HC Deb 16 May 1825 vol 13 cc606-11
Mr. Manning

moved the order of the day for the third reading of this bill.

Mr. Evans

objected to the bill, because it placed the slaves in a worse condition than they were formerly. He thought, at the same time, it would ruin the individuals who were connected with it. He would therefore move, "That it be read a third time that day six months."

Mr. T. Wilson

contended, that the company would always have the means, and, he trusted, the inclination, to protect the slaves. There never was a better time than the present for the establishment of this company, which would afford relief to the distressed planters of the West Indies, and contribute to the improvement of the condition of the negroes.

Dr. Lushington

felt himself bound, in duty, to resist the passing of this bill. Should the plantations in the West Indies become vested in a company, instead of remaining the property of individuals, the consequence would be, that the whole management of the slaves would be intrusted to agents. Hence the slaves would be left at the mercy of an inferior class of persons, and be subjected to many new sufferings. Another objection to this bill was, that new difficulties would be thrown in the way of manumission. In the hands of a company, the slaves would become as it were vested in mortmain. The bill was also likely to impede the beneficial change in the West Indies, which parliament had frequently endeavoured to promote.

Mr. Hume

did not think the measure open to the objections just urged. He was not aware that it would produce the slightest change in agency in the West Indies, or impede manumission. The distresses fell equally on the slaves and the proprietors, and this bill would relieve both classes.

Sir I. Coffin

said, he was satisfied that this was a very good bill, and he hoped it would pass.

Mr. Sykes

opposed the third reading of the bill, to which he urged three prominent objections. First, it would prevent manumission, and the exercise of kindly feelings towards the slaves; secondly, it confirmed the existing system in the West Indies, and enlisted forty thousand additional enemies to the liberation of the negroes; thirdly, the price of West-India produce would be augmented by the capital and influence of the company. Of all measures of the kind brought forward, after the resolutions of the House, the orders in council, and the acts of parliament, none seemed to him so objectionable as this.

Mr. R. Gordon

contended, that the main object of the bill was to enable West India proprietors to borrow money of a company instead of individuals, and on more advantageous terms.

Sir J. Yorke

could not understand what was the use of this bill, as mortgagors would not obtain money at a lower rate of interest after the passing of the bill than before it.

Mr. F. Buxton

admitted, that there was a reduction in the value of slave property, and the operation of the bill would be to prevent persons from investing capital in the purchase and sale of human flesh. It was clear, from every principle of Christianity, that human beings ought not to be trafficked in. This bill certainly did give great power to the West-India interests. Mr. Fox had said, many years ago, that there was no interest so well represented in that House as the West-India interest; and even in a recent Jamaica paper, it was asserted that the West-India interest could put forth a phalanx of two hundred members in the House of Commons. He was persuaded that his majesty's government would not be able to resist this powerful interest; and he would therefore call on them, and on every independent member to consider well before they decided on this momentous question.

Mr. Wilmot Horton

was satisfied, that whether we looked to the experience of past times or to analogy, it was clear that the prosperity of the master must have an obvious effect on the slave, and that as the profits of the master increased, so would the condition of the slave under him be ameliorated. He referred to the speech of Mr. Wilberforce on the subject of the Slave Trade in 1789, in support of his opinion.

Mr. Brougham

said, he certainly entertained a decided objection to this bill-an objection which no change in its details could remove. His objection was not founded on that general slowness with which he was inclined to incorporate joint-stock trading companies; though he always felt repugnant to joint-stock companies, considering that they were mischievous when not placed under tight and close restrictions; but, his objection was grounded on the nature of the bill; and he would intreat the attention of the House to the subject, and beseech it not to suffer itself to be led away by any vain imaginations. This measure affected property all over the West Indies. It affected every slave, man, woman, and child, throughout the West India colonies. It was a measure calculated to exasperate every one of those mischiefs which were already sufficiently intolerable, as respected negro slavery. If he did not demonstrate this, he would be content to withdraw his opposition to the bill. What was it that the slaves now had in the West Indies as a security for mildness in there treatment?—[Here the hon. and learned gentleman was disturbed by a noise in the House]—If it was not convenient for hon. members to bestow a decent portion of attention to this important subject now, he should be under the painful necessity of moving an adjournment of the question, until some other opportunity, when the House was in a better frame of mind to legislate with respect to the limbs, liberty, and lives of 800,000 human beings held in bondage. He would defy any hon. member to get rid of this objection—that the only security the slave now had for any thing like mild and just treatment was, not in his own power, but the interest of his master—the feelings and affections of his owner. In the feeling and humanity of a judicious owner, the slave had something like a security; but, if three thousand miles were interjected between the slave and his owner, every man would admit that that slave had little chance of mild, kind, or just treatment. On every question with respect to slavery, the condition of the slave in this respect was alluded to. All the incalculable injuries and evils to which he was subject were universally attributed to the existence of non-resident planters. "If lord Such-a-one, who lives in London, or Mr. Such-a-one, who lives in Liverpool, were present on his own plantation, unquestionably he would prevent these mischiefs," was the universal cry, when cruelties to slaves were complained of; but he, unfortunately, trusted to his book-keeper or his overseer on the estate in the West Indies, and therefore every one concurred, that the master's absence was the great cause of all the evils that arose. That was the palliative and the excuse made on all occasions. And, what was to be the operation of this bill? Why, to create a company of 40,000 non-resident and necessarily absent slave-holders. We were here adding to absence and non-residence, the still more frightful cause of the worse treatment to the slave namely the property becoming ideal Suppose a plantation of one hundred negroes [here the learned member was again interrupted by a noise in the House]. It was rather curious that little attention could not be applied to this subject. Honourable members were so wrapt up in joint-stock company speculations, or rather their friends were—for members, of course, never did such things—that they could not bestow attention on a subject, wherein the lives, the comforts, and the limbs of 800,000 of their fellow-creatures were interested. This was carrying joint-stock companies to an extent that he never expected to see. Rail roads, banks and other schemes, were well enough as subjects for joint-stock companies, but, while he held a seat in that House, he never could consent to place the lives and comforts of 800,000 men, women, and children, at the mercy of a joint-stock company. But, suppose the case of an estate holding 100 slaves, which was mortgaged to these 4,000 joint-stock company individuals—suppose every one of the slaves was maltreated—suppose the estate became the worst managed estate in all the West-Indies—to whom was he to look as a person responsible for the blood that was shed, and the cruelty and misery that were inflicted? Why, a board of Directors! If the hon. gentleman opposite, the member for Seaford, were the owner, he knew he had a humane man, and one of respectability to be responsible to him; but, in this case, he had only the chairman, the deputy chairman, and the shareholders of a joint-stock company. On this view of the question, he could only come to one conclusion; namely, that those who had been ill-used before, would be ten thousand times worse off now, and be sacrificed to a joint-stock company, trafficking in the property of ho an flesh.

Mr. Baring

differed from the view taken by the hon. and learned gentleman who had just sat down. The object of this bill was not to purchase West-India estates; but merely to form a company for the purpose of becoming mortgagees of West-India property. The hon. member for Weymouth had stated, that such a project was encouraging slavery. He begged leave to differ from him; as he thought it was rather calculated to prevent the traffic in slavery, than to promote it. The traffic of slaves in the colonies arose from the distress of the masters; and this project was intended to remove that cause. He had no apprehension that a company, acting openly in this metropolis, and whose proceedings must necessarily be known to the public; would sanction the acts of oppression so much feared by his hon. friends. He could not, however, let that opportunity pass, without expressing his regret, that the traffic in slaves was still so unblushingly and barefacedly carried on by those powers who had the meanness to disavow in their diplomatic despatches, what they had not the manliness to openly acknowledge. To France he particularly alluded; in whose ports there was not the slightest attempt to disguise this odious traffic. He believed that our efforts to suppress it, had only produced the exercise of increased cruelty and inhumanity. A greater mass of misery now existed on account of this traffic, than at any period since the question was first agitated.

Mr. W. Smith

said, that when the very important interests which were involved in the bill were considered, he could not help saying, that, in his opinion, it ought to have been brought forward as a public and not as a private bill; because, in that case, it would have received the consideration which it deserved. He was glad to hear his hon. friend disclaim any personal interest in the measure; although he was far from agreeing with him in the view which he took of it. He could not help thinking with his learned friend, that the object of the bill was, to vest the proprietorship of West-India property in a company. The hon. member had said, that this company would be responsible to the public, to whom they would be obliged to render an annual account of their proceedings. He had, however, looked in vain for any clause in the bill, which rendered it imperative on them to render any such account. The prospectus stated, that the company would divide a profit of five per cent. This was in contradiction to the opinion of Mr. Bryan Edwards and sir W. Young, who had left it upon record in their writings, that the average of such profits could not amount to more than four per cent. He was therefore inclined to oppose the bill, if upon no other ground than this, that it would fail in its object, which was, to bolster up a losing concern, and to put off to a longer period, that effectual reform, by which, and by which alone, the prosperity of our West-India colonies could be secured and confirmed.

Mr. C. R. Ellis

said, he could assure the House, that he was as anxious to contribute to the welfare of the slaves as any man. If he thought the bill could, by any possibility, affect their welfare or comfort, he should be just as adverse to it as the most strenuous of its opponents. But, he could not contemplate any such result. One hon. and learned member had said, that the object of the bill was, to create a number of absentee proprietors. It was no such thing. The object of the bill was, to create a company, who were to carry on the business of West-India merchants; and hon. gentlemen knew very little of the business of West-India merchants, if they believed that it was confined to the purchase of West-India estates. The hon. gentleman proceeded to contend, that the situation of the negro would be benefitted, rather than injured by the bill. Some hon. gentlemen had asked, what were the real objects of the measure? His answer was, that the West-India proprietors had, from a series of distresses, been necessitated to borrow money of the merchants, on their estates, and these, in turn, feeling extreme inconvenience from the non-payments of those advances, the present bill was now proposed, and was fully calculated to relieve both parties, and at the same time to leave to the subscribers a handsome profit on their advance.

The House divided: For the third reading 103: Against it 25. The bill was then read a third time, and passed.