The Marquis of Chandos
said, he had been intrusted with a Petition from the West-India planters and others interested in property in the West Indies. The petition, he observed, was one of very considerable importance. The petitioners stated, that they had acquired their property in the West Indies under the sanction of the laws, the same as all other classes of his Majesty's subjects, and they very justly complained of the outcry which was raised against them, and the manner in which petitions were got up in London, and sent down to different parts of the country, on this subject. The petitioners prayed that the House, in any measures it might adopt on the subject of colonial slavery, would not act with injustice to themselves and their fellow-colonists, but that any measure to be adopted should be on the principle of the fullest compensation for any loss or depreciation of property it might occasion. The noble Lord observed that he was as favourable to the 1048 principle of the abolition of slavery as any man, but he would not listen to those clamours which were raised in favour of the abolition without any reference to the interests of those who might be affected by it. The condition of the colonists was one which called for relief. They had last year asked for some reduction, but had got much less than they were entitled to; but they still looked with confidence to large reductions in the duties on coffee, rum, and sugars, and he earnestly hoped, from the manly candour and sincerity of the noble Lord (Althorp), that the serious attention of Government would be called to this subject.
supported the prayer of the petition, and was understood to deprecate the manner in which the colonists had been attacked, and the inconsiderate demand which had been made for immediate abolition, without reference to the interests of those whose whole property it involved. He complained of the outcry that had been raised in the country against the West-Indian proprietors, and the attempt that there was, to force the House into a conclusion on the subject; in illustration of which, he mentioned a petition that had been presented from some congregation, by a noble Lord, on the 4th of November, which spoke of the impropriety of suffering traffickers in human flesh to hold a seat in that House, where they appeared like Satan seated among the sons of God, and which called on Parliament to grant no compensation to men that dealt in human blood. A crusade had, in fact, been preached in the names of Christianity and humanity, against what some gentlemen called the accursed horrors of the West-India Islands. They said, that the West-Indians were men who were the receivers of stolen property, knowing it to be stolen, and that viewing this, they could not help burning with a holy indignation. But these holy persons themselves were wishing to do what they decried—namely, rob others of their property; were preaching these doctrines at the risk of exciting insurrection, and were so determined against giving a fair hearing to one party, that they declared they could not give credit to any one who had been contaminated by breathing the air of a slave-colony. It was true that Christianity forbade slavery, but it was equally true that its doctrines forbade their letting loose a large slave-population, the in- 1049 evitable consequence of which must be a general massacre. Besides which, he contended, that, without taking into consideration the impossibility of compensation, slavery, as it now existed in its mitigated form in the West Indies, was a much less evil than the risk which would follow any alteration. There always must be evil in the world, and he was afraid that the attempts to get rid of it by violence and suddenly, only confirmed its dominion and extended its sway. He hoped, therefore, the House would not take any step on this subject without well considering the condition of the colonist and also that of the slave-population; and whether that condition would be improved by immediate abolition. He was willing to go hand in hand with those who would improve the condition of the slave; but he deprecated any measure of violent interference.
§ Mr. Briscoe
was convinced that the general question of Slave Emancipation must very soon be forced on the attention of his Majesty's Ministers, and it was desirable that such a question should be settled, not only by a vote of that House, but with the consent of the West-India proprietors, and under the sanction of his Majesty's Government. The petitions which he had seen against slavery rested their claims on the highest 'vantage ground; they designated slavery as a crime disgraceful to man, and they dwelt on the moral and mental degradation of the slave. These petitions had likewise additional weight by having affixed to them the signatures of clergymen of all denominations, who held that it was revolting to Christianity that it should be argued that slaves, were private property, and therefore must not be meddled with. He had looked at the subject with much patient attention, and he was convinced that the time was come when the Parliament must take the matter in hand, and decide that the slave should be set free.
§ Mr. Long Wellesley
said, that of all the questions which could come before the House, this was one of the most important. He concurred in much of what he had heard from the hon. Members on both sides of this subject, for he fully admitted the principle that slavery ought to be abolished, being fully impressed that it was directly opposed to the principles of Christianity; but he at the same time admitted, that in any measure which Parliament might be disposed to adopt with respect to the 1050 abolition of slavery, due regard should be had to the interests of the colonists, so as to give them full and entire compensation. He sincerely hoped, that the subject would engage the serious consideration of Government. After all he had heard on this subject, he was convinced that colonial slavery could not be abolished by a single vote of Parliament. Before that, it would be the duty of the House to enter into an inquiry into the whole of our colonial policy, as, in his opinion, it wanted revision. He wished to be distinctly understood as abating nothing of his hostility to slavery; but he thought the most effectual mode of bringing that desirable object about would be, an entire change in the system of our colonial policy.
Mr. Keith Douglas
had one word to add to the observations which had been made by his noble friend, or he should not have otherwise thought it necessary to call the attention of the House and the Government to the subject. The petition presented by his noble friend was signed by gentlemen of great respectability—of as great respectability as any gentlemen in the House; and the great object of the petitioners was, to implore the House, if it granted emancipation, as that would destroy all slave property, to grant the West-India proprietors compensation. It further prayed, that the House would institute an inquiry into the whole state of society in the West Indies. Before the House did emancipate the slave, inquiry certainly would be necessary, by fair and competent judges, if it were only to ascertain what amount of compensation should be granted to his master. His Majesty's Ministers were probably not disposed to grant inquiry, as they were generally men who rested their claim to the confidence of the country by acting on this point in conformity to the sentiments of the people. He must, however, say, that he hoped from their general candour that they would not bow to the popular prejudices, that they would look at the question with coolness and impartiality, and that, aware of all its difficulties, they would treat it with a view of doing justice to all parties, and giving the country at large confidence in their decision. They would not listen, he was sure, only to the representations of the over-zealous partizans of either side, with whom the country was now inundated, and 1051 they would regard the question with the feelings of strict neutrality between the planters and the advocates of the abolition. Former Governments had done that, and had not hurried on the decision. They had not, however, taken on themselves as they ought, the responsibility of settling this question. They had not always stood neuter, but they had stood aloof, giving the discussions an air of a squabble between rival parties. Sometimes they had thrown themselves into the scale of the abolitionists, forgetting that they were bound to protect the property and trade of the West-India Islands. It was said of the West-India proprietors, that they had no feelings like other men, and that, if their slaves were emancipated, they could obtain free labour in the West Indies. This latter assertion, however, was disproved by experience. People who made that assertion did not consider what was the basis and compact of the West-Indian Society. It was that two or three white persons should rule over a great multitude of slaves. Those slaves were the only labourers on the estates, and the others were the proprietors. There were in that state of society no intervening links between the master and the slave, no connexions between these extreme points, such as were found in other communities. Those who urged forward emancipation, had but a very imperfect acquaintance, with the state of society in the West Indies, and their zeal would only excite irritation, and, if followed up, bring on the dissolution of society in those islands. Such conduct would not be beneficial to the islands, and he thought he did his duty by adhering to the laws of the country and to the present system of West-Indian society. If society there were to be dissolved, all property would be destroyed, industry would stop, all trade would be at an end, and all the shipping now engaged in it would be annihilated at once. How would humanity —how would justice be served by that? Would that benefit the African? He believed not. It would transfer our trade to other countries. The people here would not cease to use sugar, and to supply their consumption we should import largely from the Brazils and Cuba, where sugar was cultivated by slaves. Thus we should ruin our own possessions, annihilate the property of our own subjects, and transfer our trade in sugar to countries over which 1052 we had no control. He had carefully looked at the petitions which had been presented to the House, and of 2,600, the amount of them, 2,200 had proceeded from the Dissenters, sixty only from the Established Church of England and Scotland, and the remainder from the community at large. All these petitions proceeded on one principle—they declared, that man could not be the property of man, and therefore they demanded the immediate abolition of slavery. But these petitioners forgot that the compact of society there was different from what it was here, and that that compact, as it existed there, kept up the distinction between masters and slaves. He did not know by what original or natural right—by what else, in short, but by the compact of society, one man here was in possession of 150,000l. a year, while 2,000 or 3,000 labourers did not share as much amongst them. Some men here were in possession of large fortunes, while others laboured excessively for 5s. or 6s. a week. Was that, he would ask, natural and just? Was it more natural and more to be honoured, than that men were the property of men in the West Indies; or how could it be reconciled to reason except on the principle on which the West Indians defended their property—that it was the settled and organized form of society. What was it but the compact of society which gave the Duke of Devonshire a right to his property? Might not his servant say, in digging his garden, that he did it for himself, and not for him, and that the Duke had no right to the produce? In the West Indies the compact was different; and if the landed proprietor in England was bound to defer to the rights of the labourers, in the West Indies, the proprietor was bound to look after the welfare of his slaves, to make them comfortable and promote their improvement. The advocates of emancipation justified their demands on abstract rights, and on the principles of Christianity, but surely, if these were pushed to the extreme, they would not strengthen the right of property here, or would the state of society be found much more consistent with them in Europe than in the West Indies. He was far from wishing to advocate such extreme views, but neither did he desire to be their victim, and he cautioned gentlemen to be careful how they pushed their principles to the furthest point. What he thought should be done before emanci- 1053 pation was granted was, to inquire closely into the state of the colonies. For example, the Established Church of England was perhaps little suited to the colonies; and it would be wise to inquire if the Church of Scotland, as there were many persons belonging to that Church in the islands, might not be extended in them. Already some Commissioners had been sent to inquire into the state of Judicature in the Islands, and that inquiry ought to be pursued. The agitation of the question had already had considerable influence over the return of Members to that House, for, in many cases, it had been urged as a reason for opposing candidates, that they were connected with the West India interest. He wished for a Reform in Parliament to a certain extent; but he must aver, that a Reform would be most mischievous if it would prevent the Members from deliberating freely and fairly on the affairs of the country. In the present case, some of the Members were sent to Parliament pledged to vote for emancipation, and they had given those pledges to secure their election. If the influence of the people were to be carried to that extent, Reform would not be a blessing but a curse.
§ Lord Morpeth
would not have said one word, if it had not been for some of the observations of the last hon. Members. Something had been said about "Swing;" but that gentleman's efforts were not to be justified by the exertions of the people of England to relieve the slaves. The slaves of the West Indies were the property of their masters; the labourers of England were the property of no man. The relations which took place in this country between landlord and labourer were the consequences of an unalterable state of society, and depended on principles that everywhere prevailed. The slavery in the West Indies was founded on an original wrong, which was yet unredressed, which was, in fact, in its consequences yet in full operation. It was founded in Acts of Parliament utterly repugnant to the sentiments of right and wrong implanted in the heart of man. The Bible said that there should be always poor in the land; but it nowhere said, that there should be always slaves. On the contrary, it gave reason to believe that slavery should be extinguished. He was aware, and had always said, that there was exaggeration on the side of the 1054 emancipationists; but exaggeration on their side was not more mischievous than concealment on the other. For his part, he wished for nothing more than that the question should be decided after impartial consideration.
said, if the petitioners who asked for compensation, and if the noble Marquis who presented the petition, and the hon. Member who spoke last but one, had confined themselves to the subject of compensation, he should not have thought it necessary to say one word on the subject. He thought—he believed the public also thought—that compensation ought to be given. He agreed with the noble Lord and the hon. Gentleman, and he agreed, too, with the petitioners, that whenever slavery was extinguished, all the loss of property which might arise should be made good by the Government. He agreed in this opinion, not because he agreed with what fell from the hon. member for Dumfries, which, by the by, he did not understand, about the compact of society He did not see from that species of metaphysical argument how protection for property was necessary; but it was found by experience that it was bad for men that property should not be secured, and that great inconvenience resulted from violating property, and on that ground, it was said, that men ought to have their property protected. After the public had declared, by Acts of Parliament, that men should be property, after they, had been bought and sold, deposited as pledges, and made to answer for dowers, great inconvenience would result from taking away that species of property, and the masters and owners ought to be compensated. He declared, that he thought, in common with most of those who petitioned the House, that slavery ought to be extinguished; but he and the petitioners all contemplated, on its extinction, giving a reasonable compensation to the masters of slaves. If, therefore, the noble Lord and the hon. Gentleman had confined themselves to compensation, which he admitted was just, he should not have said one word on the subject; but they had mingled other matters with that which he always wished to see separated from it. He agreed that exaggeration could not do any good, and he regretted, as much as the noble Lord and the hon. member for Dumfries, that cither anger or exaggeration should have been displayed on 1055 either side. It was a charge against the petitions for the abolition, that they were all got up under the influence of the Anti-Slavery Society. The petitions were got up under that influence—was that extraordinary? Who should inform the people of England, busily employed in their own domestic occupations, of what occurred in the West Indies, if some such Society did not undertake the task? But the influence the Society possessed was over the public mind. It had no other. It appealed to the public reason. It had no monopoly of the public Press. Its reports and proceedings were open to cavil and objection. The periodical literature was as much in the hands of the West Indians as their opponents. Magazines and Reviews were on their side; of celebrated works, he believed that The Quarterly Review had always been in their favour. He did not believe that there was one of those periodical publications which were most read—he meant the newspapers— he did not believe that there was one of the London newspapers that was fully and completely on the side of the abolitionists. The organs of the West India body were as numerous as those of the other side, and their funds were at least equal to those of the Anti-Slavery society. It was not long ago that the West India body gave as much to one writer as the Anti-Slavery Society received and employed in a year. The fact was, that the West India body was in the wrong. All men were active to embrace the opposite opinions. They had been progressively gaining ground, and all the efforts of the West-Indians had failed to stem the tide of public opinion. They had been trying since 1802, and were carried further and further away every year from their object. The public feeling since that time had ebbed and flowed somewhat, but, on the whole, it had been much strengthened. After every ebb it had only run upwards with double vigour. It required that slavery should be abolished; it required, in the interest of the West-Indians themselves, as well as in the interest of the slaves, and in the interest of the country generally, that the question should be brought to a speedy conclusion, and that the slaves should be emancipated. The petitions, it was said, were violent; but, though nobody supposed violence was good, what good cause had escaped being disfigured 1056 by violence? The Christian religion itself at its origin was disfigured by many pious frauds, and fanatics then abounded. Such was the case, too, at the Reformation, and much violence was instrumental in bringing it to a conclusion. For his part, he did not charge the West-India body with the calumny that was uttered against the abolitionists. The body, he knew, contained many honourable men, who were free from all suspicion of such a charge, and who scouted as much as any honourable men could, those people who lived by slander and traded in violent abuse, and in whom the ideas of calumny and their dinner were inseparably associated. He would do justice to the West-Indians, and let them do justice to their opponents. Let neither party recriminate any longer. Let them all consider the matter like statesmen and legislators. Let them ask themselves, was there any evil, and was there a remedy for it? Were they the people who ought to apply the remedy, and was this the time? If this were the time, and they were the people, he would implore them to apply the remedy. He saw that there were many difficulties in the way of it; but he thought those difficulties would readily vanish if the subject were taken up by statesmen of a capacious intellect and resolute heart. The statesmen who had lately taken office were of that character: in them he had great confidence, and he had no doubt that they would bring forward the question in a proper manner. When it was brought forward, he, for one, wished that it should be with a view to extinguish the system of slavery; but he wished it brought forward carefully, with temperance, avoiding all causes of irritation, and all violence of language; he wished the question looked at as a whole, and that it should be discussed with a sincere desire to come to a calm and deliberate decision, and to do every interest justice.
complimented the last hon. Member on the tone and temper of his speech, and expressed a wish that every other discussion on the subject should be carrried on in the same calm and temperate manner. All parties wished, he believed, that calumny should be put down; at least, he was sure that the West Indians did. That was the language, also, of the petition presented to-night, which prayed that the Legislature would not interfere 1057 without inquiry. The West Indians courted inquiry. They had always done so; but if they had a bad cause, they would shun inquiry. The hon. Member who spoke last underrated, he believed, the difficulties of the task. There was the interest of this country to be considered— the interest of the West Indians—and there was also the interest of the negroes themselves; they could not be let loose like paupers. There was no Poor-law in the West Indies; and if the slaves were removed from the authority and control of their masters, whose interest and duty it was to make them comfortable, what would they do? The West Indians might complain of being much misrepresented in this country, where they were held up to odium as torturing their slaves. Nothing could be more untrue. The question had been in abeyance for several years, but was now revived. He did ample justice to the benevolent motives of the gentlemen he saw around him, but there was a good deal of exaggeration prevalent out of doors, which had been caused by a few over-zealous persons In opposition to this statement, he would assure the House, that the West-India proprietors would readily co-operate with the Legislature in giving relief to the slave, and promoting his improvement by all possible means.
acquiesced in the sentiments which fell from his hon. and learned friend (Mr. Macauley). They did equal honour to his philosophical mind and to the strong love of truth and justice for which he was distinguished. He felt himself called on to say, that in the great town which he most unworthily, he was afraid, represented, the first wish of the great West-India merchants and proprietors was, that inquiry should be established, and that the truth should be displayed to the satisfaction of every man in the community. The next was, that if it were determined by the wisdom of the Legislature that an early emancipation should take place, then they wished that compensation should be given, and they looked on that as an inseparable condition. He and they both wished for gradual emancipation, as consistent with the great' principle of liberty, and the proper care of the rights of property. He was convinced that gradual emancipation was alone consistent with sound policy and the principles of humanity. He would use on the 1058 subject the language of Virgil, as it had been applied by Mr. Pitt, in 1792, to the gradual civilization of Africa.—" nos primus equis oriens afflavit anhelis,Illic sera rubens accendit lumina Vesper.
§ Mr. Fowell Buxton
would not have troubled the House, but for some observations which had fallen from the former speakers. The hon. member for Liverpool, as well as the other hon. Members, wanted inquiry; but what would be the effect of inquiry; why interminable delay? If they were to institute inquiry—if they were to send out that roving Commission which had bean spoken of, then to every proposition for meliorating the condition of the slave they would be told to stop till the Commission had reported—till the inquiry was completed; and they would stop till public feeling was cooled and deadened, and then they would stop for ever. It was a suspicious circumstance that inquiry was now demanded; and why was it not heretofore demanded? If, indeed, inquiry had begun ten years ago, at the instance of the West-Indians, there might now be some hope of reform. He formerly had proposed inquiry, and for that, much odium was thrown on him. The country was satisfied by the official documents already published. The business of the Government was, to put an end to slavery: that was what the country demanded, and it demanded that the abolition should be accomplished with the least, possible injury to the West-Indian masters, and the greatest possible benefit to the slaves. He had heard it observed out of doors, that the question of compensation was now insisted upon, not merely for the sake of the compensation, but as an insuperable obstacle to the abolition. If the West-Indian body came to the House with that disposition; if the planters said, that the Government must pay them 140 millions sterling; if they made such a demand, it would be plain that they did not wish for compensation —they wished to prevent abolition. In the speculations which were made on this subject, there was one party entirely overlooked to whom compensation was due; the slaves were entitled to compensation. He admitted that if the planters were injured—he always had admitted—that they ought to be compensated by the British Government; but it was forgotten that the right claimed over the slave was founded in an abominable crime. The 1059 planters said, that if the slaves were to be emancipated they must be compensated; but if he approved of the planters being compensated, was he to give nothing to the slave? If he approved of the merchant being compensated for the loss of his trade, was he to give no compensation to that living merchandize which was made the object of this traffic? The only inquiry, he thought, which ought to be made, was an inquiry into the best and shortest way of putting an end to slavery. The question of compensation was always treated as between the British Government and the planter; but there was a third party. It was said, that the Government must give compensation to the planters, the guilty party; while the third party, the innocent and suffering party—the slaves—were to be entirely overlooked. It was most unjust, to say that the guilty party—that the planters, who would not do justice to their slaves—that they were to be relieved, while the slaves, the innocent and suffering party, were to be denied justice. He hoped that the question of compensation would be brought forward, but brought forward only when slavery was to be put an end to. He hoped that the question would be brought forward with a view that slavery might be extinguished peaceably; that was for the interest of the West-Indians themselves, and if that were not done they could not be saved from one wide-spread ruin.
§ Colonel Sibthorp
observed, that the hon. Member opposed inquiry as useless, and said, that the people of England were satisfied; but would that be the case when the Chancellor of the Exchequer called on them to contribute a large tax to pay the compensation? He protested against the House and the country being led away by the statements published in the Anti-Slavery Society's Reports, of which not more than one word in every five thousand was worthy of belief. He was disposed to grant emancipation when they were fairly prepared to compensate the planters for their loss; but before they determined on taking such a course, he thought it would be right to ascertain from what source of taxation the amount of the compensation was to be drawn.
§ Sir George Murray
In consideration of what I owe to the office which I held under the late Government of his Majesty, as well as in consideration of what I owe to my own character, I trust the House 1060 will pardon me for offering a few observations on this subject, and in reply to one or two expressions which have fallen from hon. Members opposite. If I rightly understood the language of the hon. member for Dumfries (Mr. K. Douglas) he charges the lute Government with not having displayed sufficient activity in its operations towards the accomplishment of the emancipation of the slaves in our West-India Colonies. Sir, I have always supposed, until this moment, that to abstain from any extraordinary activity in the measures to be carried into effect with respect to the Colonies was a merit rather than a defect; and that it was the duty of the Government, and the wish of the Legislature, that the Ministers should deprecate every course which would have the effect of calling the angry passions of the rival parties into play, or of exciting those premature expectations among the black population which they had so often heard described as likely to lead to calamitous consequences. My earnest endeavour, during; the whole of the time it became my official duty to deal with the interests of the Colonies, was, to take what may be called a common-sense view of the subject. I endeavoured to abstain, as much as possible, from enlisting the powers of the Government on behalf of any of the parties who press this subject on the attention of the Legislature. I neither lent myself to those whose views seemed to be directed towards the accomplishment of their objects without any regard to the interests of others, and who sought only the gratification of their natural feelings—nor to those who would have gone blindly on, under the influence of passion and enthusiasm, excited by their sense of the condition of the slave—nor to those who took advantage of that enthusiasm to accomplish purposes purely interested, and who made it a theme for popular eloquence; but I laboured to consider it solely with reference to the great and unchangeable principles of justice and of real humanity. In the hands of the Government I always conceived it right that the execution of any measures of the Legislature should be left. Government was, in my opinion, situated in the most favourable position for carrying into effect those measures which were to pave the way for the entire abolition of slavery, (for, short of its total abolition, I never contemplated the possibility of stopping), and in its hands I 1061 endeavoured to preserve the execution of the wishes of the Legislature, because I felt that Government alone was capable of looking at the question, and carrying the resolutions of the people of this country into effect, with that degree of calmness, temperance, and impartiality which was requisite to ensure safety to all parties, and at the same time to render the black population itself capable of enjoying and appreciating the benefit which was to be bestowed on them. The hon. member for Dumfries has alluded to the peasantry of an English nobleman, in support of his argument, as if there could be any comparison between the man who enjoys the blessings of freedom and the slave; as if there could be any parallel drawn between the being who writhes under the lash of the driver, in hopeless and interminable bondage, and the freeman who, whatever may be the poverty or misery of his present condition, has it in his power, by industry, temperance, and good conduct, to raise himself, and, in point of fact, frequently does raise himself, in this land of liberty, to the highest station in the State, and to rank among the mightiest and wealthiest of its Peers. The hon. member for Dumfries seems also to intimate, that the system of judicature in the West Indies has been too much neglected by the late Government. It is very true, that all has not been done which was supposed necessary; but it is, unfortunately, not so easy to cast recommendations into the proper form as some persons imagine. l can say, however, with some confidence, that regulations for the improvement of the Judicature in the Colonies arc now about to be established, under the orders of the late Government, in all the Colonies of the West Indies; and they have been already carried into effect in every colony under the immediate control of the Crown. The hon. Member has also referred to the state of the Church Establishment in the Colonies. I confess I did not feel myself called on to make any alteration on that subject. My object, during the time of my connection with the Colonies, was, to give full and complete liberty to all sects, and to curb as much as possible that spirit of intolerance which was unhappily too prevalent, and which was inconsistent with the laws of this country, and of the Colonies, and at variance with the liberal opinions of the age. With respect to the appointment of the Commission of Inquiry, 1062 I see no good it could possibly produce, except delay; and I believe the Parliament and the country require no delay except that which is justified by a sound judgment, prudence, and caution, which will so modify the extent and manner of interference as to prevent its producing evils more injurious than any which now exist. The question of compensation has been much insisted on in the course of this discussion. I think that nothing can be more proper, just, politic, and necessary, than that the planters of the West Indies should receive compensation for the loss they are likely to sustain by the emancipation of the negroes; but I confess I am at a loss to understand what good purpose is to be answered, even by giving compensation, if it is to be given with immediate emancipation. Immediate emancipation, such as some of the more enthusiastic in this country require, would, without those measures which are necessary to prepare the mind of the negro for the change, merely afford a sanction to the commission of murder, and an encouragement to the most dreadful scenes of plunder and devastation. Compensation I think the planters should receive; but if we grant immediate emancipation to those who are at this moment in the ignorance of bondage, and who are totally unprepared for the enjoyment of liberty, whether we pay their owners or do not pay them we shall most assuredly bring on confusion and disorder throughout the Colonies; give a license to rapine and licentiousness; rend asunder all the bonds of society, and make the estates of the planter a scene of ruin and desolation. I beg the House to excuse me for having said so much on this subject at the present moment; but I felt it necessary to trespass on its attention, in justification of the views I entertain on these questions, and in justification also of the views of that Government to which I had lately the honour to belong.
Mr. K. Douglas
denied, that he meant to impute any blame to the right hon. Gentleman, or to the Government. He had only wished to assert, that the Government was bound to protect the property of the West-Indians. The right hon. Baronet had misunderstood his observations as to the slaves and labourers here. He had put that case hypothetically.
§ Sir Robert Peel
said, it was impossible to overrate the enormous difficulties of the 1063 question presented to the House, or to avoid feeling how much danger there was in the discussion, and how much mischief might be produced by the use of hasty and unguarded expressions. He thought the House could not be too cautious in this respect, and he implored the Members to abstain from any language of recrimination or exaggeration, and from raising expectations in the minds of the black population of the Colonies which must prove eventually beyond their power to realise. What was at that moment passing in every part of the world must teach them the danger of tampering with such subjects, and he conjured them to take care that, while they were extending instruction, they did not also give expectations of speedy benefits which it would not be in their power to confer, and raise expectations of advantages which would prove wholly illusory. He was sorry to observe that the hon. member for Weymouth (Mr. F. Buxton) had made use of expressions totally at variance with those of the hon. and learned member for Calne (Mr. Macauley). The hon. Member had told them, that there was a third party, independent of the Government, and independent of the slave or of his master, whose interests and wishes must be consulted, and who had a right to be heard by the Legislature, and a claim on its attention, which could not be postponed. If, therefore, they were prepared to postpone the final settlement for a single day, the effects might be mischievous under such circumstances. Unless they were prepared to dissolve the traffic in this living merchandise on the instant—and who could say that they were?—he intreated them to be cautious of making use of expressions which could only irritate the passions, and might lead to incalculable mischief. Could any man, however, who listened to the speeches of the hon. member for Weymouth, close his eyes to the difficulties of the question? The hon. member for Calne admitted in the fullest manner that there must be compensation made to the planters. If their claim to compensation were admitted, what was to be its amount? Was the country to recompense the owner for the direct loss he would sustain in his slave, or from the consequential loss he must suffer in his property and plantations? These were grave and serious questions to be decided before they came to the point of emancipation; and then, supposing 1064 that eighty millions would be required for the purpose, were they prepared at once to demand that sum from the people of this country? Supposing, however, that emancipation was determined, and that compensation was to be granted, what security had they that the Colonies would not be involved, before they could carry it into effect, in a general conflagration? Did they consider the consequences of suddenly making such an alteration in the existing state of society? Could they, when the slave was emancipated, secure the control of the planter over him as a freeman? When the planter received compensation for his property, all desire to remain in the colony—all stimulus to watch over its interests would be taken away from him. The Aristocracy—if he might make use of such an expression— would leave the colony, having no inducement to remain. There would be no link by which society could be held together— there would be no Magistracy—no power by which wrong was to be punished, or right secured; and the Colonies would present a scene of civil war and a succession of barbarous conflicts, unmitigated by any of those checks which, in the civilized portion of the world, were found to soften the horrors of the fiercest party hostility. These were a portion of the evils which might flow from an indulgence of intemperance of expression, or from a too hasty compliance with the claims of the abolitionists. He only entreated them to pause until they could fairly approach the evils which they all ardently desired to see mitigated, but which never could be effectually dealt with unless they looked not more at the pecuniary rights of individuals, than at that which was of even much greater importance—the permanent welfare of the slave.
§ Lord Althorp
fully agreed with the right hon. Baronet on the importance of the question, and the difficulties which attended its full consideration. While he agreed with the hon. Baronet and the other Members who had spoken on the subject, that the total emancipation of the slave should take place at the earliest possible period, he also agreed with them that every exertion should be made to render the negro worthy of the station to which he would be raised, and capable of appreciating the full benefits of emancipation. He thought it, therefore, of the utmost importance, that no means should be neg- 1065 lected to improve their morals, and to extend among them the advantages of education, so that they might become fit to receive with safety all the advantages of liberty. He was fully prepared to acknowledge, that the sudden emancipation of the slaves would be productive of great evils to the slaves themselves, and that the masters would not be able to preserve over them that control which was necessary for the preservation of the public tranquillity; but it was, therefore, the more necessary that the measures determined on by Parliament to improve the morals of the slave-population, and to better their condition, should be rigidly and generally enforced. He thought it necessary to say thus much, that the opinions of the Government on the question might not be misunderstood.
§ Mr. O'Connell
contended strongly against granting compensation to the slave-owners, and deprecated the language used in the course of the debate. It was as much as to say, that the wrongs of the slaves should not be redressed, until the West Indians had received the price of human blood. One hon. Member had said, that nothing should be done until compensation was granted. Did not another Member say, that the treatment of the slave was as good as could be expected, and that his condition was comparatively happy, and he therefore deprecated all interference. He was surprised at the language which had been used throughout this debate, and, above all, at the observations respecting compensation. Good, God! if the West-Indian slave-owner gave freedom to his slave, would he not still be enabled to procure his labour?:- The negro must procure food and lodging and clothing; and how was he to do this, but by his labour? No one ever proposed that the property, that the land, and the houses should be taken from the West-Indians. He was at a loss, therefore, to understand for what they were to receive compensation. The right hon. Baronet stated, that society in the West Indies would be dissolved; but how this was to be occasioned he was at a loss to understand. If the slaves were emancipated, the Courts of Justice would still continue—the law would still be in force—and security to property would still exist—how, therefore, this was to be brought about, he knew not. The only change that would take place would be, that the planter would have to employ 1066 the free labourer instead of the slave. The period was coming when this act of justice and humanity could no longer be delayed; and even now every proper feeling which could animate the heart, called upon the House to proceed in the consideration of the question. The time was come when it must be declared that slave-evidence should be received,—that females should not be subject to the lash,—that the slave should not depend upon the arbitrary will of a master; these were things which admitted not of delay; they must be considered; they must be decided upon; and a period must be fixed, after which every human being born in our colonies should be born free.
§ Sir Robert Peel
protested against the consequences which must arise from the proposition of the hon. Gentleman. If a bill were brought down conferring immediate freedom upon those who should hereafter be born, what would be the feelings of those who now lived in slavery, and what would be the evil to the colonies? But he did not mean to deny that every effort ought to be made for the amelioration of the system. Slave-evidence ought undoubtedly to be received, he would not say for the benefit of the slaves, but for the interests of the country, as well as of humanity; some other amendments were equally called for.
§ The Petition to he on the Table.