§ MR. WHITBREAD
, in rising to move—1. That, in the opinion of this House, a Slave once admitted to the protection of the British Flag should he treated while on board one of Her Majesty's ships as if he were free, and should not he removed from or ordered to leave the ship on the ground of slavery. 2. That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, humbly praying Her Majesty that all Circulars, Instructions, or Orders heretofore issued contravening the foregoing Resolution, or limiting the discretion of commanding officers in respect of the reception of such persons on board Her Majesty's ships, shall be withdrawn.said, it was not difficult for him to find a justification for bringing this matter before the House; because the feeling which had manifested itself throughout the country during the Autumn must have made it clear to Members of this House that it was necessary that this 686 subject should be brought forward. If the Circular which was now in force had stood alone, it might have been sufficient to call attention to those provisions which seemed to be faulty, and to ask either for the withdrawal of the whole Circular or for an alteration of its terms. But that Circular did not stand alone. It was preceded by the Circular of July, and that in its turn had been preceded by Orders and Instructions from different Governments, extending over a long period of time. Many of these Orders and Instructions were open to great objection, and he thought the time had come when it was necessary for Parliament to interfere and lay down some line of policy which the country was ready to adopt. He had no desire to arrogate to his own side of the House any monopoly of humane feelings in dealing with this question. He was quite willing to acknowledge what Lord Carnarvon had done on the West Coast of Africa; and he had observed with gratitude that the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs had recently laid upon the Table a Supplementary Treaty, which had effected a marked improvement in the Zanzibar Treaty. He wished to credit hon. Gentlemen opposite with the same feelings in this matter which actuated his own side of the House and the whole country. This, however, did not deprive him of his right to criticize the Slave Circular where he thought it faulty; and it was not because other Governments had fallen into errors of a similar character that Parliament should not interfere. It was, indeed, all the more reason why Parliament should express a clear and definite opinion upon the whole question; and because both sides of the House had fallen into error it might make it easier for the Government to retreat from an untenable position. He held it to be no part of his duty to take up the scales and endeavour to mete out the portion of blame which each Government should bear. He regretted that he should have, to a certain extent, to reflect upon the conduct of statesmen who were no longer present to vindicate themselves, or to explain their reasons for acting as they did; but he would ask the House to bear this in mind, that we should perhaps err if we took the circumstances of the present day as a guide in estimating the circumstances under which they acted long ago. Two distinctions 687 had to be kept in view in dealing with this question—first, the distinction between slaves received on board one of Her Majesty's ships on the high seas and those received on board in the territorial waters of a foreign slave-owning Power; and, next, that the reception on board of a slave was one thing, whilst the treatment and disposal of him afterwards was quite another thing. As to the reception of slaves on board Her Majesty's ships on the high seas the law was clear and undoubted. He did not know whether there ever was any doubt cast upon it—certainly not in modern times—until the issue of the Circular of July, and that having been withdrawn as admittedly erroneous he need say no more about it. To his mind it could not be maintained that, under International Law, there was any obligation on our part to abstain from receiving on board Her Majesty's ships on the high seas any persons we thought fit. The course to be pursued in territorial waters of a foreign slave-owning Power was the point on which the greatest difficulty would be felt. In this case the best opinion appeared to be that the ex-territoriality of a public ship-of-war entering into such' territorial waters without express prohibition was complete; at all events, so far that foreign jurisdiction was not admitted on board. In other words, a British ship-of-war entering such waters was to be regarded as forming part of these Islands, and was subject, and all on board of her, to British law alone, was, as we should say, under the municipal law only, although the foreign law prevailed round about it. There was, however, an implied understanding that those on board vessels entering into the territorial waters of a foreign Power were not wilfully to do anything hostile to the local law. He had stated broadly the principles of International Law applicable to this subject. But the question was not one of law alone; it was much more one of policy. Not having had the training of a lawyer, he would not have come forward to argue it if it had been a mere question of law, but upon a question of policy he was entitled to form an opinion; and, indeed, as a Member of that House he had undertaken a direct commission to urge that policy which he thought best; and having accepted that commission he had accepted a responsi- 688 bility which he could not in a case like this throw off upon others, but must discharge in his own person according to the best judgment he could form. Upon the ground of policy he would postulate this—that it was their clear duty, as a free and freedom-loving people, in dealing with this question of slavery, not only to be well satisfied in their own minds, but also to make it clear to the whole world, that to the very extreme verge that their obligations to other States would allow, their policy leant towards the side of freedom. That was the touchstone which should be applied to any argument or act affecting this matter—Did it, or did it not, lean towards the side of freedom? Now, he would ask the House to look for a moment to the last carefully prepared Circular. It said—Any person professing or appearing to be a fugitive slave seeking admission to a ship belonging to Her Majesty" on the high seas, the commander must hear in mind that, although Her Majesty's Government were desirous of mitigating slavery, yet Her Majesty's ships were not intended for the reception of persons other than their officers and crew.This caution would seem to anybody who ever had any acquaintance with the way in which Her Majesty's ships were commanded, and the discipline which was maintained on board, a little superfluous; because they were not so roomy or commodious, not so abundantly provided with spare room, that either officers or crews would be extremely desirous of welcoming a large crowd of strangers on board. But the caution was confined to the case of slaves: there was no caution not to admit slave-owners or refugees of any kind but slaves. The Circular said—"Any person professing or appearing to be a fugitive slave." How was the officer, before admitting a man on board, to ascertain that he was a slave? How was he to know that? The hand of the landsman was apparent all through this Circular. The drawer of it apparently had an idea that the fugitive slave seeking protection came in by the door. The sort of way in which a slave usually claimed the protection of a British ship was by swimming to her; and coming in that way, they were to ask him who he was and so on. He (Mr. Whitbread) had seen a great many negroes—free and slave—in the water; and he declared that he could not form 689 the slightest opinion from seeing a negro in the water whether he was a free man or a slave. Yet the naval officer was told that when a man came swimming to his ship he must make up his mind whether he was a slave before admitting him on board. The dialects spoken by the negroes differed very much, and many of them could not be understood without the aid of an interpreter; so that, according to this Circular, the captain would have to call in an interpreter to question this man while he was in the water as to who was his father and mother, and as to whether he professed to be a fugitive slave. He would ask whether the fact of a man thus seeking the protection of the British flag would not to most minds be primâ facie evidence that there was good reason for receiving him on board? "Not so," said the framers of the Circular; "you must first satisfy yourself before yon receive the man on board that there is some sufficient reason for thus receiving him." Now, he did not think that this language, even if he admitted the law or the policy to be right, would sound in the ear of impartial judges as leaning towards freedom. The next paragraph in the Circular to which he desired to draw attention said to the commander of a British ship of war—Within the territorial waters of a foreign State you are bound by the comity of nations, while maintaining the proper exemption of your ship from local jurisdiction, not to allow her to become a shelter for those who would be chargeable with a violation of the law of the place. If, therefore, while your ship is within the territorial waters of a State where slavery exists, a person professing or appearing to be a fugitive slave seeks admission into your ship, you will not admit him unless his life would be in manifest danger if he were not received on board. Should you in order to save him from this danger receive him, you ought not after the danger is past to permit him to continue on board; but you will not entertain any demand for his surrender, or enter into any examination as to his status.As to "not entertaining any demand for his surrender," that was superfluous, because the slave was to be surrendered almost before any demand could possibly be made for him; and as to not entering "into any examination as to his status," he doubted whether the naval officer would understand what that meant. If wise, he would put but few questions to the slave, for fear he might be asking about the forbidden thing. The com- 690 mander was told to "maintain the proper exemption of his ship from local jurisdiction," and that was immediately interpreted to mean that he should assist in enforcing on board his own vessel the local law of slavery. Let the House listen how all the strong words and all the hard words told against the slave. "You are bound by the comity of nations" not to shelter him. You will not admit him unless his life is in "manifest danger." "Should you" receive him after all this caution, then immediately the direct command—"you ought not to permit him to remain on board," he is to be given up. Let them observe how all the words told against the slave, and that the Circular was directed against the slave alone, and against the refugee of no other nation—only against the slave. He asked, did this lean towards the side of freedom? or, on the contrary, did not the whole of this paragraph weigh as heavily as language could weigh against the chances of the slave being taken on board? What it said, in fact, was this—"It is only when the slave's life is in imminent danger you are to take him on board; then be slow to receive him, and be quick to give him up." He might be asked at what his Resolution pointed, and whether he desired that our ships should be cities of refuge for every slave who desired to get on board, whether he were criminal or not. He said, certainly not; that he desired nothing of the kind. He knew very well that it was of the first necessity that a captain should have complete control over his ship, particularly as to who he admitted into it. The objection he had to the document was, that it was only levelled at the slave and not at the free man. He should like to say here that, as to holding out our ships as mere refuges for slaves, he did not think it the right way for this country to deal with the question of domestic slavery. If domestic slavery was to be approached it should be by some open, avowed, and recognized manner. It would not, he thought, be a dignified course for a great country to pursue to attempt to deal with it by merely taking a few slaves here and there from the grasp of slavery and transporting them to another place, for the result would be only to embitter the lives of those who remained behind, and probably seriously to hamper us in dealing with the question of the Slave Trade. 691 Whenever the question of domestic slavery was approached—and approached it must be at a day not so far distant as some might suppose—he could not help thinking there were forces already at work which before long must break down that institution—it must be dealt with by an attack on the institution itself. As to the reception of slaves, all he desired was that we should revert to the practice which prevailed before the two Circulars were issued, of leaving to our officers the discretion of receiving on board their ships under their protection a slave, if they were of opinion that there were special circumstances in the case which justified them in taking that course. Let him for a moment ask the House to consider what would be the probable working of the Circular to which he wished to call their particular attention. What was the plain English of the words "not permit him to remain on board? "They could not mean that when the slave was on board one of our ships the commanding officer should go up to him and say—"Mind, I have not given you permission to be here," and yet take no steps to remove him. He was sure his right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty would not construe the language of the Circular in that manner, and tell him not to permit a slave to remain on board, but to take steps to remove him. It was misleading language, and did not in that respect compare well with the July document for which every one had a bad word, but in favour of which he was glad to be able to say at least this. Whoever drew that Circular knew his mind and spoke it frankly; but his law was bad. It was admitted to be so; but it had the advantage of speaking in clear language. It said that the slave was to be surrendered; and that was the meaning of "not permitting him to remain on board." No other construction could be put upon those words. But in the first Circular there was one crumb of comfort for the poor slave, put in, he believed, at the instance of the Admiralty, and that was, that when he was about to be surrendered the commanding officer should try to make favourable terms for him; even this was omitted from the second Circular. It was a hard and dry document, made as severe against the slave as language could possibly make it. It seemed 692 to him that whoever had drawn up that Circular must have felt the indignation with which the first had been regarded by the English public, and must have argued with himself that "surrender" was an ugly word, of which it was desirable to get rid. So he employed instead language which he thought he was not describing unfairly when he characterized it as an attempt to say to the British public—"We do not surrender the slave," and to the slaveowner, "We do not keep him"—language with which he supposed the latter was very well satisfied. Let the House picture to itself a slave taken on board one of Her Mejesty's ships after a long swim for his life and in a state of exhaustion. The risk to his life being over, the captain might say to the poor man—"You can be permitted to stop here no longer; "and where, then, was he to go? On the shore there were the slaveowner and his assistants, while in the bay there were the sharks in waiting for him. Well, the Circular which was drawn for the assistance of our officers spoke of "when the danger is past;" but was it so easy for them to decide when that was the case? Let him put a case by way of illustration. Suppose a slave came on board a ship after a hot pursuit, the commanding officer might, perhaps, acting on the humane suggestion contained in the first Circular, go on shore and ask the slaveowner if he was still angry with his fugitive slave, and whether he would spare him if he returned. The slaveowner replies—"I was very angry, but I have cooled down; he is a good slave, and if he comes back I will forgive him." The captain goes back to the slave and says—"Your master will forgive you, the danger to your life is past, my orders are imperative, and you must be put ashore." But suppose the slave were to turn round and say—"Do you know what my offence was? I was speaking to some of my fellow-slaves on their condition, and upon our hopes of setting ourselves free. We heard that your country had set at liberty a vast number of our race on the other side of the Continent, and that many others who in a distant country were set free within the last few years are now producing more as free labourers than they ever produced as slaves. We wish no harm to our master, but we desire to have 693 our liberty too; but this is just the sort of thing which my master cannot bear, and to bear me speaking in that way would drive him into an ungovernable passion. He caught me doing so some time ago, and punished me severely; you may see the marks. He threatened that if I were to do so again he would use me still worse, and you can judge whether he is likely to carry out his threat or not. If I go back, something tells me I must again speak to my fellows in the same way, and I shall have to bear the consequences." Would not the officer at once see in in the poor slave before him one in whom the undying flame had been lit—the true passionate yearning for freedom which once kindled could hardly be kept under, and, he thanked God, could never be quite extinguished. But the Circular was imperative. The danger being past, the man must be sent back, now if that man stood true to his convictions, and for them met his death—it would have an ugly appearance when the story came to be known in this country, and would prevent one from wishing to be too closely connected with the department which had approved the transaction. But it might be said that, under such circumstances as he had just mentioned, where there was a certainty of the slave being punished, the commanding officer would be justified in detaining him. If, however, the man was not sent back, what became of the good understanding which it was sought to establish with the slaveowner, whom the Government were so anxious to conciliate? He would remind us of our bond, and would insist that, in accordance with it, his slave should be restored to him when the moment of danger was past; and he would have good ground for urging his claim under the circumstances. But it might be answered that the point was one which was not likely to arise, that the African slaves were too degraded, and that such a person as he had just sketched did not exist among them. Now, he at once admitted that persons of that character were very rare among the slave population. Otherwise the House would not now be discussing this question, for slavery would long ago have been abolished. But the country could not go on dealing with Africa as we were now doing, buying here, colonizing there, freeing slaves by 694 thousands, and planting them in States to work for themselves, driving roads through Africa everywhere for the spread of commerce and for the purpose of scientific investigation, even for sport, and expect that doing this, and teaching the Natives the use of our weapons and also a knowledge of our language, the last thing they would learn would be some of our ideas of personal freedom. It was clear the question was one which might arise any day, and we should then find it, he thought, somewhat difficult to draw a distinction between the punishment of slaves for that class of offences and political refugees. He wondered who asked to have this document drawn for his assistance. There was, he might add, a most instructive Return, which had been moved for by the hon. Member for Paisley (Mr. W. Holms), and which he held in his hand, of all the cases in which during the last 10 years British officers on foreign stations had asked for instructions with regard to slaves, and it appeared that Sir Leopold Heath was the only one who had done so during that time. He wished to know who really asked for the Circular. [Mr. GATHORNE HARDY: Lord Northbrook.] He (Mr. Whitbread) did not think it was Lord Northbrook who asked for a General Slave Circular, but that it was the lawyers, because they disliked being repeatedly asked their opinion upon cases as they arose, and therefore it was said it would be better to make an order of general application and get rid of questions being put to them. The Circular was said to be for the guidance of our officers; but it would really place them in an embarrassing position. Had those who drew the Circular ever considered how hard it was upon a British officer going out upon an errand of which heretofore anyone might have been proud, but now with this Admiralty Circular on his table, dreading above all things lest an appeal from some helpless slave should be made to him—having no choice but strictly to obey his orders-yet knowing that the very act which, in obedience to his orders, he had to do, would be looked upon with indignation by his countrymen. As regarded the reception of slaves on board Her Majesty's ships, there was only one practicable rule. It ought to be left to the discretion of the officer in command 695 to deal with each case on the spot, knowing all the circumstances; he did not think it possible for all the Law Officers of the Crown or for a Royal Commission to draw up a Circular on the reception of slaves that would stand, for two reasons. First it was impossible to draw up a general Circular applicable to the conditions of slavery in different quarters of the globe, because the whole circumstances of slavery differed widely in different quarters; secondly, if the Circular embraced every case which ought to be received, there might as well be no Circular at all. If it excluded eases which ought to be received, the public opinion of the country would not tolerate it. He wanted to know upon what grounds this country could be required to take, on board our own ships, any steps that would directly recognize or aid in the maintenance of slavery? The Resolutions which he had the honour of moving aimed at treating fugitive slaves on board Her Majesty's ships according to the law of England, and if others thought that some different law ought to prevail on board our ships it was for them to make out their case, and not for him to make out his. In dealing with the question, whether our law on this question ought to prevail as against the local law, some consideration must be had for the object for which our ships were sent out, which was the suppression of the Slave Trade; and England in endeavouring to suppress the Slave Trade felt that if the trade was suppressed, the institution of slavery was at an end. Yet it was contended that on board our own ships, sent abroad with this very object, we ought to recognize that which the law of England had repeatedly refused to recognize in any way. He could quite understand that courtesy to foreign Powers might make us use very great caution and discretion in the reception of persons on board our vessels; but when once they were on board, without any fault on our part, if there were any meaning in the word ex-territoriality—if there was any mean-in the phrase that a British ship in territorial waters was under the Municipal law—the law of England—he failed to see how it could possibly be contended that we were to administer on board our ships any fraction of the law of slavery. He did not believe such an obligation existed; but preferred 696 to believe the dictum of Mr. Justice Holroyd, who, in the famous case of "Forbes v. Cockrane," tried in 1822, relating to certain slaves who had escaped from Florida on board a British ship, said of the slave—He ceases to be a slave in England only because there is no law which sanctions his detention in slavery; for the same reason he would cease to he a slave the moment he landed on the supposed newly discovered island. In this case, indeed, the fugitives did not escape to any island belonging to England, but they went on board an English ship—which for this purpose may be considered a floating island—and in that ship they became subject to the English laws alone. They then stood in the same situation in this respect as if they had come to an island colonized by the English. It was not a wrongful act in the defendants to receive them; quite the contrary. The moment they got on board the English ship, there was an end of any right which the plaintiff had by the Spanish laws acquired over them as slaves. They had got beyond the control of their master, and beyond the territory where the law recognizing them as slaves prevailed; they were under the protection of another power.What he wanted to know was, whether it would be a wrongful act on the part of an officer commanding a ship of war to receive a slave on board. He maintained that the officer certainly had a right to receive the slave, and why, then, should we actively take steps to have the fugitive delivered up? What power had we to order officers to remove a fugitive from a vessel on the ground that he was a slave? Supposing the slave were to resist, the possible legal consequences to our officers ought to be taken into consideration. Again, supposing that a slave were to be taken on board because he was in danger in consequence of an emeute, what would his position on board be while the danger lasted? He must be either a slave or a free man; and it could hardly be maintained that he could be enfranchised one day and enslaved again the next. If they felt bound to give him up as a slave, what was he in the meantime? But if they detained him, so as to give him up, what law authorized it? Or might the slave escape from the British ship to some other vessel—thus using his stay on board the British ship merely as a means to baffle the pursuit? It would be a very undignified position, in order to get out of the difficulty, to let the man 697 escape. If a man was not to be free as soon as he got under the British flag, when was he to be so? Was he to wait until he touched English soil? If so, they must give up the decision in the great case of Forbes v. Cochrane; but perhaps it would be said that he was free only when the ship got out of territorial waters and was on the high seas. Then see the absurdity of the position if a slave happened to be taken on board just as the ship was leaving her anchorage for a short run out to sea of say a few hours duration, returning to her anchorage in the territorial waters in the evening. None of these regulations applied to the reception of the refugees of every nation. If the right of granting free asylums was to be maintained, he submitted that we could not adjust them to the colours of men, and say to the white man that he was free, but as the skin grew darker the protection was gradually lessened, until when they reached the jet black it vanished altogether. It might be urged that we should consult with foreign Powers and try to modify the international rules which applied to this question. But we did not want a Royal Commission to help us in communicating with foreign Powers. Parliament had been told in the Queen's Speech that our relations with foreign Powers were of the most cordial kind. Let the Government, then, make use of these cordial relations with foreign Powers and earn the gratitude of the human race by taking a step forward in this question. At any rate, if they were going to consult foreign Powers, it became doubly necessary for Parliament to interpose and put an end to the doubts cast by the July and the more recent Circular as to the mind of the English people, by laying down some clear line of demarcation beyond which this country was not prepared to go in the direction of expediency, and by which it was determined to abide upon the ground of principle. Perhaps the Government were so fast bound in the toils of their Law Officers that they could not stir hand or foot. In that case he must appeal to independent Members on both sides of the House. In criticizing the Circulars issued by the present Government he had not referred specifically to the instructions and orders of former Governments, for the simple reason that the last Circu- 698 lar was that more immediately before the House, and was the latest exposition of the views of the Government. In drawing the Motion, too, and in what he had said, he had endeavoured not needlessly to impart any Party bitterness to this question. At times of national danger independent Members on both sides must rally round the Government. But when any great principle, cherished by the country, was threatened it became the duty of independent Members to intimate to the Government that their policy was not approved. On this question the House of Commons had never been consulted. The Prime Minister had said that he did not like secret instructions on this subject, and he had good reason for saying so, if they had been open the Government would never have been put into the position of having to acknowledge their mistake, or, what was still worse, of having to defend it, for the opinion of the country would have been given as unequivocally at any former period within the last 40 years as it had been given on the present occasion. Now that the question had been raised, the House of Commons could not shirk its responsibility. It was bad when a Department made a mistake; it was bad when the Government followed the action of the Department; but what would be said if the House of Commons, speaking for the British nation, declared that it had not made up its mind and failed to set matters right? Were we to tell the whole world that, though during all these years our cruisers had been on foreign coasts trying to suppress the slave trade, we could not now make up our minds as to the position of a slave taken on board one of Her Majesty's ships? If this House did not know its mind, it stood well-nigh alone on this question; for there was not a town or county in which the vast majority, present at any fair and open meeting, would not at once see through the web of technicalities with which some had endeavoured to surround the question and pronounce for a clear and decided line of policy. Perhaps it would be said that this was a question which constituencies did not understand—this was a lawyer's question. Well, once before the House had received a stinging rebuke from the Law Courts about slavery. Speaking in 1822, Chief Justice Best said— 699It is matter of pride to me to recollect that, whilst economists and politicians were recommending to the legislature the protection of this traffic, and senators were framing statues for its promotion, and declaring it a benefit to the country, the judges of the land, above the age in which they lived, standing upon the high ground of natural rights, and disdaining to bend to the lower doctrine of expediency, declared that slavery was inconsistent with the genius of the English constitution, and that human beings could not be the subject matter of property. As a lawyer, I speak of that early determination, when a different doctrine was prevailing in the senate, with a considerable degree of professional pride,He might well be proud of that determination. The House should remember, then, that another tribunal might possibly be called upon to decide this question, and to lay down the law. Did the House desire to wait for another rebuke from the Law Courts, all the more biting and severe because these judgments had been for 50 years before their eyes, and they had failed to read them? Did the House desire to wait till they were again told that they were unworthy guardians of the great principle of freedom for the slave upon British soil? Or did they mean to wait until a worse thing happened—when England halting found herself left behind in the race and the slave learned to feel himself safer under another flag? England in the past had made this question her own; but there was now another people on whom similar motives might operate, and who might vie with us in this race. He thanked the House for the attention with which they had listened to him. The marked silence with which his remarks had been received by the other side of the House would fain make him believe that in opinion at all events they were not for apart. At any rate, for himself, feeling well assured that he was asking nothing contrary to the principles of International Law, rightly understood—feeling confident, too, that he was only giving expression to convictions so deep and widespread that they might be truly called part of the faith of the nation—he earnestly invited the House, in the terms of the Resolution which stood in his name, firmly, clearly, and once for all to claim for England that she did not allow herself to be under any bond to recognize, aid, or enforce on board the Queen's ships, be they where they might, the hateful law of slavery. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving his Resolutions.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That, in the opinion of this House, a Slave once admitted to the protection of the British Flag should be treated while on board one of Her Majesty's ships as if he were free, and should not be removed from or ordered to leave the ship on the ground of slavery."—(Mr. Whitbread.)
§ MR. HANBURY
in rising to move, as an Amendment—That, in the opinion of this House, and in order to maintain most effectually the right of personal liberty, it is desirable to await further information from the Report of a Royal Commission, both as to the instructions from time to time issued to British naval officers, the international obligations of this Country, and the attitude of other States in regard to the treatment of domestic Slaves on board of national ships"—said, he thought it was a subject for congratulation that the Motion had fallen into the hands of one so sure to treat it in a spirit of moderation as the hon. Member for Bedford. The question raised by the Motion was one in which both sides of the House bad an equal interest. The slavery policy of this country and the maintenance of its maritime rights were each of them a national inheritance, with which no Government, whether Liberal or Conservative, would be allowed to tamper; and any Government attempting such a course would richly deserve the condemnation of the country. In dealing with this question of slavery, however, we must recollect that we were not the only people concerned, and that the subject was one which involved very delicate and difficult matters of International Law, which could not be determined by generous impulse alone—certainly not by generous impulse fortified by a strong admixture of Party animus. Whatever might be the view entertained outside, within the House, at all events, they were bound to pass from irresponsible declamation to a consideration of the bare facts of the case. Hatred of slavery was not the monopoly of any one party or class, and the question they had to consider was, not what we wished to do, for on that point there was no sort of doubt, but what we could do legally and of right. The law or comity which regulated the intercourse of nations was too delicate an instrument to handle rudely or hastily, and in dealing with it without due deliberation we might find that we were setting pre- 701 cedents in the case of small and weak States which might hereafter be used against ourselves by the great and strong. If there was one country in the world which must necessarily have a respect for International Law it must be an insular nation like ourselves, with a world-wide commerce and many distant dependencies; and the one question therefore now was whether, if we intended to be regulated in our actions by the Law of Nations, as he presumed we did, we could do that which the Motion asked us to do? There were two sets of circumstances in which we had to deal with slaves. Turning first to the case of slaves on board our ships on the high seas, he must premise that he had not risen to defend the terms of the first Circular—whether anyone would attempt to defend it he did not know—but that Circular had been withdrawn by Her Majesty's Government, it had been explained and apologized for, and it was now dead and buried; and he should be surprised if any hon. Member played the part of a vulture and raked it up out of its grave—because, should he do so, the country would not thank him for his trouble. What they had to do was to endeavour to benefit the slave, not to make political capital out of him. That being the case, he did not think there could be much objection to the second Circular, as far as it dealt with the case of slaves on board our ships on the high seas, in which case they were not to be surrendered to their owners, but were, on the contrary, to be cared for and landed in a place of security. If we were to go further than this, we should have the English Fleet turned into a refuge for criminals. The real difficulty arose with reference to the Queen's ships in the territorial waters of other Powers. Nobody denied that the captain of a ship had jurisdiction over his own crew in territorial waters; but the question was, whether he had jurisdiction over the subjects of a foreign State who might come on board his ship? If they had no jurisdiction, everyone who came on board, be he slave or political refugee, must be given up; if he had this right, everybody would be only too glad that he should be able to receive such refugees on board his ship. What was the law on this subject that had been laid down by Chief Justice Best in the case of "Forbes v. Cochrane," to which the 702 hon. Member had referred? That learned Judge had said, referring to certain slaves on board an English ship—The moment they put their feet on hoard of a British man-of-war not lying within the waters of East Florida—there undoubtedly the laws of that country would prevail—those persons who before had been slaves were free.He was surprised that the hon. Member should have referred to a case that told so strongly against him as that did. In drawing up their Circular the Government were fettered not only with legal precedents such as this, but by the practice of preceding Liberal Governments, because in every case in which a slave had been ordered to be given up, that order had been given by some one of the party now sitting on the opposite benches. The opinions of Lord Palmerston, who took the greatest interest in this question, and knew more about it than anyone else, were well known, and they were expressed in reference to the case that occurred in 1837 of a slave who had secreted himself on board Her Majesty's ship Romney in the harbour of Havana. The commander of that vessel, Lieutenant Jenkin, delivered the slave over to the authorities at Havana, and Lord Palmerston, on the 5th of January, 1838, in his official communication on the subject said—With reference to your despatch of the 10th October, containing your correspondence with Lieutenant Jenkin, commanding the Romney hulk, relative to a negro who had secreted himself on board that vessel, and whom Lieutenant Jenkin had given up to the local authorities, I have to acquaint you that the course pursued by Lieutenant Jenkin iu this case appears to me to have been right and proper.And not only did Lord Palmerston express that opinion, but he communicated with the British Ambassador at Madrid, and directed him to give official notice to the Spanish Government of his approval of what had been done. Passing over many other precedents, he came to what had occurred in 1870, when a most important despatch was sent by Mr. Hammond—now Lord Hammond—to the Secretary of the Admiralty, under the direction of Lord Clarendon. That despatch was as follows:—I am directed by the Earl of Clarendon to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 7th ultimo, inclosing a letter from the Commander of Her Majesty's naval forces on the East Coast of Africa, relative to the complaints preferred against the Commanders of Her Ma- 703 jesty's ships Nymph and Dryad, by the Hova authorities, with regard to their proceedings in carrying off and then liberating certain domestic slaves at Majunga, who swam off to those vessels to escape from their masters, and in destroying certain slave dhows at the same port, and I am to state to you in reply, for the information of the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, that Lord Clarendon conceives that the Commanders of Her Majesty's ships Nymph and Dryad were not justified in sailing away with the slaves in question in the manner above set forth. The status of slavery being acknowledged and lawful in Madagascar, the commander of a British ship-of-war is not borne out in depriving the inhabitants of slaves who are rightfully their property, and the owners of such slaves are plainly entitled to compensation from us for the losses incurred at our hands by their abduction. If a British cruizer were at sea beyond the territorial jurisdiction of Madagascar, and slaves on shore were to seize a boat to escape to the British ship, the case would be different, and we might then fairly decline to surrender persons received on board under such circumstances: it is, however, impossible to approve the conduct of Her Majesty's officers in cases like the present, the facts of which simply amount to the entry into the waters of a friendly Power of a British ship, and to her depriving the subjects of that Power of their lawful property. Such a course can, moreover, have no other effect than to indispose the natives and authorities towards us, and would in all probability tend to prevent their carrying out their engagements for the suppression of the Slave Trade.It subsequently turned out that the persons carried away by the Dryad were free men. But Lord Clarendon, in a subsequent despatch, said—I was not aware that it could be proved that any of the escaped slaves had been imported into Madagascar in violation of the Treaty, which would doubtless give them a claim to British protection; but I am of opinion that the commanders of Her Majesty's cruizers are not justified, where slavery is legal, in receiving fugitive domestic slaves on board their vessels, or in carrying them away in spite of the local authorities.In 1871 the following instructions appeared in the East Indian Station Orders:—Art. 147. Her Majesty's Minister for Foreign Affairs has decided that slaves coming on board ships-of-war within the territorial jurisdiction of the country from which they escape, that is to say, within three miles of the shore, should be returned to the owners; but when it appears that slaves coming on board Her Majesty's ships have been recently imported in violation of Treaties, the commanders of Her Majesty's ships should communicate the facts to the Consul, with a view to proper inquiry being made, rather than carry off the slaves on their own responsibility.Art. 148. With reference to the course to be pursued in the case of slaves captured by Her Majesty's cruizers who may prove to have been 704 kidnapped within the territories of the Sultan of Zanzibar, Her Majesty's Government is of opinion that slaves in the above category captured within the Sultan's territories or waters should, for the future, be restored to the proper authorities at Zanzibar; but that slaves captured on the high seas, or without the jurisdiction of the Sultan, ought not to be given up to the Zanzibar authorities.The statement he had made and the documents he had quoted up to this point settled the question as far as preceding Governments were concerned, and when he was asked why the Circulars were issued, he could only say that Her Majesty's Government were tied down by the laws enacted and the precedents set by former Administrations; and if they erred at all, it had been in taking the part of the slaves and going beyond what the law actually gave them power to do by ignoring the right of any persons to hold human beings in domestic slavery. The second Circular clearly could not be withdrawn. If it were withdrawn, the Circulars issued by preceding Liberal Governments would again come into force—Circulars far more stringent and far less favourable to the slave. The hon. Member for Bedford was placed in this awkward position—either Lord Palmerston, Lord Clarendon, and those who acted with them were guilty of issuing these stringent Circulars and despatches when International Law gave them the right to harbour the domestic slave, or International Law did not give that right—in which case the Motion of the hon. Member was a direct appeal to a breach of that International Law. For his part he put more faith in Lord Palmerston than in the semi-philanthropic, semi-political meetings which had lately professed to decide the law. But the late Liberal Governments had not only hampered the present Government by their practice and by their Circulars, but they had bound the nation by a distinct promise given to the Natives, that they would not interfere with domestic slavery. Thus in 1865 was issued the following general instruction for the guidance of naval officers employed in the suppression of the Slave Trade:—In your intercourse with the natives you will endeavour to conciliate their good-will by kindness and forbearance, and will take care that the officers and men under your command shall do the same. You will take special care not to offend the prejudices of the natives, and you will make allowance for any jealousy or 705 distrust with which you may he met. You will impress upon the natives the earnest desire of Great Britain for the improvement of their condition, and will clearly point out to them the distinction between the export of slaves which Great Britain is determined to put down, and the system of domestic slavery with which she does not claim to interfere.In addition to this Lord Russell, in a despatch dated March 4, 1864, clearly laid it down that Her Majesty's Government did not claim the right to interfere with the status of domestic slaves; and later on, in 1869, a Circular of instruction was issued in which it was stated that—Slave trade must be carefully distinguished from slavery: with which, as existing in foreign States, or on board foreign ships, not being in British territorial waters, Her Majesty's Government does not claim, either by Treaty or otherwise, to interfere.They were placed in this awkward dilemma—either to break the faith and solemn word of this nation, or, in order to escape from the trammels in which preceding Governments had placed them, to appoint a Royal Commission, who might deal with the question by Treaty or otherwise. He was sorry to find that Her Majesty's Government in issuing the Circulars was not only hampered by the decisions on International Law, by the Circulars, the despatches, and the promises of their Liberal Predecessors, but that in 1873 an Act was passed by the late Government, of which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster) was a Member, sweeping away every Act which from 1824 to 1862 had protected the slave populations of the world. The old system of Buxton and Clarkson and Wilberforce was to compensate the owners of slaves who escaped by getting on board British ships, whenever we had no Treaty on the subject with the country to which the slaveowner belonged; but under the rule of rigid economy inaugurated by the Liberal Party, philanthropy at other people's expense became the rule, and it was proposed instead of compensating slaveowners for their liberated property to deprive them of their slaves by force. Under the old policy, £20,000,000 was spent in compensation to our own subjects in the West Indies, £900,000 in compensation to Spain, £600,000 for a similar purpose to Portugal, and very nearly £1,000,000 in 706 compensation to foreign private slaveowners. That was undoubtedly a right principle to act upon, and it was their generosity, their philanthropy, which really cost us something, which won us the admiration of the world. If that principle was carried out in reference to great States of European origin, why were their rules or opinions to be forced upon small oriental States, which stood in a much better position in regard to slavery than the former, because in Asia and Africa it was not an exotic—an unnatural growth as it was in America and the West Indies, but a native product which had existed from time immemorial, and one which had been mitigated and modified by a host of usages and long centuries of custom. That being so, he did protest most emphatically against having one rule for weak and poor States, and another for those which were rich and powerful. The power of compensation was swept away by the Act of 1873, and so were also the elaborate provisions of the Act of 1824, that secured the future welfare of the slave; and what now remained was, that the Consul who condemned the slave had power to send him to anybody he liked, failing Treasury regulations on the subject. It simply amounted to this, that, instead of the open, acknowledged policy which formerly prevailed in this country upon this subject—a policy which everybody understood—we now had a secret policy, under which slaves were to be dealt with by Treasury regulations, and nobody was to know what would be done with them. The late Government had swept away provisions supporting those slaves that were captured—not simply the few that took refuge on board our own vessels, but the thousands that were taken in the ordinary pursuit of the slave trade; and it was, at present, a national disgrace that all these slaves were maintained since 1873 by two private societies, without the expenditure of one shilling by this country. In 1870 a Committee strongly urged upon the Government that the Imperial Treasury should provide funds for the maintenance of slaves rescued by Her Majesty's agents in Zanzibar from slavery; but Lord Granville, writing to Dr. Kirk on the 17th of March, 1874, concluded his despatch as follows:—I have nothing to add to the instructions I sent to you on the 10th inst. "Twill only add 707 that, in consequence of a recent decision of the Treasury, no additional expense can be incurred for the present, as proposed in the Report of the Committee, in increasing the staff of the Agency at Zanzibar or the naval force employed in the suppression of the slave trade on the East Coast, or in appointing consular agents along the coast to control the traffic within the limits to be regulated by treaty.Nay, so far did matters go that, as appeared from the Report of the Commons' Committee, 1871, a proposal to divide between the Indian and Imperial Exchequer the cost of maintaining the Agency and Consulate at Zanzibar, in which the India Office concurred, "was negatived by the Treasury," the consequence of which was that—The Secretary of State for India in Council had informed the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs that the Foreign Office would no longer be privileged to send any instructions to the Zanzibar Agent, and the whole matter, therefore, was brought to a deadlock.In short, the Slave Trade Department of the Foreigen office was then and there abolished. He was reading the other day a biography of the noble Lord who took Be intense an interest in the question of slavery—Lord Palmerston; and what did he say about the conduct of those Governments for which he could speak in respect to it? He said—No First Lord and no Board of Admiralty have ever felt any interest in the suppression of the Slave Trade or taken any steps of their own free will towards its accomplishment; and whatever they have done in compliance with the wishes of others, they have done grudgingly and imperfectly.Now, there were many reasons why the House could not settle the question that night. He had shown that if the slave was to derive any benefit from their action in the matter, they were bound to restore the old policy of this country—the policy which had been swept away by a preceding Government—namely, that of compensating the slaveowner and finding a refuge for the slave. It was somewhat curious to remark the conduct of Gentlemen opposite on this question. At first there was a great outcry about the Circular; the popular feeling was worked upon, and violent denunciations were indulged in. About that time the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham (Mr. John Bright) addressed his constituents, and what did he say in reference to this, the burning question of the day? He was expected to curse his enemies, but an 708 honest Statesman with an uneasy conscience could not curse. The right hon. Gentleman contented himself with this remark—"The case was not so simple as was supposed." And, again, in a less guarded moment, he said—"Why publish any Circular at all?" Why not in short maintain the old Liberal policy of surrendering the fugitive slave and saying nothing about it? That was what the question of the right hon. Gentleman amounted to—and what way, he asked, would the right hon. Gentleman vote tonight? The case, as he himself admitted, was not so simple. It could not be decided off-hand, and in spite of all those difficulties of International Law which existed, and of all those obstacles which the right hon. Gentleman's own Colleagues had placed in the way. And were those who thought so little of municipal law, that when a great State was involved—when they had negotiations with the United States were ready to sacrifice our municipal law to International Law—were they going tonight, when the question only dealt with small States, to over-ride International Law and place in its stead that municipal law of which on another occasion they thought so little? If so, he could only say it was, indeed, a fortunate circumstance that slavery no longer existed in the great State to which he had referred. He thought it had been discovered by this time that a Royal Commission was no extinguisher under which Her Majesty's Government could retire from their present position. It would be found that it was absolutely necessary in order to stretch our municipal law as far as it could be stretched in favour of the slave. And what were the objections urged to the course proposed to be taken? It was said that it would tend to delay. Well, a Paper had been laid upon the Table of the House showing how many fugitive slaves had had to be dealt with during a considerable time, and it appeared that they amounted to just six in 15 years. Surely, then, there was no such necessity for great speed as hon. Gentlemen opposite seemed to suppose. It was not only the case of fugitive slaves, for which Her Majesty's Government had done their best, that the Commission would have to consider, but also that of those victims of the slave trade for 709 whom the late Government had done its worst. Again, they would have to make sure that by interfering with the status of domestic slavery they did not make the lot of the slave worse than it was before. It should be remembered, too, that when we suppressed the slave trade at sea it was carried on by land, and in a far more horrible manner than it had been at sea. The Pacific too was becoming a great highway for our commerce, and the islands of the Pacific were teeming with slavery. It would be necessary that rules should be drawn up for dealing with slavery in those waters. Then, again, within recent years the only two countries of Europe which still maintained slavery—Turkey and Egypt—had been admitted into the European brotherhood, and even if we had not a right to interfere with domestic slavery in those countries, we had a fair claim, considering the nature of our relations with those countries, to urge upon them that their flag should never cover slavery as it still did on the high seas. Turkey was spreading fast in those countries where slavery was most difficult and dangerous to deal with, so that that aspect of the question was one of growing importance. Now was the time to obtain from those Powers the right of search, and he thought they had a fair right also to ask the same right of the French Government, as there were parts of the world in which the flag of France covered the slave trade. There was another and more urgent reason why a Royal Commission should issue, and it was this—that public opinion was excited upon this question in a way in which it had not been excited for many years. This, then, was the time for the Government to act, and he had no doubt that an open policy—repudiating altogether those secret instructions which had been too long the rule—would meet with the approval of the House and the country. It was a policy which would enable the public to see what was being done, with a full appreciation of the whole case in the light which would be thrown upon it by the Commission. It was one also which would enable the Government—having the whole country at their back—to deal finally and conclusively with this important question. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving the Amendment.
To leave out from the word "House" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "in order to maintain most effectually the right of personal liberty, it is desirable to await further information from the Report of a Royal Commission, both as to the instructions from time to time issued to British naval officers, the international obligations of this Country, and the attitude of other States in regard to the treatment of domestic Slaves on board of national ships,"—(Mr. Hanbury,)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, that the latter part of the hen. Gentleman's speech was not a reply to his hon. Friend, nor was it a defence of his own proposition, but rather an attack upon the late Government for having by their action fettered the present Government in this matter, and set them an example which they could not avoid following. It might appear somewhat bold for a Member of the late Government immediately to rise and say he earnestly desired to support the Motion which his hon. Friend (Mr. Whitbread) had submitted to the House. There was one part of the attack of the hon. Gentleman which he would shortly deal with in which he referred to himself (Mr. W. E. Forster) and to the Act of 1873 which repealed the former Slave Trade Acts or the greater part of them, and re-enacted them by a Consolidated Act. Had he been aware that the hon. Gentleman would refer to that Act he should have carefully read it through, and also the Acts which it replaced; but of this he was perfectly sure—that neither in the Act itself nor in the statutes which it replaced was there any provision whatever affecting the position of fugitive slaves on board Her Majesty's ships. If the hon. Gentleman thought that the Act of 1873, in dealing with the actions of our officers in putting down the slave trade placed them in a disadvantageous position as compared with the previous one, he should only be too glad that it should be fairly considered; but that was really only leading them away from the subject before them. There might be differences of opinion as to the best way of carrying out our policy of putting down the slave trade; but the question before the House 711 now was, what the captains of British ships should do when fugitive slaves took refuge on board. The hon. Member for Tamworth (Mr. Hanbury) had referred to a case in 1836 in which Lord Palmerston was concerned. That was a long time ago; and if the hon. Member would refer to the first page of the Appendix it would be seen that the affair was not so clear and disparaging against Lord Palmerston as it had been attempted to make out. It occurred a very short time after our abolition of slavery, and there was reason to believe that the man referred to had been sent on board as a trap to get the commander into a difficulty, and that he was not a fugitive slave. The hon. Member had also referred to a letter written by Lord Clarendon in 1870. It might be said that he (Mr. W. E. Forster), as a Member of the Government of that day, was in a sense responsible for that letter, and so he was. The right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Disraeli) had set the House an example in the way of accepting responsibility the other night. He told them he was responsible for the first Slave Circular, although he never saw it before it was published. The letter of Lord Clarendon's, he believed, never came before the Cabinet at all, and he did not happen to be a Member of the Cabinet at that time, and certainly never heard of this letter until the Government had issued their second Circular. Although he did not think that the letter of 1870 prevented either him or any other Gentleman who sat on that Bench from expressing his opinion on the Motion before the House, he was ready to admit this amount of responsibility with regard to it—that it put him and every other Member of the late Government in the position that they would be very much to blame if they took advantage of the Motion to turn it into a Party attack. For himself, he regretted those letters of Lord Clarendon, and wished he had closed his Correspondence on the subject of fugitive slaves in 1856. In a letter written at that date on a case that occurred in Brazil, he defined the law and policy of this country. It was a case in which the master of a merchant vessel was supposed to have taken slaves away. Lord Clarendon gave instructions that the masters of British merchant vessels should be warned of the liabilities they 712 incurred by harbouring slaves on board their ships with a view to carry them away. He said—As merchant vessels are subject to the law and jurisdiction of the country in whose ports they may be, it was right that warning should be given to the masters of British vessels with regard to this matter; but it should be borne in mind that if a slave were to take refuge on board a British ship of war, it will still, as heretofore, be the duty of the captain to refuse to surrender such slave.The case which elicited this opinion from Lord Clarendon did not occur with a weak State like Madagascar or Mozambique, but with Brazil and when the United States was still a great slave-holding Power. He was sorry that Lord Clarendon did not abide by that letter. But although he very much regretted the Correspondence to which he had referred, he was glad of it for one result. He was glad that it had the result of making it impossible that this question could be considered a Party affair. They very often said on both sides of the House that they did not think the matter in hand a Party affair; but there were old associations which would make him ashamed of himself if he were to turn any anti-slavery question into a Party matter. The Motion said—That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, humbly praying Her Majesty that all Circulars, Instructions, or Orders heretofore issued contravening the foregoing Resolution, or limiting the discretion of commanding officers in respect of the reception of such persons on board Her Majesty's ships, shall be withdrawn.He believed that the Station Order issued in consequence of Lord Clarendon's letter was still in force, and in so far as the Motion conveyed any censure at all, it was a censure on the preceding Government as much as the present Government. That must not be forgotten. One word with regard to the Station Order. The hon. Member opposite (Mr. Hanbury) seemed to suppose that it was a distinct act of the late Government, as compared with Lord Clarendon's letter, but it was nothing of the kind. It was an order issued by the commander of the East Indies squadron some time after he had received Lord Clarendon's letter, simply carrying out the terms of that letter. This was what the House had before it. They had the Resolution giving the opinion of the 713 House with regard to fugitive slaves, and they had the request that an Address should be presented to Her Majesty asking for all Circulars and Orders to be withdrawn. He wished to repeat that the Motion of his hon. Friend the Member for Bedford was not brought forward or supported as a Party attack on the present Government, and there could be no Party defeat or humiliation in the acceptance of the Motion. If the first Slave Circular had been in existence, that remark would not have applied. Both sides of the House ought, in fact, to take counsel together as to what should become of fugitive slaves who might obtain the protection of the British flag, remembering that the British Navy was the strongest in the world, and that the British people were proud of having been the champions of freedom for the slave. He was not going to say a word about the first Circular, for that was not now before the House. He did not know whether the Attorney General would think it necessary to speak upon it; but he agreed with the Prime Minister that the country now was only interested in the second Circular. It said that commanders of British vessels should not receive fugitive slaves unless their lives were endangered. It did not expressly say that the slaves should be surrendered; but if a captain were told that directly the danger was over the slave was to be put on shore, there was no doubt the effect was that he would be left to the tender mercies of his master. He would not enter into the question of International Law, for two reasons—first, because there were many lawyers who would take part in the debate this evening; and secondly, because it seemed to him there was no substantial difference of opinion between the Government and his hen. Friend the Member for Bedford on the matter. He apprehended that the British Government had adopted the principle that the British ship was under British law, and he apprehended they had adopted it for the reason that they had recalled their first Circular, which seemed to deny it, while in the second Circular they ordered the captains to maintain the proper exemption of their ships from local jurisdiction. Nevertheless, they, in fact, ordered the captains to surrender fugitives; and the question was, 714 would the House of Commons sanction this, remembering that the rule from 1856 to 1870 was precisely the opposite; remembering also the position of our captains in the matter, our obligation to consider their feelings, and that they had not asked for these instructions, but that they had generally decided these matters in a straightforward and sensible manner, and in a way which might have been advantageously followed by our Admiralty and Foreign Office under both Governments? A naval officer had written a letter to The Times mentioning instances in which he had rescued fugitive slaves whom he could not have received if his discretion had been limited at the time by the existence of this second Circular. On the first night of the Session the Prime Minister gave a different reason from the hon. Member for Tam-worth for the issue of a Circular; the Prime Minister said that officers on foreign stations found themselves innocently committing illegal acts, which led to actions being brought against them and the recovery of damages, which had to be paid for them by this country, and that it was easy to understand why they should appeal for Circular instructions. He did not know if the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War intended to rest his reasons for issuing the Circular on the same ground as that taken by the Prime Minister, and he thought the House on this question ought to look at the Returns which were sent round only this morning. What did those Returns say? Why, that—No distinct case has occurred during the last 10 years relating to fugitive slaves which has ended in an action being brought against a British naval officer.It followed that there had been no appeals by captains because no actions had been brought against them and no damages recovered. Now, where was the reason for the Circular? The Return proceeded to mention an "analogous case;" but the official who drew up the Paper must have done so with a slight touch of humour, for the analogous case was as different as possible. It was a case in which one of our ships engaged in putting down the slave trade went into a port and seized a dhow on which there were three women who on inquiry turned out to be voluntary 715 passengers and free women. In this case, then, the captain, with the best possible intentions, got into a difficulty through supposing that the women were captured slaves. The House had before it the second Circular, which declared that in every case captains must put slaves ashore directly danger appeared to be over, and the Motion of the hon. Member for Bedford, which asserted that when a slave had obtained the protection of our flag he should be treated as a free man. He could not understand the House having any hesitation as between giving its sanction to the Circular and adopting the Resolution. It was not met with a denial, for the Government could not support and the House would not assent to a denial, but it was met with a proposal to wait for information from a Commission. Did the House wish the Circular to remain in force until the Commissioners reported? The country did not wish it, and not a single constituency would sanction such a course, which involved the denial of freedom to those who had been admitted to our protection. What were they to wait for? The Amendment spoke of the instructions that had been issued; but they were all embodied in the Papers produced, which of course, when the Government first thought of a Commission, they intended to refer to the Commission rather than to Parliament. The House was perfectly well able to form an opinion upon the instructions without the aid of a Commission. The next point of inquiry was as to "the international obligations of this country." He challenged the production of any Treaty by which our power as regarded the reception of slaves on board war ships was in the slightest degree affected; and, if the Amendment referred to the interpretation of International Law, the Government could obtain the highest legal advice from the Lord Chancellor and their Law Officers without attempting to shift the burden of responsibility by placing it upon a Commission. It had been said that another reason for the Commission was the attitude of other States in their treatment of domestic slaves on board national ships. Were we bound to look at the attitude of other countries with regard to this matter? We knew what the attitude of Spain and Portugal was; but even the attitude of France or Ger- 716 many ought not to have weight with us. He admitted there was one country to whose attitude they ought to look with some anxiety—namely, the United States of America. They were formerly the greatest slave-owning Power; but at the cost of hundreds of millions of money and hundreds of thousands of lives, they had become on anti-slavery Power, and he should be sorry if they, whilst we were waiting for the Report of a Commission, should take an attitude that ought to be taken by us, and issue a Circular that would put to shame both our captains and our country. No, it was an excuse, not information, that was wanted. If that had been required, it would have been obtained, no doubt, before the issue of the first Circular, or at least before the issue of the second. He would wait for the Report of the Commission if he thought no harm would follow; but he thought there would be harm and danger in this course. There was a danger in the Circular remaining in force whilst the Commission was sitting; and secondly, there was a danger because they did not know how far they might be fettered by the Report of the Commission. He did not think this was a matter of sentiment. On the contrary, he looked upon it as a very practical affair. The Prime Minister had spoken of the necessity of ascertaining the law upon the subject, and considering whether by negotiation and treaty with other countries any desirable amendments could be effected; but the freedom of a human being who once gained the protection of the British flag was not a matter which could be left to negotiation or the Report of a Commission; and the question was a very practical one in its bearings upon the continuance of slavery and the slave trade in other parts of the world, for, in spite of all our earnest efforts to put them down, the coolie traffic and other new forms of this evil rendered the danger of any reactionary step almost as great as ever. He should be very sorry to be supposed to imagine that the present Government were not as much in earnest as to the suppression of slavery as any Government that ever existed. No man could have watched them without being convinced of that, especially having regard to the part which Lord Carnarvon had taken in this matter. He was glad to acknowledge that his hon. Friend the 717 Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs tad been most active in his endeavours to put down the slave trade as well as slavery, and he was sure that his hon. Friend had set out upon his work in the most willing spirit. Whenever he had spoken on this matter, one thing was quite clear, that he had not only spoken officially, but as of a matter which he had thoroughly at heart. But this was only an additional reason why he thought the Government should take advantage of the Motion of his hon. Friend and accept it as an expression of the opinion of both sides of the House. He was sure if they did so it would be no humiliation on their part; they would rather gain honour and improve their position in the House. However, that was not his concern. His duty was as an independent Member, and he did say this, that if they were to have a Commission—and he supposed a Commission was now appointed and that they must have it—that Commission might be useful if it occupied itself in devising better means for putting down the slave trade. But let it not be hampered by the issue of any Circular or Order. On the contrary, let them have this fact to assist them—that it was the opinion of the House, that if any miserable slave man or slave woman, under any circumtances, or in any way, had once been admitted to the protection of our flag, that slave should be treated as a free man or woman by the Representatives of our Queen, our rule, our principles, and our freedom. The character of the captain of a Queen's ship was that of such a representative. He believed such was the opinion of that House, as he was sure it was the conviction of the country, and he trusted that it would be looked upon as the determination of both, and would be carried into practice.
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
felt there was a sort of conflict between the burning desire this country had to suppress slavery, and the obligations it was under in regard to foreign States. The hon. Gentleman who moved the Resolution, in a most able and temperate speech, said the subject involved a question of law and a question of policy. He would endeavour to deal with both, although he was more particularly concerned with the question of law. They learnt pretty clearly from the Papers which had been laid on the Table why 718 instructions had been issued on this subject. It seemed that the Government of India had become alive to the difficulties which arose in consequence of slaves—who were the property of the subjects of foreign States where slavery was legalized, States which were in amity with this country—having escaped from their masters and come on board our vessels lying either in the territorial waters of foreign States, or outside those territorial waters. The matter was, therefore, brought under the attention of the proper Department of the Government to be dealt with. The right hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster) had referred to him in connection with the first Circular, and, as his name had been mixed up with it outside these walls, he might be permitted to say a few words on the subject. He did not pretend that the first Circular should be supported rather than the present one; but, as he had been attacked, he thought the House would allow him to make some short explanation and offer some comments upon it. The proper Department to take cognizance of the subject was the Foreign Office, which, taking into consideration the despatches received from India, after some little interval, sought the advice of the Law Officers of the Crown. The Law Officers of the Crown were then Sir John Karslake and Sir Richard Baggallay, assisted by the standing counsel for the Foreign Office, Dr. Deane. None of those gentlemen were there to defend the course they took or justify the opinion they gave, and he very much regretted their absence. Sir John Karslake, who then held the highest office of the three, had been exiled from the House by a calamity which they all regretted—a calamity which, he believed, had been brought upon him by his devotion and his arduous labours. Sir Richard Baggallay had been elevated to a high position on the Bench, and Dr. Deane did not possess the honour of a seat in that House; but those Gentlemen posssesed reputation and learning; they were accomplished, judicious lawyers, and their reputation would speak for them. Having been asked for their opinion upon this matter, they gave it. He was not going through that opinion; but it dealt with slaves getting on board Her Majesty's vessels in territorial waters and at sea, and that opinion was submitted to the proper 719 authority. It did not touch on the question of slaves in a country with which this Government had a Treaty—slaves getting on board and claiming their freedom in terms of the Treaty. There were several Treaties with countries to this effect—that,. after a certain date, slavery in those countries should cease, and everybody should be free, while up to that date every one in slavery should continue in it. The Government sought the opinion of the Law Officers. Sir Richard Baggallay was Attorney General, and he (Sir John Holker) had the honour to be Solicitor General. The opinion of the Law Officers and Dr. Deane would be found practically embodied in the Letter which was written by the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs, and which was to be found in the Papers before the House. That Letter was submitted to the Law Officers, and they were asked whether it substantially conveyed the opinion they had expressed, and they said it did. That was all the explanation he had to make about that Letter. There was one little clause not originally in that Letter as it came under the attention of the Law Officers, but was inserted afterwards between the Foreign Office and the Admiralty—that in surrendering slaves certain steps should be taken to insure their proper treatment. That was what had been called by the Mover of the Resolution the crumb of comfort which the Circular contained. The Letter of the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs having been laid before the Law Officers, and they having stated that it expressed their opinion substantially, he felt himself as responsible for the earlier opinion as for the later one just as much as any of his legal friends. He did not shrink from saying so; because, whatever opinion might be entertained by others, he believed that, in substance, the opinions on which the first Slave Circular was founded were right, and, except in one particular, were open to no objection whatever. He might be wrong; but the House would pardon him for expressing the opinion he entertained. The first Circular was framed on these opinions. It might be lacking in precision and accuracy of language—it was redundant, and, perhaps, dealing with the question of the surrender of slaves, it was open to greater objection, and on these grounds it was withdrawn. Both the original and the present Circular had been 720 attacked not merely on account of the phraseology which had been used, but of the idea which that phraseology was intended to express, as conveying a false and erroneous notion of the law relating to slavery and as springing from a false idea of the policy which ought to be pursued towards the nations where slavery was law. Now, the first Circular dealt with slaves under three conditions—first, with slaves getting on board a British public vessel lying in the territorial waters of a foreign Power; secondly, with slaves getting on board a British public vessel lying outside territorial waters on the high seas, or outside the three-mile limit; and thirdly with slaves, or rather with persons who were the subjects of a Power with whom this country had a treaty, to the effect that after a certain date slavery should cease, and that up to that date all those in slavery should remain so, seeking refuge by resort to a British vessel, asserting that they were free, and asking that their freedom might be respected. Two different views seemed to be taken of the law on this matter. These views had not been propounded with distinctness except by the hon. Gentleman who opened this debate; but one might know what they were from what had been stated outside the House. The first view seemed to be that a slave who got on board a British public vessel was to be kept there, according to what was called "the popular doctrine," which had been advocated by the hon. Member for Bedford to-night, and in and out of the House by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford—namely, that the deck of that public vessel was to all intents and purposes British soil, and had the attributes of British soil, so that when a slave got there he was free. The hon. Member for Bedford contended that the slave was to be kept on board. [Mr. WHITBREAD: I did not say that he was to be kept there, but that he was not to be sent away.] Well, the slave was either to be kept there or not to be sent away. The lawyers said he was not be sent away; but that amounted to the same thing as saying that he was to be kept in the ship; because by the comity of nations, by the courtesy which one nation extended to another, the foreign Power in whose waters the vessel was lying would not, ought not to, and could not exercise any jurisdiction upon 721 her deck. These were the two views presented of the question, and he would like to examine them to see whether they were sound in law. The matter was of the gravest possible moment. It was not represented by any one that the Government were desirous to protect slavery; but it was expedient to come to a conclusion as to the legal position of this question. Now, let the House consider the position of a British public vessel regarded as British soil, and lying, not merely in territorial waters, but in the harbour of a foreign State, pressing against the very wall of a foreign quay, with the foreign dominions stretching all around her. This was a matter worthy of the gravest consideration, because consequences of the gravest character would flow from this doctrine. He knew that it had been said by eminent writers on International Law that, in the waters of a foreign State, a public vessel was part of the territory of the country to which she belonged. But that expression was only used for the purpose of conveying in a short and succinct phrase the idea of the legal status of such a vessel, which it might take a long and involved statement, or perhaps a chapter to explain with accuracy. But nothing was more dangerous in dealing with a legal argument of any kind than a resort to metaphor; and on this question more error had arisen from the use of metaphor than from anything else. He did not say this merely for the purpose of defending his own view; but he might appeal to the authority of many eminent writers as to the abuse of metaphorical language. He would content himself, however, with quoting from one most eminent and accomplished, though diffident writer, "Historicus," who, in one of his letters to The Times 10 years ago, dealt with the question of metaphor, though not in connection with the subject now under discussion. Speaking of Bastiat, "Historicus" said that that acute writer in all the impatience of common sense had put up a prayer to Heaven to preserve us from metaphor, but that Heaven had not been pleased to hearken to his prayer; and he went on to say that images were pestilent enough in the domain of politics and religion, but nowhere were they more noxious than in the sanctuary of the law. Referring to the position that a 722 neutral merchant vessel was an integral portion of neutral territory, "Historicus" said that the metaphor employed in the case assumed everything which it was intended to prove; and again, he said that to say a neutral merchant vessel in time of war was like neutral territory was to compare Hamlet's cloud to a weasel and to a whale. It was upon ideas of this kind that the whole argument of the popular orators on this subject was built up. To what extent might this go? If a public vessel of war was British soil, and had all the legal rights of British soil, the captain of such a vessel might not only receive on the deck of his ship one slave, but 100 slaves would have a right to swim there, and a slave or slaves who came on board with their master on business might claim their freedom, and the captain of the vessel must allow that claim. ["Hear, hear!"] Hon. Gentlemen said "Hear;" but had they no obligations, no duties to other nations as well as to slaves? Were they altogether to disregard and outrage the laws of a country with which they were at peace? If the argument of the hon. Gentleman opposite were well-founded, the commander of a vessel must receive on board his ship deserters, murderers, and felons of every description, and give them an asylum in his ship. That he (the Attorney General) maintained was a consequence which legitimately flowed from the doctrine that the deck of a public ship was equivalent to soil. It was very well for the inhabitants of this country to plume themselves upon their power and to talk with complacency of the slave-emancipating character of the British soil; but let us apply to ourselves that doctrine which we applied now to Powers who, perhaps, were not strong enough to resist our pretensions by force. Let us imagine that the public vessel of a State with which we had no treaty for the extradition of criminals was in Plymouth Harbour, that a score of convicts or a wretch who had committed murder sought refuge in that vessel. Let us imagine that when we made a request that those convicts or murderers who had escaped and gone on board that vessel should be put on shore, the commander thereof strongly refused to comply with the request on the ground that a foreign vessel was foreign shore. In such a case would he 723 tamely submit to the doctrine which he had been contending for? Reference had been made to some legal authorities. He was not going to trouble the House with any discussion upon legal authorities, as though he were engaged in arguing this matter in one of the Courts of Westminster Hall; but he would just draw the attention of the House to this—that the legal authorities which had been cited and which might be cited went to this, and this only—that when a man was on English soil, or, if they liked, on board an English public or private ship on the high seas, he was absolutely free. Why was he free? Because the municipal law of England knew of no such thing as slavery, and did not allow any machinery to be put in force for the purpose of dominion being exercised by one man over his fellow-man. But that was the only reason why he was free. There was no magic in the British soil, or any other soil. Mr. Justice Holroyd in "Forbes v;. Cochrane" said that a slave who arrived in England was a slave no longer, but simply because there was no law here to sanction his detention in slavery. Whilst, however, our municipal law did not recognize slavery, yet the law in this country did regard and hold sacred the law of other countries; and when the law of other countries was brought into play with reference to transactions which took place in other countries, that law had been repeatedly regarded in our Courts, and decisions had been pronounced on the footing that that law was right. In the judgment given by Sir William Scott (afterwards Lord Stowell) in the case of the Louise, we had this laid down in regard to the law of foreign countries. He said—There are nations which adhere to the practice of trading in slaves with all the encouragements which their own law can give it. What is the doctrine of our Courts and of the Law of Nations in reference to them? Why, that their practice is to be respected; that their slaves, if taken, are to he restored to them, and, if not taken under an innocent mistake, are to he restored with costs and damages.That was the opinion of one of the most eminent Judges, he (the Attorney General) supposed, who ever flourished in this or any other country. Then we had a case in which a British cruiser took a Spanish vessel and the slaves out of it. The question which came before the Court was, whether compensation could 724 be obtained by a Spanish subject from the commander of a cruiser, not only for the detention and injury to his ship, but for the destruction of his property; and what did the law say about that? After a solemn discussion upon the question, it was held that the Spanish subject might maintain his action not only for the damage to his ship and the detention, but also for £18,000 the value of the slaves. So recently as 1860, in the Exchequer Chamber, one of the principal Appeal Courts in this country, it was decided that an action would lie on a contract made in Brazil for the sale of slaves, in the Courts of this country. He did not cite these authorities to controvert the doctrine that a slave coming to England was free; but to show that in our Courts the laws of foreign countries were always regarded and held in respect. His hon. and learned Friend the Member for Oxford (Sir William Harcourt) and some others entertained a specious view upon this subject. They said, in the first place, that it was a principle of International Law that a vessel in the territorial waters of a foreign Power could not have exercised over her any jurisdiction by that Power; and, assuming that to be law, they founded certain conclusions upon it, the principal one being that, because, owing to the comity of nations, a foreign Power would not exercise any jurisdiction upon the deck of a British vessel, therefore, if a slave came on board a British public vessel, he must be allowed to remain there. Now, it was not by any means clear to him (the Attorney General), that the International Law was what had been stated. If you referred to Marshal, you would find it much more qualified than it was stated by his hon. and learned Friend. If you referred to Story, you would find it qualified by this condition—that a ship in foreign water must behave herself in a friendly manner, and comply with the laws of that foreign State; and Chief Justice Best held that slaves might be claimed from a foreign ship of war in the waters of Florida. "Historicus" also laboured some months ago to establish the doctrine to which he (the Attorney General) had been referring. He did not say that the view of the authorities he had cited was the right view; but he said that what was the right view could not be decided except by a careful reference 725 to all the authorities on the subject, and that the House of Commons was not the body by which such a matter could be satisfactorily settled. But even assuming, for the sake of argument, that a foreign State could not exercise jurisdiction over a British public in its own waters, it did not follow that a slave going on board that vessel was to be allowed to remain there. There was no obligation on the captain to let him, any more than any other stranger, remain on board, and the captain might tell him he must leave or be removed by force. That, it might be said, was a surrender of the slave. He cared not whether it was so or not. He had every compassion for the slave, but he was dealing with the question on legal principles; and the slave by coming on board had broken the law of his own country, and the captain who received and harboured him aided him in breaking that law, and also broke it himself. It did not matter whether the foreign State could obtain redress for that in her own Courts or not. It could obtain it by diplomatic remonstrance; and the same thing would happen if we encouraged a breach of the law of the place where our public ships lay; those ships would be turned away from waters where they had before been welcomed as friends. Again, if the commander of one of those vessels must thus disregard the municipal law and not in any way respect it, it would equally follow that, should any criminal get on board, the commander would be entitled to say that he must remain there, and that he could not recognize that law, as it did not apply to his ship. Therefore, according to the same argument, he would be obliged to receive a deserter or a criminal—nay, he might refuse to deliver up stolen property carried on board his vessel and concealed there. They might as well say, because an Ambassador was not subject to the municipal law of the country to which he was sent as our Representative, therefore he might with impunity break its laws whenever an opportunity occurred. This would be to graft upon that privilege the right to outrage that law. With regard to slaves getting on board our vessels upon the high seas, he knew that there had been great feeling expressed contrary to what was stated in the first Circular; but he trusted that they would not rush to the opinion that a thing was wrong 726 simply because some one said it was wrong. A slave when he got on board a British ship, whether public or private, on the high seas, was undoubtedly free, because our municipal law, which prevailed on board, knew nothing of slavery; but what would happen when the vessel went back to the territorial waters of that man's own country? He had broken its law by getting on board that vessel, and his country had as much right to complain of his doing so as if he had got there in its territorial waters. He could not see that great distinction between the slave getting on board on the high seas and getting on board in territorial waters. In neither case was the captain under an obligation to treat the man as a slave as long as he remained on board, but he was entitled to say—"I can't allow you to remain any longer." The hon. Member who moved the Resolution seemed to think the commander of a British ship of war was bound to receive fugitive slaves on the high seas under all circumstances. But why? If a slave got on board such a ship on the high seas he generally escaped from the deck of a vessel of his own country; and if they applied the metaphor to which he had referred, the vessel of his own country was as much a part of that country's territory as the British ship was a part of ours. Therefore, he as much broke the law of his country by flying from a vessel such as that as when he got on board one of our ships in territorial waters. The Resolution proposed was a very seductive one. It meant that slaves on British vessels should not be interfered with. But look at the case of foreign nations with which we had Treaties for doing away with slavery. The nature of the Treaty generally was that the foreign Power should, after a certain date, abolish slavery; but up to that date those who were in slavery were to remain in slavery. Were such Treaties, obtained at great expense and trouble, in the interests of freedom, to be observed or not? If a man who alleged that he was free in virtue of such a Treaty got on board of a British ship-of-war, why should not her commander allow the man to make out his case, and, if his allegation proved correct, require the Treaty to be observed in his favour? On the other hand, if the slave's claim to be free was not made out, why, in equal fairness, was not the Treaty to be 727 observed when it was in favour of the Government with whom we had concluded it? Could the solemn engagements of this country be set at nought on account of some popular clamour? It would not become him to find fault with the second Circular, which was infinitely more in favour of freedom than the first—more tender, so to speak, and less antagonistic to popular prejudice. Now, a word as to the policy that the Circulars indicated. It was said that they indicated that this country was desirous of pursuing some policy that had not been pursued by former Governments. They had heard of the "traditional policy" of this country with respect to slavery. He did not profess to know what that meant; but he knew this, that since the commencement of the century all the Governments of this country—Conservative and Liberal alike—had been eager in their desire to put an end to slavery by every moans in their power. A mere glance at the Schedule to the Slave Trade Consolidation Act of 1873, with its numerous statutes and Treaties, would be quite sufficient to satisfy anyone what had been the policy of this country with respect to slavery. But it had never been suggested, as far as he knew, by any Government that because slavery was objectionable it was desirable to extinguish it by force—by disregarding and outraging the laws and institutions of foreign Powers. A reference to the Orders issued by the late Government would show that they took the very same view of the matter as the present Government had hitherto taken—namely, that although it was desirable by every legitimate means to put a stop to slavery, yet it was not to be done by disregarding the laws of other countries. He referred to those instructions not for the purpose of raising a blush to the cheeks of right hon. Gentlemen opposite—if that were possible—but simply to show what the policy of the country had been. The instructions issued by the present Government had been loudly assailed; but if right hon. Gentlemen opposite had borne in mind what they themselves had done they would probably have adopted a fairer and more moderate tone. For himself, he believed that the instructions, in spite of all that had been said, were founded upon a true sense of justice. It was only proper that we should deal fairly and justly with friendly nations, 728 and treat them as we ourselves would desire to be treated. Well, if we did that—if we consulted the wishes of friendly nations—if we acquired the confidence and respect of those nations—if we entered into Treaties with them—we were much more likely to put a stop to slavery than by any mere grandiloquent talk about the freedom of the slave or any bluster about a down-trodden race. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster) seemed to think that because England was powerful she could do what she liked with regard to slave-owning States which were insignificant and weak; but was it worthy of a great nation like this to play the bully by threatening only when her adversaries were feeble and oppressed?
§ MR. W. HOLMS
said, it had been suggested that provision should be made for compensating the owners of slaves; but the Return issued that morning showed that there had not been a single case in which owners of slaves had asked for compensation, and it was not usual in this country to give compensation that was not asked for. The result of giving compensation, he was afraid, would be that slave owners would be pleased to see their slaves take refuge on British ships. It had been asked why the Circular had been issued at all, and the question had been answered by the Prime Minister and Lord Derby, their answers being this—"We issued these instructions because they were necessary, and in accordance with law and precedent." The despatches of Lord Palmerston and Lord Clarendon had already been referred to, but there was this great distinction between them—that the former were issued privately, while the present Circular appeared to all the world as having been issued by the British Government, and issued notwithstanding that feeling in this country had been so strongly expressed against the policy on which it was drawn. He ventured to say that if the Station Order of 1871 had been made public, it would have received criticism as keen and opposition as strong as this Circular. The Circular was first of all drawn up under the guidance of the Attorney General, the late Attorney General (Sir Richard Baggallay), and Sir John Karslake, but doubts were said to have been thrown upon it by the Lord Chancellor, and the second Circular was issued under his 729 guidance. It was not for him to say the value of a Lord Chancellor's opinion, compared with the opinion of three such eminent lawyers; but he might be excused if, amid such perplexity, he doubted if the second Circular was more in accordance with law than the first, and he doubted this all the more because it did not recognize the long-established decision that there was no difference between the soil of England and a British ship, and that while the commander of one of Her Majesty's ships was not bound to take slaves on board, once he let them on board he was bound to keep them. According to the Attorney General, this was only meant in a metaphorical sense, and he was very sorry to hear such a statement made by a Gentleman of so much eminence. If the decision of the Lord Chancellor was right, they must bring their practice and their policy into harmony with that opinion, or, by adopting the solution of the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Whitbread), again say that the law was now what it was in 1824. They must abandon either the position that the deck of a British vessel was as free as the soil of England, or the position that a slave was free when he touched British soil. The Prime Minister had given as a reason for issuing this Circular, that commanding officers got frequently into difficulties, and had actions brought against them. He was unable to find any foundation for that statement. He (Mr. Holms) had moved for the Return which had been issued that morning, and in which he had been careful to use the exact words of the Prime Minister. It commenced in 1838, and came up to the present date, thus extending over 37 years. Now, what did they find in that Return? They found that in these 37 years only seven cases had occurred of fugitive slaves taking refuge on board British ships, and in these only 15 persons were concerned. All these cases had been settled in an amicable manner, and he could not find a single instance in which any bad feeling arose between this country and those countries in whose territorial waters the slaves were met. There was not a single case in which an action had been brought, or damages incurred, or compensation given on account of slaves who had taken refuge on board British ships. He thought, under these circum-stances, the Prime Minister should state 730 precisely what were the grounds on which the Circular was considered necessary. The issue of the Circular seemed to be due to one circumstance, and to the representation of one man. On the 31st of August, 1873, one of Her Majesty's ships in the Persian Gulf saw 73 pearl boats in territorial waters, and when they went to sea the man-of-war followed. Immediately they saw they were followed they went back to the harbour, and the commander of the man-of-war consulted with the British Resident as to what he should do. The result was that a despatch was sent home to the Government, and that formed the groundwork of the hypothetical case given in the first Circular as the reason for its issue. It turned out that the place where that occurred was not in territorial waters, but on the high seas, and the slave was let free, and as the Circular gave no power to liberate slaves under such circumstances, it would not allay the fears of the political Resident, for whose benefit it was issued. Why, he asked, had the Government, who were asked for instructions in March, 1874, delayed their decision till the 31st July, 1875, when they issued their famous Circular? As to the Circular now in force, he would consider what would be its practical effect if its instructions were acted on. In one paragraph the commanding officer was toldthat he is not to enter into any examination as to the status of the fugitive slave,And in the next he was instructedshould any person claim admission to your ship and protection on the ground that he has been kept in a state of slavery contrary to Treaties existing between Great Britain and the territory, you may receive him until the truth of his statement is examined into.But it was a mockery to suppose that an ignorant slave, who could neither read nor write, and who certainly could have no means of access to a library of reference in order to find a particular Treaty, could make any such claim. In the Correspondence referred to, the House would find the reasons the slaves gave, and they were most instructive. In 1869 two slaves took refuge on board Her Majesty's ship Nymph. One said he had been abused by his master, and that he understood "the English had good hearts; "and the other said he knew "that once on board an English man-of-war he should be a slave no 731 longer." This was a noble and inspiring thought to the poor slave, and he was sure the English people would not willingly allow it to be numbered with the things of the past. In another case five fugitive slaves escaped to Her Majesty's ship Dryad off the coast of Madagascar. The commander examined into their status and found that four of them were entitled to their freedom under the 17th section of the Treaty of 1865, and they were set at liberty with the concurrence of the authorities of Madagascar. Under the existing Circular the captain would have been prohibited from examining into the status of the slaves, and they would not have been permitted to remain on board, and would have been sent back to slavery; the authorities at Madagascar being thus enabled to set their Treaty engagement with us at defiance. As the Circular now stood, it appeared that if it had been penned by a committee of slave owners it could scarcely have been more in accordance with their wishes, or less in favour of the fugitive slaves. He had been unable to discover in the Correspondence one instance of a slave being enticed on board one of Her Majesty's ships, while there were several instances of their being refused admission. Therefore, it seemed to him that British officers might safely be left to their discretion, guided by such a general exposition of the law as was given to Colonel Petty in 1869 by the Indian Government, namely—The commander of a British ship of war is not bound to receive fugitive slaves on board his vessel; yet if he does receive them they be-come free. And the commander of a British man-of-war would not only he authorised in refusing to surrender a slave who had found refuge on board his vessel, but would incur very serious legal responsibilities if he in any way attempted to coerce that slave to return to his master.In this country there was a dislike to laws of a hard-and-fast character to meet peculiar and exceptional cases, and what could be more exceptional than the case of a fugitive slave? On an average, since 1838 only one had occurred every five years, and the whole number only affected 14 individuals, still more did the English people dislike what was supposed to be an official recognition of slavery; and therefore he should have great pleasure in supporting the Resolution of the hon. Member for Bedford. He did so the more willingly, as some 732 doubt had recently been thrown on the earnestness of this country in suppressing the slave trade. In the Foreign Office might be found a Correspondence that took place in 1874, in which the United States Secretary for Foreign Affairs called attention to the fact that the trade in slaves was being carried on between Tripoli and Constantinople, by way of Malta, and alleging that it was connived at by the authorities of that island. A Commission appointed by Lord Derby to examine the circumstances acquitted the authorities of blame. This was communicated to the American Government, which merely acknowledged the communication, and expressed no agreement with the finding; but it had since appeared that their attention was still directed to discovering whether additional proof could not be found to show that the Maltese authorities were abetting slavery on British soil. Therefore, he said, it was the more necessary that as a nation we should do nothing to mark, or even appear to mark, a change in our policy; but that now, as formerly, we should fearlessly maintain the principle of the personal freedom of every man, of whatever race or colour, who might set foot on British soil, or on board a British man-of-war.
§ SIR JOHN HAY
, as one of the few naval officers in the House who had had the honour of serving under the instructions and Treaties issued or agreed to by this country for the suppression of the slave trade, and, as far as might be, the doing away with domestic slavery in foreign countries, desired to say a few words on the subject under discussion. He entirely concurred with what the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread) had said respecting the first part of his Resolution, and he likewise concurred in the desire of his hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth (Mr. Hanbury) that this complicated question should be referred to a Royal Commission. At the same time, he was extremely desirous that naval officers should be relieved from the complicated instructions involved in the numerous Circulars which had been issued for their guidance. The letter of the Acting Resident in the Persian Gulf to Mr. Aitchison, in the Correspondence on the case of the May Frere, gave the belief of nine out of ten naval officers on this question when it said that— 733A commander was not bound to receive fugitive slaves on board his vessel; yet if he did receive them, they became free.That he believed to be the recognized law of the country. The letter from which he quoted proceeded to say that—The commander of a British man-of-war would not only be authorized in refusing to surrender a slave who had found refuge on board his vessel, but would incur very serious legal responsibilities if he in any way attempted to coerce that slave to return to his master.That appeared to be the whole creed of naval officers who had to carry out the duties entrusted to them; and he heard with great regret that any explanations or involved instructions had been conveyed to the Navy which would contradict this very clear exposition of what was their belief up to the time of the issue of these recent Circulars. Of course, he was not aware what other Circulars of a "more stringent character" had been issued; but it was hard to have those Circulars interfering with the just discretion of commanders. If it had been necessary to issue special instructions with regard to India, the Persian Gulf, and Zanzibar, they might have been of a local character, issued through the Naval Commander in Chief on the Station, and applicable only to each particular case. He disclaimed sympathy with any argument that made out the British ship-of-war to be a refuge for the destitute. Discipline had to be maintained on board Her Majesty's ships, and a slave would only get on board through the negligence of those in charge of the watch of the ship. Until he heard the opinion of the Attorney General that evening he had always believed that such a slave would become actually free; but the officer through whose negligence he came on board would be liable to trial by Court-martial for permitting that person to come on board when he had no business there. He had had the honour of serving in the West Indies, the East Indies, at the Cape of Good Hope, and in South America, and he had never heard of such an occurrence as a slave coming on board and claiming his freedom. It was the business of the officer in command to prevent any circumstance of the kind occurring, seeing it might give rise to international difficulties. Before the American Civil War Her 734 Majesty's ships were cautioned not to go into Charlestown, New Orleans, and other ports, where a slave coming on board and ipso facto becoming free would occasion complications with a great nation which it was desired to avoid. He would be sorry if this Circular was allowed to continue in force longer than could possibly be helped, so as to throw upon naval officers greater difficulties with reference to this delicate duty. What he would say to the First Lord of the Treasury was—desire the Admiralty to suspend the action of the Circular, let the question be referred to the Royal Commission, and let the Navy continue to perform their duties as they had done for the last 37 years without leading to any national complications.
§ MR. EVELYN ASHLEY
considered this an occasion on which the House of Commons was virtually called upon to pronounce an opinion whether we ought to assist the slaveholders in recovering fugitive slaves. If the House maintained the Circular, it would not merely be carrying out the intentions of those who by Treaty had bound us not to interfere with domestic slavery; but would be aiding the slaveowner in recovering what he considered to be his property. This could not be considered a Party question, for many hen. Gentlemen on the other side of the House were as much opposed to slavery as he was; but they might perhaps wrongly consider that they were called upon to rally round the Government when they had made a mistake, whereas the Government might put everything right by withdrawing this Circular. The temporary orders and instructions issued by preceding Governments to particular squadrons engaged in putting down the slave trade, and meant only for the eye of the commanders of those particular vessels, could not be justified, but were no precedents for the present action of the Government. These earlier orders treated slavery as only a temporary institution, and were not meant to convey an abiding principle of action; and there was an essential difference between them and Circulars adopted by the Cabinet, publicly addressed to the whole Navy, treating slavery as a permanent institution, and regarded by all the world as expressing the deliberate policy of England with reference to slavery. The hon. Member for Tarn-worth (Mr. Hanbury) said that we had 735 always respected the so-called rights of slaveholding people in these matters. He would remind the hon. Member what we had done in 1816, when we bombarded Algiers and killed 7,000 Algerines to put down white slavery; and of the Aberdeen Act of 1845, which authorized the seizure of Brazilian vessels, even in Brazilian waters, because Brazil would not perform her Treaty engagements about the slave trade. If the House of Commons refused to adopt the Resolution which had been proposed, and which was made necessary by the issue forced upon it by the publication of the Papers before them, and by the issuing of these Circulars, they would be for the first time saying that England did recognize slavery—that she recognized it as a municipal law in other countries which she would as far as she could by her Imperial officers support and maintain. He considered the proposition of the hon. Member for Tamworth a most extraordinary one; for it declared that—In order to maintain most effectually the right of personal liberty, it was desirable to await further information from the Report of a Royal Commission, both as to the instructions from time to time issued to British naval officers, the international obligations of this Country, and the attitude of other States in regard to the treatment of domestic Slaves on board of National ships.To maintain personal liberty we were to delay rescinding a Circular which infringed it; and what had this country to do with the attitude of other States? We should never have taken one step in the direction we had taken if we had waited on the attitude of other States. As to the Royal Commission, the inquiry was sure to be instructive, but it was employing a Nasmyth's hammer to crack a nut, for the point at issue lay in a nutshell, and he was not willing to wait for the Report of the Royal Commission to abrogate the Circular. All that was wanted was that slaves should be treated on just the same footing as political refugees. The question had been forced upon the House by the action of the Government; it had been emphatically answered by the country, and he for one, and for once, should rejoice that there was a Conservative majority in this House, if it would only prove itself conservative of our consistency and reputation as an anti-slavery Power.
§ MR. A. MILLS
said, he thought it was scarcely consistent on the part of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster) to ask the acceptance by the House of a Resolution which was practically an attack upon the Government, and, at the same time, to describe the proposal to refer the question to a Royal Commission as an excuse for delay. The appointment of a Royal Commission would at least have one good effect, if it only enlightened the right hon. Gentleman as to one point on which he appeared to be remarkably ignorant; he alluded to the Act of 1873, which was passed by a Government of which the right hon. Gentleman was a Member. The Slave Trade Consolidation Act of 1824, which might be described as the charter of fugitive and rescued slaves, as far as English legislation on the subject had proceeded up to that time, contained the following clause:—Provided always, and be it further enacted, that in case any person or persons illegally held or detained in slavery shall hereafter, by shipwreck or otherwise, he cast upon, or shall escape to or arrive at any island or colony, fort, territory, or place under the dominion or in the possession of His Majesty, it shall and may be lawful for His Majesty, his heirs and successors, or for any such officers, civil or military, as aforesaid, to deal with, protect, and provide for any such person or persons, in such and the same manner as is hereinbefore directed with respect to persons condemned as prize of war or as forfeited under this Act.The House might not be aware that this clause was repealed by the Act of 1873, the effect of which was very accurately described by a correspondent (Mr. Hutchinson), who wrote to Lady Burdett-Coutts as follows:—In connection with the new Treaty of 1873 with Zanzibar two Acts of Parliament were passed. One, called the Slave Trade Consolidation Act, repeals nearly the whole of the original Act of 1824, obliterates at one stroke all the provisions which formed the safeguard of the slave—both rescued and escaped—and repeals all the Acts which confirm the Treaties with the 24 Powers already mentioned. In place of the careful provision for the rescued slave of the old Act, all it has to say is that they shall be disposed of in such manner, or delivered over to such persons, as the Court (the Consul) may adjudge, subject to the regulations (if any) from time to time made by the Treasury. It will at once be evident that the position of matters is changed. The Consul may now hand over slaves who have trod the deck of an English man-of-war to anyone; and as a fact, at this moment, the slaves rescued by our cruisers are handed over in the dominion of Zanzibar practi- 737 cally to become subjects of a Mahomedan slave-holding Prince. May not it be fairly said that this is, indeed, a retrograde policy, and utterly opposed to the real feeling and wishes of the English nation.There seemed to be a great amount of ignorance prevailing upon this matter in the country generally. Not long ago Mr. Bouverie, a right hon. Gentleman, once a Member of that House, described the Liberal Party as "whistling for a wind." That "wind" came in the shape of these Circulars, and they were followed by numerous meetings in various parts of the country, at which a great amount of ignorance and exaggeration was shown. It was like Satan rebuking Sin for the authors of the Act of 1873 to condemn the Circulars issued by the present Government. He deprecated any attempt to make the present discussion an occasion for political tu quoque. Let them not lose the occasion of reviewing their policy in reference to the slave trade as well as in reference to fugitive slaves. The time had come when they should cease from Party recriminations, and he hoped that instead of amusing themselves by passing abstract Resolutions, which meant nothing and bound no one, they would go forward in this matter as became a nation which inherited traditions from its great men which had made England the champion of the oppressed and the friend of the slave. A few days ago the Prime Minister informed the House it would be in the power of the Commission to inquire into the entire question; and he therefore hoped that steps would be taken to secure a re-enactment of some provisions of the Act of 1824 which were repealed by the Act of 1873, and thus discourage the East African Slave Trade. This could not be really suppressed without sore sacrifices, which he believed the country would willingly make for the extinction of the trade both by land and sea; and by making some provision for the disposal of liberated slaves on the East Coast of Africa.
MR. OSBORNE MORGAN
said, that this was a question too Imperial and world-wide in its interest to be settled by Party recrimination and by tu quoque arguments. On that side of the House they did not indulge in Party recriminations. He was not there to defend the acts of the past Government; but if 738 the past Government had done wrong that did not make the action of the present Government right. He always approached the domain of International Law with fear and trembling, because International Law was not embodied in Acts of Parliament or judicial decisions, but had to be picked out from a number of text-writers who did not always agree either with each other or themselves. Although this applied generally, exceptions were, of course, to be found. Two principles of International Law were clear. The first was that no nation was bound in the absence of an Extradition Treaty to deliver up even a fugitive from justice, much less a fugitive from slavery. The second was that, to use the words of Mr. Justice Holroyd, a British man-of-war was for this purpose "a floating island of British territory," and that therefore a fugitive once admitted on board one of Her Majesty's ships should be as safe as if he were in Leicester Square. He believed that if it had been frankly stated at the outset that the first Circular was the result of the ill-considered opinion of the Law Officers of the Crown—and he would be the last to quarrel with an erroneous opinion on the part of a lawyer—the country would have brought in a verdict of extenuating circumstances, and the matter would have now been forgotten. It now appeared, however, that the Circular was the result of a lengthened period of gestation in the Foreign Office. The lines of the first Circular were traced in the letter which issued from the Foreign Office, on the 30th April, and it was issued on the 31st July, but was not withdrawn until the 6th October, and then only in deference to such an outcry from the country as was scarcely ever heard before. He thought they were entitled to some explanation of that delay. Then he came to the second Circular, which was issued by the advice of the Lord Chancellor, and they were told that it contained the true law on the question, and by which they should abide. It was certainly better than the first Circular to this extent—it admitted that on the high seas the deck of a British man-of-war was an asylum for everybody who was admitted to it; but it practically denied that right of asylum as far as territorial waters were concerned, and the authority of the Lord 739 Chancellor was quoted for that proposition. But were there no authorities the other way? Sir Travers Twiss, no mean authority, had gathered together and published in the last Law Magazine the opinion of distinguished jurists on the subject, and it amounted to this that "all public ships of war navigating or lying within the territorial waters of a foreign State are altogether exempt from its jurisdiction," and he added that that did not, of course, apply to merchant ships. The Attorney General had argued that merchant ships were liable to the law of the territory in whose waters they were—a proposition which no one denied; but it was not so with ships of war. The case of "Forbes v. Cochrane" had been relied on; but, as he read the decision in that case, it was a distinct authority for the ex-territoriality of British men-of-war in foreign waters. In his opinion, the Circulars were stereotyped declarations in favour of slavery. They would be construed most strongly against us by foreign States, and if the law they laid down was held to be good as regarded slaves, how could any other law be laid down with respect to political refugees? Suppose that during the Reign of Terror in Naples Baron Poerio or any other distinguished political prisoner had escaped from his prison and taken refuge on board a British man-of-war, upon the principle of the second Circular they would be bound to give him up; but was there a man in England—was there even a member of the Peace Society—who would not rather have gone to war than commit so dastardly an act as that? Why had the Government issued the Circular at all? Why had they not acted on the principle of Lord Melbourne's advice—"Can you not let it alone?" That was a sentiment eminently Conservative, and which might be commended to the consideration of a Conservative Government. But it was said that a Royal Commission would put everything right. For his part, he regarded a Royal Commission as a proof of weakness—particularly an ex post facto Commission. What was it to do? Was it to inquire whether the Lord Chancellor's law was sound? Was it to say whether the Government had done right in issuing the Circular? Was not that acting first and deliberating afterwards—hanging a man first, and then instituting an 740 inquiry into the legality of his sentence? It was said that we ought to be guided by the practice of other nations in such matters, and that an inquiry into such practices was desirable. But the place of England in this matter had heretofore been in the van—he hoped it would not hereafter be in the ruck of nations. He thought they ought to preserve upon the records of that House an emphatic declaration, although it might be of the minority, that whatever this Government or that might do, the House of Commons, as representing the nation, was determined not to endorse a policy which he believed to be as contrary to the true principles of International Law as it was certainly repugnant to the cherished traditions of the British people.
§ MR. RITCHIE
said, he could assure the House that no dictates of Party feeling or Party allegiance would influence him on a question of so much national importance. He confessed he was somewhat surprised at the law as laid down by the Attorney General. He had a somewhat difficult task to perform, because there could be little doubt after the hon. and learned Gentleman's explanation that he with others was responsible for that Circular, and it was difficult for him to vindicate the first as well as the second Circular. If, however, the law on the subject had been laid down correctly in the first Circular, no stronger reason could be given for the necessity of a change in the law. The first Circular was, however, dead and buried, and it was to the second Circular that the House had to address itself. The great question before the House was, not whether we were to give every facility for setting fugitive slaves free, but what was the best way of doing it; and he did not think there was a great deal of difference in that respect between the Motion and the Amendment. The Government, seeing the different views taken by the legal authorities on the subject as to the state of the law, had taken a wise course in issuing a Commission composed of so many eminent men. The exact state of the law would in this way be ascertained; and as soon as the Government received the Report of the Commission they would direct their attention to the law relating to fugitive slaves, so as to make it agreeable to the feelings of the English people. He had come down 741 to that House perfectly unbiassed as to the vote he should give; and, while he wished to state that he should not give his vote for Party purposes, yet, seeing that there was a conflict of opinion, and that the Government had appointed a Commission, he should vote with the Government in order that the law might be put on a satisfactory footing, with such Amendments as might be necessary.
§ SIR HENRY JAMES
Sir, difficult as my task may be, I will endeavour to follow the example that has been set by my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread), and my right hon. Friend the Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster)—I will do my best to refrain from uttering one word that shall contain in its tone any Party asperity; but the difficulty of my task results from the course taken by my hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth (Mr. Hanbury) and my hon. and learned Friend Her Majesty's Attorney General. But, notwithstanding the temptation, I will endeavour not to yield to it. My hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth has adverted to me personally as if I had stated that it would be an act of extradition for a captain of one of Her Majesty's vessels to remove from off his deck any person who was there, be he slave or freeman, and that he could not do so. Now, if I had said so, I should have said a very foolish thing. I never said anything of the kind; and as the hon. Member for Tamworth has fallen into the error of thinking I did, perhaps the House will allow me to read the very short sentence in which I expressed myself. What I said was this—Apart from the fact that the law of slavery is unknown to us as a nation, and therefore that no one can be authorized to enforce it, I say that if the Admiralty had been dealing even with a fugitive criminal it ought not to have directed and could not legally direct the captain of a Queen's vessel to hold a quasi-judicial inquiry as to the fact of a man being a criminal, and then render him on account of that crime. That is, in effect, extradition, which involves and assumes exclusive British jurisdiction and British territory.That is what I said, and what I adhere to; but it is very different from the words suggested by the hon. Member. The hon. Member for Tamworth had, I presume, the duty committed to him of making the first answer on the part of the Government—but the course he took 742 in his very interesting speech was not to utter one sentence in defence of the second Circular. He turned, however, to those who sit on these benches, and said—"You have done worse than Her Majesty's Government. You so hampered them and fettered them by your previous Circulars and despatches that they were bound to issue this Circular." I am unwilling to reply to this complete tu quoque argument; but what did my hon. Friend refer to? He referred to a letter of Lord Palmerston, in 1836, as to the conduct of Lieutenant Jenkin. In that case Lieutenant Jenkin had not received a fugitive slave—he had discovered a stow-away on board his vessel, and he said—"I never received you; you must leave this ship;" and the course which Lord Palmerston took would be approved by most Ministers of the day. With that exception there is not one single document to be found supporting the policy of this Circular, until we come to the Instructions of Lord Clarendon in 1870. I am not going to defend that Circular—I think it wrong; but I should like to ask the hon. Member for Tamworth does he think it right or wrong? If he thinks it right, why does he attack Her Majesty's late Ministers for having issued it? If he thinks it wrong, why does he not join with us in voting for the Motion of the hon. Member for Bedford? The Resolution asks that all Circulars that contain anything opposed to the principle it laid down should be withdrawn. I admit that Lord Clarendon's Instructions are not in accordance with that principle; and I therefore claim the vote of the hon. Member in support of the Resolution. I am not about to discuss the weight of one Circular against the other; but I wish to say that there is this broad difference between the errors in Lord Clarendon's Circular and the errors in this—the present is a declaration of national policy published to the world after much consideration on the part of the Government, and after much caution given to them by the public feeling of this country. The Instructions of Lord Clarendon, I have authority for saying, were seen by no Law Officers of the Crown, and they were, I have reason to believe, issued without the knowledge of any Member of the Government to which Lord Clarendon belonged. Another argument which has been used as an 743 attack on the late Government by the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. A. Mills) is this—He asked the Liberal Party how they could make any complaint when they themselves passed the Act of 1873, which repealed some of the provisions of a previous Act which had been favourable to the slaves? Now, Sir, I read the statute of 1873 very differently. Every useful provision of the earlier Act was renewed in the Act of 1873, for which many who have now cheered the hon. Member for Tamworth were responsible as Members of the Parliament which passed it. Why did not some of the Members of the present Government, severe critics as they are of the acts of their Predecessors, come forward on that occasion as guardians of the interests of the slave? I now come to the speech of my hon and learned Friend the Attorney General, and I admit that I have great difficulty in dealing with that speech, and he knows better than any one why I have that difficulty. I think no Member of this House who saw my hon. and learned Friend take the course he did, accepting the full responsibility, and more, probably, than the amount of responsibility, which ought to fall upon his shoulders, could help feeling sympathy with him in the manly course he took. But I think he will expect that some of us should take notice of his speech. The Attorney General, speaking to some extent on the part of the Government, declares now, in words the weight and authority of which will be recognized, that in his opinion he still believes that an English ship of war going into the port of a foreign State is subject to the local laws and jurisdiction of that State. That is still the opinion of Her Majesty's principal Law Adviser, and he argues the point with some ingenuity.
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
I did not exactly say that. I said it was a doubtful point; but, admitting that it is so, I do not see that the consequences alleged would follow.
§ SIR HENRY JAMES
I am sorry that the Attorney General cannot now even come to a decision one way or the other. My hon. and learned Friend did say this—that he believed it was a correct assertion of principle that if one of the Queen's ships received on the high seas a slave on board, when that vessel came into the territorial waters of the State, 744 it was subject to the law of that State, and that the slave ought to be surrendered. Now, how am I to deal with that argument? It is mere student's exercise to discuss with my hon. and learned Friend whether he be right as regards the first Circular. I did not come here to discuss that Circular at all. I wished that Circular to be forgotten, and even forgiven, as it had been withdrawn. But I have a double reason for not discussing it. It is not with me that my hon. and learned Friend must settle this question—it is with the Lord Chancellor and the Prime Minister. May I remind my hon. and learned Friend of the words of Lord Derby. On the first night of the Session Lord Derby said the Government suspended the first Circular, and subsequently withdrew it, because the opinion of the Lord Chancellor led them to believe that in the matter they had probably been wrongly, or, at any rate, doubtfully advised, and the Lord Chancellor entertained great doubts as to the soundness of the law laid down by the Law Advisers of the Crown; and this being so, the Government were not prepared, he said, to submit to the consequences of holding an untenable position. The Prime Minister also said that the Government were responsible for the first Circular, the country had condoned it, and that, in his opinion, the second Circular was a much more fitting subject for our consideration. Now, that is my opinion also, and it will, no doubt, be the opinion of the House. The Attorney General led the House rather to believe that the first Circular had been superseded because it was badly drafted, and the second therefore substituted for it. But the second Circular is a contradiction of the first. If, as the Attorney General contends, the first Circular correctly describes the rules of International Law, then the second involves a gross and flagrant breach of our international obligations. What I say is, that the second Circular contains an acceptance of obligations in favour of slavery which we are not called upon to fulfil, and which I think, therefore, ought to be withdrawn. I am sure the House will wish to avoid, as much as possible, any technical and legal discussion; but it is necessary to know what our international obligations are, and if it be found that there is within this Circular that which 745 there ought not to be, then I am sure every single Member of this House will wish to see it withdrawn. But, in dealing with this as a question of policy, and not of law, it is necessary to consider what our international obligations are. I will not enter into the discussion of the question of extra-territoriality. I assume that it is established and admitted by Her Majesty's Government. The first Circular denied the extra-territoriality, but the second Circular asserts it, by instructing the captains of vessels very carefully to guard their immunity from local jurisdiction. On the other hand, I frankly say that there has been some misapprehension as to what extraterritoriality means. I do not mean for one moment, in alleging this extraterritoriality, to assert that British vessels can do as they like in foreign waters. They are perfectly exempt from local jurisdiction: no process can enter upon the vessel; no law can affect them against their will—but that extra-territoriality is, without doubt, subject to qualifications and conditions. Those on board a Queen's ship in entering upon foreign waters go there upon certain terms. They must do nothing to violate the laws of the place; and not only must they not commit any act in violation of the law of the place, but I admit that that qualification ought to be construed liberally in favour of the receiving State. Therefore, if a British captain going into a foreign port announced that his vessel had come there to receive slaves, come as many as thought proper; although in one sense that would be a passive reception of the slaves, yet I think it would be in violation of the law of the State. There is also another qualification of extra-territoriality—something which courtesy exacts which is not an international obligation. We are not called upon to enforce the law of the place—that is something undefined—something to be left to discretion—a courtesy, not an international obligation. There was a want of this discrimination on the part of the Attorney General, in arguing as he did in relation to the position of criminals. If the local authorities, as a matter of courtesy, ask a captain to assist them in enforcing justice or maintaining morality, the captain may comply with the request. In our own waters, for instance, if a murderer took refuge on board a foreign 746 vessel no process could issue to remove the criminal, because the ship is exempt from our jurisdiction; the natural course would be to apply to the captain, and to ask him to do what was right by clearing his vessel of such a person. But this is not an international obligation—it is courtesy in relation to a matter in which the captain may exercise his discretion. The question, therefore, resolves itself, on examining the Circular, into a very narrow question indeed: but to lead to it we must come to the conclusion that the courtesy of which I have spoken, whilst it may cast on us the not unnatural obligation of assisting the authorities of a State to carry out the law which all nations will allow to be right and good, we can never be asked to enforce a law which is abhorrent to our nature and adverse to our institutions. We can never by courtesy be called upon to enforce such a law. If this was a law of human sacrifices instead of slavery—a law under which a widow was burned because her husband was dead, and a demand was made on a captain to give up a woman who had escaped from such a fate, I hope every captain in Her Majesty's Navy would say—"I will enforce no such law, because it is an unnatural law." I hope the House will see that no inconvenience can result from this that a captain, as complete governor of his own vessel, can receive whom he likes, can refuse to receive whom he likes, and can get rid of whom he likes. There is no claim upon him by which he is bound to receive a fugitive slave; he ought to exercise his own discretion. On the other hand, there is no obligation to remove one—he ought to exercise his discretion. I submit that the duty of a captain is to receive a slave and freeman alike, or to get rid o£ a slave and freeman alike, unless particular consequences would result to the slave which would render it a more serious matter to remove him. All, therefore, that is asked by those who are supporting the withdrawal of the Circular is, not that we should do anything to violate the law of slavery, but simply that we should not be called upon to support that law. Can exception be taken to the proposition? Are we out of courtesy to carry the slave law into effect with all its peculiarities in different States, after all we have done, after the proclamation we have made to the world 747 that this is a law against which we are warring, and for the extermination of which we have spent much treasure and life? Can we he asked to enforce the law by virue merely of the courteous obligation to do that which is right to a foreign State? Let me point out where the second Circular errs against the proposition I have laid down. The effect of the first paragraph must be that the captain of a vessel on the high seas has to exercise particular caution in respect to him compared with what he exorcises in receiving a free man. Why should he? On the high seas a vessel can know no obligation springing from International Law or courtesy to a slave-owning. Why, when on the high seas, are we to recognize the law of slavery in some far-off State, and say because an applicant for reception on board is the subject of a slave-owning State the greater caution is to be exercised in receiving him? The result of carrying this out will be that if two men are found in a water-logged vessel or raft on the high seas, the captain will tell the one who says he is a slave that he is near enough to land, and he cannot take him on board; but his companion who says he is a slaveowner will be readily received on board. Thus a practical recognition of slavery is made in a place where we ought not to notice it. Turn to the second paragraph—which is, perhaps, more important. It says—If while your ship is within the territorial waters of a State where slavery exists a person professing or appearing to be a fugitive slave seeks admission into your ship, you will not admit him unless his life would he in danger if he were not received on board.Is not that the same principle of enforcing the law of slavery, giving effect to it by making a distinction between the slave and the free man? I do not ask that the one shall be received on account of his slavery; I only ask that he shall not be sent away on that account. But you put him in a worse position than a freeman or even a criminal, and say he shall not be received unless his life is in danger. If I were asked, Does the second Circular contain any bad law? I should say I cannot tell—not because I doubt what the law is, but because I do not know whether this Circular contains any law at all. It seems to have been drawn by or under the sanction of the Lord Chancellor 748 voluntarily, without any legal obligation. Then we have to discuss this as a question of policy. If it be not an obligation, the noble and learned Lord has drifted into a false position by way of apology, and to escape condemnation for the first Circular. Can the Government, and do they wish to, accept this as their policy? Unless, indeed, they feel that it is exacted from them; and when the matter is fairly discussed, we cannot find that there is any obligation on them. If this be matter of policy, there are one or two considerations to which I wish to refer. Some may ask the very natural question—what ought the captain to do when a slave appeals to him to be allowed to come or to remain on board? I would give him some such directions as this—The captains of such of Her Majesty's ships as visit foreign ports or places are to take special care to avoid causing offence to the authorities or the inhabitants, and they are to cause all under their orders to show due deference to the established rights, ceremonies, customs, and regulations of such places, and conciliate as far as possible the goodwill and respect of the inhabitants.That is the regulation now given to every captain, under which the right hon. and gallant Member for Stamford (Sir John Hay) and every other captain has had no difficulty in dealing with this question. If further direction is sought, it is not unimportant to know what are the directions given in respect to political refugees; and it is astonishing to find with how much greater consideration we treat the political offender than the slave. This is the direction now in existence to captains of vessels relating to political refugees in consequence of political disturbances or popular movements—Refuge may be afforded to persons flying from imminent personal danger. In such cases care must be taken that refugees do not carry on from Her Majesty's ships correspondence with their partizans, and the earliest opportunity must be taken to transfer them to some place of safety.Whilst, therefore, you may receive on board the refugee who may have committed some crime, the slave is not to be received unless his life is in danger; and while the refugee is to be taken to a place of personal safety, the slave is to be sent back, the moment he has escaped the personal danger, to the shore where his owner is. If the Government only treated 749 the fugitive slave as they treat the political refugee there would be no complaint. Althought in the second Circular there is nothing said about surrender, but only that the slave is to be put on shore, that may be a very different thing as to our legal responsibility, but it is very much the same thing to the slave. I have shown what has been the policy in relation to the directions given to captains of the Queen's ships, and I have shown what has been our policy in regard to refugees. Even the hon. Member for Tamworth (Mr. Hanbury) cannot lay the blame of that direction to the Members of the late Government, for they were issued, I believe, by a former Conservative Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. Corry), and it is one that recommends itself to the feelings of every man in this country. There have been also two or three other evidences given by this House and by former Governments in regard to the policy of surrendering fugitive slaves. The question has been but seldom before Parliament, and seldom before the Government for their decision. But in 1826, 1827, and 1828, when America felt her strength and there was a powerful party in the States in favour of slavery, it felt very strongly the necessity, in relation to their interests, that fugitive slaves who escaped into Canada should be rendered up. A Motion was made and carried in the House of Representatives to that effect, directing that application should be made to this country. When that application came, although slavery existed at that time in our own Colonies, how did the Government of that day treat it? There is some interesting Correspondence to be found in our State Papers on this subject. The American Minister, writing to his Government on July 5, 1827, in reply to express directions to urge the Government of England to agree to a Treaty for rendering up fugitive slaves, said—Mr. Addington told me that on one point Government had come to a conclusion, and it was utterly impossible for them to agree to a stipulation for the surrender of fugitive slaves,In 1827 there is a similar letter, and on October 2, 1828, the American Minister writes—Lord Aberdeen said that in the present state of public feeling on the question, which he said might be called a mania "—750 —[A laugh.]—it is a mania, Sir, which has grown chronic in this country——"the application of a remedy was a matter of some delicacy.the result was that the Government refused to enter into any such treaty as was asked for. Once again we have traces of the view entertained by Parliament on the subject—it was when the 15th & 16th of the Queen was passed, with the purpose of enabling the restoration of merchant seamen who had deserted from foreign ships in the ports of this country. It was then enacted that when it should appear to Her Majesty that due facilities would be given for apprehending seamen who had deserted from British ships in the territories of a foreign Power, Her Majesty might, by Order in Council, declare that seamen, not being slaves, who had deserted from the merchantmen of a subject of that Power in the territories of Her Majesty or of the East India Company might be lawfully apprehended and carried on board their respective ships. Let the House observe—"seamen, not being slaves." However undeserving they might be, if slaves, we refused to allow their apprehension. I cannot part from this question without considering why we are asked to delay in withdrawing this Circular. The hon. Member for Tamworth, without supporting the Circular, pleaded for delay. On what grounds? He asks for the delay in order that we may obtain information from the Report of the Royal Commission as to the Instructions from time to time issued to British naval officers. In the first place, allow me to inquire who is it asks for information about those Instructions? Why, it appears that Sir Leopold Heath is the only person who has asked for that information; and we are now appealed to for delay on the ground that that very person—Sir Leopold Heath—who is in want of information, should sit upon a Commission to instruct the House and the Government upon the points contained in the Amendment of my hon. Friend. And yet it appears that the only person who wants information can tell us, without going on the Commission, perfectly well what the law is. In the case of two slaves who came on board one of our ships, he wrote to the captain of the ship as follows:— 751With respect to the demand made by the Government of Madagascar for the restoration of the slaves untruly said to have been carried off by force, and which, I presume, will stand good as to the two men in question, I suggest that you should point out to that Government that every man putting his foot upon English soil becomes ipso facto free, and that the deck of a British man-of-war is held constructively to be British territory, and, therefore, these men cannot be restored to their masters.He adds that—As England wages war against the Slave Trade only, and does not as yet pretend to interfere with the status of domestic slavery, it is possible that the English Government may, upon your application, grant compensation to the former owners of those two men.That is the view of Sir Leopold Heath, the only demandant of information, who is to be put on a Commission to instruct Her Majesty's Government on a point of policy, or to reconcile the different opinions of the Lord Chancellor and the Law Officers of the Crown. Sir, whilst there may be many questions involved in this discussion, there is but one practical question to be determined by this vote. It is whether this proposition is to be accepted by Her Majesty's Government, without triumph to a Party or humiliation to them, now, or when the Royal Commission has reported. It is whether they will withdraw the Circular now, if there be any doubt on the law, so that there shall be no chance of any injustice being done to the slave, and leave it to be re-issued if right and necessary when the Commission has reported. Whether they do it now, or when the Royal Commission has reported, the result must be the same. There can be but one result. The right hon. Gentleman may have what advice he will. The Cabinet may counsel him, and the Law Officers give him assistance on points of law. He may use the great influence of his voice in this House tonight; his bidding may be done in the Lobby, and a majority may be obtained to him; the Royal Commission may report as it will—but this Circular from this moment is dead. A power greater than his has decreed it—a power from which there is no appeal. A freedom-loving people, moved by their instincts, following their traditions and the history of their race, have uttered this simple decree and judgment—that beneath their country's flag no slave can there be, nor shall any man be compelled to surrender his fellow-being to another.
MR. GATHORNE HARDY
said, that the eloquent speech that had just been addressed to them by the hon. and learned Gentleman was one that did credit alike to his intellect and to the feeling which he had no doubt the hon. and learned Gentleman shared with the great majority of that House. Her Majesty's Government was not there tonight to contend that a certain practice was most consistent with their own feelings, but that the second Slave Circular was not contrary to the law. The hon. and learned Gentleman himself had hesitated to say that that Circular was not in conformity with the law. The hon. and learned Gentleman told them that Sir Leopold Heath had laid down the law for them in the letter which he had read; but he had also told them that when Sir Leopold Heath had carried away the two slaves upon the occasion referred to on the ground that the slave that set his foot upon the deck of a British ship became at once free, he had advised that the country was bound in honour to pay compensation to the owners of the slaves so carried away. Compensation for what? If these men were already free, they had a right to freedom; and why was this country bound to compensate their former owners? To a great extent, he did not dispute the law laid down by the hon. and learned Gentleman. He was not going to dispute the fact that we had laid down the rule that a public ship was, to a large extent, extra-territorial, but that rule required to be carefully guarded. He scarcely thought that the hon. and learned Member for Oxford (Sir William Harcourt) would assent to the doctrine that had gained currency out-of-doors, that the extra-territoriality of a ship made her part of her country, and that wherever she went she carried her own laws and obligations with her, and was not subjected to the jurisdiction of any other State. It was impossible that that could be true to its fullest extent, because in matters of customs and quarantine she yielded to foreign jurisdiction. Suppose that two natives of the State in which the ship was quarrelled on board, what would have taken place if one killed the other? Would it be competent to bring the survivor home and try him here? He should like to know also whether in the event of a child the offspring of a foreigner being 753 born on board one of our ships in a foreign port that child was entitled to the privileges of a native of this country? If not, the extra-territoriality of a ship was not so large as it had been stated to be. He could not help thinking that the right hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster), who had roared like a lion at Bradford, had spoken like a lamb in that House. And whilst they were constantly being told that that was not a Party question, he should like to ask some of his independent Friends below the Gangway whether they had received one of those Circulars from the other side of the House which should have been addressed to them all if that were truly not a Party question; and besides, he was told that the independent Members upon whoso votes they relied had been altogether neglected. The hon. Member who had brought forward this Motion had said that Her Majesty's Government ought to lay down some clear rule on this subject; but he should like to know whether his Motion laid down any very clear rule with regard to it. The rule that the hon. Member laid down was a discretionary one only, and what was a discretionary rule when it came to be examined? The right hon. and gallant Baronet the Member for Stamford (Sir John Hay) had told them that he could not help thinking that whenever a slave set his foot on board a British man-of-war he should be treated as free, but that we should take care that a slave never did sot his foot on one; and the right hon. and gallant Baronet had also told them that when he was in command of a ship his men were in such admirable discipline that the case of a fugitive slave getting on board was unknown, and that if his officers had allowed such an occurrence they ought to have been tried by Courtmartial. In Brazil our ships were supplied by boats manned by domestic slaves; suppose when those slaves in numbers were on board, his right hon. and gallant Friend suddenly turned round to them and said—"Here is a ship of war belonging to England, and if you wish to escape from your masters here is a means of escape," because it had been argued by a great many people that that might fairly be done. Could that be done with any sense of honour or dignity on the part of the British nation? His hon. Friend the Member 754 for Bedford said the House was to say that there should be no foreign jurisdiction for our vessels, and he wanted that to be said by this Motion. Now, that was a thing that could not be done by a Motion, nor could it be done by an Act of Parliament. His hon. and learned Friend who had just spoken (Sir Henry James) had told the House that if the first Circular were law the mere withdrawal of that Circular would not in any sense free us from responsibility. If any nation said that was the law we should be bound to act upon it. So also if this second Circular were law we should be bound to act upon it. But they could not by Motions in the House of Commons or by Resolutions affect foreign countries. They might say by a Motion that this or that should be done; but foreign States would say—"You gave us fair notice that you were not going to do this, and we shall deprive you of the privileges you now enjoy." He believed it was by a tacit understanding that where a State admitted a man-of-war belonging to another State into her waters that man-of-war was to demean itself in a friendly manner, and in that way be admitted to the advantages of extra-territoriality, just as the privileges attached to an Ambassador's house might depend on the friendly demeanour of the Ambassador. As he happened to mention an Ambassador's house he wished to say one word as to political refugees, because a good deal had been said upon that subject. In a letter written by Lord Clarendon in 1870—and let it not be supposed that he brought in the name of Lord Clarendon specially with any view to discredit him, because Lord Clarendon was just as averse to slavery and the slave trade as any one then present—the noble Lord said to one of our Representatives in the United States that he was correct in informing Mr. Fish that the Representatives of Great Britain were instructed that the practice of granting an asylum to political refugees was highly objectionable, inasmuch as it involved diplomatists in disagreeable discussions. Lord Clarendon said that those instructions must be strictly adhered to, but that some discretion must be left to Her Majesty's Consuls where lives could be saved not only at the moment, but by giving time for reflection to the victorious party. He (Mr. Hardy) hoped in a short time to 755 show that the Government, in dealing with this subject, had acted in accordance with the spirit of those instructions. His hon. and learned Friend had called their attention to a particular part of the Slave Instructions on which he (Mr. Hardy) could not then put his hand. No doubt, his hon. and learned Friend was accurate in his statement of that part of the instructions. But it must be remembered that the Slave Instructions which were sent out in 1865 were most carefully prepared by the President of the Committee, to whom the matter was referred—namely, Dr. Lushington, and no man was more adverse than Dr. Lushington—clarum et venerabile nomen, to the slave trade. But those instructions said something about domestic slavery. The hon. Member for Poole (Mr. Evelyn Ashley) said we never recognized slavery at all. The hon. Member must have confined his reading within very narrow limits. What were all their Treaties? They had an Act of Parliament—6 & 7 Vict.—laying down regulations as to the sale and transfer of slaves, except in certain places which were prohibited. How could that be done if slavery was not recognized where that took place? The hon. Member said they were not to recognize domestic slavery, but what said the instructions of Dr. Lushington, No. 394?You will impress upon the Natives the earnest desire of Great Britain for the improvement of their condition, and will clearly point out the distinction between the export of slaves, which Great Britain is determined to put down, and the system of domestic slavery, with which she does not claim to interfere.And not only that, when they came to look at the proceedings of the Foreign Office Committee in a Parliamentary Paper presented in 1871, they would find there instructions as to the traffic in domestic slaves—what was called the legal traffic within the country and within the waters of the country, so constantly brought into communication with our ships of war—and as to what was called the illegal slave trade proper, which they were engaged in putting down. And, therefore, for any one to assert that they did not recognize domestic slavery was one of the most extraordinary statements he ever heard. His right hon. Friend (Mr. Disraeli) had been taunted with having said something about difficulties which had arisen. They were told that because only one naval 756 officer had applied for instruction no difficulties had arisen. He thought he might call attention to the case of the Thetis, which occurred the year before last, in which this country had to pay £20,000 damages for having seized slaves improperly. [An hon. MEMBER: Not fugitive slaves.] He did not say that they were fugitive slaves. But he said this—that when hon. Members said that when a slave was once admitted to the protection of the British flag he should be treated as if he were free, and not ordered to leave the ship and return to slavery, they must not look to fugitive slaves only, but to all slaves who might come under the protection of the British flag. He would refer hon. Members to the Act of 1873, which applied to the restoration of slaves, and not simply to the receiving them; and he would admit that they were in a certain sense responsible for that Act. It was called a consolidation of the Slave Trade Act, and passed without a word of comment in either House of Parliament. That Act of Parliament remained untouched by their Resolution. They were bound by that Act to restore the slave. The hon. and learned Member for Oxford (Sir William Harcourt) shook his head; but the words of the Act said that the Courts should have jurisdiction to try, condemn, and restore any vessel, "slave," goods, or effects alleged to be seized, detained, or forfeited in accordance with its provisions, and, besides restoring them, likewise to give damages. Well, when they had adopted the Resolution now before them, what would they have done to touch such an Act as they themselves had passed? Those who now called on them to restore no one on the ground of slavery had so far recognized slavery that they had in the first instance made it legal in certain places for British subjects to sell and transfer slaves, and then they called on their officers, though they had admitted to the protection of the British flag slaves who might be as eager for freedom as any fugitive, to restore them to their masters. He heard an hon. Gentleman say, "May give up," but there was no "may" in the matter. The jurisdiction of the Court, according to their own Act, would compel them to restore the slave to his master. The Government stood there to maintain the law which hon. Gentlemen opposite had made. Those on his side admitted that 757 they should have looked more closely to that Act when it was being passed. Unfortunately they did not do so, any more than they did into the Acts relating to political refugees; but the fault was not theirs alone. Those very Acts were helped to be passed by those who were now banded together to insist that no person should be surrendered on the ground of slavery, although the very opposite to that was laid down in their own Act. There might be cases in which the high seas were so near the territorial waters of slave-holding States as to bring us in contact with slavery in their territories; and, it becoming important that we should not come into collision with those nations, instructions were issued enjoining the observance of special care in regard to taking those people on board of our ships. Now, the Government had been told to deal with that matter openly. Well, that was what they had been doing. If, instead of keeping back from the knowledge of the English people what was going on; if, instead of those secret instructions which had been given in past years, open instructions had been issued; if hon. Gentlemen opposite had then avowed the sentiments which they avowed to-day, and when the Act of 1873 was passing had declared that they were to take a now point of departure and to make fresh progress in the direction of freedom, there might have been much to be said in favour of that course. But they had not done that, and even now some of them asked why the Government had revealed to the country what things were happening and why they were told of such a dreadful case as that of a slave having to be restored, though he got on board one of our ships, under an order from this country, not merely that they might remove him, but deliver him, to use the words of one of those Circulars—"into the hands of his lawful owner." Then the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite said they should revert to what existed before the present Circular. To what were they to revert? Why, to those hidden proceedings which they wished they had known before in order that they might have condemned them earlier. And they declared that the country was awake to a sense of the enormity committed by the Government in putting forward a Circular that was infinitely more favourable to the slave 758 than those former secret instructions. Again, it was said, who asked for these Circulars. He would tell them. In the first place, they were asked for by a naval officer in command of a district where it was of the utmost importance that definite rules should be in force. The rules were not framed only because they were brought into contact with the slave trade, but also because they were brought into contact with domestic slavery, which they had engaged by Treaty to respect. Moreover, those rules were made in conformity with those Treaties which enabled them to hunt down the slave trade in certain territorial waters; and without those Treaties they would have no right or authority to enter those territorial waters and suppress the slave trade. The hon. Member for Poole (Mr. Evelyn Ashley) told them that Lord Clarendon had laid down the right principle in 1856 in regard to Brazil; but it should be remembered that the Brazilian Government proved faithless to its Treaties with us, and we went into their waters in spite of them, because they had not kept their engagements. In consequence of that, Lord Clarendon laid down a broader rule in their ease than was afterwards adopted in others. In State Paper No. 18, among the documents now on the Table, the House would find it stated that the attention of the Lords of the Admiralty had been called to the serious irregularities and mistakes committed by our naval commanders, employed in the suppression of the slave trade, on the East Coast of Africa. Their Lordships, therefore, issued certain orders in which they told those officers that the slave trade must be carefully distinguished from slavery, with which latter institution in foreign States or in foreign ships not in British territorial waters we did not claim, either by Treaty or otherwise, to interfere. Thus, the Admiralty had thought it necessary to interfere in 1869, although they had issued instructions only in 1865. Coming to the Slave Trade papers presented to this House, he found that complications having arisen in the Persian Gulf, the Indian Government—that was to say, the Viceroy in Council—which included some very distinguished men, and at least one eminent lawyer, issued provisional orders to the effect that in foreign territorial waters slaves were to be given up to their 759 lawful owners or to the proper authorities on demand. Those orders were far more strict than anything which had gone before, and ten times more so than those of the second Circular. In the face of all those things, they said—"Take all these things away—abolish all these regulations and leave men to their own discretion." Well, the discretion of Captain sulivan led to a threat of a court martial; and, in fact, to a court of inquiry and censure, and unlimited discretion in such cases seemed to go along with unlimited liability. When he first considered this Circular he naturally looked about for instruction on the subject which might afford him some light on the matter. Knowing comparatively little of International Law, he naturally turned to where he could get it in its briefest shape, and he found it in The Times newspaper in a letter signed by "Historicus," a gentleman who was well known to be a lawyer of such eminence that it was not unlikely in the course of events that he should some day be one of the chief Law Officers of the Crown. In the second Circular it was stated that the Government were desirous by every means in their power to meet or mitigate the evils of slavery. They were told they had just done the reverse; but their object was certainly to maintain the right of personal liberty, and if the proposed Commission showed how personal liberty could be extended with honour to this country they would certainly be carrying out the intentions of the Government. Well, what did that excellent letter say?—Are public ships to go about to foreign ports and then, having accepted their hospitality, to render themselves public nuisances? Certainly not. A captain should not make his ship a re-coiving-house for fugitive slaves any more than for runaway criminals, smugglers, or"—would the House believe it—"stolen goods.He (Mr. Hardy) was perfectly horrified at the comparison; but it only showed how strongly the writer himself felt on the subject. Then he went on to say—Instead of ordering the slaves to be surrendered after they had been received, the direction should have been not to receive them, because they could not be surrendered.That was what "Historicus," with his profound legal knowledge, had to tell them. Officers were not to receive slaves 760 at all, or they would get into difficulties—in fact, they were to regard them with as much abhorrence as they would stolen property. The letter continued—The captain has the entire right to determine whom he will receive or exclude or remove.What was this question of removing? The hon. Member for Bedford said—"You admit a man in danger, and when the danger is past you are not to let him continue on board. You treat him as a slave, and turn him out on the ground of slavery." To that he would answer, that they did neither the one thing nor the other. They said, If the man appeared to be a fugitive slave—the Circular only referred to slaves, but it might in the same way have referred to criminals or even to stolen goods—he was not to be taken on board if it could be helped, unless he was manifestly in danger of his life. Then as to the danger being past and the permission to continue, they had the captain's discretion. But, it was said, the moment they came to the question of the captain's discretion, "Oh, you bind him hard and fast with regulations and compel him to give the man up." What they did was to receive a man who was in imminent danger of life, whatever he might be, but they declared the ship was not sent to the place for the purpose of taking people on board who were flying from the territory of a country with which they were at peace. He should like to know what a ship, it might be with a special and urgent mission to perform, would do with a number of escaped slaves on board. Were they to bring them to England? Were they to treat them differently from all other human beings? Or, were they to take them and drop them down in some desolate place, as in South Africa, where they would be in greater misery? It was a disgrace to the country to pretend to rescue men from slavery and then place them in a position of greater helpless-ness and misery. The instruction not to admit any man on board whose reception there was reason to think would give offence to the authorities of the place where he resided was sound law, and it was according to the comity of nations as generally understood. But they were told they ought not to give definite instructions; and it was said—"Were naval officers to go about the 761 world in the responsible position of the representative of the Sovereign not knowing whether they possessed that immunity from foreign law which every English man-of-war had always enjoyed, and which every English captain had always believed till now he was entitled to claim?" There had been a great deal of enlightenment thrown on that point since this was written. Then it was said—"If there ever was a question on which an English Government was bound to know its mind and give the officers of the Queen definite instructions for their conduct, this is that subject." They were told to give definite instructions, and now that they had done that, they were told that they ought not to have issued any instructions. Again, it was said that, "on the whole, the writer saw no other road out of the embarrassment in which the Navy and nation are involved, except by putting out fresh instructions, which shall be set forth on principles exactly the opposite to those on which the Circular is founded." He had not attempted to defend the first Circular, and he was glad that there had been no attempt on the part of any speaker to throw discredit on any part of the House as not having the abolition of slavery at heart, and he could not understand that the status of a person was altered by being received for a short time on board a British ship; and in the case of the negrees who came from Antigua and remained in this country, and when she went back claimed to be set free in consequence, Lord Stowell said she was in a parenthesis whilst she was in England. His earliest recollections were associated with the name of Mr. Wilberforce. He was an intimate friend of his (Mr. Hardy's) family, and much connected with them, and from his earliest childhood the great work in which Wilberforce was engaged was constantly impressed on his mind. No man in that House had a greater abhorrence of slavery or the necessary consequences resulting from it than he had. He did not believe that there could be absolute power on the part of one man, slavery on the part of another, without equal degradation to both, and that such a position of things was calculated to bring ruin on a country. He looked upon what this country had done in regard to the abolition of slavery as calculated to bring a blessing down upon 762 it, and that it was more to its credit than any of the great victories which it had achieved in all parts of the world. He believed that great act of self-denial, by which England, emancipated her slaves would never be forgotten, but would be written in records more imperishable than any part of her history. Although he quite admitted that the putting an end to slavery would be the best thing to do if that could be effected, yet when they saw that that could not be done without a resort to violence, which would be unacceptable to the world at large, they were bound to use such means as they could in order that they might induce others to assist them in attaining the object which they had in view. Such was the course of Lord Palmerston—no friend to slavery—but agreeing to suffer it that he might more effectually cut off the sources that supplied it. He believed the victory it had gained over itself, and the enormous sum it had paid to secure the emancipation of the slave, stood forth as an act of justice never to be forgotten in the history of this country, but would be recorded in its honour when some of it greatest deeds of arms would be forgotten. But when that great sum was paid it was paid on the principle of doing justice, on the principle that when you had acknowledged the right you ought not to interfere with that right without giving compensation for its destruction. That being so in the case of our attempt to put down the slave trade, having acknowledged domestic slavery as an institution in those countries with which we have Treaty obligations, we were bound by the contract into which we had entered. Those Treaties were entered into because that by conciliatory proceedings we were enabled to obtain access into the territorial waters of those States, by which we were enabled to cut off the springs of the slave traffic, thereby doing our best to dry up slavery itself. They were bound by every means in their power to put down slavery; but when they could not do that without violence and outrage upon the rights of other nations they were bound to use every possible means to induce other people to assist them. He therefore still thought they would find the Treaties into which they had entered would be of the greatest possible advantage to this country in that respect. They had the evidence of Captain 763 Colomb before the East African Slave Committee, that they afforded us the best possible access to those places where slavery prevailed. They must bear in mind that England was bound by the comity of nations, that although they might possibly in their strength trample upon weak Powers, there were others looking on who might perhaps, when our time of weakness arrived, apply the very same principles to us. If our ships of war went into foreign ports and became receptacles for criminals and other offenders against the law of those countries, ships of war might also come into our ports and carry away deserters from our Army and Navy, and other offenders against the law; and he knew but little of the spirit of the English people if such things were to happen if they would not assert what they deemed to be their rights. Let the House bear in mind how short a time had elapsed since England herself was a slave-holding country, and since that great country at the other side of the Atlantic was crowded with slaves. Let us remember what we had then submitted to, and how we were obliged to keep our ships of war out of the ports of the United States for fear slaves should get on board them and that we should in consequence be brought into difficulties and complications with that great Power. Let us recollect when negroes, themselves British subjects, were taken out of our ships which had gone into the port of Charleston—British ships with British men on board them—and put in prison during their stay there, while England stood by and offered no resistance. We had to submit to that which was the lex loci, and were we now, he would ask, prepared with a high hand to break through Treaties and international engagements? If England was great in her mercy, should she not also be great in her honour and her truthfulness? He was sorry to have detained the House so long? There were many things more which he would wish to have said on the subject; but he was desirous not to trespass unduly upon their attention. He might, however, be permitted to observe with respect to the Commission, which, it was said, was merely an excuse for evasion and delay, that we had had more than one Committee and Commission on the subjects before. Let any one look upon the records year after year relating to the 764 slave trade, and he would find that measures had repeatedly been taken to bring our proceedings in regard to it more into conformity with the Law of Nations. Had there not been, he would ask, a Commission which had the valuable assistance of the hon. and learned Member for Oxford on the Neutrality Laws? Could not the Foreign Office have found out all about those laws without a Commission? Of, course, they could; but the subject was looked upon as a solemn and a sacred one, and a Commission had been appointed in order that a just conclusion with regard to it might be arrived at. Again, in the case of the Naturalization Law the same course was adopted, and those Commissions and Committees brought about valuable results which might be a blessing to future generations of this country, because they placed things on a sound basis, and did that which was best of all, informed the public mind. Ours was a noble, a humane, and a generous people, and they wished—as from his heart he wished—that slavery could be abolished by a stroke of the pen, or a blow of the hand; but it was well that they should know how many difficulties lay in the way of the accomplishment of that desirable object. It was, then, by means of the evidence taken before Committees and Commissions that they were to be put in possession of the real facts of the case; and when those facts were brought to their knowledge, so far from being led away by the mere impulse of feeling, he believed they would ask themselves whether it was not better to wait than to break through honourable compacts and Treaties, and to pause before making any rash attempt to interfere with laws which affected not only this country, but all the nations of the world. We could not by ourselves deal with International Law. That being so, he felt assured that the English people would be willing to submit to a little delay, in order that they might proceed on sound principles. There was a great man, Lord Stowell, who said—To press forward to a great principle by breaking through every other principle that stands in the way of its establishment, to force the way to the liberation of Africa by trampling on the independence of other States in Europe—in short, to procure an eminent moral good by means that are unlawful, is as little consonant to private morality as to public justice. Obtain 765 the concurrence of other nations if you can, by application, by remonstrance, by example, by every peaceable instrument which man can employ to attract the consent of man. But a nation is not justified in assuming rights that do not belong to her merely because she means to employ them to a laudable purpose, nor in setting out on a moral crusade of converting other nations by acts of unlawful force.These appeared to him to be wise words, and they embodied the principles on which Her Majesty's Government were acting. The object of the Government was to increase personal liberty throughout the world, and they were not afraid to be called to account for this Circular, which the hon. and learned Member for Taunton (Sir Henry James) had admitted to be within the law, because they had issued it publicly and on their own responsibility, with a view to increase the liberty of nations; and he appealed to the country to say whether the Government had not faithfully discharged the duty of an English Ministry and of Englishmen.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Debate adjourned till Thursday.
§ House adjourned at a quarter after Twelve o'clock.