§ Mr. Forvell Buxton
rose to move for the appointment of a Committee to inquire into the working of the apprenticeship System in the colonies, the condition of the apprentices, and the laws and regulations respecting them. What he had recently heard from his hon. Friend of the intention of Ministers to bring in a Bill to compel the continuance of that Act which had been allowed to expire in Jamaica, gave him the greatest satisfaction. He had not until very lately expected that this course would be pursued, and in his opinion it did the Government the highest possible credit. It would not be necessary for him to enter at much length into the subject, as the reasons for a Committee must be obvious to all. The very importance of the case would jus- 451 tify inquiry, affecting as it did a great multitude of people—not merely inhabitants of our own colonies, but five millions of the slaves of other Christian countries, whose only hope was to be derived from the moral influence of the example of Great Britain. Another ground was, the deep interest felt by the people of this kingdom, and no one would pretend to say, that the feeling was either partial or transient. They had the satisfaction of knowing, that when the twenty millions were paid no complaints were made by their constituents in consequence of this immense sum being taken for the abolition of slavery. The people of England had paid the money, and they had a right to know whether the act of mercy and liberty for which they had made such sacrifices had been carried into effect. But he had another argument. Nearly two years had expired, and it was time to inquire whether any attempt had been made to evade the statute, or to defraud the people of any portion of that freedom which cost them so much? There had been such an attempt; and the attempt had been hitherto successful. Laws had passed, and practices had crept in, abhorrent to the essential principles of the Abolition Act, and bearing too close a resemblance to the laws and practices of former times. He spoke not universally;—he made no general charge. Some proprietors had honestly performed their engagements; and meeting the wishes, had deserved the bounty of the nation. Some proprietors, however, and no inconsiderable portion of the attorneys and overseers in the West Indies, had exhibited symptoms, not at all equivocal, of a desire, now that the money was paid, to withhold that freedom which it was designed to purchase. If such were their plan, it ought at once to be checked, and the legislature ought to show that it was watching their proceedings with jealous eyes, and would not consent to any,—no, not the smallest encroachment upon those rights which were guaranteed to the slaves by the Abolition Act. He called for a Committee, as a manifestation to those parties, that neither the people of England, nor the Parliament, nor the Government, would consent to alienate the smallest portion of that liberty which belonged to the negroes of right, without purchase, but which the nation had bought and paid for. It was not trifles the planters aimed at, but now, when the money was hardly in their pockets, when one would suppose that they had hardly recovered from their amaze- 452 ment at their good fortune in getting 20,000,000l., for that which, in itself, was not a loss but a gain,—a positive improvement of their property and prospects,—even now, at the very outset, they were attempting to lay hands, not on trifles, but on the essential features and sacred principles of the abolition law. In order to ascertain whether the people of England had received that for which they had stipulated, it was important for the House to call to mind the promises that were made at the time of the passing of the Emancipation Act. He did not intend to read those promises at length, but he felt called upon to allude to them. The noble Lord opposite (Lord Stanley), in the speech he made on introducing the Bill, said, "he stated that the apprentice would be entitled to claim to be put in such a situation as would prepare him to enjoy all the rights and privileges of a freeman, a situation in which he would no longer bear about him any taint of a servile condition;" and again, at a subsequent part of his speech, he said, "in which he would enjoy every right and every privilege of a freeman, subject only to the restriction that he should be under a contract to labour for a certain sum industriously for his present owner, who would only then be his employer. Could words be stronger than those the noble Lord used? The negro was to be virtually in the situation of a freeman; "free from the taint of slavery," "with every right and every privilege of a freeman." One obligation was imposed on him, namely, that he should work forty-five hours a-week for his master. That was the whole of the obligation imposed upon the negro. Beyond that, there was to be no symbol—no relict of slavery—no restriction which did not apply equally to the white man. Clear and explicit as were these words of the noble Lord, the Act was still more decisive even than the expressions of the noble Lord. It said, that after the 1st of August, 1834, they should become, and be to all intents and purposes, free, and discharged of and from all manner of slavery, and shall be absolutely and for ever manumitted," and further on, "slavery shall be, and is hereby utterly and for ever abolished and declared unlawful throughout the British colonies, plantations, and possessions abroad. Nothing, it was clear, could be more decisive than the declaration of the noble Lord, or than the words of the Act. There were important obligations on both parties. In the first place, there was an obligation on the British Go- 453 vernment to pay twenty millions, which had been discharged to the last farthing. There was an obligation on the negroes to work a certain number of hours in each week for those who were their masters. This had been fully performed, and they had surpassed, not the low expectations of the West-Indians, but the warmest anticipations of their warmest friends. Then there remained the obligation on the planters which grew out of the others, and which had been unfulfilled according to the just expectations of the British Senate, and especially in some of the colonies. There were two Acts which were passed by the Jamaica House of Assembly with reference to this subject. The one was passed in December, 1833, and the other in July, 1834. The last Act had been virtually rescinded since. There were no less than twenty-eight discrepancies between the Acts of Jamaica and the conditions stated in the Act passed by the British Legislature. He would point out the authorities for this statement, and he was sure that they would not be disputed. The first was Lord Sligo, who stated that the Act of the Colonial Legislature was, "a most imperfect Act of Abolition." Lord Glenelg, in one of his despatches said, that the Jamaica Legislature had not pursued the course pointed out in the Abolition Act and that the Imperial Act was in force, and that every enactment of the Jamaica Act repugnant to it was null and void. He would call as his third witness his hon. Friend, the Member for Devonport, who thought as ill of the first of these colonial Acts as he himself did. [Sir George Grey did not coincide with his hon. Friend.] At any rate, his hon. Friend evidently thought it a very imperfect Act. If he did not entertain such an opinion, what was the use of the Government coming forward as they did, and stating, that if the West-Indians did not do what they were called upon to perform, and which they had agreed to, that the Government would of course enforce the agreement. Why legislate for Jamaica if the island were fulfilling the conditions imposed on it? His hon. Friend, also, last year, if he did not state, at least admitted by implication, that the Act in question was an extremely imperfect Act. He admitted that the second Act was a more complete piece of legislation, but it had been evaded. The next witness after his hon. Friend on this point was Lord Aberdeen, who said that he had no confidence in this Act, "that it was a very 454 imperfect Abolition Bill." He next came to the noble Lord opposite (Lord Stanley). He pronounced the first Jamaica Act "adequate and satisfactory;" but no sooner had he done so, than he proceeded at great length, and with great ability, to prove that it was altogether inadequate and unsatisfactory; and he especially noticed nine grand defects. He had thus clearly shown that this Act of 1833 was considered by two successive Governments as an unprofitable and unjust Act; and that whatever there was of good that had received the sanction of this Local Assembly, was lodged in the second Act, which had been repealed, and therefore they were thrown back on the unjust Act. He would now state what course the West-Indians had pursued on this point. In the first instance, they were determined to obtain the money; and on this being done, to get rid of as large a portion of the obligations on them as possible. Until the money had been paid, nothing could appear more frank than they were; and they appeared to be not only consenting and willing parties, but zealous abolitionists. From the day, however, they had received the money, nothing had been done by them to carry their promises into effect: and instead of this —to use the words of Lord Sligo—they offered every possible objection to every measure of improvement so earnestly urged upon them, in connexion with the abolition of slavery." They insulted the governor—they insulted the Parliament. Thus they spoke of its bounty, in their address to their governor, in February, 1835:But when the British Government gravely puts forward a claim to the gratitude of a class of his Majesty's subjects, whose property has been nominally paid for, but substantially confiscated; and when this claim, so ill-founded, is daily reiterated as an excuse for further aggression, the House owe it to themselves, and to their constituents, not to deny the acknowledgment of obligation, but most solemnly and distinctly to declare their sense of a continued succession of injuries, aggravated by misrepresentation and calumny, and consummated by an act of the most unparalleled spoliation ever committed by the Government of any country upon its own subjects.He heartily wished that this was all that they had done; but they had positively refused to pass the Police Bill, although the Government had told them it was absolutely necessary. [Sir George Grey: News arrived yesterday that it had been agreed to.] He was glad to hear it, 455 but the news must have been as his hon. Friend said very recently received, for he certainly was ignorant of it. But why did they not pass something of much more importance? why did they not pass the Act in aid? The mode of rejecting it also was almost as offensive as the thing itself. In the original Act the period of its duration was made co-extensive with the time of apprenticeship, but in the Act as it was passed, a line had been surreptitiously introduced, by which it was made to expire on the 31st of December of last year. The money had been paid and the Act had expired, and now the West-Indians said that they could not renew it. It was a matter of great regret to him that the House gave its sanction to the first Act, which he had already shown had been considered as extremely bad, and, to use the language of the noble Lord opposite (Lord Stanley) "full of defects and imperfections." He acknowledged the obligations that he and those who thought with him were under to the noble Lord for the speech that he made in 1833, in introducing the Abolition Act; he had clothed the facts in language, and advanced the arguments put forward by the abolitionists in a way which gave them an overpowering weight. It was impossible, after a Secretary of Slate for the Colonies came forward, and showed the overwhelming evils of slavery, for the system to continue; he was bound, however, in honour, to add, that a greater mistake had never been committed than in admitting that the first Jamaica Act was satisfactory. He was the more surprised at the conduct of the noble Lord in this respect, because the noble Lord had cautioned the House in introducing the Abolition Bill, not to rely on the promises of the colonists on colonial subjects, and had quoted the language of Mr. Canning, in which that distinguished man protested against trusting to the assertions of the masters of slaves on subjects connected with slavery. He regretted that they no longer had in their possession the guarantee for the good conduct of the planters—namely, the compensation money. He deeply regretted that the motion he made in 1833, when he proposed to impound the money till slavery were abolished, as well as that which he had made last year on this point, had not been sanctioned. On both those occasions he told the House, that if they paid the money, they would find themselves duped and deceived. He regretted that the words had proved true, and that the British 456 Legislature and the British nation had been completely deceived. Last year, before the money had been paid, he cautioned them not to pay it until they had full security that the other provisions of the Abolition Act would be carried into effect. His propositions, however, had not been sanctioned, and they were thrown back on the defective Act. He had hitherto alluded to the defects in the law, but the practice would be found to be worse. In several communications which he had received there were urgent complaints, that in some of the islands justice was not done to the negroes, and especially on those estates under the management of overseers and attorneys. In some of the colonies he was credibly informed that the negroes were in a most forlorn and unfortunate condition, little better than that from which they had escaped by the Abolition of Slavery Act. There were some observations of Lord Sligo on this point which he should like to hear satisfactorily explained. The remarks he alluded to were in the Parliamentary paper, No. 177, dated 1835, page 45, and were as follows,—" It became necessary to punish a vast number of the negroes as well by flogging as by confinement in the workhouse;" and he subsequently explained this by adding, "From what Colonel Macleod has informed me, I am confident that, as soon as the misunderstanding is got rid of, they will be quiet, unless forced into rebellion by the conduct of the overseers; and, I am sorry to say, many of the masters and managing attorneys. Now, such frequent instances occur of owners placing their apprentices in confinement for twenty-four hours, or, indeed, in some cases, for a longer period, without any charge being brought against them; and these instances are so often only discovered by accident, that I am anxious that no incautious expression should give them any authority for a greater abuse of that power. With respect to the parish of St. George's I have only to say, that it has been the scene of Mr.——'s exertions, and as the result has not been as favourable as he thinks it, I have the more to lament that so much severity should have been so uselessly adopted." Such incidental expressions as the following, were found in the letters of the special justices:—"Nor do I think it necessary to give more than twenty-five stripes, provided these are given with a proper lecture."—"An exercise of severity on my part."—"Continued and unflinch- 457 ing discipline." — ''Punished with some severity."—"An exercise of coercion."— "They (the negroes) require on all occasions to be coerced."—"A dread of coercion."—"Fear of punishment."—"I consider twenty-five lashes sufficient." What meant these ominous expressions? He had received several communications illustrative of the treatment of the negroes, which explained those expressions, and which probably had not reached the Colonial-office. He had moved for returns last year of the punishments inflicted in the West-India colonies, and no returns had been made from Jamaica. [Sir George Grey:—They had recently been received.] He was glad to hear it. He was sure that every one who had read the returns from the other colonies, would be surprised at the number of punishments inflicted on the negroes. If he were not misinformed, the punishments from the 1st of August, 1831, to the 1st of August, 1835, were very numerous. He never expected that they would venture to produce those returns, and he would assert, without having read them, that women had been flogged in the workhouses. What could have been more positive and express than the promise that females should not thus be flogged? The noble Lord, amongst other things, charged it upon the planters, that they would persevere in the practice of punishing females. The noble Lord then considered it as one of their chief offences; and reprobated it in the strongest possible terms:—" To talk (said the noble Lord) of preparing the slave for freedom—to speak of developing or ripening his moral faculties, in the face of such abominations—to speak of preparing him for the acquisition of rights, while they were at the same time debasing and degrading his mind, by shewing him that all the domestic ties of his home were to be violated; that his wife, that his daughter, that his sister, were all at the pleasure of the overseer of a plantation, to be subjected to corporal punishment upon their bare persons—to talk of advancing a slave in civilization, while, at the same time, they would not take that poor, paltry, and pitiful step towards raising the negro population from the lowest state of degradation, was a mockery and an insult." At all events, this disgusting practice was to be abolished. So said the British law. In the 17th section were these words:—Nor to authorize any court, judge, or justice of the peace, to punish any such apprenticed labourer, being a female, for any offence by 458 her committed, by whipping or beating her person.But had the law been complied with? In Lord Sligo's first message to the Assembly, sent to them on the 17th of November, the following passage occurred:—A much more serious breach, not only of the spirit, but even the letter of the law, has been committed under the supposed authority of the Act in question. His Excellency alludes to the rule permitting the use of the whip upon women, by the superintendents of treadmills; this is a direct infringement of the 21st section of the Abolition Act, which expressly forbids the whipping of women under any circumstances.Notwithstanding the subject was brought under their attention, no steps were taken to prevent this atrocious practice. In his Lordship's speech, proroguing the Assembly on the 3rd of February, this year, he says—The whipping of females, you were informed by me officially, was an illegal practice, and I called upon you to make enactments to put an end to conduct so repugnant to humanity, and so contrary to law.Nothing was more distinctly proved than that there was one law in the West-Indies for one class of persons, namely the negroes, and another for the white population. The punishments inflicted upon the coloured population was much more severe than that which fell on the white man for the same offence. For instance, in the first Jamaica Act, there was a power given to the special Magistrates, in certain cases, to punish the negro as well as the white man; his authority over the labourer extends to six months' imprisonment, to fifty stripes, to the right of depriving him of fifteen hours' labour in any week during the whole period of the apprenticeship, and also for prolonging that apprenticeship for one whole year; but his authority over the manager extends only to a penalty of 5l. or five days' imprisonment, which he is not required but merely empowered to inflict. There were numerous instances, too, of the ill-conduct of the overseers towards the negroes; but he had the authority of the Governor of Demerara for stating, and he believed that the same would be found to be the case in the other colonies, that not a single instance had occurred under the Abolition Act of a, negro having been punished for an assault on a white. The negro population, also, had been robbed of their allowances. They were no longer called allowances, but were designated indulgences, and this was apparently done for the mere purpose of vex- 459 ation. As an instance of this, he would mention that the apprentices were made to work eight hours a day, so that they were obliged to sacrifice the Friday. He had in his possession returns from five or six of the smaller colonies of the punishments that had been inflicted during the year, from the 31st of July, 1834, to the 1st of August, 1835. It appeared, then, that in the small island of Tortola, 467 punishments were inflicted; in Montserrar, 1,031; in Grenada, 2,414; in St. Vincent's, 2,764; in Barbadoes, 7,807; and in Demerara, 8,152. [Sir G. Grey:—These were not all corporal punishments.] He did not mean to say they were; but in Demerara, from which the return had been obtained, the number of corporal punishments in one year was 2,177. The punishments were not, he admitted, so great as they formerly had been, but still they were far greater than they ought to be. All these matters, he thought, fully proved the necessity for inquiry. They had parted with their money, which he much regretted, because that was their best security; but they had still another security in the fact that all Acts of the Legislative Assembly were void, if inconsistent wish the original Act of the British House of Commons. The people of England had done their duty, and the West-India planters had not done theirs, for now we had no other security than the Act of 1833, which was confessedly imperfect. He was glad, however, to find that Government was resolved to compel the planters to do justice to the slaves, as he understood from what had taken place that night. There was, however, a circumstance which to his mind aggravated tenfold the guilt of the planters in withholding that liberty which we thought we had secured— the universal good conduct of the negro population, from which, not only did the nation derive the greatest gratification, but from which the planters derived advantages hardly to be estimated. He was the last man to underrate the advantages which had been gained by the Act of Abolition. What was the former condition of the planters? He had in his possession a collection of their own descriptions of their own situation, conveyed in memorials to the Throne; and petitions to Parliament prior to the Abolition; and during the whole of that time, year by year, with hardly an exception, they declared themselves to be in the worst and last stage of debt, loss, impoverishment, and ruin. Mr. Bryan Edwards, a West-India planter, 460 and the historian of the West-Indies, referring to the period which closed in the year 1792, when his work first appeared, asserted—That though many have competencies which enable them to live well with economy in this country, yet the great mass of planters are men of oppressed fortunes, consigned by debt to unremitting drudgery in the colonies with a hope, which eternally mocks their grasp, of happier days, and a release from their embarrassments.But there was more decisive authority than that even of Bryan Edwards, for the prevalence of great distress at this period, and during the preceding twenty years. On the 23rd of November, 1792, a Report was prepared on the sugar trade of Jamaica, by a Committee of the Assembly, and confirmed and printed by its order, which contained the following passage: —In the course of twenty years, 177 estates in Jamaica have been sold for the payment of debts: fifty-five estates have been thrown up, and ninety-two are still in the hands of creditors; and it appears from a Return made by the Provost Marshal, that 80,121 executions, amounting to 22,563,786/. sterling, have been lodged in his office in the course of twenty years.A gleam of prosperity followed the revolution of St. Domingo; but in a few years the sky was again overcast, and in a Report of the Assembly of Jamaica, of the 23rd of November, 1804, and printed by Order of the House of Commons on the 25th of February, 1805, there was the following statement:—Every British merchant holding securities on real estates, is filing bills in Chancery to foreclose, although when he has obtained his decree he hesitates to enforce it, because he must himself become the proprietor of the plantation, of which, from fatal experience, he knows the consequence. No one will advance money to relieve those whose debts approach half the value of their property, nor even lend a moderate sum without a judgment in ejectment and release of errors, that at a moment's notice he may lake out a writ of possession, and enter on the plantation of his unfortunate debtors. Sheriffs' officers and collectors of taxes are everywhere offering for sale the property of individuals who have seen better days, and now must view their effects purchased for half their real value, and at less than half the original cost. Far from having the reversion expected, the creditor is often not satisfied. All kind of credit is at an end. If litigation in the courts of common law has diminished, it is not from increased ability to perform contracts, but from confidence having ceased, 461 and no man parting with property but for an immediate payment of the consideration. A faithful detail would have the appearance of a frightful caricature.To a voluminous Report on the commercial state of the West Indies, published by order of the House of Commons, in 1808, there was appended a detailed statement from the Assembly of Jamaica, dated the 13th of November, 1807, in which they state—Within the last five or six years, 65 estates had been abandoned, 32 sold under decrees of Chancery, and 115 more respecting which suits in Chancery were depending, and many more bills preparing. From these facts," they go on to say, "the House will be able to judge to what an alarming extent the distresses of the sugar planters have already reached, and with what accelerated rapidity they are now increasing; for the sugar estates lately brought to sale, and now in the Court of Chancery in this island and in England, amount to about one-fourth of the whole number of the colony.Your Committee have to lament that ruin has already taken place; and they must, under a continuance of the present circumstances, anticipate very shortly the bankruptcy of a much larger part of the community, and, in the course of a few years, of the whole class of sugar planters, excepting, perhaps, a very few in peculiar circumstances.On the 15th of June, 1812, a 'Representation of the Assembly of Jamaica to the King,' was laid on the table of the House of Commons, and printed by its order. It is numbered 279. In this representation similar complaints to those already specified were renewed. They there speak of their ruin as complete. 'For two years has this most calamitous state been endured; the crops of 1809 and 1810 are in a state worse than useless; a third draws towards its close, with no appearance of amendment or alteration. The crop is gathering in' (they are speaking here of coffee), 'but its exuberance excites no sensation of pleasure.' If the slaves of the coffee plantations are offered for sale, who they ask, can buy them? 'The proprietors of the old sugar estates are themselves sinking under accumulated burdens. If ever there was a case demanding the active and immediate interference of a paternal government, to relieve the burdens and alleviate the calamities of a most useful and valuable class of subjects, it is that of the coffee planters of Jamaica.'The distresses of our constituents are not confined to the coffee planters. The growers of cotton, pimento, and the minor staples, are also suffering severely from their depreciation. The sugar planters, however, call more especially for protection and interposition. The ruin of the original possessors has been gradually completed. Estate after estate has passed 462 into the hands of mortgagees and creditors absent from the island, until there are large districts, whole parishes, in which there is not a single proprietor of a sugar plantation resident.' 'The distress,' they add, 'cannot be well aggravated.'The general effect of these statements, strong as they are, seems to have been borne out, in some measure, by a speech of Mr. Marryal, in the House of Commons, in 1813, in a debate on the East-India sugar duties. He is stated to have then affirmed, "That there were comparatively few estates in the West Indies that had not, during the last twenty years, been sold or given up to creditors." And now after a lapse of nearly twenty years more, during which the West Indies have been drawing immense sums from the pocket of the public for bounties and protections, and have had freedom, too, given to their commerce in an unprecedented degree, what is the language they are at this very moment addressing to Parliament and the nation? It is this:—The alarming and unprecedented state of distress in which the whole British West India interest is at this time involved," the petitioners say, justifies them in imploring Parliament "to adopt prompt and effectual measures of relief in order to preserve them from inevitable ruin.If such were the condition of the planter, what was the condition of the negro? Bear with you two facts only—first, that the number of punishments inflicted in a single colony, and that not the largest, and in a single year, was thus stated by the noble Lord (Stanley). "In the year 1829, the recorded number of separate punishments in Demerara, when the predial slave population amounted to 60,500, was 17,359. In 1830, the numbers had decreased to 59,547, while the production of sugar had increased, and the number of separate punishments, had also increased to 18,324, the number of lashes inflicted in that year being no less than 194,744. In 1831, the predial population had still further decreased to 58,404; but the punishments had increased to 21,656, and the number of lashes amounted to 199,507." And, secondly, that the mortality and decrease in population amounted to upwards of 50,000 in ten years. Take, I say, the condition of the planters as exhibited in their own memorials, take the condition of the negro as displayed in these two facts, and couple with these the imminent danger of a servile insurrection (the planters felt their danger, for they always described themselves as 463 standing upon a volcano; Mr. Canning felt their danger, for he warned the House, that a single word might kindle a revolt): there was ruin for the one class, cruelty for the other, and danger for both. This was the state of the West Indies while slavery prevailed. What had it become since slavery had been abolished, was it what the West Indians predicted it would he? He would confine himself to two, and the first shall be the manifesto of the whole West-India body. It was circulated through all parts of the country, by hundreds of thousands, in the year 1831. It was in reply to an address, signed by Wilberforce, Macau-lay, and others, stating, that—" We, in our conscience, were convinced, after investigation most careful and scrupulous, that from the emancipation recommended, no risk to the whites would arise." The West-India body in reply said—We possess with our property in the West India colonies, the means of ascertaining the actual state of the negro population. We know, and we are ready to prove what we assert, in the face of our country, our well-grounded conviction, that the speedy annihilation of slavery would be attended with the devastation of the West-India colonies, with loss of lives and property to the white inhabitants, with inevitable distress and misery to the black population; and with a fatal shock to the commercial credit of this empire.These were strong predictions; but there were still stronger, coming from a gentleman, too, whose high station and respectability rendered him a weighty, if not a very correct authority on all subjects in which the interests of commerce were involved, Mr. Baring, now Lord Ashburton stated, that if the Legislature proceeded to put an end to slavery,—"Manufactures would decline; commerce would be withered; ships would he rotting in the harbours without freight; and the cessation of the cultivation of sugar involved calamities of a more serious description than any which had yet befallen the country." The hon. Member went on to predict the miseries we should have to encounter if slavery were abolished, the least of which was that we should lose several millions of revenue, and should have no sugar for the consumption of the country. He confessed he (Mr. Buxton) never participated in these apprehensions. He did expect, that as the working of the Bill would be novel, and as great difficulty would be thrown in its way by some of the overseers and planters, and all the power of coercion removed, 464 there would be an immediate reduction in the quantity of sugar produced, but he had had such confidence in the energy which freedom imparts, that he was persuaded that as much sugar would be produced from free labour, after a little time had elapsed, as had been obtained from slave labour, and that more would soon be produced than had been in any former period. The last crop in the West-Indies, though not unfruitful, was certainly a very moderate one, which arose from drought at one time, and heavy rains at another, as stated by the governor. He had been favoured by an hon. Friend with a return of the sugars imported into this country under the operation of the new system. He would admit there was a reduction in the quantity, but was astonished at the smallness of it. He would compare the quantity produced during the year which followed the abolition of slavery with that produced in the year which preceded it. The quantity of sugar imported in the year 1833 was 3,625,000 cwts; in 1835 it was 3,524,000 cwts. The difference was very inconsiderable, much less than had occurred between two years previous to the abolition, and he might substantially say, that the quantity of sugar imported during the last three years was as great, or at least almost as great, as it was in the preceding. This settled the question as to the danger of loss of revenue, and of a deficiency of sugar to supply the consumption of the country. He was sure the House would recollect the predictions of the miseries which the planters were to suffer, all of which had been disproved. Now, as to the effect upon the planters. He begged leave to ask his hon. Friend, the Member for Dover, whether his friends, the planters, were in so bad a situation as it had been foretold they would be reduced to?—[Sir John Rae Reid had never predicted ruin to the planters.]—The West India planters were in a much better situation than they had anticipated, and had reason to be perfectly satisfied with the arrangement. He would call upon every man who formed an honest opinion on the subject to say whether the measure, far from reducing the West-India interest to ruin, had not, in fact, redeemed and preserved it from ruin. He mentioned this the more because the House would recollect that a deputation, consisting of influential Gentlemen, had waited upon Lord Grey, and told him that if the Government proceeded to abolish slavery, a crisis and panic worse than that 465 of 1825 would inevitably ensue. He would willingly put it to the right hon. Member for Cambridge, or to any other Gentleman connected with the West-India interests, whether, taking into consideration the state in which the colonies were while slavery existed, and the compensation which had been awarded, there was not every cause on their parts to be perfectly satisfied with the adjustment? There was another question, as to the industry of the negroes. On this point he felt it his duty to trouble the House with a few words. No man would recollect better than the right hon. Baronet, the Member for Cumberland, the objections that were made to the measure on this ground. He asked that right hon. Baronet to recollect the day when the Committee first met, and when they called him in and asked him what he intended to prove? He said that he intended to show that the negroes would work for wages, and that they would be more serviceable to the planters when free than when in a state of slavery. These were the two propositions which he advanced, and it was but justice to the Committee to say, that no two propositions were ever received with more astonishment and distrust. However, they were proved by the papers which he had in his hand, the whole bulk of which was filled with evidence upon this point—[Sir George Grey: Does my hon. Friend mean to read the whole of the papers?]—No; he did not mean to read the whole; but he hoped his hon. Friend would do that for himself—that he would read them, and diligently study them, in his own office, and see what papers were sent over, and what withheld, for he should like to see both sides of the question laid more clearly before the House than it was at present. There were millions of others in the same situation in which these negroes had been formerly, and it was due to all to know that these classes not only did work for wages, but were infinitely more industrious than in a state of slavery. Lord Sligo stated, that out of 415 estates, the negroes of fifteen refused to work for wages; on ninety-three wages had not been offered, and therefore could not have been refused; and on 307 they willingly worked for hire. The same noble Lord, in a communication dated the 27th of March, 1835, stated that the apprentices generally were working for hire, and that nearly double the quantity of sugar per hour was made in that year, in a particular place, than had been made by slaves. There were 466 other facts bearing upon this part of the subject, with which he did not think it necessary to trouble the House; but he defied any Gentleman to look at any part of the papers without finding proofs that the negroes worked willingly for wages. The next point to which it was necessary for him to refer was the effect of the change upon the morals of the black population, and here the testimony was equally strong as to the improvement which had taken place. The Marquess of Sligo, in referring to the state of crime, mentioned that the House of Correction, which had formerly contained fifty inmates, now contained only ten, and there were many other proofs of an equal amendment in this respect. He had a return, dated the 1st of August, 1834, setting forth the comparative numbers of the negroes and of the white population tried at the former assizes, and stating that almost all the more atrocious crimes were committed by the whites. The returns were, that the proportion of these criminals was as one to 357 of the white population, and one to 3,302 of the negroes. Next, as to the question of security. He was sure the House would recollect what serious apprehensions of disturbances were formerly entertained, but he now found the strongest testimony borne by all the governors to the complete tranquillity which prevailed. The Governor of Jamaica stated in one of his despatches, that the most perfect good order and regularity prevailed. This was also the case with the smaller islands, Montserrat, St. Christopher's, &c. He thought it but just to those now in a state of slavery, who had nothing to hope for except through our instrumentality, to state two striking facts, which would serve to show how the slaves had conducted themselves. Lord Sligo had said, that for the number of hours of active labour, the quantity of sugar now produced was equal to that in any former period; and it appeared by a despatch of Sir Carmichael Smyth, dated the 6th of July last, that in the quantity of sugar entered for exportation at the Custom-house of Demerara, during two quarters of last year, there was an increase of 2,466 hogsheads above the quantity entered in the corresponding quarters of the three previous years, and taking into account the loss of time from the shortening of the hours of labour, there was an increase of 4,200 hogsheads. A similar increase had taken place in other colonies. The only article in which there had been a diminution was molasses. Lord Sligo, in one of his communications, said that the 467 success of the new system, and the continuance of the plan of apprenticeships, depended upon the conduct of the white people. It was highly satisfactory to him to have seen a report from the head of the Police, stating that nothing could exceed the good order and tranquillity which everywhere prevailed. He had also received a letter from a gentleman, stating that the price of land in his immediate vicinity had doubled since the abolition of slavery. There was one fact which he would beg the House to bear in mind, because it appeared to him a fair criterion of what people were to suffer by the abolition of negro slavery. The fact to which he referred was contained in a statement made to him by a Member of that House, the hon. Member for Lymington. That gentleman had stated to him that he had what he considered the largest English property in Antigua, and that during five years he had lost by it every year—his total loss being 7,000l.; but that since the abolition of slavery, in addition to receiving his compensation, which was a large sum, he had let his estate upon good security, and was to receive during the three first years 1,200l. a-year, and after that 1,500l. a-year, and that he had since been offered 2,000l. a-year. This was a case well worthy the attention of the House. He had ventured to trespass on the patience of the House longer than he could have wished, but he considered it important to show that if the West India planters had misconducted themselves, they could find no apology for it in the faults of the black population. Hardly a white man had been assaulted, and the respect shown to the whites was the consequence of the act of abolition. He thought the statements he had made showed that great improvement had taken place in the colonies since the measure of abolition; that the apprehensions of failure and injury were proved to be unfounded—that the negro population were orderly, industrious, and well-conducted, and that, the utmost regularity and tranquillity prevailed. He begged to move "for a Select Committee to inquire into the working of the apprenticeship system in the colonies, the condition of the apprentices, and the laws and regulations affecting them which have been passed."
hoped that his hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for the Colonies, would allow him to interpose for a few minutes between himself and the House. As a member of Lord Grey's Administration, 468 he rejoiced to witness the safe and prosperous progress of the system of apprenticeship, and the gradual transition from a state of slavery to that of freedom which, with some slight exceptions, the hon. Gentleman had admitted to be going on at the present moment. He would not now enter into those predictions of loss, ruin, and bloodshed brought forward by the opponents of the Emancipation Act, which the event had so happily falsified; but he wished to carry back the recollection of the House to the state of feeling prevalent in this country and the colonies about three years ago, and which those who now saw the quiet working of the new system could hardly call to mind so vividly as they ought to do in order to appreciate the difficulty under which Government then laboured, and the grave consideration it was necessary to bestow upon the feelings of interested parties. Three years ago, the hon. Member for Weymouth might have brought forward the question of the Abolition of Slavery at any hour of the night, and any period of the year, and he would have aroused the attention of the House. Let him look round the House, and compare the apathy which was now manifested, an apathy arising from satisfaction with the operation of the new system, with the interest which the subject excited then. However reluctant he or his hon. Friend might be to address so thin a House, yet, as far as he was concerned, the responsibility of a Minister of the Crown required that he should communicate to the House—required him to examine the manner in which that system was carried out. His hon. Friend had made out a case of the extreme alarm, the extreme anxiety, the sensitive nervousness, and the excited state into which the masters of the negro population, and every class of society connected with the West-India islands, merchants, traders, banking interests and shipping interests, were plunged, when the first step was taken towards the accomplishment of this momentous change. All these circumstances made it the imperative duty of a Government undertaking the greatest experiment ever tried in the history of any nation, to act with the utmost caution and moderation, lest they should wound those sensitive feelings—lest they should kindle this half-extinguished volcano—and undoubtedly it was their duty to adopt, in every instance, conciliatory language and conciliatory conduct towards the parties on whom the success of the measure must ultimately de- 469 pend, consistently with a firm and complete carrying into effect all the en a ments and intentions of the British Parliament. If the House would allow him, he would read one or two extracts from despatches which he had sent out, on which he founded his justification of the course pursued by Government, and which he had written to convince the Colonial Governments that adequate and satisfactory provisions ought to be made to carry into effect the Emancipation Act. The noble Lord read the following extract from a despatch addressed to Lord Mulgrave:—You will distinctly understand that you will not be authorized to consent to any ordinance creating an intermediate state of a different description, or subjected to the restrictions of a different nature from those contemplated by Parliament. The term of apprenticeship may be shortened; the hours of compulsory labour may be fewer; the burden imposed may be made lighter; but no distinctions must be allowed to be drawn between those at present free, and those at present slaves, of a different character from, or to a greater extent than those which have been sanctioned by Parliament. As you will consider yourself precluded by your instructions from sanctioning any ordinance which may prolong the duration of the intermediate state, or impose any heavier burdens upon those who are in that state, so you will like wise withhold your sanction from any ordinance perpetuating or continuing, after the termination of that period, any distinctions or exclusions arising out of a previous servile condition.He read this to show what were the expectations held out by Government, and upon which the colony of Jamaica proceeded to legislate; and he hoped the House would bear with him if he turned their attention to the view of the subject taken by Lord Mulgrave. At the time when the noble Lord was sent out, great doubts were entertained whether the Legislature of Jamaica would consent to meet Parliament in that spirit of conciliation and friendly intercourse so necessary to success. The House would recollect, that every single colony was looking to Jamaica to see the course which would be pursued by that island, and by the British Parliament towards it. In proportion as they were disposed to meet our views, and as we were disposed to put a fair and liberal construction on their actions, was the certainty of coming to a just and proper conclusion. He was sure his hon. Friend would be the last person to deny that Lord Mulgrave was bent, heart and soul, on carrying the provisions of the Act into effect, and he 470 would be the last to deny that to the discretion, prudence, firmness, and judgment of his noble Friend, they owed, in a great degree, the successful issue of the measure. Lord Mulgrave opened the legislative Session on the 20th of October, 1833, by a speech, recommending the Slavery Abolition Act to their careful consideration. On the 24th of November, the noble Lord wrote to him as follows:—I am happy to be able to inform you that a Bill for giving effect to the provisions of the British Art for the Abolition of Slavery having been introduced into the House of Assembly, has passed through all its stages except the last; that it stands for a third reading to-morrow, which it is considered will be a mere matter of form, and I hope to be able to announce its having finally passed the House, in a postscript. It has of course been my anxious endeavour, in the absence of any positive instructions from you, to induce the Members of this House, with whom I have had personal communication, to bring forward such a measure as should adhere as strictly as possible to the principles of the British Act, and, at the same time, as far as they are at present in a condition to do so, to develope such of the details as are left to them, with a view to giving effect to its provisions.'A promise was held out to the Colonies in the despatches of the Government, that if there should appear to be no repugnance, on their part, to adopt the measure of Emancipation, and if they should make no intentional omission in their provisions for carrying it into effect,—the measures they might respectively take would be regarded at home in the most fair and liberal spirit. Upon this subject Lord Mulgrave observed:—I do not think, upon the first point, you will find the slightest cause of complaint, as the majority so completely entered into my view of the importance, in the instance, of shewing their acquiescence in the principle, that, in general, they have adopted the very words of the British Act. If upon the second point their labours should not appear in all respects efficient, it is not from any indisposition to undertake the task required of them, when there shall have been more time given them for consideration;—but from a desire to postpone any minor points upon which there might be a difference of opinion amongst themselves to the great object of tendering to the British Government this substantial proof of co-operation on their part, and which they hope will give them a claim to the favourable consideration of a memorial they intend to forward home, asking to be allowed to make some alteration in the details;—upon the expediency or practicability of which, as soon as I am made acquainted with them, I have pro- 471 mised to transmit to you, at the same time my own opinion. Upon the ultimate arrangements they may make for the establishment of a police, they are anxious not to be called upon to make any legislative provision till the answers on these subjects are received from England. But I am sure they will be much encouraged to persevere in the improved disposition they have lately shewn, by that approbation of the measure now passed, which I think, upon the whole, you will not be inclined to withhold.He would next quote the words with which Lord Mulgrave took leave of the Parliament which had passed this Act:—I can now release you from your further attendance here, and in thus closing a Session of almost unequalled length, and certainly of unparalleled importance, I look forward with satisfaction to your immediate return to your homes, whereby you will be enabled to diffuse through your several parishes, the most accurate information upon those difficult and delicate topics which have here engaged your attention, and upon which it is so desirable to avert misapprehension. You may rely upon my co-operation, by every personal exertion in my power, to secure the perfect understanding of the real truth. Under the peculiar circumstances of the season, I have, therefore, thought it better no longer to protract this Session, though there may still be some few measures not completed, which might otherwise have accompanied the settlement of that great question, the consideration of which has engrossed so much of your time, and which you have happily brought to a successful termination; for which I must now offer you my thanks and congratulations.Here was the announcement of Lord Mulgrave, accompanied also by a declaration that the Bill had been still further improved in its last stage. Here was also his communication, expressing a strong and confident hope that his Majesty's Government would not withhold their approbation, from the Act which had been passed. First, there was the encouragement held out by the British Government; and next, the advice of Lord Mulgrave to ratify the Act, which had been passed in full confidence that the hopes so held out would be fulfilled. Now, under all these circumstances with a strong expression of approbation, from the Governor of Jamaica to the Colonial Parliament upon dismissing the members of it to their respective homes, and with a strong recommendation of the proceedings of that Parliament made by the Governor to the Government at home, considering that every other colony was looking with intense interest to the mode in which this 472 question was to be settled with the slaveowners in Jamaica, he asked in what position would his Majesty's Ministers have placed those mighty interests, with which they were charged, if, in compliance with the view of the hon. Member, they had refused compensation to the owners of slaves in Jamaica, on the ground that they had not made adequate legislative provisions for carrying into effect the intentions of the British Legislature? They would have caused an explosion—they would have created, a volcano in the empire in the West-Indies—worst of all, they would have forfeited their character, as men of honour, by not redeeming their pledge that a fair and liberal construction should be put upon all the Acts passed by the Colonial Legislature in furtherance of the great Act of Emancipation passed by the imperial Parliament of Great Britain. What, then, was the course which he had pursued? Feeling this question to be one of vital importance, in which a false step might be fatal to the success of the new system, he conceived it to be his duty not to decide it on his own individual responsibility, but to bring it under the consideration of all his colleagues in the Cabinet. He had therefore laid before them all the omissions, deviations, and variations, from the British Act of Parliament which were contained in the Act of the Local Parliament of Jamaica. The two Acts were referred to Mr. Stephen; and his observations upon them were brought by him (Lord Stanley) under the consideration of the Cabinet. He stated to his colleagues the doubts which had arisen, and the omissions and deviations of the Legislature of Jamaica. He asked his colleagues, one by one, upon each omission and deviation separately, whether they thought it sufficient to justify the Government in refusing the compensation on the ground of the inadequacy of the required provisions; and he also asked them the same question collectively upon all the omissions and deviations taken cumulatively. If there had been any difference of opinion on the subject in the Cabinet, he should have felt himself precluded from alluding to it by the confidence which his colleagues were bound to repose in him; but there was no difference of opinion whatever. The meeting of the Cabinet on this question was held at the house of the present Secretary of State for the Colonies, and at that meeting he received from the members of Earl Grey's Administration, one after the other, a de- 473 claration that we should not be justified in withholding the compensation, on the ground that the parties claiming it had not made adequate provisions. He was nevertheless, of opinion, that his Majesty's Ministers were entitled to point out to the Colonial Legislature the points on which he thought that they had been guilty of some defects and omissions, and he had in consequence thrown it on the kindness and good feeling of the Legislature of Jamaica to make good those defects and omissions. He had pointed out to them nine distinct points on which they had defects and omissions to supply. His right hon. Friend the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, whilst filling the office of Colonial Secretary, had received a letter from the Marquess of Sligo, stating, that in compliance with the wishes of the Government at home, the House of Assembly had allowed a supplementary Bill to be brought in,—he admitted that it was but a temporary one, requiring to be passed from year to year,—in which every single point of those nine points was met save one, and in that solitary case the noble Marquess had written to the Government at home hoping that they would not insist upon it, as he himself should not be able to support it if he were an independent Member of the Assembly. These were the circumstances under which the Government had acted, and taking the most unfavourable view which the hon. Member could suggest of those circumstances, he would say, that the consequence of making such a declaration as that for which the hon. Member had called would have been productive of the most pernicious effects in the West Indies. Hitherto nothing of that kind had occurred. He had had the satisfaction of seeing the great measure of the abolition of slavery carried into effect, not only without slaughter and bloodshed, not only without confusion and disorder, not only without loss and ruin, but even with an important improvement to all who came under its influence—to the planter as well as to the negro—to the master as well as to the slave. The noble Lord concluded his observations by stating, that he had personally no objection to grant the Committee for which his hon. Friend had just moved.
§ Sir George Grey
did not rise to offer any opposition to the motion of his hon. Friend the Member for Weymouth. When his hon. Friend brought forward his motion last year, on this subject, it was connected 474 with an avowed object which his Majesty's Ministers deemed to be inconsistent with the national faith and honour; and, although they imputed no such intention to the hon. Member, they felt themselves called upon firmly to resist the proposition which he then made. The present motion was of an essentially different character. There was no intention expressed of withdrawing the payment of the money granted by Parliament as compensation to the late owners of slaves, nor was the system of apprenticeship itself impeached, neither was any attempt made to abolish it at once by the act of the Imperial Legislature. The hon. Member for Weymouth had expressed no such intention. If indeed his hon. Friend had done so, it would have been the duty of the Government to have resisted such an attempt, and he was satisfied that the House would not have consented to unsettle and reverse one of the fundamental enactments of an Act which, with all its defects, was one of the brightest ornaments of our times,—which had struck off the fetters of the slave,—had introduced him into a comparative state of freedom,— and had secured to him, after a short interval, the full and free enjoyment of his liberty. But, because his Majesty's Government would have thought it incumbent upon them to oppose this motion, had its object been to unsettle the principles on which the Abolition Act was founded, it by no means followed that the working of the present system was not a fit subject for Parliamentary inquiry. He conceded to the hon. Member for Weymouth, that in accordance with the declaration which he had before made in the House, the Parliament and the people were fully entitled to the most ample information, as to the working and administration of a system for which they had made such a liberal and generous sacrifice. They were entitled to know how their money had been applied, and that the intentions of the British Parliament were bona fide carried into effect. They had a right to know what Acts had been passed affecting the apprentices in the colonies—the present condition of the negroes there, and whether the superintendence exercised by his Majesty's Government was such as to secure them that protection in the exercise of their newly-acquired rights to which they had an especial claim. On the occasion of his hon. Friend's motion, last year, a circular was addressed by his Majesty's Government to the Governors of the differ- 475 ent colonies, in order to quiet any needless apprehension in the minds of the proprietors, as to the course which his Majesty's Government felt it their duty to take, in which it was distinctly asserted that the right of the people of Great Britain to the fullest information as to the administration of the system, was undoubted, and in accordance with the principles which he had ever maintained; and seeing nothing in the present motion which went beyond this, he cheerfully and cordially acceded to the appointment of the Committee asked for by his hon. Friend. Nor did he conceive that the appointment of such a Committee need raise alarm on the part of those interested in colonial property, for the Assembly of Jamaica had already appointed, no less than three Committees of a similar nature. The reference to one of these, indeed, was worded in nearly the same terms as those of the former parts of the motion of the hon. Member for Weymouth. That Committee was appointed in the latter part of the year 1834, to inquire into the working of the new system. They examined witnesses on the subject, and made a Report, now lying on the table of this House, in the series of papers presented to Parliament on the abolition of slavery. This Act of the Colonial Legislature must, I think, tend to quiet any apprehensions on the part of the West-Indian proprietors, that the step now about to be taken would prejudicially affect their interests. On the part of his Majesty's Government, he must express his satisfaction at the appointment of the Committee, because it would afford an opportunity of meeting and refuting, before an impartial tribunal, charges which he regretted to have seen circulated through the country without any opportunity of contradicting them; charges impugning not only the conduct of the West-Indian planters, but that of the Government which had been accused, without the slightest evidence of conniving at abuses alleged to have rendered the apprenticeship worse even than slavery. He rejoiced that to a Committee was to be delegated the task of investigating the whole of this question, and who, with no preconceived opinion on extreme views on either side, will be able to form a correct and sound judgment upon the whole matter submitted to them. He believed the result of the inquiry would be—to shew that the interests of the West-India proprietor, and the condition of the negroes, had alike been improved by the 476 change. He was bound to say, that he did not believe the proprietors in this country had stated, or were disposed to state, that their property had been deteriorated by the change. He was unwilling to say anything disrespectful of the absent; but he could not help observing, that there was a great difference between the West-Indian proprietors, here, and those resident, and intrusted with the management of the estates, in the West Indies; and whatever statements might have been made as to the depreciation of property by the abolition of slavery, they had not proceeded from the body of proprietors at home. He believed that the result of this inquiry would show, that property in the West Indies was no longer in so depressed a condition as it was for a considerable period before the recent change took place. The dread of insurrection had passed away, and capital was now finding its way into channels in which, during the latter years of the existence of slavery, no prudent man would willingly have risked any portion of it. So far from any such predictions as those referred to by his hon. Friend having been fulfilled, they had been completely falsified, so far as the system had yet had time to develope itself. Notwithstanding what had been asserted to the contrary, he believed that he should be able to satisfy the Committee that the condition of the negro had been much improved. Many of the supporters of abolition objected to the system of apprenticeship when the Bill of 1833 was under discussion; but that question was then settled by Parliament; and the only fit subject for inquiry now was, had the system been fairly acted on, both towards the planter and the negro. His hon. Friend was the avowed representative of the anti-slavery party. Of their principles, and of their zeal he wished to speak with respect; but he could not equally commend their judgment or their fairness. His hon. Friend would not assert, as had been asserted by some of the anti-slavery party, that the negro, during the apprenticeship, was in a worse condition than when in a state of slavery. Such statements had been made; but, on examination, they would turn out to be unfounded. He would not go into many details, because the facts on which he should rely would come with greater weight from witnesses examined by the Committee, and from the documentary evidence which would be submitted to it, than from him. But there were two or three points 477 on which he wished to trouble the House, in order to guard against the possibility of its being supposed that, in acquiescing in the appointment of the Committee, he was sanctioning the statements of the hon. Member for Weymouth. He could not help noticing the declaration attributed to the hon. and learned Member for Dublin, at a public meeting at Birmingham. The Report purported to be a corrected Report of the proceedings of that meeting, comprising the speech of the hon. and learned Member. He was there made to assert that the situation of the negro, under his present condition of apprenticeship, was worse than slavery. He was surprised at finding this opinion entertained by one of such strong sense and sound judgment, and with the means before him of forming a correct conclusion; but in the next sentence the strong sense and the liberal sentiments of the hon. Member had led him into a happy inconsistency; for, having adverted to the subject, he could not refrain from drawing, in striking and emphatic language, the contrast between the negro mother, in a state of slavery, looking on her infant and shedding bitter tears, on the reflection that it was born to hopeless slavery, and the same mother, under the present system, pressing her infant to her bosom, and looking upon it with a smile of heartfelt satisfaction, produced by the assurance that it was born to all the privileges of a British freeman,—that in a short time she herself would be free,—and that her child, in the enjoyment of absolute freedom, would be the solace and the comfort of her declining years. He wanted no other argument than this to refute the hon. and learned Member's own position, unless, indeed, he would contend that nothing was gained by the substitution of hope, or rather certainty, for despair. But he might be told that whatever was the advantage derived from the prospects of the future, the present state of the negro had not been improved. That was a mistake; the hon. Gentleman was not quite correct in stating that the Secretary of the Colonies promised that, on the passing of this Act, we should hear no more of the lash. It was to be taken, and it had been taken, from the irresponsible hands of the master, and had been placed in the hands of the stipendiary Magistrates, who are responsible for the right use of their powers, in the first place, to the Governor of the colony, 478 and, in the second place, to the Govern-merit at home; and these persons had no interest whatever in the labour performed by the apprentices. What had been the result? The rapid and gradual diminution of the whip as an inducement to labour. In the Bahamas the Governor had felt himself able to abolish corporal punishment altogether, except when inflicted by the ordinary tribunals for offences which rendered all persons equally liable to it with the apprenticed labourers. His hon. Friend might say, that the Bahama Islands were not a fair sample of the West Indies; let him take, therefore, Jamaica. It had been said that punishments had been as severe and as frequent in Jamaica, since the apprenticeship system came into operation, as they were previously. He was quite willing to concede, that at an early period of the apprenticeship, the lash was not disused to the present extent. According to a return which he held in his hand, it appeared that, out of a population of 312,000 apprenticed labourers, 712 had received corporal punishment in Aug. 1835. In December, out of the same number, only 306 received corporal punishment, and it was found, on a reference to the returns for the intervening months, that they shewed a regular and progressive decrease. The case of British Guiana had been particularly alluded to by his hon. Friend, as a place where the whip had been greatly used. Of that colony great complaints were made during the existence of slavery, and punishments were alleged to have been unusually severe there. What were the facts with respect to British Guiana now? A recent despatch of the Governor, dated the 12th of December, 1835, stated:—The Reports from the special justices for the last month show a very considerable decrease of punishment, the total number of cases for which whipping was adjudged being only forty-nine. I look forward with confidence to a still further diminution, and even to an ultimate disuse of the lash in this colony altogether, except by the sentence of the Criminal Courts for the repression of theft. Every successive month, since the abolition of slavery, the number of individuals so punished has gradually diminished, as to entitle me to be very sanguine in my expectations that the period is not far distant when this mode of punishment will be all but extinguished.On a comparison of the number of corporal punishments inflicted in British Guiana during the last years of slavery and 479 the first year of apprenticeship, when the new system existed under every disadvantage, and the Special Commission was confided to persons interested in the exaction of labour—which was now not the case— adiminution of 2,000 would be found to hare taken place. Subsequently to July, when the Special Commission was limited to disinterested persons, the decrease in corporal punishments had been rapidly progressive. In July, the number was 208; in August, 93; in September, 79; in October, 77; in November, 49;—in December, only 21. Was there a single hon. Member who did not believe that the negroes in British Guiana were now in a better condition with responsible special Magistrates, solely authorised to inflict punishment, and to whom they could look for protection in the exercise of their rights, than when they were liable to be punished at the arbitrary will of their masters? If that were admitted, all he would ask was, for the sake of the negroes themselves, not to excite upon this question needless agitation, by statements, and received with implicit credence by multitudes elsewhere, who had no means of ascertaining the real facts. He asked his hon. Friend to interpose the weight of that authority and influence which he so deservedly possessed with those who looked to him as their leader and their organ on this question, to check the propagation of statements and opinions which were manifestly erroneous. The inquiries of this Committee would be eminently useful in removing the unfavourable impression which had been made in some quarters, as to the special Magistrates, on whom the most unjust reflections had been cast, but who were entitled to the greatest credit for the manner in which they had discharged their duties, which were of the most onerous and arduous nature; and by unremitting attention to these, many of them had fallen victims to their exertions. It had been said, that they were the mere tools of the planters,—that the planters had only to call for punishment, which was inflicted without adequate inquiry;—and that, in fact, the whip was only transferred from the hands of one to the other, without any diminution of its use. He had but to refer the House to the evidence which he had adduced as to the comparative number of punishments now and in the time of slavery, to vindicate the special Magistrates from this imputation. But it was only due to them to state, after reading their periodical reports, and look- 480 ing to the actual amount of their labour and their important duty, that he was firmly convinced that they did not merit the censure cast upon them; and he hoped that no impressions unfavourable to them would be sanctioned by the authority of his hon. Friend. There had been instances of misconduct on the part of the special Magistrates he admitted; but it could not be denied that every such instance had been punished, and that there had been the greatest vigilance exercised by the Home Government to check every species of improper conduct. It might be alleged that the diminution of punishment had been obtained by the sacrifice of the interests of the planters, which the special Magistrates were equally bound to protect, with the rights of the apprentices. An answer to that would be afforded by an extract from the same despatch of the Governor of British Guiana, to which he had referred. Sir Carmichael Smith said:—Your Lordship will be gratified to know that during the last month (November), the Custom-house Returns shew that, from this river, 8,211 hogsheads of sugar have been exported; whereas, upon an average of the three last years of slavery, during the same month, not more than 5,610 hogsheads passed through the Custom-house. This colony never was in a more prosperous and nourishing condition; and I believe, with very few exceptions, the dissatisfaction of the planters, at the late change, is fast wearing away.The same despatch also said, and the passage would be interesting to the House, as it related to the conduct of the negroes:—In proof of the rapid advance of a moral feeling amongst the apprenticed labourers, and of their anxiety to raise themselves in the scale of civilization, I take the liberty of laying before your Lordship an extract from last Saturday's Gazette, containing the advertisements of not less than seventy-nine marriages. The number advertized each Saturday varies of course, but the general average is about ninety. In a couple of years the system of concubinage will be extinct. The late ordinance permitting marriage to be solemnized, indiscriminately, by all ministers of the Christian religion, has produced the happiest effects, and was a very great been to the apprenticed labourers.His hon. Friend had also referred to women being flogged. From an extract which his hon. Friend read from some despatch, an impression might have been left that the Magistrates freely used the lash upon women, who were still liable to this punishment. In the Committee he should be able to shew, that since August, 481 1834, no woman had been flogged by order of a special Magistrate. This might be disputed, because there were most objectionable laws in Jamaica, which sanctioned the punishment of whipping, not on females as labourers, but on any females in the houses of correction; and in such cases corporal punishment might have been inflicted upon women. He need only add, on the subject of the Committee, that he trusted, by the establishing of facts, that it would disabuse the public mind of the false impressions produced upon it by that zeal, for which he entertained great respect, but which sometimes overstepped the bounds of discretion, and adopted with too much eagerness as facts, stories which distance prevented it from sifting. That zeal animated a large number of persons, who justly hold that much yet remained to be done to render the abolition of slavery complete. It behoved the British Parliament and people, he admitted, to keep a watchful eye on the condition of the negro population, even after apprenticeship should have ceased, as well as at present, and absolute freedom had been established in all the colonies. One effect of the Committee, he trusted, would be to increase a disposition to impart moral and religious instruction to the negroes, and to use those means which, by God's blessing, might be instrumental in elevating their character and developing those qualities which they possess in common with themselves. By co-operating in the promotion of this object, we might eventually point to those colonies, which, as long as slavery existed, were our shame and reproach, as some of the brightest spots in those vast possessions which Providence had confided to the care of the British Legislature. He should be glad to sit down, without adverting to the subject which his hon. Friend had mentioned—the present state of the law in Jamaica. But it was necessary for him to state the course which the Government had felt it their duty to adopt with reference to it. He needed not advert at length to the circumstances under which the original Act of the legislature of Jamaica was declared adequate and satisfactory, so as to entitle that colony to its share of the Compensation Fund. He had stated his opinion on that point, in the course of last session, when his noble Friend (Lord Stanley) was censured for the confidence which he had reposed in the Colonial Legislature. He had then shown that his noble Friend had 482 acted in accordance with the advice of Lord Mulgrave, whom no one could accuse of indifference to the rights of the negro, and whose opinion was entitled to the greatest weight. After what had been to-night stated by the noble Lord himself, in vindication of the Government of which he was a member, he might safely leave this part of the subject without any further observation. On the 2nd of July, 1834, an Act was passed by the Legislature of Jamaica in pursuance of the recommendations of his noble Friend; it contained many important details, and substantially met the conditions he had required; but while the first Act was made co-extensive with the period of apprenticeship/the second Act was only to be in force until the last day of the year, 1835. He was bound to say, that the Colonial Legislature, by thus limiting the duration of the Act in Aid appeared to him scarcely to have justified the generous confidence reposed in it by his noble Friend. In December, 1834, another Act was passed, which was disallowed on the ground of its containing objectionable provisions. In February, 1835, the attention of Lord Sligo was called by Lord Aberdeen to the circumstance of the limited duration of the first Act in Aid, and his Lordship stated that the Legislature of Jamaica would not, in his opinion, discharge its duty if it did not make that Act co-extensive with the original Act. An early session took place in August last, and in anticipation of that session, Lord Glenelg again adverted to this subject in the same spirit in which Lord Aberdeen had before expressed himself. He called Lord Sligo's particular attention to the statement of his predecessor, and in directing him to propose to the Legislature the continuance of the Act in question, until the expiration of the apprenticeship, he stated it as his opinion that the Colonial Legislature was pledged by good faith to the Parliament and people of Great Britain, to adopt the measures recommended. That session terminated without the transaction of any business, and a dissolution ensued. The last session commenced in November, and the attention of the Legislature was invited to the early consideration of this question. At the same time instructions had been sent to Lord Sligo to refuse his assent to any Bill, which contained any of those clauses which had occasioned the disallowance of the former Act, or other objectionable matter. A Bill passed the Assembly comprising clauses with objectionable matter. The 483 council introduced amendments, rendering the Bill unobjectionable. The Bill, as amended, was sent down to the House of Assembly, who unhappily resolved to adhere to the original Bill, and refused to accede to the amendments of the Council. Lord Sligo, anxious that the Bill should not be lost, as it must have been if sent to him in the shape in which it passed the Assembly, took a step which, though the motives were, undoubtedly, of the best kind, he regretted, as it afforded to the House of Assembly the opportunity of saving, that a breach of their privileges had been committed. To save the Bill from ultimate rejection, Lord Sligo sent a message to the Assembly, earnestly recommending a reconsideration of the amendments. The effect was, that the Assembly resolved, that a breach of their privileges had been committed, and refused to transact any further business until reparation had been made. Under these circumstances a prorogation took place for a day, and Lord Sligo addressed the House of Assembly in a speech in which he justified the course he had taken. On meeting again, the Assembly adhered to their former resolution, and a second prorogation took place for the visual period. He imputed no blame with respect to these transactions; all he wished to do was, to shew what the actual circumstances were—by which an Act, containing enactments of very considerable importance to the negro population in Jamaica, had been suffered to expire. The Colonial Legislature having omitted to pass this Act, the British Parliament would enforce a compact entered into, for the advantage of the negro, and would not allow his rights to be unprotected. His Majesty's Government had, therefore, determined to introduce a Bill, of which he had given notice to-night, and which, he trusted, Parliament would readily sanction, for restoring the law in Jamaica to the state in which it stood previously to the end of last year, and for continuing it in that state till the 1st of August 1840, unless the Colonial Legislature should supersede that law, by enacting some equally efficient Act, themselves. By this means, those enactments would be again in force in Jamaica, which had been already sanctioned by the Colonial Legislature, and which could not be said to be inapplicable to the state of society in that island, having been in operation there for a year and a half, by virtue of their own Act, and being as necessary for the remaining years 484 of apprenticeship as they were during the first year and a-half. It was in no hostile spirit that this decision had been taken—it was from no desire to coerce and to compel, but it was founded on a recognition of a compact, which the negro was entitled to call on the Government, to fulfil, by securing to him the enjoyment of those lights which it was the intention of the British Parliament that he should enjoy. It was from no disrespect to the constitutional privileges of the Colonial Legislature that ministers called for the interference of Parliament, but they would be unworthy of their station if they allowed any considerations to stand in the way of the performance of a solemn duty, and the fulfilment of a compact for the protection of the negro, which the British nation had a right to enforce. For the constitutional privileges of the Colonial Legislature his Majesty's Government entertained the highest respect; but they respected still more those great and fixed principles of justice, which they were prepared upon all occasions to maintain, especially when invoked on behalf of the defenceless and oppressed.
—Sir, I regret exceedingly, that the Hon. Bart, should have made it necessary for me to intrude upon the House at all. He has censured (though certainly in very complimentary language to myself) the agitation of this question elsewhere; and yet I think enough has fallen from the hon. Bart, himself to justify agitation out of the House on this subject. Sir, it is true, I did say at Birmingham, that, under the working of the apprenticeship system, the negroes were worse off sometimes than they were in a state of slavery. I did not say that lightly. I had the documents before me from faith-worthy persons, showing that what it was the interest of the slave-owners to do was done; it is their interest to make the negro work out his full time; for instance, out of an able-bodied negro the owner formerly got twelve years' labour; but he had the twelve years to get it out of him; but now, the power of the owner lasting only for six years, it is his interest to get out as much of the twelve years' labour as possible in that six years. That is the natural consequence; it is the natural effect of the system; he has none, not the slightest interest in the negro after the expiration of the six years' apprenticeship, and he has no object therefore hut to get as much out of him as possible in that time, Again, 485 documents from faith-worthy persons were before me, showing this—that many indulgences which were allowed in a state of slavery, were withheld in the state of apprenticeship from the negroes. For example: it seems they were formerly allowed water while working in the fields. That was an indulgence, perhaps, not appearing to us very essential, but very important in that climate when working in the open fields. Yet, in many instances, (so I am informed) I do not vouch for the truth, this indulgence is given only as the price of additional labour. These things being slated by faith worthy persons, I did assert that the condition of the negro was sometimes worse under the apprenticeship system than before the Act passed. I have heard enough in the House to-night to make me doubt them; but, at any rate, every doubt, will be very effectually removed by the inquiry which the whole subject must undergo before a Committee, which I believe his Majesty's Government do not object to. I was not guilty of the absurdity of holding out that the Compensation Bill produced no good; on the contrary, I then passed, by a natural transition, to the great advantages which that measure was calculated to produce, and particularly to the bright prospect of futurity, as more than overbalancing the individual instances of cruelty and oppression: something like the French cock who, when busily engaged in inducing the liver complaint in a goose, consoled it by saying that its agonies were preparing it for the honour of one day forming part in a splendid dish for some Parisian connoisseur. So, I suppose, the poor negro is to be satisfied in his present state of oppression by the splendid prospects of futurity. I do, however, maintain that it is necessary for great public vigilance to be exercised over the working of this system. We have paid, and paid, I think, liberally and abundantly, for this measure, and we must not be cheated by any one of that which is the value of our money. That which we stipulated for was future liberty, and at present as much of comfort as is consistent with a mitigated state of slavery: for after all it is nothing more than that. It is slavery under another name. The experiment has succeeded on the whole; but I cannot help hoping that the system of the lash will be put an end to; that females have been flogged is admitted, but I am told it will be prevented in future; I earnestly hope and trust that the lash will shortly be entirely taken away from magistrate, overseer, or 486 owner; the negroes ought not to be urged on to their labour, like brute beasts, by corporal punishment. I am heartily glad the Committee is to be appointed.
§ Mr. William E. Gladstone
said, that as Government had agreed to the motion for a Committee, it would be well that its object should be clearly understood. His principal motive in rising, however, was to remark on some of the observations that had fallen from some hon. Gentlemen in the course of this debate, and to counteract, if possible, the impression, unfavourable as it was, which was likely to be produced with regard to the West-Indian body. Allusion had been made in the course of the debate to the grant of compensation-money voted to the slave owners; and the term "enormous" had been applied to it. Now he had no objection that it should be called liberal, munificent, or any thing else which might serve to express the disinterested and noble generosity of the people of this country in making it. But the term "enormous" appeared to imply a disproportion to the value of the consideration which was given up for it: and when it was considered that, in the worst of times, the value of slave property was estimated at 45.000,000l., it could not certainly he said with justice that the grant of 20,000,000l. was an "enormous" amount of compensation. It was wrong too, in reasoning on the condition of the negro population, to make abstract freedom the basis of their argument; and it wag equally wrong to take the opinions of the Legislature of Jamaica as a fair specimen of the general feeling of the colonial legislature. He could not but advert to the attempts which had been made out of doors to renew that system of agitation which was, at all events, now unnecessary—he complained of keeping up this system of agitation for no other purpose than that of exciting a movement by propagating statements which were in many cases gross misrepresentations. He did not accuse the hon. member for Weymouth of being a party to those misrepresentations, but he did accuse many of those Gentlemen who acted with him of being far too credulous in listening to statements relative to the conduct of the colonists. The evils of the apprenticeship system had been carefully insisted upon, and even exaggerated; while, on the other hand, its advantages had been as carefully withheld. That there had been a regular improvement in the condition of the negro population since the passing of the Act, was admitted on all hands; and he asked was it 487 fair to make such partial representations? and how was it possible for those who made the admission to reconcile it with those complaints of evil?—complaint was made because of apprentices being compelled to work for eight hours per day, and this, too, at the very time when a Bill was laid on the table of that House by the right hon. the President of the Board of Trade compelling children under twelve years of age to work in factories for twelve hours a day. Now, with such a Bill before the House, did not the complaint, so generally made, with regard to the eight hours of the negro apprentice, look something like a misdirected philanthropy?—he confessed he much fear-ed that the appointment of a Committee would not he attended with any useful results, though the disclosures which might be made before it would he injurious as telling against the working of the system. He feared much that the course now about to be pursued would, without great caution, tend to revive old grievances and to renew old sores. He most sincerely wished that the powers and objects of the Committee were more defined and limited than was proposed, for a variety of important questions relative to the West Indies were now pending, with the settlement of which he feared the inquiry of any Committee of this House could not but interfere. More particularly he felt hound to call the attention of the House to the conduct of that class of persons who style themselves peculiarly the "abolitionists," and of whom the hon. Member for Weymouth considered himself, and justly, as the representative in that House. The Anti-Slavery Society, to whom he alluded, had, by their publications, expressly declared it as their opinion that the country ought to be satisfied with nothing less than immediate emancipation; to that they stated they were pledged, and that they considered the apprenticeship system as only putting off the date of that to which the negroes were entitled at once. Now he should like to know if those were the sentiments of the hon. Gentleman opposite. Considering that the hon. Gentleman had moved for a Committee to examine into the working of the apprenticeship system, he thought he had a right to demand from him some explanation of the course which he intended to pursue relative to that system: and whether he considered himself, as this Society stated they were, pledged to its entire abolition? Before he sat down he felt it his duty to advert to some of the publications of that Society, to show the 488 misrepresentations, (he was willing to believe them unintentional, hut their tendency was not the less injurious for that) which they often disseminated. To take one instance, he would allude to the statements condemnatory of the conduct of the stipendiary Magistrates made in the publications of the Anti-Slavery Society, whereas Lord Sligo, and all the various functionaries who knew anything of them, had highly praised those Magistrates, for the kind, impartial, and conciliatory manner in which they had performed their very difficult duties. And when it was considered that those Magistrates were a body of gentlemen who had left their country under very discouraging circumstances to discharge a difficult and delicate duty, rendered doubly so by the state of the Colonies, so unfavourable as was the general feeling with regard to the Abolition Act, at the time they went out, was it not to be lamented that such statements should be circulated to their prejudice. Again, with respect to the working of the apprenticeship system, what was the course pursued by the Society? They often published letters from individuals in the Colonies, whose names they did not even give, and of whose means of information no judgment could be formed in this country, as undoubted evidence of the injurious or inefficient tendency of that system, declaring them often also as completely borne out by official documents, which they did not quote, because they were of an opposite character. Nor was this all, for when they quoted official documents, whilst they printed those facts which praised the negroes, they omitted, it would seem studiously, the statements in favour of the overseers and managers, as well as all those statements which represented some of those unfortunate instances of sullenness on the part of the negroes which must, in some cases, unavoidably occur. Thus showing that their object was either to make the accounts wholly unfavourable to the apprenticeship system, or else to throw the whole burden of blame upon the slaveowners or the stipendiary Magistrates, and to make it appear that the negroes were uniformly the oppressed, and always the innocent parties. [The hon. Gentleman read several extracts in confirmation of this statement.] Such was the candour, such the impartiality, such the fairness of the statements which had been put forth by this society. The House had taken the power of punishment out of the hands of the masters. Of that he approved. They 489 had sent out Magistrates depending wholly on the Crown to administer impartial justice. Of that he approved. But was it just, was it honourable in Gentlemen to send forth to the public garbled statements such as these, and making solemn adjurations in the name of God, calling upon the people of England to rise and put an end to that which they so unfairly represented as the state of things now existing in the West Indies? It was painful for him to make a charge of want of candour against any body of men, but the peace of the West Indies was the question at issue. Much had been said of the progressive disuse of the lash. That progressive disuse might in a great measure be attributed to the progressive disuse of agitation; and when he found now that an attempt was made to renew and perpetuate this system of agitation at any expense of candour and of truth, he felt it his duty earnestly and sincerely to deprecate the continuance of a system which could not but be attended with the most injurious results.
§ Sir John R. Reid
said, that interested in this subject as he was, he could not but deprecate the manner in which the complaints of the anti-slavery party had been made, and he would ask why it was that they had not been brought forward openly and boldly, instead of surreptitiously? He was convinced there was no people on the face of the earth—not even the British people themselves—who enjoyed greater happiness than the negroes.
§ Mr. Borthwick
defended the West-Indian planters from the charges of cruelty and oppression which were but too generally brought against them. He would most cordially support the motion for a Committee, because he thought it to be the duty of Parliament to inquire into the real truth of the matter, and see whether there was any foundation for the statements circulated through the country by the anti-slavery party, to the disadvantage and discredit of the West-Indian planters.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Mr. Buxton postponed the nomination of the Committee until to-morrow.