§ After numerous petitions had been presented, praying for the Abolition of Slavery,
§ Mr. Fowell Buxton
rose, pursuant to notice, to present a petition from the inhabitants of London, for the Abolition of Slavery in the Colonies. It was, he said, more numerously signed than any petition that had ever before been presented to the House; the number of signatures being no less than 72,000. Following the petitions already presented that evening from many other populous and enlightened places, it proved beyond all doubt, the great and lively interest taken by the public with regard to this question. He should therefore avail himself of this opportunity, to ask the right hon. Secretary for Foreign Affairs, what was the course his majesty's government intended to pursue, as to the amelioration of the condition of the slave population in the colonies? He would not enter into the general argument of the question but he would state the precise position in which, at this moment, it stood. In 1823, his majesty's government said, that it was a question of such vast importance, and of such extreme delicacy, that they desired to have it placed in their hands. Those by whom it had been brought forward consented to the proposition, and it was accordingly transferred to the care of government. On that occasion the right hon. gentleman stated his opinions very fully regarding the general question of slavery; and, having since attentively and deliberately considered the right hon. gentleman's speech, he could find no material distinction between his views and those of the original promoters of the discussion. The right hon. gentleman was far from attempting to justify the existence of slavery, as a desirable or even tolerable state of society; and he had admitted, that the principles of the Christian religion, and the spirit of the British constitution, were equally favourable to the extension of freedom to all who lived under their influence and protection. The right hon. gentleman was a decided advocate of the gradual extinction of what he treated as an unquestionable evil. He would not trouble the House by reading at length the Resolutions with which the right hon. gentleman, on that occasion, concluded his speech. It was enough to say, that 969 their purport was clearly to pledge the House to an amelioration of slavery so effectual, as to lead to a participation, on the part of the negroes, in all those civil rights and privileges which the rest of the king's subjects enjoyed; in other words, to the final and complete abolition of slavery. In pursuance of these Resolutions, his majesty's government had framed an Order in Council, which they intended to bring into operation in those colonies which were immediately under the authority of the Crown, and to recommend it to the colonies having legislatures of their own, as the basis of their legislation for the slave population. That Order in Council, though defective in some material respects, certainly contained many excellent regulations. It provided, that negro evidence should, under certain restrictions, be admissible in the courts of law; the marriages of the slaves were legalized; the obstacles in the way of manumission were removed; the use of the whip, as the badge of authority and the stimulus to labour, was prohibited, and, as regarded the punishment of females, entirely abolished; provision was made for eventually putting an end to the practice of Sunday markets, and Sunday labour; the property of the negro was protected; and he was empowered to apply the property he might possess in purchasing either his own redemption or that of his immediate relations. On the discussion in 1823, to which he had referred, all parties seemed to be agreed in principle. The only question was, how could the new system be brought, in the soonest and safest manner, into practice? No doubt was expressed by the hon. gentleman connected with the West-India interest as to the cordial co-operation of the colonial assemblies. The right hon. gentleman, however, foreseeing, as it now appeared, the true nature of the obstructions to be apprehended, had declared that, if his majesty's government encountered any opposition partaking of the nature of contumacy, he would call on parliament to perform its duty towards the negroes, and exercise its power to compel the amelioration of their condition. The principles on which that amelioration was to proceed, were laid down in the Order in Council. Nothing could be more unequivocal than what was required from the West-India colonists; nor could any thing be more unequivocal than the utter refusal, on their part, to carry into 970 execution the proposed measures for the benefit of their slaves. He was anxious to avoid the excitement of feeling; and, he would, therefore, only state the bare facts of the case. Generally speaking, he might say that very little indeed had been done. In Tobago, the legislature had certainly done something. They had altered the law of evidence, so as to admit the evidence of slaves against free persons in cases of murder and mayhem, alone, and that under rigid restrictions;, they had changed the market day from, Sunday to Thursday; they had reduced the discretionary power of the master from thirty-nine to twenty lashes; they had enlarged the number of days allowed the slaves for their own grounds; and they had protected the slaves' property. In the Bahamas, they had partially legalized marriage, and forbidden the separation of families by judicial sale. In Barbadoes they had partially admitted the evidence of slaves against free persons. These, he believed, were all the improvements which had taken place. But even these scanty concessions had been accompanied with the re-enactment of the worst features of the old system. His majesty's government, therefore, were obliged to withhold their assent from even the acts which contained these partial amendments. To this extent the colonists had carried their attempts to ameliorate the condition of their slaves. The House would see, by the contrast, how little they had attempted. They had not abolished the driving system, or the flogging of females. They had not regulated the use of the whip, except in the instances mentioned, or mitigated the arbitrary power of the master, or legalized the marriages of the negroes, or protected their property, or prevented them from being sold separately from their families. They had not in any case given to the slave the power of redeeming himself. In Jamaica, two very insignificant acts had been passed, which were calculated to give some incidental advantages to the negro, though, undoubtedly, the positive and direct advantages belonged wholly to the master. Nothing else had been done in that colony, nor, as far as he knew, in any of the other colonies, having local legislatures, to carry into effect the recorded wishes of the House. The conclusion he drew from all this was, that it was only within the walls of that House, that they 971 could expect to see any measures enacted tending to the abolition of slavery. The fact was manifest, that either the House must renounce their pledge to the public in behalf of the negro, or at once take the question into their own hands. He was anxious to say nothing that could give offence to any party; but it was his duty broadly to declare his deliberate and confirmed conviction, that the House must do the work themselves, or suffer it to be altogether abandoned. He would conclude by reading an extract from a speech of the right hon. Secretary, which far more eloquently explained his sentiments on the subject than he could himself state them. The eloquence of the passage, however, was its least praise. The prophetic spirit by which it was dictated, entitled it particularly to the attention of the House, who would find that every apprehension expressed in it had unfortunately been realized—"Trust not," said the right hon. gentleman, "the masters of slaves in what concerns legislation for slavery! However specious their Jaws may appear, depend upon it they must be ineffectual in their application. It is in the nature of things that they should be so. Let, then, the British House of Commons, do their part themselves. Let them not delegate the trust of doing it to those who cannot execute that trust fairly. Let the evil be remedied by an assembly of freemen, by the government of a free people, and not by the masters of slaves."
The Petition was then brought up, and ordered to be read; and, upon the clerk proceeding to read it short, Mr. Buxton intimated that it was the express wish of the petitioners that it should be read at length. Several members called out "short;" but, upon Mr. Canning's stating that he should wish the request of the petitioners in this respect to be complied with, the whole of the petition was read by the clerk. It set forth,
"That the petitioners, while they express their sincere and grateful approbation of the resolutions adopted by the House on the subject of Colonial Slavery, and of the efforts which have since been made by his majesty's ministers to carry there into effect, lament that these efforts should have been almost wholly frustrated by the determined opposition of the colonial authorities to the united wishes of the government, the parliament, and the people of this country; that the 972 petitioners have learned with deep regret from the official documents which have been laid on the table of the House, that the colonial legislatures have either treated the recorded wishes of parliament, and the recommendations and remonstrances of his majesty's government, with neglect, or have met them with the most determined opposition; that the alleged ameliorations of their slave codes manifest the same substantial disregard of the sacred principles of justice which characterized their old enactments; that the existing laws, which, in their practical operation, evidently afford no effectual protection to the slaves, have been made, as the petitioners conceived, on not a few recent occasions, an instrument of the most grievous injustice, cruelty, and oppression, and that the general treatment of the slave population continues to exhibit the same harsh and disgusting effects of the domestic despotism prevailing in the colonies, which first excited the indignant feelings of the British public, and which now Call for universal commiseration and immediate relief; that it appears to the petitioners that this unjust and immoral system, as it exists in the British colonies, derives at this moment great support from those commercial regulations, which, by means of bounties and protecting duties in favour of the produce of slave labour, not only materially enhance its price to the British consumer, but augment the miseries of the slaves, and render their liberation more difficult; that, should the petitioners be called upon by the House to contribute for the purpose of extinguishing slavery, at least as large a sum as they now pay for its support, they will cheerfully obey the call; but that they entertain the most insuperable objections to the continuance of the existing restrictions on the commerce of the country in favour of slave-grown produce, because while those restrictions violate the recognized principles of sound commercial policy, and impose on the nation a heavy pecuniary burthen for the maintenance of slavery, they tend to counteract the hope of its reformation, they even serve to aggravate and perpetuate its evils, and they involve the people of this country still more deeply in the guilt of upholding it: that on all these grounds the petitioners humbly but earnestly implore the House to take the premises into their early consideration, and to adopt such measures as to the wisdom of the House shall seem meet 973 for effecting the great work of colonial reformation and, in accordance with the resolutions of the House, and with the wishes and prayers of the nation at large, for bringing the state of slavery itself to the earliest safe and practicable termination in every part of his majesty's dominions."
§ On the motion, that it do lie on the table.
Mr. Secretary Canning
rose, and commenced his speech by observing, that before he answered the call of the hon. member, he had been anxious that the petition should be read, in hopes that he should be able to concur with the sentiments contained in it, and he must admit that it appeared to him to be most unexceptionable, and to be stated with great propriety and moderation. He must also, before he replied to the question of the hon. gentleman, request the clerk to read the resolutions of the 15th of May, 1823.
The resolutions were accordingly read by the clerk, as follows:—Resolved, nem. con. That it is expedient to adopt effectual and decisive measures for meliorating 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, with a fair and equitable consideration of the interests of private property.
Mr. Secretary Canning
then proceeded to state, that he was anxious to have the resolutions read, because as it had been stated, that a system of slavery was totally incompatible with the British constitution and the spirit of the Christian religion, he was desirous that it should be clearly understood in what degree he differed from this proposition; for if this doctrine were to be admitted to its full extent, the obvious inference would be, that slavery must not be permitted to exist one moment longer; all discretion 974 as to the mode or time of suppressing it must be taken out of the hands of parliament, who would be imperiously called upon at once to put it down as an intolerable nuisance. Unquestionably, the spirit of the Christian religion had, in the course of ages, very considerably mollified and ameliorated the condition of slavery; but Christianity had existed in several countries where slavery had prevailed, and the influence of this religion had operated much too slowly in the removal of slavery, to sanction the idea that there was any such incompatibility between the two as had been suggested; and the same answer might be given to the assertion, that a system of slavery was wholly inconsistent with the principles of the British constitution. If this were true to its full extent, how did it happen that the freest parliament of the freest country in the world had, in part at least of the dominions of the Crown, not merely tolerated, but recognized the maintenance of this system? No doubt it was desirable that this unhappy condition should be immediately ameliorated, and, as soon as it could prudently be effected, totally abrogated. The difference between his views on this subject, and those of the hon. member was this:—the hon. member would allow no pause, no modification; he would have the whole system swept away at once: whereas he himself, although he much lamented the part which the colonies had acted with regard to these measures, did not think that the moment had yet arrived for adopting so hasty and precipitate a course of proceeding. He would not, however, deny but that, from the spirit which the colonies had already displayed on this subject, it was more than probable that the time might arrive when it would be necessary for that House to interfere more directly; but as he saw that such an interference would be pregnant with evils both to this country and to the colonies, he was loth to have recourse to it as long as there was any possibility that it might be avoided. He was anxious that the House should not imagine it was pledged by the resolutions of 1823, to a greater extent than was really the case. Those resolutions only recommended a cautious, prudent, and gradual abolition of slavery: why, then, should the House be accused of a departure from them, because it refused to sanction an attempt to effect this object by a rash and pre- 975 cipitate proceeding? If the principle deducible from these resolutions were to be the test by which the conduct of the government was to be judged, he had little fear of being able to satisfy the House that ministers had been guilty of no dereliction of their duty in this respect. In the month of May, 1823, they had transmitted to the several colonies in the West Indies, copies of the resolutions of that House, with urgent exhortations to act upon them. It was hoped that this would have the desired effect; but, unfortunately, the expectations of the government were disappointed in this respect. This disappointment induced ministers, in 1824, to have recourse to the expedient of embodying these resolutions in an order of council, and transmitting them in that form to the colonies. He must, however, confess, that this expedient had not as yet had the effect which was expected from it; but should it continue to be ineffectual, and should there appear to be no probability that the opposition which it met with from the colonial legislatures would be withdrawn, the executive government would not hesitate coming down to parliament for its assistance in overcoming this obstinate resistance.
The right hon. Secretary said, he would now offer a few words as to the regulations which had been pointed out by the Order in Council. The one sent to Trinidad was, he believed, the most full, and it provided for the admission of the evidence of negroes, the legalization of marriages amongst them, the abolition of Sunday markets, the abolition of the punishment of the whip, the total abolition Of corporal punishment with regard to females, that negroes should not be sold apart from their families, that manumission should be rendered more easy, that the property of the negroes should be secured to them, that they should receive religious instruction, and that Saving-banks should be established. Copies of the Order in Council upon these points had been transmitted to the colonial legislatures of Demerara, Berbice, Jamaica, Barbadoes, Bermudas, Antigua, Dominica, Grenada, Tobago, St. Vincent's, St. Kitt's, and St. Lucia. In the island of Mauritius, which stood to this country in a similar relation with Trinidad, the regulations had been enforced by the publication of the order; but the twelve colonies, whose names he had just mentioned had, legislatures of their own, or at least con- 976 stituted organs, through which they made known the expression of their will. By the latest accounts which had been received from those colonies, he found that of the clause relative to religious instruction, modified more or less by the circumstances in which each of them was placed, eight out of the twelve had taken cognizance. With regard to the clause respecting the admission of negro-evidence in cases where whites were concerned, he found that seven out of the twelve either admitted such evidence before, or had agreed to admit it now. With respect to marriage, he was sorry to say that there were only five of them in which any thing had been done in consequence of the recommendation of parliament. As to the security of property, he had to inform the House, that, under certain limitations and modifications, eight of them had taken cognizance of that clause, or had rendered the property of negroes secure before. With respect to the manumission of slaves, he found that the greater part of the colonies had legislated on the point before the arrival of the order in council among them. The clause prohibiting the sale of slaves of the same family in separate lots, had been adopted by only four colonies; but he was happy to state, that the objections which had been urged against it, were in all the colonies rather of a legal than Of a moral nature, were such as could not be removed by the colonies themselves. As to the clause respecting the non-separation of females from their children, only five had yet agreed to it. As to the clause relating to the punishment of slaves and the abolition of the use of the whip, he had to inform them that eight had adopted new regulations, meeting in one way or another the wishes of the British parliament. With regard to the clause abolishing the corporal punishment of females, he was sorry to say that but five of the colonial legislatures had acceded to it, though he thought that the adoption of it was one of the plainest modes which could have been devised for evincing their disposition to meet the wishes and recommendations of the people of England. He would confess, that if there was one point more than another on which he could bring himself to adopt the resolution of the hon. member for Weymouth, rather than his own, it was the refusal of the colonies to abolish the corporal punishment of females, for which no pretence whatever could be alleged, 977 except a disposition to fly in the face of the recommendation of the mother country. With regard to the Saving-banks, he found that none had yet been established in any of the colonies, but that two of them had adopted the clause for the regulation of them. He did not state this as a satisfactory result of the measures proposed by government; far from it, he stated it, because the point which they were then discussing—not, indeed, formally, because it was not regularly before the House—was, whether the time had yet come when the resistance of the colonies to the wishes of parliament was so contumacious as to render it absolutely necessary for us to abandon the system which we had hitherto pursued, to begin our course anew, and to stir a question on which, if it were stirred, he had no hesitation as to the opinion which he should give, but which he thought it expedient not to moot unnecessarily—namely, the question how far the parliament of England had a right to legislate for the colonies. He would not pretend to say that the late proceedings of the legislature of the principal island for wealth, extent, and consideration in the West Indies had not filled him with sentiments which he would not trust himself to express in that House. He was free to confess, that when, at the same moment, he viewed the proceedings on the trials of some insurgent slaves, where, upon slave evidence, unsworn he admitted, life had been taken away, justifiably as he believed, by the slave-masters of Jamaica, and the proceedings on the recent debates of the same individuals on the admissibility of negroe evidence,—when he contrasted the result of those trials with the circumstances under which the bill had been thrown out for admitting black evidence under great modifications in cases where whites were implicated—he was free to confess, that when he first looked upon this picture, and then upon that, the contrast did appear to him most disgusting and most revolting. He could not but address an imploring voice to the members of the legislature of Jamaica; he could not but exhort them, by all that was dear to them as men and Christians, to wipe out without delay the disgraceful stain which their vote upon that occasion had left upon their general and individual character. He need not tell the House that on private information it could not legislate, though perhaps private informa- 978 tion might be sufficient to prevent them from taking a step which must be productive of decisive consequences. From private information which he had received, he entertained the strongest hopes that, in the next session of the legislative assembly of Jamaica, the bill which had recently been rejected would be passed. He could not lay before the House the evidence which induced him to believe that the chance of such an event had considerably improved; but he had seen documents, and received information, and had been shown an analysis of the late division in that assembly, which led him to hope that in its next session the bill would be carried by a large majority. He was desirous of giving to the colonial legislatures another chance of bringing about, by their own agency, the consummation of all that the British parliament wished, without the disturbance of the established system, or the agitation of the question, from which, though he should not hesitate to enter into it when the occasion demanded, considerable difficulties, which he wished if possible to avoid, would of necessity ensue when it was once mooted. He would give them space and respite for a further trial. He agreed with the hon. member for Weymouth, that after the time of that space and that respite had expired, the period might come when it would be the duty of parliament to take the matter out of the hands of the colonial legislatures, and when it would be the duty of government to come forward and ask parliament for those additional powers which it would be requisite to intrust to it for the accomplishment of those objects which the colonial assemblies had refused to effect by their own exertions.
He had now nearly answered the question which had been propounded by the hon. member. He had only to add to what he had already said, that, during the interval between this time and the next session, ministers would adopt a course of proceeding which would bring the sincerity of the colonial assemblies to a trial. They would exercise a privilege which the law allowed them, and would direct their own officers to introduce into each of the colonial legislatures a bill, embracing all the instructions of the Order in Council, so that they would be enforced to accept or reject it in the course of the next colonial session. The House would now see that there were three gradations 979 in the measures which the government had recommended to the consideration of the colonies. After the House had come to its first vote upon this subject, it was transmitted to the colonial legislatures, along with a recommendation from the government, that they would conform their measures to it. That plan not succeeding, the government drew up an enactment to the same effect, imposed it as law where it had the power, and recommended it for adoption where, though it had the power as an ultimate resort, it Was not in the habit of exercising it. That plan having foiled, as well as its predecessor, the government had now determined to try another. They had determined to submit acts, framed upon the Order of Council, to every colonial legislature, and thus each of them would have ah opportunity either of accepting or rejecting them altogether, or of modifying them so as to meet the situation of each individual colony. He should be extremely sorry if the course of this experiment should be interrupted; for he was persuaded that the success of it was only prevented by the great misconception which prevailed in the colonies respecting the objects which the government wished to effectuate. If the House would only recollect how many things there were, plain to the understanding as well as dear to the wishes of the country, which it had taken years to insinuate into the British parliament, it was not too much to affirm, that a succession of three sessions was not too long a time for endeavouring to insinuate into the colonial legislatures the adoption of a system which had taken them, to a considerable degree, by surprise, and by which every individual member of them supposed that his own personal interests were likely to be materially injured. He had been told, that in many cases the planters had got an idea that they were entitled to a compensation for the deterioration which their property would undergo, in consequence of the changes which the system proposed to them would introduce. He knew not in what that deterioration of property could consist, except it were in the manner in which their slaves might be withdrawn from them by the compulsory manumission which had been proposed. A compensation would be found for that loss in the appraisement of the slaves so withdrawn; but a compensation upon any other principle, he would say at once, 980 would not be given. It would be found in the increased value of the slave's labour; it would be found in his increased comforts and happiness; it would be found in the gradual approximation of his feelings to the feelings of the white, and to the moral existence and dignity of man. Many misconceptions existed on other points, which he had little doubt would be done away upon parliament making an exposition of the views which it entertained upon this subject. At any rate, the trial was worth making; and he should grieve exceedingly, if parliament should take any step which should tend to intercept the success of a measure, which, if it succeeded, would be more acceptable to all parties as a voluntary measure, than it would fee as a measure accomplished by forcible interference, and which, if it failed, would afford us the consolatory reflection that we had not resorted to other measures until we had completely exhausted the expectation that the colonists would of their own accord, perform that which they were called on to perform by a due regard to their character and their interests.
The hon. member for Weymouth had endeavoured to anticipate this part of his argument by reminding the House of a speech of his (Mr. Canning) made in the last century, regarding the folly of trusting to the slave-masters for any measures of protection for the slaves. He could not but admire the tact with which the hon. member had pressed against him the sentiments which he had formerly expressed; and it made him feel that which he had often before felt—namely, considerable envy for those, who, being under no responsibility, could safely give loose to the enthusiasm of their nature, whilst they threw upon others the task of curbing that enthusiasm within proper limits, and of moderating the ardour with which they indulged in the ebullition of their feelings. He thought that he could hardly be considered bound by a speech which he had made in the last century, when he was ardent in youth, and not so prudent as he was at present, though even now he was not considered over prudent [a laugh]. It would be a little too hard to bind men by the opinions which they had crudely conceived and thoughtlessly expressed in early life. He believed that the hon. and learned gentleman opposite (Mr. Brougham) would protest against such a rule quite as loudly as he did; for he had 981 seen some extracts from a work of his on colonial policy in the newspapers—and without offence to the hon. and learned gentleman, he plight say that he had never read any part of that work till that morning—which he thought the hon. and learned gentleman would hardly like to stand to at the present moment. He conceived, besides, that in the situation which he now filled as a member of the executive government which had to give effect to the votes of that House, he was hardly bound by what be had said in the last century of the rashness of trusting to slave-masters. If he might form an opinion, from the words which the hon. member had done him the honour of quoting from his speech, he must at the time when he used them, have been expressing himself on the question of the abolition of the slave-trade; for in those days the question of the emancipation of the slaves had not even been dreamed of. And as during those days the colonists maintained that the abolition of the slave-trade was contrary to their interests—a point on which experience had convinced them that they were mistaken—it was not impossible that he might have stated, that the possession of uncontrolled power with the certainty of unlimited supply, was not a situation in which much economy of labour, comfort, or even life could be expected. This remark, which he did not recollect applying particularly to the slave-master, was true in all the relations of life. The general who led an army of 100,000 men would engage in rasher enterprises than he who only acted from a nucleus of 25,000; and it was according to the first principles of human nature, that the man who was in possession of uncontrolled power, with the certainty of unlimited supply, should be less chary of, and therefore less trusted for, the comforts of others, than the man whose power was bounded, and whose resources were confined. If such was the tenour of his argument upon a former occasion, what he had that day said was consistent with it. Did he now either trust himself, or call upon the House to trust, the uncontrolled feelings of the masters, when he called upon the colonial assemblies to legislate for the slaves upon the principles pointed out to them by the British parliament, and told them that if they did not do it willingly, they must do it before long by compulsion? Was that leaving the masters in a state of uncontrolled 982 liberty? Was it not taking every measure that could be taken short of immediate coercion? For immediate coercion, he confessed he was not prepared. The contumacy of the colonists had not yet risen to such a degree as to justify the application of it. He thought he already saw symptoms on the part of the colonists of a disposition to depart from their old system; and he would therefore allow them an interval during which they might mitigate, if they were so inclined, the long-continued severity of it. In that interval he would take care that the question should be brought before their legislative assemblies, in such a manner that it could not be evaded; and, in order to give more solemnity to the new stipulations which he intended to propose to them, it was his intention to supply an omission which he had not seen upon a former occasion, by moving that a copy of the resolutions to which the House had formerly agreed should be transmitted to the House of Peers for its approval. In the present state of the question, with a full recollection of what had passed in the old times to which the hon. member for Weymouth had alluded, and with a perfect reliance that what had been done in that House would not now be undone elsewhere, he thought it right to put the House of Peers in possession of what they had resolved upon the subject. He had now stated the full extent of every thing which it was in the contemplation of government to do upon it during the present session. In consequence of the arguments which he had stated, he should resist all attempts to legislate for the colonies at present; but he should resist them, neither denying the right, nor disputing the title of parliament to interfere, but simply not agreeing as to the time when such an interference would be both just and necessary.
§ Mr. Brougham
said, he rose to ask a question of the right hon. gentleman. The most important of the instructions containe in the Order in Council, without denying the importance of the others, was that which related to the manumission of slaves; meaning thereby not the lowering of the duties hitherto paid upon the manumission, but the power of compelling the master to sell the slave his freedom upon an appraisement. The instruction which was next in importance, was that which related to the competency of slave evidence—meaning thereby the admissibility 983 of negro evidence, in cases where whites were interested. The third in importance was the instruction respecting the whip or driving,—meaning thereby not any regulation controlling the power of the driver by limiting the number of lashes to be inflicted at once, but the abolition of the driving system, and the use of the whip as a stimulus to labour. Now, taking manumission, slave-evidence, and the whip, in the three significations which he had described, what, he asked, was this—how many of the colonies having legislatures of their own had, up to the present time, passed laws upon the great questions of manumission, slave-evidence, or of the whip and driving system, with the exception of Tobago and Barbadoes, which had made regulations regarding them, in an act which was so objectionable on a thousand other scores, that he could almost have wished that it never had been passed? When he asked how many, he wished to know what colonies, or whether one single colony had done it? He might also add the same question with respect to the clause in the Order of Council prohibiting the separation of husband and wife, and parent and child, among the negro slaves.
Mr. Secretary Canning
said, that St. Vincent's, Tobago, St. Kitt's, Dominica, Antigua, Grenada, and St. Lucia had passed laws permitting the admissibility of negro evidence. With regard to manumission in the sense given to it by the hon. and learned gentleman, only one colony had permitted it. The instruction regarding the non-separation of families had been adopted by five of the colonies, by Tobago, St. Kitt's, Grenada, St. Lucia, and Dominica. In the island of St. Vincent the whip was completely abolished.
§ Mr. F. Buxton
wished to know whether any thing had been done in Jamaica to secure to the negroes the bequests made to them? He asked this question, because the governor, in a speech to the House of Assembly in December last, had told them, that another session had passed away without any thing having been done for the amelioration of the slave-population of the island. From every thing which had transpired since of the proceedings of the planters, it was not likely that any amelioration had been subsequently agreed to.
§ Mr. Canning
said, that the power of taking by bequest, a point of no small importance, had been secured to the slave 984 by the regulations made for the general security of his property.
§ Mr. W. Smith
said, that government ought to give parliament distinctly to understand, that it would be called upon to legislate for the colonies in case the bills which the right hon. gentleman had mentioned were not carried in the next session of the colonial legislatures. In alluding to the parochial resolutions of the towns in Jamaica, the hon. member observed, that he would not charge upon the colonial assembly of that island the vain and idle threats which they contained. It was evident, however, to all who had read the duke of Manchester's speech to that body, that it was animated by a spirit of inveterate hostility to any amelioration in the present slave system. He begged the House to attend to a few paragraphs in it. The duke of Manchester addressed them thus:—"Another year has been allowed to pass away without your having taken any effectual measure for the improvement of the condition of the negroes. It does not become me to anticipate the result of the disappointment of the British government, when it learns that the reiterated representations which it has made to you to do that which your own interests require, no less than the comforts of those who depend upon you, have totally failed. In obeying the instructions which I have received from his majesty's ministers, I earnestly press upon you the necessity of doing something, if not to disarm your enemies, at least to satisfy your friends, and to convince parliament that the urgent representations which the government, in obedience to its directions, have made to you, have not been entirely disregarded." This was not his language, but the language of the duke of Manchester, the governor of the island. Had the House since the arrival of that document, learned that the colonial legislature had shown any symptom of repentance? Not one single syllable had transpired to that effect. On the contrary, in that very debate which terminated in the rejection of the instructions contained in the Order of Council, there was not the slightest symptom of yielding exhibited, though all the speakers must have known the ticklish station in which their cause stood. The contumacy which they then exhibited displayed a spirit which, in his opinion, the Secretary for Foreign Affairs would find it impossible to subdue by kindness. He might depend upon it that it would only 985 yield to fear or force. If it did not yield to the first, the last must undoubtedly be employed. In conclusion, he contended that the general principles which the right hon. Secretary for Foreign Affairs had formerly laid down in advocating the abolition of the slave-trade, applied with equal truth and force to the present question of the emancipation of the slave.
Mr. Secretary Peel
rose, he said, for the purpose of cautioning hon. gentlemen against using any expressions which might tend to irritate the feelings of persons who were in any degree opposed to the measure which they advocated. His apology for giving this caution, if any apology were necessary, must be, that the use of language of that description was calculated more than any other thing to throw obstacles in the way of that amelioration of the condition of the slaves which was so earnestly desired. That which appeared to him to be the most prudent course would be to proceed slowly and moderately; and, having ascertained what regulations were likely to attain the object they had in view, to put it plainly to the several colonies, either to adopt or reject the measures which the parliament had suggested, and which he hoped, from the bottom of his heart, they would unanimously agree to act upon. He was equally convinced that it was of the highest importance to avoid all irritating and exasperating language, because that was directly calculated to induce the colonists not to concur in the measures which the House should recommend. He was sure there could be no difference of opinion as to the importance of having the concurrence of those colonists. Any thing that the legislature wished to effect, would be much better performed by willing than by unwilling witnesses. When he said this, he was sure it would not be supposed that he felt any thing like indifference to the amelioration of the condition of the slaves, in as speedy, and in as ample a manner as could be. He could assure the House that it was his warmest wish to see this carried into effect; and he had every reason to believe that it would be better, as well as sooner accomplished by being recommended to the West-India colonists in the language of friendly opinion, and left to their sense of humanity, and of their common interests. It could not be in better than in their own hands, because their experience and knowledge would enable them to ameliorate the condition 986 of the slaves in a more practical manner than any enactments which the legislature might make. There were, however, some points upon which much longer delay was impossible, and on which, if something was not speedily done by the colonists, every principle of justice, humanity, and common sense, would impel the House to interfere. He hoped that, before the next session, some regulations respecting the qualification of slaves to give evidence in courts of justice would be adopted; for this appeared to him to be a subject of paramount importance. He did not mean, by selecting this point, to undervalue the others; but this was one which, as it now stood, kept up a state of things which could not be suffered to exist. He trusted that the colonists would see that in originating the alterations which the present system required, they would at once adopt the safest, and, to use the expression of his right hon. friend, the cheapest course, and evince in the most satisfactory manner the earnestness of that desire which they professed, to improve the condition of their slaves. Without attempting or wishing to interfere with the relative interests of the masters or of the slaves, this principle of justice, that the courts of law should not be closed against them, was obvious; and even looking at it with a still closer application to the case before them, it could not be denied that the interests of the masters would be enhanced in proportion as the condition of the slaves was improved. It was impossible that any practical evil could result from this measure. The competency of the slave would first be examined in the court in which it should be offered, and next his credibility; and the whole effect of his evidence would be left to a jury of whites. He could not, therefore, imagine a reason why there should be any delay in capacitating slaves to give evidence. The devices which had been adopted in some of the colonies showed also the necessity of putting this subject on a plain and general footing. In some colonies the slaves were permitted only to give evidence where the whites were not the parties accused. But suppose that all the evidence of the white witnesses was in favour of the criminal, he would therefore escape the punishment which his offences might have deserved, because the only witnesses who could prove his guilt were silenced. The chief value, however, of this measure was, that it would place the responsibility, 987 in all cases, upon the tribunals, and not upon the law. If it was really the earnest intention of the colonists to raise the condition of the slaves, he thought there could be no objection to this measure, because it was quite safe, and only conferred on them a common privilege of humanity: but if they were to be kept in a condition no better than that of the brutes, then, indeed, he could understand why it ought to be withheld from them. That it was safe no man could doubt, because, as with the evidence of infants or idiots, it was in practice in this country. The same rule might be followed with respect to slaves. Their competency would first be decided upon by the court, and then their credibility, and the effect of the whole would be left to have such weight as it might deserve with the jury. He had purposely refrained from touching upon many other topics connected with the subject which invited discussion, lest the strong feelings which they must excite should lead him into expressions that might irritate persons connected with the colonial interests, and retard that amelioration of the condition of the slaves which it was his earnest desire to effect.
§ Mr. Scarlett
regretted that the conduct of the Legislative Assembly of Jamaica had been such as to Call for the censure of every moderate person. He was sure that in that assembly there were many individuals who had the strongest feelings In favour of the amelioration of the slaves, and who, notwithstanding the irritation under which they appeared recently to have laboured, were as anxious as any one in this country to accomplish that which he believed was the common wish of mankind. He was free to confess, that there were many topics on which, if the legislative bodies of the various colonies did not act promptly, the parliament must. The one alluded to by the right hon. gentleman was foremost among them. His earliest prejudices were connected with horror at the treatment of the slaves, and his first wish was to see their condition ameliorated. At the same time, it was not improbable that he might differ from many of those who entertained the same desire, as to the shortest and best mode of effecting that object. He thought that, in the first place, the masters ought to be conciliated. In his opinion, any language of irritation, of censure, and, more than all, of a threatening kind, would postpone, perhaps effectually prevent, 988 what was sought. The milder means of suggestion should, he thought, be tried before the legislature moved on the subject; and he should be inclined to trust to those means having the effect which was hoped for, even with persons whose recent conduct, he must admit, was open to reproach. He regretted the reluctance which the colonial governments had manifested to adopt the suggestions of his majesty's government; but he was convinced that the language used in that House and elsewhere, of the acrimonious nature he had alluded to, had been the cause of the obstacles that had prevented those suggestions from having the weight to which they were entitled. He had been anxious to express the opinion he had now uttered; but as to the particular mode in which the improvement of the condition of the slaves was to be effected, that was a topic from which he should at present abstain. The point which the right hon. gentleman had mentioned was that which took the lead, and he had a hope so strong that it amounted almost to a prediction, that if the task of suggesting the manner in which the improvement should be effected were left to the governments best qualified to ascertain it, the desire, which had been expressed throughout the kingdom on this subject, would be accomplished.
§ Mr. Philips
expressed his astonishment that there should be so great a difference as seemed to exist between the West-India proprietors resident in this country, and those who were in the colonies, He had observed with great regret, that a disposition existed in the colonies not to listen to the recommendations of government, and that great apprehensions were expressed as to the injurious effect which they might have upon the property of the persons interested. The same objections and the same reluctance had been manifested when the abolition of the slavetrade was proposed. The ruin of the colonies was predicted then; but the result, instead of justifying the gloomy apprehensions which were entertained, was now a topic of universal congratulation. He had no doubt that the same effect would be produced in the present instance if his majesty's ministers would act the same part. He, for one, begged that they would do so; for he should be sorry to see the subject out of the hands of the government; whose temper and moderation would ensure the protection of the 989 property of the colonists, while they improved the condition of the slaves.
Mr. Wilmot Horton
said, he was anxious to say a few words in furtherance of the remarks which had been made by his right hon. friend. If the subject were unincumbered with other considerations, and were one upon which the House could at once effectually and satisfactorily legislate, he should have wished that the motion of the hon. and learned gentleman had been brought forward without delay. But, if the House entertained a strong opinion that the measures which had been taken by the government were such as were calculated to accomplish the objects proposed by parliament, with respect to the improvement of the condition of the slaves in our West-Indian colonies—he must confess that he should see with deep regret the hon. and learned gentleman opposite prevail, in any thing like an attempt to wrest from the government the management of so momentous an undertaking; in the conduct of which they had thus far succeeded in obtaining the approbation of hon. gentlemen, as it should seem, on all sides. Any body who had looked at all the various details of this great question with that degree of minuteness and accuracy which the facilities of the office which he held, had enabled him to exercise, would strongly feel that it was of the utmost importance to clear away all misconceptions about the subject, in order to arrive at the accomplishment of the object which it was wished to attain. Now, any hon. gentleman who had examined the various protests made in various colonies against the measures of the government, must have at once perceived that those protests invariably turned upon the assumption that the adoption of the views of this House would destroy the now subsisting relations between the slave and the master—would weaken the authority at present exercised by the latter over the former, and thereby deteriorate the property of the master in a fatal degree. In exact proportion as that erroneous conviction might fade away before, not only the power of argument but the more convincing test of experiment, the opposition of the colonists and the colonial legislatures to these measures would give way. And he put it to hon. gentlemen, with reference to the facts of the case, whether such opposition arose out of any abstract love of slavery on the part of the West-India 990 planters, or from a dread of seeing the authority of the master over the stave neutralized and destroyed? He would now take the liberty of reading a letter, which had that day been put into his hands, that would illustrate the correctness of his reasoning. It would be remembered, that on the 1st of January 1826, the Order in Council relative to Demerara came into operation. That was an order initiated in Demerara, and adopting the order relative to Trinidad, with the exception of three clauses, only. In Demerara, from the moment that the operation of this order began, it was expected by the planters that the authority of the master would be annihilated. The letter was in these terms: "You may recollect the alarm and apprehension we all felt at the possible effect of the new regulations respecting the abolition of the whip, and the other great changes then about to be made in the treatment of the slaves. I am most happy to be able to state, that, although all these regulations have been since enforced, I have not heard of a single instance of any inconvenience having arisen from them, I explained to the negroes on both estates the nature of the new laws; and that all punishments under them would be entered in a book called 'The Black Book,'—or 'Punishment Record Book;' and that, if their names appeared among them, they would be sent up to the Fiscal. I said, that the new stocks and the black-hole would not be used by me, unless their own conduct should render it necessary for me to resort to those punishments: and that the money it would cost to build a new gaol on the estate, would be much rather expended by me in building new huts for them." The writer went on to say that the negroes seemed very sensible of the advantages offered to them by these near arrangements, and that he expected there would be very little writing in that "Black-Book." This letter certainly did much honour to the person who wrote it. It was dated 9th of January, 1826. The House should be informed, that in Trinidad a system of task-work had lately been practically pursued. The effect of that system was simply this. The average work of a slave had been calculated, and an allowance of work had bean assigned to him accordingly. The slave was then told, that if he concluded that labour before the expiration of the day, the remainder of such day should be his own, 991 for the purpose of relaxation, or labour on his own account, or for hire, as he chose. He felt gratified in being able to say, that this system had been found to succeed remarkably well, and in many instances, the slave had realized considerable emolument by his labour, after concluding such allotted work. Without attempting to build, however, any argument upon this fact, he would only say, it was clearly to be expected, that in proportion as the colonists had time to observe and experience the practical effects of such of these recommendations of parliament, for the amelioration of the condition of the slaves, as had been acted upon; parliament had a right to expect the compliance of the colonial legislatures in the general measures it had propounded to them; notwithstanding that, at present, there were instances—and memorable ones too—of opposition to them. In Jamaica, where, perhaps, the principle of resistance had been most strongly manifested, it had been stated in the most express and solemn manner, in all the speeches, protests, and remonstrances on this subject, that if they were only satisfied that their property would not be prejudicially affected by the measures in question, they would not resist them for a single hour. It was, therefore, that he looked to the happiest effects from the lapse of a little more time. These great changes, indeed, in the political condition of a whole class of people were not to be effected in a moment. Time was absolutely necessary to mature them. Let any man fairly consider the time which had been found necessary to remove prejudices in this country, on subjects on which there was now an universal concurrence of opinion. Feeling as he did, that it was of the utmost importance for the House, if possible, to carry the master with them in the execution of their purpose, he agreed with his right hon. friend in the expediency of pausing before any legislative interference, on the part of this country, should be determined on. And although Jamaica and other colonies might be at present more or less opposed to the proceedings of parliament on this great question, let it not be supposed that there were not other of our colonies in which much had not already been done in furtherance of the views of this government. He begged the attention of the House in particular to the case of St. Vincent, where a bill had been passed (of which a 992 copy had just reached him) providing, that sundry markets in that island should be limited to an early hour in the morning; that slave evidence in all criminal cases should be admitted; that the marriages of slaves should be registered; and that their rights of property should be further secured by a bill. In Dominica again, slaves were to be admitted to give evidence in criminal cases, not affecting the lives or property of their masters. He did not mean to say that this was enough: but it was much: and more might fairly be expected to follow. He would again appeal to the House, whether a more safe or practicable course could be adopted, with a view to the objects it proposed to itself, than that the full effect of the measures which had been stated by his right hon. friend should be allowed to transpire, before any sort of interference of parliament should take place. What was to be the nature of the measure proposed by the hon. and learned gentleman he did not know; but he did trust that if the House were satisfied with the sincerity and firmness of his majesty's government in the measures they had already taken, they would allow the necessary time for the operation of those proceedings on the colonial legislatures of the West Indies, before they resolved to interfere, and interrupt the present condition of the measures in question.
Mr. Keith Douglas
expressed his perfect concurrence in the course proposed by his majesty's government—a course which, without injuring the interests of any class of the colonists, would eventually promote the prosperity of all.
§ Mr. Sykes
blamed the government for their backwardness in carrying on the work of improving the slaves. He thought they had been criminally negligent in not insisting that the colonial legislatures should take the necessary steps for ameliorating the condition of the slaves. He referred to some of the acts still in force in some of the colonies, particularly one, in which a slave was declared punishable for riding or driving a horse except at a gentle pace. Could the condition of the slaves be said to be in a course of amelioration when laws such as these were still cherished in the West India Islands? It was now three years since the Resolutions referred to had been agreed to; and yet how little had been since done. He did not want to press the government, but he thought that some time should be speci- 993 fied when the intentions of parliament would be carried into effect.
§ Sir F. Blake
said, that the slaves in the West Indies suffered a great deal from the suspense in which they were kept as to the time when their slavery was to cease. He thought that a law ought to be passed, putting an end to it at a certain period.
§ Mr. T. Wilson
declared himself hostile to any measure which should have for its object to set the slaves free at the expense of their masters. He very much doubted whether such beneficial effects would result from free labour, as some persons anticipated. He begged leave to refer the House to the example of St. Domingo. That island formerly exported considerable quantities of sugar, but now the free negroes were even unable to produce good sugar, and could only make a kind of molasses. He deprecated any interference with private property. The emancipation of the black population was a subject that ought to be touched upon very tenderly. If a compulsory measure were resorted to, the planters ought to receive compensation. The petitioners from London had, he observed, stated their willingness to contribute towards a fund for compensating the planters for the loss of their slaves, in the event of parliament thinking it proper to emancipate them.
§ Mr. Grossett
said, that the House seemed to pass over entirely the state of slavery in which many of the natives of the East Indies were held; a slavery which was more abject and degrading than that in the West Indies.
§ Mr. Hume
said, that the only slaves within the Company's territories in India were dancing girls, who were bought when young for the amusement of rich persons. If however any of these slaves ran away from their masters, there was no power by which they could be compelled to return; there was therefore, a great distinction between the state of slavery in the East and in the West ladies. He would appeal to the late chief justice of Bengal (sir H. East) for the correctness of his statement. With respect to the question before the House, there was no man who was more anxious to see slavery in the West-India colonies abolished than himself; but he was not desirous to have that great object effected in a manner which was more likely to prove injurious to the slaves, than to add to 994 their comfort and happiness. Ministers had established certain regulations for the amelioration of the slave population, and he thought that that ought for the present to satisfy the advocates of emancipation. The planters, it was true, had rejected the propositions of ministers, in which he thought they had done wrong; for their property would not, in his opinion, be at all injured by the gradual adoption of them. It was, however, by moderate measures alone that emancipation could be effected. It would be desirable, in order to afford the House an opportunity of estimating the advantage of free labour, that ministers should place before them the results of the experiments which had been made on that subject during the last twenty years. It was well known that manumitted slaves had been carried from America to Trinidad, where land had been allotted to them, and every opportunity afforded for improving their condition. A number of years had elapsed since that measure was adopted, and the House ought to be informed of the result. At Sierra Leone there were 39,000 freed negroes, and of these 16,000 were furnished with houses, and clothes, and land to cultivate. He was informed that general Turner, the governor, employed some of these negroes to work in the building of a new arsenal; but he was soon obliged to give them up, for he could get no work from them. If accurate information as to the results of free labour were laid before the country, it might tend to moderate the zeal of the friends of emancipation; for he was compelled to acknowledge that the zeal of some of those persons had led them to commit acts of indiscretion. Prints calculated to excite the passions of the multitude, had been put forth. One of these prints represented the flogging of a female, which took place in 1782. One word with respect to compensation. Beyond all question, slaves were the property of their masters. The masters, he thought, were placed in a very unfortunate situation, and ought to be pitied rather than reviled. Any regulations which might be adopted for ameliorating the condition of the slaves, formed no ground whatever for compensation; but he was decidedly of opinion, that compensation was due to the planters, if parliament should at once take the slaves from the planters; which, after all, he thought would be the best mode of dealing with the question.
§ Sir Hyde East
said, that having been appealed to by the hon. member, he could only state that he could give no information from his personal knowledge of the practice in the interior of India. With respect to those parts of which he had any knowledge, he believed the hon. member was correct. He begged to offer a few observations on the question before the House. He was one of those unfortunate persons alluded to, who possessed property in the West Indies; but he had always thought it his duty to have it managed in the way most advantageous to the slaves. Three years back he concurred in the question for the abolition of slavery, and he had seen no reason since to repent the vote he then gave. He had also concurred in every measure for ameliorating the condition of the slaves; and, on his own estate, had directed every thing to be done with a view to that object. With respect to the last question agitated in the assembly of Jamaica, for admitting the evidence of slaves, he had recommended the adoption of it to his friends there, and though lately rejected, he had no doubt that it would ultimately be successful. In this he had acted from principle, not from any wish to ingratiate himself with the House, or the country. He strongly disapproved of the attempts made to inflame the prejudices of the people. The great object should be to do the most good with the least possible injury. It could not lead to any good effect to hold out threats. It tended only to excite opposition; for all public bodies were naturally riotous when other bodies interfered with what they conceived to be their rights. It was not, in his opinion, advisable to call upon government to enter into any particular pledge upon the subject. It might tend only to irritation, and no measure could be successfully carried into effect without the concurrence of those who were interested in its execution. It was desirable that instruction should be given to the slaves as much as possible, and it gave him pleasure to find, that throughout all the colonies the religious establishments were received with open hands, and without any instance of disapprobation. This was a proof, that when property was not concerned, there was no objection to any thing that could lead to the amelioration of the condition of the slaves. Where a question of property, however, arose, it was very natural for the colonial pro- 996 prietors to say, that their estates had been held for a term of 150 years, under the sanction of law, and that it would be too hard now to turn round on them and say, that their property was to be all of a sudden rendered of little comparative value.
§ Mr. Brougham
said, he wished to advert shortly to what had fallen from his hon. and learned friend who spoke last, and also from the hon. member for Montrose. He denied that there was any intention, or any attempt to inflame the feelings on this subject. The petitions—he did not mean to say all, but the greater part—were drawn up with temperance and moderation. Any warmth of feeling that had manifested itself, referred only to that part of the subject on which there was no difference of feeling, either in the House or out of it; he meant the enormous practical abuses that prevailed in the colonies. To the existence of these abuses they had not merely the testimony of travellers, which might be often too highly coloured. The strongest appeals to feeling were made, not in the writings of those who advocated the abolition of colonial slavery, but in the speeches of the colonial legislatures themselves. To the surviving commissioner, the other having unfortunately died, they were indebted for an account, which might be relied upon, of the most appalling details of the infernal system. But was it to be contended, because he (Mr. Brougham) spoke thus of the system, that he was therefore an advocate for precipitate and heedless emancipation. None of the petitions called upon them to pursue so rapid a course. By compulsory manumission he did not mean to intimate that the whole mass of slaves were, at once, and without further preparation, to be set free; but that, if a slave should become possessed of the means of purchasing his freedom, some provision should be made for compelling the owner to grant it, on a fair appraisement. That means should be taken suddenly to emancipate the whole mass, he did not now, nor ever did, maintain. For the slaves themselves it would not be the most advantageous way of proceeding. With respect to the work alluded to by the right hon. gentleman, it was written a quarter of a century back, and if, in the course of that period, he had seen, any reason to alter opinions entertained so far back he would not hesitate to avow it. It was stated in 997 a placed, handed about, that he, some years back, maintained that the mother country should interfere only with the abolition of the slave-trade, leaving it to the local authorities to do all the rest. What he held, at the time alluded to, was, that it could be done more effectually by the local authorities, as possessing better means of information than those who resided at so great a distance. But so many years having elapsed, and no step having been taken by the colonial legislatures, he thought the time had arrived when the mother country should no longer suffer herself to be trifled with. He wished to avoid the language of irritation: it would be improper upon such a subject; it would be peculiarly improper in that House. He must however express his great disappointment and surprise, that all that had been done amounted to so little. It appeared that only one of the colonies had adopted any regulation with respect to that most accursed practice, the driving system. The island of St. Vincent, in which it was adopted, possessed a population of only 9,000 slaves, while that of all the West-India colonies amounted to 900,000; so that the relief thus afforded could be felt only in the proportion of one to every hundred. With respect to receiving the evidence of slaves, no change of any importance had taken place except in Tobago. At St. Vincent and Dominica an alleviation, but an imperfect one, had taken place; for the evidence of a slave maltreated by his master—a case in which protection was most necessary—could not be received. Both in Jamaica and Barbadoes, the recommendations sent out in 1822 by lord Bathurst, and the Order in Council, had met with a marked and peremptory refusal. It was rejected only by a majority of two to one: but even the majority confessed, that their support was grounded solely on the supposition that it was to be the last measure of the kind. Though the colonial assembly did not appear to him to have taken an enlightened view of their own interests, still there was, upon the occasion, a display of talent that would have done credit to any assembly. This he was ready to acknowledge, though he himself, and men far his superiors in every respect, had been made objects of vituperation. In this, however, he had for his companions the West-India body in this country. The bitterest of all the attacks were directed against the 998 latter. These were his reasons for auguring ill of the future. But, perhaps, the colonial legislatures were not so much to be blamed, surrounded as they were by persons less informed, and, of course, far more violent than themselves in their opposition. In the parochial meetings, so far from manifesting a spirit of concession, they called for more restrictive measures, until, as they expressed it, the slave population were reclaimed, and showed symptoms of repentance—repentance, he supposed, for the dreadful wrongs inflicted on them. He could expect little from the colonial legislatures, until they concurred in carrying into effect the Order in Council. They who acted with him did not use the language of menace in the offensive sense. Their only object was, to intimate calmly, that if the colonial legislatures did not act, it might become a necessary duty on the part of the British parliament, to take measures for the relief of their fellow-subjects located in the colonies. Though ministers here might not think it expedient to pledge themselves now to any future course, still if it were intimated to the colonial authorities, that they were not opposed to some measure of relief, that intimation would, he hoped, have considerable effect. He was nevertheless, not so sanguine in this hope, as to abandon the motion of which he had given notice. But after what he had heard of the intentions of his majesty's ministers he was induced to pause in his intention of bringing it on that evening. Another reason for postponing it was, the knowledge that there was some information forthcoming, which it would be better should be previously before the House. He therefore wished to reconsider the point whether the motion should or should not be brought forward this session. This question he was not able now to decide. He must, however, repeat, that he was not satisfied; that he had no confidence in the colonial legislatures; and that, in his opinion, the measures suggested by government could not be carried into effect without the interference of parliament. He trusted, therefore, that he should not be charged with inconsistency if, after the recess, he should feel it to be his duty to press the motion on the House.
Mr. R. Gordon
professed his acquiescence in the views of the right hon. Secretary, as to the colonies. He agreed with him, 999 that the colonial assemblies, as being best acquainted with the local interests, ought to be first tried; but that if they kept pertinaciously backward, coercion was then justifiable? He was, however, opposed, on principle, to the interference of that House with the colonial legislatures. He wished to see the colonies governed either by their local assemblies, or immediately by the king in council.
§ Mr. W. Bankes
agreed, that the sense of the House ought to be expressed in a tone which would make an impression upon the colonial assemblies. He deprecated menace; but if those assemblies pertinaciously refused to adopt measures for ameliorating the condition of the slaves, the House ought to take the law into its own hands. He did not at present name any time for such a course; but decidedly the day ought not to be a late one. He hoped that the colonists might yet take warning before it was too late.
§ Mr. F. Buxton,
in reply, said, that satisfied as many gentlemen seemed to be with the declaration of ministers, he could not help being entirely disappointed with it. As for the picture which had been adverted to as circulated by the friends or abolition, he repelled the accusation. They were incapable of degrading themselves by sanctioning such publications; and he himself had never seen the paper in question but once, and that had been in the possession of a West Indian. He was pleased with the observation of an hon. member, which had called up the hon. baronet; because the hon. baronet's testimony settled the question as to the comparative state of the law in the East and West Indies. In the East Indies, if a slave absented himself six months from his master, he had only to go before a judge when taken, who at once liberated him from prison, and sent him to his duty; while, in the West Indies for a similar desertion, he was liable to be hanged or transported. With the general issue, however, of what had passed, he was little satisfied. The delay which was talked of would produce no good. Some trifling concessions, it was possible, the colonists might make; but all the main and most objectionable features of their system, the House might rely upon it, they would most obstinately adhere to.