§ The Earl of Harewood
said, he had the honour to present to their Lordships a Petition from a Meeting of the Noblemen, Merchants, and Gentlemen, connected with West-India Affairs, praying that the subject of the West-India Interests might be referred for consideration to a Committee of that House. He had attended the meeting, and he could take upon himself to assert, that a more numerous or more respectable meeting of West-India Proprietors, and others connected with colonial affairs, had never before been assembled, even in the city of London, and that there never was a meeting of which the individuals composing it felt more intensely how much their interests were involved in the results and fate of their petition. In presenting this petition, and in making the few observations which he felt himself called upon to make on the occasion, he entirely disclaimed all political views; and, although the subject might lead him to make some remarks on the proceedings of Government in regard to the West-India interests, he assured their Lordships that he would strictly confine himself to such remarks as might be absolutely necessary for the elucidation of the subject. In the first place, the petition complained of the state of distress in which the West-India colonies and the West-India interests in general were at present involved. It was needless for him to take up the time of their Lordships in proving that such a state of distress existed. That was admitted by all who had the least acquaintance with colonial affairs. It was admitted even by his Majesty's Ministers themselves, for they had taken some steps towards the application of a remedy. But when it was considered how these distresses had originated—that they were not owing to accidental causes, but to a sys- 597 tem—it could scarcely be denied that it was a proper matter for consideration Whether the system might not be advantageously altered. One thing was clear, that the state of distress was such that West-India property might be considered as almost confiscated, and the property of the colonial proprietors almost annihilated, the produce remitted to the mother country not paying anything like the expense of producing it. Such was the existing condition of the West-India interests; and the prayer of the petitioners was, that their Lordships would appoint a Committee of their own body to investigate the subject, to ascertain the extent of the distress, and to inquire into the causes which led to it, and to decide what was the proper remedy to be applied. It was not his intention to enter at present upon a discussion of the effect of the duties imposed on West-India produce, or of the other causes which might have contributed to the depression of the West-India interest. It was unnecessary for him to do so, since he understood that his Majesty's Ministers intended to accede to the prayer of the petitioners, and to grant the Committee. But he might say, that if the system which had for some time been acted upon, in regard to the West Indies, was persevered in, the colonies must indubitably sink. It would be impossible to save them from destruction. He would, at present, for the same reason, abstain from entering upon any discussion as to the effect of the free-trade system on the West-India colonies, as that subject also would better come under consideration in the Committee. But, he repeated, that when he considered that the present unparalleled distress of the West-India interests did not arise from accidental causes, but from a regular system which had been for some time in operation, it was well worthy of inquiry whether that system ought not to be altered. It was highly expedient that their Lordships should investigate and endeavour to ascertain whether a perseverance in the system must not be inevitably attended with the destruction of the colonies: and if they should be of opinion that it would, then it would be for their Lordships to consider which was the better course—to change their policy, or to lose the colonies. He was perfectly aware that any man who in these times stood up as an advocate of the West-India interests would be viewed in a 598 most odious light by one party in the country. He was perfectly sensible of the prejudices which prevailed among a certain portion of the people of this country on the subject; but, notwithstanding the prejudices which prevailed, he would not shrink from appearing openly as the advocate of the much-depressed West-India interests; and he was convinced that when these interests were better and more generally understood, the prejudices would be very considerably diminished. A notion appeared to be generally prevalent that the West-India proprietors preferred, from some unworthy and selfish motives, to have the labour of the colonies performed by slaves rather than by freemen, and that they might dismiss their slaves and get the work performed by freemen without any real detriment to their own interests, or injury to their property. That, however, was very far from being the case. It was not considered as it ought to be, that if the West-India proprietor, connected with a house in this country, could not carry on the concerns of his estate, except at a loss, he must consequently cease to cultivate, and yet he was still bound to maintain the slaves. The slaves must still be supported, and what followed? It necessarily followed that the value of his own estate was exceedingly depreciated, and that the depreciation extended, in a greater or less degree, to other estates. It was, therefore, the duty of their Lordships to apply themselves seriously to the consideration of the causes of the existing distress of the West-India interest, and to ascertain whether anything could be done in the way of remedy. He was one of those who possessed property in the West-India colonies; and, speaking for himself as well as for other West-India proprietors, he could take upon himself positively to say, that if the labour of the colonies could be carried on in any other way than by means of the slaves, they would be all ready to adopt that other method. But the labour of the colonies could not be carried on with advantage in any other way than by means of the slaves, and if they were to put an end to slave labour, the necessary consequence would be, the loss of the colonies altogether. But when the state of the West Indies came to be better understood in this country, there was good reason to expect that much of the prejudice that existed in regard to those colonies would be exploded. Con- 599 sidering the situation in which the West-India interests at present stood, he would seriously ask, whether this was a proper time to irritate the slaves, and excite discontent and agitation among them by frequent motions in Parliament, having reference to their condition? Yet such motions were frequently made, and if the practice should be continued, the consequences, in all probability, would be fatal. There, was another topic connected with the petition as to which he must say a few words. He alluded to what were called the Orders in Council issued in regard to the West Indies; these Orders in Council had been attended with much mischief to the colonies. At those times, when Parliaments were dissolved, and new elections took place, there had been for some time a disposition in the Government to do something to conciliate electors through the medium of Orders in Council, and more particularly Orders in Council relative to the West-India colonies, and the state of the slaves. These Orders had been made without that consideration which the subject deserved, and imperiously demanded. Ministers ought to consider well before they framed and promulgated Orders in Council, the tendency of which was to take the slaves from under the authority of their masters; and it was impossible that such a state of society could be established to any extent without being fatal to the best interests of any country where it was introduced. Then, with regard to the Orders in Council recently promulgated, if he had not known how the matter really stood, and had to collect his information from these Orders, he should have certainly thought that nothing had ever before been done in regard to the same subject. He should have thought that this was the beginning of a system of regulation for the colonies, and that now something was, for the first time, to be done to rescue the slaves from a state of tyrannical oppression and starvation. The Orders in Council had, in fact, descended to such minutiæ, as to regulate the quantities and species of provisions to be supplied to the slaves. All this served to augment the prejudices that prevailed against the West-India proprietors, as they seemed to bear on the face of them that the state of the slaves had been utterly neglected; and had now, for the first time, attracted the attention of the Government. He need not inform 600 their Lordships that nothing could be more erroneous than such a notion. Before issuing these Orders in Council, it would have been well to have considered whether the matters to be remedied were such as to call for Orders in Council to effect the object; and whether Orders in Council were the best mode of applying a remedy, if remedy were wanted. It was not his wish to speak harshly of any party. But he would say, that the West-India colonies were of the greatest value to this country; and that it was very far from creditable to any party to resort to, and act upon, a systematic plan, of writing down the West-India interest. Let the state of these colonies be coolly and dispassionately examined and considered, and then let the measures be adopted in regard to them that might appear best calculated to promote the permanent interests of these colonies, and of the country in general; but he maintained that it was discreditable to have matters of such importance rendered mere bones of contention between struggling parties. A calm and dispassionate examination of the system would be the best way to dispel the prejudices which prevailed among a large party in this country, with respect to the state of the colonies. It would be considered in the Committee whether anything was now requisite to be done in regard to the slaves, and in the Report their Lordships would state what was most proper to be done for their benefit, without destruction to the property of the master. But he assured their Lordships that considerable delicacy was required in framing regulations with regard to the management of the slaves, and he had strong objections to Orders in Council, as the medium through which such regulations were to be promulgated. The recent Orders in Council applied equally to all the islands, however various in soil and climate. The same regulations as to the particular hours of labour were applied, for instance, to Demerara and Barbadoes, although what would answer well for the one would be extremely prejudicial to the other. The same hour for the commencement of labour had been appointed for both. The time was very inconvenient in Demerara, but in Barbadoes the slaves would most willingly go to labour at an earlier hour, so as to finish their work soon, and have the rest of the day to themselves. The Orders were very inapplicable to the state 601 of some of the colonies in respect of the limitation of the hours of labour. Their inapplicability was also remarkable in regard to sugar labour. He did not wish to say anything calculated to excite irritation in the minds of any individuals, or any party, but there was one part of the Orders in Council which he could not allow to pass without particular notice. The Order said to the legislators of the West-India Legislative colonies, "You shall make this Order a law of your state, otherwise we will not give you certain advantages which you shall have if you comply. You shall have the benefits if you agree; but if you do not adopt the Order, then you shall not have the benefits, whatever they may be." Suppose they say, "the Order is utterly inapplicable to the state of the colonies, and we cannot adopt it." Then the Government said, "You shall not have the benefits;" and if the deprivation of the benefits should be of a nature utterly to ruin the estates of the colonists, was the resolution of the Government to be preferred to the utter destruction of the colonists, and the total abandonment of the West-India islands? Ministers ought to carry on the government of these colonies in the best mode that could be adopted, consistently with the best interests of the colonies, and, consequently, of the whole country. He need state no more at present as to the nature and object of this petition. The petitioners had, before the manufacture—as he might call it—of these Orders in Council, been anxious to have a Committee of this kind appointed, that the matters to which they referred might be thoroughly considered. This, however, they could not obtain. They had then endeavoured to have the Orders in Council referred to a Committee before they were carried into effect, but the Government would not agree to this proposal. The Orders were, therefore, sent out and promulgated without any such previous consideration, and had, to a certain extent, been carried into execution in the Crown Colonies; but the execution had been suspended in the Legislative Colonies, on the ground that it was not fitting that they should be made a law of these states. The petitioners only asked now what they had asked before; and as the Committee was to be granted, it was not necessary to dwell at any greater length at present on the subject. It was just, however, that 602 this subject should be thoroughly investigated in Committee; and he suggested that the execution of the Orders in Council should be suspended, until the Committee should have considered the matter, and made its Report to the House. He would conclude by presenting the petition, and moving that it be read, giving notice, at the same time, that it was his intention to follow this up by moving that the petition be referred to a Committee.
§ The petition read.
declared that he had no idea of addressing the House until he heard the speech of the noble Earl in presenting this petition; but after having listened to the document itself, and the arguments with which the noble Earl supported it, he could not help saying that, in his opinion, it would be a most extraordinary proceeding if his Majesty's Government agreed to the appointment of the Committee required. Was it to be supposed that their Lordships' House was the only body of persons in the country unacquainted with the state of the West-India Islands? or was that House to appoint a Committee to consider a question the evils of which were known to almost every man in the community, and admitted from one end of the kingdom to the other? There needed no Committee to inform them of the distressed situation of the colonies. The mere fact of the existence of slavery was sufficient to account for it. The power of man over human life was ever accompanied by the infliction of moral and bodily cruelty. The noble Earl complained of the distresses of the West-India colonies, but surely it required no penetration to discover the cause; and when it was stated, that the diminution of the population kept exactly pace with the state of labour and of property in each colony, the House would see that the system of slavery was the main and principal source of their decline. He did not wish to say much concerning the better policy on this subject adopted by the present Administration, lest he should appear to convey a censure on the conduct of their predecessors, which at present he had no desire to do. But he thanked God that the proper policy in regard to the West-India colonies was now better understood. The state of the West-India colonies was perfectly well known to almost all the people of this country, and was it to be sup- 603 posed that their Lordships alone were ignorant of it, and that it was necessary for them to appoint a Committee to supply them with the proper information? That such a Committee should have been conceded by the Government, did, he confessed, appear to him most extraordinary. As to the Orders in Council, he did most sincerely thank the Government for having made that attempt to ameliorate the condition of the slaves, and ultimately to annihilate the state of slavery. The colonial Legislatures had for a length of time defeated all attempts of this description, but he hoped that we had now a Government sincerely disposed to ameliorate the condition of the slaves, and to extinguish totally the evils of slavery, and he trusted that they would not much longer suffer their attempts to be defeated. The Government had, in his opinion, hit on the secret for ameliorating the condition of the slave, by entitling such colonies as adopted their recommendations to certain advantages. The measures they were about to introduce seemed to him to be the best calculated of all others to effect that object. The only way to deal with the refractory colonists was to attack them through their interests, and as they had thought proper to reject all the recommendations of the Government for the improvement of the condition of their slaves, they must now bear the consequence. As to the decaying state of their trade and resources, it should be recollected that the profits of the colonial trade were always uncertain; and, he believed, notwithstanding all the advocates of the West-Indians might say in that House or elsewhere, that all the assistance which could be given them would be unavailing, and that it was impossible to save them from destruction. Once more he thanked God that this matter had turned out as it had done, and that in every quarter of the kingdom the case was now well understood. It was, therefore, with no little surprise that he heard the speech of the noble Earl, and the prayer for inquiry with which the petition he presented was made to conclude. What was the real nature of the case? Free labour was found more productive than that drawn from the slaves. Look at the East Indies. Sugar was cultivated there by free labour, and could be brought to this country and sold in competition with Wrest-India sugar, notwithstanding the greater cost of the 604 carriage from the greater distance between the two countries. It must be presumed that this sugar brought a remunerating price, or the merchant would not carry on the trade. Free labour was, therefore, the more profitable; and if the West-Indians expected a redress of grievances they must assist the Legislature in removing the evils of slavery, and avail themselves of the benefit of free labour in the colonies.
§ The Earl of Harewood
must take leave to say, in explanation, that the noble Lord had wasted many words in combating propositions which he (Lord Harewood) had not advanced. He had never objected to the principle of the Orders in Council, nor had the petitioners, whose cause he advocated, entertained any idea of that kind. They objected to parts of these Orders as being vexatious and unnecessary, but he had never heard, and, he believed, on inquiry, it would never be proved, that the colonists had resisted any plans for the safe and perfect amelioration of the condition of the slaves. The question was, to what extent it should be carried at once?
§ Viscount Goderich
said, that after the speech of the noble Earl (Harewood), who had abstained from entering much into the details of this most important question, he did not think it would be incumbent on him to trouble their Lordships at much length, or to make them more than a very few observations on the general question. He must, however, in justice to the station he held in the Government, make some remarks on two points—first, with regard to the Orders in Council, of which their Lordships had heard so much, and next, with respect to the Motion with which the noble Earl meant to follow up the presentation of his petition. He had always considered the situation of the Government with respect to the West-India question to be one of peculiar delicacy and difficulty, in consequence on the one hand of the great interest excited by two subjects which particularly engaged the attention of the people of this country—one connected with the actual condition of the slaves themselves, and the other a still more delicate and intricate one, having reference to their ultimate condition, and the time when it might be considered expedient to invest them with the privileges of freemen. On the other hand, it could not be doubted that, with a strong public 605 feeling pressing on the Government in this country, there was a very considerable irritation in the minds of the colonists at what they thought the unjust charges brought against them, and, as a consequence, a very strong disinclination to receive or to adopt that system of laws and regulations which they deemed inconsistent with their rights, and a manifest invasion of their property. For the last eight years, he believed, it had been the undeviating policy of the Government to endeavour to steer an even course between the two extremes—the party of the abolitionists on the one hand, and of the colonists on the other: and, he would undertake to prove that the whole of the measures adopted during that period, including the more recent ones of the Orders in Council, had the same objects in view,—namely, to modify the extreme zeal of parties in this country, and to induce the colonists to adopt these modifications in the condition of the slave which prudence and humanity required. It was with those views, and in obedience to that principle that the House of Commons adopted the Resolutions of 1823. Those Resolutions were expressly intended to further the modification of the laws respecting the slaves, and ultimately, at some period, to abolish slavery itself—a distant object, undoubtedly, if they pleased to say so, and an object difficult of attainment, but that was the object of the Resolutions, and the understanding of all who agreed to them. The first attempts of the Government to carry these Resolutions into effect were not successful, nor did they answer the just expectations of Parliament and the country. It was with a hope of making a deeper impression on the minds of the colonists that their Lordships were afterwards called on to agree to Resolutions similar to those which had passed the Commons. He did not wish to say any thing which might call forth unpleasant feelings. He was anxious to guard himself against the use of any expression which might bear the interpretation of warmth or be construed into hostility; but this he must say, in good truth, that the course of legislation pursued by the colonists, in compliance with the recommendations contained in the Resolutions agreed to by both Houses of Parliament, had been anything but commensurate with the just expectations of Parliament or the Government. The course, unfortunately 606 pursued by the colonists, rendered it necessary that some steps should be taken by the Executive Government, in obedience to the declared will of Parliament, and, although the noble Earl objected to forcing regulations on the legislative colonies, he could not object to the course which the Government had it in its power to adopt towards those which were called the Crown colonies. In the year 1830 the Government sent out an Order in Council to the Crown colonies, embodying a great variety of regulations, some of them new and some of them old, but all of great importance to the condition and well-being of the slave; and in the despatch which accompanied those orders, it was expressly stated that there were many other matters of the greatest importance connected with the hours of labour, and the quantity of food, clothing, and so forth, which were not embodied in the order, but which would have been so embodied if it had been the intention of the Government to produce a complete Code of Laws for the regulation of the colonies. It was clear, therefore, that the Government of that time had merely abstained from introducing such regulations, not because they believed they had not the power, but because, as the despatch expressed it, they had no intention to do any thing of the kind at that time. It was equally clear, however, that the measure of 1830 was not intended to be a final measure, and the present Ministers had to consider the question whether the Government were to stand still or go on. In obedience to the pledge contained in the Resolutions, Ministers had felt it their duty to follow up these Orders of 1830 by the Orders which were now the subject of consideration, and to many of which the noble Earl had observed there were such serious objections. It was, he believed, admitted, that it would be quite impossible to frame any orders which would not be the subject of much criticism on particular points. The noble Earl contended that many of the regulations, with respect to clothing and food, were absolutely absurd, and that they were particularly objectionable in other respects, because they seemed to cast an imputation on the humanity of the masters, and to legislate as if there was a feeling that the planters were wanting in good will to support and provide for the comforts of the slave. Now, it did so happen, that if the Orders in Council 607 were objectionable in this respect, and on account of their minuteness, that was no fault of his (Lord Goderich's), nor could any blame attach to him for the introduction of these regulations. He had not the merit of inventing them; for it so happened that they were taken from that code of regulations which already prevailed in one of the colonies (Demerara); and all that had been done was, to consolidate, under one head, all that had been for some time in practice. The noble Earl seemed, however, to think that there was something degrading to the character of the master in some of these regulations. No one, he apprehended, could deny that it was the nature of power, when uncontrolled, to be abused. This was as true of bodies as of individuals; and, he conceived it to be no reflection, either on the bodies or on individuals, that the Legislature, feeling the necessity of guarding against the exercise of this uncontrolled power, had taken care that those who possessed such an influence over almost the life, certainly over the comforts and happiness, of the slave, should not be able to abuse it. This rule, applying to all, for the present Ministers to have acted on it, could not, he conceived, be a just matter of complaint. But the plain fact was, that the principle of the Orders was taken from a Bill which had been introduced in one of the colonies by the colonists themselves, for the regulation of the food, clothing, and hours of labour of the slaves. This was done by their own will, and not at the instigation of the Government; and, he referred to it for the purpose of showing the principle on which the Government proceeded in those orders which were the subject of complaint. In the Bahamas, in the year 1824, a Bill was introduced, of which the preamble ran thus:—"Whereas it is due to good policy, as well as to justice and the fulfilment of the principles of humanity, that all means should be taken for improving the condition of the slaves, and affording them an adequate quantity of necessaries and clothing, as well as a sufficient supply of sound and wholesome food; and whereas it seems to us highly expedient that they should not be left to individual humanity; but, on the contrary, should be regulated by law, &c." And then the Bill went on to show how this was to be effected. He would not enter further into the nature of the regulations: but, he thought, he had stated enough to 608 show that there was nothing new in the principle adopted in them, nothing with which the colonists could fairly find fault as being of the invention of the Government. Whatever objections might be taken to particular points, or however the colonists might be disposed to question this or that regulation, he could not then go into a defence of the course pursued by the Government without accompanying it by statements which would have anything but the effect of calming the public mind, or leading to that impartial decision which was, under all considerations, so desirable. Referring to the proposition of the noble Earl, that the adoption of the Orders in Council should be preceded by an inquiry into their necessity, his (Lord Goderich's) answer would be that it was not at all necessary to show there had been no particular acts of cruelty committed in order to justify the course adopted by the Government. The object of the regulation was to take away the possession of that absolute power over the existence and happiness of the slave which human nature was liable to abuse, and it was not necessary to postpone the fulfilment of these regulations until they ascertained, by examination of evidence, whether there was more or less of justice in certain charges of cruelty brought against the planters as a body. Under this view of the case, he now came to explain why it was, that he was not disposed to urge any objections to the proposition of the noble Earl for a Select Committee. The state of the West-India colonies was, unfortunately, quite as distressing as the noble Earl had represented it to be on presenting the petition. There was, under the present circumstances of the planters, a general decay of trade and insecurity of property which could not be contemplated without pain. Estates were loaded with debts which there was scarcely any probability of the proprietor being able to discharge, and this situation of an interest so important as that of the West Indies was likely to affect, and in truth had affected, most seriously the various other interests in the country, which were closely dependent on it. Into this it was most important that the House should inquire; and, undoubtedly, it was natural for the planters, who believed they were suffering under erroneous imputations, and that, individually and collectively, their characters lay under aspersions which they knew to 609 be unjust, undoubtedly it was natural that they, in the course of such an inquiry, should be anxious to prove that the charges made against them were wholly unfounded. Whether, however, it was a judicious course in the West-India planters to enter on such an inquiry at the present moment was quite another question. He, for his part, questioned much the prudence and the policy of the inquiry; because he was satisfied, if they entered on it, the inquiry might have the effect of increasing rather than assuaging or moderating the excitement which prevailed; and he, too, was by no means clear as to its result. He had felt this, and stated it when the application was first made to him; and he had attempted to dissuade the West Indians from seeking the inquiry, but he had failed. Feeling, therefore, the prevailing sentiment in their Lordships' House, and among a very numerous and influential class out of doors, to be in favour of inquiry, he had felt it his duty to abandon his own preconceived opinion, and to offer no objection to the Motion of the noble Earl for a Committee. Continuing the policy pursued by the Government, he should, if a Member of that Committee, use his best endeavours to preserve an intermediate course, and seek to conduct the investigation so as to arrive at the truth; for of this he was certain, that nothing could prove more unfortunate for the West Indians than the making any attempt to shut out that evidence which bore on the humanity and justice of the case, and in the support of which so large a portion of the community were deeply interested. One good, he would fain hope, must result from the inquiry—namely, that the colonial legislatures would see the necessity of resorting, without further delay, to those local regulations for the amelioration of the condition of the slaves which were required of them, and without consenting to which they must see their property would be subjected to those sudden gusts which disorganised the whole state of society, and shook their interests to their foundation.
§ Lord Seaford
observed that he always addressed their Lordships with great reluctance, but he could not avoid, in the present melancholy state of distress in which the West Indians were plunged by the measures of the Government, making one or two remarks on the arguments of the noble Viscount, the Secretary for the 610 colonies. The noble Viscount in speaking of the Orders in Council, and the necessity of their being adopted by the colonies possessing local legislatures, had declared that they were in conformity with the principle of the Resolutions of 1823; and as he had stated in the despatch which was sent out with them, that the Orders were rendered necessary by the concurrence of the legislature in their propriety at the time the Resolutions were agreed to. If the noble Viscount meant to say that Parliament pledged itself at that time to any course at all resembling that which had been pursued by the present Government, he (Lord Seaford), as one of those who gave his full concurrence to those Resolutions, begged most distinctly to deny that he had any knowledge of such a pledge. In all that was contained in the Resolutions of 1823, as proposed by Mr. Canning, be (Lord Seaford) fully and entirely concurred. To all and every measure calculated for the improvement of the moral and social condition of the slave—for the protection and enlargement of his civil rights, and for defining the period at which slavery was to cease altogether as far as that period could be defined in consistence with the well-being of the slave himself, and the fair and equitable adjustment of the rights of private property—to all measures of that description, or for that end, he had given his support; but to the Orders in Council, as promulgated by the present Government, he had not and could not give his support, nor had he at any time considered himself pledged to support such orders because he had voted for the Resolutions of 1823. He had not pledged himself to the Orders, because no measure of such a character—connected as it was with a threat of fiscal punishments in the event of a refusal—was in the contemplation of the Members of Parliament who concurred in the Resolutions, and none such were alluded to, or within the contemplation of Mr. Canning when he proposed them. It would require more time than he could venture to exact from their Lordships to go into the whole of the documents through which this view of the question could be supported. He would merely refer to the course pursued by Mr. Canning himself, who, in speaking of the application of the Orders to the Island of Trinidad, declared it was an experiment; or, as he after- 611 wards said, an example, by which he looked, at no distant period, to obtain the co-operation and concurrence of the islands which possessed legislative assemblies. And he added, "I cannot believe that much time will elapse before we shall learn that the planter of Jamaica is anxiously employed in emulating the endeavours of the Government in Trinidad to improve the condition of his negroes." Now, what had been the course pursued by the noble Viscount, who boasted that he was treading in the steps of Mr. Canning, and in fulfilment of the Resolutions of 1823? Did he wait for the operation of the experiment he was trying in St. Lucia or Trinidad, before he insisted on its adoption by the planter of Jamaica? Did he take time to allow the salutary influence of the Orders to be evident in the Crown colonies before he required their adoption by the old colonies? No. He sends out the Orders, accompanied with a despatch, in which he requires that, without loss of time, they should have all the force of law. Instead of waiting to see the effect of example or experiment, he threatens them at once with coercion; for what other name could be applied to their exclusion from that boon which a Committee of the House of Commons had thought justly due to the sufferings of the colonists, and their claims on the Legislature. He would ask, therefore, was the noble Viscount justified in saying that he acted in conformity with the Resolutions of 1823? Mr. Canning threatened to adopt measures of severity; but it was in a case which he hoped never to see realised, and which had not been realised. The noble Viscount threatened now, but under what different circumstances. He (Lord Seaford) did not mean to stand up as the indiscriminate defender of all that was said and done in the colonial assemblies, or of the manner in which they had at various times received the propositions of the Government; but if the members of the assemblies had occasionally exhibited heat and a want of command of temper there had been no want of exhibitions of the same qualities on the part of their adversaries. It had been at all times acknowledged by all Governments, that with a view to the advantages of ultimate and complete emancipation, nothing should be done which would destroy the good understanding between the planter and the slaves, and that no means were to be 612 adopted which could in any way endanger the tranquillity of the colonies or affect the security of property. The Orders in Council, however, were calculated to produce the very reverse of all that. They had put an end to all confidence—they had, in their consequences, effaced all feelings of security; and this was one of the main causes of the resistance offered to their acceptance. It had been said, that the planters did nothing towards forwarding the wishes of the Government and the people of this country; that they adopted no steps towards the amelioration of the condition of the slave. Was it necessary to remind the noble Viscount of the progress which had been made on that point, without which all others would be unavailing—the thorough religious instruction of the negro? Was it necessary to remind him that the Bishops of Barbadoes and Jamaica had both, in their reports to the Government at home, expressed themselves perfectly satisfied with what had been done by the planters and the colonial legislatures with reference to that all-important question? Was it necessary to refer to the churches and chapels that had been everywhere raised for the use of the negro throughout the colonies? In further confirmation of this—if confirmation it wanted—he could appeal to the most reverend Prelate (the Archbishop of Canterbury), the President of the Society for affording Religious Instruction to the Negro, whether the communications of the missionaries, and all the correspondence of the society, did not show that on this point the instruction of the slave met with no obstacles. He (Lord Seaford) admitted that the Orders in Council enforced many just and humane regulations, but was it not fair to acknowledge that the colonists had not been slow in the work of liberality and justice? Why, had the House not heard of that Act, passed spontaneously by the assembly of Jamaica, which at once got rid of all disqualifications on account of colour by abolishing the necessity of taking oaths and that, too, in a country where the prejudices of colour and of caste necessarily prevailed more strongly than in any other where slavery existed? Mr. Canning, in one of his eloquent appeals on this subject, had reminded the House of Commons how much the difficulties of the question of Negro Emancipation were aggravated by purely physical distinctions; 613 distinctions greater than those which prevailed in any other country on the face of the globe; and yet the colonists, who were now unjustly charged with a want of liberality and good feeling had triumphed over these distinctions, and admitted—spontaneously admitted—the negro to a participation in all the privileges enjoyed by themselves. Was it necessary to remind their Lordships of the difference between the conduct of the colonists and the more unimpassioned legislators in the mother country. He would ask what time elapsed between the proposition for the emancipation of the Roman Catholics, supported as it was by the greatest Statesmen and Orators of which the country could ever boast, and the final removal of the disabilities which the law imposed on them? Why, from the debates in the year 1805, when one of the strongest Ministries the country had ever seen was compelled to yield to popular prejudice on this subject, full twenty-five years elapsed before those prejudices were overcome. What had, however, been the conduct of the West Indians? From the year 1823, not seven years were suffered to elapse before they spontaneously removed all disabilities on account of caste; and although no general election had taken place since that removal, he could assure their Lordships that a brown man was now the Representative of one of the most opulent parishes in which his estates were situated; and he had heard that another gentleman of colour also occupied a seat in the assembly. The triumph over all prejudice, in this instance, was complete. The amalgamation of the two colours in the enjoyment of all social advantages was speeding onwards, and he had little doubt, if their Lordships, the Legislature, and the Government, would have but a little patience and abstinence from violence, that the solution of the problem would at length be perfect, and that all which the most strenuous abolitionist could require would be effected through the gradual progress of civilization. He might enumerate other instances of the superior degree of liberality exhibited by the colonial legislatures, compared with that of the mother country. An hon. Member of the House of Commons had introduced a Bill for removing the disabilities of the Jews during the last year. Their Lordships knew the fate of that bill—while the Assembly of Jamaica 614 had, on the contrary long since removed all civil distinctions between the Jews and any other class of their fellow citizens. He might enumerate many other instances of the same spirit, but it was scarcely necessary. Did the Government suppose that it could carry into effect the Resolutions for the emancipation of the slaves without the assistance of the colonists? If it did, it was mistaken. It could effect nothing beneficial without their cordial co-operation. Nay more, he would say that its efforts in hostility to them would only beget exasperation, and delay the accomplishment of its own wishes; and he thought these instances sufficiently proved that the planters themselves were willing to aid in the improvement of the condition of their slaves. He would beg leave to quote to their Lordships the conclusion of Mr. Canning's speech on this subject. Mr. Canning, on summing up, said, "If we are to do. good (which I earnestly hope and sincerely believe we may), it is not to be done by sudden and violent measures, but by efforts of a patient and comparatively tame character; by measures slow in their progress, but steady and sure in their operation; measures which must be carried into effect, not by a few individuals of rare talents and conspicuous zeal, but by the great body of those whom the advocates of the negro distrust and seem disposed to put aside. Yes, Sir, if the condition of the slave is to be improved, that improvement must be introduced through the medium of his master. The masters are the instruments through whom and by whom, you must act upon the slave population:—and if by any proceedings of ours we shall unhappily place between the slave and his master the barrier of insurmountable hostility, we shall at once put an end to the best chance of emancipation or even of amendment. Instead of diffusing gradually over those dark regions a pure and salutary light, we may at once kindle a flame only to be quenched in blood.*" It might be thought, perhaps, by some of their Lordships, that this was but a doubtful authority, since this very speech had been quoted by the noble Lord who was the organ of Government in the other House of Parliament. He quoted it, however, because he attached great weight to the authority of Mr. Can-* See Hansard's Debates (New Series,) vol. x. p. 1109.615 ning, though not more than, he believed, it deserved, or than it was admitted to deserve by every man of sense. Be the authority, however, what it might, the observations were so rational as to need no name to recommend them. He could support them by the authority of another great man, whose name, be was sure would have great weight with many of their Lordships, and particularly with some of the Members of the Cabinet, whose principles too would give weight to what he said—he meant that great statesman Mr. Fox, who said in one of his speeches on the question of the abolition of slavery, "That the idea of an Act of Parliament to emancipate the slaves without the consent and concurrent feelings of all parties, both in the colonies and in this country, could only lead to the most mischievous consequences. It would be totally extravagant in theory and impossible in execution." The Order in Council, as it was intended to be enforced by Government, seemed to him to be a measure to which the language of Mr. Fox would apply. He wished the Government to follow Mr. Fox's advice, and not endeavour to emancipate the slaves, unless it carried with it the consent and concurrent feelings of all parties interested in the colonies, as well as in this country. He appealed to the noble Viscount to remember the words of Mr. Canning, and profit by the warning he had given; for already the flame had been kindled, and had been extinguished in blood. They had found the inconvenience—they had suffered some of the threatened calamities—and let them be careful that it did not again occur and extend to other islands. He conjured them to attend to the prophetic warning he had quoted, and not allow the opinions of some individuals hostile to the colonists to induce them to persist in measures likely to be attended with such dreadful consequences. He conjured them to begin the work of conciliation; to see with their own eyes, and they would find that there was less reason to complain than was sometimes stated. He conjured them to take the present opportunity of a change of Government in one island to begin a different system, to send out his noble friend, who was going to govern Jamaica, with the olive branch, that he might adopt conciliatory measures with the legislature of the island, bring back the slaves to sub-ordination, and re-establish security of 616 property, and, perhaps, restore that prosperity which had formerly existed. He certainly should support his noble friend's Motion. The knowledge possessed by the people of this country relating to the situation of the inhabitants of the colonies was not correct and the West Indies themselves desired and courted inquiry.
The Archbishop of Canterbury
felt it necessary to say a few words in answer to the appeal which had been made to him by the noble Lord who had just sat down. When he was Bishop of London he was at the same time President of a Society for the Conversion of the Negro Slaves; and, looking forward as he did towards the final emancipation of the negroes, he thought that great end would be most accelerated by the application of the funds of the Society towards the moral improvement and religious instruction of the slaves. In pursuance of this feeling, he then considered it necessary to call upon the great body of the public to come forward, and, by subscriptions, to lend their aid towards the attainment of the object which he had at heart; a call which had been most liberally and instantaneously obeyed, not only by the public at large, but in particular by those whose property was situated in those islands. Since the course which he had taken had been adopted, there was a great improvement visible in the islands, and the appointment of a Bishop and of resident clergy had mainly aided in forwarding the religious and moral improvement of the slave population, to which the inhabitants themselves had given great support by contributing towards the funds for the maintenance of the clergy. In fact, so rapid were the advances made, that in fifteen years there were a greater number of churches and places of worship built in those islands than had ever been known to be established within the same period of time in any other country; and, in proof of the sums of money laid out, he might adduce the fact, that the loss in Barbadoes by the damage which the public schools and churches had sustained by the late hurricane, would require no less a sum to repair it than 40,000l. Facts like these he might cite in proof of what had already been done towards the amelioration of the moral and religious condition of the slaves as a preparative towards the enjoyment of freedom. There were now, he believed, in the colonies, as many clergymen as were necessary for the religious instruction of 617 the people, and schools were everywhere established for the education of the blacks, the people of colour, and the poor whites—which latter were the most wretched persons in the colonies. For the advancement of these objects, the inhabitants had subscribed to an extent which was hardly to be expected. He begged to express his thanks in particular to the noble Lord (Seaford) for the assistance which he had rendered the Society to which he had just referred.
§ The Duke of Wellington
said, in consequence of the assent given by the noble Lord to the Motion of his noble friend, he should not have troubled their Lordships with any observations, but for some remarks made by the noble Viscount. He had heard with great satisfaction the able and impressive statement made by the noble Lord who had last addressed their Lordships, as well as the observations of the most reverend Prelate, in support of the views taken by the noble Lord upon a point so important as the religious instruction of the slaves. It was natural that the West-India body, whether they resided in this country or in the Islands, should desire that a solemn inquiry should be instituted into the circumstances of their present condition. They were suffering great distress, brought on by a long-continued course of neglect—by many misfortunes, and now, at last, by a most formidable rebellion adding to their other misfortunes, and quite destroying the value of their property: besides which, he thought they had some reason to complain both of their conduct having been misapprehended, and of the acts of the Government at home, founded upon that misapprehension. He conceived that these reasons were sufficient to induce their Lordships to grant an inquiry into the circumstances of their situation, and into the acts of the Government at home with respect to the Legislatures of the Islands. It was natural that the West-India body should desire such an inquiry, and it could not be possible but that such an inquiry, conducted as it would be by their Lordships, must lead to results satisfactory to that body and the public. He would first state, that the question more immediately under consideration had been introduced in 1823 to the notice of the Legislature of this country; and what had been said that night was not altogether correct. It had been stated, that since that period nothing had been done by the 618 legislatures of the colonies; but he would affirm, that there was not one of the colonial legislatures which had not taken some steps to carry into execution the resolutions of the Legislature of this country. Every step which had been required by the Parliament had been taken by some one or other of the colonial legislatures, with the exception of the Resolution relative to compulsory manumission, and against that they had appealed to the Privy Council. He must say, therefore, that the party of the colonists had some reason to complain, when it was stated, that they had taken no measures to carry into effect the Order in Council. It was equally clear that the other party had some reason to believe that all these orders might be carried into effect, since most of them were in some place or other, but they should wait till they could be adopted. Under these circumstances, he must confess that he had always considered that, sooner or later, everything that party wished, everything they could reasonably desire, would be done in time by the colonial legislatures, if the Parliament persevered in pressing on their attention those measures, without employing any violence, and avoiding all disposition to quarrel or use harsh means. That was the principle on which the Government acted of which he had the honour to be a Member. In no instance had that Government endeavoured to force any measure on the colonial Legislature, further than by employing recommendations—urgent recommendations—to carry into effect the Resolutions of the Parliament of this country. The noble Lord had stated, that the only attempt which had been honestly made, was by the present Government. He did not think the late Government could be called dishonest. It had given its honest support to the Resolutions, and, as he said before, with the exception of the one point on which nothing had been done, these Resolutions had all been carried into effect in some one or other of the Islands. Orders in Council had been sent out, which, he thought, would settle the question, and he was satisfied would settle it, as far as the, Crown colonies were concerned. He could not say what those Orders were; but, if the matter had been arranged in the Crown colonies, he had no doubt that it would soon have been settled also in the colonies with independent legislatures. It was the duty of the Government to legislate for 619 the Crown Colonies by Orders in Council, but he had never heard of Orders in Council for the other colonies. They could require Orders in Council to be obeyed in the Crown colonies, but he had never heard of such Orders being enforced in those colonies which had legislatures of their own. When he was in office, certainly it was never intended to enforce those Orders on these latter colonies; but only, by way of example, to show them, from what was done in the Crown colonies, that no danger was likely to ensue from their adopting the Orders in Council. Moderate and slow measures were more likely to be beneficial, as had been stated by the noble Lord (Seaford) and supported by the authority of Mr. Canning and Mr. Fox, than hasty and violent measures. Parliament had never intended to extinguish slavery by any other than a slow progress, cautiously adapted to circumstances. It had never intended by force to extinguish slavery; for that was, in the present circumstances of the colonies, to extinguish property. It never was intended to extinguish slavery and property together, and not give a compensation to the owners of that property. He had hoped for an amelioration of slavery by the means proposed; he had hoped that the condition of the slaves would be much but gradually improved, and that slavery would be gradually extinguished; but the Parliament had never contemplated the compulsory extinction of slavery, or anything which was to destroy the property of the proprietors. That was the view taken by Mr. Canning; and any Government which attempted to enforce the extinction of slavery by Orders in Council went beyond its duty. He had heard of enforcing those Orders by fiscal regulations—a measure which ought never to be adopted. Those islands which did not obey the Orders were to be taxed, while those which did were to escape. Did any person ever hear of taxes being enforced for such a purpose before? He thought taxes were imposed only for the service of the State. If they were necessary for the service of the State, in God's name let them be paid; but, if they were not necessary, they ought not to be paid, and the Legislature ought not to impose them; above all, it ought not to impose them as a punishment. Parliament was not justified in imposing them on any such principle. But on whom was this punishment to be inflicted? Why, we 620 should have to pay these taxes, and the people of England would actually have to pay the taxes which were awarded as a punishment to the West-Indians. He could not believe that the Legislature would adopt such a proposition, if it were made by Government, for it was such a one as had never yet been recognized by Parliament. He was not surprised, under such circumstances, that the West-India body desired that the whole matter should be inquired into by a Committee of that House, in order that the inquiries might lead to doing them justice, and to ascertaining what part of the measures recommended by Parliament they had carried into execution. There were other reasons why this subject required serious attention. Their interest had been much neglected. No doubt whatever could be entertained that the taxation on their produce was excessive, for, with the exception of the small reduction made in 1829, that taxation had been reduced very little below what it was during the war. That alone was a sufficient reason for inquiry, to see if there were no means of giving the West-Indians relief. Let their Lordships look at the situation of property in that country. He would state to them the particulars of one property in the island of Jamaica which was fortunately unincumbered with any debts, which was the case with very few estates. The property consisted of 996 acres, whereof 176 acres were cultivated with sugar. The whole produce of the estate was sold in England for 6,010l., and what proportion of that did their Lordships suppose went to Government? The duty of Government amounted to 2,960l., being, fifty per cent on the value of the gross produce. The expenses of agency, brokerage, insurance, &c. amounted to 1,000l.; it cost that to transport the sugar by sea to England. The supplies sent out from England for the estate amounted to 772l. There was money sent to the agent at Jamaica for various expenses, amounting to 564l. Altogether the whole of the disbursements amounted to 5,282l., leaving to the proprietor the sum only of 728l. This was in a good year: in an ordinary year he would not get more than 500l. If the season were bad, or if the crops failed, he got nothing. It was most desirable that all these facts should be investigated by a Committee of that House. It was very desirable that property in the West Indies, like all individual property, should receive 621 protection. It ought to be protected by the Legislature as well as any other property of individuals which existed in this country. The House, in its anxiety to abolish the slavery of individuals, should not forget that the subject involved, not merely the slavery of the negroes, but the property of individuals, and property entitled to their Lordships' protection. The public mind ought to be carried back to the nature of this property, and be made aware of what, the consequences would be, not only to individuals, but to the property of the people generally, by any measures for carrying into effect by force the Resolutions for the abolition of slavery. It was a fact and truth that it would be the destruction of individual property to extinguish slavery. Without the slaves that property would be worth nothing for the owners; without slavery, it must be admitted that neither the owners, the public, nor the individuals engaged in the cultivation, could be sustained in life. It was surely time for their Lordships to make inquiry, and bring forward such a Report as would lay the whole matter clearly before the public. He would support the Motion of his noble friend, and should be prepared to give every assistance in his power to further the objects of the Committee.
The Lord Chancellor
said, that this was a very important question, and he could not allow it to pass without offering a few observations, the more particularly as he differed from the noble Duke who had just addressed the House, upon one or two points. He not only did not intend, but he would purposely avoid, entering into any discussion upon many of the topics to which the noble Duke, and the noble Lord (Seaford) had adverted. He understood that it was the intention of Government, in compliance with what they believed to be the sense of a majority of the House, to consent to the appointment of a Committee; and it appeared to him to be at least premature to enter upon a discussion with respect to matters which would become the subject of inquiry before that Committee. He would merely make one or two observations with the view of guarding those who had listened to the noble Duke and the noble Lord from being led away by the misconceptions which they appeared to entertain upon some important branches of this question. In the first place, those noble Lords had 622 quoted the opinions of Mr. Canning and Mr. Fox. To the authority of the latter he was more disposed to yield upon this and all other questions, than to that of any other statesman, whose example or sayings were usually quoted. Really one would have thought, to have heard the noble Lord quote from a speech of Mr. Fox relative to a measure for the compulsory emancipation of slaves, and to apply that quotation in reprobation of the orders in Council which the Government had lately enforced in the Crown colonies, and recommended for the adoption of colonies having legislatures, that the object of those Orders in Council was to compel the manumission of slaves. Every man must admit, even if not backed by the authority of Mr. Fox, that it would be a wild and an unjust measure, suddenly, and without waiting to the very last moment, when it was possible for the mother country to bear with the colonies, to try to enforce the emancipation of the slaves. The measures, however, which the Government had enforced in the Crown colonies, and which they had recommended to the chartered colonies, had for their object only the preparation of the black population for the state of liberty to which they must ultimately arrive. Those measures, however, he feared, the chartered colonies would not adopt. This led him to say a word or two with respect to what had fallen from the noble Duke, relative to those chartered colonies. The noble Duke stated, that there was not one of those colonies in which some one or other of the propositions sanctioned by Parliament in 1822 had not been adopted. Now, as there were fourteen or fifteen of those propositions, and fourteen or fifteen colonies, it was quite clear, that, admitting the noble Duke's statement to be correct to the utmost extent, the colonies might, after all, have effected little or nothing, Two or three of Mr. Canning's resolutions contained important recommendations. The recommendations contained in the other resolutions, though still of some importance, were comparatively of inferior interest. It might happen that the important recommendations, had been adopted in some of the colonies of the least importance. He would not be tempted into details, but this he believed would, upon examination, be found to be the case. The noble Duke was likely to fall into mistakes in discussing this question, 623 as most persons who had not had long experience of West-India affairs, and of colonial legislatures, had done before him. The West-India legislatures were too apt to legislate for the purpose of evasion, seeming to do that which they had no intention of performing, and doing just so much as would enable their advocates in this country to prevent the Government from carrying into effect the unanimous Resolutions of both Houses of Parliament. He would give an example of this conduct. There was one recommendation contained in Mr. Canning's Resolutions, which was so easy of execution that it might have been enforced in a week—indeed, it could execute itself—he meant the proposition for making slave evidence admissible. In most of the colonies this recommendation had, in some degree, been adopted by the legislatures. Acts had been passed, which were entitled "Acts to render slave evidence admissible." It was possible that the noble Earl, and other persons in this country, might suppose from this that the colonies were carrying into effect the recommendations of the Imperial Parliament. It was true that, according to their Acts, they rendered slave evidence admissible, but they fettered their indulgence with restrictions, which rendered it inoperative. In some cases it was rendered necessary that a slave should produce a certificate from the clergyman of the parish in which he lived, describing him as a proper person to give evidence. This was a most extraordinary proceeding. No person in this country ever dreamed that the colonial legislatures would be called upon to do more than to render the evidence of slaves admissible, whilst it would be reserved for the Court and the Jury to decide upon the weight and credibility of their evidence. In most cases slaves had not the happiness of living under the superintendence of clergymen of the established Church; and, as it was well known that great prejudices existed in the colonies against sectarian ministers, it was not likely that a certificate from one of the latter would facilitate the admission of a slave's evidence. In some cases, however, still further restrictions were imposed; for, before slaves could appear as witnesses in a court of justice, they were compelled to produce the certificate of the overseer of the plantation on which they worked, stating that they were fit and proper persons to give evidence, and that they duly 624 understood the nature of an oath. Yet it was as against that overseer that it was important that the slaves should be made competent witnesses, it being for the very purpose of checking any misconduct on his part towards them that made the admissibility of slave evidence so desirable. Thus much he had felt it necessary to say, but, for the reason which he had before stated, he would not enter into further discussion on that occasion. With respect to the late insurrection which had taken place in Jamaica, no man could lament it more than he did; but, at the same time, he must altogether deny that that insurrection in any way arose from the measures adopted by the Government in connexion with the colonies. As to the inquiry that was asked for, he was of opinion that it was unnecessary, and that no benefit to the West-India interests would be derived from it; but, at the same time, the picture that was drawn of the distressed condition of the islands made him most unwilling to refuse that which it was supposed would be of advantage; and he, therefore, was ready to give his consent to the appointment of the Committee. There was one thing, however, of which he was quite sure, that the effect of the inquiry of the Committee would be, to show that the noble Duke had been altogether misinformed as to what had been done in the colonies, and what had been omitted there. His noble friend had alluded to the speech of Mr. Canning in 1824: now, with respect to the conclusions which his noble friend had drawn from that speech, he could not altogether concur in them; but, at all events, whatever interpretation might be put upon the observations of the right hon. Gentleman, he would take leave to observe, that what might be a very good argument in 1824 might be a very bad argument in 1832, owing to the change of circumstances that might have taken place.
said, he had stated on former occasions his motives for not concurring in the Resolutions which passed the House of Commons in 1823, which, after an interval of three years, were sent up to their Lordships. His principle reason for the course he had then adopted was, that, going as far as any of the advocates for emancipation in his abhorrence of slavery, he was unwilling to pledge Parliament in so solemn a manner, without being satisfied, before doing so, of the means 625 that could be found to enable them to redeem such pledges—if the admonitions and advice of Parliament should not be successful. Such means had, in his opinion not been hitherto discovered and acted upon, and the Resolutions themselves had only tended to fetter the proceedings, and to prevent the Legislature from dealing with the colonies according to the state of the case, as circumstances might arise upon an enlarged view of the whole matter. There was a statement in the latter part of the speech of the noble Viscount at the head of the Colonial Department, which, backed as it was by the remarks of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, had created great doubts in his mind as to the propriety of appointing a Committee, as it seemed to be the opinion of those noble Lords that such an appointment was unnecessary, and the Motion proposing it unfortunate. Certainly if Government intended to hamper the proceedings of the Committee by not leaving them at liberty to deal with the whole question; if they intended, notwithstanding any report it might make, founded on evidence produced before them, or the effect it was likely to produce on the public mind, to enforce their Orders in Council, and coerce the colonies by fiscal expedients, then the appointment of the Committee would be a delusion; and, so far from producing benefits to the colonies, it would bring conflicting and hostile feelings into contact, would rewaken animosities that might otherwise have slumbered, and would produce all the evils they were desirous to avoid. For his part, therefore, unless he distinctly understood that it was the intention of Government to leave the whole question to the Committee, and be guided by their decisions; he could not agree to its appointment. He said so, not because he thought under ordinary circumstances, it was right for Ministers to shelter themselves under the authority and report of a Committee, but because the whole proceedings founded upon Mr. Canning's resolutions went upon the principle of applying to Parliament for council in any inferior measures that might be necessary. It was never the intention of Mr. Canning, so far as could be gathered from his speeches, to proceed one step without the authority of the Legislature. But what had been the conduct of Ministers? How different had it been from that which would have been, in all probability, pursued by Mr. Canning, who 626 always treated this as a fearful question. He considered that a single incautious expression used either by a Minister, or by parties opposed to him, might lead to bloodshed, and to the commission of the greatest atrocities, in the West-Indies. He felt he was treading on most dangerous ground in touching this question at all; and it was quite evident, from the spirit which pervaded all his speeches, that he never looked forward to proceeding by means of coercion, under the circumstances which had occurred since the period when his resolutions were passed. He (Lord Ellenborough) was satisfied that the moment they began to coerce the legislatures of the West-Indies, that moment they would sanction insurrection against the planters. They had lately had a terrible instance of the effects of a delusion on the part of the black population—such delusions were easily excited. The peril in which the white population at all times stood, in the midst of so much ignorance and combustible matter, was extreme. Could they doubt that, if the colonial legislatures, consisting chiefly, if not wholly, of the white population of the West-Indies, was placed in direct hostility with the parent state, which the slaves were made to believe protected them, from that moment, whatever might be their motives, they would be thought to sanction insurrection. Those who pursued that course would be responsible for all the evils which might flow from such an insurrection. They would see what had been the conduct of Government. About a year ago, Ministers came down to Parliament with resolutions to the effect of those expressed in the letter of the 10th of December. These resolutions were never carried; but, on the 10th of December, whilst Parliament was sitting, this Order in Council was issued to the West-Indian legislatures, pledging the Government, and Parliament, but without consulting the Legislature, to enforce the Orders in Council. This was directly contrary to the express pledge of Mr. Canning—directly contrary to that line of conduct which policy and reason should have dictated to the Government. When he had first heard that it was the intention of Ministers to grant this Committee, his belief was, that they had become aware of the error into which they had fallen; and wished to cover their retreat. But if, on the contrary, he was now to understand that his Majesty's Government intended 627 to adhere to the line of conduct they had hitherto pursued, he agreed with the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, nay, he went beyond him, and not only thought the Committee unnecessary, but most unfortunate, and likely to be productive of very great public evils. He thought the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack was mistaken if he supposed that, on the general subject involved in the discussion of to-night, he differed from the majority of this House. He believed that every noble Lord went quite as far as the noble and learned Lord in abhorrence of slavery, and in a desire to ameliorate the condition of the slaves, with a view to their ultimate emancipation. Their difference was not as to the object, but as to the means of accomplishing it. He denied that the Orders in Council made one step towards its attainment. It had been truly stated to have been the object of Mr. Canning to carry along with him the white population of the West Indies. Unless that population went along with the measures proposed, success was impossible; for, legislate as they pleased, they were the only instruments to carry the laws into effect. The new Order in Council threatening to coerce the chartered colonies by fiscal regulations, was a direct attack upon the independence of every one of them. They might as well, by order in Council, destroy their charters; for the effect of complying with these orders would be, practically, to place them in the same position as the Crown colonies. Did their Lordships know the nature of the Orders in Council, Ministers meant to enforce? Had they read the letter of Mr. Jackson, showing their gross absurdities, and that their effects would be actually to place the slave, in many instances, in a worse situation than he now held? Those Orders, he had no hesitation in saying, were founded in gross and utter ignorance of the state of the colonies. They applied to fourteen or fifteen different colonies, and yet required one uniform act of legislation. According to them, the slaves were everywhere to be clothed and fed in the same way, and to be subject to the same hours of labour, although variety of climate, and other circumstances, rendered it necessary, for the happiness of the slave and the security of the master, that there should be a difference in many of these particulars. But Ministers had not only departed from the principles laid down by Mr. Canning, and determined to act upon their own au- 628 thority, but had been so unfortunate in selecting their occasion, that they had placed those against whom they were to act in the right. The colonists, undoubtedly were right in resisting the Orders in Council, for they were absurd, unreasonable, and injurious, and their Lordships were to be called upon to exert their powers of coercive legislation to make the colonists do what was plainly and demonstrably wrong. Under such circumstances, the thing could not stand. It was impossible that Parliament could support the Government in the course it was about to pursue, he, therefore, trusted the noble Viscount would hear reason, and allow the whole subject to go before the Committee; and if it could be shown that this Order in Council was inapplicable to particular islands, that he would consent to modify it, and further, that some pledge would be given that no measure of coercion whatever should be proposed, until it appeared, in the words of Mr. Canning, "that the opposition of the planters is founded not upon reason, but upon contumacy."
§ Viscount Goderich
could not admit the interpretation which the noble Lord gave to Mr. Canning's language. He never understood that that language contained a pledge, that in no case, after no lapse of time, and under no circumstances, would the Government think itself justified in acting in a manner different to that he then prescribed. When the noble Lord called upon him to give some sort of pledge, with respect to the conduct of the Government, whilst this inquiry was pending, he seemed to think he had a strange notion of his duty; that he was about to accede to the appointment of a Committee, with a predetermination to disregard and despise every tittle of evidence that might be produced before it. Although he did not wish that Committee to be appointed, and doubted its expediency, yet his sole object, if he were a Member of it, would be the investigation of truth; that being the principle on which he proposed to act, contained as much of a pledge as any Member of that House ought to be called upon to give
§ Lord Wynford
said, that his noble and learned friend on the woolsack had stated, that, although the colonies had passed laws in seeming compliance with the wishes of this country, yet, they had taken care that those laws should be such as to produce very little effect; however he was glad his noble and learned friend had only 629 adduced one instance of this kind, had there been another, from his great knowledge of West-Indian affairs, he must have known it, and he was sure he would have brought it forward. The only instance he did state related to the admission of slave evidence, which he said was tramelled by the acts directing, that before a slave was examined, he must have a certificate from some minister of religion, and the overseer of the estate to which he belonged. He had ascertained, by inquiries made since his noble and learned friend made his statement, that he was entirely deceived as regarded a certificate being required from the overseer. It was true, that the slave was required to have a certificate from some minister of religion, but with whom did that provision originate but with Mr. Canning, who distinctly recommended it, and in consequence of whose recommendation it was adopted? so that that law, which his noble and learned friend stated had been passed to defeat the intentions of Parliament, had actually proceeded from the Minister upon whose resolutions all succeeding legislation had been founded. He thought it was a most wise provision; for, if slaves were to be received as witnesses in a Court of Justice, it must first be ascertained that they believed in the nature of an oath. But there was another point he would urge upon his noble and learned friend. If there was any objection to this law, how had it received the sanction of the British Government? As this was the only instance which his noble and learned friend had brought forward to prove attempts on the part of the colonists to do away with the effect of what they pretended to do in compliance with the wishes of the British Legislature, he had failed in making his case out. The noble and learned Lord had further stated, that he did not think that the expectations of the noble Duke, with respect to this Committee, would be realized, but that a very different case would be made out. He confidently hoped that his noble and learned friend would not prove correct in his opinion. Who applied for this Committee but the proprietors of property in the West Indies? They had been charged with many faults, but they had not been thought persons wanting in discretion, and, therefore, it was not likely that they would apply for this Committee, if they did not believe that the result of the inquiry would be in their favour. For his own part, he thought that 630 the result would be to prove these Orders in Council unnecessary—and, if tin necessary, improper; for he agreed with the noble Lord (Lord Seaford) that any interference between master and slave, not absolutely necessary, was not only an improper interference with property, but an interference likely to lead to the most mischievous consequences, both to the whites and the blacks. When the noble and learned Lord said, that nothing had been done for the latter, did he forget the testimony which had been borne to the fact by the most rev. Archbishop? did the noble and learned Lord forget that, in 1815, the negroes were all Pagans, but that now they were nearly all Christians? He should have thought that making them Christians was conferring upon them the greatest boon it was possible to bestow; therefore, in his opinion, much had been done, as he trusted other noble Lords besides himself were fully persuaded, from what had occurred in the course of the debate. If their Lordships went into Committee, in the spirit so properly recommended by the noble Viscount opposite, it might turn out that everything had been done which, consistently with a due regard to the interest both of master and slave, could have been done for the benefit of the latter. He was glad to hear his noble friend say, that nothing like compulsory manumission was ever dreamed of. God forbid that there should be any thing like a forcing of the master to abandon his property in the slave! Once adopt that principle, and there was an end of all property. Property in slaves, in the West Indies, was acquired under the sanction of law—nay, more, under the encouragement of law; and, therefore, rested upon as good a foundation as any other property. That slavery was an evil, nobody could doubt; not on account of the relation which existed between masters and slaves in the West Indies, but on account of the criminality which belonged to it. He had not a sugar cane in the West Indies, but he should be sorry, upon principle, that the property of the West Indians should be assailed by a forced manumission of slaves. The Government ought to indemnify all who had acquired this kind of property, under the sanction of the Government.
The Lord Chancellor
begged their Lordships to bear in mind that his noble and learned friend had said, that, in no colonial legislature had any law yet been passed, 631 announcing, as a condition to the admissibility of slave evidence, that the certificate of the overseer was necessary; he had no doubt, however, that point would be completely proved in the Committee, and that his noble and learned friend and informant had misled him.
§ Petition to lie on the table.
§ The Earl of Harewood
then moved, that a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the laws and usages of the several West-India Colonies, in relation to the slave population; the actual condition and treatment of the slaves, their habits and dispositions; the means which are adopted in the several Colonies for their progressive improvement and civilization, and the degree of improvement and civilization which they have at present attained; and also to inquire into the distressed condition of those colonies.
§ Motion agreed to.