HL Deb 23 March 1838 vol 41 cc1166-71
The Bishop of London

had a petition to present for the abolition of slavery, signed by a great number of most respectable persons resident at Tottenham, who complained, that the planters had violated their part of the contract, and he had been requested to express his concurrence in the opinion declared by the petitioners, if he could. If it could be presumed that the case was really as the petitioners represented, he certainly should have no hesitation in saying, that it would be only just as well as expedient to put an early termination to the present system of apprenticeship, and that it would be for the advantage of all parties, that steps should be taken as soon as possible to procure this end. He was not prepared to say, however, that the planters had violated their engagements. Even if many of them had done so, and a minority had observed good faith, he was not prepared to assent to the proposition, that the few should be made to suffer for the misconduct of the majority; yet he was not quite sure that the interests of humanity ought not to prevail against the interests of the people. If the safety of the colonies was to be considered as dependent upon the frame of mind of the population at the end of the apprenticeship system, and if there was any danger likely to result from the exasperated feelings of that population when that termination should arrive, he thought that less danger was likely to arise now than two years hence. With respect to compensation, he was aware that it was agreed to be paid to the planters on the calculation of their retaining six years services of the negroes, the emancipation being deferred. But this country appeared now to be fully of opinion that the same sum if paid for immediate emancipation would be fully sufficient; and, therefore, on pecuniary grounds the planter would have no reason to complain. He was convinced that immediate emancipation would be beneficial to this country and to the colonies, but still he doubted whether this country was not bound to adhere to the compact which had been entered into. With respect to the negroes themselves, he must say, that he thought there was little probability that the treatment which they would receive during the next two years, however humane it might be, and however it might tend to ameliorate their condition, would have the effect of rendering them satisfied with their present position, or with freedom when it should arrive, but, on the contrary, they would feel that it had come slowly, and they would experience less gratification, therefore, and would feel less gratitude for the favour which had been conferred upon them, whereas, if the great boon of complete emancipation were given to them at once, it would have the great effect of stifling their feelings of hatred to the English and to the planters and overseers. He was bound to say, that the case made out showed the interest of the country and of every well-wisher of the West Indies to be to secure a coloured population industrious and well-disposed, religious and inclined to appreciate the advantages conferred upon them by this country; and he felt persuaded that if it were possible to grant them the boon of immediate emancipation, it would excite in them feelings of the greatest gratitude and reverence to this country.

Lord Brougham

, during the last two or three days, had been amply, and more than sufficiently, recompensed for all the anxiety which he had felt during the whole progress of this great discussion. He had been recompensed by the declarations of several noble Lords on the subject, first of the noble Marquess who sat near him, and next by a noble Lord opposite connected with the county of York; and now, lastly, by the right rev. Prelate in the calm and temperate, but most weighty, observations made by him on presenting the petitions to the House which had just been laid on the table. If anything could increase his satisfaction at the course which he had pursued, or if anything could induce him to accelerate the day on which he should renew this argument, by bringing forward for a second reading the bill which was on the table of their Lordships' House, and to which their Lordships had already given a first reading, it would be the statement of the opinions of those noble Lords, and more especially that of the right rev. Prelate. Even the doubts which had been expressed by that right rev. Prelate, from the manner in which he had expressed them, led him to believe, or at least to hope, that they would, when he came to give them full consideration, soon be thoroughly removed. He had derived still further satisfaction from his being made acquainted with what had passed last night during his necessary absence from the House on business connected with its judicial jurisdiction, with the declaration which had been made by the noble Marquess, the late governor of Jamaica, and which afforded him the greatest gratification. The noble Marquess, by his declaration, had, if possible, acquired a new title to the gratitude and praise of his fellow-couutrymen in the colonies, and a fresh right to the respect of his fellow-citizens. The noble Marquess had avowed his sentiments upon the subject freely; but in his (Lord Brougham's) mind he had still further entitled himself to the gratitude of his country, and he had still further established the importance of his opinion, if such aid indeed was necessary to the declaration of an individual of such high authority, by stating his intention, let Parliament do what it might with the bill which was before it, and whatever the conduct of the local legislatures might be, to set free his own indentured apprentices on the 1st of August next. Conduct like this in an individual was most honourable, and was above all praise; and he sincerely hoped, that it would not be without its effect upon those who had applied their minds to the practical consideration of the subject; and it bore the strongest testimony to the statement of the right rev. Prelate, that there was no longer any doubt of the safety of the measure, or of the advantages which would be derived by the colonies, and by the slave, or that it would be both creditable and profitable to the mother country itself; and when the noble Marquess came forward, and by such a step declared that he could with safety, and without sacrifice, emancipate the negroes who were on his estate, it might be readily inferred that it would be still more safe if the measure were made general, and that that which could be done by one individual, without detriment, might be done in reference to all. He would not now enter into the principles of the measure afresh, as he believed that such a course would be attended with very great inconvenience, further than to say, that there was an abundant answer to the question of compact referred to by the right rev. Prelate; and he hoped to convince him, when the time should come for a general discussion of the measure, and which would be soon after Easter, that there was nothing in the nature of a compact entered into at all in these cases.

Lord Wharncliffe

said, that he felt himself bound to state to the House, that what he had said on a former evening was in consequence of his presenting a petition, praying undoubtedly that the negro should be emancipated as soon as possible. At the same time, it was for the House to consider how far it was possible to get rid of the cruelties practised; and, he repeated, that if satisfactory measures were not taken in reference to the subject, he should be prepared to go the whole length of calling for the immediate emancipation of the slaves. There were doubts on his mind, however, as to the possibility of this great step being taken without some prepararation in the islands themselves in the way of legislation, for, supposing the negroes should be freed, a black might claim to vote for the election of members of the Legislative Assemblies.

Lord Brougham

Unless they were freeholders they would not have votes.

Lord Wharncliffe

Perhaps he was mistaken on that point, but at all events there were the questions of police and poor-law. Those persons who had hitherto necessarily been supported by their proprietors, but who, from sickness or age, had become incapable of obtaining a livelihood, would require some measure to be adopted for their maintenance. Another point of importance was, that when the proposition was first brought forward, the planters were to have a loan of 15,000,000l., and the services of those persons for twelve years. That period was afterwards shortened to six years, on condition of their receiving a gift of 20,000,000l. It was evident, therefore, that the services of the slaves were secured for six years. These were the doubts which he felt. But the atrocities committed in the West Indies were so great, and the refusal to pass laws for the protection of the slaves was so notorious, that, unless some regulations were adopted to insure the proper treatment of the slaves during the remainder of the two years, he should be prepared to emancipate them at once.

The Marquess of Sligo

said, the qualification for voting was 16l. 10s. currency, equal to 10l. sterling, which he thought was too much; 10l. currency would be quite sufficient. If blacks obtained property and influence, they ought to be represented, and he thought the noble Lord would not object to it. As to the militia, he wished that it was altogether black. The negroes had been intrusted with the protection of property, and the blacks were found to be more faithful than the whites. He, therefore, could see no danger in having blacks in the militia. As to the police force, he wished to see it considerably increased. With respect to the introduction of a poor-law, he conceived it to be absolutely necessary for the negroes and the planters; and he was confident, that if a meeting of the Assembly were called, on information being received that this Bill had passed, a poor-law would be agreed to immediately. Any man who treated his negroes properly would have plenty of labour. He was confident, that a poor-law ought to be passed immediately; and he was sure that better measures would be passed by the colonial legislature when they saw the determination of this country to carry the spirit and intentions of the Slavery Abolition Act into effect.

Petition laid on the table.

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