§ Mr. William Smith,
in rising to make his promised motion, respecting the treatment of Slaves in the colonies of Demerara and Berbice, observed, that the subject was so interesting, important, and fertile in difficulties, as well as in the many considerations it involved, that he deemed it better to treat it by piecemeal, than bring the whole bearings of the question at once before the House. The angry discussions which took place on the subject were caused by the claim set up on the part of the planters, to a property in the body of man. They all contended, that they had an 503 equal right to their slaves as to their other property. This pretence was the root of all the evil, and the source of the mischief, and demoralization, which it became the duty of the House to remedy. That a man might have a right to a certain extent of the labour of another he was free to admit; but when he proceeded to make an absolute claim, such as that set up by the planters, he confounded all the dictates of common sense, and advanced principles as repugnant to justice as to common humanity. What! would it be contended that a man had an equal right to his horse as to his chair? or could it be supposed, that he might chop off the leg of the one as capriciously, and with the same impunity, as that of the other? Indeed, so far had this doctrine been carried, even in this country, that a few years ago, if you remonstrated with a brute, whilst he was abusing his superior brute in the streets, his answer would be, "Is not the animal mine? He is mine, and I will abuse him as long as it is my pleasure." Every man of common humanity must have revolted at the feeling which such an expression conveyed; and he protested that, when a similar right was claimed by the slave-proprietors of Demerara, it struck him with horror:—a feeling which he entertained in common with others who could not be suspected of prejudice; for it appeared from a despatch of governor Elliot's, that the Attorney-general of the colony over which he presided, expressly said, that he was shocked to hear a lawyer declare, at the trial of a slave, "that there was no more harm in killing a negro than a dog." He was free to admit that a great change of opinion had taken place on this question, owing principally to the discussions in that House, since the subject was first brought under its consideration in 1787. The colonies of Demerara and Berbice were now selected, and the motion made respecting the slave-population of those colonies, because they had both signalized themselves by their resistance to the recommendation of government, although the proprietors in those Islands had, in fact, less semblance of reason for complaint than any other, inasmuch as they had not embarked their capital in slave property until within a few years before the slave trade was abolished, and not until long after the discussions in parliament ought to have led them to expect such a consummation. If, therefore, they 504 chose to vest their money in Dutch colonies, which, at the time, were likely to be subjected to the dominion of this country, they certainly could now have no just claim on the mercy of the House. After stating, that when these Islands were conquered by us, it was provided in the capitulation that they should enjoy their own laws until it was finally settled to what nation they should belong, the hon. member observed, that, if the Dutch institutions, which now existed in Demerara and Berbice, were examined closely, it would be found that their courts of policy had no more right to enact laws to bind the inhabitants, than they had to interfere with the government of any other West-Indian island. These courts were solely empowered to put in force the laws of the States-general, or of this country, which was now the representative of the Dutch government. So strictly true was this observation, that, shouldany contumacious planter oppose or resist a law passed by the courts of policy, they had no authority to enforce it. The hon. member deprecated the obstinate and unfeeling conduct of the colonists of the islands in question, in having refused obedience to the order in council sent out by lord Bathurst. Had they acted differently, the discussions on the subject would have now been at an end, and the slave-population would have reaped the benefit of an order transmitted in May 1823, and which nothing but the cruelty of the colonists prevented from being carried into execution, at least two years and a half ago. The planters of Demerara had, it was understood, urged the late insurrection in that colony, as a reason why the recommendation of government had not been adopted. On that subject he should say nothing: it had been discussed in that House in a manner not soon to be forgotten, and the trial of the unfortunate and injured individual connected with it would long remain fixed in the recollection of every man who had a heart to feel for the undeserved sufferings of an innocent fellow-creature. That insurrection had been, by some interested persons, attributed to the missionaries; but the petition presented a few days back from Antigua went a great length to exonerate those individuals from the imputation of being its instruments or promoters; for it would be most unreasonable to argue, that their exertions could have produced a beneficial effect in Antigua, and an opposite one in Demerara. There 505 were many circumstances, which, in his mind, accounted for the disturbances in Demerara. That colony had been loaded with fresh negroes, imported by English avarice and folly. There had been a great abuse of power exercised towards the slaves, so that long before and after it became a British colony, there prevailed that discontent and alienation of feeling, which could not but break out into insurrection. If they compared the atrocities of former rebellions with the incidents of the recent one, it would enable them to form a somewhat accurate estimate of the purposes to which missionary influence had been directed. In 1789 there was a violent insurrection in Demerara; the negroes then fled to the woods, and perpetrated acts of cruelty, which even the greatest provocation (and their sufferings had been great indeed) could not justify. It was stated in Mr. Bryan Edwards's history, that a system of oppression then obtained in that colony, of so atrocious a character, as to make the blood of an Englishman run cold, and the blood of a negro to boil; and it had boiled, and had remained boiling ever since. Let the House look to the progress of the two insurrections, and then judge of the conduct of the missionaries. In 1789, when there was not a single missionary in the island, the negroes murdered many whites, burnt the farm-houses, destroyed the plantations, and rioted in the commission of every species of cruelty. During the last insurrection, there were many missionaries on it, and owing to their influence it was, that not one white life had been lost, except that of an individual who had been killed accidentally. This forbearance on the part of the slaves was the more deserving of approbation, when it was considered that they rose to force from their masters that freedom which they believed had been granted to them by government. Another predisposing cause of the recent insurrection was, the ill treatment of the slaves; and, if he were asked to produce authority for the assertion, he would at once turn to the trial of that individual Mr. Smith, to whom he before alluded. He would direct the attention of the House to the private journal of that amiable man, which, as it was not intended for publication, might be relied on as containing only a true detail of facts. Let them look to that journal, and there they would find irrefragable proofs of the existence of a sys- 506 tem of cruelty which it was impossible to contemplate, without shuddering.—The hon. member, after some further remarks, observed, that the manner of treating the slaves, and the attention paid to their complaints, however well-founded, would appear from the Fiscal returns. On examining the complaints of these unfortunate persons, as detailed in the returns in question, it would be found that but in one instance was the accused individual punished, and that not for cruelty, but for a more tangible offence, for starvation; that was to say, for not giving the slave that quantity of food to which he was by law entitled; and yet it was most strange that the slaves had, in many instances, been themselves punished; and the people against whom these charges were made, were, in nine cases out of ten, discharged on their testimony. But the injury which most of all was calculated to irritate the negro was the liberty taken by the manager or overseer with his wife or daughter. It was notorious, that in all the colonies the manager took whatever liberties he pleased with the female slaves; and, while he possessed the authority of inflicting such annoyances and punishment as he pleased On the wretched being, it was of course to be inferred that the slave was wholly in his power; for, though he might guard against violating the law, he had still the means of harassing, even if he never inflicted more than one lash every hour. One of the complaints on this subject, as given in the Fiscal's returns, was made in August, 1822, by Felix, a slave belonging to plantation Scotland. Felix states to the Fiscal:—"That he had a black woman upon the estate for his wife, now two years; and the reason of his coming to complain is, that the manager of the estate takes her from him, although he has a wife of his own. He is always taking the negroes wives, particularly his wife (Felix's), for she has had a child by him: and since the child has been born, the manager is always punishing him and his wife without a cause. Some time ago, ten of the gang came to complain to their master, Dr. Broer, to report to him that the manager had connexion with their wives: their master promised to them that he would remove the manager from the estate, and place another one there. Upon this promise, the negroes returned to the estate; but since that they have never heard of another manager."—"On 507 hearing this complaint, the acting Fiscal proceeded to the state, accompanied by Dr. Broer, the owner; and on questioning the manager and negroes, in presence of each other, on the subject-matter of the complaint, it appeared that Felix had neglected his work, and was told he would be punished if he did not finish his task the next day, which he did not do; and therefore, supposing the manager would punish, him, he went to the Fiscal to complain. This being proved, Felix was punished for his misconduct, and the manager severely reprimanded for taking improper liberties with the women on the estate, which it was evident he had done! and Dr. Broer was therefore strongly recommended to discharge him from his employ" But, although he was dismissed for a short; time, it appeared that he was afterwards employed. In another case, where an individual had been guilty of several bar-barities towards the slaves under his control, the sentence, upon prosecution and conviction, was only three months' imprisonment, and a fine of twenty-five pounds; to be sure there was, in that case, too, a recommendation to dismiss him from exercising any further control over the slave population; but, as in the case to which he had alluded, the moment the time of imprisonment expired, he was employed as before. It was a rule of philosophy, which had his full concurrence, and which he intended to abide by in the present case, that when there was sufficient for the support of a cause, it would be an unnecessary waste of labour to go further. That he had stated enough in proof of the positions he had advanced, he was fully satisfied, and he would now revert to what was more immediately connected with his present motion. His majesty's government had intimated it to be their intention, if they had not already Carried such intention into execution, of appointing a protector or guardian of slaves in the colonies. Now, although he approved most heartily of the principle of such a measure, yet he would contend, that, unless they carried that principle much further, and absolutely prohibited all such inspectors from being in any way connected with the employment or employers of slaves, they would do little or nothing by such appointments towards those objects which he believed his majesty's government to be as sincerely interested in, as the abolitionists themselves. He had proofs in abundance, that, in the 508 colony of Demerara, of which he was particularly about to speak, nine out of ten of the persons appointed to guard against abuses were themselves the most interested in their continuance. The burgher captains, the persons who decided the disputes between slaves and freemen, were themselves the owners of slaves; and the friends, companions, and connexions of the whites. Upon what principle of reason or common sense, then, could it be supposed, that they would decide impartially in those cases which were brought before them? The very idea of such authority being a protection to the slave, was an absurdity. Mr. Henry, who had published some curious statements with regard to the island of Berbice, represented the criminal and civil law of that colony, and all those islands which once belonged to the Dutch, as being a matter of extreme nicety. The code of laws left by that nation to their colonies was like their own, chiefly founded on the old Roman law; and Mr. Henry observed, that both in its method of taking examinations, and in the whole of its proceedings, it involved great legal niceties; that it was difficult to acquire, and very little understood by those who were called upon to decide according to its dictates; and that the burgher captains in particular knew little or nothing about it. He did not mean to censure any men, or body of men. It could not, perhaps, be expected, from their situation in life, that these persons should be profoundly versed in legal technicalities; but it was, he thought, obvious, that if they were totally unfit to administer justice among the whites, they were not fit to be in-trusted with the protection of the blacks; and when it was recollected, as he observed before, that they were in every instance the friends, companions, and even relations of those who might be supposed the aggressors, it could not be expected that the slaves would derive much benefit from their interference. Now, it was proposed, he understood, to send out only one principal inspector, who was to be, in every instance, a man as impartial and as free from all local prejudices as human nature would admit. But he distinctly laid it down as beyond contradiction, that unless the minor inspectors were equally impartial, and equally free from the operation of local interests, there could be no protection to the slave. It was impossible for any man, however endowed with bodily or mental energy, to 509 be present in every place where persecution and cruelty might be practised; and, unless the subordinate inspectors were made as free from interest as the principal, the whole end of their labours would be defeated. We declared in this country, by our actions and our expressions, that Roman Catholics were incapable, by their religious tenets, of understanding or practising the relations enjoined by civil society; but it was somewhat strange, that in every colony which had been subject to Roman Catholics, the laws were more favourable to the slaves, and productive of effects infinitely more beneficial to their interests, than in the colonies belonging peculiarly to those who were styled the liberal Protestants. In Demerara, it was one of the great objections to the missionary Smith, that he had gone about asking questions with regard to the condition of the slaves, for the purpose, as was alleged, of ingratiating himself into their favour; but his astonishment might be conceived, when he found that what was objected to the missionary Smith, by Protestants, and censured in such unmeasured terms, was one of those things enjoined and commanded by Roman Catholics. In the Spanish colonies, the Roman Catholic priests were commanded to go about, and visit, and comfort, and inquire into the wants and complaints of the negroes. Was it not astonishing, that those who had first imported the Africans, and worked up the Aborigines, should have left us the model upon which we had since framed our resolutions? The order in council sent to Trinidad was, in part, if not wholly, founded on the old Spanish laws. And was it not disgraceful in the highest degree, as Protestants, that we should thus adopt so tardily the measures left us by Roman Catholics; and that, adopting them, we had not more speedily carried them into execution, to their full extent? It was said, that the negroes were not in a fit state to be emancipated. This he believed most truly, and sorry, very sorry, should he be to see any order promulgated for their immediate freedom; but if they were not fit for the enjoyment of freedom, to whom was that to be attributed but to the masters? They had brutalized these unhappy beings, and deprived them of the capacity to appreciate the advantages which might be conferred upon them. They had left them in that state which would make it 510 dangerous to intrust them with liberty. He was not speaking of individuals, but of the general body of slave-owners. These individuals had possessed an unlimited authority over their slaves. Had they used it for the purpose of humanizing them? On this point he wished for no other concession than that which had been made, over and over again, by Mr. Bryan Edwards, who was himself a West-India proprietor. That gentleman had admitted that the state of the West Indies was truly deplorable; that the example set by the colonists to their slaves was such that it was no wonder that the slaves, instead of improving in their conduct and morals, actually deteriorated. And how, indeed, could it be otherwise, when nothing was attempted by the slave-proprietors in the way of education or religious instruction? Except a law, passed ages ago, he believed in 1669, for building churches and educating slaves in the island of Jamaica, and which law was almost a dead letter, nothing had been done to make the slave acquainted with his moral or religious duties. There was an old story told of the king of Prussia, a martinet in his way, but a great pretender to philosophy, that when a soldier was brought before him for some infamous offence committed against good order, he asked if the man was a good soldier; and upon being told that he was a very good one, he replied, "Then, what have I to do with his morals?" So it was with the slave-owners: provided a negro worked well, they did not consider they had any thing to do with his moral or social duties. It was, therefore, very true, that the negroes were not fit for deliverance from thraldom. But what could be said to those who had for forty years—from the first time when his valued friend, Mr. Wilberforce, sounded that note, which had been repeated still louder by Mr. Pitt and Mr. Fox afterwards—what could be said to those who had neglected every opportunity of providing for that crisis which they saw must come, and shuffled off every recommendation which was offered them as a provision against the danger? If all the negroes who had been in the hands of their masters for the last forty years had been properly treated and instructed; if a redress of their wrongs, and a cultivation of their minds, had been set about in good earnest, he entertained no doubt but that we should now have had our West-India colonies filled with a 511 sound, moral, and intelligent population. Indeed, of all the charges he had to make against the colonists, none was so heavy in his opinion, as their neglecting so wantonly those signs of the times which were so distinctly apparent, and which not only reminded them of their duty, but also pointed out the path to its performance, and the consequence of their neglect. Speaking, however, of those duties which, as men and as Christians, they were bound to fulfil, what terms were strong enough to express their sense of such gross neglect and indifference? If slavery was only a civil crime, a malum prohibitum, the slave-owner might have considered that he did all that was required, when be evaded the commission of a felony or a piracy, and virtually obeyed the injunction of the legislature; but he knew, that when he took upon himself the right to the labour of the slave, be also took upon himself duties of a higher and more sacred character than any which were either enjoined or claimed by the laws of his country; he knew that he took upon himself duties which existed before the 30th of George 3rd was ever contemplated; and though the penalty of the omission of one kind of duty might depend on the statute, he knew that an attention to the other was more imperiously, though perhaps more silently demanded from every man who pretended to be worthy of an admission within the pale of civilization, or to have made himself acquainted with the precepts contained in the book of the Christian Word.—There was only one point more to which he would advert; but he thought it came so home to the question of the humanity of the Slave-trade, and was so highly deserving of their serious consideration, that he could not avoid troubling them with a few observations upon it. It had very recently come to his knowledge, that the cultivation of sugar was more injurious to human life than any other of the West-India productions. The assertion had been made before; but he was now possessed of proof upon the point, which must be considered conclusive. A commission had been sent out from St. Christopher's to inquire into the state of the island of Anguilla, and the reporter states in these terms the result of his investigation:—"The ground is poor; the slaves have no cattle; they acknowledge no government; crimes are left without pun- 512 ishment. They have no sense of morals to act as a restraint upon their actions. The slaves are few, and totally destitute of clothing. They have no food; and to sum up all, it is impossible to conceive a system more ruinous to the master, or more degrading to the slave." But let the House bear in mind this picture of misery, and consider how it was to be compared with the state of those in more favoured soils. In the four great sugar islands there was a decrease of human life, varying, according to the production of sugar, from eight hundred weight per man down to two hundred and a quarter. In these colonies—and they were the richest in soil—.when about seven or eight hundred weight of sugar per man was produced, the decrease of the number of slaves averaged from two to three per cent. In colonies where the production was three, four, or five hundred hundred weight per man, the number of slaves remained nearly the same; but in Barbadoes, and some others, where the quantity of sugar produced was smaller, there was a small annual increase. But the great and conclusive confirmation to this theory was to be found in Anguilla; where the slaves, living in a poor soil, without clothing, food, morals, or government, were—as the reporter stated—vigorous, healthy, and increasing rapidly, and yet they produce only two hundred weight of sugar each. Was not this an establishment, beyond all question, of the truth of the principle, that the cultivation of sugar was pernicious to human life? The hon. gentleman concluded by observing, that he did not mean what he had stated as a reflection upon any body of men. He merely pointed out these facts as proofs of the evils of the system under which the negroes suffered—evils which, he trusted, would not now long remain without remedy. He would not trespass further upon the attention with which the House had so kindly favoured him, but conclude by moving the resolution he had to propose, and which, he believed, would be found to contain recommendations of the utmost importance to the success of those measures which parliament had pledged itself to carry into execution; namely,
"That, from the official documents laid before this House, and other authentic information respecting the colonies of Demerara and Berbice, it appears that although protection has been held out to 513 the slave-population of those countries, either by the fiscal or chief judge, in the capacity of protector of slaves, or by some other person acting in that character, yet that the slaves have generally been, and still remain, exposed to numerous vexations and grievous oppression, demanding effectual relief; and that the House has therefore observed with great satisfaction the declared determination of his majesty's ministers to promulgate in those colonies an order in council on this important subject, to which unqualified obedience will be required: But that from all reasoning and experience, this House is led to conclude that me legal enactments, however well devised and strongly framed, can prove sufficient for such effectual safeguard of the slave, unless the officers, both principal and subordinate, to whom the execution of the law is to be intrusted, shall be appointed and supported by the government at home, and absolutely prohibited from possessing or employing slaves in any capacity, either prædial or domestic."
Mr. Wilmot Horton
said, that the greater part of the hon. member's speech was so little in keeping with the resolutions that he had submitted to the House, that he felt some difficulty in knowing whether he was to address his observations to the speech or the resolution. In the first instance he must object to a part of the hon. gentleman's resolution; for to say that the slaves still remained in a state of insecurity, was to say that the course which had been pursued by his majesty's government, and which had been sanctioned by the approbation of parliament, was insufficient to remove the existing evil. At that moment, the order in council which was issued in Trinidad was, with a few modifications, in full operation in Demerara, and would soon be so in Berbice. Under these circumstances, he owned he was at a loss to discover what practical advantage there could be in looking back to see what the law, and the usages under the law, had been. It would be much better, in his opinion, to look forward, and to anticipate the benefits which would result from the measures that had lately been adopted. It was perfectly true that a protector of slaves had been appointed for the colony of Demerara. He was an individual who, after a full inquiry into his qualifications and character, appeared to be perfectly competent to the important situation to which he had been 514 appointed by the Crown. This gentleman's instructions were to the following effect:—"It is your particular duty, as protector of slaves, to watch over all the regulations that may exist at present, or that may be introduced hereafter, respecting the treatment of slaves in Demerara. You are to apply to the local government for such facilities as may enable the slaves to communicate to you any complaints they may have to make against their owners; and you are not to fail to report to the lieutenant-governor any impediments which may be thrown in the way of such communication. You are not, on all occasions, to wait for the spontaneous complaints of the slaves themselves; but if you hear of any mal-treatment to which they have been subjected, you are to repair to the estate on which that reported mal-treatment has occurred, and institute a diligent inquiry into the circumstances of the case. You are not, however, to forget, in the execution of your office, that it is as much your duty to secure the legitimate rights of the proprietors, as it is to protect the slaves from injustice and oppression. On those points you are to endeavour to exercise a sound discretion, and to adopt such measures as, while they secure the slaves, may not interfere with their industry or with the obedience which they owe to their masters. For that purpose, although you ought to exercise the utmost vigilance in protecting the slaves from injurious treatment, you ought at the same time to discourage all frivolous and unfounded complaints. One of your earliest studies ought to be, the means of fixing on the minds of the slaves, by such statements and arguments as may be capable of comprehension by them, the principles of these instructions." He should be able to place these instructions in a few days on the table of the House; but he trusted that the extracts which he had read from them would be sufficient to meet the statement of the question which had that evening been made by the hon. member for Norwich. The House would see from them that the protector had power given him to enforce the duties of his office, and that, if that power were not sufficient for his object, he was authorized to apply to the governor for more. The plan which had been tried in Trinidad was already carried into execution in Demerara, and was preparing to be carried into execution in Berbice—an improvement to which the 515 hon. member ought to have referred in preference to the acts of exasperation which had taken place at former periods. Indeed, he thought that it would be wiser for the hon. member to draw the attention of the House to the favourable prospects of the future, than to involve it in these inconvenient discussions on the past, from which no advantage could be derived either to the question which the hon. member had at heart, or to the more general and more important interests of society. The hon. Secretary then proceeded to notice that part of the speech of the hon. member for Norwich in which he had declared it to be desirable that all the persons connected with the tribunals in these colonies, subordinates as well as principal, should be prohibited from having any property in slaves. In the case of the protector of slaves, of the chief justice, and of the attorney-general of the colony, he was prepared to say, that the government was determined to enforce such a regulation; but he doubted whether it was prudent to say, that, in all the minor officers of judicature, all property in slaves should be prohibited. A regulation to that effect would render property in slaves a degradation contrary to the resolutions unanimously assented to by the House in 1823, which secured to the planters that species of property, and gave them all a beneficial interest in it. In the progress of his speech, the hon. member for Norwich had adverted to the insurrection which had broken out in Demerara two or three years ago. He had said that it was calumnious to attribute that insurrection to the causes to which it was usually attributed, as it arose principally from the unsatisfactory situation of the slave-population. He had likewise made an admission on the subject which he was very glad to hear. The hon. member had said, that the slaves had risen to attain that freedom which they erroneously supposed had come out to them from England. Now this was what had always been asserted on the ministerial side of the House, and as roundly denied on the opposition side. The hon. member for Norwich, and those with whom he was in the habit of acting, said the insurrection did not arise from any misconception on the part of the slaves, but from the mistreatment to which they had severally been subjected. The hon. member now unsaid his former declaration; and if there had existed a doubt of his 516 policy in so doing, it was entirely done away by one of the last despatches of sir B. D'Urban to lord Bathurst. That despatch, in which sir B. D'Urban said that he had been doing every thing in his power to teach the slaves to look up to him for protection, contained the following paragraph among others: "I can now have no doubt that the opinion I expressed to your lordship on the 5th, was well-founded, and that many of the slaves had still continued under the delusion which I then described; indeed several of them avowed it, and evidently took leave of the hopes they had so long cherished, with strong feelings of sorrow. Their eyes, however, are opened now; and they will no longer have that strong excitement to revolt which arose from the belief that they were contending for rights (and by that belief they were unquestionably actuated in the late revolt) which they supposed had been granted them in the mother country, but suppressed by the colonial authorities. At the same time that they have been now made aware that freedom, in the manner they had anticipated, is out of the question, they have also learned that many real advantages are preparing for them, if they deserve them by quiet and subordinate behaviour; and I have assured them that, as on the one hand the severe punishment of any disorder among them will be certain, so on the other, if any individual shall at any time think himself oppressed or ill-treated, I shall always be ready to receive his complaint personally, and redress it if it be well-founded." This despatch did honour to sir B. D'Urban, and must convince the House that the recent insurrection of the slaves arose from misconception on their parts, and not from ill-treatment on the part of the masters. That misconception, he was happy to say, appeared to be removed at present entirely from the minds of the slaves, and he trusted that nothing would pass in that House calculated to renew it. He agreed with the hon. member for Norwich, that the statements made by the fiscal of Berbice were extremely unsatisfactory; but at the same time it ought to be recollected, that his explanation of them had not yet been received. As to the observations of the hon. member, on the condition of the island of Anguilla, and as to the instances which he had cited, to prove that the mortality among the slaves was always greater where 517 sugar was cultivated than it was where any other article was cultivated, he had only one word to say. Admitting the fact, what inference would the hon. gentleman draw from it? Did he mean to say that all employments were equally healthy in this country? The colliers of our mining counties and the agricultural labourers of our villages were by no means on a footing with respect to health. Firedamp, and other evils, rendered the occupation of the former much more destructive than that of the latter. But what was the inference? Were coal-mines not to be worked; and in the West-Indies was sugar not to be cultivated? If the plantations were cultivated by free labour; if free labour prevailed over the whole of the West-India islands; the probabilily was, that the case would be the same. If the planters had landed property, that property must be cultivated. If they overworked their slaves, if they neglected their health, there they were in error; but as to the comparative mortality of the occupation itself, no useful inference that he could see could be drawn from it.—He now came to the last point to which he was desirous of calling the attention of the House. His hon. friend behind him, the hon. member for Lymington, had appealed to him against the accusations so freely thrown out, of uniform cruelty and mal-treatment on the part of the planters in the West-Indies towards the negroes; and had called upon him to state, whether the information received at the office of the Colonial Department tended to confirm or contradict those accusations. He would answer that call in a few words. To suppose that no instance of cruelty or oppression on the part of the planters existed, would be to suppose a gross absurdity. Even where there was no such relation as master and slave, such instances occurred in the intercourse of the employer and the employed. It was inseparable from the intercourse between man and man. But he was bound to declare, that if the authorities from which his majesty's government received their information were to be credited (and he knew no reason why they should not be so), he most conscientiously believed that the statements on that point were generally exaggerated, if they were not wholly unfounded. He admitted, however, that that fact did not bear on the question under discussion so as in the slightest 518 degree to justify a relaxation in any effort to secure the good treatment of the slaves. But he thought it extremely unfair to keep pressing forward an opinion, that the slaves were cruelly used; and to work on the feelings of the people at large, for the purpose of inducing them to go beyond his majesty's government, acting as the latter were on the solemn pledge contained in the resolutions of parliament. He was quite willing that the conduct of government should be judged by its conformity to those resolutions. If any hon. gentleman fancied that to the spirit of those resolutions his majesty's government did not sufficiently adhere, let him come to that House and make his statement; but he trusted that if any such assertion was made, he should be able to convince parliament and the country that it was totally without foundation. He wished the hon. member for Norwich to consider whether he would not consult the true interests of the cause he advocated by not pressing his motion in its present form, He did not wish to put a direct negative on it, because he agreed with many parts of it. He had endeavoured in the course of his speech to show that in Demerara and Berbice all the measures of amelioration which he had proposed were actually carried into effect. That met the first part of the hon. member's resolution. That the property of slaves should not be vested in the high functionaries in the colonies he had already conceded; but that the subordinate officers should be trusted with the possession of such property, from the instance that had been afforded, as an example, he was not disposed to condemn it. Under these circumstances, and under the progressive improvement of the slave-population, he felt himself justified in moving the previous question.
§ Mr. C. R. Ellis
said, he could not allow the conduct of the West-India planters to go undefended. He asserted that they treated their slaves with kindness and humanity, and, whenever they acted otherwise, it was well known that they were subject to the control and animadversion of parliament. It was equally well known, that their property was secured to them by the faith of parliament, and that, if any encroachment was made upon it, it was the bounden duty of parliament to afford them an adequate compensation. He was quite willing, however, to agree with what the 519 right hon. Secretary for Foreign Affairs had said on a former occasion, that for any measures calculated to promote the future improvement of the slaves, the planters had no right to compensation; but, he contended, on the other hand, that for any measures tending to their future emancipation, the planters had a right to compensation, if the measures proved injurious. He bore testimony to the general humane treatment of the slave-population, and lamented that, when any exception to it occurred, the odium which it excited extended to all the planters, instead of being confined to the individual who deserved it. He coincided with many of the remarks which had been made on the report furnished by the fiscal of Berbice, and admitted that it was impossible to read many of the complaints which had been made to him without feelings of disgust and horror. He was grieved that in the report none of the evidence by which those complaints had been substantiated or refuted was given; and still more that, during the last twelve months, there was an omission of any record of the decisions which the fiscal had made. To judge properly of that report, the House ought to know in how many cases redress had been claimed and afforded, and in how many it had been claimed and refused. He had made an analysis of that report; and he had found that, in the first section of it, out of forty-three cases of complaint, which had occurred in the last thirteen months, twenty-seven were judged to be altogether groundless; eight were cases in which both parties were declared to be in the wrong; and eight only were cases in which the complainant was declared to be in the right. Applying the same analysis to all the cases in the report, he found that out of three hundred and thirty-three cases of complaint, two hundred were declared to be unfounded. Of the other hundred and thirty-three cases, in one half both parties were in the wrong; leaving sixty-seven cases only of real complaint in fourteen years, or about five cases yearly, with a population of twenty thousand negroes. The hon. member continued to argue, that the statements generally put forward against the planters were exaggerated, and in many instances wholly unfounded; but at the same time he was, he said, entirely favourable to every fair and rational scheme of amelioration. With respect to awarding punishment against 520 those who had preferred unfounded charges, he would merely say, that the practice was consonant with the practice of the courts of justice in this country, where punishment, either pecuniary or personal, was inflicted upon persons who defamed the characters of others. He had no objection to afford every protection to slaves which would not destroy that due subordination, without which the business of the world could not be carried on; and for that purpose he would not object to the appointment of protectors of slaves, but he trusted that the persons appointed to those situations would be professional men, possessed of legal experience, and wholly unconnected with the Anti-slavery Society. Whilst on his legs he would observe, that according to the general usage of the colonies, the governors presided in the court of Chancery. Now, it was a well-known fact, that those governors were almost without exception, military men, possessed of no legal knowledge; and, considering the importance of the cases which they were called upon to decide, he thought they ought to be relieved from that duty; or, if it should be determined that it should be performed by those gentlemen, they ought to have the assistance of professional assessors.
§ Mr. R. Martin
said, if he thought that by passing the resolution, the good contemplated by the hon. mover, would be the consequence, he would give it his decided support; but as he was satisfied that, taking the sense of the House (be the result what it might) would produce consequences diametrically opposite to those anticipated by his hon. friend, and would have the effect of encouraging the colonial assemblies in their opposition to the wishes of his majesty's government, he would suggest the propriety of withdrawing the motion.
§ Mr. Denman
said, he did not think with the hon. member who had last addressed the House, that the pressing of this resolution to a division could have the effect of better enabling the colonial assemblies to resist the wishes of parliament and the government. The hon. gentler man who last but one had addressed the House, had, very unjustly, accused the hon. mover, with having indulged in a desultory speech, but that hon. member, appeared to him to have followed the course which he had so much deprecated. He had not heard any observation from 521 that hon. member, which did not appear to him in support of the resolution. If the real intention of the parliament and the government was, to remedy the evils under which the slave-population laboured, he thought the only means of effecting that object was, to state in plain terms, that the parliament and the people of England would not be trifled with, and that a complete reformation must be carried into effect. With respect to the pamphlet which had been the object of so much abuse, he must say, that he had never seen a document upon the subject, which was more entitled to the confidence and thanks of the public; and, for this reason, that not a fact was stated without referring the reader to the official document from which it was taken. The observations made in the pamphlet might, perhaps, sound too strong to the ears of gentlemen connected with the West-India colonies; but, by the candour and fair dealing of the writer, in referring to the official documents, the reader was enabled to judge for himself, whether or not those observations were justified. Let hon. gentlemen talk as they might about property in slaves, the root of the evil consisted in the recognition of the right of property in slaves to another set of persons. To that recognition were to be traced all the oppressions and perversions of law, to which the unhappy negro was exposed. The way in which the arguments against slavery were met by the friends of that system were rather curious. When facts were stated by the opponents of the system, they were denied by the other side; but when those facts were proved, those gentlemen exclaimed, "Oh those things might have happened in times gone by, but it is impossible they can happen now, for the slaves are well-treated." Even admitting that the slaves were well-treated, that would not, in his view of the question, be any argument against the abolition of slavery. His hon. friend had said, with great humour and truth, that the present tense had been struck out of the grammar of the West-India planters; but the hon. Secretary wished to strike out of that grammar the future. Every abuse was now said to have happened formerly, to belong to time gone by, and which ought therefore not to be remarked upon. The House had heard a great deal about the representation of a black man in chains being placed at the head of the petitions against slavery; and it had been asked, if 522 such representations were not a perversion of justice? He begged, in return, to ask the House, whether, if the real condition of the slave, as it appeared from the West-Indian newspapers, were described in those petitions—if it were stated, that the slave was confined within the walls of a prison for the default of his master, in not paying his taxes or his debts—if it were stated, that the slave might be taken in execution for his master's debts, as cattle were sent to pound in England—would such a statement be less likely than the representations so much complained of to excite the honest indignation of the people of England. When, in support of the charge of cruelty against the slave-owners, the brand was mentioned, the answer was, "Oh, that was done in times gone by, but now is considered illegal." He believed it was considered illegal, but he believed there was no colonial law declaring it to be illegal.
§ Mr. Denman
said, he certainly understood that the brand mark was considered as coming within the operation of that law, but he repeated, that there was no specific act of the legislature declaring it to be illegal. What possible objection there could be to the motion of his hon. friend he was at a loss to imagine. It had been admitted on all hands, that the office which had been instituted of nominal protector of the slaves was an inefficient one; and the effect of this motion would be, to give to the slaves the benefit of real protection. The fiscal had made, in the cases alluded to by his hon. friend near him, some very incorrect returns. By those and other returns, it was clearly shown that great and excessive cruelties had been practised upon the negroes. And could any man deny that the penalties which had been, in a few instances, inflicted upon those who had been guilty of such cruelties, were disproportionate to the enormity of the offence? For his own part, he had been exceedingly astonished to hear an hon. member say of them, "that they were not in unison with the feelings of his own mind." Now, really, when a gentleman of the cultivated mind and kindly feelings which that hon. member was known to possess, could content himself with applying so mild an expression to a case where the most enormous and disgusting atrocities had been visited with so lenient a hand, he felt that 523 no better proof could be furnished to parliament of the effect which familiarity with a terrible system of slavery would have, even upon the most amiable and accomplished individuals, in dulling their sensibility to the sufferings of those who were the victims of that system. But, it was contended that the motion was an attack on his majesty's government. Now, how was that assertion made out? If their exertions had not been hitherto sucessful as to the objects which this motion sought to attain, and government was desirous of prosecuting them, could that be an attack upon its proceedings which was intended to arrive at the same end which those proceedings proposed to accomplish? He did not understand why the resolution was objected to, as it only required what every one acknowledged to be necessary; namely, that the proprietors of slaves should not be eligible to certain offices, in which the latter would come in contact with them.
Mr. Wilmot Horton
said, he had not opposed the motion on the ground that it was an attack on the government. His objection to it was, that all which it pro-posed to do had already been done by government.
§ Mr. Denman
said, that if that were the case, he had misunderstood the hon. gentleman, and the time of the House had been wasted in useless discussion. He thought, however, that it would not be improper to confirm what had been done by government, by a resolution of that House, and on that account he would vote for the motion, if his hon friend should press it to a division.
§ Mr. C. R. Ellis,
in explanation, said, the phrase "not in unison with his own feelings," was applied to the sentences passed upon the culprits. Upon the details of the cruelties themselves, he had said, that they could not be read without horror and disgust.
§ Mr. Denman
said, he could not retract the remark he had made; inasmuch as, in his view of the matter, the conduct of the fiscal in inflicting light sentences, where the most enormous offences had been committed, was even more reprehensible than the commission of such acts of violence, under certain circumstances.
said, it appeared to him, that the House was called upon to decide this question; namely, whether it was proper that the management of" the colonies should be placed in the hands of the 524 executive government? If the House were of opinion that the executive government should not have the power of governing the colonies, let them once declare so; but if they were not of that opinion, it would be most dangerous to control or interfere with the government by any resolution of that House. He would beg the House to consider how the case stood. The House some time ago adopted certain resolutions, proposed by the right hon. the Secretary for Foreign Affairs, having for their object to ameliorate the condition of the slave-population in the West-India colonies; and those resolutions were now in the course of being carried into effect in the colonies over which the government possessed direct control. Now, if his hon. friend, the mover, and others around him, thought that government did not proceed fast enough, he could understand their conduct, which otherwise he could not do. Although very inflammatory language was put forth to the country elsewhere, his hon. friends in that House admitted that it would be dangerous to proceed at once to immediate emancipation. That being admitted, he asked what could be done more than government was doing; namely, preparing the minds of the negroes by degrees to receive the blessings of freedom. He regretted very much that any thing like an interference with government should take place on the part of that House; for experience had proved that such a circumstance operated most injuriously on the minds of the slave-population. Government had settled the minds of those poor creatures by declaring what their intentions were; and no sooner was that done, than an attempt was made to render them discontented. He did not mean to impute such an intention to his hon. friends; but he could not conceal from himself that there were persons who, finding that the system of gradual improvement would not suit their purposes, wished to infuse into the minds of the negroes an idea that parliament was goading on the government to do something further for them. He believed that most of these proceedings were caused by a society in this country, of whose course he could not approve. He believed their proceedings were not only totally irreconcileable with common prudence, but that they were opposed to the true interests of those people for whose advantage they were intended, and calculated to produce irremediable mischief and 525 most extensive confusion. He had not wasted his time in reading the pamphlets issued by this society, but he thought he had not been mistaken in his description of them. The members of this House, who concurred in the proceedings of the society to which he had alluded, in some measure followed up the example, by frequent notices on this subject. An hon. and learned gentleman near him had given, on the first day of the session, a notice of a motion with respect to the state of slavery in the colonies. That motion had since been postponed; but, in the mean time, the paper had been crowded with incidental notices upon the same subject, one of which had been given by the hon. member for Weymouth. He should say that their object was obvious, if he could reconcile their conduct with the honourable principles which he knew they possessed; but, from what he knew of them, he must say, that their conduct was totally irre-concileable with their principles. As the hon. member who proposed this motion did not require the immediate emancipation of the negroes, he could not possibly understand what could be his object. He trusted that these gentlemen would see that the steps of government could not be accelerated without the greatest danger to the colonies. It was already on record, that the partial insurrection which had taken place in Jamaica had been caused by the same means. The negroes laboured under the most complete delusion. They believed that there was a conflicting power at home, acting in opposition to the government under which they were living. This belief led them into those errors so dangerous to the peace of the colonies. The negroes of the best conduct and characters were the most deceived. Their masters had so described them in their account of the insurrection. He trusted that this instance of the effect of unnecessarily agitating the colonies, would serve as a warning to hon. gentlemen. In his opinion, the measures already adopted by government would, in the course of time, bring about a state of freedom amongst the negroes, after their minds had been prepared for its reception. To go further would be to produce mischief. The hon. mover, in some degree, admitted what had been done for other colonies, since his selection of this showed his acknowledgment of their improvement. He believed that the Methodist missionaries had done more to introduce 526 moral and religious instruction amongst the negroes than any other set of men; but even they had come to the resolution, that the state of slavery in Jamaica had nothing in it repugnant to Christianity. This did not please the people in this country, who, from one end of the year to the other, were talking about slavery without knowing any thing of it, and asserted that the resolution must be recalled. Such indiscreet conduct must produce a bad effect. In conclusion he would oppose the motion, because he thought that emancipation would be much sooner effected by the gradual progress of the measures adopted by government, than by the rash and inconsiderate guidance of persons who, without any intention to do so, were injuring the cause which they were anxious to serve.
§ Mr. Brougham
said, he was compelled to complain of the gross misrepresentation of his hon. friend, both of members of that House, and of individuals out of that House forming the Anti-slavery Society. His hon. friend had charged that society with agitating the country on the subject of negro slavery, and with creating the feeling which existed abroad, and which would exist until it had produced an effect on the deliberations of that House, if necessary; on the conduct of government, if that conduct should require such influence; and last, but not least in this question, even on the West-India legislatures themselves. He, however, denied that the feeling which pervaded the country on the subject, was attributable to the agitations of the society, to the publications emitted by them, or to the speeches made at its meetings. No misrepresentations had been put forth by the society. They had made no appeal to the passions of mankind, but had only repeated facts stated in the first place, out of the mouths of the West-Indians themselves; and by those facts had the feelings of the people of England been unanimously roused. His hon. friend had stated, that he had not time to read the publications put forth by the society. In justice to the society, he wished his hon. friend would not find time to condemn publications which he could not find time to read. He himself had read the accounts of almost all the Anti-slavery Society meetings and, although the persons attending those meetings were naturally excited by the nature of the question with which 527 they had to deal, he had never observed, an instance in which emancipation—rash, sudden, and immediate emancipation—was recommended by the most ardent friends to the improvement of the negroes, or the most inveterate enemy of slavery. With respect to the publications put forth by the society, they consisted only of abridgments of papers laid before parliament. His hon. friend had accused him of having given notice of a motion on the subject of slavery, and of having put it off from day to day, which it was said had a mischievous effect. It was true he had given notice of a motion on the subject of negro slavery, and he had attended from day to day, prepared to bring it on, but he was prevented by a petition presented by his hon. friend the member for Weymouth. The discussion on that petition had drawn from the right hon. the Secretary for Foreign Affairs, a statement in which was given a detail of facts, of which he alone as a minister could be supposed to be possessed. He was bound to give credit to the statement then made as a correct one, but he had since found that the right hon. Secretary was himself deluded in the information conveyed to him, that something had been done by the colonial legislatures towards ameliorating the condition of the slaves. That the right hon. Secretary was himself deluded in the statement he then made, he had no doubt; and he now felt that he was wrong in postponing his motion, in consequence of the information then conveyed to the House by the right hon. gentleman. He had been led to suppose that something had been done; but he had since reason to believe, that what was done by the colonial legislature was only a mock compliance with the wishes of the government on the subject of slave treatment. He would pledge himself to prove, that nothing of what was then stated as having been done had been accomplished by the colonial legislatures. Having, for the reasons he had mentioned, been induced to postpone his motion, he was obliged to postpone it for six weeks; for he had something else to do in the interim. After the period at which he could attend, he found that the earliest day at which he could bring on his motion was the 11th of May, on which day he was determined to bring it on; but if circumstances should prevent him on that day, he would fix it for the next Wednesday following, if the frail tenure of the session 528 allowed him that time. He thought that parliament ought not to separate without coming to some decision on this important question. Without going into further details, he would give his vote in favour of the proposition of his hon. friend.
Mr. Secretary Canning
said, that the view which he took of the question would not require that he should trespass for any length of time on the attention of the House. Whether he viewed the motion as tending to excite the fears of those connected with West-India property, or to stimulate the zeal of those opposed to negro slavery, he thought it at the present moment unnecessary. One of his objections to it was, that it professed to be in furtherance of the views—as all those motions were said to be—of those who were favourable to such an improvement of the condition of the slaves as would lead to a gradual abolition of slavery. Such a motion, he would say, was at the present moment unnecessary. He spoke not so much in objection to this particular motion, as to the motives of which it was an evidence, and to the system of which it formed a part. If the motion were made from a suspicion that government was not sincere in what it proposed to do, it was not well-founded; and it was worse, as it might tend to counteract the effect of what was proposed to be accomplished. He would be satisfied that government should be judged by what it had proposed to do, and by the endeavours which it had made to carry its intentions into effect. If it were intended to do more than government had already proposed to do, the time for discussing that question would come when the motion of the hon. and learned gentleman came for consideration; but it was hardly fair thus to introduce as fractional parts, what was afterwards intended to be proposed as a whole. Mention had been made of public meetings on the subject of West-India slavery. He spoke of those meetings with every respect for the parties and the object they had in view; but when they proposed their resolutions as in aid of the objects of government, he must say that, in many instances, they were rather an incumbrance than an aid. For what was the object to be obtained? The over-weening zeal of parties on one hand was intended to meet what was called the obstinate resistance of the local legislatures on the other. But he would ask, would the meetings to which he bad alluded 529 counteract this resistance? Would they not rather tend to make obstinacy more obstinate, and resistance more to be dreaded in its consequences? If those resolutions were intended to aid the efforts of government, the government disclaimed them; if they were not so intended, they were still more injurious. If meant to assist government, he would beg to say that they wanted not that aid; if otherwise, and intended to counteract the measures which government had proposed, they must, of course, submit; but at the same time he must say, that the opposition was only creating a new difficulty, which would tend to retard the object of both parties. The hon. member for Norwich had observed, with regard to the situation of the negroes, that there were certain disgraceful facts which could not be denied, and certain cruelties, the record of which could not be effaced. But that was not the question. If the question were as to whether the present system were to be upheld, then indeed it might be necessary to remind the House of such revolting facts, and to come before it armed with such arguments: but, when all parties were agreed in the desire of terminating such a system, and which desire was expressed in the unanimous resolution of that House on their Journals, then he must say that such arguments were adduced otiose, and brought forward only with a view of exciting feelings, which, in his opinion, ought to be controlled, if any practical good was to be produced by the efforts that the government were making. On these grounds, therefore, without going at all into the details of the question then before them, which was not the first time that it had been agitated during the session, nor was it to be supposed to be the last, by rive or six—he considered the motion not only unnecessary, but calculated to aggravate the difficulties which they had already to encounter. At the same time he would state what, perhaps, might be unpalatable to both parties; namely, that it was the unalterable intention of government to carry the resolutions already agreed to into effect. Those means would be found in the orders in council, which he was persuaded would be carried into operation without realizing the apprehensions of those who on the one hand were afraid that nothing would be done, or who, on the other, thought that in what was proposed to be done the security of colonial property would be endangered.
§ The motion was put, and negatived without a division.