§ Mr. Forster
said, he had a question to put to the right hon. Baronet, and a very few words would explain the nature and object of it. It referred to a petition he presented about a week ago, which had been printed and circulated with the Votes, from a large body of the most eminent merchants and manufacturers engaged in British trade to Brazil, Cuba, and Africa, complaining of certain charges against English merchants and capitalists contained in a Message Mr. President Tyler had sent to Congress, and which had received the implied sanction of the right hon. Baronet at the head of Her Majesty's Government, and praying "the protection of the House against imputations so undeserved and so dishonourable to them and to the honour of their country." The Message arrived in this country in the middle of March. Shortly afterwards his hon. Friend the Member for Leeds put a question to the right hon. Baronet 479 relative to a gross mis-statement in the Message on the subject of the apprenticing of captured negroes in the West Indies; and it was on that occasion the implied sanction of the charge against British merchants and manufacturers was given by the right hon. Baronet. The moment the charge received the sanction of the right hon. Baronet, he gave him notice, at the request of some of the parties, that the attention of the House would be drawn to the subject; and the petition would have been presented sooner, and the question he was about to put would have been asked sooner, but the parties wished that ample time should be allowed the right hon. Baronet to make his inquiries and produce his proofs, if he had any. With these observations, he would ask the right hon. Baronet whether there were any documents in possession of Government confirmatory of the participation, direct or indirect, of British subjects in the Slave Trade, charged in Mr. Tyler's Message to Congress, dated the 19th of February, 1845; and if so, whether there was any objection to the production of such documents? Also, whether Government could furnish to that House the names and description of any of those vessels alleged by Mr. Tyler to have been loaded with goods for the Slave Trade, by or on behalf of any British capitalist, merchant or manufacturer (inserting or omitting the names, as thought proper), in the United Kingdom or elsewhere, or in any other manner, as alleged in the same Message?
§ Sir R. Peel
said, the question of the hon. Member had been put to him some weeks since by an hon. Member opposite, who had raised an inquiry as to certain allegations contained in the President's recent Message to Congress, wherein it was stated that certain British subjects carried on a trade in slaves at Rio and on the Coast of Africa. It was also therein stated that certain subjects of the Queen were concerned in the Slave Trade in other countries. He (Sir R. Peel) had then stated that he was not prepared to admit or to deny the facts averred; but that if the case was as asserted, the law applicable to such offences should be resorted to and applied. The President's Message was accompanied by several documents, which, as the hon. Member who asked the question was acquainted with them, he should refer to. Those documents stated that three vessels were fitted out as slavers; their 480 names were, the Agnes, the Montevideo, and the Sea Nymph. The President declared those vessels to be the property of citizens of the United States; but they had employed an English broker to conduct their sales at Rio. That was all the information he had received. If the statement were correct, and that the law would reach those parties, the Government would feel it their duty to make them amenable to it. Two years since, the House of Commons and House of Lords, acting upon the presumption that British capital was occasionally employed in foreign countries in carrying on the Slave Trade, passed an Act rendering British subjects resident in foreign countries liable to the same penalties for so carrying on the Slave Trade as any other British subjects. He would only repeat that if the law could be made to reach the parties in this case, the Government would apply it.
§ Mr. Forster
said, the right hon. Baronet had referred to Papers furnished to the President of the United States by Mr. Wise, the American Minister in Brazil, upon the authority of which the charges in question were made. He (Mr. Forster) held copies of these Papers in his hand; and to show the spirit in which they had been got up, and the degree of credit due to them, he need only inform the House, that amongst overcharges equally well founded, was one charging British naval officers with abetting and conniving at the Slave Trade, while cruising on the Coast of Africa for the suppression of that traffic. They were accused of favouring the shipment of slaves to be afterwards captured by themselves, that they might claim the bounty or head money. This was sufficient to show the gross falsehood and absurdity of charges issuing from such a source.
§ Sir R. Peel
answered, that he had expressed at that time his opinion that it was unfortunate the President of the United States should have declared publicly to Congress that the state of the apprentices in the West Indies was as bad as that of the African slave; and he (Sir Robert Peel) then stated, if the President wished to appoint a Commission of Inquiry into that matter, every facility should be given for the investigation. He had at the same time also stated that he could not concur in the general allegations of the President's Message, and had expressed his belief that some part of it was founded in error. But at the same time, these documents 481 contained the specific mention of a British broker and a British house.
§ Mr. Milner Gibson
said, that the name of the Agnes had been mentioned as one of the vessels employed in this traffic. Now, he had been authorized to give the most formal and unqualified contradiction to that statement; and he thought that the right hon. Baronet, in answering a question, might have abstained from casting even the remotest imputation upon parties who had had no opportunity whatever of rebutting the charges.
§ Sir R. Peel
then read the extract from the document which had been referred to, omitting, however, to mention the names of the broker and the merchant.
§ Mr. Hume
said, that the right hon. Baronet had not answered one part of the question, and therefore, he would put another question. He wished distinctly to know whether official information had come under the notice of the Government that any naval officer belonging to Her Majesty's service, or any British subject had been engaged in the Slave Trade?