HL Deb 22 March 1838 vol 41 cc1124-6
Lord Glenelg

moved the Order of the Day for the House to resolve itself into a Committee of the whole House on the bill for amending the Act for the Abolition of Slavery.

On the first clause,

The Marquess of Sligo

said, that he wished to propose an amendment and to take that opportunity of stating the grounds for the change, in his opinion, regarding the immediate abolition of negro slavery. When he had been first consulted by those humane persons, who had latterly taken the lead in endeavouring to abolish slavery altogether, and who had solicited him to join them in that important object, he had felt it his duty not to adopt that course, because he believed, that it would be perfectly impracticable to carry any measure of that nature this Session, and he considered that a fruitless attempt to do so would only excite the expectations of the negro population, and might lead to the worst results. He had determined, therefore, to amend, as far as he could by legislative enactments, the condition of the negroes. He had, however, been induced to change his opinion in consequence of communications which he had received from various parts of the West-India islands, some extracts from which he would read to their Lordships. The noble Marquess read several passages from the letters of planters, special magistrates, and others, in which the writers stated "that the cat-o'-nine-tails was in great demand; that flagellation was the order of the day; and he instanced a case in which a negro had received 517 lashes on account of a trifling theft," and expressed themselves apprehensive of the worst consequences if the total emancipation of the negro were not accomplished this year. The noble Marquess also read a short extract from the message of Sir Evan M'Griggor, and expressed himself delighted that such a message should have been sent; but said, that at the same time he held it to be impossible, after that message, that the negroes could be contented with anything less than an entire and complete liberation. The question had already been stirred in all the islands, and he could tell their Lordships that there was not a petition presented—not a meeting in Exeter Hall—of which the negroes did not hear. He would only add, that he did not preach what he would not practise; for he could assure them that no remnant of slavery should exist on his estate after the 1st of August next; the negroes should henceforth only have a claim to his gratitude for their past services. The noble Marquess concluded by moving that the following words be added to clause 1:—"Provided always, and be it enacted, that the labours of the negroes shall terminate not later than twelve on Friday." This would add greatly to the negro's comfort. It would enable him to go to market on the Friday and it would leave him the whole of Saturday for the cultivation of his patch of ground.

Amendment agreed to.

The clauses of the bill were read and agreed to.

On the motion that the chairman report progress,

The Marquess of Northampton

rose for the purpose of congratulating their Lordships on the progress of the bill. It was a common remark that the world was daily growing worse, but he thought that the public feeling which had been expressed in this country on the subject of the slave trade, and the prompt and proper manner in which that feeling had been responded to by their Lordships, in adopting in an almost, he might say, in an altogether, unanimous spirit, the present bill, was a complete answer to the injustice, or at least to the universal application of that observation. He complimented her Majesty's Government on having brought such a measure forward. It was a measure which he was sure would give the greatest satisfaction to the people of this country, who were anxiously expecting the speedy consummation of the object which it was intended to effect. It would convince the West-Indian planters that the British Government and the British people were determined to protect the negroes from injustice and oppression; and those who were engaged in the slave trade, that they were resolved to take measures to put a stop to that nefarious traffic. The negroes themselves must feel grateful for this interference in their behalf, and would no doubt prove their gratitude by their future conduct. There was, also, another party who could not regard but with interest and thankfulness this act of the Imperial Legislature of Great Britain—he meant the people of Africa, a quarter of the world whence vast numbers of unhappy victims had been continually draughted to supply the demands of the abominable and insatiable system of negro slavery. He would take the present opportunity of throwing out a suggestion for the consideration of her Majesty's Government and of their Lordships generally. Perhaps one of the chief causes why the attempts hitherto made to put down the slave trade had been inefficient was the jealousy which existed between the various nations who were equally disposed to take an active part in destroying that iniquitous commerce; and he would therefore suggest that a plan should be adopted by which a combined squadron of the English, French, American and Dutch fleets should be brought into simultaneous operation for the purpose, and that the senior captain of each fleet should take the command of the whole squadron in rotation for a fixed period. Such a plan, he thought, would be agreeable to the respective nations, and successful in its results.

The House resumed and the bill was reported.

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