionable sincerity. He was desirous of introducing a reform, that, if carried into execution, he hoped might have had the happiest results. But he wished his reform to be patronised and carried into effect by the legislatures of the West Indies. The consequence was, that all his exertions were ineffectual; and that though his application was enforced by the most powerful of all pleas, viz. that, if they did not reform the system themselves, the British parliament would infallibly pass the much-dreaded abolition law, yet even with this enforcement, the colonial assemblies would do nothing.
Again; it is not to be forgotten, that Mr. Bryan Edwards, the historian of the West Indies, and one of their chief champions, himself suggested the reform of one of the greatest practical grievances of the West Indies, viz. that of the slaves being liable to be seized, and separately and even singly sold for the payment of their master's debts; and also the abolition of the Sunday market. He stated, that it was only necessary for the former of these, objects, to repeal 294 a particular law of George 2nd. We yielded most gladly to what he recommended, The law that stood in the way of this, improvement was repealed accordingly. But to this day not one of the thirteen colonial assembles has verified Mr. Edwards's prediction, that, so soon as they should be able, they would redress this crying grievance. Nothing whatever has been done, and the evil still remains in all its force. Will my right hon. friend then say, that he thinks; such reforms as are necessary will, be fairly and practically attempted by the assemblies of the islands? Can he think it possible that they will? I know my right hon. friend's talents and principles so well, that I am willing to believe he will not suffer himself to be imposed upon in this respect. But let him beware; for if he does rely on them, he will as suredly be disappointed. And, let it never be forgotten, as sir Samuel Romilly used to exclaim, these poor negroes, destitute, miserable, unfriended, degraded as they are, are nevertheless his majesty's liege subjects, and are entitled to as much—aye, let me remind my right hon. friend, by the principles of our holy religion, to more—of the protection of the British constitution, because they are deserted, destitute, and degraded. On this very account, they have a peculiar claim to our sympathy and protection. The great and the powerful, the noble and the affluent ought to feel it their special duty to extend their aid to the weak, the helpless, and the oppressed. The object, I trust, will be accomplished in one way or another slavery is a great moral evil, and a great physical suffering; and I trust that, ere long, means will be found to put an end to it. It is impossible, in the present state of the world, and with all the knowledge that has broken in upon us, to suppose, that slavery can exist much longer.
I do not wish to enter into any invidious topics; though I confess my right hon. friend almost tempted me to do so, when he took upon himself to compare the state of the slaves of antiquity with the condition of the slaves in the West Indies. Let me remind him at least of one difference between the two that among the ancients it was not in general difficult, for the slave, by his industry or by his good conduct, to obtain his emancipation in a few years; but we all know the extreme difficulty of doing so in the 295 West-Indies: we all know how, in fact, of late, obstacles have been thrown in the way of individual manumissions. But upon this point I do not wish at this time to go into any unnecessary discussion. I will only, therefore, in conclusion, remind the House and my right hon. friend, that the grand point to be kept in mind is, that the great changes that are contemplated, and the benefits resulting from them, must not only be recommended strongly to the colonial assemblies, but the government at home must see them carried into effect. It is a part of the duty of government to see that what is held out in the resolutions is in truth performed. I do not wish to state what is invidious; but it is necessary that something should be mentioned on this head, because I must say, without reserve, that hitherto neither government nor parliament itself has done its duty.
On the whole, I congratulate my hon. friend on the degree of success which has thus far attended his motion. He has made his appeal to the House and to the country; and that appeal has not only been heard with attention, but has created the most general and lively interest. Let us hope and trust, that my right hon. friend will pursue his course, the course he has declared that he will pursue; and that the benefits he wishes to be communicated to these unhappy beings may, in fact and practically, be secured to them. After all that my right hon. friend has conceded, I know not what my hon. friend proposes to do, as to the motion be has made; but it may be observed, that we now stand in a perfectly new situation, entirely different from that in which we stood at the time of our entering the House, and when the motion was brought forward. Let it be remembered that we have now an acknowledgment on the part of government that the grievances of which we complain do exist, and that a remedy ought to he applied. We have also the assurance that a remedy shall be applied. This state of things must give the utmost satisfaction to my hon. friend, and to all those who feel interested in the success of his object; and under these circumstances, I, will no longer detain the House than by expressing my confidence that we shall this might lay the foundation of what will ultimately prove a great and glorious superstructure.
§ Mr. C. Ellis
said:—Sir there is something is a scenting in the peculiar cha- 296 racter of the eloquence of the hon. gentleman who has just sat down, the topics also on which he has dwelt in his speech; are calculated to appeal so forcibly to all the best feelings of his hearers, that it requires no ordinary effort to rise in opposition to him on such a subject. But though I am sufficiently conscious of this disadvantage, and of the still greater disadvantage of my own insufficiency, I feel myself called upon by a yet stronger sense of duty towards the class of persons to which I belong, whose interests are deeply implicated in this question, to stand up in support of their rights and in vindication of their characters. For, notwithstanding the declaration with which the hon. gentleman who made this motion commenced his speech, I must take the liberty of saying, that he did not very cautiously abstain from imputations of no light or un invidious character; and I trust, there fore, that the motive which impels me thus to claim the indulgence of the House will induce them not to withhold it.
In standing up, as I do, on behalf of the planters of the West Indies, and as one of that body, I beg not to be considered as the champion of slavery. As a West-India planter, I do not hold myself in any degree responsible for the establishment of that system. The planters of the present generation, most of them at least, found themselves, by inheritance, or by other accidental causes, in possession of property the fruit of the industry of their ancestors or other predecessors, and of capital vested in the West Indies by them, under the sanction of the government and of the parliament of this country, through their encouragement and in reliance on their good faith. Thus circumstanced—their own property, and that of their nearest connexions, intimately bound up with, and dependent upon, the existence of the scheme of society established in the colonies—what were the duties which these circumstances imposed upon them? I conceive them to have been—to administer that system with liberality to exercise the power placed in their hands with lenity and humanity—in a word, to do all that depended on them, consistently with their own safety and the security of their property, to mitigate and progressively to improve the condition of the negroes. If they have failed in these duties, they have incurred a fearful responsibility, and to a higher tribunal than 297 this House. But for the establishment of slavery; for the inherent vice of the system, for that original sin, they are not responsible; the responsibility attaches upon the government who framed the system, and upon the parliaments which have repeatedly sanctioned it, and who framed and have upheld it, for views of British policy. For be it remembered always, in treating this question, that our colonial system was not established for the sake of the colonies, but for the encouragement of British commerce and manufactures; for the purpose, to use the words of the Navigation act, "of rendering his majesty's plantations beyond seas beneficial and advantageous to this kingdom in the employment of English ships and English seamen." It is the same with respect to the slave trade. The slave trade, in its origin, had no reference to our colonies: there are on record slave-trade voyages anterior to the period of our possession of the West-India colonies: it has been carried on for its own sake, and in order to supply foreign countries with slaves; and the British parliament has invariably treated it as a part of that system of navigation and commerce upon which our naval power mainly rested, and with which the interests of the colonies were connected only as secondary and subservient, and as being instrumental to the support of those great paramount British objects. Parliament, for nearly a century and a half, encouraged, watched over, and regulated that trade, not as was the case from the period when the hon. member for Bramber undertook the subject for purposes of mercy towards the unhappy victims of it, but for the purpose of securing to British subjects the exclusive profits of the traffic, and in order to render it, under our navigation laws, one of the means of our maritime strength. Parliament enacted, that no slave ships should be admitted into our colonies but from British ports; that they should be British built, and navigated by three-fourths British seamen. Let not parliament then suppose, that it can throw off from itself, and fix upon the planters in the colonies, the responsibility for this long course of crime. The planters, even if they can be considered as participators in the crime of the slave trade, must be acknowledged to have been seduced into it by the mother country. For the establishment of slavery therefore, they are in no degree responsible; 298 it was exclusively the work of the government and parliament of Great Britain; and whatever may be the sacrifice involved in a due atonement for it, they u are bound to take it upon themselves. They have no right to inflict it upon the colonies.
It is admitted, on the part of those who bring forward this proposition, or at least it has been declared, that it is not their intention to injure or destroy the property of the planters. All they ask is, the fair protection promised under the faith of parliament: parliament is bound: to fulfil; its duty equally to both parties to the slaves and to the planters. We are bound not to allow a natural propensity to indulge an amiable feeling of humanity, to lead us away from the discharge, however irksome or inconvenient, of the obligations of justice: still less should we be warranted in permitting an intemperate zeal in the performance of the one duty, to lead us into a course which would produce the violation of both of them. The force of this obligation has been fully admitted by the hon. gentleman on the other side, and especially by the hon. member for Bramber, in; the speech it which he called the attention of the House to the subject early, in the present session: he then admitted, that we had not a right "to pay a debt of African humanity with West-Indian property." All I ask of him, and of the House, is the equal performance of these duties: I would even be content to rest the decision of this question, and my whole argument: on behalf of the West-India planters, on the fair fulfilment of one of them; namely, the duty which this country owes to the negroes. I entreat the House to recollect that liberty, though the greatest of all political blessings, is a blessing capable of being abused, if conferred on persons not fitted to receive it; and abused to the injury of those very persons upon whom it is bestowed. If the result of emancipation were to be, as at this moment it would probably be in Jamaica, or in any other of the islands, where there are the means, of subsistence in the mountains abundantly sufficient for all the wants of Savage life, and when there would exist no stimulus to labour but such as' arises from the artificial wants: of civilized society; if the result were betake that the negroes on their emancipation were to betake themselves to the mountains—to revert to their former habits of 299 savage life—if, forgetting the doctrines and truths of Christianity as yet but recently and imperfectly inculcated, they were to relapse into their former superstition—if, abandoning the habits of peaceful industry, they were to have recourse to plunder and violence for subsistence; if such were to be the result of emancipation, let me ask whether we should have performed our duty towards the negroes.
I conceive our duty to be very different—to be more difficult and more complicated. I conceive it to be—so to prepare them, by religious instruction, by the gradual acquisition of civil rights, and by the habits of civilized life, that the influence of those habits may be substituted for the authority of the master whenever that authority shall be withdrawn; that they may become honest, peaceable, moral, and industrious members of a free society, and that the transition may take lace without a convulsion. In a word, conceive the only means of making atonement for the original crime of the slave trade, and the establishment of slavery, to be, through the benefits which we may thus confer on the progeny of those upon whom we inflicted the original injury.
It is because, in my opinion, the resolutions proposed by the hon. member would not have the magic power of effecting object—because I think the consequence of adopting them must inevitably be, to produce results in direct opposition to the purpose which I have no doubt the hon. gentleman and his friends have in view—because I am satisfied that the resolutions, if passed, would operate like a proclamation of enfranchisement—because the declaration that their liberty had been withheld from them, contrary to the principles of Christianity and the British constitution, could not fail to be considered by the slaves as an admission of their right to assert their liberty by whatever means of violence might be in their power, that I must protest against this work being undertaken by this House. If this House were to resort to compulsary enactments, producing resistance on the part of the colonies, whether their resistance should arise from unreasonable apprehensions, or our enactments should originate in ignorance of the feelings and habits of the inhabitants of the West Indies; whichever party might be in the wrong, if matters not: if you were to hold up to the negroes spectacle of 300 the British parliament legislating in their favour, and the colonial assemblies resisting the benevolent, intentions of parliament; would not the negroes consider the British parliament as their benefactors, and the colonial assemblies as their oppressors? And could the existence of such a feeling be by possibility consistent with contentment, or long even with submission?
I conceive that it is not fair or just to say, with the hon. member who spoke last, that the House is driven to this extremity because the colonial legislatures proceed so slowly in the work of amelioration. I beg the hon. gentleman and the House to reflect what has been the rate of progress by which the peasantry of Europe have arrived at their present condition from their former state of villeinage; how large a portion of Europe is, even at this moment, inhabited by a population which, if somewhat raised in the scale of society above the negroes of the West ladies, are scarcely in a less degree depressed below the state of freedom which is enjoyed by the subjects of the Crown of Great Britain. It is therefore only fair to consider how far a slow progress may be essential to a peaceable transition from slavery to freedom, at all times and in all countries; and we must not forget how much the difficulties are complicated and increased, and the dangers augmented, I should say, almost incalculably, in the case of our colonies, by the difference of colour—by the feelings and prejudices associated with that distinction—by the overpowering numbers and physical force of the slave population as compared with the white inhabitants of the colonies—and by the great political power which must of necessity be conveyed by an equal participation in all the civil rights: which are enjoyed by British subjects under our free constitution.
After taking into account all these considerations, and giving due weight to the complications introduced into the question, by the fears of the one party, and the claims of the other, we shall find that this is a problem, perhaps, of more difficult solution than any that was ever submitted to the legislature of any country. It is only by looking fairly at this difficulty, that we can judge the right which, we have to charge the colonial legislatures with being culpably slow in the progress which they have made.
Perhaps I might be justified in resting 301 their defence solely upon these general grounds; but as reference has been made by the hon. member who spoke last to an address adopted by the House, on a motion which I had the honour to make in 1797,* and as he has taken occasion to reproach the assemblies of the islands with having paid little attention to the appeal then made to them, I feel myself rather personally called upon to advert somewhat more particularly to this part of the subject. I will frankly admit, that the sanguine expectations in which I at that time indulged (I was then a very young man) have not been altogether realized: I admit that I think more might and ought to have been done: I believe that more may, and I trust will be done by the colonial legislatures, when applied to, as there is reason to believe they will now be applied to, by the government at home.
But, while I make these admissions, I trust I may be allowed to state on the other hand, that it is not quite fair to say nothing has been done by the colonial legislatures; and that much of the reproach which has been cast upon them has been Unmerited. In confirmation of this assertion, I beg leave to notice some of the enactments which have been passed in the assembly of Jamaica, with a view to the improvement of the condition of the negroes. I am sorry to trouble the House by going into these details; but after the appeal which has been made to me, and after the reproaches to which I have referred, deeply implicating the characters of most respectable persons, I feel that I am in a manner compelled to enter into them. In the same year in which the Address which I have mentioned was voted by this House, in 1797, an act was passed by the assembly 'of Jamaica, with a view of promoting the religious instruction of the negroes, and of affording further encouragement to respectable clergymen to establish them selves in Jamaica. In this act it was made part of the duty of the curates and rectors of every parish, to attend for a certain time on every Sunday in their churches, for the purpose of affording religious instruction to the negroes or persons of colour who might be disposed to receive*For the debate on Mr. Ellis's motion for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Negroes, see Parl. Hist. vol. 33, p. 251302 it. A fund was at the same time established for the maintenance of the widows of the deceased clergy. In the years 1801, 1807, 1809, and 1816, the consolidated slave laws were passed, forming a consecutive series of revisions of the slave laws from 1787; each revised law containing new regulations in favour of the negroes. In the last law, passed in 1816, some clauses were inserted specially for the purpose of meeting some of the objections urged in this country; against the colonial codes: one of them finishing new facilities to manumission by will, and providing protection for any negroes detained in any jail or workhouse, alleging themselves to be free; and making it imperative upon the senior magistrate to summon a special session for the investigation of such allegation.
This last revision of the slave laws was preceded by a committee of the House of Assembly, who made a long, and elaborate report, in which they recommended, First, the prohibition of the sale of slaves under writs of venditioni exponas; next, the prohibiting the purchase of slaves by middle-men—a very improper practice, and one which certainly required a remedy; and, thirdly, the enlarging of the powers of vestries as a council of protection, and the placing under their care the cases, of all negroes who might have cause of complaint against their masters. The two last of these recommendations were adopted by the assembly. The first of them wag taken into consideration by the House, with every disposition to amend the law but it was found to involve difficulties that had not been foreseen by the committee—difficulties of a legal, character, which the assembly were not able to surmount. The committee had also taken into their consideration the question of attaching the negroes to the soil. The difficulties attending the enactment of a law of this nature are stated fully in their report. The objections were such as either had reference to the inconveniences which might result from it in point of law, or to the hardship which the negroes themselves might occasionally suffer from being attached to a barren and unproductive spot. With respect to the enactment of this law, and the repeal of that of venditioni exponas, I have only to say that if the honourable gentleman can obtain a solution of the legal difficulties from his majesty's attorney-general, or 303 from the noble lord who presides in the court of chancery; and, if the inconveniences affecting the negroes themselves cannot be obviated; I think I may venture to say, no objections will be made of any other character—certainly none on the part of the West-India planters, connected with their own immediate interests.
But this is not all that has been done by the assembly. In 1817, a law was also passed to make it imperative on every overseer or manager of an estate to give information to the coroner of the death of any slave who may die otherwise than according to the common course of nature. In 1816, also, an act was passed for the appointment of a curate in each parish with a salary of 300l. for the purpose of promoting the religious instruction of the slaves. It was notified to the assembly that this provision of 300l. currency (something more than 200l. sterling) was inadequate. The Assembly did not say, as they might have done, that the sum so provided was more than double the amount of the generality of curacies in this country, and even equal to the amount of many livings; but with great liberality they immediately increased the salary to 500l. currency.
If gentlemen should say, as has been not unfrequently the practice, that these enactments are a dead letter, I must beg leave most positively to deny the truth of such an allegation; and I appeal to the general improvement which has, as I understand, taken place in the condition of the black population, in proof of the correctness of my assertion. In 1805, when I was myself in Jamaica, the treatment of the slaves, I can venture to assert from my own observations, was such as reflected credit on the liberality and humanity of their masters; and I have been informed, and from authority which I cannot doubt, that since that period a further and very considerable improvement has taken place, both in the habits and behaviour of the negroes, and in their treatment by the white inhabitants. Since that period also, nearly the whole Negro population of Jamaica have been baptized; and I am further informed, that in many districts marriages have become very frequent among them. I do not state these improvements, as claiming any great credit on behalf of the legislature of jamaica; but I think I am justified, in Haying, that they bear me out in the as- 304 sertion, that a general and progressive improvement, has been, and is still going on in that country.
With respect to many of the regulations alluded to by the hon. gentleman who opened this debate, I believe that no objection will be offered on the part of the planters in the West-Indies. For instance, as to the regulation for securing to the negro by law, that property which he now possesses through custom only, I think I can venture to say, there will not be made the slightest objection. With regard also to a point which has been made the subject of great reproach—I mean what is commonly termed the driving system—I must beg leave to say, I do not believe, however confidently it may have been asserted, that the whip is used as a stimulant to labour. I believe it will be found that the whip is generally placed in the hands of the driver—who is always a confidential negro—more as a badge of authority, than as an instrument of coercion. I admit, that it may be—as the appellation denotes—the remnant of a barbarous custom. But it is, in fact, considered at present only as a symbol of office. It is not, however, of importance now to discuss this point; for I am persuaded the planters will make no objection whatever to the prohibition by law of its use for either purpose.
With respect to another practice, the indecent punishment of females with the whip, there can be no doubt as to the propriety of passing a law for its prohibition. With regard to the abolition of Sunday markets, and the affording equivalent time to the negroes to work on their own account, I have no hesitation in saying, that the planters would readily agree to such a proposition, provided that the means of employing the time so given up to the negroes, in religious instruction, can, as I trust it will, be afforded. With respect to some other points adverted to by the hon. member, I fear serious objections, and greater practical difficulties than he is himself aware of, may be found to exist. I have, however, no doubt, but that the West-India planters will consent to every fair and reasonable proposal for the improvement of the condition of the slaves. But, gentlemen must not be surprised if modifications of detail, which may not have occurred to them, should, be found essential to the safe, or beneficial adoption of such improvements in the colonies. It is with 305 great reluctance that I trouble the House by going into these details; but there is another point on which so much stress has been laid, that I cannot pass it over, Much obloquy has been cast upon the colonies on account of the general inattention paid to religious duties in those countries, and the licentious habits both of the black and white inhabitants. I am far from meaning to be the apologist of such a state of manners; but I must beg it to be recollected, that, among other paramount rights which the mother country has retained, she has included that of the superintendance and patronage of the church establishment in the colonies. She has undertaken to provide them with religious instruction; she has placed the clergy under the jurisdiction of an English bishop; and she has given to the governor of each colony, who is appointed by the Crown, the nomination of all the livings. The sole and single duty left to the colonies is the charge of providing I salaries for the clergy. If that duty has been discharged by them with a degree of liberality which sets all reproach at defiance—if that very liberality has operated as a temptation to the abuse of the patronage so reserved by this country—if clergymen have been selected with less regard to their fitness for the due performance of their religious duties than to their need of the large profits of the livings; and if the clergy so appointed did not pay that attention to the moral and religious instruction of the negroes which they ought to have done, and which all admit to be so desirable; if they have not obtained that influence over, and that respect from, the white inhabitants of the colonies, which belongs to their sacred character, I ask where does the responsibility attach for the bad state of morals of a society so neglected as to that point upon which the morality of all society must depend? I do not mean to insinuate, that such complaints can be truly urged against the clergy in the colonies at the present moment: I believe, on the contrary, that the church patronage, in the island of Jamaica at least, is judiciously bestowed by the noble duke at the head of the government there; and I-beg leave to offer to the right reverend prelate, under whom the clergy are at present placed, the humble tribute of my gratitude for: the zeal and interest which he has shewn in furthering the religious instruction of the 306 slaves. But the present state of morals and manners in the West Indies is the fruit of seed sown long ago, and not easily nor speedily to be eradicated. Be the responsibility, however, as to the cause, where it may, the duty of remedying the evil, I agree, is not the less urgent. But that remedy is not to be found in the emancipation of the negroes. No mode of arguing can be more fallacious, nor, I must take the liberty of saying, more un-fair, than to cite the bad state of morals in the West Indies as a reason" for the enfranchisement of the slaves. It may be an argument ad invidiam, a powerful means of exciting feelings prejudicial to the inhabitants of the colonies, but it can be no reason for emancipation. Emancipation is not the only, nor the best remedy—as that argument would imply—the best, and I will venture to say, the only remedy for the present state of morals in the colonies is, the influence of religion. Emancipation, contend, has not per se any tendency to remedy the evil. The utmost state of moral licentiousness, we all know, is compatible with the utmost degree of political freedom. And freedom, if given to the negroes before they are fitted to receive it; would only confirm and aggravate the evil. We must therefore look to another course. The only course, as I conceive, consistent alike with the duties of real humanity towards the negroes, and of justice towards the proprietors in the colonies, is that recommended in the resolutions of my right hon. friend. In pursuing that course the government are entitled to the fair and honest co-operation of the West-Indians in this country, and in the colonies; and I trust, that the confidence which will be inspired by the able and statesmanlike manner in which my right hon. friend has treated this question will ensure the application to the colonists not being made in vain. Time was, when I should have hazarded the anticipation that such a course would have also met with the approbation of hon. gentlemen most particular' interested in favour of the Africans. That course is indeed pointed out and described with equal distinctness and eloquence, by a writer supposed to be the organ of their sentiments; and an authority to which I am particularly glad to be able to appeal, as not being liable to the suspicion of any undue partiality to the West-Indians. In describing the views of the abolitionists 307 in respect to the future emancipation of the negroes, he says,—"They did not aim at an emancipation to be effected by insurrection in the West-Indies, or to be ordained precipitately by positive law: but they never denied, and scrupled not to avow, that they did look forward to a future extinction of slavery in the colonies, to be accomplished by the same happy means which formerly put an end to it in England; namely, by a benign, though insensible, revolution in opinions and manners, by the encouragement of particular manumissions, and the progressive melioration of the condition of the slaves, till it should slide insensibly into general freedom. They looked, in short, to an emancipation, of which not the slaves, but the masters, should be willing instruments or authors."
The writer then goes on to describe the particular mode in which the extinction of slavery was accomplished in England: "In England, if it be asked what cause most powerfully contributed to the dissolution of the degrading bondage of our ancestors, the answer must clearly be, the extreme favour shown to individual enfranchisements by the judges and the laws. That baneful growth of foreign conquest, or early barbarism, villeinage, had nearly overspread the whole field now covered with the most glorious harvest of liberty and social happiness that ever earth produced, and where not one specimen of the noxious weed remains; yet it was not ploughed up by revolution, or mown down by the scythe of a legislative abolition, but was plucked up, stalk by stalk, by the progressive hand of private and voluntary enfranchisement. Slavery ceased in England only because the last slave at length obtained his manumission, or died without a child." I would recommend this text to my right hon. friend and his colleagues for their guidance, in the prosecution of the great work which they have now undertaken. He will find it in the Report of the African Institution, published in the year 1815. I will only add, that to the extinction of slavery, so to be accomplished—namely, "by the same happy means as in England," with the same regard to private property, and a similar maintenance of the public tranquillity—I not, only have no objection to offer, but, with, such limited means as I possess, I should feel bound to lend, ray humble support
§ Mr. William Smith
said:—Not withstanding there may have been something objectionable in the tone and manner of the hon. gentleman who has just sat down, I have on this account nothing to retort, but I am ready to give him all imaginable credit for the sentiments he has himself declared, and on which, I hope, he has consulted the opinions of a large number of persons, who in a resistance to a proposition of this nature would be extremely ready to join him. In many of the facts he has stated, and in much of the reasoning he has advanced, I am much disposed to agree, and in nothing more than what was insisted upon so strongly by my hon. friend who began this debate, that this, the first, and every other step towards emancipation must be gradual. But still there is this great distinction between us, more material than I wish it were, that while I admit, on the one hand, that the emancipation of the negroes must be gradual, I think at the same time it is absolutely necessary, that it should be rendered certain. It is upon the uncertainty of what has been proposed to us this night by the right honourable gentleman on the other side, that I feel myself most dissatisfied. The hon. gentleman who spoke last has referred to a measure taken by himself, or at his suggestion, many years ago, which unquestionably did him great honour at the time: he has acknowledged, that, because the execution of his proposition was left to the legislatures of the West-Indies, it did not effect all the good he had intended towards the negroes. Now, on this particular point, I must beg leave to call the attention of the House, and of the right hon. gentleman, to a circumstance which he may have forgotten. On the 19th June, 1816, an hon. relative of the hon. gentleman on the other side proposed a resolution, from the conclusion of which I will read the following words: "And that his royal highness will be pleased to recommend, in the strongest manner, to the local authorities in the respective colonies, to carry into effect every measure, to the local and to promote the moral and religious improvement as well as the comfort and happiness of the negroes. Here, then, we get into this dilemma either the colonial assemblies have carried those ameliorating measures into effect, or they have not; if they have not, may arose from one of two causes—either that the have one of two causes—either that the parties were inattentive to the recomendaiton 309 so strongly urged by this government; or that they saw the moral and religious improvement, and the comfort and happiness of the negroes, with eyes very different from those with which parliament contemplated them. I should wish to know, then, what greater security we have at this moment for effective exertions on the part of the West-Indian legislatures, if we adopt the resolution of the right hon. gentleman which has just been proposed. We may again declare, "That it is expedient to adopt effectual and decisive measures for meliorating the condition of the slave population of his majesty's colonies:" but are we sure that it will be of any use to declare it? After the adoption of the former resolution which I have just noticed, we received information from the best authority, that the laws passed in the West-Indies were, even avowedly among themselves, only to gain time, and to quiet the parliament and people of England, [the hon. member read a quotation from the document he referred to, and then proceeded.]
What I have to ask is this: have the important objects so recommended been accomplished within the last seven years, or have they not? Nay, I will ask a question much more home: has any one of the propositions mentioned to-night as almost a sine qua non, with a view to the improvement of the condition of the negro, been put even in a train of accomplishment in the West-Indies? The facts is, that when the returns from the colonies were laid upon the table the other day (which, allow me to say, ought to have been there long since, having been ordered two years ago), I turned over the book, expecting, of course, to find the proper return from Jamaica; and it was not till after I had gone through it twice, that I could persuade myself, which I did very reluctantly, that it was really wanting. Not one word from that most important of all the islands. And yet without that return we must take what has been done, merely upon the representations of the hon. gentleman: I mean what has been done, among other things, for the moral and religious improvement of the negroes. I hold in my hand a Jamaica Gazette, dated no longer ago than in November last, in which it appears that a committee of the housed of assembly reported, that, excepting in two of three large parishes, it had not been found that the measures taken for the reli- 310 gious improvement of the blacks had bee attended with success. As far as my own private information goes, I may say, that those measures have been attended with very little advantage indeed. I am afraid it will be found, that the expectations of the British parliament, so far from being realized, have been grievously disappointed, and that, as to moral cultivation, the cause has gone as much backward in some cases as forward in others: so far, too, from any facilities having been given to manumission, it is now more difficult than it was at any former period.—It concerned me much to hear the hon. gentleman who spoke last, so openly object to any interference on this subject by the British parliament. He was opposed to all interference and almost protested against it.
§ Mr. William Smith.
—I understood him to protest, or to say what nearly amounted to a protest, against any interference on the part of the legislature here on behalf of the slaves. If I was mistaken, I am glad of it; and I would rather take his interpretation of his own words, than attempt to put my own sense upon them. But if we are to be threatened with consequences, and to be talked to of the impolicy of interference on the part of the British parliament, if the proceedings of the colonists should be too dilatory and inefficient to meet the just expectations of this country, and if we are to forbear because we are so threatened, I fear that the conclusion of our undertaking for the benefit of the negroes is by no means so near as we could desire. Daring the first period of our labours, we know from the hon. gentleman himself, that they did not satisfy his own expectations; and, during the latter period, we are equally sure that they did not satisfy ours. What better ground of confidence do we now possess? I must indeed think that, after all we have seen upon this subject, after all the experience we have had during a long series of years, We are entitled to demand some greater security than the right hon. gentleman, in his resolutions, has given us.
It is riot thy intention at this period, and after what has been already said to go into details; but I feel disposed to Contend against some of the most material points adverted to by the hon. gentleman. As to the first settlement of the colonies, 311 it is a long way indeed for the hon. gentleman to look back; and I confess I see no necessity for it, since it makes nothing for his argument. I shall not follow him thither; but when he tells us, that the emancipation of the villeins, and the destruction of feudal tenures, was the work of many ages, I must ask whether gentlemen really do think, that now, in the nineteenth century, we are to make no quicker progress in the annihilation of slavery? and when we know too, that it is held in detestation by the whole British people? Have we no additional lights to guide us in 1823, beyond those which were possessed in 1400? We know, in point of fact, that at that time the trade in slaves between Bristol and Ireland had scarcely ceased. In the 13th century, it is an unquestionable fact, that Englishmen were kidnapped on the shores of the Bristol channel, then taken to Ireland, and there actually sold as slaves, until the practice was put an end to by the Irish themselves—on account of its acknowledged inhumanity.
But I beg leave upon this, am every occasion when the opportunity offers, to enter my strongest and most indignant protest against the doctrine of treating man as the property of man; and never will I admit that claims of a nature so immoral and extravagant are to be treated with as much delicacy as private rights of a legitimate description. Unless we utterly reprobate this idea in the first instance, we do almost nothing; and it is chiefly to endeavour to destroy this notion, which in some quarters seems even yet to prevail, that I have risen: very much indeed for this especial reason do some of the propositions of my hon. friend deserve to be preferred to those or the right hon. gentleman As long as we suffer ourselves, or any person or persons connected with us, or dependent upon to apprehend that it is possible to hold the same unconditional property in their fellow-men as in any other species of production—until that impious opinion, destruction of all the distinctions which the almighty has established between man and brute, is removed so completely that not a trace of it shall remain, the march of amelioration in the condition of the Negroes will be slow indeed.—Having said thus much, I entreat the myself with repeating, that I, entreat the; right; hon. gentleman to give us a little more information as to the time when this ameliora- 312 tion, according to resolutions, may be expected to take place; and as to the security on which he rests that without the interference of parliament, it will ever, at any definite period, however distant, receive its accomplishment.
§ Sir George Rose
said, that although the turn the debate had taken induced him to address himself to the House far more briefly than he had originally intended, there still were considerations which he deemed it indispensable to lay before it. These arose from the altered state of Christianity amongst the slave population of the British West-India settlements, which, whilst it is by no means such as it undoubtedly ought to be, is yet not so hopeless as it has been represented, and by no mean authorities. Even the University of Cambridge; with its petition, has declared, in speaking of the negroes, that "religious Instruction is nearly altogether precluded"—a Statement in no wise warranted by the case. He begged the House, however, to believe, that very far from considering the progress made, as that which ought to satisfy those interested in that highly important matter, he looked upon it but as the earnest of what remained to be done by the West-Indian proprietors, and as the proof of what may be effected. Being by inheritance one of these proprietors, he had, from the moment of becoming such, felt the immensity of the responsibility which devolved upon him as charged with the spiritual welfare of the negroes on the property in question; the small extent of it being of course no measure of that responsibility; and he was led to state circumstances which had occurred to himself, as testifying powerfully to the beneficent effects of religious instruction, both to the slaves themselves, and to their owners. Inheriting a small landed property in one of the lesser islands, he at once ascertained that, both from local circumstances, and from the duties of the parochial clergy to their white and coloured flocks, and from their being too highly educated for the missionary task among human beings so utterly ignorant, narrow-minded, and thoughtless, as the unconverted negroes are, he could not obtain spiritual aid for them from the clergy of the church of England. He then solicited it of the Moravian brethren; doing so with the concurrence of respectable persons in the island, whose co-operation he was most 313 anxious to obtain for the success of his views, as he knew how favourably they were impressed with regard to that very respectable and meritorious sect. Circumstances foreign to himself, but in which the pious and excellent persons to whom lie addressed himself were blameless, rendered this application unsuccessful: there then remained no other source of religious instruction but that of the Wesleyan mission. This was the one' he was the least inclined to address himself to, on account of the strong feelings against them which he knew to exist in the bosoms of those whose co-operation was most important to the attainment of his views; but as no other resource remained, and the choice was between heathenism in its worst shape, and Christianity as preached by a Protestant sect, he could not hesitate a moment what to do. He was bound to say, that, the Wesleyan committee had met his wish for missionary aid with distinguished readiness, piety, and liberality. From his intercourse with its members, and his increasing knowledge of the operations of its servants, and of the subject in general, he had no less reason to be surprised, when, on the responsibility for the conduct of two other estates in Jamaica devolving in a great degree upon him, at a subsequent period, he found a state of things which was sufficiently instructive. On one of these estates, the best and the largest, the negroes, though baptized, were in every other respect completely heathen; grossly depraved and immoral; and its affairs very disadvantageous circumstanced.
The condition of the other estate was decidedly better. It is in the immediate neighbourhood of one of the stations of the Wesleyan missionaries, whose labours bad led the far greater part of the black population of real and practical Christianity. He had ascertained that, in the year 1821, of 120 males, ten were found to be of conduct more or less reprehensible, and had been punished; of 130 females, one alone had received reprehension and punishment; and the attorney of the estate, a man of very respectable character, speaking of the great improvement in the morals and conduct of the negroes within a few years, says, that this improvement is so decisive, and the progressive discontinuation of punishment so marked, that he has a confident hope that punishment will die away, and be extinguished at no distant period; and that 314 the beneficial effects are to be attributed almost exclusively to the labours of, the Wesleyan missionaries,"—men whose active exertions for the, weal of their, fellow creatures, he pourtrays in strong colours.
He observed, that enough had now been said to show the practicability of effecting the conversion of the Negroes, by following up the beginning thus made; that, besides these considerations of the highest nature, there can be no doubt of the power of Christianity alone to effect the objects of the House in favour of the negroes, when it shall be general in the West-Indies; that slavery cannot stand against real and universal Christianity; that obstacles to the emancipation of the slaves, now multiplied and most serious, must vanish before it; that he could, were, it not to trespass too much on the time of the House, give proofs that the improved religion of the slaves had already reflected a light upwards, and acted on classes of society above them, producing new feelings, and a new impulse; and that in an island where the greatest progress had been made in evangelizing the negroes, institutions were actually in progress, of which the West Indies would not have been regarded as susceptible a few years back. But he was bound to show that he was holding out no illusive hope; a regular improvement in the feelings of the West-India proprietors and of their attornies was in rapid progress, as demonstrable by various facts,
The Wesleyans are excluded from no one island; and, as with respect to them alone, of all Christian teachers, have exceptions been taken, where they are admitted all others assuredly are. Upon seven islands every estate is open to their missionaries; and this will be the case with an eighth, when they can occupy the ground. They have access to a third of the estates in Jamaica, and to a half of those in Dominica; and they have missions in Barbaddes. The following may be a tolerably accurate statement of the progress of conversion amongst the slaves of the British West Indies. There are in those settlements not quite 800,000 slaves; of them, about 63,600 are adults under the care of the Wesleyans; and of these, a very large proportion are not merely baptized Christians, but such in their lives; as those whose conduct is repugnant to their Christian profession are excluded from their communion. If to this number is added that of chil- 315 dren under instruction, and children of Christian parents baptized, and who receive instruction as soon as they are capable of profiting by it, the total number of Christians aggregated to the Wesleyans may be taken at about 80,000: And it those in real communion with the Moravians, who form a considerable mass; with the Baptists in Jamaica; with the Scotch church, and the agents of the London Missionary Society at Demarara and Berbice; and with the church of England; are computed at 20,000, the total will be 100,000, or an eighth part of the whole. It is particularly to be observed, that besides whatever aid may be derived from other missionary sources, the Wesleyans alone, had they sufficient pecuniary resources, could double the number of their preachers of the Gospel instantly, independently of whatever increased supply they may be able to furnish to meet a growing demand. Each of their missionaries costs them annually from 150l. to 250l. according to the state of his family. The average may then be taken at 200l., and one missionary is considered as competent to the instruction of 1,000 negroes. It is true that they wisely allow no one to pay their servants but themselves; but they accept of all contributions to their funds; and such proprietors as will contribute, either jointly with others, or separately, according to the circumstances of their estates, the means of maintaining a missionary on the footing of expense and extent of labour specified, are sure of obtaining for their estates the spiritual labours necessary for the conversion of their negroes.
The duty to obtain such instruction is solemn, urgent, and imperative: the facility of obtaining it is such as has now been shown; and it is one that should be made positive and obligatory by law: and he felt an extreme anxiety that legal provision should be made to compel exertions of the landholders to procure teachers of the Gospel for the negroes through the whole of the British West India settlements; that returns of the progress of religious instruction should be required; and that every proprietor should at certain, and not distant periods, be obliged to show, either such progress actually made amongst his slaves, or that the absence of it arose from no fault of his; that he has made every practicable endeavour to promote it.
§ Mr. Bright
said:—But for the turn the debate has taken, it was my intention to have gone at full length into the subject; but after what has already passed, I shall not occupy the House for many minutes. It cannot be denied that the question is of the highest importance to the interests of a large class of his majesty's subjects; I mean the West-India planters; who, think, have to complain of a good deal of unmerited obloquy thrown upon them out of doors. I believe that the conduct of the planters has been much misrepresented; that justice has not been done them generally in this country; and I believe that they have been occupied as actively as was possible, under the circumstances, in ameliorating the condition of their slaves. I believe, that by numerous authorities this could be shown to be the fact; but I will not enter into that subject at the present moment. The West Indians have a just right to complain that their remonstrances and representations have not been duly attended to at home, and that many mis-statements have gone abroad as to the actual condition of things in the colonies. Some individuals who have been instrumental in putting forth these mis-statements ought to have been better informed. I will read a passage from a publication upon this subject, winch, as I contend, is wholly unfounded; because I will afterwards submit to the House a direct contradiction of it. [The hon. gentleman here read a quotation from a tract in his hand, stating that the fines upon manumission had been nearly doubled.]
Now, this assertion I will undertake to refute. Within two or three days, returns have been laid upon the table from nearly all the islands in the West Indies; and from these returns I will take the liberty of submitting certain results. It appears that, in the years 1808 and 1809, the tax on manumission in the island of Dominica was 100l.; and it is now only 16l 10s. on slaves born in the island: on foreign slaves, it is 33l. In Jamaica, in the year 1797, the tax on manumission was 100l. currency; and so it continued till the year 1818: but now there is no tax on manumission; and out of 400 slaves freed between the year 1808 and 1818, only five paid any thing for their liberation. In St. Vincent's, up to September 1820 the fine or tax was 100l.; but since that date there has been no fine or tax at all. Eight per cent were paid by free- 317 men under a former law. In Barbadoes, from 1808 to 1816, the fine on the manumission of a female was 300l., and of a male 200l.; and so it continued until August 1816, when the fine was repealed: since that time, 250 slaves have been freed. In Antigua there has been no tax or fine on manumission, nor have there been any fees paid. In Tobago there is at this time no payment at all on the manumission of a slave. In St. Christopher's there was no tax or fine on manumission from 1808 to 1821. In Tortola in 1812 there was a fine of 6l. 12s.; and under that law only fourteen paid the fine; and it expired in 1813. In Trinidad there is no tax or fine on manumission. In Demerara a large sum is sometimes imposed; but it is thrown into the poor fund, upon which the slaves have a claim.
After these statements from official documents, let me ask the House if I have not made out, that in respect of manumission, in nearly all the colonies, the tax or fine has been remitted from time to time, and in some of them that it does not exist at all. What then becomes of the assertion, that the fines upon manumission have been nearly doubled? Yet that assertion was made by the hon. member for Bramber, who, on this most important point, seems not to have looked at the returns upon the table. Have I not overturned the proposition? Have I not shown that it is without a shadow of foundation; and that the fines upon manumission have been reduced or abolished in Dominica, Jamaica, St. Vincent's, Barbadoes, Antigua, Tobago, St. Christopher's, Tortola, Trinidad, and Demerara? I quoted the words of the hon. gentleman's pamphlet, and they will bear but one meaning; and I put it to any man whether that meaning is not, that at this time there are heavy fines upon manumission, and that the fines have been greatly increased.
There are many other instances in which the West-Indians have been harshly and unfairly treated by their opponents. There is a most notorious book which has been distributed in this country, which is generally believed to be an honest and true representation of. facts; but it is far from it. I mean the book intituled, "Negro Slavery." I impute a bad intention very reluctantly to any man; but I do impute a bad intention to the man who put this book together, In that. Book a letter of the rev Mr. cooper has been much talked of; an extract is given from 318 it, or professed to be given from it; but I will compare Mr. Cooper's letter itself with what is said of it in the pamphlet. [The hon. gentleman here read the quotation to which he referred.] Does not this, let me ask, convey a very strong imputation upon the Jamaica planters? But if I can show, as I will do, that such an imputation was not in the mind of the writer of the letter, ought it to go forth to the country with that interpretation? The real passage, as it stands in Mr. Cooper's letter, is this. [Mr. Bright read the passage.] I put it to the House whether what is printed in this book called "Negro Slavery," as a fair quotation, is so, or such as ought to be promulgated as the real sentiments of this respectable gentleman.
The author of the same work goes on, in another place, to quote Dr. Williamson, a medical man, who for a long time resided in the island of Jamaica. Of course he might he conversant with scene of the utmost distress, if they occurred there: his object was to apply remedies to the evils he witnessed, and his statement is highly creditable to the humanity of the planters of Jamaica. I will read one or two quotations from what he says, to prove what I have advanced. I admit that passages may be found to show considerable mischief, and considerable evil may exist under the present system; yet the whole result of his opinion is highly favourable to the colonists, and to their management of the negroes. [The hon. gentleman read several passages from the statements of Dr. Williamson.] I could cite innumerable instances of the same kind; so that it is not fair that he should be put forward as a witness upon the other side, and against the planters of the West Indies.
§ Mr. Sykes
said, I am most happy to hear the statements of the right. hon. member opposite (sir G. Rose), with respect to the amelioration of the condition of the slaves in the West Indies; but I confess I should have received still greater satisfaction if the right hon. gentleman had been more explicit as to the mode, time, and manner, in which the future emancipation of the slaves is to be attained In this respect the House is as yet left in almost total darkness. It was my intention to have taken a fuller share in to-night's debate, and to have entered largely into, a subject, in my view, more interesting than any that has engaged the 319 attention of parliament: but after the conciliatory, and, in many respects, satisfactory, speech of the right hon. gentleman, I shall occupy the attention of the House for a very few minutes. The difference between the resolutions moved by my hon. friend and those of the right hon. gentleman, is not so wide as to call on the friends of the former for an extended discussion. The main object of my rising is, to say a few words in answer to my hon. and learned friend who spoke last. He has thrown out some observations with respect to those engaged in discussions upon negro slaver out of doors. He has addressed a speech against the pamphlets of others who are not now present, and who, consequently, cannot be heard in support of their own statements. With regard to the author of the pamphlet entitled "Negro Slavery," my hon. and learned friend has asserted, that he has misquoted Mr. Cooper. Now, I confess I do not see in what manner the author of the pamphlet has misquoted him; and, as I understand the passage, he has in substance stated the same thing. The point in dispute relates to the use of the whip; and I really think the same sense is conveyed in both passages.
My hon. and learned friend, after having dwelt at some length upon this pamphlet, adverted to the work of Dr. Williamson; but he does not seem to have been more triumphant in this quotation than in the other. Dr. Williamson is a staunch friend to the system of negro slavery; and the hon. member reads a passage to the House, showing that the result of the doctor's observations was highly favourable to the planters of the West Indies. It is not in the least surprising that such passages are to be found in this book, which was quoted expressly as being the work of an adverse witness. But, does my hon. friend mean to say, that the cart-whip is not the main organ of communication between the negro and his Owner? Does he mean to deny that it is used to this very day; that it is suspended over the unhappy slaves during the time of their labour; and that it is uninterrupted until they go to their miserable rest at night? But facts have been stated over and over again, on this and on every other part of their case, which must have already produced their effect upon the House—more effect than all the arguments which have ever been urged by the ablest advocate for the abolition of 320 negro slavery. Were more wanting, I have in my pocket a file of Jamaica gazettes which would furnish them, where is advertised the sale of negroes, together with chattels of various kinds; and where we have lots of cattle, household furniture, and slaves, coupled in the same advertisement.
Then, with respect to property; it is absurd to talk of it. The evidence of these unhappy beings is never taken; and what means have they, therefore, of defending their property, when it is the acknowledged law of the country that the testimony of the slave cannot be taken in a court of justice. Upon no consideration whatever is it admitted. And here let me observe the wide difference between the West-Indian slaves and those in other parts of the world. I confess I was somewhat surprised at the comparison drawn by the right hon. gentleman between the state of these slaves and the state of Roman slavery; for it seems to have been entirely forgotten in this comparison, that there is this great and obvious distinction, that the Roman slave was never excluded from giving testimony in a court of justice. I think I may state this in the most unqualified manner. In our colonies, however, the slaves are wholly excluded from giving such testimony. I did not rise to enter into any detail on this question, but rather to express my pleasure that this subject is now in the hands of ministers. I hope that they will keep a watchful eye over the colonial legislatures. But I must say, that if the right hon. gentleman places much confidence in their exertions, I fear he will be most grievously disappointed.
said:—It is far from my wish, Sir, to detain the House; but I am anxious to correct a mistake into which the hon. member opposite has fallen. I understood the hon. member for Hull to say, that the evidence of negro slaves is wholly excluded from courts of justice in the West Indies. Now, I feel it my duty to set him and the House right upon this point. In how many other islands the testimony of slaves is admitted I know not; but this I well know, that no longer ago than 1818, a law passed in the island of Dominica, making the evidence of slaves admissible; and I am happy to state further, that this law has been taken into consideration by the committee of West-India planters and merchants in this metropolis; and they having found that no 321 inconvenience has arisen from that experiment in Dominica, I have every reason to believe, that, under their recommendation, a similar law will be introduced in every other of the West-India islands.
The hon. member for Norwich asked the House if any thing had been done in consequence of the addresses presented to the throne seven years ago, pressing strongly for an improvement in the condition of the slaves in the West Indies? To this question I will answer in the affirmative; and I will produce official documents in proof of this assertion. It is somewhat extraordinary that the hon. member for Norwich has never read the reports which were made by the different governors, giving an account of the state of the slaves in the islands over which they preside, in answer to the addresses in question. In order to put the House and the hon. gentleman in possession of facts with which they seem to be unacquainted, I will read the reports on this subject, extracted from "Further Papers relating to Slaves in the Colonies, ordered to be printed by the House of Commons, 19th June, 1818," which gave the following statements from the different islands:
Dominica—Extract of a letter from governor Maxwell to earl Bathurst—"The slaves in this island in general appear to be liberally treated and protected; and think the legislature is inclined to adopt any measure for their amelioration that may be recommended by his majesty's government, or experience may suggest." (p. 112.).
Honduras—Extract of a letter from lieut-colonel Arthur to lord Bathurst. "With regard to the state of the black population, I have the most heartfelt gratification in assuring your lordship that it is scarcely possible it can be meliorated. So great is the kindness, the liberality, the indulgent care of the wood-cutters towards their negroes, that slavery would scarcely be known to exist in this country was it not for a few unprincipled adventurers in the town of Belize, who exercise authority over their one or two slaves in a manner very different from the great body of the community. The steps which I have taken with one of those characters, as reported in my despatch to your lordship of the 21st ult., will, I have no doubt, be attended with the best effect; and I turn with pleasure from this unpleasant exception, to the general features of the picture, which are so truly excellent. 322 Amidst all our difficulties in other respects, it is quite impossible, my lord, that any thing can surpass the treatment of the slaves, men, women, and children, in this country. The system adopted in most other parts of the West Indies, of allotting to each slave a patch of ground, on which he is to raise food for himself and family, is here quite unknown. All the slaves are most abundantly fed by their proprietors, on the best salted provisions, pork generally, at the rate of five pounds per week for each man, with yams, plantains, rice, salt, flour, and tobacco. Every slave has a Moschetta pavilion, blanket, and shirt found him; also two suits of Osnaburgh annually. The men and lads work on account of their owners five days in the week; for the Saturday's labour they are entitled, by usage which has become a law, to half a dollar; and the Sunday is entirely their own. The women are only employed in domestic purposes, and, if they have young children, no work whatever is required from them by their masters. In fact, my lord, although I came to the West Indies three years ago a perfect Wilberforce as to slavery, I must now confess, that I have in no part of the world seen the labouring class of people possess any thing like the comforts and advantages of the Slave population of Honduras." (pp. 115,116.).
St. Christopher's, Nevis, Montserrat, Tortola.—Extract of a letter from governor Probin.—"The slaves in general appear to be contented and happy." (p. 117.).
St. Lucia—Extract of a letter from major-general Douglas.—"The effects of the abolition of the slave trade are certainly favourable to the condition of the black population; inasmuch as it is now more than ever the interest of every proprietor to preserve the health of his slaves, and particularly to cherish the rising generation, which was formerly very much neglected upon the sordid principle that it was cheaper to buy slaves than to rear them. In general, the treatment of this class of the population is just and kind: but there are many instances of the reverse, according to the disposition of the owner, arid "some of very great cruelty; but these, I am happy to say, are not numerous." (p. 124.).
Tobago.—Extract of a letter from Mr. President Campbell.—"I beg leave to inclose your lordship the Report from the Committee to the Council and Assembly, which was unanimously approved of upon 323 the present situation of this colony; and I do most firmly believe the whole to be true. The eleventh clause points out the situation of the negroes." (p. 126.)—Eleventh clause. "Your committee refers with confidence to the personal knowledge of every member of the two branches of the legislature, and of his honour the president, to bear testimony to the fact of the improvements which within these few years have taken place in the comforts and manners of the negroes. In confirmation thereof, your committee refers to the public documents of the colony, to show how the annual reduction in numbers is now so much less than it used to be, that we may confidently hope, that instead of an annual reduction, we shall speedily obtain an annual increase. To the diffusion and increase of property among the negroes (generally evinced in their houses, their grounds, their dress, and their food), the diminished practice of obeah, the infrequency of punishment, and the total relinquishment of all night-work upon the estates, your committee believe that as much gradual improvement has been made, as the nature of our Black population (a great portion of it yet consisting of imported Africans) admits of. Other matters of amelioration of the condition of the negroes are in gradual advancement upon many of the estates, and will become general: but if any thing could more effectually prevent their beneficial attainment, it will be the attempt at direction, in these matters, of the African Institution, at once disgusting the master, and alarming him for the security of his property; and, by rendering him discontented with his situation, alienating the slave from all sentiments of respect and affection to his master." (P. 130.).
Jamaica.—Extract of a letter from his grace the duke of Manchester.—"I really believe there is a strong desire felt to consult the comfort of the slaves as much as possible; and if this object does not advance so rapidly as could be wished, it proceeds from no disinclination on the part of the proprietors, but from an apprehension of the consequences of too sudden a change in the habits and manners of the negroes, and which the events in Barbadoes have a tendency to increase." (P 270.).
Committee of the House of Assembly of Jamaica, presented the 10th of December, 1817—"Your committee have also considered the effect have been 324 produced by the measures adopted, during the last session, for the improvement of the condition of the slave population: the interval which has since elapsed has been too short to admit of any particular effects having resulted from their operation. Your committee, however, are fully persuaded that the tendency of those measures, and the spirit in which they were adopted, have produced a general effect of great importance, both as it respects the condition of the slaves, and the public tranquillity of the island. The slaves are satisfied that their condition is of sufficient interest to engage the attention of those under whose authority they are placed, and that their comforts and personal security are the objects of protection. In availing themselves of the facility which has been afforded them in making their complaint of any real or supposed grievance, they have observed the attention with which it has been decided. The increase which has taken place, during the last twelve months, in the number of proceedings, both civil and criminal, which have been instituted by or on behalf of slaves, is a fact which, accompanied as it has been by the greatest degree of subordination and good order on their part, may be referred to as the most decisive proof of their well-founded confidence in the justice of those to whom they appeal. This feeling, whilst it operates directly on their present condition, by lessening the possibility of their being exposed to injury without receiving redress, and by rendering them contented with their situation, is calculated to impart to them those principles which will enable them to estimate the benefits, to acquire the habits, and to practise the duties which belong to a more civilized state of society. Your committee attach great importance to this consideration, because it encourages the belief, that a foundation is laid for future measures of progressive improvement. Every view which your committee can take of the present and future condition of the slave population confirms them in their opinion, that the improvement of their religious, moral, and civil state, can only be effected by gradual and progressive measures:; and that any experiments which have a tendency to produce a sudden change in, their present state, by the introduction of principles which are unknown to, and inconsistent with, the policy of colonial institutions, and the habits of the slaves 325 themselves, would be as fatal to them as dangerous to the security of the island." (P.271.).
Trinidad.—Extract of a letter from governor sir Ralph Woodford.—"To proprietors of slaves, as to mankind in general, no incentive can be so great as their own interest. It is not in their power now to replace a slave whose physical powers are exhausted by a short service: therefore, the value of a slave of good character is greatly enhanced beyond the value of his ordinary appraisement; and proportionate efforts are made to keep up his natural health and vigour. The comforts of the slaves depend upon themselves and their own industry, and their health upon their own imprudences, or the quantum of work they are required to perform. They can, if they choose, with very little trouble, amass much beyond the wants of the utmost ambition or profligacy; but the idle and drunken (of which there are many) will always be in poverty and in rags. I have frequently known cases of negroes preferring to continue slaves, rather than with ample means to purchase their freedom, or even to accept it. With a humane owner the negro is most happy; and as a slave, and when sick, he always shares the fare of the owner's table." (pp. 275, 276.).
In my opinion, nothing can be more satisfactory than these reports, to show the gradual and continued improvement in the condition of the slaves. These, let it be remembered, are high authorities; and I beg to remark, that they are not the statements of West-India proprietors, but of governors, who, as far as their opinions go, must speak disinterestedly: and least of all are they men liable to be influenced by colonial prejudices. But there is another circumstance connected with these reports, which ought to give them still greater weight with the House; that several of them come from gentlemen who have been, and still are, extremely zealous in support of the cause of the abolition of negro slavery. For instance; governor Maxwell, the governor of Dominica, after having resided at Sierra Leone, obtained his present appointment through the interest, I believe, of the hon. member for member. Colonel Arthur, too, who writes from Honduras, professes that he went out there a perfect Wilberforce as to slavery. Sir Ralph Woodford, the governor of Trinidad, is a correspondent, and a very valuable one, 326 of the African Institution, and very honourable mention has been made of his name at one of the anniversary meetings of that society. Do not these official reports refute the calumnies thrown out by some hon. members; and more particularly the assertion, which I was sorry to read in a pamphlet recently published by the hon. member for Bramber, "that the system of slavery in the West Indies is a system of the most unprecedented degradation and unrelenting cruelty?"
The difference between the amendment and the original motion appears to me to be a difference rather in the mode of execution, than in the end we all have in view. As to the preference to be given, to the amendment, I think no doubt can be entertained, upon this one plain principle, the conciliation of the White and Black population in the West Indies. If an abstract resolution, declaring "that the state of Slavery is repugnant to the principles of the British constitution and of the Christain religion, and that it ought to be abolished," was known to emanate from a British House of Commons, it might produce excitement in the minds of the negroes in our colonies. But if merely an intention to ameliorate the condition of the black population is held out, the effect will be very different, and no irritation whatever will be excited in their minds. In the one case, any amelioration in their condition will appear to be the work of this House, forced upon their masters in the West Indies, and will excite a spirit of dissatisfaction; but if, on the other hand, as in the resolutions of the right hon. secretary of state, measures are proposed to, and adopted by, the colonial legislatures, it will then appear as if they were the effect of the good-will of the masters towards their slaves; and. instead of discontent and dissatisfaction, gratitude and contentment will be excited, in their minds. For these reasons, I am bound to express my most hearty concurrence in the resolutions proposed, by way of amendment, by the right hon. secretary of state.
§ Mr. Brougham
said:—Sir, I am quite sensible that at this late hour of the night it would be unbecoming in me—it would be acting in contradiction to the general sense of the House—were I either to go into much detail on this important question, or to resist the adoption of the amendment proposed by the right hon. gentleman opposite. But, I confess, I 327 cannot leave this question to be finally disposed of, without trespassing for a few minutes upon the patience of the House, that I may guard myself against the suspicion of having made myself a party to, what I fear may ultimately prove to be, a delusion—a delusion, however, unintentioned, I am persuaded, on the part of the right hon. gentleman; because, to do him justice, he has been, from the beginning, a warm advocate of every measure tending to the abolition of the African Slave-trade.
It is upon this ground alone—upon the Knowledge of the line of conduct which has hitherto been pursued by the right hon. Gentleman—that I build my confidence that it is not his intention, how ever it may be that of others, to delude the House by getting rid of the motion of my hon. friend. That motion is set aside as being too abstract; and yet in that of the right hon. gentleman, which it is proposed to substitute for it, I find nothing specific, nothing practical, pointed out. True it is, the resolutions moved by way of amendment emanate from ministers, and are to be communicated to the Crown. But this, let it be recollected, is no new course. It has before been pursued, over and over again, with little or no effect. The hon. member for Seaford (Mr. Ellis), in 1797, moved some excellent resolutions (very similar to the present), on which he grounded an address to the Crown for ameliorating the condition of the slaves in the West Indies. Again, in 1816, the West-Indians, in conjunction with the right hon. gentleman's predecessor, moved resolutions in the shape of an address to the Crown—an address in. which both Houses of Parliament concurred—calling upon the Prince Regent, in the strongest terms, to recommend to the local authorities in the colonics to carry into effect every measure which might tend to promote the moral and religious improvement, as well as the comfort and happiness, of the negroes. A more unexceptionable and comprehensive declaration could not well have been made by the warmest friend to the mitigation and abolition of slavery. But twenty-six long years have now elapsed since the first address was presented, and seven since the second, and where are the benefits, the visible effects of these addresses, to be found? We are, in fact, not one step more advanced in the great work of improvement than we were before, 328 No practical advantages have resulted from these addresses: and yet the last address in particular, that of 1816, was unanimously voted, and was carried by the joint recommendation of both Houses of Parliament, to the foot of the throne. It was also most graciously received, and a most gracious answer was returned, promising to carry the wishes of parliament into effect.
I am told, however—notwithstanding these facts staring us in the face—I am told, that my mistrust of the West-India legislatures is either totally misplaced, or at all events greatly exaggerated; and the hon. Member for Bristol (Mr. Bright), as well as the hon. member for Sandwich (Mr. Marryatt), who went still more at large into the subject, have endeavoured to convince us that we are mistaken, and that the most satisfactory improvements have taken place. I wish I could take the same flattering view of slavery in the West Indies as the hon. gentleman. If I could, it would relieve my mind from the load which now oppresses it, believing, as I do, that the condition of the slaves in the West Indies is revolting to the feelings of human nature. My Hon. friend, the member for Bristol, forgetting for an instant those habits so inherent in professional men, of distrusting the testimony of interested parties—forgetting that professional maxim, ever to be remembered, that "no man is to be trusted as a judge or a witness in his own cause''—I say, forgetting all this, he makes his appeal to the unbiassed authority of slave-masters—to the pure, unsuspected, disinterested testimony of the owners of the slaves themselves! He tells us, that the result of his many conversations with them, and of his laborious efforts to obtain information from them, is a conviction that the condition of the slaves is so greatly improved, that they are now perfectly contented, and happy! The hon. member for Sandwich then, in his turn, in forms us that gentlemen who have gone out with opinions hostile to slavery have been so converted by a view of the comforts and delights of that state, nay, even as it exists in Honduras, perhaps the most detestable spot on the face of the globe, a swamp, where the forests are still uncleared—a place in comparison of which, such places as Jamaica and Barbadoes might without exaggeration be termed a perfect paradise—yet these gentlemen, who went out thus biased in their opi- 329 nions, the hon. member tells us, were so converted by what they saw, as to come to the conclusion, that the negroes endured no misery whatever, and that all we had heard of the wretched condition of West-India slaves were mere idle tales!
But there is one part of the speech of the hon. member for Bristol, to which I must for a moment address myself. I am told that I must not trust the book called "Negro Slavery," a work which certainly contains damning proof of the state of negro slavery in the West Indies. [Hear! from Mr. Bright.] The hon. member seems by his cheer to adhere to his former charge against that work; a charge which I cannot but feel as one of a grave character made against one of my oldest and most valued friends—[Mr. Brougham here entered at some length into a vindication of the character and accuracy of the author, and then proceeded.]—And what is the charge made against him? It is one of a specific nature, and I will admit that general character is nothing against a specific charge. The charge then is, that the author of this pamphlet has garbled and misquoted Mr. Cooper. So says my hon. friend. But I will go a step beyond my hon. friend for a correct view of this point. I will go to the author of the statement; to Mr. Cooper himself; and the House will judge whether it is probable that Mr. Cooper's statement has been changed, garbled, or misquoted, when I tell them that Mr. Cooper himself corrected the sheets for the press, and that every syllable of the pamphlet which concerned him passed through his hands before publication, and received his express approbation. After this statement, will it not be wasting the time of the House to say one word more upon the subject? But another evidence in favour of the author is the still more valuable testimony of his accuser, my hon. friend himself. The hon. member has read two passages to the House, and has observed upon the difference to be found between them; but, after paying the most studious attention to the two passages so read, I confess I cannot discover the slightest difference between the one statement and the other.
Then, to return to the hon. member for Sandwich: he has made a triumphant appeal to the House with respect to the condition of the slaves in Dominica, and he has read the report of the governor of that island, wherein the slaves are re- 330 presented to be most happy, and contented. Are things really so? Are the slaves in Dominica as happy as the hon. member would represent them to be in Honduras? The governor of Dominica says, indeed, that the slaves in general appear to be liberally treated and protected; but I am curious to know how soon after his arrival in Dominica this letter from governor Maxwell was written; and whether it was before or after his having been presented by the grand inquest of the island as a nuisance, for interfering to protect the slaves from cruelty. If written afterwards, it would only show how forgiving a character, what a good-natured creature, the governor must be. It must, however, have been written before. And why, let me ask, was he presented by the grand jury of the island as a nuisance? Was it because he impeached the rights of the owner to the services of the slave? Or was it for illegally interfering between master and slave? No, nothing of this kind. It was only for wishing to put in force the laws of the island in favour of some unhappy negroes who had been most barbarously ill-treated by their masters. For this it was that the grand jury found a presentment against the governor for a nuisance. In proportion to the weight of such a fact as this, uncontradicted, to deny which not even an attempt has been made, down goes my confidence in the local authorities of the West Indies; all my hopes resting upon the exertions of these authorities vanish into air. For what confidence can possibly be placed in the efforts or endeavours of those who have presented their governor as a nuisance, because he had made an attempt to put the laws in force against masters for their inhuman barbarity towards some poor helpless negroes? Down then, I say, goes all my confidence; down go all my hopes, my fond expectations, of the exertions, not only of these particular authorities, but of the legislative bodies in general, whose conduct has, on many occasions, been not a whit less strange.
In Jamaica too, I am told, all is perfect; and that the negro, who must be allowed to be the best judge of his own happiness, is perfectly contented with his lot—so well contented that he would not change it. But, unfortunately for this assertion, it appears, from consulting a single page of the Jamaica Gazettes, that it cannot be supported. It is curious 331 enough to observe the broad and unequivocal contradiction given by these Gazettes to this grave statement of the Jamaica Assembly—for it thence appears, that many of the negroes have shown a most pointed desire to change their happy situation. In a single page of these Gazettes there are no less than fifty "Run-a-ways"—persons quitting this enviable situation, not only with a certainty of many privations, but at the risk of all the severe penalties which attach to their Grime. But let us look to one of the advertisements: "For sale: 140 head of horned cattle"—I beg pardon of the House; that is not the paragraph I allude to. It is the next column which contains the long list of "Runaways."—"Cecilia, a young Creole Negro woman." It has been said that young women are never known to be punished in these realms of negro bliss, where they are so much better off than in their own country, that they ought to bless their stars that they have been taken from it. Such is the kind of language to which our ears have been accustomed on the subject of negro slavery, from the beginning of this controversy to the present day; but it proves a great deal too much, and consequently proves nothing. But facts must always bear down such arguments; and the very papers I have in my hand, while they describe the persons of the fugitives, distinguishing them by their various marks and brands—the badges of the sufferings and the degradations to which these unhappy beings have been exposed—speak volumes on the subject. But to proceed: "Cecilia, a young Creole woman, five feet high, marked (branded!) S. M. and W. S. on top, on right shoulder, belonging to the estate of John Stevens." Then here is another, who "says he is free, but has no documents to prove his freedom." Then come several others, described by various maims, and marks on different parts of their bodies. Many have "lost several of their front teeth;" others are described as being marked with letters in a diamond on the shoulders and breasts, and having sores on the arms or legs, and scars on their faces or shoulders, with marks of flogging on their backs. And so they go through all the sores, and marks, and brands, and scars, and traces of the cart-whip, which distinguish these happy individuals, who, though we are told they are so contented, are yet, somehow or other, so insensible 332 to their own bliss, that they will run away from their kind-hearted, humane masters, by whom we have been told, too, that the whip is now in nearly total disuse!
I cannot but express my great astonishment that the right hon. gentleman should have compared the negro slaves in the West Indies with the Roman domestic slaves, and with other slaves of antiquity. And I am the more surprised, when reflect on the classical taste and knowledge for which the right hon. gentleman is so remarkable. There are certainly some points in which the condition of the West-India slaves resemble those of antiquity; but, speaking generally, the two states do not admit of a comparison. Will any man say, that in a country where the land was tilled by freemen, as among the ancients, it was possible the same habitual cruelty and severity of exaction: could prevail, as in those colonies where men are compelled by the whip, by mere brute force, to cultivate the soil, and where habitual dread of the lash stands engraven on the very front of the system as the sole motive to exertion? Not that mean to assert that the whip is always used, any more than the whip of a waggoner is always in use; but what I assert is, that the slaves on plantations are worked by placing the men and the women, of various degrees of strength and capacity, in a line, in which they are compelled to toil by the imminent fear of the lash being applied to their backs; and it is applied, as often as their laxity of exertion may seem to render it necessary. Such a system, I say, converts a man into a brute animal. All the noble feelings and energies of our nature, and almost all traces of humanity, are eradicated by this base practice, by which the man is made to work, and act, and move at the will of another, and is thus of necessity reduced to the level of a brute: it is a practice which makes its appeal, not to the qualities which distinguish him from the beasts of the field, but to those which he shares in common with them.
It is said, that efforts have been made to ameliorate the condition of the slave, by giving him religious instruction; and that since this question was last discussed in this House those efforts have been increased. If this be so, it shows at least the benefit of such discussions, since it is now admitted even by those who then so loudly cried out against them. We were then run down by clamour; we were ac- 333 cused of doing that which would raise a revolt through the whole of the West-Indian Archipelago; and we were loudly and vehemently charged with aiming a deadly blow at the interests both of the black and the white population in the West Indies. There was, it was said, no occasion whatever for our interference; the negroes had kind masters, tender drivers, a, zealous clergy, amiable governors, and wise legislators, to superintend, control and co-operate in works of humanity. But, notwithstanding all we then heard of this machinery of mercy, by our interference, with which we might do mischief and could possibly do no good, it now appears that the effect of our. discussions has been, that religious instruction has been much more widely spread, and that it is still spreading through the colonies. I am happy indeed to find the prediction of evil so completely falsified.
I observe that there is on the table a paper, and that not the least important on this interesting subject, which has not been referred to by the hon. member for Sandwich. I allude to the letter of a worthy curate, which enters into some details with respect to the religious instruction of the slaves. This worthy person states, with great simplicity, that he had been between twenty and thirty years among the negroes, and that no single instance of conversion to Christianity had taken place during that time—all his efforts to gain new proselytes among the negroes had been in vain. All of a sudden, however, light had broken in upon their darkness so rapidly, that between 5,000 and 6,000 negroes had been baptized in a few days! I confess I was at first much surprised at this statement: I knew not how to comprehend it; but all of a sudden light broke in upon my darkness also. I found that there was a clue to this most surprising story; and that these wonderful conversions were brought about, not by a miracle, as the good man seems himself to have really imagined, and would almost make us believe, but by a premium of a dollar a head paid to this worthy curate for each slave whom he baptized! I understood, too, that the whole amount of the previous religious instruction which each negro received, was neither more nor less than attending, on one occasion, at the church where the curate presided. Such was the mode of propagating religion which seems to have 334 afforded so much satisfaction, and to have given so much cause for triumph. If any person thinks that any real practical good can result from such an administration of religious instruction and of Christian baptism, let him enjoy his hopes: I cannot agree with him.
What then has been done, let me ask, since the abolition of the Slave-trade, to improve the condition of the slave? I think I now hear my lamented friend, sir Samuel Romilly, ask that question, as he once did with so much effect. I never shall forget the impression he produced upon those who, like myself, for ten long years had been indulging in a fond, but vain hope, that the abolition of the Slaver trade was all that was wanted for bettering the condition of the slaves. We have now unhappily survived him between four and five years, and with how much more force might we now put the same question? It was indeed long our hope, that if we did but abolish the Slave-trade, through the gradual progress of improvement, slavery itself would soon be extinguished. I myself gave into the delusion. I said, with others, "Leave measures of internal regulation to the colonial legislatures: only abolish the Slave-trade: it will then be the interest of the master to treat his slaves well, and under the influence of that feeling the condition of the slave must rapidly improve."
How bitterly have we been disappointed in these fond expectations! I beg, however, not to be understood as casting any particular blame on the owners of estates for this failure, for they have perhaps little in their power. We ought to be aware, that the state of landed property in the West-Indies is not in the least analogous to the state of landed property in England, although it has often been erroneously compared to it. The owners of West-Indian estates usually reside in this country, and can have but a feeble control over the course of proceedings in the colonies. And though some of them, it is true, may have got their estates by inheritance, yet this is not the case with a great majority; they have obtained them by purchases on speculation, or by debt, having advanced money on mortgage and with a view to consignments. In short, landed property in the West Indies partakes much more of the nature of a hazardous commercial speculation; than of that stable enjoyment of territorial property which characterized 335 the British landholder. Men in these circumstances, it is obvious, have no permanent interest in the soil. Their object is, to make the most they can in the shortest time; and therefore they will not be deterred by considerations of humanity for the slaves from extracting, during their temporary possession, by means of the uncontrolled power they possess over those wretched beings, the utmost benefit which the estate is capable of yielding.
But even if the owners acted with the best intentions—and many of them I believe do—they are absent, and know nothing of what is actually going on upon their estates. It is an individual who has no real interest in the estate, who is placed as their agent on the spot to superintend the whole concern. Some owners of estates may be very honest, honourable, humane men, who would not work their slaves too much; but what security have we that this will be the case with all, or that many may not even think it their interest to act otherwise? Indeed, I am persuaded that it is not so plainly the pecuniary interest of the slave-owner in all cases to be humane, as some have imagined. The West-India purchaser of an estate may consider himself engaged in a gambling concern, and may hope in a few years to scourge a handsome profit out of the unhappy beings committed to his charge; and he may even flatter himself, that he will clear a greater profit in this way than he would have done had he pursued a different course. His object is to get a great return in a short time; and although, in a long series of years it might be against his interest to over-work his slaves, yet, his object being a rapid return for his capital, he cannot wait the slow progress of improvement in order to attain it. It is very well known, and the simile is far from being a new one, that some post-masters use their horses exactly upon this principle. They might keep their horses longer alive, by making them do less work and by giving them better treatment; but they prefer making them do more work, though it may wear them down sooner, upon a mere calculation of profit and loss. Far be it from me to charge such a sordid calculation as this upon the West-India planters; but what I say is, that the identity of their interests and those of humanity ought not to be so much relied upon: you cannot trust the former alone in the treatment of the slave, because I have shewn, that views of 336 interest may be supposed to require treatment, in certain circumstances, wholly different from that which would be dictated by the principles of humanity.
Such being my view of the situation in which master and slave stand to each other, I confess I look with the greatest distrust, with the slenderest possible hope, to any real and solid advantage to be derived from the resolutions moved by the right hon. gentleman, and which refer the matter to the colonial assemblies. Let the House remember, that we have done the same thing twice before; the effect produced by it has been very small indeed; and I greatly fear that we shall only meet with further disappointment if we again resort to the same expedient. Those legislatures may pretend to meet fully the wishes of parliament, and yet may do nothing effectual; and, after five years more have elapsed without any progress having been made, we shall be again called upon, either by events which have happened in the West Indies, or by our own consciences at home, to look into the question in good earnest, when it will brook no further delays; and then we shall have the painful reflection, that if we had acted boldly in the first instance, five years of misery would have been saved to these unhappy beings.
How comes it to pass, I would ask, that no steps have yet been taken towards the amelioration of the condition of the slaves? For how many years has it, for example, been proposed to attach the slave to the soil? The question, I know, has been discussed; but why has no progress been made in consequence of that discussion? It has been said, that there are many difficulties to encounter. Doubtless there are. It would be hard upon the slave, it is argued, to be kept upon a barren soil, an exhausted plantation; but it seems to have been forgotten, that the very exhaustion of the soil, unfitting it for sugar culture, is in the negro's favour. But how comes it, that in the West Indies the richest soils the world thus undergo exhaustion, while in other countries the poorest soils are subject to no such process, and do not, under ordinary cultivation, deteriorate, but improve? Is it not that a just curse seems, in the dispensation of Providence, to attend the cruel and bloodthirsty method of culture by slaves?—else Why would not culture keep the land in the West Indies in the same heart in 337 which the land in the East Indies or in Europe is kept?
But are we to say, that the slaves shall not be attached to the soil, merely because some possible inconveniences may, in supposable cases, be pointed out as the result? Certainly not. If the argument urged on the score of the poverty of the soil in certain situations were valid, the same might have been said of England, when villenage in gross was converted into villenage regardant; and copyholders would then have had no existence: there would have been no such thing as a freeman in the land, because, forsooth, a gust of wind might have blown a part of Norfolk into the sea, and then it might have teen said, how can subsistence be drawn from the sands of Norfolk: we must retain the power of transferring the villein to richer lands elsewhere. If this sort of argument had been allowed to weigh in former times, we should have been all of us at the present moment villeins in gross. I have never heard it said that there is one single plantation in the West Indies so barren that provisions will not grow upon it sufficient for the maintenance of the slaves belonging to it. But I would make a broader and more general answer to the objection, and I would say, that we are bound to act upon the mass of cases, and that one exception is no argument against the general principle.
I cannot close these observations, which I have deemed it incumbent upon me to make to the House, without stating my decided opinion, that we ought not to resist the amendment of the right hon. secretary; because it is at least a step in advance towards emancipation, although I confess I entertain but few hopes of its leading to any sound practical result. It may, however, be ultimately a ground for a stronger expression of the opinion of the House; and I sincerely trust, my hon. friend will in no long time propose to the House some more specific resolution with respect to the freedom of children born after a certain period. Holding that liberty to the slaves in the West Indies must come sooner or later; and being convinced, that, if they are not now ripe for actual emancipation, at least we are arrived at the time when it will be safe to legislate with a view to that consummation; it seems to me to be now the imperative duty of the legislature to pass some act with respect to the freedom of unborn children. We shall be wanting 338 in our duty to that part of our fellow subjects, if We do not immediately announce our intention of taking up that part of the subject. Difficulties, doubtless, will be to be encountered—difficulties there are in every change—but are they insurmountable? I trust that no man will be stopped by them, who does not wish to be impeded.
Sir, we hear of the risk of insurrection; we have heard of it in every stage of the discussion: from the first moment this question was brought under the consideration of the House, to the present instant, the cry has never been out of the mouths of those who oppose all change. But yet our discussions, although declared to be so injurious in theory, have never produced the slightest practical injury. Even the insurrection in Barbadoes, it might easily be shown, had no connection, as was alleged, with the discussions on the Registry bill, but sprung from causes perfectly distinct. This is a sufficient answer to all such chimerical apprehensions. Parliament has certainly not shown any desire to interfere between master and slave; but if steps are not taken by the master to convert his present tenure into one of a more restricted nature, parliament is bound to interfere, by the right which it holds of legislating for all his majesty's subjects. This right, sacred and unalienable, is inherent in the British legislature, and has never been abandoned, excepting as it regards taxation.
Sir, I beg pardon of the House for having troubled it by going at greater length into the subject than I at first intended, but I thought there was a chance of some mistake arising as to the grounds on which we accede to the resolutions now proposed by the right hon. gentleman; and I wish more particularly to guard against being understood as expressing any great hopes of benefit from the present measure, which is little more than a repetition of the former addresses of Parliament to the Crown, and the former references of the Crown to the colonial assemblies, followed by an entire disappointment of every expectation that had been indulged. With these recollections deeply impressed upon my mind, let it not be supposed that I can indulge a sanguine hope of any beneficial practical results from these resolutions.
said:—I had thought, Sir, at the commencement of this debate, that to all appearance, we were advancing to- 339 wards the point of conciliation, and that every subject of irritation would this night have been avoided. But, I would ask, whether the topics my hon. and learned friend below me has advanced, are calculated to lead to the results which I believe he has sincerely at heart? The hon. member for Bristol (Mr. Bright), acted not, I think, with that discretion which he usually displays, in bringing forward, and creating a discussion with respect to the contents of certain pamphlets which he read in part to the House; but I must say, that the hon. and learned member should not, on such account, have opened the attack which he has just made, and that he should have abstained from indulging in such declamation. I would appeal to the House, whether the hon. and learned member (although he has truly pointed out the manifest distinction which exists between the situations of the owner of an estate in the West Indies, and the landed proprietor in England) has not invidiously made an attack upon the West-India proprietors in general; and particularly when he instituted that comparison between the masters of slaves and the owners of post-horses. I would ask my hon. and learned friend, if he can, upon reflection, consider that this was a sally of declamation he ought to have indulged in, if he sincerely wished to prevent irritation?
My hon. and learned friend has asked, what has been done in the way of amelioration or improvement, since the abolition of the slave trade? I am unwilling, at this late hour of the night, to trouble the House by going through a long detail of facts, running over a period of so many years; but I would tell him, that I know much, very much, has been done since the abolition, and particularly in the island of Jamaica. I would ask him, whether he does not remember, that the Consolidated Slave Code, containing upwards of an hundred clauses, underwent, in 1817, a complete revision in the legislature of Jamaica? If my hon. and learned friend should answer, "I know of no laws having been enacted," I can only reply by directly asserting what I have been informed and believe to be the fact, though that assertion may, of course, again be met by replication. If the hon. and learned gentleman should say, that the West-India colonies have not made any new laws, such a statement. I am assured by these who are well informed 340 on the subject, may be met by a complete denial. My hon. and learned friend, not perhaps in the most fair or candid manner, has referred to some advertisements relating to run-away negroes in the Jamaica Gazettes, and which he has read as it were to excite the attention of the House. Was it, I ask, worthy of the serious cause he advocates? was it worthy of his reputation and talents, upon a question of this vital importance, to aim at directing the attention of the House to these points, and to call down the ridicule, the contempt, the disgust of hon. members, by stating, from these public news-papers, that a young negro girl was branded upon the top of her right shoulder, and other circumstances of the like nature; and from thence to maintain, that negroes were sold in the market like so many horned cattle. My hon. and learned friend has been pleased to comment upon the control to which the negro population is subjected. But, is it our fault as West-India proprietors? Have not the successive governments of the mother country sanctioned it? I would ask my hon. and learned friend, whether he thinks it just or candid to call in the aid of ridicule, by introducing I topics which can have no other effect than to cast an unmerited share of odium upon the unfortunate West-India planters, and to excite strong feelings of irritation. Amongst a black and coloured slave population, consisting of nearly 340,000 beings (as I believe may now be the case in Jamaica), there always must be found a number of run-away slaves. The fact cannot be for a moment doubted.
Without detaining the House at any length, I would beg to call its attention, and also that of my hon. and learned friend, to a well-digested Report made in 1816, and drawn up with great labour and talent, by a committee of the House of Assembly of Jamaica. By consulting that excellent Report, it will be found that very few impediments, if any, are thrown in the way of the negro's obtaining justice, who asserts his right or title to freedom, should the same be contested; and it will appear, by a few minutes' inspection of this Report, that the laws do not leave the negro so destitute of protection as may be commonly supposed. A negro asserting his right to freedom, in the island of Jamaica, may bring an action in a court of justice to try and enforce such right; and should he 341 fail therein, he may institute other proceedings for such purpose. Appeals are also allowed to the negroes, under the laws of Jamaica; and until the appeal be heard and determined, the negro has a right to enjoy his liberty. In this able Report will be found the evidence of the attorney-general of Jamaica, who deposed to the fact that many actions of trespass have been entertained on the part of negroes or coloured persons, for the purpose of asserting their right of freedom, and who by these means recovered, against those opposing such claims, damages to the amount of 250l. in some cases. In almost every case where an action of trespass has been brought, or a writ de homine replegiando has been sued out, the plaintiffs claiming their rights, have obtained redress.
My hon. and learned friend has also asked, "Why will not the House of Assembly of Jamaica pass a law to attach the negro to the soil?" At this advanced time of the night, it would be unwise for me to enter into a detail of the whole of the reasons which I have understood have actuated that Assembly in not proceeding to frame such an enactment. But my hon. and learned friend, I must say, has made the most unfair comparison between the system of culture pursued with respect to the soil of a northern climate like England, and that followed upon the plantations in a tropical country like the West Indies. The vegetable provisions of the negro, which have been alluded to, are raised upon a soil far different from that on which the sugar cane is grown. They are cultivated upon two distinct soils; and I would remind ray hon. and learned friend, if he has looked at the Report to which I have before alluded, that it is particularly mentioned therein, that a fair proportion of estates in Jamaica are coffee plantations. The hon. and learned gentleman does not seem to be aware, in considering the question of attaching the negro to the soil, that the frequent hurricanes which occur in the West Indies, in time, often wash or force away the soil, and particularly upon coffee properties, and that in such cases the plantations are oftentimes afterwards, not worth keeping up. The unfortunate beings then left on the estates, it legally and absolutely attached to the soil, would be compelled to remain, at the risk of starvation. When, therefore, my hon. and learned friend asks 342 why this is not done—why the negro is not absolutely attached to the soil—I reply, that if I had time, and it were not for the danger of exhausting the patience of the House, I could give him most full and satisfactory reasons to prove that the Assembly of Jamaica have been justified in pausing before they adopted such a plan.
I am very willing to allow to my hon. and learned friend, that there are certainly evils of serious magnitude inherent in the state of slavery in the West Indies; but I would firmly contend (and I think every reasonable man who has thought on the subject, must be willing to allow), that as the West-India colonists have not been placed in the situation in which they now stand, without the direct and solemn authority of the legislature of the mother country, and the most express encouragement on the part of the British government; it is only their due, it would only be ah act of mere and positive justice towards them, if the legislature should now think proper to take their property into its own hands, and to submit it to a system of management essentially different from that which it has hitherto received; that the legislature of Great Britain should, at the same time, grant to the West-India planters the most liberal, the most full, and the most satisfactory compensation. Whatever weight the argument of the hon. member for Weymouth may have had with the House, I still con tend, that the slave is the property-of his master; and, I say again, that the legislature of this country is bound to give to the planter, the fullest and most adequate remuneration for any deprivation of, or change in, his right of property, and the most complete indemnity against any dangers which may result from its interference therewith.
said:—Having, Sir, been alluded to by my hon. friend who opened the debate, I cannot avoid stating to the House how strongly I feel the necessity of something being done, and something considerable, on the present question. I feel that it is one of the greatest possible importance and delicacy; but I fear that hon. gentlemen around me, whose feelings I respect, have been led away by the ardour and fervency of those feelings to exaggerate the real facts, and to underrate the many difficulties and dangers which must accompany any alteration in the present system. I am anxious to state 343 my own ideas as to the extent of these difficulties; and, undoubtedly, if there really exist such a state of things, a case of that extreme atrocity which has been represented to the public, every possible risk ought to be encountered to get the better of the system which produced it. I confess it does not surprise me, that those who believe in the existence of these barbarities should wish that no time should be lost in remedying such an evil. My own opinion, however, is, that, as far as the physical sufferings of the negro go, they have been much over-stated; and I may even cite my own observations on the subject to prove the fact. I am not myself a West-India proprietor, but I have seen cultivation carried on by slaves in some of the American States, in Georgia and Carolina; and I must say, that, from all I saw there, and from every information I have received from our own colonies, I do not believe, on looking about the world and considering the general lot of mankind, that, if I was called upon to say what part of the globe most particularly excited my sympathy and commiseration, I should fix upon the negroes of the West Indies, as far as regards their food and clothing, and the whole of their treatment.
I must say, that when my hon. and learned friend, in a speech of much energy and eloquence, sets aside the testimony of all those colonial governors (which was detailed to the House by the hon. member for Sandwich), and takes up the opinions, published in the form of pamphlets, of honest but enthusiastic men, who are much more likely to be misled as to facts than those public functionaries in their official reports, I confess I cannot fully approve of such a mode of arguing the question. I should say, in opposition to these feelings, and to those of my hon. friend the member for Bramber, that unless he himself had been in the colonies, and had been an eye-witness to the scenes he has described, I would rather take the reports of those governors, men of education, having no interest in the colonies, than the opinions of these individuals, who are riot very likely to be sparing in their descriptions of the cruelties and atrocities committed in the West Indies, well knowing that such glowing and exaggerated accounts, where solitary instances of oppression, instead of being the exception, are converted into the rule, 344 would not be unacceptable to these to whom they communicated their statements. My own opinion is, that the condition of the slaves is undoubtedly, in many respects, superior to that of most of the European peasantry. They are well clothed, well fed, and, I believe, generally treated with justice and kindness.
But the circumstance which weighs the heaviest on my mind, is the moral condition of the slaves, and the almost impossibility of their deriving, in their present situation, any religious or moral instruction from those who are placed over them, and who cannot boast of the best morals themselves. There is something altogether so painful in their situation in this respect, that I am induced to wish that something could be done to ameliorate their moral condition; nor can I see any danger which could possibly arise from a prudent plan of religious instruction, by which they might be raised in the scale of being.
As to the objection taken by my hon. and learned friend to the statement with reference to the insurrection at Barbadoes, I believe it to have been correctly stated, that the insurrection was owing to the report spread in the colony of what was doing at home, and to the consequences which the negroes anticipated from it. It was, I think, the statement of the governor, sir James Leith, that the insurrection was owing entirely to that circumstance. Indeed, it is impossible to consider the state in which men in that country exist, without supposing an extreme liability to excitement among them. The same excitement might, and probably would, be produced at home by similar means. Supposing a question were argued in the House of Commons on the subject of a division of the property of the rich among the poorer people of this country, and there were among us men enthusiastic enough to maintain the justice of this division, and to argue how impious it was that one portion of the population should live upon coarse food, and drink nothing but water, while another portion should feast on venison and champaigne, and indulge in all the luxuries and delicacies of life;—supposing, I say, these opinions were to spread.(and I really think a great deal of good argument might be stated in their favour upon the score of Christianity), and discussions on some future occasions were 345 to arise in this House; I would ask, whether they could possibly take place without producing considerable irritation even in this country, accustomed as we are to free discussion? We do not want, therefore, these governors of the West Indies to tell us what dangers would result from such a course of proceeding. It is quite sufficient for us to know human nature, to be sensible that the danger is extreme, and that the discussion ought, therefore, to be entered upon with the greatest possible caution.
The hon. gentleman who opened this debate has given us some instances where slavery has been entirely got rid of without the slightest danger resulting, from the application of the necessary remedies for curing the evil; and the states of Pennsylvania, of New York, and of New Jersey, have been quoted for this purpose. The hon. gentleman seemed as if he could not express himself in terms of sufficient delight and rapture; it was beautiful to observe, he said, how gradually the whole mass of slavery sunk, and, as it were, melted away without disorder, or the slightest interference on the part of the legislature being required to prevent the dangers which might have been anticipated. But he has cited these cases to the House without possessing a sufficient knowledge of the real facts. In New York there was a white population of one million, while the whole black population did not amount to more than 5,000. Is this, then, an analogous case? The same is the case precisely with the state of New Jersey: there the whole amount of the black population was not more than 10,000. In Pennsylvania, the number was still less. That judicious people, the Quakers, resident in Pennsylvania, began very early to abolish the system of slavery, and the amount of them was comparatively nothing. These are, therefore, all the cases which have been mentioned by the hon. gentleman with respect to North America. Not one of them is in point, to prove that no danger exists from the proposed alterations.
I should say, that with respect to the other case, of Colombia, although it is undoubtedly more in point, yet that it is still not to be compared with our colonies in the West Indies. In the case of Colombia, there was, I think, a population of 3,000,000, out of which 800,000 were blacks, so that the whites at least were 346 more than enough to keep the negroes in awe of them. The case stated of the island of Ceylon is not in the least analogous to the present, because that is a case where the inhabitants of the country itself were in a state of vassalage and personal servitude, and where they were released from their bonds by measures instituted by a strong military government on the spot. Are then, I would ask, any of these cases to be compared with a colony in the West Indies, where there is no mass of property represented by persons on the spot, where there is no physical superiority to counteract the effect of any insurrection which may arise in the colony, the slaves outnumbering the whites by at least ten to one?
With respect to the different remedies suggested by the hon. gentleman who commenced this debate; so far as they have been acceded to by the right hon. gentleman, they very much meet my own view of the subject; but certainly the question of the actual emancipation of the slaves is one which appears to me to be attended with the greatest difficulties. The suggestion of my h*n. friend is, that children, born after a certain period, should be free. At first sight, I confess it to be a very natural proposition, and one most accordant to our feelings; but it seems to have been forgotten, that there is this question yet to be answered, and as it appears to me it will be difficult to meet it with a satisfactory reply. If these children are born free, who is to take care of them? It has been said, that they may be apprenticed for a certain number of years, but this, I think, will be impracticable, for it will not be worth the while of the planter to bring up these children—we will say from the age of twelve to nineteen—well knowing that at the end of that period they will be at liberty to leave him, and go whither they please. I have very strangely miscalculated, if such a scheme can be carried into execution: it is in fact wholly impracticable. It is admitted, I think on all hands, that one of the greatest advantages of the abolition of the slave-trade is, that it tends to an improvement both in the condition and in the treatment of the negro females and children; that it gives an interest to the master in rearing the children, and in taking proper care of the mother while she is breeding. But if you do away with the interest of the proprietor in the offspring, which undoubtedly would be 347 the effect of the proposition of my hon. friend, all this beneficial result of the abolition of the slave-trade immediately ceases. It is a fact too evident to be for a moment disputed, that, if this plan be adopted, the proprietor has at least not the same reason as before, for taking care either of the mother or of the offspring.
I am satisfied, however, that the matter is in the best possible hands to which it could be entrusted; and I will only say, that if any measures are taken for abolishing slavery, either directly or circuitously, they must have the effect of endangering the peace and tranquillity of our colonies. If we were to arrive at a free black population, the inevitable consequence would be, that the whole of the islands would be lost to this country; there would be an end to our colonial system. It would be absurd to suppose that a free black population, so enlightened and cultivated as to value their rights, and duly to appreciate their strength; that a population so instructed and so civilized, would consent to continue to devote their labours to proprietors, the greater portion of whom are resident in England. It is impossible for a moment to suppose such a state of things to exist; or that this country can possibly retain any interest whatever in; colonies of this description. The instant; such a state of society as I have described; is established, we must bid adieu to our Colonial system. The colonies would be of no further value to Great Britain.
With regard to the question of compensation, I think that my hon. friend, the member for Bramber, has not acted with his usual candour and liberality, in not having mentioned one word on the subject to those persons who are so deeply interested in this question. It is quite evident, that, in whatever way you proceed, you must vitally affect pecuniary interests. For instance; if you say that children shall be free after a certain period, you convert permanent property into a life estate; you totally alter the nature of that property. When it is considered with what extreme delicacy we touch property in this country, it never can be tolerated for an instant, that a measure so vitally affecting the interests of the West-India proprietors should be unaccompanied by compensation, which would be the greatest possible injustice. When I recollect too—and let it not be forgotten by the House—the strong and able argument raised by my hon. friend, 348 the member for Weymouth, who introduced this question to the consideration of the House, on the subject of the brewers, to prove to us, that if the measure then before the House (a measure which I, for one, deemed a most important and salutary one) should pass into a law, the vested interests (as my hon. friend termed them) of the brewers would be destroyed, and their property greatly injured—all these interests and this property would be sacrificed, if the beer trade were to be thrown open to the public. Now I cannot forbear contrasting these former sentiments of my hon. friend with his present proceedings in this House. I should be sorry to take an unfair advantage of any argument used by my hon. friend, but I must say, conscientiously, that if there were a measure which I thought more than another could contribute to the health and secure the comfort of the poorer classes, it would be that which my hon. friend so strongly, and with so much ingenuity, opposed, on no other ground than that one class of men would be probably injured, and deprived of a monopoly which I feel satisfied the law never intended to be allowed to them. But of all the cases which have come under the consideration of the House, I think none could call more loudly for compensation, upon every principle of justice, than the one now under discussion. Those who have their interests so intimately involved in this question, have a right to call upon parliament to consider their claim before any material alteration is attempted. I only hope that the subject, so properly left to the care of government, will be treated with the delicacy it deserves.
I must observe, before I sit down, that I trust his majesty's ministers will not be unduly influenced by the petitions on the table, which have, in fact, been got up by a few persons in the metropolis. I know no question upon which petitions have been procured with more trick and management than on the present; or where they have come so notoriously from persons having no means whatever of exercising a judgment upon the question. It is, in fact, considered one more of conscience than of judgment; and persons, according to the fashion of the day, think to quiet their consciences for the year, either by subscribing their money to one of the missionary societies, or their names 349 to one of these petitions against negro slavery in the West Indies. I am, however, happy to see that such a feeling prevails in this country, and that there are people who are capable of being so actuated by such considerations; it is highly honourable to the national character; but I hope it will not have the effect of setting the machinery of government at work injuriously to the interests either of the public or of individuals. It is the same feeling which put the politics of Europe into an unusual state of ferment, and set the congresses of Vienna and Verona at work; and which every year brings upon the table of the House whole loads of humbug about the slave trade. It seems to me as if these negotiations were kept up merely to gratify the feelings of this country; to show to the people of England how much the great potentates of Europe have the abolition of the slave-trade at their hearts. Austria and Russia, who have, God knows, slaves enough in their own territories to practise emancipation upon, are repeating every year their assurances to the good people of England of their anxiety for the abolition of negro slavery; and, somehow or other, our minister, who attends at these meetings of the European monarchs, is fortunate enough to bring home with him great masses of papers, to prove that these humane and kindhearted emperors take a most lively interest in the question. Undoubtedly I do most sincerely wish well to the efforts of his majesty's government on the present occasion; and I feel great satisfaction that the task has been undertaken by them; and, from the speech of the right hon. secretary, I feel great confidence that the resolutions proposed by him will be acted upon, not only sincerely, but with that judgment and discretion, with that, caution and justice and delicacy, which such great and important interests deserve.
§ Lord Althorp
said:—I am anxious to address one or two observations to the House upon this important question. I certainly think that the planters of the West Indies have a fair claim upon this House for compensation in the event of the adoption of the plans proposed by the hon. mover. With reference to what has fallen from my hon. friend who spoke last, relative to the cultivation of the colonies by free labour, I differ from him, in supposing that the conversion of the slaves into freemen would be such an immense loss to this country. I; however, look at this 350 subject with a view chiefly to the interests of the negroes. My hon. friend has ridiculed the petitions which have been presented in such a mass for the abolition of slavery in the West Indies. Undoubtedly there have been a great number of petitions presented. The feeling of the country seems to be pretty nearly unanimous upon the subject; and I would ask my hon. friend, if he really thinks that the slave-trade itself would have been abolished, if it had not been for the same general expression of the sentiments of the people of this country? It cannot be for a moment disputed, that it was the general feeling of the nation, the general abhorrence of the inhumanity and barbarity of the practice of dealing in human flesh, which produced its abolition.—I wish, however, the emancipation of the slaves to proceed very gradually; because I feel apprehensive, that, if the greatest caution is not used in the application of the remedies, evils of an alarming nature may be the result. With respect, therefore, to the discretion to be exercised by this government in the steps to be taken, I entirely agree with my hon. friend. But on the other hand, when I reflect on the moral degradation to which these unhappy beings are reduced; and when I consider how inconsistent it is with their comfort and their happiness, and how contrary to every principle of justice and humanity, that they should be suffered to remain in that state, when this government has it in its power to ameliorate their condition; the sooner emancipation can be brought about, the more satisfaction shall I feel at its accomplishment.—It has been stated several times this evening, that the condition of the negro in the West Indies is in many respects preferable to that of our labourers in this country; and my hon. friend who spoke last, asserted, that the physical sufferings of the negro have been greatly overrated. The hon. member for Sandwich, too, has stated broadly, and has quoted various documents to prove it, that the slave is perfectly contented and happy. If we look only to the clothing and food allowed to these unfortunate beings, it is enough to convince any reasonable man, without further investigation, of the necessity of an alteration in the present system; and it is idle to the last degree to talk of the happiness and comfort enjoyed by them. But it is said, that some of these happy slaves are so conscious of their bliss, that they have even re- 351 fused to take advantage of an offer of their liberty, and have preferred to live and die in slavery. If the object were to prove the low state to which, as moral creatures, these beings have been reduced, nothing could be stronger than this single statement. Good God! can it be imagined for a moment, that a man, possessing the least particle of the sympathies and affections of his species, should prefer to doom himself without remorse to slavery for life; that he should doom his children after him, from generation to generation, to be born to live and die in the bonds of slavery; that he should doom for ever his sons to the lash of the slave-driver, and expose his daughters to the will and power of a cruel task-master, who might at pleasure I subject them to his wanton lust? If any thing, I say, can raise feelings of indignation and horror in the breast, it must be the knowledge of such a fact as this. But what must be the feelings of a a free-born Englishman, enjoying the glorious blessings of freedom, on hearing such a statement as this? The coldest heart could not but be keenly affected by it; and even those who are most interested in the question must sympathize with the general feeling of the country.—I will not trouble the House by going further into this question, but I must express my gratitude to my hon. friend for bringing the subject under the consideration of the House. If nothing more has been done, at least it has had the effect of producing the resolutions of the right hon. secretary, which, I hope, may be considered as one step towards the total emancipation of the negroes in the West Indies.
§ Mr. Fowell Buxton
replied as follows:—I had made up my mind, Sir, not to trouble the House with a single observation in reply. I had already trespassed long on your attention; and I was abundantly contented to rest the defence of the statements with which I opened the business, on the powerful speeches of my hon. friends. In this determination I should have persevered, had it not been for the speech of the hon. gentleman who spoke last but one (Mr. Baring). That gentleman has charged me with inconsistency—he has accused me of using one sort of language on this question, and another upon subjects where my own interests are concerned. He tells us, that I was sufficiently mindful of the rights of private property, when that property was my own; but that I never even whispered a syllable about 352 compensation to the West-India planter. Now, I appeal to the House, whether there is justice in the charge. I ask those who listened to my statements, whether I did not clearly and explicitly declare my opinion, that the question of compensation to the planter was one that merited attention. I appeal to the hon. gentleman himself, whether the language I used was not to this effect:—Slavery is an injustice, but it is an injustice sanctioned by our law; the crime is ours, and ours must be the expense of getting rid of it. The hon. gentleman is, then, in error, when he says I never alluded to compensation. But what if I had not? Is there no difference between a vested interest in a house or a tenement, and a vested interest in a human being? No difference between a right to bricks and mortar, and a right to the flesh of man—a right to torture his body and to degrade his mind at your good will and pleasure? There is this difference—the right to the house originates in law, and is reconcilable to justice; the claim (for I will not call it a right) to the man, originated in robbery, and is an outrage upon every principle of justice and every tenet of religion.
The right hon. secretary complains of my language in having referred to the slave-trade. "Why," he asks, "do you recall the horrors of that odious and abolished practice?" For this plain reason, that your title to a slave is founded on that practice. By the slave-trade you obtained him. Upon that practice, now reprobated, and now by us abolished, your claim is founded. Every reproach uttered against slave-trading impeaches your title to the slave. You say the man is your property. I ask, in reply, how did you obtain that property? And you are driven to the necessity of acknowledging that it was gained by the blackest of crimes—by that act which you now punish as a felony by that act which the British parliament stigmatized as "contrary to the principles of justice, humanity, and sound policy;" by that act which even the assembled monarchs of Europe (not suspected of too ardent a love of liberty) describe as "desolating Africa, degrading Europe, and afflicting humanity," and as "repugnant to the principles of humanity and universal morality."
There is one point in the speech of the hon. member for Sandwich, upon which, as I have risen, I must make a few observations—because it is really the most 353 matchless exemplification of forgetfulness, the most memorable instance I ever met with of a treacherous memory. The hon. gentleman quoted to us from the papers during the last twenty years printed by this House every sentence and expression which could be construed into a defence of slavery, or an approval of the condition of slaves. One could hardly sufficiently admire the degree of industry which prompted him to search out, or the force of memory which enabled him to repeat, every passage in this voluminous correspondence which favours his view of the subject. Amongst other papers, he refers to the correspondence of colonel Arthur. In 1816, colonel Arthur declares that he came to the West Indies, three years preceding, a perfect Wilberforce as to slavery; but that experience had changed his views, and that he could hardly find terms to express his admiration of the comforts and advantages of the slave population of Honduras. The hon. gentleman triumphantly appeals to these expressions. But in that same volume from which he extracted them, and within a few pages, there is a fact stated by the same colonel Arthur, which speaks still more unequivocally than they do as to the "comforts and advantages of the slave population of Honduras." Now, it is strange that the hon. gentleman, who so accurately recollects the eulogy, should so entirely have forgotten the fact; for the House will perceive, when I state it, that it is a fact calculated to make a pretty strong impression on a memory less powerful than that of the member for Sandwich. The despatch which contains it is from colonel Arthur, dated October 21, 1816, just seventeen days prior to that other despatch in which he lauds the condition of the slaves in that colony, and describes himself as having been metamorphosed from a perfect Wilberforce into—something, no doubt, very superior. I will now read an extract from it. You will find the whole in the papers relative to slaves, ordered to be printed on the 10th June, 1818; the very papers from which the hon. member for Sandwich has drawn his quotations.
"Copy of a Letter from Lieut.-Col. Geo. Arthur to Earl Bathurst; with seven enclosures.—Honduras, 21st October, 1816.—My lord; I have the honour to report to your lordship, that an inhabitant of this settlement, named Michael Carty, embarked by the last vessel which sailed 354 for England, in order to obtain redress for the oppressive measures which be represents to have been exercised towards him by me. I could not have conceived it possible that this inhuman wretch was so destitute of all sense of shame, as to have taken such public means of promulgating his infamy; yet, as he has resolved upon it, I feel it necessary to transmit, for your lordship's information, the accompanying documents respecting him. By these papers your lordship will perceive, that this Carty was convicted before a special court, assembled for his trial, of having caused a poor young negro female, his property, to be stripped naked, and her hands being tied to her feet with tight cords, a stick was passed under her knees and above the elbow-bend of her arms, a large cattle-chain was fastened round her neck with a padlock, and in this agonizing posture, exposed to the burning heat of the sun, was this wretched female tortured from morning until night; constantly, during that time, flogged with a severe cat by her inhuman master and servant, in the most wanton and barbarous manner: sometimes on her buttocks; at other times, being turned over on the stick, on her face and breasts."
Now, Sir, look at the evidence on which he was thus convicted:
"At a meeting of the Magistrates at the Court House, Belize, River's mouth, in Honduras, Thursday, August 29th, 1816.—Present, Marshall Bennett, Thomas Paslow, and Thomas Frain, esqrs.—J. B. Rabateau came before the magistrates, and stated upon oath as follows:—The day before yesterday I was at Mr. Orgill's, about half past twelve o'clock, and I heard somebody was crawling in Mr. Carty's yard; Mr. Orgill told me it was Mr. Carty that was flogging one of his wenches, and which was the third time that day; I went from the house into Mr. Orgill's yard, with Mr. Orgill and Joseph Belisle, and looked into Mr. Carty's yard, and I saw a girl which Mr. Carty brought from Mrs. Burn's, on the ground; her two hands were tied to her feet, and a stick run under her knees and above the elbow-bend of the arm, and lying on her back perfectly naked, and he, Mr. Carty, was flogging her with a cat; after flogging her some time on her buttocks, he came round and struck her ten or twelve stripes over her breast and face, and after his flogging her thus, he called another woman of his, and made her hold one end of the stick, 355 and he, Mr. Carty, took hold of the other, and he turned her from lying on her back over her head, when she fell nearly on her face, and then he flogged her again on her buttocks; after this I went away, and some time after returned, when I saw Mr. Carty flog the girl again in the same position and manner as before. I was then in company with Mr. Orgill, Joseph Belisle, Martha Sloasher, Jeremiah Myvett, William Adams, and John M'Gregor, who all saw the same. After this I went away, and about five o'clock returned to Mr. Orgill, and saw the girl fastened in the same position."—"The magistrates and officers of the court then examined the woman Quasheba, who appeared to have been much flogged, and her wrists much cut, apparently from having been tied, and had a large cattle-chain fastened about her neck with a padlock."—"John M'Gregor sworn, deposed as follows:—The other day I had occasion to go into Mr. Carty's shop, with a Spaniard, to see some crockery ware; as I went into the shop, he, Carty, was just coming in from the yard, with a cat in his hand; this was about eleven o'clock. I went away; about four o'clock in the afternoon, I was in Mr. Orgill's yard, and I saw the girl Quasheba tied in Mr. Carty's yard; she was quite naked, and tied with her hands to her legs, and a stick run under the bend of the knees and above the bend of the arms; he was flogging her."—"John Antonia Portall sworn, and John M'Gregor sworn as interpreter:—Deposes, that he saw the girl Quasheba when tied, and saw her being punished by Mr. Carty; that he sent his mate and the boatswain, who could talk English, to beg for the girl; that they went in, and Mr. Carty said he would forgive her, but would put her in chains; and this was about half past four o'clock."
Now, Sir, conceive a young female, her hand's tied to her feet, a stick run under her knees and above the elbow-bend of her arm, and a merciless villain flogging her with a cat on the breast, the face, and every part of her body; and, as if insatiable in his barbarity, calling another woman of his, and making her hold one end of the stick, he holding the other, and thus turning her, from lying on her back, over her head, when she fell nearly on her face; and then he flogging her again, in a manner too shocking, too brutal, too indecent, for me to read! One witness saw this at half past twelve o'clock, and in 356 that position he saw her again at five o'clock. Observe, too, not only the intensity of the punishment, but how often it was repeated. The same witness, Mr. Rabateau, says, that at half past twelve Mr. Carty was flogging his wench for the third time that day. Another witness, M'Gregor, saw her tied in the same manner on the same spot at four, and Carty flogging her. Another witness, J. A. Portall, saw her undergoing this punishment at half past four. At five she is seen, for the last time that day, in the same position. Two days after, the "wench" is brought before the magistrates much flogged, much cut, with "a large cattle-chain fastened about her neck with a padlock."
On Carty's trial all this is proved; and what exemplary infliction awaits him? Let gentlemen consider his guilt, and what measure of punishment they, or any men with feelings unblunted by slavery, would have dealt out to the convicted monster. Hear his sentence in the words of colonel Arthur:—"Convicted of all this load of enormity; with the unfortunate young female before their eyes, lacerated in a manner the recital of which is shocking to humanity; her wounds festered to such a degree that her life was considered in the greatest danger; still this picture of human misery and human depravity could not rouse a Honduras jury to award such a punishment against the offender (whom they found guilty to the utmost extent) as bespoke their commiseration for the former, or their detestation of the latter. Fifty pounds, Jamaica currency, equal to about thirty-five pounds sterling, was the penalty deemed adequate to the crimes of the offender! a man in affluent circumstances, worth thousands of pounds; and the poor female was doomed to remain the slave of this cruel wretch, still more exasperated against her than ever."
I know not whether the act itself is more enormous than the verdict. The act might only speak the cruelty of an individual; the verdict betrays the tenor of feeling towards slaves which prevails among the leading persons in the colony, the magistrates on the bench. Yes, Sir, it tells us, in language which cannot be mistaken, the degree of protection which the faws afford to the negro, and the equal-handed justice which is dealt out between the slave and the master. Aye, and what a comment is it upon "the enjoyments and advantages of the slave po- 357 pulation of Honduras, a race of people truly to be envied by free labourers all over the world!" O wretched peasantry of England! How would you mourn your fate, if you knew the comforts of which you are debarred—the indulgences, denied indeed to you, but dealt out so liberally to the contented African in that terrestrial Paradise for slaves, Honduras!
The hon. member for Taunton has said, that the negroes may complain of their lot, as the poor of this country may com plain that they are not feasted on champaigne and venison—a most blind and ex travagant comparison! Had this female nothing else to complain of but that she was denied the luxuries of life? She might complain, and, in the name of thou sands of these poor negroes, I complain that she and they are denied the common rights of human nature, and that they are mercilessly lashed and tortured at the will of their brutal masters. Let no man imagine that this case of Carty is one of isolated cruelty: there stand upon record multitudes of cases of a description equally horrible. I did not choose, though accused of doing so, to appeal to the feelings of the House and the public: I determined to address their reason. I rested my case upon the moral degradation of the negroes. But let the hon. member for Sandwich, or the hon. member for Taunton, who has, he tells us, seen slavery, and who, seeing, has learned to admire it—who is quite captivated with the felicity of these negroes, admitted by himself to be in the lowest state of moral degradation—let either of these gentle men but hint a wish for a statement of particular and individual atrocities, and I am prepared with cases, authenticated by unquestionable evidence, which will shock and exasperate every honest man in the country.
Before I quit Carty's case, one word on the character of colonel Arthur. It grieves me, Sir, that I am under the necessity; that I am bound, by the fidelity I owe to the cause I have undertaken, I thus to comment upon the expressions he has used, I owe it to his general reputation to say he has made ample atonement for that idle language. For the last six years he has been a generous and brave defender of the slaves. I believe that there does not exist a man who has done more for that wretched race, and who has suffered more persecution in consequence of his exertions; and I am grossly misin- 358 formed if he does not now, with Further experience, bitterly repent of the error into which he was betrayed. I am content to be deemed an enthusiast, if colonel Arthur be one who now considers the negroes as any other than a most wretched and persecuted race.
The hon. member for Taunton has complained most loudly of my having stated, that there is no danger to be apprehended in the West Indies. Give me leave to say, the hon. gentleman is as inaccurate in this as in his former assertion; for I stated that I expected nothing else but danger in the West Indies. I said, if I recollect right, that wherever there is slavery there is oppression. I told you, that if you wanted to be safe you must be just; that the price you pay for your injustice is your insecurity. I know there is danger. Danger! why? because the few inflict, and the multitude suffer, gross injustice. But I confess it does appear to me to be the most extraordinary of all arguments, to contend that the danger arises not from slavery itself, but from the discussion of slavery in this House. What, then, does the slave require any hint from us that he is a slave, and that slavery is of all conditions the most miserable? Why, Sir, he hears this; he sees it; he feels it too, in all around him. He sees his harsh uncompensated labour; he hears the crack of the whip; he feels, be writhes, under the lash. Does not this betray the secret? This is no flattery; these, are counsellors which feelingly persuade him what he is. He sees the mother of his children stripped naked before the gang of male negroes, and flogged unmercifully; he sees his children sent to market to be sold at the best price they will fetch; he sees in himself, not a man, but a thing; by West-Indian law, a chattel, an implement of husbandry, a machine to produce sugar, a beast of burden! And, will any man tell me that the negro, with all this staring him in the face, flashing in his eyes, whether he rises in the morning or goes to bed at night, never dreams that there is injustice in such treatment, till he seats himself down to the perusal of an English newspaper, and there, to his astonishment, discovers that there are enthusiasts in England, who from the bottom of their hearts deplore, and, even more than deplore, abhor all negro slavery? There are such enthusiasts; I am one of them; and while we breathe we will never abandon the cause, till that thing, that chattel, is reinstated in all the privileges of man.
359 I beg pardon of the House for having; trespassed so long upon its patience, but I can assure hon. members, that I should certainly not have troubled them at such length, had it not been for the observations of the hon. gentleman. Before, however, I conclude, I wish it to be clearly understood what is the point at which we are now arrived. If I understood the; right hon. secretary rightly, the strong impression of his mind is, that the cart-whip may be wholly dispensed with—that females ought not to be flogged; that Sunday should be considered as the property of the slave, a day of rest and recreation—and that the slave shall have a legal title to property. I understand the right hon. gentleman also to have said, that he was doubtful as to the admission of negro evidence in all cases; but that he was satisfied that the impediments to manumission should be removed, and that he is willing that the practice of venditioni exponas should be abolished. There, however, still remains one point, which has not yet been touched upon by the right hon. gentleman—I mean, allowing the slave to purchase out his freedom by a day at a time—a practice recommended not only by high authority, but also by its obvious justice.
There is still one other point, upon which I confess I did not receive quite the same satisfaction as I received upon the other propositions I submitted to the consideration of the House—I mean, with respect to the freedom of children born after certain period. What I understood the right hon. gentleman to say upon this point was this: "If the hon. gentleman asks me the question whether the day shall never arrive on which children shall be free, I would answer peremptorily no." Now, I am anxious before the close of this debate, to receive an explanation upon this most important point.
§ Mr. Canning.
—I wish to make myself intelligible to the hon. gentleman and the House. If I am asked, whether I can maintain the proposition that the progeny of slaves must be eternally slaves—the hon. gentleman must feel that I am not at liberty to throw out a hasty opinion upon that, I readily admit, most important question; but my opinion certainly is, that the time must come when that object must be attained. I cannot now, however, state a distinct opinion further than this, that the progeny of slaves must not be eternally slaves.
§ Mr. F. Buxton
said—Then I am to understand that the day will arrive after which every negro child born shall be free. That being settled, my next question is, when will that day arrive?
§ Mr. Canning
—I say I abjure the principle of perpetual slavery; but I am not prepared now to state in what way I would set about the accomplishment of the object. I abjure the principle, but I am not now prepared to give my opinion upon the question, because my mind is not yet made up, and I am unwilling to say any thing to night which may reduce me hereafter to the necessity of qualifying any statement I may make.
§ Mr. F. Buxton.
—I am fully satisfied with the answer the right hon. gentleman has been kind enough to give to my questions, and I feel obliged to him for the very candid and decisive manner in which he has expressed himself. I now beg leave to withdraw my motion; but I wish it to be distinctly understood, that, in case a difference of opinion arises between the government and myself, I shall reserve to myself the liberty of bringing the matter forward on a future occasion.
The original resolution was then withdrawn. The Speaker next put the question upon Mr. Canning's Amendment, which was carried nem. con. and it was ordered, "That the said Resolution be laid before His Majesty by such members of this House as are of His Majesty's most honourable Privy Council."