HC Deb 27 February 1833 vol 15 cc1178-82
Mr. Godson

presented a Petition from Mr. James Window, of Westminster, to which he would take leave to call the attention of the House most particularly, as it was to develope a plan whereby the total abolition of colonial slavery might be effected, and which, in his opinion, would be attended with great advantage on the one hand to the planter, and on the other to the slaves themselves. The petitioner had calculated tables by which it was distinctly shown how long on his plan, it would be until the complete emancipation of the slaves could take place. The principal feature of the plan was, that the slaves should work out their own freedom, receiving certain debentures, the probable amount of which would be five millions, at three distinct periods of five, ten, and fifteen years. It was a plan by which the slaves would procure certain emancipation, and the planters would retain some portion of their own property. He did not think it was one which would please either party—the emancipationists or the slaveowners; but that was in his mind an argument in favour of its impartiality and efficacy. He could confidently assert, that the West-India interest was exceedingly desirous of having the question settled, if it could be settled without injustice; and he felt great pleasure in being the first to introduce to the notice of that honourable House a practical plan to that effect.

Mr. Cobbett

There will be schemes enough of this sort laid before the House during the Session, no doubt, and the House having very little to do, they will serve, perhaps, as excellent amusement. What do they all come to, those that have been, and those that probably will be offered to us?—Compensation. But I will say this, as far as I am myself concerned, I will never consent to any plan which has for its object the taking an additional farthing from the pockets of the English, Irish, or Scotch people. Compensation! Ay, it always comes to that in the end—that is ever the object of all those fine plans which we have seen proposed. The planters ought to have compensation! Oh, and the people must pay, to be sure. Once advance the five millions, which the petition prays for, and I should be glad to know how it is to be got back, once establish the precedent of making the oppressed people of these countries pay the planters' portion, and then they will have to pay all. How long will this continue? Indemnity to the planters, indemnity to this, that, and the other; but all out of the pockets of the poorest of an overtaxed people. The hon. Member concluded by observing, that he had a case of compensation concerning the West Indies to bring before the notice of the House very shortly—a case which he would rather designate one of robbery, than any other thing whatever.

Mr. Godson

The principle of these calculations was, to make the produce of the labour of the slaves pay the price of their emancipation by the end of a certain period. They would be working for themselves, therefore, and consequently no part of the indemnity which the planters would obtain would be necessarily derived from taxes on the people of these countries. He hoped that every hon. Gentleman who opposed the adoption of the plan proposed by the petitioner, would first make himself acquainted with its nature. He objected to the expression made use of by the hon. member opposite, the member for Oldham, when he said, in reference to that and similar plans, that they would serve as amusement to the House. He (Mr. Godson) thought the thing of too serious a nature to be treated so lightly. He was of opinion that every thing pertaining to the question of slavery should be laid before the House, to the end that it might see which was the best mode of solving the difficulty which the case presented.

Mr. Harvey

said, every scheme having the emancipation of the West-India slaves for its object was entitled certainly to the serious consideration of that House. At the same time, he thought the hon. Gentleman who introduced the present scheme to its notice had confounded emancipation with compensation; and made them go together, or rather, had made the one to precede the other. Now, in every well-devised plan for the purpose of emancipation, the former should precede the latter, which was not the case in the one introduced and supported by the hon. Member. As to the plan itself, he (Mr. Harvey) would just say one word. Bad as it would be to make the people of these countries pay the planters for their emancipated slaves, as shown by the hon. member for Oldham, the project of making the slaves pay the price of their own redemption was still worse. The owners of the slaves, as they irreligiously called themselves, would no doubt submit some similar proposition to the House, but in his opinion, if any persons were entitled to compensation it was the slaves themselves.

Mr. Baldwin

wished to offer a few observations on the plan proposed by the hon. Gentleman. It was evident that, if compensation were to be made by the slaves themselves, a surplus over what was required to make them subsist comfortably was supposed. Now, when he saw the freemen of England and Ireland incapable of obtaining with all their hard labour, sufficient for the support of their bare existence, how could he expect, that the negro slaves of the West-India islands would not only be able to exist comfortably—for unremitted hard labour required proportionate sustenance—how could he expect that they would not only do that, but also lay by a certain portion of their earnings besides, for the purpose of purchasing their emancipation? It was, he would maintain, an absurdity. The proposers of the scheme should also propose to insure the lives of the slaves; and then what would be the effect if the Cholera got among them." He would also add, that it would be an utter injustice to the people of England, Scotland, and Ireland, to tax them a single farthing for the purpose of purchasing the freedom of slaves from the planters; and it would be an insult—a disgrace to humanity and religion, to suppose that the planters were entitled to any remuneration whatever. He would willingly support the hon. member for Oldham when he brought forward any motion upon the case he promised to lay before the House.

Mr. Bernal

was sorry, that such a discussion should be provoked on the mere presentation of a petition. He regretted that the observations which had fallen from the hon. member for Colchester were of that nature which called for comment; so unlike those which he (Mr. Bernal) should have expected from his plain, practical, working sense. He regretted that that hon. Gentleman should be led to join in a cry against that injured and unfortunate body of men, the West-India planters. If their property was originally unjustly acquired, was it the fault of the present possessors. Was not its possession sanctioned by the Legislature of the country for successive ages? Was it fair, then, he (Mr. Bernal) would ask, for the hon. member for Oldham to come forward at this precise period, and assist to excite a feeling, and raise a cry, already so strong and so loud against them? He asked that hon. Gentleman, was that the way in which the question should be met? Or was it by discarding prejudice and viewing it calmly? When the question came fairly before the House, all he would ask from that hon. Gentleman was fair play, and from the assembly its calm and impartial consideration; an absence of invective and intemperance on the one side, he would hope, and an absence of unfounded calumny on the other.

Petition to lie on the Table.