Mr. Secretary Canning
then proceeded to address the House as follows:
Sir, I rise to discharge my duty to the House, both as the mover of the resolutions which were passed on the 16th of May last year, and as the organ, in this House, of the government which undertook to carry the principles of those resolutions into effect. With a review of the measures which have been adopted, and of the course which has been pursued, by his majesty's government, in obedience to those resolutions, it is my intention to combine another subject, kindred in its nature; I mean, a proposition for the more effectual abolition of the odious trade which furnished to the West Indian colonies that population, the condition of which it is now our study to ameliorate. I shall postpone, however, to the conclusion of what I have to state to the House; the latter subject, on which I anticipate an entire concurrence; and shall address myself, in the first instance, to the contents of the papers which I have just laid upon the table. I begin, Sir, with requesting that the resloutions of the 16th of May 1823, may be read.
1092 The Clerk then read the following resolutions:
["Resolved, nem. con. "That it is expedient to adopt effectual and decisive measures for ameliorating the condition of the Slave Population in his majesty's colonies:
"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.
"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."]
Mr. Secretary Canning
continued.—I am desirous, Sir, that the House should have present to its mind the text of these resolutions; because it is by the spirit and meaning of them, that the conduct of his majesty's government has been guided. These resolutions therefore, and not any more sweeping principle, or any more wide-spread theory, constitute the criterion by which the conduct of the government is to be judged.
Undoubtedly, Sir, if there be a question at which it is impossible for any person, the most careless, to look with indifference, but which any man, who approaches it as a subject of legislation, must view with the deepest awe—it is the question now before us. To speak of the difficulties which encompass it, as compared with almost any other question which has ever occupied the attention of parliament, would be to draw but a faint and feeble picture of those difficulties: they are, indeed, apparent to the most casual observation; but he who has to probe and prove them, for the purpose of applying a remedy, finds them thickening around him at every step, and leaving him frequently nothing but a choice of evils. Formidable, however, as the question is, in its present shape, it is undoubtedly less, so, than it was last year, when first propounded to the House. At that time, we had to steer our course amidst conflicting prejudices, and opposite extravagancies of principle; beset on the one hand with theories, which would not suffer fact or establishment to 1093 stand in their way; and on the other hand, with long-established interests, and inveterate habits of thinking, sensitively jealous of any innovation or correction. These contradictory impulses were alike opposed to any practical step that could be taken to forward what all admitted to be expedient, the amelioration of the condition of the negro slave.
The concurrence of the House in the resolutions of last year has considerably narrowed the ground of dispute: I hope I shall not be considered as misrepresenting the collective sense of parliament, and the general feeling of the country, when I describe that sense and feeling to have been an unequivocal abhorrence of Slavery in the abstract; an acknowledgment of the almost hopeless difficulty of curing all its horrors; but adetermination, nevertheless, to look the evil in the face, and to endeavour steadfastly to apply to it such remedies as might mitigate, if they were not powerful enough to extinguish it. But the repeated sanctions of the legislature, the settled rights of inheritance, and the various ramifications of property and of interest growing out of them, create impediments which the House are not prepared to sweep at once away, in order that we may have a clear stage for the exhibition of theoretical experiments. I hope, therefore, I do not misrepresent the sense of the House of Commons, when I say, that, in passing the resolutions of last year, there was no general disposition to encourage any thing like a sudden emancipation of the negro; that the House looks forward to the termination of slavery, as the result of a gradual and general improvement in the condition of the slaves, and not as the consequence of an instantaneous proclamation of general freedom. I hope I do not misapprehend the feelings of the House and of the Country in taking their intention to be, that his majesty's ministers should consider not only what may be right in theory, but what will be wise in practice; not only how to do the greatest possible good, but how to do it with the least possible mischief. I hope I may add that, in the opinions of the House and of the Country upon this subject, there is no mixture of hostility or of ill-will towards individuals whose lot is cast in those distant regions, in which the system of slavery exists; regions which, notwithstanding their separation, are subject to the protection of the British Crown, and entitled to the care of the British parlia- 1094 ment. While, with a deliberate purpose, and with a steady hand, we are carrying forward, in its due course, an amelioration of the condition of the Slave, I hope and I believe, that we act in obedience to the feelings of the House and the Country, in taking especial care not to drive the plough share over the rights and possessions of our West-Indian fellow subjects.
These, Sir, are the principles on which, his majesty's government have acted; and by these principles, I say, they are desirous to be judged. If there are those who think that enough has not been done, or that more might have been done in the same time, they will now have an opportunity of laying before the House any schemes or propositions of their own. But I think I shall be able to shew, that we wisely made the resolutions of this House the rule of our conduct;—and that, in the mode and in the degree which was contemplated by the House, we have done much for the welfare of the Slave, with the least possible hazard to the interests of his Employer. Amongst all the embarrassments attending the discussion of this question, an obvious one is this, that not a phrase can be uttered upon it by a responsible adviser of the Crown, which is not liable to be seized by one or other of the conflicting parties, and wrested to their own purposes. Now, Sir, I declare in the outset, that, if I know myself, I have considered this question in all its bearings with the most scrupulous impartiality. If I have any partial feeling at all arising from the habits of my early life, it is one strongly favourable to the cause of general abolition. From the time at which I first was honoured with a seat in this House, I have been an humble, but a sincere and zealous labourer in that cause. But although I have always been friendly to the abolition of the slave trade, I, in common as I think with others, the most zealous friends of that abolition, have always kept that question distinct from the one which is now introduced.
I do not mean to say that I should be guilty of any breach of faith, or that I or others who have been equally favourable to the abolition of the slave trade, would be obnoxious to a charge of inconsistency in now avowing the intention of abolishing slavery. But I must be permitted to say, that the most zealous advocates of the abolition of the trade, if they entertained this intention, studiously concealed it: nay, not only concealed, but denied any 1095 intention of aiming at an object which was indeed represented by their adversaries as the natural and necessary consequence of the success of abolition. I am sure that I have myself frequently denied in debate that I looked to emancipation as the necessary consequence of the abolition. Am I therefore an enemy to the gradual relaxation of the system of Slavery? God forbid.—If I am asked, whether I am for the permanent existence of slavery in our colonies, I say, No. But if I am asked, whether I am favourable to its immediate abolition, I say, No. And, if I am asked which I would prefer, permanent slavery, or immediate abolition, I do not know whether, under all the perplexing circumstances of the case, I must not say, I would prefer things remaining as they are—not, God knows! from any love for the existing state of things, but on account of the tremendous responsibility of attempting to mend it by a sudden change.
Happily, however, we are not driven to either of these extremes. Between the two, there is an open debatable ground. By gradual measures, producing gradual improvement, not only may the individual slave be set free, but his very status may be ultimately abolished. Such has been the progress of improvement in nations of Europe that once were most barbarous, and are now most polished. But such a consummation is not a measure of single enactment and of instant effect. Much is to be done, and and much is to be forborne, before we can hope to arrive at it. The co-operation of adverse parties and the concurrence of various circumstances are requisite for its accomplishment: and after all, the measure will eventually make its way rather by the light of reason than by the coercion of authority.
The papers, Sir, which I have laid upon your table, consist in part of reports received from some of the West-India colonies, and in part of explanations of the scheme which the government has devised for carrying into operation the views of the House as disclosed in the course of the last Session.
Gentlemen are aware that the colonies are divided into two classes; one of which (the smaller number) are governed by the Crown, without the intervention of local legislative assemblies; the; other and larger class have legislative assemblies framed in miniature after the model of those of the mother Country. As such 1096 assemblies are not a little jealous pf the rights and privileges, by the possession of which they resemble the institutions of the parent state, the colonies of the 6rst class are much the more easily manageable. Experiments may therefore be tried with greater facility in the colonies wholely governed by the Crown; in Trinidad, for instance, in St. Lucie, or in Demerara. I name these colonies in the order in which I conceive the existing state of their laws to be favourable to such an experiment. Trinidad formerly belonged to the Spaniards, whose general slave laws are incomeparably the mildest; St. Lucie, to the French, whose code is in the next degree favourable to the slave population; and Demerara, to the Dutch, whose treatment of their slaves is perhaps the least favourable of the three; but whose laws provide nevertheless some institutions for the care and government of the slave population, which may be employed and improved to advantage.
With respect to Trinidad, I cannot omit to observe that about twenty years ago I in this House called the attention of government to that colony, the possession of which was then recently confirmed to us by the peace; and submitted a motion to the effect that Trinidad should not be placed on the same footing as our other colonies by the grant of a legislative constitution; but should be reserved under the unfettered dominion of the Crown, for the purpose of experiments for the amelioration of the condition of the slaves. One part of my proposition was, indeed, that the importation of slaves into Trinidad should be entirely discontinued. In that object I did not succeed; but I cannot forbear to congratulate myself and the House, if that motion of mine, though not altogether successful, has had the effect of keeping Trinidad in a state, in which an example may be set there by the direction of the executive power uncontrollable by any legislative assembly.
The course intended to be pursued with respect to the Island of Trinidad, will be shewn by reference to an order in council, which is to be found among the papers laid on the table.
With the permission of the House, I will state to them shortly the different regulations which that order in council comprises. The House will have the goodness to compare what is there done with the statement which I made last session, of what ought to be done; and I think it 1097 will appear that none of the points upon which I dwelt, on that occasion, have been neglected.
In the first place, it is directed by this order in council, that the shocking and unseemly practice of the chastisement of females by the whip, shall be entirely abolished. Here, Sir, it is but justice to say, that the abolition of this punishment has also been recommended by the resolutions of the West-India Body in this Country, in the course of last year. It is also no more than justice to add, that some of the Colonies have adopted, some even anticipated, the recommendation. To raise the weaker sex in self-respect, as well as in the esteem of the stronger, is the first step from barbarism to civilization.
The order in council next abolishes the use of the whip, when applied to males, as a stimulus to labour—that wanton and degrading use of it, which places the Negro slave on a footing with the cattle of the field. The whip is not to be carried into the field by the driver, nor is it to be borne as a symbol of authority. It is not in any case to be employed summarily;—but it is not, as to males, to be laid aside as an instrument of punishment. The House will see that it is quite a different thing, when brandished as a symbol of authority, and applied to the brute nerves of the negro as an incitement to labour: or when used for the infliction of a punishment, of which the reasoning faculties of the slave can appreciate the justice. Even as to males, and as an instrument of punishment the whip is to be employed only under certain regulation?, both with respect to the amount of infliction, and to the time. Delay of punishment for some time after the commission of the offence is the best security against abuse from suddenness of passion. It is further provided that witnesses shall be present at the punishment of a slave; and that all punishments shall be accurately recorded. These alterations at once raise the mass of the negro population from the brute state to that of man.
To provide the means of religious instruction and worship is an object first indeed in importance, but necessarily subsequent in order to those which I have already mentioned; because it is not till the Slave population are raised in the scale of nature that they can be capable of comprehending, or fitted to 1098 receive, the blessings of Christianity. It is intended to increase the amount, and widen the basis of the Ecclesiastical Establishment in the West Indies. That Establishment was founded for the benefit of the White Population alone. It was no more calculated for the Negro than for the brute animal that shares his toils. I am not stating this as a matter of charge, but as a matter of fact. This Establishment, though founded on the principles of the National Church, will not exclude other denominations of Christians. The authority and the discipline of the national church will be lodged in Bishops, to be resident in the Colonies. With religious worship will be combined religious instruction. It is not my business on the present occasion to trouble the House with details: but here, again, I am bound to do justice to the West-India body in this country, who have declared their anxiety for the institution of religious instruction, and to more than one of the colonies which have already acted upon that declaration.
Sir, after religious worship and religious instruction naturally come those charities of life, which religion promotes and sanctifies. The order in council enjoins the local government of Trinidad to encourage marriage. This injunction, I am again bound to say, and I do so with much satisfaction, is in perfect consonance with the recommendation of the persons most interested in the colonies, who reside in this country, and has also received a ready assent in many of the colonies. In consideration of marriage, and of the other charities of life, which grow out of that connexion, it is provided by the order in council, that in all future sales—I fear that I must still use that word—families shall not be separated. In transferring slaves from one property to another, care will be taken in future that husband and wife, or reputed husband and wife, and parent and child, shall not be severed from each other.
The influence of family ties will naturally beget in the mind of the slave an increased desire of property. The order in council gives the security of law to that possession of property which is at present respected by custom; and enjoins that measures shall be taken to secure to the slave the power of bequeathing it at his death. In aid of these provisions it has been thought advisable (however singular it, may appear, that a very late 1099 invention of a country far advanced in civilization, should be supposed capable of taking root in a rude society like that of the West Indies),—it has been thought advisable, I say, to institute a Bank, in which the little savings of slaves may be accumulated. To the right of enjoyment, and to the power of bequest, secured by law, will be thus added the further security derived from the over-watching eye of public observation.
Sir, when, by measures of this kind, new ideas are infused into the mind of the negro,—when he is lifted from a level with the beast of the field,—when he has been allowed to take his stand amongst the human race—CŒlumque tueriJussus, et erectos ad sidera tollere vultus;"—when he has been taught to appreciate the endearments of family connexions, the ties of kindred, and the blessings of property,—when his nature, as well as his condition, has been thus improved,—then comes the fit opportunity for considering a subject, which is surrounded by many practical difficulties—the admissibility of the evidence of slaves in courts of justice.
It would be as wild to say, that the evidence of slaves should be indiscriminately admitted in all cases, as it would be unjust to exclude it in all cases. In this country, a person in the situation of a slave—I do not mean politically, but morally—an infant, whose mind is not sufficiently expanded to be able to estimate the obligation of an oath, is not permitted to give evidence. It is first ascertained, by examination, that the mind of the infant is in fact so matured, as to be capable of comprehending that obligation. It would be improper to admit the evidence of Blacks without a similar guard. It is proposed, therefore, that those persons who are to have the care of instructing the negroes should have power to certify, not with respect to a particular case in which the evidence of a slave may be wanted, but generally, that such and such slaves have made such advances in civilization as to be cognizant of the nature of an oath. It is proposed, that a register of such slaves shall be kept, constituting as it were a privileged class, and presenting (what is the spring of all human action) something like an object of ambition to their fellow-slaves. Under this arrangement, the competency of a slave to give evidence will not be judged by subjecting him at 1100 the moment—to an examination, probing his intellect to the quick, by questions which he may not be able to comprehend: but it will be known at once, when any individual slave is proposed as a witness on a trial, whether he is one of that class whose evidence has been certified to be admissible. It is just to state, that under certain qualifications, the evidence of slaves is already admitted in the courts of justice of Dominica, Grenada, St. Vincent's, and I believe St. Christopher's, and Tobago.
A natural consequence of the determination to impart religious instruction to the slaves, will be the abolition of Sunday markets, and of Sunday labour. The order in council prescribes this abolition, so soon as the means of religious worship shall be established. It prescribes immediately a restriction of the Sunday market, within certain hours—ultimately, as I have said, its total abolition. In some of the colonies this regulation is already partially anticipated.
By this process, and by these degrees may the slave be gradually fitted for the last grand consummation of benefit, the power of acquiring his freedom. Heretofore the restraints on granting manumissions were extremely numerous: but these are now considerably reduced; several taxes and imposts have been removed in different colonies; and in others, a like disposition has been manifested. The order in council, however, goes beyond what has been hitherto at all generally practised in the colonies. It ordains that a negro, who has acquired sufficient property, shall, under certain guards and regulations, therein set forth, be intitled to purchase his own freedom, the freedom of his wife, or that of his children.
I have thus, Sir, stated to the House, the provisions of the order in council. I know, that, with respect to the last point, namely, the purchase of freedom, great prejudice, great dislike, great apprehension, prevails. I am far from saying that it is not a perplexing question: but the principle has been admitted to a certain extent in St. Kitt's, and also in Trinidad. No principle can be considered as impracticable, which has, even in a single instance, been voluntarily admitted in the West Indies. It is astonishing how much good might be done by merely collecting, and bringing to bear on one society, all the beneficial regulations which are scattered through the different colonies. I 1101 admit on the one hand, that the existence of such beneficial regulations affords an answer to the general declamation which has been heard about the total neglect and abandonment of the negroes by West-Indian governments and proprietors: but I must on the other hand contend, that the people of this country, who, on account of their distance from the colonies, are compelled to look at them through the eyes of others, are entitled to consider as good authority for any improvement of which they recommend the introduction, the fact, that what they wish to recommend has been by any one West-Indian community already voluntarily adopted.
I will now recapitulate the improvements which government propose to effect in the island of Trinidad:—First, Abolition of the use of the whip with regard to females entirely—discontinuance of the use of the whip as applied to males as a stimulus to labour—restrictions on the infliction on males of punishment by the whip. Secondly, A religious establishment and religious instruction;—and in order to give time for the acquirement of that instruction, the abolition of the markets and of slave labour on the Sunday. Thirdly, encouragement of marriage among the slaves—the keeping together of families of slaves, in sales or transfers of estates; the securing to slaves the enjoyment of property, and the right to distribute it at their death. Fourthly, The admissibility of the evidence of slaves under certain regulations; and lastly, a power to the slave to purchase his own freedom or that of his wife or children. These are the chief objects of the order in council. Such is the example which the government are disposed to set in the island of Trinidad; and it is hoped that other colonies will follow an example so set, without the apprehension of danger.
I am aware that whilst with respect to the last point alluded to in the order in council—the power to be given to slaves to purchase their own freedom, or that of their wives or children—government has gone beyond the general assent of the West-India body, they have fallen very short of the desires of some excellent and honourable persons. I know very well that the hon. gentleman opposite (Mr. Buxton), last year stated, that he was disposed to go a shorter way to work, and to enact the emancipation of a par- 1102 ticular generation of slaves. Sir, in the interval which has elapsed since the debate of last May. I have turned that matter in my mind with the most painful anxiety; and I feel bound to declare, that with the most sincere desire to come to the conclusion most favourable to the cause of humanity, I cannot concur in the hon. member's proposition. If it were carried into effect, it would, in my opinion, be productive of the greatest injury, not only to the white population, but also to the Blacks themselves—[Mr. Buxton here observed across the table, that he only proposed to emancipate the children of the existing slaves, not the slaves themselves].
The hon. gentleman is not prepared to grant emancipation to the existing generation of slaves. Certainly not. To let in the full light of freedom on eyes scarcely unsealed, eyes from which the scales of bondage have not yet been purged away, would indeed be a perilous experiment. But would it not be scarcely less unwise to hold out the hope of emancipation to the next generation of negroes? The slave would view the freedom which was thus placed in prospect before him, as an infant views any object of desire, without the faculty of calculating the distance which separates him from it. To hold out the prospect, for a future generation might create dissatisfaction in the present race of slaves, and render their actual existence intolerable.
The course which the government proposes to pursue is, to arrive at the liberation of the child through the instrumentality of the parent. Enable the negro to purchase his own freedom, enable him equally to purchase that of his offspring, whenever he shall have acquired the means of doing so; and the option between himself and his child being left to his own feelings, how probable is it that those feelings may lead him to prefer the liberation of his child! On the contrary, if we were to take the rising generation of slaves, or those hereafter to be born, under the special protection of the legislature, as proposed by the hon. member, parents might perhaps be tempted to look upon their offspring, with feelings, I will not say of envy, but with feelings far other than those of unmixed satisfaction, with which a parent ought to contemplate the happiness and prosperity of his child.
Immediate emancipation to the negro himself, I am most happy to hear the 1103 hem. gentleman disclaim. It would indeed be a fatal gift. To be safely enjoyed it must be gradually and diligently earned. "Haud facilem esse viam voluit," is the condition under which it bas pleased divine Providence that all the valuable objects of human aspiration should be attained. This condition is the legitimate stimulant of laudable industry, and the best corrective of ambitious desire. No effort of an individual, and no enactment of a legislature can relieve human nature from the operation of this condition. To attempt to shorten the road between desire and attainment is nine times out of ten to go astray, and to miss the wished-for object altogether. I am fully persuaded that freedom, when acquired under the regulations prescribed by government, will be a more delightful as well as a more safe and more stable possession than if it were bestowed by a sudden acclamation.
In dealing with the negro, Sir, we must remember that we are dealing with a being possessing the form and strength of a man, but the intellect only of a child. To turn him loose in the manhood of his physical strength, in the maturity of his physical passions, but in the infancy of his uninstructed reason, would be to raise up a creature resembling the splendid fiction of a recent romance; the hero of which constructs a human form, with all the corporeal capabilities of man, and with the thews and sinews of a giant; but being unable to impart to the work of his hands a perception of right and wrong, he finds too late that he has only created a more than mortal power of doing mischief, and himself recoils from the monster which he has made.
Such would be the effect of a sudden emancipation, before the negro was prepared for the enjoyment of well-regulated liberty. I, therefore, Sir, would proceed gradually, because I would proceed safely. I know that the impulse of enthusiasm would carry us much faster than I am prepared to go; I know it is objected that all this preparation will take time. Take time, Sir! To be sure it will; to be sure it should; to be sure it must! Time, Sir!—why,—what is it we have to deal with? Is it with an evil of yesterday's origin? with a thing which has grown up in our time—of which we have watched the growth—measured the extent, and which we have ascertained the means of 1104 correcting or controlling? No; we have to deal with an evil which is the growth; of centuries, and of tens of centuries; which is almost coeval with the Deluge; which has existed under different modifications since man was man. Do gentlemen, in their passion for legislation, think that after only thirty years' discussion, they can now at once manage as they will, the most unmanageable, perhaps, of all subjects? or do we forget, Sir, that in fact not more than thirty years have elapsed, since we first presumed to approach even the outworks of this great question;? Do we, in the ardour of our nascent reformation, forget that during the ages for which this system has existed, no preceding generation of legislators has ventured to touch it with a reforming hand? and have we the vanity to flatter ourselves that we can annihilate it at a blow? No, Sir,no:—we must be contented to proceed, as I have already said, gradually and cautiously; and what I have now laid before the House, is I flatter myself, sufficient for the first step in a process which will widen and strengthen as it goes.
It is the intention of the government. Sir, after having established the system which I have explained, in Trinidad, to extend it to the other colonies in which the power of the Crown is unshackled. The same instructions which have been sent to Trinidad, are to be forwarded to St. Lucie; the only difference will be, that as in Trinidad they are grafted on the Spanish law, in St. Lucie the machinery of the French law will be employed for carrying them into operation. It is intended also to extend the experiment to Demerara and its dependencies: where indeed, it would have been first tried, but for the intervention of the unfortunate occurrences which have lately taken place in that colony.
I shall be asked what is likely to be the effect produced by the adoption of these measures in Trinidad, St. Lucie, and Demerara, upon the other West-India colonies which have legislatures of their own, and by many of which the communication of the wishes and intentions of parliament has certainly been received with a spirit any thing but conciliatory, I shall be asked what are the intentions of the government, as to those colonies; by what means it is intended to bring them to reason, and to induce them to adopt the views and second the determinations of parliament?
1105 Sir, if it were possible for me on a question involving so many important interests, so many perplexing considerations, and so many contingencies requiring to be calculated with the utmost coolness and deliberation; if it were possible to indulge, on such an occasion, any personal feeling of irritation at the manner in which his majesty's government, and among them, myself, as a member of that government, have been treated by some of the West-India assemblies, I might be tempted to resort to measures of reprehension and coercion. But, Sir, I can assure the House that I am actuated by no such feeling; and that I am not inclined to resort to any such measures. On the contrary, I should consider it most unwise and most unbecoming to do so. In the ebullition of anger (for I will call it nothing more), observable in the proceedings of some of the legislative assemblies, I see much to blame, indeed,—much to excuse—something to pity, but nothing to punish. Nothing I am aware would be easier than to put an end to the dispute at once, by overwhelming power; but I see no necessity, and I am sure I feel no inclination, for such a proceeding. If, indeed, there were any thing like an equality of strength between the legislature of this mighty kingdom, and the colonial assemblies, as was the case in a struggle in which this country was heretofore engaged with her colonies, then might parliament, roused by insult as well as opposition to a feeling of exasperated dignity, denounce vengeance against Jamaica. But as I do not mean the thing, I will not use the language.
There are three possible modes in which parliament might deal with the people of Jamaica: First, as I have said, it might crush them by the application of direct force;—Secondly, it might harass them by fiscal regulations, and enactments restraining their navigation; and, thirdly, it may pursue the slow and silent course of temperate, but authoritative, admonition. Now, Mr. Speaker, if I am asked which course I would advise, I am for first trying that which I have last mentioned; I trust we shall never be driven to the second; and with respect to the first, I will only now say that no feeling of wounded pride, no motive of questionable expediency, nothing short of real and demonstrable necessity, shall induce me to moot the awful question of the transcendental power of parliament 1106 over every dependency of the British Crown. That transcendental power is an arcanum of empire, which ought to be kept back within the penetralia of the constitution. It exists, but it should be veiled. It should not be produced upon trifling occasions, or in cases of petty refractoriness and temporary misconduct. It should be brought forward only in the utmost extremity of the state, where other remedies have failed to stay the raging of some moral or political pestilence.—Undoubtedly, Sir, it would he easy to select passages from the Jamaica gazettes, which according to all legitimate inferences of reasoning, ought to put parliament in a towering passion: but I must confess that upon a moment's reflection, I find my indignation restrained by consideration of the powerlessness of the body from whom the offence comes, compared with the omnipotence of that to which it is offered. The consciousness of superior strength disarms the spirit of resentment. I could revenge but I would much rather reclaim. I prefer that moral self-restraint so beautifully expressed by the poet, when he represents Neptune as allaying the wild waters, instead of rebuking the winds which had put them in a roar.Quos ego—sed motos præstat componere fluctus.If there be any gentleman in the Jamaica house of assembly, who meditates the acquisition of fame and popularity by opposing what lie pleases to call the encroachments of the mother country, and who is preparing himself for his contemplated career, by conning over the speeches of Washington and Franklin, we shall act most judiciously, by taking from him all lofty grounds of quarrel; by disappointing his patriotic ardour of contentious topics of inflammation; and by leaving him to found his insurrection, if insurrection he will have, on an abstract admiration of the cart-whip, and on a resolute claim of his free-born right to use that instrument at his pleasure.
I am convinced, Sir, that unless Parliament should injudiciously supply fuel to the flame, this unprovoked ardour will gradually expire. When the patriots discover that no Parliamentary Commissioner is coming out to control them—that no army is on its way to subdue them—no navy to blockade their ports—they will have leisure and temper to reflect calmly on what has passed; and finding no just cause of offence and no plea for crying out against oppression, they will, I doubt 1107 not, at no distant time, be convinced of the reasonableness of the measures recommended to their adoption, and will prepare themselves to act, by their own power and discretion, consonantly to the wishes of this House.
Indeed, Sir, situated as Jamaica is, between warnings and examples, having St. Domingo on the one side, and Columbia on the other, with Trinidad, St. Lucie, and Demerara almost in her view, I cannot believe that she will long hold out in her resistance. I cannot believe that much time will elapse before we shall learn that the planter of Jamaica is anxiously employed in emulating the endeavours of the government in Trinidad, to improve the condition of his Negroes.
In the full assurance that this will be the case, so far from entertaining any hostile feeling towards those who have been so liberal of their comments upon us, the government is most anxious that Jamaica should participate to the fullest extent in all the advantages likely to result from the proposed regulations. One of the Episcopal Establishments is intended to be fixed at Jamaica; the other in the Leeward Islands.
For the support of these Establishments It will not be necessary, for a time at least, that any demand should be made on the finances of the Islands. I will not now enter into any detailed calculations upon this head, which do not indeed come properly within this general view of the question; but I will merely express my hope, that for the first two years the expenses of these Episcopal Establishments will not exceed the amount of the interest of that sum which my right hon. friend has proposed to appropriate to the erection of new churches in this country. Two years will probably elapse before any portion of that fund will be required for the purposes for which it is ultimately intended. There is another fund also which may hereafter, when gradually relieved of the burthens which now exist upon it, be applied to the purposes of the proposed establishment, I mean the four-and-a-half-per-cent, or Leeward Islands' Fund. I am authorized to state the disposition of the Crown to refrain from granting any further pensions out of this fund, until the burthens now upon it shall have been so far reduced, as to set free a portion of it, applicable to the West-Indian Episcopal Establishment.
Sir, I have now nearly done. Being desirous of putting the House generally 1108 in possession of the principle and plan upon which the government proposes to act, without exciting angry feelings on any side, I shall carefully and studiously abstain from all unnecessary reflections upon this important and painful subject; important from the extent of the interests which it embraces, and painful inasmuch as it involves the consideration of the lot of so large a portion of our fellow creatures, whose present state in society cannot be contemplated without the deepest feelings of commiseration. On the other hand, however, it is a question full of hope, seeing that the attention of parliament and of the country has been directed to the subject; and seeing that there exists on all hands a wish and determination to apply remedies to the evil, not indeed with an indiscreet haste which would rather injure than benefit those whose welfare we are anxious to promote, but with a temperate and well-considered zeal.
As one of the best modes of forwarding our object, I would most earnestly conjure those hon. gentlemen both on one side of the House and the other, who may take part in this discussion, whether from motives of personal interest, or from motives still more powerful than any considerations of interest, to refrain from exaggerated statements, from highly-coloured pictures of individual suffering, which can have no other effect than to exasperate discussion into animosity. I intreat gentlemen to reflect that any conflict on this subject in this House will not be merely a war of words. If this night's debate should be angry and intemperate, the inferences drawn from it elsewhere will be fatal to the peace of the colonies. False hopes will be excited among the slaves; a spirit of resistance will be engendered among the planters; improvement in the lot of the negro will thus be placed at a greater distance than ever; and the lives and properties of the white population of the colonies will be placed in hazard and jeopardy.
I intreat hon. gentlemen particularly to bear in mind, that in the discussion of this question in this place, we have, as if by tacit agreement, spoken generally of slavery and of a Slave Population without adverting to one essential characteristic, which distinguishes the slavery of the West Indies from all others—I mean that physical alienation which arises from the indelible difference of colour. We who live not on the spot can conceive 1109 but a faint idea of the nature of this alienation. But let it not be forgotten that our debates are read with avidity in the colonies by the different classes, in which this principle is working with full force.
No gentleman comes into this House to take part in this question, who is not some way or other, more or less connected with individuals whose all is involved in the discussion. Let us recollect what prodigious ruin one unguarded expression, dropt in the heat of debate, may occasion to those whom we would not willingly injure—while it is at the same time clear, that the most ardent and enthusiastic eloquence cannot hasten the enjoyment of freedom by those who are not yet in a fit state to receive the boon.
If we are to do good (which I earnestly hope and sincerely believe we may), it is not to be done by sudden and violent measures—but by efforts of a patient and comparatively tame character; by measures slow in their progress, but steady and sure in their operation; measures which must be carried into effect not by a few individuals of rare talents, and conspicuous zeal; but by the great body of those whom the advocates of the negro distrust and seem disposed to put aside.
Yes, Sir, if the condition of the slave is to be improved, that improvement must be introduced through the medium of his master. The masters are the instruments through whom, and by whom, you must act upon the slave population:—and if by any proceedings of ours we shall unhappily place between the slave and his master the barrier of insurmountable hostility, we shall at once put an end to the best chance of emancipation or even of amendment. Instead of diffusing gradually over those dark regions a pure and salutary light, we may at once kindle a flame only to be quenched in blood.
I am not aware, Sir, that it is necessary for me to detain the House by entering more into detail, nor will I be induced to sin against my own precept by diverging into general observations. I therefore here take my leave of the existing state of the Negro Population.
Connected, however, with that state from which we are endeavouring gradually to rescue so large a portion of our fellow-creatures, is (as I have stated at the outset of my speech) the consideration of the inhuman traffic by which they were brought into their present condition; and for the total abolition of which, so far as 1110 regards this country and her colonies, the friends of humanity are indebted to the exertions of my hon. friend opposite (Mr. Wilbeforce). I am convinced that the slave trade is entirely and effectually abolished with respect to our colonies. I know that other persons entertain a different opinion; but after the most anxious inquiries on the subject, I feel perfectly confident that with respect to the British West-India Islands, the prohibition against the introduction of slaves is sacredly observed. It is nevertheless, true that the introduction of slaves into foreign colonies continues to an enormous extent. All the efforts of this country to procure the active co-operation of other powers to put down the traffic in slaves has been ineffectual. Among the plans which have been suggested for that purpose, it has been frequently suggested that all persons guilty of slave-trading should be rendered obnoxious to capture, not only by the vessels of their own country, but by those of every other power—in other words, that the slave trade should be declared piracy. A good deal of misapprehension, however, prevails upon this point.
It has been supposed by some persons, that a congress of sovereigns—the congress of Verona for instance—might have taken upon itself to declare slave-trading a piratical offence, and thereby to make the individuals engaged in it amenable to an universal inter-national law. This is a complete mistake. England must surely be the last country in the world to admit that any congress of sovereigns could constitute a law, universal in its operation on states not party to its enactment. The only way in which this desirable object could be obtained would be, that every nation should for itself declare slave-trading to be a piratical offence in its own subjects. We have in the law of England many statutable piracies. But, supposing such a law passed here in respect to the slave trade, the effect upon the foreign slave trade would be nothing, unless we could persuade other nations each to pass the like law, and all to co-operate for its general execution. Now, we have more than once proposed both to the government of France, and to that of the United States, to give reciprocally by treaty, a right of mutual visit and seacrh in all cases of suspected slave-trading. When it is considered how 1111 many delicate points of national pride, of maritime law and, maritime right are touched by such a proposition, the House will not be surprised that it has been by no means cordially received. By France it has been more than once rejected altogether. But it is with no small feeling of gratification that I am now enabled to state to the House that many days have not elapsed since a treaty was signed on the part of this country by my right hon. friend near me, the president of the board of trade, and a right hon. relation of mine, his majesty's minister to the United States of America, and on the part of the United States by the American minister in London, by which treaty Great Britain and the government of the United States concede mutually to each other, under certain regulations and restrictions, this long-sought right of visit.
This treaty authorizes the men-of-war of either nation to detain the merchant vessels of the other, if suspected of being engaged in slave-trading: provided, that both countries shall have previously adopted the same law respecting that crime, by constituting it by law a piracy. The House is probably aware that the legislature of the United States has already passed a law to this effect. It is my intention to-night to propose, with the leave of the House, to bring in a bill for the like purpose. Should that bill pass, the navies of Great Britain and of the United States will henceforth act in cooperation, to extirpate, so far as regards their two countries, this abominable traffic altogether.
The present is not the most convenient time for entering into a detail of the provisions of the treaty; but those who recollect the difficulties which have hitherto obstructed the completion of any such agreement, must rejoice to find that all these difficulties have been adjusted. There are on both sides points of dignity reserved: and care has been taken to preserve the general boundaries of maritime law: but upon the question of the slave trade, the powers reciprocally given are ample, and I trust will be found effectual. Each country reserves the administration of its own national law for the punishment of its own subjects: but the right of capture is common to both. For instance, if an American man-of-war should capture a British slave-trader (and God forbid she should not, if such an one could be found), or, vice versa, a 1112 British man-of-war an American slave-trader—the captured vessel is to be remitted to the nearest ship of war of its own nation, or to its nearest native maritime port, for adjudication:—each country thus aiding the other in detecting the crime; but each judging its own subjects. I trust that the realization of this arrangement between the contracting parties will not be the limit of its beneficial operation: for when the two greatest maritime nations in the world—the two nations, I mean, who by the extent of their commercial navies expose the widest surface to the operation of this new law—so far compromise their maritime pride, and subdue their deeply-rooted prejudices, as to submit themselves to each other's vigilance and inquiry; it surely may be hoped that in any future discussions for the universal abolition of the slave trade, the joint representations of Great Britain and America may be employed with peculiar force and grace and consistency, to induce other nations to lay aside all feelings of repugnance which may stand in the way of their accession to so truly virtuous and beneficent a confederacy.
Sir, it only remains for me to thank the House for the patient indulgence with which they have listened to me; and to conclude with moving "For leave to bring in a bill for the more effectual Suppression of the African Slave-trade."
§ Mr. Speaker
—In rising to express my sentiments upon the subject of the communications which we have just received, I think I cannot do better than to draw at once the broad line of distinction which presents itself to my mind. My feelings are not only different, but totally opposite, on several parts of that statement. To one part I can give my ready and cordial approbation: whilst I have listened to another, and that unfortunately—delicately as it was handled, and rapidly as it was dismissed—by far the most important portion, with no other feelings than those of pain and disappointment.
The first question to which I would address myself is this—are we so bound, either by the reason of the case, or by positive engagement, as to be debarred from discussion this night? Last session, his majesty's government took the subject of the West Indies under their own direc- 1113 tion; and we cheerfully consented to its surrender, having obtained a distinct pledge from government, that the condition of the slave population should be ameliorated. The pledge stands thus:—
"That it is expedient to adopt effectual and decisive measures for ameliorating the condition of the slave population in his majesty's colonies:
"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 the other classes of his majesty's subjects:
"That this House is anxious for the accomplishment of this purpose, at the earliest period that may be compatible with the well-being of the slaves, the safety of the colonies, and with a fair and equitable consideration of the interests of all parties concerned therein."
Such, Sir, was the pledge; and when it was suggested to the right hon. gentleman, that the colonial legislatures might not consent, he replied, that "he thought they would; but if not, if any resistance should be manifested to the expressed and declared wish of parliament, any resistance, I mean, which should partake, not of reason but of contumacy, it would create a case—a case, however, which I trust will never occur—upon which his majesty's government would not hesitate to come down to parliament for counsel."
I intreat the House to consider, how full and comprehensive this pledge is. It includes all the colonies. It makes no difference between such as have, and such as have not, colonial legislatures. It draws no nice and refined distinctions, such as we have heard this night, between the better government of Trinidad, the middling of St. Lucie, and the worst of Demerara. It promises amelioration. To what extent? To all the slaves in all the colonies. What kind of amelioration? Determined and effectual: such as shall lead to the extinction of slavery: for a participation in those civil rights and privileges which are enjoyed by the other classes of his majesty's subjects, is, in other words, deliverance from slavery. And when? At the earliest period compatible with the well-being of the slaves, the safety of the colonies, and 1114 a fair and equitable consideration of the interests of all parties concerned therein.
Could I interpret the speech of the right hon. gentleman into a recognition of this pledge, and a declaration that his majesty's government were determined that it should—that every part of it should—be substantially fulfilled—could I indulge the flattering expectation, that the accomplishment of our hopes and the fulfilment of this pledge was delayed indeed, but not a tittle of it abandoned—then should I consider, that we were bound to abstain from discussion. And, if the right hon. gentleman will now give me to understand, that government will not suffer that pledge—nor any part of that pledge—to be infringed; that the promise—the whole promise—is sacred, and shall, if not to its very letter, in its full spirit be fulfilled, he imposes silence upon me. But, Sir, if I am to learn, that the engagement given as to all the colonies, is to be frittered down, at present at least, to a single island;—if the advantages promised are to be granted indeed to the thirty-thousand slaves of Trinidad, but withheld from the three-hundred-and-fifty-thousand in Jamaica, and the seventy-thousand in Barbadoes;—if the "earliest period" is construed to mean some time undefined, and so distant, that no man can say in what century it will take place;—if our pledge to do this is now to mean no more than that we will suffer it to be done, by the slow and gradual course of admonition and example—then, I see no reason why ten centuries may not elapse, before the negroes are freed from their present state of melancholy and deplorable thraldom! And then I do say, that we who have engaged in the cause are bound by every conceivable motive—by every prudential consideration—to demand the fulfilment of the pledge given to seven hundred thousand of our fellow creatures—not in words, indeed—but virtually and in fact; and, to my mind, to be observed the more sacredly, because they have not the means, either of compelling its enforcement, or of complaining of its violation. We, at least, will be no parties to such a desertion of duty—to such a breach of faith.
Now, Sir, as to the Order in Council. That order merits, as I think, the full and cordial approbation of all those who are interested in the welfare of the Negroes. There may be—I would, guard myself so far—minute details and particulars, which, 1115 upon close examination, and when the documents shall be before us, may seem to admit of improvement. But, I do not hesitate to say, that its general principles are sound and just; and no difference of opinion as to minor points, nor the positive objection I feel to the course which is to be pursued towards the colonies which have legislatures of their own, shall induce me to withhold my acknowledgement, that, so far as the order in council is to extend, so far the right hon. gentleman has faithfully fulfilled the pledge which, at his solicitation, parliament gave during the last session.
I shall now endeavour to follow the right hon. gentleman, and take the heads of his statement, in the order in which he has submitted them to the House.
First, as to the Flogging of Females. That practice is to be abolished in Trinidad. So far I rejoice. At present, a female slave, the; mother or the wife of a negro, may, in the presence of her son or her husband, be stripped nuked, stretched upon the earth, and cart-whipped [Loud cries of No! no!]—I request gentlemen to wait, until the fit opportunity arrives for reply and contradiction, if I am wrong I well know the difficult situation in which I stand. No man is more aware than I am, of my inability to follow the brilliant and able speech which has just been delivered. But, I have a duty to perform; and I will perform it. I know well what I incur by this, I know how I call down upon myself the violent animosity of an exasperated and most powerful party. I know how reproaches have rung in my ears, since that pledge was given; and how they ring with ten-fold fury, now that I call for its fulfilment. Let them ring! Rather than I will purchase a base indemnity for myself, with this sting on my conscience. You ventured to agitate the question. A pledge was obtained. You were therefore, in some sort, to be considered the holder of that pledge, to which the hopes of half a million of people were linked. And then, fearful of a little unpopularity, and confounded by the dazzling eloquence of the right hon. gentleman, you sat still—you held your peace, and were satisfied to see his pledge, in favour of a whole Archipelago, reduced to a single island.
I repeat, then, that by law of the West-India Islands, a female may be stripped naked, stretched upon the earth, held down by four negroes, in the presence of 1116 her father, her husband, or son; in the presence of a whole gang; and cart-whipped by a fifth. This practice is to be abolished. Prevailing throughout the West Indies, it is to be abolished in Trinidad.
The right hon. gentleman has told us, that in raising any class of persons from a servile to a civil condition, the first step towards improvement is an observance of the difference of sex. I need not say I admit this. Can it be expected, that any thing like decency, or modesty, or conjugal fidelity—that any one of that large class of virtues, without which there is no female virtue—and without female virtue, there is no virtue at all—can we hope that these will be displayed in a country, where the women may be publicly stripped, and shamelessly punished with the cart-whip? Is it to be expected, for example, that a young negro female will be chaste, and reserved, and exercise self-respect, when she may, at any moment, be flogged before a gang of men? We have been told, that licentiousness is the characteristic of the negro; and that has sometimes been used as an argument against us. It has been said, "can you hope to raise to the level of yourselves, a class of persons so gross, so licentious, so destitute of decency, as the negro females generally are? It is impossible." I admit it. It is impossible, so long as this exposure is permitted. And I fully concur with the right hon. gentleman—if you mean to improve the character of the negro, this is your first step. This is to be done in Trinidad. But then comes the painful reflection. This first step towards improvement is not to extend throughout the West Indies. The practice, "unseemly and shocking," as the right hon. gentleman terms it, of flogging females, is to be prohibited in the Colonies immediately under the Crown. Is the practice less unseemly, and less shocking in Jamaica, or in the other Islands which have colonial assemblies? [Mr. Canning here said across the table, that this regulation was also to include Demerara and Berbice]—I am aware of it. They are ultimately to feel the benefit of the change; and so are all the rest of the Islands, at the proper time. But, who shall say when that "proper time" shall arrive?
The right hon. gentleman, indeed, indulges sanguine hopes, that our views and feelings, with respect to slavery, will be adopted by the West-India Planters. should be glad to know,. where the right 1117 hon. gentleman has gathered the hopes in which he indulges of their ultimate acquiescence—where he gathers any thing like an intimation of any thing like a disposition, on the part of the planters, either to embrace the views, or to yield to the wishes, of the English nation.
Let us see how this proposition to abolish the use of the cart-whip upon females was received in Jamaica. It was furiously and scornfully rejected. The planters assumed the tone of an injured, insulted, and resolute people. How was it received in Barbadoes?—Barbadoes, which, I have heard, boasts her superiority to the other Islands—which has taken the title of "Little England"—and where the number of planters educated in England have introduced a remarkable congeniality with the English feelings and manners? Gentlemen have probably read Mr. Hampden's speech. I speak of that speech with respect; because, contrasted with some other publications, it is liberal in principle, and moderate in language; and it appears to be the work of an intelligent and well-educated gentleman. Mr. Hampden does us the honour to concur in most of the propositions which we last year made. Mr. Hampden is a friend to the religious instruction of the slave—provided this country will pay the expense of it. He recommends the abolition of Sunday markets, and the removal of fines on manumission. He goes further even than we go, on the subject of negro evidence. His local knowledge, and practical experience, enable him to say that that evidence might be admitted without danger or detriment. Then he comes to the question of flogging females. There he loses his temper. He contends, that this proposition shews lord Bathurst to be a bitter enemy of the colonies. After proceeding in this strain, at a considerable length, he relaxes into better humour, and indulges in some very pleasant jokes on the subject of cart-whipping naked females. He says, that that practice may shock our notions of gallantry, but that the black ladies have rather a tendency to an Amazonian cast of character, and that their husbands would be extremely sorry if they were put beyond the reach of the cart-whip. When I read tin's sportive passage, my mind naturally reverted to the authentic records, which have been printed by the order of the House; and there I find damning proof of the terrible excess to which this practice has been carried.
1118 It is painful to me to state, and will doubtless be as painful to the House to hear, these sad details. I shall confine myself only to those which have occurred within the last seven or eight years.
The first case I shall refer to is the case of Mr. Edward Huggins—not the celebrated case of Mr. Huggins, who, himself a magistrate, in the presence of other magistrates, and in the public market-place of Nevis, in the year 1810, inflicted on one negro 115 lashes; on another 65; on another 47; on another 165; on another 242; on another 212; on another 181; on another 59; on another 187; on a negro woman 110; on another woman 58; on another woman 97; on another woman 212; on another woman 291; on another woman 83; on another woman 49; on another woman 89; on another woman 89; and on another woman 56—for which treatment the following whimsical reason was assigned by his son—"he conceived that moderate measures, steadily pursued, were most likely to produce obedience." But, the case to which I refer, is of a more recent date. It occurred in the year 1817, and is to be found in the papers printed by order of this House on the 13th of April, 1818.
It appears, by those papers, that an offence had been committed, for which Mr. Huggins inflicted punishment upon two male negroes. "Richard," says the witness, "was laid down and flogged with a cart-whip. I reckoned ninety lashes while I was there. I then left the place, and went up stairs. During that time the flogging continued; and, after I had gone up the stairs, which are a considerable flight of steps, and gone to a window, three lashes more were given. To the best of my knowledge, he received altogether a hundred lashes. David was then laid down and flogged. During the punishment of David, I was up stairs. He received eighty lashes with a cart-whip, from the same driver. William Nolan, the thief, was then laid down, and received from twenty-five to thirty lashes. He had been flogged the preceding day by me, and had received about the same number of lashes. Mr. Huggins then called out, 'bring out the ladies that are crying,!' 'He then pointed out a woman named This be. She was laid down, and had twenty-two or twenty-three lashes. Mr. Huggins then said, 'there were some more;' and the driver pointed to another woman named Cressy. She was laid down 1119 and received about twenty lashes. After which, Mr. Huggins said, 'cry now!' This be said, "I did not cry, sir'! During the punishment of the negroes, he observed the driver relax in his exertions, when Mr. Huggins said 'you damned rascal, did not I order you to flog him?" The witness further states, that this threat was once or twice repeated by Mr. Huggins—that the driver appeared alarmed, and at one time put his hand to his hat and said, "do, sir; do, Mr. Huggins; that's enough!"
Here, then, Sir, is a female publicly flogged. What was her grave offence? The witness says, "I believe Thisbe did beg Mr. Huggins to forgive Richard. She was sitting down with her apron over her face: her crying was natural." Natural, indeed! for the two men flogged were her brothers and the negro who used the instrument of punishment, was the father of the victims!
Mr. Huggins declares, that he was ignorant of this relationship. But, to what must that ignorance be ascribed? To this: that he inflicted punishment without inquiry, under the impulse of his passions.
The next case is that of the negress "America." "She was" says the Reverend Mr. Wray, "a soft, inoffensive, good-working creature. Her crime was this. She had a little girl in the manager's house, who was formerly in our school. The manager's wife had put the churn at the creek's side. Somehow or other it got away, and was probably carried down by the tide. The child was blamed for letting it go, and the mistress had her severely punished with a tough bush rope. America came to the house when she heard of it—not to find fault with the woman, but to reprove her child, and to talk to her. The manager's wife got angry with her for coming to the house and talking there, and probably considering it interfering with her authority, drove her away. Whether America answered again or not, I do not know. The manager was from home two or three weeks taking his pleasure, as he had been a short time before, and of course the management of the estate was left with this coloured woman and the overseer, who was well known to be one of the most drunken men in the colony. When the manager came home, he directed her to be tied down. Jos, one of the witnesses, was present while America was brought up for punishment. She wished to speak to the mana- 1120 ger, but he refused to hear her until he had flogged her.
Q. "Did he see that America was with child at the time?
A. "I, as well as the other negroes and the manager knew, that she was with child.
Q. "How was the manager occupied, during the punishment?
A. "He was smoking. As soon as the punishment was begun, he ordered the boy to bring fire to light his pipe.
Q. "What number of lashes did the woman receive?
A. "I counted a hundred and seventy: first, ninety-five, when the manager asked America why she was saucy to his wife. She replied, 'I was not so: I was only angry with my child'. He then gave her seventy-five lashes more."
The witness concludes with saying, "the woman, after receiving her punishment, was very weak, and was assisted to the sick house by two of the drivers; where she miscarried."
The Reverend Mr. Wray says: "I saw out of my window poor America come limping, from her wounds, up to my house. I wish I could describe her looks and gestures, when she approached us. She had been released from the stocks three days. We examined the wounds she had received on her buttocks; her posteriors had been but one wound. We looked with amazement and pity upon the long furrows which the whip had made, and which were now scaled over, but from which, by the use of a pin, matter would have dropped. The sight was dreadful. I am persuaded no farmer would have permitted a servant to have cut up an indifferent horse, as this pregnant woman was cut up: every stroke had cut deep, and fetched blood. The tyrant (for I can call him nothing else) stands over the drivers with a stick in his hand to flog them, if they do not lay on severely. Only conceive for a moment, two strong men, with heavy cart-whips corded, flogging a poor unfortunate, pregnant woman, laid flat on her belly stretched on the ground naked, with her hands and feet tied to stakes, receiving upwards of one hundred-and-fifty lashes, with one driver on one side, and the other on the other! After which she was taken, and both her feet made fast in the stocks, for a fortnight or more, lying with her wounds upon a flat form of hard wood, in a state of pregnancy, and none of her friends permitted to give her 1121 any thing to eat! It seems she hardly knew what she was flogged for.
"Overeen, the manager, being asked, if he had exceeded thirty-nine. lashes? laughingly replied, "I gave a Dutch thirty nine."
In his defence, it was not disputed, that the woman America had been punished, at the time and in the manner stated; but it was contended, and attempted to be proved, that she had been punished according to the letter of the law. Two European overseers were called: one of whom prevaricated in the most gross manner, and was, in consequence, committed to the custody of the marshal for contempt, and prosecuted for perjury; and the other did not depose to any single point in favour of the prisoner, and also swerved from truth.
Overeen states, that she was sent to the sick-house, where she remained eleven or twelve days, as a punishment, conceiving that the punishment she had already received was inadequate for the impertinent language she had made use of.
Nothing is wanted to make this case complete, but the Sentence of the Court: "Whereas" says the Fiscal, "a crime of the nature of that of which the prisoner stands charged, is not to be tolerated in a land where justice prevails, but requires to be exemplarily punished, so as to deter others from the commission of the like offences, the Court condemn the said Jacob Overeen to be confined in the common gaol of the colony, for the space of three calendar months, and to pay a fine of three hundred guilders" (about six-and twenty pounds sterling), "together with costs."
The next case I shall cite is one which, on a former occasion, I stated to this House. It is the case of Michael Carty, in 1816. I shall only state a passage from the governor's despatch:
"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 arm, 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, 1122 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."
The House shall now hear Carty's 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."
The next is the case of Mr. Bowen, a magistrate of Honduras, in the year 1821. The Governor says, "In order that I might be under no error from misrepresentation, I attended the trial, and the following circumstances were most clearly and most distinctly proved; indeed, not denied: that on the bare suspicion of having made away with some handkerchiefs committed to her care to dispose of, a poor female slave was tied up, by order of her owner, and severely flogged, and then hand-cuffed and shackled, placed in an old store, infested with vermin and noisome flies of this country: after being in this situation for five days and nights, Serjeant Rush, a military pensioner, interceded with Mr. Bowen for her release, and having pledged himself, if the handkerchiefs were not found, to pay the exorbitant sum demanded, the poor creature was liberated on Sunday, about mid-day; on the following morning, she left her owner's house, to make, her complaint, and seek redress. For this, and no other grounds whatever, she was again seized upon, tied upon her belly to the ground, her arms and legs being stretched out, and secured to four stakes with sharp cords; and in this shocking attitude, in the sun, exposed before the men in a perfect state of nature, 1123 she was again severely flogged, in presence of her inhuman master and his brother, upon her back and posteriors, and then sent back to the place of torment, and there again confined in hand-cuffs and chains, subsisted on the wretched pittance of twenty plantains and two mackerel per week, for above fourteen days. Occasionally, indeed, it appeared, the miserable being was led out by day, and chained to a tree in the yard, and there compelled to work. This, my lord, was an offence for which the magistrates could find no law on which to charge the jury, nor the jury any on which to find the prisoner guilty."
I only add one single question, which happened to be put by a juror—
Q. "Do you conceive that a person confined in the store for two or three days would be materially injured?
A. "I conceive not, from the situation of the place itself; but I remember, about the time before-mentioned, to have seen some snakes come out of it."
Sportive allusions to feelings of gallantry—black ladies of an Amazonian cast of character—and grumbling husbands, because their wives were no longer publicly cart-whipped, may be excellent jokes; but they are very poor reasons for continuing to any man, to the most humane planter in this House—still less to his deputy at the distance of five thousand miles, a Jamaica attorney—still less to his deputy, a plantation overseer—and, least of all, to his deputy the driver, himself a negro, a slave, his nature depraved, defiled, and brutalized—the power of lashing girls, mothers, and aged females.
I come now to the opinion of Mr. Hampden, that the negroes would repine, if their wives were exempt from the cart-whip. I care not whether that opinion be corrector incorrect. If incorrect, it proves how exposed we are to be misled by erroneous information, coming from West-Indians, even when those gentlemen are respectable, and intend nothing like deception. If correct, it proves my whole case. It shews the utter vileness which slavery is sure to produce. I have always detested slavery: somewhat, indeed, for the physical sufferings it occasions; but, ten thousand times more, for the moral degradation which it never fails to impose. And, with what an illustration of this are we furnished by Mr. Hampden! How sunk must be that man—how must slavery have wrung from his mind all the quali- 1124 ties of manhood, who should repine—Why?—because his wife, or his daughter, are no longer to be stripped naked before a gang of males, and torn by a cart-whip!
I hate the practice; for many and very distinct reasons. For its operation on the mind of the master—It is unmanly, and brutal, and disgusting. For its operation on the person of the slave—it is cruel. For its operation on the mind of the slave—it frustrates the first step towards all advancement in the female character—it is a bar to modesty, to chastity, and to virtue.
But, I am dwelling too long on this point. Before I leave it, however, permit me to put one proposition. We have been represented as a band of enthusiasts. This kingdom, from one end to the other, has rung with loud complaints of our violence and extravagance. We have borne this patiently abroad: but here we may expect justice. Judge us fairly, point by point; particular by particular.
The first point that comes before you is the practice of flogging females. Have we offended—have we outrun public feeling—in declaring that that practice ought to be abolished? But, the fact is, you have not to judge between us and the West-Indians, but between his majesty's government and the West-Indians. The right honourable gentleman is as much an enthusiast about cart-whipping women as I am.
The second point to which I come is the cart-whip as a stimulus to labour. It is to be so no longer in Trinidad. It may continue to be so in other parts of the West Indies. We have been told, about a thousand times, that the cart-whip is not used in the West Indies now. The driver, indeed, carries it over his shoulder as an emblem of authority, but nothing more. "What! whip a negro with it? Do you really think we do such things? How consummately ignorant you must be of West-India matters!" And this, not by disreputable persons, but by gentlemen in this House of the highest respectability. The honourable gentleman opposite (Mr. Ellis) in the debate in May last, made use of the following words:
"With regard to 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 1125 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."
Next, a pamphlet came out, from the pen also of a respectable gentleman, in which he introduces this apt comparison, which will be quite intelligible to the gentlemen of this House: "The whip is to the driver what the mace is to the sergeant at arms, and it would be just as reasonable to assert, that the sergeant carries the mace for the purpose of knocking down members as they enter the lobby, as to maintain, that the driver carries the whip for the purpose of flogging of the negroes at their work."
Now, Sir, in reading this strong denial, I confess I was somewhat staggered. I began to think I had been most grossly imposed upon: when I happened to take up a file of West-India newspapers, and the first thing which meets my eye is an advertisement of this kind—
"RUNAWAYS—Allick, a Creole, marked G. F. H. on right breast, G. C. P. on top, on shoulders, with flogging marks thereon, and a scar on right collar.
"Pitt, a Congo, marked apparently I. W., diamond between, on left shoulder; the mark on the right is much blotched, but seems to be the same as that on the left: marks of severe flogging on his back and right side, and has a large scar on his stomach.
"John, a Creole, marked C. L. on left cheek; has marks of severe flogging on his back.
"Robert, a Creole, marked on right breast G. F. H. and on both shoulders, G. C. F. on top, and marks of flogging on his back.
"Sam, a young Creole negroman, marked I. M. on shoulders, and T D. apparently below, on left shoulder. Has marks of flogging on his back.
"Polly, a young Creole negro woman, marked apparently on shoulders, but so much blotched, that it cannot be made out: marks of flogging on her back; lost two of her upper front teeth.
"James, alias James Robinson, an Eboe; marks of a severe flogging on his back.
"Billy, a Creole negro man, marked apparently A. H. and D. I. C. below, on the left shoulder: the mark on the right shoul- 1126 der cannot be made out, and marked A. H. on the breasts, with marks of flogging oil his back.
"Nanny, a young Creole negro woman, marked apparently on shoulders, but blotched, from flogging, so that the letters cannot be made out, and has lost two of her upper front teeth.
"Harriet, a Creole negro girl, has scars on her back and stomach from flogging."
I find the papers filled with advertisements of a similar kind—hundreds and thousands of such cases. Now, what do they mean? I thought the whip was only an emblem of authority—a badge of office—as innocent a piece of ceremony as the mace on the table. But, what is the meaning of these? Here is something more than ceremony. The cart-whip has been in active service here. What mean the furrowed, excoriated backs of these negroes? They betray a secret. You may, if you please, disbelieve the evidence of a negro, when it comes from his mouth; but his back thus torn, scarred, and indelibly ridged, is good evidence in any court on earth. They are proofs of flogging: It may be said, that that flogging was for crimes committed, and not in the operations of the field. Some may be so; but I cannot believe, when such multitudes" are marked with the cart-whip, that all of them received those marks for public offences. If they did, this is another charge against slavery. It proves its tendency to multiply offenders, and criminals.
Now I am on the subject of advertisements, there is another very curious piece of information which these newspapers contain. I mean, that negroes are branded. This has been most stoutly denied. Positively I did not believe it, till these newspapers fell into my hands—
"RUNAWAYS—Betsey, a Creole marked I. O. on right shoulder, and apparently SON, with several other letters not plain on her breasts.
"Sanno, a Creole, marked apparently LOFEAT, on top on right breast, and apparently A. C, diamond between, on right shoulder.
"Peter, of the Mungola country, has a lump on each shoulder, having been marked with a cow iron.
"Sarah, an Eboe, marked I. D. with another letter not plain, on left shoulder, has a star on her neck, and two of her lower front teeth out: says she was abandoned by her owner, and sent into the bushes to die.
1127 "John, a Creole, marked I. B. heart on top, on left shoulder and cheeks.
"George, a papa, marked apparently R. S. and D. M. on two parts of each shoulder, and some marks on his breast, not plain.
"Lewis, a Mungola, marked MALA BRE apparently on left breast, has a long scar on his forehead, and the nail of his right great toe is lost.
"Letitia; a young Creole negro, marked H. I. on cheeks, and has lost two of her upper front teeth.
"Mary, a young Creole negrowoman, marked apparently I. H. on top, and D. I. H. below, on the right, and H. on top and D. S. below, on the left shoulder.
"Smart, a Creole negro man, marked apparently W.M.C. on left, and H. B. on right shoulder, has a sore on the small of the right leg, and had a riveted iron collar on.
"Richard, a Coromantee, marked apparently I. R. H. on left, and REID on shoulders.
"Anthony, an Eboe, marked ASIA on two parts of the right and on one part of the left shoulder, and has apparently the same marks on his breasts and cheeks.
"Peter, a Moco, marked A. C. S. Seronsville, on breasts."
What am I to think of these? Is it not incredible, that a human being should stamp the letters of his name across the breasts of a female? But, on the other hand, is it not equally incredible, that the editor of the Jamaica Gazette should have inserted, and been suffered to insert, such tales, pregnant as they are with reflection, without contradiction or punishment?
But now I revert to the cart-whip. Hitherto we have always heard of it as a mere relic of more barbarous times—a kind of official badge, in which the driver is arrayed, as the emblem of his dignity and the warrant of his office. But when we talk of putting it down, then we find the importance which is attached to it. Clamour spreads through the West Indies—it is vital to their safety—vital to their property: no whip, no sugar! no whip, no discipline! We are told, in the public resolutions of Trinidad, that "to deprive the master of the power of inflicting punishment on any slave, whether male or female, would, in the opinion of this meeting, subject the discipline of every estate in the colony, without answering one single beneficial end."
1128 Here then, is our second Offence. Doubtless we are guilty of viewing this mode of extracting labour with no great reverence. His majesty's government, however, are as bad as we are: for they propose to abolish it in Trinidad. The people of England are as bad as we are. I am ready to stand or fall by their opinion, whether this is a suitable mode of obtaining the labour of our fellow-men.
The next point in the speech of the right honourable gentleman is the diffusion of religious instruction. In the propriety of that diffusion, I entirely concur. But, did I understand the right honourable gentleman right—that the Missionaries in the West Indies are to be placed under the influence, and subjected to the authority, of the bishop? Why, then, these dissenters are no dissenters at all, if they are thus ready to conform to the doctrines, and yield obedience to the discipline, of the church of England. There is, however, such a thing as dissent; and, according to this plan, that dissent must be subdued by force, or by persuasion. Now, I understand there is to be no force—no persecution. Gentle methods, we are told, are to be used. Then, the Order in Council is to put an end to all religious differences, arrange all disputes, and bring to a speedy adjustment and amicable reconciliation, all those controversies which have raged for centuries, and filled so many hundreds of folio volumes. The order in council will do a great deal indeed, if it does this!
I come next to the possession of property, to be secured to the negro: It is practically secured already; and it seems, that the planter has no objection to give the sanction of law to that which has already the authority of custom. In this we agree: And, are we to be condemned, for having proposed that, to which every man at once accedes?
The same, I understand, is the general feeling with regard to fines on manumissions. On a sanction to be given to the marriage of slaves—on the permission to the negro to redeem himself by the payment of a certain stipulated price—in all these cases, then, we have only proposed to do what the planter admits ought to be done.
Negro evidence is the next point. I need hardly tell the House, that the refusal to receive Negro evidence, is the refusal of all the protection of law. It 1129 shelters almost every atrocity, not only from punishment, but from inquiry. The negro population amounts to seven hundred thousand—the whites to fifty thousand. So that, if the latter were equally scattered over the surface of the colonies, there would be, for one white who can give evidence, fourteen blacks who cannot. But, it so happens, that the whites are almost all settled in the towns, and the great body of the slaves are in the country. To a gang of two or three hundred slaves, there are not more, I understand, in general, than two or three white men, with their families. Supposing in an estate, there are two hundred blacks and two whites: one of these whites, in the face of open day, commits a murder—it is then precisely two hundred to one, that there will be no evidence against him. But, if he exercise any reserve—if he attempt to conceal his guilty deed—and whoever wished for publicity, when lie committed a murder?—if he select his opportunity, it is very close upon an impossibility, that he should ever be called to account for his misdeed.
Take the celebrated case of Thurtell. His guilt was proved by a chain of evidence. If one link had been wanting, the man would have been acquitted. A link was wanting: and it was supplied by the evidence of Probert. You saved the life of the accessary in murder, in order to supply the link wanting to prove the guilt of the principal. But is it possible to establish a chain of evidence in the West Indies, while the bulk of the people are disqualified from giving evidence? I know that there are laws to punish the murder of a slave, or cruelty towards him. But first the crime must be proved. Proved it cannot be. The letter of the law may be as humane as you please: it may honestly intend to curb crime, and punish the criminal. But, its intentions must be, and are, defeated, by the disqualification of the witnesses. Hence, Mr. Burke said, on perusing the ameliorating acts of 1792, "I have seen what the colonial legislatures have done; it is arrant trifling: it wants an executory principle."
The House should know, that this is not merely the opinion of Mr. Burke; but that it is a fact confessed by all the chief persons who have advocated the cause of the West Indians. "The only difficulty," say both Houses of the legislature of Grenada, in answer to the inquiry of the privy council, "which has been found in put- 1130 ting an efficient stop to such instances" (cases of gross and wanton cruelty towards slaves) "is, that of bringing home the proof of the fact against the delinquent, by satisfactory evidence; those who are capable of the guilt being, in general, artful enough to prevent any but slaves being witnesses of the fact. As the matter stands, though we hope the instances in this Island are at this day not frequent, yet it must be admitted with regret, that the persons prosecuted, and who certainly were guilty, have escaped, for want of legal proof."
"The only instances," says Mr. Ottley, the chief justice of St. Vincent, "in which their persons appear to be protected by the letter of the law, are in cases of murder, dismemberment, and mutilation: and, in these cases, as the evidence of slaves is never admitted against white men, the difficulty of legally establishing the facts is so great, that white men are in a manner put beyond the reach of the law."
Mr. Wylly, the attorney-general of the Bahamas, in his evidences before the assembly of that colony says, "In the Examinant's opinion, the consolidated slave-act is little better than waste paper, owing to its not containing within itself the means of carrying its provisions into effect."
Sir William Young says, "Instances of bad treatment and cruelty, and of unjust and immoderate punishments of slaves, I am sorry to say, have frequently been reported to me, with circumstances of atrocity to be believed, though (for the reason I shall give) not to be proved, against lower white or coloured people, domineering over from two to ten or more wretched beings, their slaves. In such cases, what protection by law have the slaves against the abuse of power over them by the Europeans, or other free people? I think the slaves have, by law, no protection: In this, and I doubt not in every other island, there are laws for the protection of slaves, and good ones; but circumstances in the administration of whatever law render it a dead letter. When the intervention of the law is most required, it will have the least effect; as in cases where a vindictive and cruel master has dared to commit the most atrocious cruelties, even to murder his slave, no free person being present to witness the act. There appears to me a radical defect in the administration of justice throughout 1131 the West Indies, in whatever case the wrongs done to a slave are under consideration, or rather that justice cannot, in truth, be administered, controuled as it is by a law of evidence, which covers the most guilty European with impunity, provided that, when having a criminal intent, he is cautious not to commit the crime in the presence of a free witness."
I could quote the testimony of Bryen Edwards, and others; but I need not trouble the House further. It is clear to reason, that there can be no legal protection, as it is clear by the testimony I have cited, that there is no legal protection, for the negro.
Now, the motive for the rejection of negro testimony. It is alleged, that a negro has no regard to truth, and no sense of the nature of an oath. Is this a real reason? If so, the colonial legislatures have acted in the most inconsistent manner; for the same act which declared that a negro should not be received as evidence against a white man, permitted him to be received as evidence against a black. Disregard of truth, and insensibility to the nature and obligations of an oath, are doubtless reasons for the rejection of his evidence against one man; but they are equally so against all men: and, it seems strange, that the testimony of a negro is not to be taken, when it affects a shilling of a white man's property, and is to be taken, when it affects a black-man's life.
But now, I ask, is it a fact, that then negro is thus regardless of truth? I care not, so far as my argument goes, whether this assertion be true or false. If false, how monstrous is it, to debar seven hundred thousand British subjects of the protection of law, on the ground of that false assertion! Grant that it is indeed true—that the population of the West Indies is thus dark, ignorant, false! How this divulges the nature of slavery! We have bred and reared the negro: we have measured out to him, with merciful liberality, all that may conduce to his happiness—all that may advance his welfare. He is the envy of the British peasant. He is happier than the happiest of our peasantry. And the only deduction is, that he is too dark, too brutal, too false, as yet, to be admitted to rank in a court of justice with the accomplices of the murderer—with the Hunts and the Proberts of England! One of two things—admit their evidence, or admit the baneful influence of slavery on the human mind— 1132 admit their evidence, or set about the extirpation of a system, which makes the whole people who live under it, incorrigible liars—admit their evidence, or laugh at the encomiums which are passed on slavery!
The right hon. gentleman has told us what man ought to be:Cœlum tueri,Et erectos ad sidera tollere vultus.But, what is he when a slave?—a being amerced of the os sublime which nature had given him—prohibited from raising his countenance to heaven—Cœlum tueri,Et erectos ad sidera tollere vultus."—compelled to imitate the humble and downcast look of the brute creation—shut out of the pale of humanity. Another poet, and a christian, has said of slavery,——it hurts his faculties; impedesHis progress in the road of Science, blindsThe eye-sight of discovery; and begetsIn those that suffer it a sordid mind,Bestial; a meagre intellect, unfitTo be the tenant of man's noble form.Here again, I stand on a rock. I said, "receive the evidence of a negro under certain limitations." If any gentleman says, "yes, it ought to be done," he justifies me for having proposed to do it. If he says, "no, the negro is too great a brute to be listened to in a court of justice," is he a better friend to the continuance of slavery than I am?
I now come to the venditioni exponas—that part of the system, which separates and bursts asunder all the ties of blood and affection. It tears the parent from the children—the husband from the wife. Gentlemen may attempt to find out a defence for every other part of the system; but they must admit, that there is something shocking and terrible, unnatural and detestable, in this, beyond the powers of conception. I know not that the slave trade itself had a worse feature than'this—that a man might be torn from home, associates, friends, children, wife, parent! And that may be done still in the West Indies. The master may sell him—the creditor may sell him. The master dying, his property may be divided between two or more of his heirs; the one taking him, the other his children.
The recent trials at Demerara have furnished me with an instance exactly it point, on this part of the subject. On one of the disturbed estates in Demerana, Clonbrock, I think, was its name, there was a respectable negro named Billy. This 1133 man had lived with a woman as his wife, for nineteen years, and had by her thirteen living children. His master died. His property was divided between his sons. One had the husband; the other the wife and her children. The husband was removed—he was debarred from ever seeing his wife and children; though the estates were contiguous. The gang of negroes to which he had been removed, was ordered for sale, on the 26th of August. No one could guess who would have been his purchaser: he might have been sent fifty miles to the east or fifty miles to the west, or fifty miles inland. The rebellion broke out on the 18th. He was—and is it to be wondered at?—one of the insurgents, and was, when the last accounts left Demerara, hanging in George Town!
Is it not wonderful, that such a system as that which I have now delineated should ever have existed among a Christian people? And, is it not impossible, that it should continue any length of time? I know that in this House, at present, any alteration will be resisted by overwhelming majorities; but I also know, that in the country, there will be an irresistible hostility to its continuance. I am persuaded, that the people of England, with that gallant and generous spirit which always leads them to take the part of the desolate and the oppressed, will not allow the pledge given last session, for the amelioration of the condition of the slaves in all the colonies, to be frittered down to a mere partial amelioration of their condition in those colonies which are under the immediate control of the Crown. The people of England—if I have any knowledge of their character—will see that something effective is done, in fulfilment of a pledge, so publicly and so sacredly given They will not ask for immediate emancipation. We have never contended for that: for we know, that immediate emancipation would be ruinous, not only Jo the master, but to the slave: But they will insist on such steps being taken, as shall, at some period, and that not a very remote one, lead to the extinction of slavery.
What I have said, I have said from a sense of public duty. I have no hostility to the planters. I solemnly declare that it would give me pleasure beyond any other event on earth, if some plan could be devised which, granting the promised boon to the negro, would so grant it as to injure no man's property, and wound no man's feelings. Compensation to the 1134 planter, emancipation to the children of the negro—these are my desires—this is the consummation—the just and glorious consummation—on which my hopes are planted; and to which, so long as I live, my most strenuous efforts shall be directed.
§ Mr. C. Ellis,
rose, and said:—
There are some parts of the speech of the hon. gentleman who has just sat down which, as the House Must have felt, call upon me for an answer, however reluctant I may be to trespass upon their indulgence. There is nothing in any of the events which have passed since the last discussion of this question, which at all induces me to retract any of the opinions which I then expressed in favour of any of the measures which have been submitted to the colonies for their consideration. Perhaps I might not have adhered thus; confidently to those opinions, had they rested on no better authority than, my own judgment; but they were formed in conjunction and concert with a very large number of West-India proprietors, among whom were several practical men, who have had valuable properties and large numbers of negroes under their management; persons possessing an intimate knowledge of the habits and dispositions of the inhabitants of those countries, founded upon experience and local observation; in a word, persons qualified in every respect to form a correct and prudent judgment upon such questions. These gentlemen unanimously concurred in their approbation of certain measures for the improvement of the moral and physical condition of the negroes; they communicated their opinions to the government, and they followed them up by recommending, in the strongest terms, the adoption of those measures in the colonies. That approbation I am not now disposed in any measure to retract; nor am I more disposed to retract any other opinions which I expressed on the same occasion in this House.
The hon. gentleman who has just sat down, has done me the honour to refer to what I then said in respect to the use of the whip in the field. I fully admit, that I then said that the whip was used as a symbol of office; but I must beg leave to affirm, that I never said it was used as an ornament. The hon. gentleman, as it would seem, thinks to convict me of inaccuracy on this point, by referring to 1135 the advertisements in the colonial newspapers, in which the marks of the whip are mentioned, among other peculiarities, for the identification of runaway slaves; my answer is simply this:—(So obvious indeed, is it, that I think the House must have already anticipated it, although it has not occurred to the hon. gentleman himself)—it is, that I said, the whip was not used as a stimulus to labour, but did not say, it was not used as an instrument of punishment. I am not aware by what process of reasoning the hon. gentleman has come to the conclusion, that those marks on which he rests with such apparent triumph as a proof of my inaccuracy, were not inflicted strictly according to law and justice, by the order of the owner of the plantation, or of the overseer, or of a magistrate, and merited by the 6lave as a punishment for misconduct. Indeed, I have no doubt but that, even after the new order of council shall have been carried into full effect in the Island of Trinidad, the hon. gentleman may again come down to the House, and again refer to advertisements noticing the marks of the whip on the persons of offending slaves.
With regard to those other marks to which he refers, with which the slaves are branded, I must observe, that this was one of the barbarous practices belonging to the slave trade: these marks were at that time branded upon newly-imported slaves for the purpose of identifying them. Since the abolition of the slave trade, this practice has been discontinued; and I believe no such marks are at present to be found on Creole negroes [Mr. Buxton here intimated, across the table, that his information led him to believe that almost every negro had one or more of those marks]
Sir, I can only repeat my belief, that the practice of branding Creole negroes has been discontinued.*
§ *Extract from a letter contained in Appendix B to the "Correspondence between John Gladstone, Esq., M. P., and James Cropper, Esq."
§ "If any proprietor were wantonly to brand his slave, and that slave should complain of the act to a magistrate, an investigation would follow, and such branding would be considered as bringing the master within the terms "wantonly maltreating" in the 25th section of the consolidated slave law, and subject him1136
§ Having stated unequivocally as I have done, my own unaltered opinion with respect to the measures which have been recommended for the adoption of the colonies, I must beg to be as distinctly understood, that those opinions were given on my part, as well as on that of all those gentlemen who, as I have stated, concurred in them, subject to modifications, both as to the time and the detail of carrying them into execution; and specially, that they depended on the assumption of the existence of feelings, on the part of the white and the black inhabitants towards each other, of content and attachment to their masters on the part of the negroes; of confidence in the fidelity of the negroes on the part of the masters, which we knew at that time to exist—which we trusted would continue; but which have since unfortunately been (I hope I may say only) interrupted. When I was myself in Jamaica, I resided amidst a population of a thousand negroes, in a house in which neither door nor window was shut by night or day. I do not feel sure that I could venture to do the same at this moment. As to the causes which have produced this change, I do not know that it will answer any good purpose to say more, than that it is most unfortunate, and for no reason more so, than on account of the impediments which it interposes to the improvement of the condition of the negroes.
§ The hon. gentleman, in his observations on the subject of their condition, has done me the honour to pay me some compliments at the expense of my countrymen. [Mr. Buxton said, "No."] Sir, lam glad to hear the hon. gentleman's disclaimer. I could not have accepted the compliment, had it been offered in the terms which I supposed. But, as the hon. gentleman has been pleased to admit in other planters the same disposition which he has kindly attributed to myself, he has
§ to an indictment in the supreme court of judicature, or any assize court of the island; and upon conviction, to fine or imprisonment, or both. In proof that these laws are carried into execution, we refer the reader to the following cases.
§ "In the year 1818, an individual of the name of Boyden, had branded a female slave on the shoulders and breast. She applied to a justice of the peace, who instantly removed her from the further control of the master, and called a meeting1137
§ rendered it unnecessary for me to enter into a general defence of their conduct; I will, therefore, only repeat, that the change which has taken place in the feelings of the negroes towards their masters, is peculiarly unfortunate, as an impediment to any immediate amelioration of their condition. Whilst the negroes are expecting that every packet will bring them out the "Paper," as they term it, which is to make them free; while they believe, that the parliament wishes to confer upon them their freedom, but that their masters withhold it from them, is it possible that their feelings towards their masters should be such as are compatible with contentment, or even with due subordination? On the other hand, while their masters are impressed with the belief, that the negroes are only watching the opportunity of seizing their freedom by violence; whilst they have impressed upon their minds all the horrors attendant upon such attempt; it cannot be expected, that their feelings towards their negroes should be such as to induce them to concede privileges or to relax discipline. In a word, can the feelings of either party towards the other be such as to be compatible with that improvement in the condition of the negroes, and in the whole system of society in those Countries, which it is the wish of this
§ of the justices and vestry of the parish in which the parties resided, who by virtue of an authority given to them by law, caused a prosecution to be instituted against the master, at the expense of the parish. The woman was brought into court, and the marks exhibited to the jury, who, without hesitation, found the defendant guilty. He was sentenced by the court to six months' imprisonment in the common gaol, and was deprived of all property in the slave. She was declared free by the court, and to be for ever discharged from servitude, agreeably to the powers given to the judges by the Slave-act of 1816.
§ "Another case, occurred on the 14th August, 1823, on which day Judge Scarlett, passed sentence upon John Baptiste Cadore for branding a slave, viz., to pay a fine of one hundred pounds, out of which sum ten pounds per annum were adjudged for maintenance of the party injured, who was declared free from that day. This prosecution was instituted by the magistrates of Kingston, Jamaica."1138
§ House to bring about? It is essential, in the first place, for the feelings excited in the breasts of both parties to subside. It is necessary to allay the exaggerated expectations of the one, and to abate the well-founded fears of the other. With this view the proclamation which it is understood is to be sent out by the next packet, is a prudent and judicious measure, and will, it is to be hoped, produce salutary effect.
§ But far more important, with a view to ulterior and permanent good—indeed as the only sure foundation for whatever further benefits it may be intended to bestow on the negroes—is the plan which has been announced to the House, and explained by my right hon. friend, for the improvement of their moral condition, by the means of religious instruction. I sincerely rejoice that the government have at length determined to increase and reform the church establishment in the colonies. It has hither to been miserably inadequate. The patronage has not been placed in the proper hands, and the selection has not been always judiciously exercised. The extent of the parishes, which are equal in size to English counties, has rendered the general instruction of their parishioners a work beyond the physical powers of the parochial clergy, and the distance of many of the plantations from the parish church has made the attendance at divine service impossible to a great majority of the inhabitants. Hence has arisen an habitual inattention to the performance of religious duties, and an impression has been created, that the clergy of the church of England are unfit for the duties and exertions required of them in those countries. Such an impression is, as I believe, most unjust. Certainly it is not founded on experience, for the experiment has not hitherto been fairly tried.
§ I know, from means of information which have lately been opened to me, and I feel it a duty of justice to state it, that the missionaries of the established church, who have been sent out by the society for the conversion and education of the negro slaves in our colonies, though less numerous, on account of the limited means of that society, have individually been not less successful than the missionaries sent out by any of the sectarian societies. That latterly, since those means have been increased, there has been no difficulty in increasing their number; and 1139 that numerous applications are now daily made to the venerable prelate who presides over that society, so much to the advantage of the objects of that charity, by persons well qualified and respectably recommended, to fill the situations of missionaries and catechists, even at the scanty salaries, which the limited funds of the society allow. There can, therefore, be no doubt of clergymen being to be found In sufficient numbers, both willing and competent to fulfil the duties which will be required of them; and it is with a confident expectation of the most satisfactory results, that I contemplate the measure which my right honorable friend has announced.
§ With a view to the accomplishment of the other object, that of tranquillizing the minds of the white inhabitants, much good is to be expected from the prudent and judicious course pointed out by my right honourable friend, as that which it is the intention of the government to pursue, as veil as from the liberal, yet temperate principles which are contained in his speech. When the colonial legislatures find that the government and parliament of Great Britain do not intend to employ for the enforcement of those measures to which they look, as it is expressed in the resolutions of this House, for "that progressive improvement in the character of the slave population, which may prepare them for a participation in those civil rights and privileges which are enjoyed by other classes of his majesty's subjects"—when they find that they do not intend to employ, for the enforcement of those measures, the ultima ratio of governments, but are contented to rely upon the influence of example, and the argument ad verecundiam, there will remain no longer any ground of jealousy as to any interference with their legislative privileges. When they further learn that, for the accomplishment of their ultimate object the government and parliament do not look to legislative enactment, but to the natural operation of such an improvement in the state of society in those countries as shall render the slave fit to receive his liberty before he can obtain it; in a word, that they look not to the "enfranchisement of the slave, but to the extinction of slavery;" they will see, that there exists no intention to invade their property in their slaves. And lastly, when they further find, that the government and parliament do not intend to call 1140 upon them to adopt any measures of doubtful prudence, until they shall have had the opportunity of seeing the practical proofs of their good effects in full operation in some other colonies, they cannot entertain any dread of an intention to put to hazard the public tranquillity—when they thus find that no measures of hostility are directed against their legislative privileges—no measures of spoliation against their property, and no measures of dangerous policy against their internal tranquillity, every existing cause of jealousy and distrust will have been removed from the minds of the colonial legislatures.
§ Having stated my approbation of the course pointed out by my right hon. friend, it is necessary for me to explain, that there are two of the measures announced by him, which are not included in the pledge which I have stated to have been given by gentlemen connected with the colonies—I mean the admissibility of slaves as witnesses, and the compulsory power proposed to be given to the slave of purchasing his freedom.
§ With regard to the first of these propositions, I have no hesitation in saying, as far as my own opinion is concerned, that I entertain no objection to that concession which would not be obviated by the modifications proposed by my right hon. friend. I consider it indeed essential, that the exercise of that privilege should be restricted by the knowledge which the slave may be proved to have of the obligation of an oath—that it might be proper to require a certificate to that effect, and also perhaps of general good character, and to except all cases in which the interest of the master might be directly implicated in the evidence of the slave-But subject to such qualifications and exceptions, I should hope that the concession might be safely made, and if safe, it would, I think, be most proper to grant it.
§ With regard to the second proposition, I confess I entertain more serious apprehensions. It is a measure, of which it is impossible at the first blush, to embrace all the various and remote effects in its bearings upon the state of society in the colonies. Numerous objections, however, present themselves to the mind at the first sight of it, as to its execution in various points of detail: first, as affecting the property of the master; next as affecting the comfort of the slave; and, lastly, as tending to counteract even the ultimate object of the measure itself.1141
§ For these objections no satisfactory solution has yet offered itself to my mind, and I cannot but think, that these objections could scarcely have failed to suggest themselves to the comprehensive mind of my right hon. friend, if the multiplicity of his other avocations could have afforded him the opportunity of considering the practical details of this measure as maturely as they deserve.
§ Indeed, I think that my right hon. friend would have done better, with a view to the more safe, and I believe the less distant, accomplishment of the very object of this measure—the extinction of slavery—if he had not departed from the principles laid down by the abolitionists themselves, and expressed by their own organ, in a Report published by the African Institution, in which, while they repel with indignation, all imputation of having in contemplation any other more abrupt means, they declare, that they look only to the extinction of slavery "by the same happy means which had put an end to it in England,"—"by the encouragement (not compulsion) of particular manumissions,"—"to an emancipation of which, not the slaves, but the masters, should be the willing instruments."
§ Having referred to the disposition and feelings of the white inhabitants of the West Indies, it would be disingenuous in me not to state, that I regret exceedingly the temper in which the suggestions of the government have been received in some of the colonies. But, after making that admission, I must beg leave to call upon the House, in judging of the conduct of the colonies, to take into their consideration, the impressions, the feelings, and the circumstances, under which they acted. It is evident that they acted under the impression, that a threat was implied in the resolutions of this House, of enforcing the measures there referred to, by means which they considered as interfering with their constitutional rights, as invading their property, and likely to disturb the internal tranquillity. Nobody can be less disposed than I am to argue that such is a correct understanding of those resolutions, on the contrary, I consider it to be an understanding not justified by the construction of the words, and practically contradicted by the course adopted by the House. And it has since received a still more satisfactory contradiction, in the speech delivered by my right hon. friend, as well as by the course now adopted by the government.1142
§ But, whatever may be the opinion of gentlemen as to the degree in which such a construction may, or may not, have been justifiable, the mere fact of the existence of such a misconception of those resolutions on the part of the colonists, would naturally lead the House to anticipate that upon its removal there would be a material change in their disposition.
§ It is to be recollected also, that the report of the debate, and the knowledge of these Resolutions, had scarcely reached the colonies, when they were followed by the breaking out of the insurrection in Demerara, and followed by it so closely, that they could scarcely fail to appear to the inhabitants, of the other colonies to be connected as cause and effect. There was nothing so peculiar in the situation of Demerara, or in the circumstances attending that insurrection, as to justify any confidence of greater security in arty other colony. All the circumstances which transpired with respect to the causes of that insurrection, and the plots which were subsequently discovered in the other colonies, tended only to justify that impression. I would ask the House then, whether it is to be expected, that persons who were living in the midst of such dangers could view them as calmly as gentlemen in this House, who contemplate them at 4000 miles distance—whether it is not natural, that, under such' circumstances, they should think their first duty self-preservation—that their first care should be, to guard against a similar calamity; and, if they should have-heard that their fears had been described by the hon. gentleman who brought forward this question last year, as "extravagant apprehensions," as "predictions always falsified by fact;" if they should have seen, in a publication referred to by that hon. gentleman himself in his speech to-night, and sent forth into the world by the Society who have associated themselves for the accomplishment of the object of which that hon. gentleman has stood forward as the champion; if they should have seen, that they are there accused of "getting up plots" for popular impression, "plots issuing in blood, not of whites, but of blacks in abundance"—is it unnatural that they should feel, and, feeling, that they should express, some resentment at imputations so foul—at so insulting a mode of treating their just apprehensions of so dreadful a calamity? And if they should have allowed their indignation to 1143 hurry away their judgment—to prevent them from discriminating accurately between the conduct and views of that party, and the views and intentions of this House and of the government—if they should have failed to distinguish accurately between the correct meaning of the resolutions adopted by the House, and those resolutions which were proposed by the hon. member for Weymouth, but negatived by the House, resolutions which, if they had been carried, would indeed have interfered with the internal regulations of the colonies, and would have been a violation of property, such as is not to be found in the history of any country, not in a state of revolution—if they should have confounded the character of the constitutional reference which was made to them, with the interference which was intended by the hon. gentleman, but negatived by the House, is such a misapprehension very unnatural or inexcusable in persons acting under the influence of feelings such as I have described? Much forbearance is, I conceive, due from the House towards persons so situated, acting under the influence of erroneous impressions, and of the passions most calculated, perhaps, of all others, to mislead the judgment—anger and fear—more forbearance (not, indeed, in substance, for in substance nothing could be more temperate, judicious, and forbearing, than the course traced out in my right hon. friend's speech) but somewhat more of forbearance in tone and manner, than my right hon. friend, indulging in the brilliancy of his talents, and the exuberance of his fancy, has been able to observe towards them.
§ If there are any gentlemen who are inclined to act harshly or resentfully towards the colonies, I would conjure them to follow the admonitions rather than the example of my right hon. friend. I would conjure them not to lose sight of what becomes the dignity of this House, as the representatives of this great country; but, to bear in mind, that the more they may be disposed to find fault with the colonial legislatures for any intemperance which they may have exhibited, the more it behoves them not to fall into a similar error—an error in them more unbecoming and less excusable. Even if they should participate in all the distrust of the colonial legislature, which has been avowed by the hon. member for Weymouth, I would conjure them to recollect, that they have no other instruments to work with than 1144 the white inhabitants of the. colonies—that they can only improve the condition, of the slave, as my right hon. friend has truly stated, through the agency of the master—that they can only ensure that agency for that purpose, through the influence of kind feelings, of confidence, and of mutual good-will—that parliament, with all its great and "transcendental powers," cannot compel the planters to feel kindly towards their negroes. Parliament may indeed compel them to fear the negroes—Parliament may break down the frame, of society which they have established in the colonies—they may occasion scenes, pf, blood and a work of desolation such as have been exhibited in St. Domingo; but, if they would labour to good—if they, would accomplish a work of real philanthropy—they have no alternative but, to adopt the course pointed out by my right, hon. friend, and to pursue it in co-operation with the colonies.
§ Mr. Wilberforce
commenced his speech by observing, that if he had come into that House for the first time, and had heard the beautiful and flowing language of his right hon. friend which had communicated so much delight to the House, he should no doubt have rejoiced, that the blessings to be derived from his right hon. friend's plan for the amelioration of the condition of so many thousands of his fellow creatures, were about to be extended to so large a portion of the human race as the population of the island of Trinidad. But that feeling was overborne by the consideration, that, after what had passed in that House during the last session, that plan was not to be carried into effect to a much greater extent. It was therefore necessary for him to consider, how far he. was opposed to his right hon. friend on the present occasion.
But, before he did so, he would remind the House, that his right hon. friend had begun his eloquent address by reading to the House the resolutions which had been unanimously passed last session upon this subject. The hon. gentleman who had just preceded him, had informed the House, that those resolutions had been quite misunderstood in the colonies. Now, he was totally at a loss to conceive how that could have been the case; seeing that those resolutions were as clear in their meaning, as distinct in their terms, and as explicit in their language, as resolutions, could possibly be; and could not have been misunderstood by any person, who 1145 did not sit down with a determination to misunderstand them. Let the House only consider the very different situation in which it now was, to what it stood in last session. His right hon. friend had then expressed a hope, that his propositions would be kindly received by the colonial legislatures, but that if they were not so received, the House must nevertheless perform that part which duty required of it. Now, without wishing to introduce any topic that could by possibility increase the irritation which already existed, he would entreat of the House to consider, what it was that his right hon. friend proposed for its adoption.—Why, it was this—to tell the colonies, "We will trust to your own feelings of your own duty, and to your own sense of your own interest, to adopt the course which we have prescribed for you. We will give you a pattern at Trinidad of what we think ought to be done, and we are confident that your just feelings, as well as your views of sound policy, will induce you to imitate the example." Now, as he had before observed, if he had that night come into the House for the first time in his life, and with all the ardent feelings of youth, he might perhaps have been disposed to indulge in hopes, that some kind and humane measures would emanate from the colonial assemblies, in consequence, of such a recommendation: but, after the long experience which he had had, of colonial assemblies, it would be worse than trifling with the House—it we aid be absolute criminality in him—to deceive either himself or the House with arty such idle expectations. The question was of awful magnitude. It was not the limited interest of a few individuals that the House had to consider. The question concerned the temporal and eternal happiness of hundreds of thousands of immortal beings like themselves, and generations upon generations might pass away, while the House of Commons was endeavouring to conciliate the masters, and to prevail upon them to attend to its humane recommendations. He would admit, that we ought to conciliate the masters if we could; but, failing in our endeavours in that respect, our next step was, to pursue the plain and direct course which our own duty required.
It was worth while to consider the impression which the recent conduct of parliament seemed to have made, both on the masters and on the slaves. With re- 1146 gard to the former, he called upon the House to consider under what circumstances they had refused to adopt, in any shape, the resolutions agreed to by the British parliament. Was it at a time when we were acting towards them in a spirit of frigid indifference and harshness; and telling them, that in consequence of their obstinate opposition to the abolition of slavery, we could repose no confidence in them? Or was it not at a time when we were withdrawing, for their benefit, the restrictions to which they had been so long subject, in return for the monopoly they enjoyed of the British market, and were showering favour after favour upon their heads? Why should his right hon. friend hope, that the recommendation of parliament to the colonies would have a different issue now, from that which it had had in the year 1797? Why did his right hon. friend now place such perfect reliance on the humanity and the wisdom of the West-India proprietors? He himself might, perhaps, do so, if all those proprietors resembled the hon. member who had just spoken. He wished to God that I that was the case! but it was the great misfortune of the colonies, that all the liberal, well-educated, enlightened, and affluent proprietors resided in England, whilst proprietors and managers of a very different character resided in the colonies. It was recommended at that very time, he meant in the year 1797, when there began to be a cry that the abolition of the slave-trade must take place, and when the strong interference of government was expected, that the colonies should themselves, by an improved course of policy, render such interference unnecessary. A secretary of state, known to be well-affected towards the colonies, joined in that recommendation; and a circular letter was sent out, by a confidential friend of the colonists, himself one of their number, declaring, that unless the colonists should take some, effectual steps to remedy the grievances that were complained of, that abolition of which they, were in such, deep apprehension would be carried into effect. But, what was the consequence? Notwithstanding this conciliatory tone, the friends to abolition were treated with utter contempt—their representations were viewed with perfect scorn. So it would be now. And he must here tell the House most sincerely and solemnly, that it was his deliberate and fixed opinion and belief—an opinion which, as far 1147 as it could be confirmed, had been confirmed—that they were now standing on the brink of a precipice, and that if they did not take great care, they would find that the more they paused, the less energetic they were, the greater was the danger likely to become [hear, hear].
He knew it had been said—he knew it had been promulgated, by those base arts of calumny which had often been resorted to before—that he had himself sent pamphlets, papers, and documents of various descriptions to the West Indies, which had produced a baneful effect. It was a most complete and absolute falsehood, which he should be ashamed of condescending to disown, did he not know that such vile calumnies flourished naturally in the climate and soil of slavery—did he not know, that those who called them into life and gave them currency, were only acting in their proper, sphere? What was the fact? Apprehensions were entertained of the danger that might arise from the slaves being made acquainted with the debates which took place in that House? But, had those who viewed the subject as he did, endeavoured to propagate amongst them the tidings of the change that was intended? Certainly not; but meetings were held in every parish of Jamaica—assemblies were convened in every island of the Antilles, where those measures were canvassed, and the strongest language was used—language which showed a disposition to set at defiance the authority of this country, and which declared, that an insurrection of the negroes would result from what had taken place in that House. Nay, he had read in a Dominica newspaper, a paragraph in the Dominica petition to the British parliament stating, that the insurrection at Barbadoes, in 1816, was produced by the conduct pursued in this country; and the paragraph went on to say, that "if such an insurrection had happened in our island, we" (the colonists) "could not possibly have resisted." This had also appeared in the St. Kitt's newspaper. Could the colonists pretend to dread the reports of our debates, when they themselves inserted such articles in their own newspapers?
But, he would refer to the island of Jamaica. In every parish of that island meetings had been held; and every one who took part in those proceedings, when he returned home naturally talked over the events of the day before his domestic negroes. The consequence was—it was 1148 vain to deny the fact—that, through the whole slave population, there was one feeling, that something essentially beneficial was intended to be done for the negroes, but that their masters were opposed to any amelioration of their condition. It was in vain to deny, that such was the state of their feelings. Well, then, such being the case in Jamaica—such being also the case in the rest of the islands—the House would naturally suppose, that the negroes were on the very tip-toe of expectation, that something was about to be done for them by the British parliament. What, then, under these circumstances, would be the effect of our not making good the hopes our last year's resolutions had excited? What would be the feelings of the negroes, when they found that parliament was about to pause and stop short in the course it had undertaken—when they found that the king's government, and his right hon. friend, the secretary of state for foreign affairs, whom they supposed to be so firm and serious a friend to them, were now about to make a stand? He could easily imagine the sad dejection of heart that these poor creatures must feel at seeing the cup of happiness which had been offered them, dashed from their lips, just at the very moment when they hoped to have quaffed the sweet draught of liberty which had just before danced before their eyes. The consequence, he feared, would be, that, despairing of relief from the British parliament, they would take the cause into their own hands, and endeavour to effect their own liberation [hear, hear!]. No man living would more sincerely lament that they should resort to such a mode of proceeding than he should do. He could most solemnly declare, that the subject of his daily and nightly prayer—that the hope and desire which he felt from the very bottom of his soul was—that so dreadful an event might not occur. Still, it was a consequence which he could not but apprehend, and, as an honest man, he felt it to be his duty to state that apprehension. Let the House only consider what a terrible thing it was for men who had long lived in a state of darkness, and just when the bright beams of day began to break in upon the gloom of their situation, to have the boon suddenly withdrawn, and to be afresh consigned to darkness, uncertainty, nay, to absolute despair! Whatever parliament might think proper to do, he implored them to do it quickly 1149 and firmly. Let them not proceed with hesitating steps: let them not tamper with the feelings and the passions which they had themselves excited. Certainly, he could not conceive how it was possible for a few years to pass over our heads, without a recurrence of serious disturbances in the colonies, unless parliament acted with that promptitude, that spirit, and that temper, which would prove to the population of those colonies, that we had their happiness sincerely at heart.
Let every man present appeal to his own experience, nay, to his own feelings, for the truth of the position which he (Mr. W.) had just laid down. Did not every one of them know, that an evil was much more easily borne when no effort had been made to remove or alleviate it, than when means, which ultimately proved unsuccessful, had excited temporary hope in the breast of the sufferer? In that case, was not his anguish redoubled? Was not his misery rendered nearly insupportable? When hope had been once suffered to beam upon the heart, did it not generally set the whole man in a fever? And when the object of that hope was deferred or destroyed, was not a feeling of desperation often manifested? Did it not often occasion that sickness of heart, which produced in the mind the most feverish agitation and disquietude? Did not the House well remember the origin of that most dreadful convulsion, the French revolution? Was it not a long course of trifling with the hopes and fears of the people of that country, that produced the first horrible explosion, which was succeeded by so many dire disasters? Again, let them only contemplate the scenes which had occurred at St. Domingo. His right hon. friend, the secretary of state, must be too well informed, not to know the real cause of the mischiefs which had taken place in that island. All those mischiefs had arisen from the constant vacillations on the part of the French convention—granting rights in one month, and withdrawing them in the next—again renewing the concession of those rights, and again and again retracting them, until at length they produced that mixture of doubt and despair, which was congenial with our nature; and ultimately the inhabitants were driven to the desperate course of taking their cause into their own hands—a course which had eventually been productive of consequences too notorious to render it necessary to dwell upon them.
1150 For himself, he must disavow altogether all responsibility for any unpleasant consequences that might result from the proposition just brought forward by his right hon. friend; for, whatever his right hon. friend meant (and he knew he meant well)—whatever his right hon. friend intended (and he was sure his intentions were upright)—the shortest way would, he was sure, be considered the best way of accomplishing his object, both by the master and the slave. The course, however, which his right hon. friend now proposed, was dilatory and circuitous, instead of being prompt and direct.
It was the fashion to say, that the dangers to which he alluded, the disturbances at which he pointed, were never to be apprehended, except as consequences of the exertions which were made on behalf of the slaves. The fact, however, was entirely the other way: for, as if by a special interposition of Providence, there never had been so few insurrections, during an equal period, as had broken out since he and his friends had called the attention of parliament to the subject of negro slavery. In the year 1760 there had been an insurrection in Jamaica, attended with every circumstance of terror and alarm. In 1766 there had been another; in 1767 another; and in 1795 another. And so indeed, he might go on through all the other colonies, and enumerate the disturbances which had sprung up in each, almost continually, until the subject was seriously investigated. And, besides those greater insurrections, there had been many others of a local nature, arising out of discontent and dissatisfaction on particular estates. That such had not been tire case for many years past, was a sufficient refutation of the assertion to which he had adverted.
His right honourable friend seemed to suppose, that the legislative assemblies in the other colonies would adopt the model he placed before them, in proportion to the success of the experiment. But it appeared to him, that if an experiment were to be made at all, it should be tried under the most favourable circumstances; and he would maintain, that his right hon. friend was about to introduce it under circumstances the most unfavourable that could be imagined. For his own part, feeling that it was about to be tried under such very unfavourable circumstances, he, for his friends and for himself, must decline altogether resting their cause upon an experiment which could not have 1151 a Fair and satisfactory trial. He was always glad when the slaves were to be benefitted to any extent whatever: he was always happy to see any attempt made to ameliorate their condition: and quite sure was he, that his right hon. friend was sincere in his desire to effect that object: but, much as his right hon. friend expected from his plan, he (Mr. W.) felt confident, that it would not be productive of good, to the extent which his right hon. friend proposed.
So far as Trinidad was concerned, there was one consideration to which his right hon. friend had not adverted. When his right hon. friend spoke of the privilege of allowing the slave to purchase his own freedom, or that of his children, he had omitted to state, that this privilege already existed, and had for some time existed, in Trinidad. That was, however, the fact. But, he had never heard that this permission, though in Trinidad it had been frequently acted upon, had been imitated by any of the other colonies; and therefore he could not expect so much advantage from this part of the experiment, as his right hon. friend did. His right hon. friend hoped that he should be able to induce the other British colonies to follow this example.
But, let his right hon. friend look to what had been the conduct of all the colonial assemblies with regard to the abolition of the slave trade, and then let him consider, whether those assemblies were likely to follow, of their own accord, any example for the amelioration of the condition of slavery which might be recommended to them. The language which they used formerly, when the abolition of the slave trade was under consideration, was as bold as that which they were using at present: but it had not had the effect of paralyzing the efforts of the British parliament: on the contrary, the firmness of parliament prevailed, and the colonists were ultimately obliged to submit to the abolition of that hateful traffic. He did not, however, call on the House to adopt any strong language, but he asked of them to take their measures prudently, temperately, and firmly; and to proceed in the tone and spirit of the resolutions proposed by his right hon. friend and adopted by the House, nemine contradicente, last session. He implored them not to be deterred from taking the just and Virtuous course, by the vain attempts that were making to excite their appre- 1152 hensions, or by paying attention to those threats and warnings, which were dealt out to them, he must say, in so unseemly a manner, by the colonial assemblies. They seemed to imagine, that the British parliament had no right whatever to interfere in their proceedings.
What would be said, either by Mr. Burke or by Mr. Dundas, if they were now living to hear of such an assumption? Both of them had proposed laws for the regulation of the colonies, and never even dreamt that the right of parliament to interfere with the internal policy of the colonies would be disputed. Mr. Burke had actually proposed a plan for ameliorating the condition of the slaves, and for transforming them, by degrees, into free citizens. He had proposed to establish protectors of slaves in all our islands, and to regulate the economy of the plantations in many particulars. He (Mr. W.), then a young man, had not given Mr. Burke all the credit it deserved. That great man had urged the necessity of enacting a system of practical regulation, and of not trusting to the effect of the abolition of the slave trade for producing the better treatment of the slaves. "I should distrust" said he "the value of any general principle, unless I saw some mode by which it might be enforced." Such had been the opinion of Mr. Burke; and yet those who were now proposing measures for the benefit of the slaves were stigmatized as wild enthusiasts, for interfering with the internal rights of the colonial assemblies.
Again, let those who accused the friends to the abolition of slavery with entertaining visionary and impracticable opinions, refer to the authority of the late lord Melville, when Mr. Dundas. He was as little of a theorist or visionary, as any man that ever lived. He was not fond of dealing in abstract speculations or theories, but he was a man gifted with an astonishing degree of plain, strong, practicable, good sense, in short, with a sound Scotch understanding, [a laugh], and with a mind of large experience. Yet, Mr. Dundas, did not consider the interference with our colonial assemblies as being a violation of the rights of the colonies, neither as impolitic or impracticable. Mr. Burke, too, on proposing certain regulations by which he hoped to accomplish his object, with regard to the colonies, said—(and he hoped his right hon. friend would recollect and weigh Well the sentiment)—"Sir, I have seen all that has 1153 been done by the colonial assemblies, and it is arrant trifling, for want of an executory principle." And yet the House were now expected to indulge the hope, that the colonial assemblies would pass some ameliorating laws, that would prove effectual to their object. This had been before done; and yet those who had framed those laws had never carried them into execution. Take the instance of Jamaica, in which island a law had been passed, by which it was proposed to give a reward of 50l. to the surgeon of every estate, upon which only a certain number of slaves had died within the year. There were various other premiums which, on the face of them, might promise well to an inexperienced eye. These rewards were proposed to be given after proper inquiry; and they implied a careful and minute specification of the births and deaths of slaves on the estates. But, when, one of the chief planters of that island was asked soon after, by the governor of that day, to state the decrease or increase of the negroes on his estate, he answered, that there were no means of ascertaining the fact; in truth, the law was a mere nullity. The colonial assembly of Jamaica had, some time ago, agreed to a law, and put themselves to much expense, in order to procure religious instruction for the negroes. One would naturally have supposed, that some success would have attended an object so desirable. But no—it was in the power of the master, the time of the slave being his property, to prevent the poor creature from deriving any benefit from the regulation; and accordingly, last year, a committee had reported, that the law was intirely inoperative.
In fact, could parliament expect any thing else, from those who disapproved altogether of the means which they adopted for the accomplishment of their purpose, as well as of the end which they had in view? If the parties only disapproved of the means, why, perhaps, they might be brought over by the adoption of different means, for the attainment of the same object. Or, if they disapproved of the end only, it might not be impossible to place it in such a point of view, as would lead them, without being aware of the fact, to adopt the means which would produce it. But, when we found that they were hostile both to the means and to the end, how could parliament entertain a hope, that they would imitate the 1154 example proposed to be set them; or that any project thus circumstanced could have a successful issue? On the contrary, he was perfectly convinced, that they would resist it to the utmost of their power; and, if they prevailed, they would attribute their success to the strong ground they had taken; and thus would matters become worse than they ever were.
The House must not conceal from itself what the grand principle—the practical point at issue—really was. It was simply this—whether the slave system was to be putan end to by the imperial legislature, or by the colonial assemblies? Now, he was prepared to contend, that it was impossible this could be effected by the colonial assemblies; that it must be accomplished by the imperial parliament, or not be accomplished at all. By endeavouring to effect this object in any other way, they were exciting irritation; and they would, perhaps, feel the effects of that despair, which, all would lament, when it was too late, when they would vainly wish, that they had adopted a straiter, and a more direct course.
He would not assert, neither would he deny, whether it would be wise or proper to pursue the course proposed by Mr. Burke or Mr. Dundas, with regard to these legislatures: but he thought there were various other means, whereby we could accomplish our purpose with equal certainty, and which the parties concerned would, perhaps, be ready to accord to us, and thus to fall in with our intentions and to meet our desires. For it ought always to be borne in mind, that every: proposition which was entertained on this subject, was not intended merely for the benefit of the slave, but of the master also. Would it not, he would ask, be infinitely better for the master, to remove that feverish irritation of mind which at present prevailed amongst the negroes, by promptly and cheerfully joining with the legislature, in some effectual plan for the amelioration of their condition, than to perpetuate distrust, ill-will, hatred, and-discontent? Would it not be infinitely more beneficial for him to be surrounded by a happy and contented body of men, made faithful by his kindness, and feelings an interest in his welfare, than constantly to be, as he now was, a prey to jealousy, suspicion, and despair? For, if the master but once allowed a new and well-founded hope to enter the bosoms of those poor crea- 1155 tures, gratitude and devotion to his interest would soon be the most prevalent feeling amongst them. Whereas, by continuing the present system, they would be made more sensible of the evils of their condition—a condition in which hope did not, could not, exist—a condition, in which they must ever be strangers to the noblest feeling of human nature; that feeling which would enable them to say, "We may, by our own industry and activity, arrive at affluence and honour—we may, by our own assiduity and integrity, command respect and riches." In this country, as had been well remarked, we every day saw men who, by the fair exercise of their talents, raised themselves from the lowest obscurity to wealth and honours: but, situated as they now were, the slaves had no such career open to them: they felt themselves to be a degraded race; and they would feel it more acutely, when they should see negro slaves become free, in various colonies around them. Now, he considered such a state of things to be extremely dangerous; and that it ought, as speedily as possible, to be altered; and therefore it was, that he felt a desire to press these considerations on the serious attention of the House. Every effort should be made, to remove doubt from the minds of the negroes, by taking a clear and intelligible course—a course which would not only be beneficial to the interests of humanity, but conducive to the wealth and prosperity of the country.
Before he sat down, he could not avoid expressing his astonishment at the assertion of the honourable gentleman who spoke last, as to the whip never being made use of as an incentive to labour. It might sometimes be withdrawn from public view; but it was nevertheless in genera use throughout the whole of the West-India islands. This was a fact which he had never heard denied, except by the hon. member, and by one other gentleman. Let the House consult the books of travels which had been published on the subject, and they would find it stated, even in those which were not the most favourable to the opinions of him or of his friends, that the terror of the whip was constantly resorted to, for the purpose of stimulating to labour. He recollected to have heard a man state, that, in passing an estate at Barbadoes, he went near enough to see the negroes at work, and the driver behind them, keeping them in a line at their labour. He remembered 1156 its being acknowledged by a West-India witness, who had been speaking of the alacrity with which the slaves ran with heavy loads on their heads, that a driver went after them with a whip, to quicken their pace. In short, he had never heard the fact denied before.
With respect also to the custom of branding, he had formerly insisted on its being discontinued, not so much on account of the corporal pain, as of the degradation which it inflicted. It had been said, that this practice was solely confined to African negroes, and that Creoles were not subjected to the operation. But this was not the case. The newspaper which he held in his hand contained sundry advertisements, relating to Creoles, who were thus branded. One of them described, "Sam, a young Creole, negroman, marked J. M. on shoulders, has marks of flogging on his back;" and the others were couched in similar terms. In conclusion, the hon. member called on the House, acting as it was for the happiness of the community, to consider maturely the best mode of effecting the great object which was intrusted to their care; painfully impressed as he was with the conviction, that they would not advance that object by adopting the measure which had been submitted to them; but, on the contrary, incur the imminent risk of involving the colonies in confusion and misery.
Mr. Keith Douglas
expressed his sincere regret, that the honourable members for Weymouth and Bramber had not, in conformity with the recommendation and the example of the right hon. secretary of state for foreign affairs, abstained from the introduction into the debate of topics of an irritating nature; since the question before them was one which ought to be treated with the utmost caution and moderation. Instead of which, those hon. gentlemen had cited a number of particulars, which were not at all calculated to have an healing effect. In opposition to the insinuations of those hon. gentlemen, he would strenuously contend, that the colonial assemblies were most anxiously alive to every thing which concerned the welfare of the slave population. In the course of the last year, there had been hardly one of the colonial legislatures, with the exception of Jamaica, in which this question had not been maturely considered. In Tobago, and the other islands, laws had been passed, which went to 1157 the adoption of measures not dissimilar to those proposed by his right horn friend.
said, he could have little hope that he should be able to command the attention of the House, after the beautiful speech which they had just heard from his hon. friend, the member for Bramber, whose speeches were always calculated to produce a powerful effect. He was, however, anxious to impress upon the House, the strong sense he felt, in common with his hon. friend, as to the imminent state of the present question. It appeared to him impossible that the country could now halt between two opinions. In justice to the poor creatures whose situation they wished to ameliorate on the one hand, and in justice to the planters who had so much at stake on the other, the House could no longer stand still: they must proceed, and do something decisive. His majesty's government should no longer suffer itself to be blown about, session after session, by every wind; at one time, in obedience to the wishes of the West-Indian interests, and, at another, in deference to the opinion of that party, which for shortness, he would call "the Saints" [a laugh].
His hon. friend, the member for Bramber, had not, he thought, been so clear in his statements on this occasion, as was usual with him; for, on the one hand, he had told the House, that these discussions would produce no effect whatever in the colonies; while, on the other hand, in another part of his speech, he had declared, that the colonies were on the brink of a precipice—that the negroes had had hopes held out to them, and were now waiting, on the tiptoe of expectation, for the fulfilment of those hopes. Now, he wished to ask his hon. friend, whether those hopes were not founded on these very discussions?. He was firmly of opinion, that the state of feeling, and the irritation among the negroes, were such as rendered it impossible for them and their masters to remain long together on the present terms. It was not necessary to go to Jamaica, nor to any other of the West-India islands, to be convinced of that fact. It depended on a principle inherent in human nature, and must always exist. He therefore earnestly pressed on the government the necessity of devising some proper means for allaying this irritation, by ameliorating the condition of the slaves, if the planters 1158 should not be disposed to undertake the task themselves. The course hitherto pursued was not very well calculated to produce that effect. Certainly there were many strange things in the world; but, the strangest of all appeared to him to be the idea of sending out to the governors of the colonies, the speech of a member of parliament and secretary of state, delivered in that House, as the rule by which their actions were to be guided. With respect to that speech, he had heard it delivered, as he had done the speech of the present evening; and he was bound to say, that he must be a very clever governor, or a very good courtier, who could find out from it, the line of conduct that he was to pursue. These poor creatures had evidently had their minds excited by the sanguine expectation of some rumoured benefit; and, indeed, it was quite impossible, from what had occurred, that such should not be the case. Those hopes were, however, disappointed; and some disturbances had taken place in Demerara. This, of course, had afforded ministers the opportunity of saying, "We want five or six thousand men more to send out to the colonies, to quiet these unfortunate creatures." Such was the present situation of the colonies—such the situation of those persons, who, under the sanction of the legislature, had invested very large property, of a peculiar nature, in the West-India islands. All at once, however, a new light had broken in upon them. It was discovered, that the system was one which ought not to be tolerated. And, when he said this, he did not mean to speak disrespectfully of those who had furnished these new lights, or made these discoveries; for he admitted, that not only the negroes, but mankind at large, were indebted to them for their efforts to destroy that most odious and inhuman traffic, the traffic in slaves; and also for the great improvement which they had effected in the condition of those who were unfortunately in a state of slavery. New opinions were propagated; and, was it too much to fear, that individuals who had made the removal of slavery the great object of their lives—who were completely bound up in that question—might, by possibility, be induced to carry their notions of reform beyond the bounds of prudence and of practicability, and thereby materially injure, if not totally destroy, the immense property thus invested? The question 1159 was, whether these individuals had not carried their ideas too far? Admitting, to the full extent, all the benefits to be derived from their reforms, might not the House ask, whether there was not a point at which it was necessary to stop? might they not require, that those benefits should be specifically pointed out, before they proceeded further? Surely they might: and then he was ready to acknowledge, that when the House was satisfied, that those reforms could produce none but beneficial effects, they would be bound to go further, and to come to some decisive measure on the subject. Let them, however, decide the question: let them not stand in a sort of neutral position, between one party and the other, leaving, in the mean time, property of every description, and to a vast amount, in a situation of evident risk and hazard.
One of the parties to this question had taken it up very energetically. He scarcely knew by what name to designate thern—perhaps, the "Anti-Slavery Society" would answer the purpose as well as any other. This society had raised large subscriptions, and was in the practice of sending its emissaries about to disturb every market town in the kingdom [hear, hear]. He spoke this from experience, as the practice was adopted at Taunton, the borough which he had the honour to represent. There he had seen, on market days, men come into the town, who related stories and exhibited pictures. The country people were asked, whether they would not vote against slavery? Some of the pamphlets of the society were placed in their hands, and they were told many dreadful stories of women who were tied down to the ground and shockingly beaten. These stories, however, were, he would say, gross exaggerations [hear!]. He would explain himself. When he used that expression, he did not mean to deny the truth of the facts represented: but he considered them as exaggerations, when adduced as a specimen of the state of the colonies, or of the system on which the negroes were governed. There could be no doubt, that a horrid transaction had recently taken place in the county of Hertford. That was an undisputed fact. But who would deny, that if that were adduced for the purpose of giving a specimen of the morals or manners of the people of England, it would be a gross exaggeration? In that sense he would say, that the stories 1160 circulated, and the prints exhibited, by the agents of the society to which he had alluded, were gross exaggerations. He had little to do with the West Indies; but, from his own knowledge of the facts, he did not scruple to assert, that many of the representations were entirely false.
The gentlemen on the other side of the question seemed, however, to be of a different opinion, and viewed every tittle of evidence on the part of the planters with the greatest suspicion. His hon. friend, the member for Bramber, seemed indeed to have brought himself to that pitch, that he would not believe a word that came from a planter's, or a white man's mouth; while he would at once set down for perfectly true, every thing that came to him from the mouth of a negro. In this respect, his hon. friend resembled a person who had travelled in America, and who was represented by M. de la Roche-foucault to have believed every extraordinary story he was told. On that person being asked by his friend, the reason of his giving credit to every statement of that kind, he answered, that whenever he heard any thing wonderful, he never stopped to inquire minutely into its authenticity, lest the effect should be destroyed if the truth were known. It was thus, he feared, with his hon. friend, who was not sufficiently acute in his inquiries. Such stories of horror might be found in the records of every country; but they did not furnish proof against the general humanity and morality of the people of that country. Besides, he utterly denied the truth of many of them, as applied to the West-India islands. He wished therefore, for an impartial inquiry; for he sincerely believed, that if such an inquiry were made, it would be found, that from one end of the country to the other, it was deluged, if not with falsehoods, at least with exaggerations. And yet it was on these exaggerations—for with no other information was the House furnished—that they were called upon to act. If these statements were true—if such a state of abomination existed as had been represented, a vestige of the system should not be allowed to exist for a single day. On that point it was the duty of the House and the government at once to make up their minds: but, if they were false, as he believed many of them to be, then it was equally the duty of the House and the government, to cease to be misled by them, and to destroy their effects 1161 by an open and public denial of them. If they should be convinced, that the people at large had been grossly imposed on, they ought to expose the deception. The stories were not of themselves proofs; neither, in one case out of ten, were they to be credited, as to the existence of the facts stated. And he objected, not only to the exaggeration of these West-Indian stories, but to the eternal repetition which the country had had of them. The source, really, could not be very fertile in crimes, which did not afford a greater variety. Those which had been narrated by the hon. member for Weymouth were what might be called "stock stories." He well remembered frequently to have heard them before: and that circumstance was sufficient to induce him to believe, that the hon. member for Weymouth, in searching for facts on which to support his own theory, had been disappointed. He had not found what he had been hunting for; and, in the absence of new facts, he had consequently been driven to repeat those which he had so frequently brought forward on other occasions of a similar kind. The name of Huggins, for instance, in the way of grievance, was completely worn out. Who ever heard of a debate upon colonial legislation, in which the name of Huggins had not been repeatedly referred to? Far was he from meaning to contend, that the state of slavery was desirable in society. He never could think of offering, or maintaining such an opinion; but, unfortunately, we had that state of society upon our hands, and it was our bounden duty to deal within it the best way we were able. No doubt, where men were possessed of despotic power, it was in the very nature of man to abuse it; and, no doubt, cases of cruelty did occur; but it was both unjust and useless to overstate them. The use of the whip had been spoken of in such terms by some gentlemen, as to make any person believe that it was in constant practice in the West-India colonies, and that it was always used as the means of forcing the unhappy slaves to their labour. But, if such were the case, the use of the whip was not peculiar to the West-India colonies, for it was used in the United States of America, in the same way as in our islands. The overseer, or driver, held it as he superintended the work: he used it when he thought it was called for; and, if he happened to be a man of a harsh or ferocious temper, the odds were, that he 1162 would often use it improperly. Indeed, in some cases, they needed only to inquire into the temper of the individual, to know the frequency or the duration of the punishment he imposed.
In what he was saying, he was not attempting to make out a case for the masters. All he wished was, to impress the House and the public with the importance of the; case under their consideration. Nothing, he was aware, offended the abolitionists so much, as to assimilate the condition of the slaves in our West-India colonies, either moral or physical, with that of any portion of the subjects of our own, or of any other country. Nevertheless, it was impossible not to remember, that the whip, so much decried, was used, and the use of it defended, both in our army and our navy; and, when the propriety of its use became a subject of discussion, what was urged, in behalf of it, by respectable officers, of honour and experience? The answer to any objection was—"We want very seldom to inflict the punishment, but if you deprive us of the power to inflict it altogether, we cannot maintain discipline among, the soldiers and sailors." If, then, without the occasional application of this coercion, we could not deal with Englishmen, en-lighted by education and bred up in principles of order, how was it to be supposed that it could be dispensed with, in the control of men so uneducated and so ignorant as were the negroes? He fully agreed in the propriety, as well as the humanity, of suffering no punishment to take place, until some time subsequent to the offence committed, in order to prevent the possibility of mischief being done in sudden anger; but he was by no means prepared to say, that the punishment of the whip could be got rid of altogether.
In standing, however, as he did, opposed to the views of the party who might be termed the friends of abolition, he must say, that he thought any how rather than favourably of the course which had been pursued by his majesty's ministers. The conduct of the government, and especially of the right hon. secretary who had opened the debate, was, in his opinion, open to all the objections which had been made to it by his hon. friends, the members for Bramber and Weymouth. The conduct of his majesty's government appeared to him alike deficient in courage and in political candour. He thought the suggestion of the right hon. secretary 1163 perfectly good, as regarded the arrangement to be adopted, say, at Trinidad. It was doing a great deal, but not more than might be done consistently with safety; and he hoped that it would lead to the end which all gentlemen looked forward to, though some were anxious to arrive at it more speedily than others—namely, the eventual emancipation of the slaves in our colonies. But, we must not take up any Utopian view or system. We must take the world as we found' it. We must deal with the colonies, not as if they were, or could be, what we might wish them; but as they were in their present predicament; and what he objected to was, that we were not acting fairly or candidly by the West-India proprietors. We did not speak out. We told only part of our case. The fact was, that the demand of the disuse of the whip, and the abolition of the Sunday markets, was meant to operate only in the way of an entering-wedge. If government came forward plainly and said to the West-India proprietor, "do these things," or "do such things, and with this we will be content," then the inhabitants of Jamaica must be imprudent not at once to assent to the proposal: but when it was plain, that an opposite course of policy was to be pursued, and that the fact of any concession having been obtained to-day, was only to be made an argument for demanding some further concession to-morrow, then he thought the inhabitant of Jamaica had a right to say to this country. "I will not yield a single inch of ground. I will not treat with you. I have a legislature of my own; and on the power of that legislature I will rely. You are stronger than Lam; and, if you chuse to do an act of violence, I cannot help it; but, if you do overcome me, it shall be by violence alone. Your mode of dealing is not candid, and I will therefore have no treaty with you."
And again, it was worth while to observe, that the West-India colonists had no fair play upon either side. There were gentlemen—and his hon. friends, the members for Bramber and Weymouth, were among the number—who were not satisfied with the plan now proposed, but wished for a still more rapid measure towards emancipation; but none of them stated in precise terms what measure it was that they wanted. The plan of the right hon. secretary differed also from the plan proposed by lord Bathurst: it presented one more violent, and according 1164 to which the children born after a certain period were to be free. If that proposition should be carried into effect, the interests of the owners would be materially changed. They would then possess only a life interest in the labour, and not the natural lives of their slaves; and the interest of the owner in the children would be totally destroyed. Who, then, would take care of them. Not the planters; for they would possess no interest in them. The country must take on itself the burthen of their protection and education, and would be necessitated to export a large number of wet and dry nurses.
He was anxious that the plan of the right hon. secretary should be pursued, wherever we had sufficient authority to enforce it, and, where we had not, that it should be strongly recommended; and, in that case, he should not be surprised if the proposition were to meet with general approbation and adoption. What he mainly complained of was, that the House went on, session after session, discussing the question, without doing any thing which was calculated to set it definitively at rest. The only course for the government of this country to pursue was, to make such declaration as both blacks and whites could equally understand; and then, and not till then, would there be some probability of their living in amity with each other. The House would do well to remember the immense value of our West-India islands; their natural connexion with America; and the power which they gave their possessors over the commerce of this country, through the seas in which they lay. For himself, he was quite convinced, that if the colonies should ever be thrown into the hands of the blacks, they would, in fact, be thrown into the hands of America—of America, who would then cease to be the second maritime power in the world! The conduct of that power he must consider as being very equivocal. While she was constantly calling upon us to do something for the amelioration of the slaves in our own colonies, she was greatly negligent of the condition of those slaves, as they existed in her own territories. No step did she take for their benefit: no regulation did she adopt for their improvement; while she goaded us on to a measure which would, in all probability, have the effect of throwing the whole of the islands into the hands of the blacks.
To conclude: If the naval and com- 1165 mercial prosperity of this country depended, as much as he believed it to do, on the West-India colonies, he thought he was justified in earnestly beseeching the House to take no proceeding, except upon distinct and positive grounds. If it were capable of being shown to him, that those colonies could not be maintained without the abominations which were stated to exist in them, he should certainly say, notwithstanding their immense value, "let them be given up altogether." But, he thought the House was bound to see clearly, that such was the fact, before they pledged themselves to any thing decisive on the subject. But, putting aside the question of compensation—which, if it came to the point, however, would be found of such an enormous amount as positively to frighten the country to look at—the House ought to feel, that it was dealing with no trifling interest. We had petitions enough on the table, and every one knew the efforts by which those petitions were procured; and some of them certainly went so far as to hint at the necessity of giving compensation. But, if once the amount that would be required was correctly understood—if once it was fairly explained to the people of this country, that they must go on bearing the weight of the malt tax, and the leather tax, and the salt tax, and the window tax, for the purpose of paying a hundred and fifty millions sterling to the West-India proprietors, by way of compensation money, he would venture to say, that the petitions on the table of the House would very sensibly diminish in number. It was his sincere conviction, that it was the duty of his majesty's government not to dally and temporize with the question; but to decide it once for all, and settle it for ever. If there was danger in the decision, they ought to meet it manfully, and look it boldly in the face. They ought to take a plain, manly, and decided course upon the question; and confident he was, that if they adopted such a course, the House and the country would support them in it.
Mr. Secretary Peel
said, that the hon. gentleman who had last spoken, had made a most severe charge against his majesty's government, and indeed had broadly pronounced its condemnation in the beginning of his speech, in such a manner as might have produced a very powerful effect, if the hon. gentleman's own admissions, as he went on, had not afforded 1166 a complete and successful refutation of every tittle of it. Arguing only on that hon. member's own admissions, and referring, indeed, to his own propositions, the House would see, that, whatever charge the hon. member might at first have brought against his majesty's government, he had ultimately absolved it from any. This being the case, it would be necessary for him only to detain the House very shortly on the question. The hon. gentleman, as it seemed to him, had admitted every thing that the government of this country could desire him to admit. The hon. gentleman began his speech by describing the colonies as being in a dreadful condition, as he alleged, in consequence of the discussions that had saken place in that House. He admitted that the power exercised in those colonies by the masters over the slaves was liable to great abuse. He spoke of the Anti-Slavery Society, sitting in London and sending out missionaries whose conduct endangered the property and the lives of the planters. And, under all these circumstances, the hon. gentleman seemed to think, that the government of this country ought to adopt some positive and distinct course. Something, he said, ought to be done, to settle the question for ever. But, the hon. gentleman should have gone further, and stated what that something was. The hon. gentleman admitted the dangers of despotism generally—he admitted the dangers of domestic despotism in. particular—and he likewise admitted the existence of a popular feeling on the subject, which placed the lives and the property of the colonists in danger. Under these circumstances it avowedly was, that the government of this country was called upon to act.
The hon. member for Taunton insisted, that there ought to be "some understanding." Now, it was a mighty easy thing to assert, that there ought to be some understanding; but gentlemen who were so decided in their opinion ought to come forward and say, what that "understanding" ought to be. There were only three courses which the government of this country had to pursue. It might decline all interference in the matter, and leave the planters, the negroes, and the Anti-Slavery Society, to fight the battle out between themselves. Would a resolution like that be acceptable to the hon. member for Taunton? Was the government not only to decline all interference, 1167 but to set their faces, in toto, against alteration and improvement, and to abstain from proposing or recommending any thing? Would the hon. gentleman approve of such a course? Why, probably not: because the hon. gentleman admitted, that much alteration, and much gradual improvement of the condition of the slaves, were desirable. The only question, then, was, how could that amelioration be effected? But, there was a third course which the government might pursue, upon the present question. It might resolve to legislate altogether for the colonies—to take the measures necessary entirely into their own hands; making no distinction between those colonies which had legislatures of their own, and those which were immediately under the control of this country. Would that course be acceptable to the hon. member for Taunton? Why, again, probably not; for a portion of his speech had been occupied in showing the folly of such a line of conduct.
The only remaining course, then, was that precise course which government had pursued, and which the hon. member for Taunton had taken much pains and time to 6how was the very wisest that could possibly have been pursued. In those colonies as to which the crown had a distinct right of legislation, government had resolved to commence an example, which it was hoped would soon be followed by those who had a right to legislate for themselves. When the hon. member for Taunton accused his majesty's government of want of manliness and resolution, and of not having done any thing decisive, he would ask the hon. gentleman, from what other quarter any definitive or intelligent plan had originated? The hon. member for Taunton complained, that ministers did not state the whole of their intentions upon the subject at once—that they did not demand so much, or such things, and say, "this demand shall be the last." Why, surely, government could give no such a pledge, because such a pledge would be in direct opposition to all sound and reasonable policy. Surely, upon second reflection, he could not recommend such a course. What! when the government found that the alterations they had proposed were practicable—that certain improvements had taken place—that the general condition of the negroes was ameliorated—and when the hon. member admitted those improvements, and eyen acknowledged the capacity of the 1168 negroes for further improvement, were they to be obliged to stand still in the good work, on account of the pledge they had given to the masters? The hon. member for Taunton must say yes, or his argument went for nothing. From the speech of the hon. member for Taunton, in opposition to the course taken by government, he was warranted in declaring that course to be the only safe and practicable one that could have been pursued.
The hon. member for Bramber had likewise recommended, that a decisive line of conduct should be pursued by the government; but that decisive line he had not thought proper to mark out. Surely, the hon. member would not advise a total disregard of the colonial legislatures! And yet it seemed so; for that hon. member had commenced his speech by expressing his entire want of confidence in the conduct of the colonial legislatures. If that distrust were well-founded, the case of the negroes was, indeed, almost hopeless; for even if a statute should be passed in this country, how could that statute be carried into effect without their assistance? Suppose the parliament were to make a regulation for the education of the slaves, what security could they have that it would be rendered beneficial? If penalties were to be imposed, who would levy them? Was it not far better, then, he would ask, for the sake of the slave himself, to conciliate than to estrange those authorities, without whose assistance it was impossible to do any thing important in his favour? If matters really stood as the hon. member for Bramber represented them to stand, he would affirm, that it was impossible to enact laws in England, and rely upon their being obeyed by the colonial legislatures. And, if it was to be I argued, that we ought, in that case, to supersede such authorities, and to send out fresh officers and even troops, to carry our orders into execution, such a course he would fearlessly say—and few, he believed, would be found to contradict him.—was likely to be any thing rather than beneficial to the slave population in the West Indies.
But such, happily, was not the nature of the proposition of his right hon. friend, the secretary of state for foreign affairs; founded as it was on intimate and perfect knowledge of all the circumstances of the case, and urged as it had been with all that ability and eloquence, which so peculiarly distinguished his right hon. friend. That proposition was, as it appeared to him, 1169 the true practical and beneficial one. It marked the animus with which the English government was proceeding: it proved their disposition, where there was no question as to the power of the Crown; and it imposed nothing on the colonies having legislatures of their own, while it offered them the benefit of an example and a warning. He earnestly implored the House to trust to the force of that example; satisfied as he was, that, as soon as the first moment of irritation should have subsided, the colonists, who were so closely connected with England in blood and in interest, and who felt justly proud at sharing generally in her laws and her institutions, would cheerfully adopt those measures which appeared the most effectual for the improvement and amelioration of the condition of their slave population.
said, that his hope of the active and cordial co-operation of the colonial legislatures was, he confessed, extremely small; and that, in this respect, the right hon. the secretary of state for foreign affairs seemed to entertain a directly opposite opinion from that which the right hon. gentleman had expressed last session, when the subject was brought under the consideration of the House. The right hon. gentleman had upon that occasion declared, that "we had a right to expect from the colonial legislatures, a full and fair co-operation. And," added the right hon. gentleman "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 partake, 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."
Now, what were the meetings, and the resolutions which had recently passed at those meetings, but contumacy, the most direct and positive? And yet the right hon. secretary had not comedown to parliament to ask for its counsel and assistance, but to express his conviction, that the colonial legislatures will, at no distant time, be convinced of the reasonableness of the measures recommended to their adoption, and will prepare themselves to act, by their 1170 own power and discretion, consonantly t o the wishes of the House, and assist in the amelioration of the condition of their slaves.
It had been urged, and was made a main argument, by those who were hostile to the abolition of slavery, that the very discussion of the subject in England tended to light up the flames of discord in the West-India islands, and that the insurrection which had lately broken out in some of the islands, might be traced to the debates which had taken place on this subject, in the British House of Commons. He would deny, however, in the most positive terms, that, upon principle, discussion could have produced any such effects; and must ascribe the disorders which had occurred to causes of a very different description. To take, for instance, the case of Demerara. Had honourable members seen the last report which had been made by the registrar of slaves for that settlement? Did the House know, that, since the previous report of that officer, the number of deaths among the negroes in Demerara had been 5,200, while the number of births amounted only to 3,500; and yet the number of slaves in that island had increased? If he were asked how that could be possible, he answered by declaring, that the number had been increased by importation, notwithstanding the late act. To that cause, and to the over-working and maltreating of the slaves, and to other causes equally striking, the recent disorders in Demerara were to be attributed; increased probably by the circumstance, that the system of Dutch law, which was still in use in that island, was incomparably the most barbarous and arbitrary; and that a door was effectually opened to fresh importations, by the permission which was granted to transfer slaves from the several islands to the continent.
He really could not help expressing his conviction, that the speech which his hon. friend, the member for Taunton, had made last session, together with the speech which he had delivered on the present evening, had and would prove infinitely more fatal to the case which his hon. friend espoused, than that of any of the opponents to the abolition of slavery. It was, he repeated, in the melancholy condition of the negroes, that we should alone look for the true causes of the recent insurrections. Upwards of seven hundred thousand of our fellow creatures were, practically, deprived of the main blessings 1171 of marriage; for, as matters at present stood, there was nothing to prevent husband and wife and child, from being separated, by sale, from one another. Added to this, the incompetency of slaves to give evidence in a court of justice, left that whole class of population in the West Indies entirely destitute of protection.
He was aware how difficult a thing it was, to legislate effectually for these poor creatures. Good laws might be enacted for the purpose of benefitting their condition; but, with a slave population, how were the means to be found, of executing them? And this very difficulty formed one of his main objections to the existence of a slave population at all. Even in this country, the moment a man was deprived of his freedom and put into confinement, under civil or criminal process, how very difficult it was to frame any laws sufficiently subtile to protect him from tyranny and oppression. What, then, could be expected in the West Indies, where so large a portion of the population stood in the same condition, subject further to the feeling against him on account of his colour? Not only must it be difficult, if not almost impossible, ever to get evidence of an offence committed against them; but, where was a jury to be found who would give an impartial verdict—if he happened to be a white man—against the offender? He was sorry therefore to say, that the knowledge of this feeling, and the obvious impossibility of eradicating it, prevented him from entertaining any sanguine expectation, while the population of the West Indies continued slaves, with respect to the success of any system of legislation, having for its object the amelioration of their condition.
But, because the friends of abolition were unable to carry their utmost wishes into effect, did he thence infer that they were to remain idle, and do nothing? Far from it. Something might, no doubt, be effected. He cordially approved of all the propositions of the right hon. the secretary of state for foreign affairs; who, perhaps, would allow him to suggest another benefit which might be extended to the negro, in addition to those which the right hon. secretary had that evening recommended. Why should the onus of proving his freedom be put upon the black man, instead of the onus of proving that he belonged to another being thrown on the individual by whom he was claimed? Unquestionably, there were two great 1172 classes of dangers attending this question, which it was most desirable to avoid: namely, the dangers of precipitation on the one side, and the dangers of procrastination on the other. The difficulty was, to pursue a prudent course betwen the two extremes. He was perfectly satisfied with the principles which the right hon. secretary had laid down, and confidently trusted that, neither by the right hon. gentleman himself, nor by the House of Commons (should that House adopt them), would those principles ever be abandoned; for it would indeed be an everlasting disgrace on parliament, a scandalous outrage on the rights and comforts of 700,000 of our fellow creatures, and an indelible stain on the character of the right hon. gentleman and on his majesty's government, if those principles, once sanctioned and recognized, should ever be surrendered. He trusted even, that something more might be done to accelerate the emancipation of the slaves; for it was a necessary consequence of the argument which he had taken the liberty to state to the House, that emancipation, complete emancipation, was the only system to which we could look, as that which would put an end to their sufferings. If it were intended to keep the negro population quiet, it was absolutely necessary that a hope should be held out, that emancipation would take place; gradually, indeed, but certainly.
He had a personal as well as a public interest in the present question; and, from his acquaintance with West-India affairs, he had had constant opportunities of ascertaining what the facts respecting it really were. It was not therefore the mere declaration of a visionary, when he remarked, that to this conclusion he had come, after the best consideration he had been able to bestow on the subject; namely, that it was decidedly the interest of the proprietors of plantations in the West Indies, to join heart and hand with his Majesty's ministers, in the execution of their suggestions, with a view to effect a complete reform in the existing system, and to fit the negroes for the condition of Tree labourers as soon as possible; when those proprietors would be relieved from all those apprehensions to which they were now so perpetually and so justly liable. He must also say that he sincerely wished that the West-India interest, and especially the colonial assemblies, would endeavour to bring a little more temper and 1173 moderation to the consideration of this important subject. He wished them not to delay doing what they ought, until the necessity for so doing was thrust upon them. He wished they would not continue to inflame the negroes by speeches in those assemblies, tending to snatch away all hope from them, and to do more to excite insurrection, than had ever been done by speeches made in the British parliament. He would confidently ask any hon. member, whatever his opinion upon the general question might be, whether he could for a moment believe it possible, that a speech made in the House of Commons, by his hon. friend the member for Bramber, or by his hon. friend the member for Weymouth, would have half the effect on the negro population of the West Indies, or produce one half the ill-feeling and hot-blood, as the harangues of the members of the colonial assemblies? Was it possible that the speeches of those who hold out rational liberty and happiness to the unfortunate slaves, should do as much to excite their discontent, as the speeches of those who were holding out to them the assurance of perpetual wretchedness and slavery? Of this he was quite satisfied, that the language which had gone forth from some of the members of the colonial assemblies in the West Indies, would, if it was to be continued, bring down inevitable destruction on those assemblies. Let them not say, when the blow fell, that the mischief was owing to speeches which had been made in the English parliament!
The hon. and learned gentleman then proceeded to speak of the proposed additional Church Establishment in the West Indies. He approved of the system, and trusted that the individuals selected would consider it their especial duty to attend to the instruction of the negro population. He cautioned the members of his majesty's government against entering into too strong bonds upon this subject, with the white inhabitants of the islands. With respect to the subject of Missionaries, he did not clearly understand the right hon. secretary for foreign affairs; and he hoped that the reply of the right hon. gentleman would place the matter beyond the reach of doubt. Were those missionaries to be under the control of the Church establishment? He trusted they were to be considered as being under the same control as the sects to which they belonged were in this country. He did 1174 not expect that any exclusion of the missionaries, was to be attempted. God forbid that any thing of the sort should be in contemplation! Such a proceeding would be the height of injustice—the height of ingratitude—towards a body of men, to whom he would say (in spite of the obloquy that had been cast on them) the country was under the deepest obligations. The missionaries had worked hard, and alone in the field—Alone had they borne the burthen and heat of the day—They had exposed themselves to all descriptions of hardships and privations—they had gone on struggling with the most adverse circumstances; and, if any ray of light had broken in upon the moral degradation of the poor negroes, to the missionaries was the praise due for the unspeakable benefit. Their time, their labour, their health, their prospects of worldly happiness, they had cheerfully sacrificed, for the sake of achieving the good work. To them was the praise of the legislature and of the country due. He cared not whether they were Methodists, or Baptists, or Anabaptists, or Presbyterians, or by which of the numerous names distinguishing the religious sects of the country, they were called. It was enough for him that they were Christians, and that they had nobly and fearlessly discharged their duty towards their fellow creatures. The time would speedily come, when it would be the duty of parliament to take into its serious consideration the charges, which, with or without foundation, had been brought against them. He would not, by a single expression, anticipate the merits of the question, which would then undergo discussion: but this he would say, with respect to the island of Barbadoes, that if faults they had committed, those faults, whatever they were, had been greatly exceeded by the conduct of the white population in the same Island.
In conclusion, he hoped to see the various and manifold evils which had been predicted on both sides of the House, counteracted, by the right hon. secretary coming forward and holding out some hope to the slave, that the day was not far distant, when the negroes would be enabled to put forth their claim to a participation in the blessings of a free and rational government. For, if any thing could materially tend to preserve the peace of our colonial possessions, to assuage the heat and to allay the irritation which was now said to exist upon this sub- 1175 ject, it would be some assurance from the government at home, delivered by the right hon. secretary, that the slave might live on, in the sure and certain hope, that his fetters, before long, will be broken in pieces. With pain had he observed, that several gentlemen who had spoken on the other side of the question, were anxious to extort from the right hon. secretary, some decided expression, as to the ultimate intention of his majesty's government. They would fain say, "We will allow you to go thus far; but will you promise to go no further? Why cannot you be content with a moderate experiment? See first what can be done in the king's colonies; and trust to the good sense of the colonial assemblies to follow the example you intend to set them." He hoped the right hon. gentleman would make no such concession. For, wherever the government of this country should undertake to stop, there would the colonial assemblies fix their limits. From that moment, the door of amelioration would be closed for ever; and that which he and the country at large most of all deprecated would be established in the colonies—namely, permanent and inextinguishable slavery.
§ Mr. Watson Taylor
said, that he felt himself bound, in candour, to commence his observations by stating, that in the way of property, he was deeply interested in the result of the present discussion Not that, on that account, he was at all inclined to take a limited and partial view of the subject, but that he felt that he owed great and awful obligations to the negroes themselves, who were more immediately interested in it than he himself was. Under these feelings it was, that he had always acted, in the management and protection of the negroes living upon his own estates. If it were worth the while to trouble the House with the details, he could produce them, and prove by unquestionable documents, that in every one of the numerous orders which he had sent out to the West Indies, he had expressed a constant care and anxiety for the comfortable condition of the negroes, whether in age or youth, whether in sickness or health, with respect to their diet, their lodging, their clothing, and the medicines requisite for them.
He should probably subject himself to the charge of exaggeration, were he to state some instances of the disposition which he had shewn towards the negroes 1176 in these respects. He would therefore content himself with stating, that he had laid out—and he was speaking of the last eight years—one hundred and forty thousand pounds—nearly 17,000l. a year—upon the negroes on his estates. He could, therefore, safely and conscientiously say, that he was without those feelings of a mere proprietor of slaves, which were apt to be charged to the account of those who were circumstanced as he was. He was ready to admit the nature of that property which had devolved upon him. It was not his fault that he had succeeded to it. He might have as much repugnance to it, in the abstract, as any other gentleman could possibly have. But he did claim this much credit for himself, that he had done all that he could by possibility contrive, for the amelioration of the condition of the negroes; and that no other consideration of equal weight, with regard to the management of his property, had pressed upon his mind, during the last ten years. He had, in one instance, removed the houses of a band of negroes from the sea coast to a considerable distance inland, because of some great inconveniences which were to be dreaded from their former situation, not only with regard to their health but their morals.
On coming down to the House that evening, he did own that he had considerable fears as to the course about to be taken by his majesty's government. He should have felt the greatest difficulty and distress of mind at finding himself under the necessity of differing in sentiment with his right hon friend; but, however painful such a difference might have been, he must have done so, had not the course pursued by his right hon. friend been remarkable for its temperance and its moderation, and, as it appeared to him, well calculated for the benefit of the colonies. The propositions of his right hon. friend should have, therefore, his hearty support. He concurred in the large and liberal views which had been taken by his majesty's government. He would not say that they had acted unjustly. He knew that they were incapable of so acting. He thought certainly, that a nation, for whose benefit and advantage, and under whose laws, the great mass of this property had been called into existence, were the responsible authors of the system; and, if it considered itself called upon to do an act of solemn duty, in gradu- 1177 ally bringing about its abrogation, that nation would not think of doing so, without ample indemnification for the sacrifice of property necessarily made by individuals for a national object. He did not speak from motives of selfish interest. There must always be great difficulty in the treatment of subjects which depended upon great principles. The object now aimed at was unquestionably good in itself; but the attainment of it could not justify the application of improper and oppressive means.
He did not know that any charge could be made against the inhabitants of the colonies, upon the general question. He, for one, was prepared to support any measures of rational, safe, and just policy, which could be proposed, for the amelioration of the moral, religious, and social condition of the blacks. He would not dwell upon the comparative necessity of the case. Still less would he detain the House with any pictures of that happiness, cheerfulness, health, and contentment, which he could faithfully aver to be displayed in the condition of some of the property in the islands—a condition of cheerfulness, health, contentment, and comfort, which was not, perhaps, so frequently to be seen elsewhere. But, as to the charges which had been made against the Jamaica assembly, some allowance should be made. The House ought to consider, that they were placed in a situation of much difficulty. The resident proprietors stood in very different circumstances, from those gentry who resided in England. There, they were called upon to do the duty of stewards and protectors to the property of those who were enabled to discuss the question at their ease in Great Britain. Here, the proprietors were safe from every thing but the loss of their property; there, they were surrounded with other and more fearful dangers. They ought, therefore, to be excused for any hastiness, or any warmth of expression, uttered while they were tremblingly alive to those dangers. The House of Assembly contained in it many men of high legal attainments, of sound discrimination, and excellent judgment—men who would duly appreciate the temper and the moderation of government—who would gladly adopt, and induce others to follow, the example about to be set. And sure he was, that the House and the government might leave the question safely to the good sense and discretion of the 1178 assembly of Jamaica, assured that the members of that body would give their full aid and assistance to the fulfilment of the views and wishes of the legislature of this country.
§ Mr. Manning
said:—Mr. Speaker; this question has been recommended by his Majesty's Speech at the opening of this session, to be treated with great temper and mature consideration—a recommendation highly desirable, as no question has been agitated for some time, within these walls, of greater interest to the nation at large. I am much gratified in observing, that this recommendation has been carefully attended to by the member for Seaford, who spoke on the part of the colonies; but whether it has been equally observed by the hon. gentleman opposite, the member for Weymouth, I shall leave to the House to judge.
It is painful, Sir, to those persons who are connected with the colonies, to hear upon all occasions, the charges which are made against the West-India planters for ill treatment of their negroes—made, as I contend, without foundation. I am unwilling to desire the House to rely upon my own statement; for although, many years ago, I passed about eight months in the Windward islands, and had frequent opportunities of observing the degree of comfort enjoyed by the great majority of the black population—I would rather refer the House to the evidence of others, in more recent times; and, for this purpose, I would ask leave of the House to state, very shortly, from the Report of the Council of Barbadoes, published the 1st of January of the present year, the evidence taken on oath of sir Edmund, Williams, lieut.-col. Popham, lieut.-col. Berkeley and others, wholly unconnected with the colonies, but whose professional avocations have led them to that island—all concurring in testimony of the humanity, the kindness, and the care of the planters towards their slaves, in health, sickness, and old age.
The following is the evidence of lieutenant-colonel Popham, and the depositions of the other officers are strongly confirmatory of the facts therein stated:
"Examinant saith, that he is a lieutenant-colonel in the army, and deputy-quarter-master-general; that he has been resident in the island of Barbadoes upwards of seven years; that during such residence he has had several opportunities, and that he has reason to suppose, 1179 from his own observation, that the slaves are generally well treated:—He thinks, that a cruel owner of slaves would be held in the same abhorrence here, as he would in England.—He verily believes, from personal observation on the estates he has visited, from riding through and passing many others, having been in every parish, that the slaves are a contented and happy people, generally speaking; that they appear cheerful in the performance of their work, and that he does not recollect witnessing any severity practised upon them in the field; that they appear to him clothed in general, and in many instances well so; that the greater proportion of the houses of these people appear comfortable, having the advantages of poultry, pigs, and goats, in many instances fruit trees and a little garden; and that the markets held by them on Sunday, clearly demonstrate, that they enjoy the benefit arising from the produce and sale thereof; that he has every reason to believe, from frequently seeing medical men riding through the estates, and from inquiries made upon the subject, that they are visited weekly, and oftener if required in particular cases, by a practitioner, who is paid annually for his attendance; that very great attention is paid to the rearing of children, and that the old and infirm receive the kindest attention, as is fully proved by the very few blacks who are beggars, whereas the white population exhibit frequent instances; thus proving, that the slaves in this colony are much better off, than the lower class in England, having no care or thought for to-morrow, feeling confident that all their necessary wants and comforts will be provided for."
Such was the evidence of lieutenant colonel Popham, and the depositions of the other officers to whom I have alluded are equally satisfactory, as to the comfortable condition of the slave population of the West Indies. When, therefore, charges of an opposite nature are so repeatedly made in this House, can we be surprised, that well-educated men, and of honourable principles, should be desirous of repelling those attacks, in rather strong language, both in the colonial assemblies, and in their representations to government? We must allow something for the feelings and the prejudices of persons at that distance, and thus circumstanced. But, Sir, I must contend, that notwithstanding all the provocation to which I have alluded, con- 1180 siderable progress has been made, and is daily making, in the colonies, to comply with the desire expressed by this House and by the country, in the gradual amelioration of the negro population. I hold in my hand an act passed so late as the 23rd of December last, in the island of Grenada, giving to the free coloured, and free black inhabitants, in that island, the right of voting for members of the assembly, and also the privilege of giving evidence in all cases whatever.
My hon. friend, the member for Bramber, tells us we are on the brink of a precipice. Indeed, Sir, I believe we are in the situation he describes; and it would be a waste of time, under present circumstances, to stop to inquire by what means we have been led to this awful state. The commerce, the revenue, the manufactures of the country—its maritime strength, are all at issue on this question. But, before gentlemen, by their injudicious interference, had brought us into that situation, they were bound to shew us in what part of the globe productive industry has followed upon sudden and unprepared abolition of slavery. Can it be found in St. Domingo?—in Colombia?—in the United States of America?—or, under their own management, in Sierra Leone?
Sir, in St. Domingo, that once flourishing colony, producing to France several millions of revenue; employment for 6 or 700 sail of ships of 500 tons burthen; exporting from 150,000 to 200,000 hogsheads of sugar,—we find, by the latest information, that it does not now export above 3 or 400 hogsheads, and that it has even received from the Danish island of St. Croix sugar in exchange for coffee. It will also be found in president Boyer's proclamation of 20th. of March 1823, having for its object the regulation of the intercourse with the other West-India colonies cultivated by slaves, that sugar, syrup, &c. are smuggled into the French part of the colony: a clear evidence, that, after twenty years of their independence, their own production of sugar had materially diminished, and that the fertile soil of St. Domingo, with free labour, did not now raise sugar in some parts of it equal to the inland consumption.
Let it be observed also, with respect to this colony, that, so completely has it become a black republic, that no white man is tolerated in the character of a proprietor. I find, in the 30th article of 1181 the revised constitution of Hayti, dated 2nd June 1816, the following provision—"Aucun blanc quelle que soit sa notion, ne pourra mettre les pieds sur ce territoire, à litre de maitre ou de proprietaire." Let us take care, Sir, that these gentlemen, who have neither local knowledge nor experience, do not drive us into the same situation!
If we look to the United States of America, we find that, so far from the free blacks in that country being remarkable for their habits of industry, one third of the prisoners in their gaols are of that class of persons. In Connecticut, out of 7,000 free blacks at the end of the last year, one third of the prisoners in the gaol were free blacks, though their numbers were only as one to 33, compared with the whole population. The prisons of New York shew a similar result. And it is a remarkable fact, that whilst the hon. gentleman opposite is so sanguine in his expectations of the happy results of free labour, there are in America several societies established, for the express purpose of getting rid of the free blacks in the several states, and sending them back to Africa. America is frequently alluded to as a country where the negroes are better treated than elsewhere; yet my hon. friend, the member for Taunton, who has ample means of information in all that regards that country, tells us, that this is not the case; and certainly we may conclude, from the fact of those societies being formed for sending the free negroes away, that they are no very valuable part of the population. A country which itself encourages other people to emigrate to its own shores, employed in sending away those blacks who fill their prisons, is a practical illustration of the danger of theoretical principles, when applied to the alteration which is suggested in the civil state of the negroes.
Let it not be forgotten either, that by the injudicious interference in the last session, we have been compelled to add, as appears from the acknowledgment of the noble secretary at war, six regiments to our military establishment, in consequence of the agitated state of the colonies; and that that interference has given occasion to the militia being called out in many of the West-India Islands; by which the expenditure of this country, and the burthen of the colonies, have been materially increased.
1182 Let it not, however, be supposed, after this statement, that I feel the least desire to throw any obstacles in the way of those measures which his majesty's ministers, and this House, after a full and cautious consideration, may think right to recommend, for the gradual amelioration of the condition of the slaves in the British West-India colonies. On the contrary, I take this occasion to declare, that, having two estates in Trinidad, the island in which the experiment under the order in council is first to be made, I shall, without hesitation and without delay, urge upon those entrusted with the management of my property, their serious attention to, and compliance with, as far as may be practicable, the regulations suggested in that document—relying at the same time, on my own part, and on behalf of the other planters in Trinidad, that, if the course of these measures should be, as I devoutly hope it may not, productive of any serious injury, full and liberal compensation will be made by the state; and for which I think some distinct pledge should be given by his majesty's ministers.
What I wish chiefly to guard against, is the further interference of over-zealous persons, who, by their indiscreet measures, have already retarded that gradual improvement in the condition of the slaves, which in the last twenty years has been progressively going on in all the islands. Their admission to those civil rights now contemplated for them, can only be safely administered under the benign influence of religion, accompanied by education. I beg pardon of the House, for having so long intruded on their attention; but I could not reconcile it to my sense of duty to remain silent, on a question involving some of the most important interests of the state, and affecting the lives and property of some of my nearest friends in the colonies, as well as the future welfare of my own family.
§ Mr. Evans
said, he sincerely believed that, generally speaking, the planters were extremely kind and liberal, but it appeared to him that it was one of the most lamentable parts of the slavery of the West Indies, that it was almost beyond the power of any owner of a plantation to give permanent alleviation to the condition of his slaves. He also thought, that the argument of the hon. member for Taunton, that a negro slave was in a more comfortable condition than the 1183 labourers in Europe, was a most unfortunate one; because it was accompanied with an admission, that the negroes were in the lowest state of moral degradation. Above all, there was one defect in the argument on that side, which could not be got over. In the present state of the laws in the colonies, where, be would ask, was the negro to obtain legal redress, in case of oppression? There was no evidence of any such thing, even in possibility. The provisions which did exist upon the subject, left him the power of complaining of ill usage to a "magistrate; but, it also left to the magistrate, the power of punishing the complainant at discretion, in case he failed 'to make good his charge. Let the House apply that rule to our free population at home. What poor man would ever complain to a magistrate, if he were in any danger of punishment? With regard to the condition of the slaves in our West-India colonies, he thought that, as the population tables of the southern Isles of America shewed a greater annual increase in the numbers of their slaves, than we had in our settlements, we were justified in inferring, that those slaves were better treated than our own. With regard to the propositions now brought forward by the right hon. secretary of state, he only regretted, that they were not of wider extent.
§ Mr. Blair
said;—.The hon. and learned gentleman opposite (Dr. Lushington) having in his speech alluded to the colony of Demerara, with which I am connected, I trust I shall be excused if I trouble the House with a few words. The hon. and learned gentleman says, that the late revolt in Demerara is not to be imputed to certain proceedings of last session in this place, but to the slaves having been overworked and maltreated; and in support of this allegation, he refers to the registration returns, which exhibit a larger number of deaths than of births. Sir, I am rather inclined to refer this mortality to an epidemic which prevailed in that colony last spring, and which was extremely fatal, and I deny that the negroes there are in any respect harshly used. On the contrary, I maintain, that they are as mildly and as humanely managed in Demerara, as in the Islands, or as is compatible with a state; of slavery and pressure; the hon. and learned gentleman has been studying 1184 Stedman, Dr. Pinkard, or some other works descriptive of that part of the world in former times.—Sir, there can be no doubt that the revolt in Demerara is to be attributed to the debates which took place in this House last year, and to the notice preceding them. To the agency of an individual in the colony, I know a good deal has also been ascribed; but to that I will not at present refer, as it will by and by come more regularly before us. At all events, it cannot be said that the mischief arose out of inflammatory harangues at parochial meetings, as we have been told by the hon. member for Bramber often occurs in Jamaica. There was no meeting or debating in Demerara; but the annunciation of what had been done in this House, was the signal for the explosion.—Sir, I will not enter on the general subject, as there are so many around me more competent to do so; but while I am on my legs, I will for a moment notice an argument, just used by the hon. member for East Retford, and to which a great deal of importance is attached within and without these walls; namely, that because the population tables of the southern States of America shew a greater annual increase in the number of their slaves, than we have in our settlements, we are therefore to infer, that they are better treated. Allow me just to remark, that I think a portion of this increase, on which the hon. member's argument is founded, may arise out of the transfer of slaves from the more northern to the southern States, which we know is constantly going on.—Sir, before I sit down I beg leave to unite with my hon. friend behind me (Mr. Manning) in returning thanks to the hon. member for Taunton for his able speech this night; and I cannot help thinking, though it may be difficult to reduce his recommendation to practice, that ministers should throw more decision into their measures, and let us know how far they mean to go. I conceive that unless a line be drawn, and unless we are told where concession is to stop, the negroes will never enjoy quiet, nor the planters that undisturbed possession of their property, to which they are by law entitled.
§ Sir G. H. Rose
said:—I entirely concur, Sir, with those who conceive, that the cure for West-India evils is to be sought for, and is attainable, far more by moral 1185 than by legislative measures. The persuasion which I entertained to that effect last year, has been powerfully fortified by all that has happened since; and I look for the termination of those evils, not in the abolition but in the extinction of slavery, to be produced by co-operating feelings and circumstances, both on the part of the master, and of the slave; so that it shall be a natural result arising from, and concordant with, their mutual interests. I am also convinced that religious instruction, and that alone, will produce this desirable result. It is of the utmost importance to consider the actual state of Christianity amongst the West-India slaves, in order that we may judge, whether we are tending towards this goal—whether experience justifies the hope, that we may reach it. And here I may observe, that, whereas the number of slaves, which I stated last year, not baptized merely, but christians attending divine worship more or less regularly, and with visible benefit to their morals, to amount to 100,000 out of 730,000, has been strenuously impugned as excessive, I can only take blame to myself, if any, for having, as I have now reason to believe, understated that amount. According to the latest reports of the Wesleyan missions, there are 25,331 members of their societies in the British West Indies; and in their recent important official statement respecting those missions, it is said, that at least nineteen out of twenty of these members are slaves; this gives at least 24,064 of that last class. The Wesleyans calculate, that there are at least twice as many more who attend, more or less closely, their worship, and are more or less benefitted by it. These two classes therefore are to be taken at 72,192. We are then to take the number of the children of the christian slaves, who of course are to be reckoned into the christian population. I find no ground for tin's calculation but in the Barbadoes slave census of 1817, where of 77,273 slaves, 22,989, or above two-sevenths, were of an age not exceeding ten years. I might insist on a scale including older children, and therefore giving a larger number; but by merely taking this, there are 20,606 of them to be added to the 72,192 adults, giving in all 92,798. If many of the twelve or thirteen hundred children in the schools of the church missionary society should prove to be those of Wesleyan slaves, on the other hand, many children of heathen slaves are instructed by the Wesleyans; so 1186 that the number above given of 92,798, if reduced to 92,000, may be safely taken. I took the number of Moravian slaves, at 16,000, and I do so now, having no means of knowing how many there are who profit by the worship of the United Brethren without being members of their community; and I took at 4,000, the christian slaves of other persuasions, whether of the church, or instructed by other missionary societies; and in so doing, I have now reason to believe, that I am much within the mark, and may very safely substitute 112,000 for the 100,000, which I computed in the last session to be the number of christian West-India slaves.
In making this vindication of my former statement nothing can be further from my thoughts than to maintain, that we are now to rest on our oars, and depend upon our vessel gliding surely and swiftly into port. We have done very little of ourselves, and much prejudice is to be overcome, and great exertions are to be made, and there remains a fearful mass of moral and civil, and, circumstanced as those colonies are, of political evil, to be broken down, and dispersed; and to this momentous object the attention of the legislature should be especially, and pre-eminently turned. What may be done is best testified by what has been done; and here it is material to consult the official report of the Wesleyan missionary society for 1823, published in 1824, coupling with it a statement also lately made in print by that society, that "no heathens have received the Gospel so readily as the West-Indian negroes." The report for 1823, after representing in glowing colours the deplorable moral state of the heathen slaves, adds, when speaking of the converted slaves, that "vices once thought invincible, and especially polygamy, have given place to the moralising influence of religion, so that the mission can exhibit societies in some places of between two and three thousand negroes living in the same neighbourhood, from which this evil has been completely banished, and where the benefits of the institution of marriage have displayed themselves in well-ordered, and peaceful families, most eminently demonstrating the connexion of religion with personal morals, social felicity, and the good order of society."—Now, where christianity and its consequences have thus taken root, and even put forth fruits, and where the religion offered to the slave is that of his master, there cannot be a ra- 1187 tional doubt of its gaining complete possession of the soil, and with no tardy progress, if it is duly fostered by those hands which, as much in prudence as in duty, should exert themselves to aid its efforts.
If it be asked, how Christianity is to extinguish slavery, the answer is, that its invariable and irresistible tendency to produce that effect, wherever it exists pure and animated, operates in various ways. It is the absence of marriage alone which has kept the number of the West-Indian slaves, to say the most, stationary. This cause alone explains this fact fully; and none other will. On the Isle Rhonde, one of the Grenadilla Islands, in 1790, there were 150 slaves; Christianity, and its handmaid marriage, were introduced amongst them; and, in December 1821, they were in number 284 by mere multiplication of the original population, and have therefore probably by this time doubled the 150 existing in 1790. It is palpable, when numbers increase thus, whilst the sugar market, and consequently the extension of cultivation, cannot, how much the value of slaves will diminish, and to how much lower a price manumission must fall; and that we may know, that the industry will exist, which will acquire money, and that there will be the frugality, which will cause it to accumulate, it should be observed, that the Wesleyans state, that the christian slaves always acquire a little property. Be it further observed, that the christians, in the settlements of liberated negroes at Sierra Leone, who were utter barbarians but a very few years since, not only maintain themselves in comfort, but export surplus produce. There will then be free labour to be hired; and no one can doubt of its superior cheapness, or that the proprietor will prefer a mode of cultivation, which will deliver him from all the uncertainties, the apprehensions, and the various responsibilities, attending its present shape.
Christianity will put an end to that disgraceful state of concubinage with the whites, in which so many of the brown women live. It begins to produce this effect. Marriage must take its place; and thence new beneficial relations, and feelings between the two races will arise, all tending to hasten the extinction of slavery. When the slave shall present in his conduct a living picture of the moral effects of the Gospel, the objections to receiving his oath must disappear. His master will, in every respect, view him in a light wholly 1188 different from that, in which he has beheld the thoughtless, ignorant, barbarous, sensual negro: and the interests of both, and their feelings, will naturally tend to a state of things unattainable by mere political enactments. It is but justice to the West-India proprietors to say, upon the authority of a document, respecting which it should be observed, that the impartiality with which it is written, and the extent of means of obtaining full and correct information, are unimpeachable—the Wesleyan report already referred to—that there is amongst many of them "an increasing concern for the religious welfare of the negroes;" and that "not a cold permission as formerly, has of late been given by many proprietors to allow the missionaries to visit their estates, but the good offices; of missionaries have been solicited, and that not only on the ground of the interest which every proprietor must have in the improved moral condition of his people, but, in some instances, from a conscientious regard to duty, and a pious concern for their moral, and eternal happiness."
§ Mr. William Smith
said:—Sir, I do not mean at this hour to enter into a general discussion of the propositions immediately before the House; but I must acknowledge, that I, among others, am much disappointed at finding that what we regarded as the, pledge given last year, has not been more completely redeemed: nor can I imagine a situation of affairs in which it would have been more justifiable for his majesty's ministers to have "applied to parliament for counsel," than under the conduct pursued, and the language held in several of the colonies—fearing as I do, that, if now foregone, that step will eventually be found necessary, and perhaps in circumstances of greater difficulty; unless indeed (which I am in the last degree unwilling to suppose), the purpose of government be shaken as to the grand object to which it stands engaged.
Sir, we, the enemies of the slave trade and of slavery, are accused of bringing forward, on every occasion, stories of enormous cruelties, as of frequent occurrence, which, it is contended, have been so seldom committed, that even those who build their arguments upon them are obliged perpetually to have recourse to the repetition of the same statements. If, indeed, we were desirous of dwelling on these topics, it would not be difficult to find a very sufficient number of instances without ever repeating the same tale; but I, for 1189 one, do not mean to rest the case in the slightest degree, on these tales. My strong ground is, that whenever and wherever man holds his fellow man as a slave, as property, as a disposable chattel, the uncontrolled passions of human nature will inevitably break out in frequent acts of violence, and that such do and must continually occur, without the possibility of subjecting them to the animadversion of law, or even to public notice. And that of which we always have complained most, is, that when enormous abuses of this kind have been detected, the local authorities, though representatives of his majesty, have often found the greatest difficulty in bringing the parties to justice. In that most atrocious case of Hodge of Tortola, governor Elliott wrote word, that he was actually obliged to draw out the militia of the Island, in order to prevent a rescue, and secure the execution of a man who deserved a thousand deaths. Here, in the recent dreadful affair of Thurtell, the only fear was, whether public indignation would allow the criminal a fair trial, there, whether, after trial and conviction, Hodge would not be rescued. In another case which happened to fall under my own more particular observation, they were actually obliged to remit a portion of the established punishment, because the resident planters of the colony were full of murmurs, that a manager should be punished for an offence, for which in this country scarcely any punishment would have been thought too severe.
It is said, that the slaves are at this time, in a state of great ease and comfort; I confess, Sir, I have considerable doubts on this head. I have no doubt of their situation being somewhat improved; the rigid scrutiny which these matters have undergone in this country during many years has let in light, and some of the most crying grievances must have been diminished; but I am old enough to recollect, that when we began the investigation of this subject above thirty years ago, most of the admirals and captains of the Navy, whose connexions and acquaintance led them to see the fairest side of things, then represented the state of the slaves to be as happy, comfortable, and desirable, as it is described to be at present. When abuses and evils are mentioned as now practised, it is said, "You are stating things as they were twenty or thirty years ago." When I look to twenty or thirty years ago, I find their existence at that 1190 time as strenuously denied then as now. The inference is undeniable. The general existence of the abuses has been proved beyond the possibility of refutation; and as they have been progressively exposed, and in some degree corrected, each successive race has endeavoured to shift the guilt and the odium back on its predecessors. But it is enough for me to remember, that the negroes still are slaves, and slavery is a state irreconcilable with the nature, the rights, and the duties of man; and to retain him in that state, for the benefit of another, is the grossest injustice.
I am not at this moment meddling with the question of compensation; but I say, that this country never had any more right to transferor permit to be transferred, property in African slaves, to any of its subjects, than it had to transfer property in Frenchmen. Why do we reprobate and detest the conduct of the Algerines? I ask, how we dare to do it? Have not the Algerines as complete a right to go and catch Spaniards, as we ever had to catch Negroes? I maintain firmly, that if all nations were to join to make over one single African in property to any man under heaven, it would be an act of mere barbarian force, and utterly void; nor could it deprive that man of his right to regain his liberty; that is to say, his possession of himself, whenever in his power. As against Great Britain, the West Indians may have much to urge. I do not deny that there may be guilt in the conduct of this country which may call on us to buy out of their hands those of whom they have most unjustly obtained possession, with our connivance or encouragement: but that question must be argued, and modified on its own merits:—it does not touch the right of the slave; and whenever we can put him in a situation wherein he can safely enjoy freedom, it is our duty so to do, and to employ, for bringing this about, the best means in our power. But I lament that there is this great difference between us and the West-Indian proprietors. We say, that all these means should be adopted, with the view and intention of ultimate emancipation. This they deny. They say, "We may perhaps carry into effect such of the proposed regulations for the well-being of the negroes as shall approve themselves to our own discretion, and to that extent which we shall judge right; but as for abolishing slavery we utterly refuse it!" I say, Sir, it is our affair to see that business performed; and until we do sec it put in 1191 a train of accomplishment, we are neglecting the most solemn duty which lies on this country, or which can be imposed upon it.
Sir with respect to the rumours circulated in the West Indies, or transmitted from thence hither, having read the accounts of past times, and compared them with the facts, I scruple not to assert, in the teeth of all the prophecies and denunciations of impending insurrection as the certain consequence of the agitation of the abolition of the slave trade, that there never did exist a period of equal length in which there were fewer insurrections than there have been since the abolition; and I would just hint, that when the real cause of the insurrection in Demerara comes to be inquired into, I believe a very different opinion will be formed on that subject from that which has been so industriously promulgated. It is said, notwithstanding all this outcry, the slaves are extremely happy—if so, I am glad to hear it—but I am sure that, as long as that happiness may be destroyed at the will of the owner, or of the executor, or any person into whose hands they may chance to fall; that is, while they have no security for the happiness they enjoy, it deserves not the name; the well-known couplet,For forms of government let fools contest,Whate'er is best adminster'd is best,has this great defect, that it omits an ingredient of the highest importance to excellence—security. If a government be well administered, and you have a complete security that it ever shall be so, the form of that government would indeed signify little. But one great reason for preferring one government to another is, not merely that we think it better administered for the present, but because we conceive its peculiar form to afford a greater security for the continuance of the benefits it confers.
Sir, with respect to the question of the independence of the West-Indian legislatures I do not now say much. The right hon. gentleman deprecates the discussion; but I must put one extreme case. Every gentleman who has turned his attention to this subject at all, must remember the quarrel which took place between lord Seaforth and the legislature of Barbadoes, when he wanted to make the murder of a slave felony, and they refused; which refusal he referred to the government at home,—I beg leave to ask any 1192 gentleman in this House, whether, supposing the legislature of Barbadoes had continued contumacious, and had sent word home by successive governors, that as long as they continued a legislature, so long the murder of a slave should never be made felony in that island—whether, I say, the government of this country would have been justified in permitting such a state of things to remain there, or in any one dependency of the British Empire? I will not enlarge on this head, but I commend it to most serious attention.
I must also take the liberty of hinting to gentlemen, by way of putting them upon their guard, that when we began, in the year 1787, to attack the slave trade, there was not one single laudatory epithet which is now bestowed on slavery itself in the West Indies, that was not bestowed on the trade. That abominable traffic was then represented as in no degree immoral; as contributing to the happiness of Africa; as in the highest degree promoting the wealth and prosperity of this country. It was said to be of high importance, in a political point of view; that as to its morality, none but fanatics and enthusiasts ever thought of finding fault with it. This was the character given, in 1787, of an occupation which, in 1807, was entirely abolished, as contrary to every dictate of justice, humanity, and religion; to which since that time the penalties of felony have been annexed; and which is now about to be proscribed as piracy—"hostis humani generis"—by the joint voice of England and America, and to the immortal honour of both countries.
Sir, within my recollection also it was contended, that it would be politically immoral if compensation were not given when this very slave trade was abolished. It was said, that the country was bound to support it; and the West-India planters joined with the Liverpool and Bristol slave traders in representing, that if the trade were forbidden, they too were injured, and were equally entitled to demand compensation for the suppression of a traffic which has since been so justly reprobated through all Europe, and in the condemnation of which they themselves have very properly joined.
Sir, I have derived so much pleasure from the information given to the House this night by the right hon. gentleman, of what is about to be done on this head, that I really could not sit down without 1193 expressing what I felt upon the occasion, both on the measure itself and the gratitude due to him for having accomplished it. Sir, a very respectable gentleman, (long a member of this House)—I mean Mr. Barham,—has lately written a pamphlet, in which he treats largely of compensation to the colonies, but begins by advising his fellow proprietors of West-Indian property to take the whole question into their most serious consideration and to prepare for the inevitable events:—"for," says he, "if the government be not sincere, and I will not do them the injustice to suppose that they would come forward with such propositions if they did not really intend to carry them into execution,—but if they be not sincere, it is not in their power to stop it; the emancipation of the negroes must ere long take place, and if the government were to use all their efforts to the contrary, it would not be in their power to prevent it."
§ Sir Robert Wilson
inquired of the right hon. secretary of state for foreign affairs, if the regulations now brought before the House were to be extended to the Cape of Good Hope, the Mauritius, and all our other colonies? He wished also to know, whether the 12th clause, which ordered, that no negro should receive more than twenty-five lashes "at any one time," meant, that the master might, for the same offence, but at some other time, tie up the slave, and, before his back was healed, again punish him?
§ Mr. T. Wilson
said, he had been at Grenada, and had there seen none of those scenes of wretchedness, which had been described by some of the hon. gentlemen opposite. He would briefly advert to what had fallen from his hon. friend, the member for Norwich, as to the comparative infrequency of insurrections. In his opinion, this had arisen from the circumstance, that since the abolition of the slave trade, and in consequence of the discussion which the question had undergone, the inhabitants of the colonies had been more on their guard, and kept a constant watch. Insurrection, therefore, had rather been prevented by their own vigilance, than by any improvement in the habits of the slaves. The hon. member denied that free labour would be so profitable as slave labour, and asked, who was to feed the negroes, provided they were emancipated; as in that case they assuredly would not work. He thought, that if the question was to be pressed forward in the 1194 manner which the hon. member for Bramber seemed to desire, the gentlemen connected with the West Indies would do wrong to give any consent to it, unless they had something like a pledge from the government, that compensation should be afforded to them. He was satisfied, that the measures proposed by his majesty's ministers for proceeding gradually, were the best that could be devised to meet all the difficulties of the case; and therefore they should have his cordial support.
Mr. Secretary Canning
rose to reply, and said:—Mr. Speaker; had I not been called upon in so direct a manner by some hon. gentlemen in the course of this debate, it was hot my intention to have offered myself again to your notice; and in addressing you at this late hour, Sir, and after so full a discussion, I am sure it will be agreeable to the House to hear that it is by no means my intention to trespass longer upon its time than may be necessary for replying to the questions which have been put to me.
And first, Sir, in reply to the question of the hon. member for South wark. The hon. gentleman wishes to know, whether the order in council forwarded to Trinidad, is to be communicated to the other colonies which he has named? Communications have been made to the Cape of Good Hope, and other eastern settlements, but of the result of those communications I am yet without information. With regard to the other question respecting the use of the whip, and the number of lashes which a master is to be authorized to inflict on his slave as punishment for an offence—I have no hesitation in saying that my construction of the words "at any one time," which are to be found in that order, is, for any one offence.
I come next, Sir, to the more important questions put to me by my hon. friend the member for Bramber, and by the hon. member for Taunton. I confess it appears to me incorrect to call the order in council an experiment. The proper term to apply to it is, an example; and I trust, Sir, it is an example which the rest of the colonies will feel it both their interest and their duty to follow, without any interference on the part of the government at home. With respect to such interference, however, I wish to be understood as reserving to myself the right of acting as circumstances may require. I have al- 1195 ready described the different kinds and degrees of interference which might be employed towards the colonial legislatures, should such a course become necessary; but I must repeat that I deprecate any such interference except by way of admonition and advice, unless as a last resource or in an urgent extremity. The power exists:—but any practical application of it ought to be most cautiously avoided, until all other means shall have been tried and found unavailing.
The hon. member for Taunton, has charged the government with delay, with want of decision, with agitating this great question, session after session, and still without any intelligible determination; with being, in short, like the hon. gentleman himself, as much on the one side as the other. This is the hon. gentleman's statement. Now, let us look at the facts. In the Month of May, 1823, this question was moved for the first time by the hon. gentleman opposite (Mr. Buxton.) The government then also for the first time declared its intention to take the question into its own hands. Only nine short months have passed over since the question in its present shape was first agitated; and the government now comes forward, and through me its humble instrument, proposes a measure which, whatever other gentlemen may think of it, seems to be so satisfactory to the hon. member, for Taunton, that he carries his approbation of it even beyond those who propose it; he expects even more from it than the government itself. Yet after having bestowed this extraordinary share of approbation on the measure proposed by the government, the hon. gentleman assumes the lecturer's chair, and proceeds to censure us alike for what we have done, and what we have omitted, and to tell us what we ought and ought not to do. The hon. gentleman on this as on some other occasions, reminds me, Sir, of certain members of this House, who were so well described by Mr. Burke forty years ago: "There are," said that eloquent statesman, "a certain class of persons who when they rise in their places, no man living can divine from any known adherence to parties, to opinions or to principles, from any order or system in their politics, or from any sequel or connexion in their ideas, what part they are going to take in any debate. It is astonishing how much this uncertainty, especially at critical times, calls the attention of all parties on such men. 1196 All eyes are fixed on them—all ears are open to hear them; each party gapes and looks alternately for their vote almost to the end of their speeches. Whilst the House hangs in this uncertainty—now the hear, hears! rise from this side—now they are re-bellowed from the other, and that party to whom they at length fall, from their tremulous and dancing balance always receive them in a tempest of applause." And now, Sir, just as forty years ago, there are gentlemen who get up late in the night, when the debate has reached a certain stage, and make a speech so nicely balanced this way, and that way, a piece of blame here, a piece of praise there—with censure and applause so beautifully blended and contrasted, that no man can venture to pronounce which ingredient predominates. To such gentlemen nothing certainly could be so disagreeable as to find the government taking upon itself the part of mediator, and thus occupying the situation which they considered as exclusively their own, and which, it appears, on the present occasion, the hon. member for Taunton was particularly anxious to occupy. He would fain have had the government assume a different course, and say to those who want all,—you shall have nothing,—and to those who wish to retain every thing, you shall give up all—in order that he might have had the opportunity of correcting the extravagance of the government, and saying "no—you must make one party concede this, and the opposing party, give up that; a government ought to avoid the excesses of a partisan." This, Sir, is exactly what the government has done. It has as I have said, assumed the position of mediator; and the hon. gentleman appears to be exceedingly disappointed that the situation which he had marked out for himself is thus filled.
The post of mediator being thus occupied, the hon. gentleman is now all for extremes; "Why do you thus hesitate?" says the hon. gentleman, "why temporize with the question? why not decide it once for all, and settle it for ever? If there be any danger in decision, you ought to meet it manfully, and look it boldly in the face." This, Sir, is advice very easily given by those who are not responsible for the consequences of following it. But the hon. gentleman's advice and example are not in exact accordance with each other. If like him we had balanced between theory and 1197 practice, we should have done nothing. But keeping his wisdom for himself, to us he gives advice, which would be sure to lead us into difficulties. "Look the danger boldly in the face," says he. Allow me to ask, what does the hon. gentleman mean by looking the danger boldly in the face? for I protest I do not understand him. Does he mean that slavery shall continue as it is? or does he mean to recommend immediate emancipation? If the honourable gentleman counsels either of these extremes, and will have the goodness to say which of them he means to counsel, he will be at least intelligible—he will have recommended a decisive measure. The bold course of which he speaks would undoubtedly be, to adopt one of these extremes; but in the most perfect sincerity, I declare I cannot make out which of the two is his favourite. The government, however, has adopted a middle course; and this milder mode of proceeding is precisely that, which, if we had adopted either of his bold courses, the honourable member would have been delighted to have an opportunity of recommending.
The course now proposed by his majesty's government will, as we believe, effect every thing which, after mature deliberation we believe can be safely attempted at this time. I know that there are persons connected with the West Indies, who wish to force the government to say more on this subject—to extort from us a further declaration of the views which we entertain for the future. They wish us to give a pledge that no more shall ever be done than is now proposed. But I will not commit myself on this subject.
The honourable gentleman opposite (Mr. Buxton) is not more vehement in his abhorrence of slavery in the abstract than I am. But I have a repugnance to abstract declarations. I am desirous of acting on this, as I would do on all other occasions, on the best information that I can obtain, with a view to practical benefit: I am desirous of taking moderation, equity, justice, and sound policy, for my guides. But I will not consent to be fettered by any engagements express, or implied. I will not be led by either side, or in either sense, to declarations from which it may be impossible to advance, and dangerous to retreat. If it would be improper to declare an intention of stopping here, it would be equally improper to hold out any pledge of ulterior and accelerated measures. The ques- 1198 tion is not—it cannot be made—a question of right, of humanity, of morality merely. It is a question which contemplates a change, great and difficult beyond example; one almost beyond the power of man to accomplish—a change in the condition and circumstances of an entire class of our fellow creatures—the recasting, as it were, of a whole generation of mankind. If this be not a question requiring deliberation—cautious and fearful1 deliberation, I know not what can be so. Sir, we must proceed in it with the extremest circumspection; we must watch the signs of the times, taking advantage of every favourable occurrence; but reserving a discretion and freedom of action, which it would be madness wantonly to throw away.
Whatever, therefore, may be the opinion of the hon. member for Taunton, I will not consent to depart from the course, which, after the most mature consideration, the government has determined to adopt. I will cheerfully resign to him either of the extremes, between which alone he conceives the choice to lie: but I will not be shamed by any thing which the hon. gentleman can say out of our moderate and middle course of policy, into one which, because we have not adopted it, he calls by the name of decision, but which, if we had been unadvised enough to engage in it, he would justly have characterized as rashness.
The question was then put, and leave was given "to bring in a bill, for the-more effectual Suppression of the African Slave Trade."