HL Deb 17 June 1858 vol 150 cc2195-218

rose, pursuant to notice, to present a petition from the inhabitants of St. Mary, in the island of Jamaica, for the suppression of the slave trade. The petition set forth that in the year 1814 a treaty had been entered into between Great Britain and Spain for the abolition of the slave trade, but that in spite of that treaty and of subsequent treaties the traffic in slaves still continued to the great injury of the petitioners; and it prayed their Lordships to adopt such means as might seem meet to them for the suppression of the traffic, and to compel the Spanish Government to redeem the pledges which they had given. In presenting this petition he would venture, for a few moments, to call their Lordships' attention to the great subject to which it referred. He was sorry to say that the fact mentioned in the petition was so patent that it would not be necessary to take up much of their Lordships' time in proving the allegations. It was patent to all that the continuance of the traffic in slaves was a breach of the solemn treaties which had been entered into by Spain, with this country, and that the breach had been aggravated by almost every circumstance of aggravation with which one nation could violate the engagements it had entered into with another. In the year 1814 a general treaty was entered into between England and Spain, by which Spain united, without binding herself to any particular line of conduct, with this country, in condemning the trade in slaves. Shortly afterwards the great Congress of all the principal European Powers agreed in the face of the world to condemn that traffic and entered into mutual engagements to put it down. In 1817 a new treaty was entered into between England and Spain, by which Spain undertook that by the year 1820 the slave trade, as far as her own subjects were concerned, should cease, and they even accepted a sum of £400,000 as a compensation for the injury which would be done to certain Spanish subjects by the suppression of the traffic. Year after year, however, passed on, and nothing was done. In 1835 a new and more explicit treaty was contracted between this country and Spain, in which the Government of Spain again repeated the engagements to which he had alluded, and undertook to make a law sufficiently stringent to make it impossible for a Spanish subject to continue the forbidden traffic. But still true to the policy which had throughout characterized a conduct—a policy which had been remarked fur many past generations, and which had induced Lord Bacon, in one of his pithy sentences to say, that Spain was always a nation slow of despatch, and that the fact had been embodied in a proverb, in which persons expressed a hope that when their deaths came they should come from Spain, knowing that then death would be long enough in coming. True to their character ten years passed after this treaty of 1835, before any such penal law was made; and, then, when owing to the remonstrances of this country, a law was framed, the only point which could have made it effectual—that of declaring the slave trade piracy—was omitted. In spite of repeated remonstrances from successive Governments of this country, in spite of the dishonour which such conduct brought upon her, Spanish subjects had been engaged in the slave trade from that time to this, except during two years that Valdez was Captain General of Cuba; and he had a letter from a person who was likely to be well informed on the subject, which stated that the horrible traffic still existed, and that several ship loads of Africans had lately been landed in Cuba. He thought he need not occupy any more of their Lordships' time in proving the first and principal allegation of this petition, that the slave trade still continued to be carried on by Spain with unexhausted vigour, and that it was so carried on in spite of the most plain and repeated engagements with this country that it should absolutely cease. In thus violating her treaty engagements Spain had not the poor excuse which many countries might urge in such a matter—that her Government was not strong enough to carry them out. The proof lay in a nut shell: it lay in this simple fact, that when Valdez was the Captain General of Cuba, and showed his determination to interfere with this obnoxious traffic, he had been perfectly able to interfere with it, and for the time being to stop it. It appeared from the Slave Trade papers which were from year to year laid on their Lordships' table that when Valdez was appointed Captain General of Cuba he called together all the persons in the island known to be engaged in the accursed traffic, and he told them he had come to the honest determination to stop it, but that he would give six months, in which he would take no notice, in order that those who had ventures might wind up their affairs; but that at the expiration of that time he was determined to put the law in force. What was the result? They found that in 1840 as many as fifty-six ships were despatched from Cuba to the coast of Africa; but that in 1842, when the Captain General endeavoured to enforce the treaty, only three ships were despatched from Cuba to the coast of Africa; and that while in the year 1840, 14,470 Africans were imported into Cuba, in 1842 only 3,100 were imported. And this was not all. When the same Captain General was in Cuba he took means for ascertaining what the general feeling of the Cubans was with regard to the suppression of the traffic, and he reported that all Cubans whose opinions Were asked unhesitatingly condemned it, and that the feeling of the people, as a body, was favourable to the termination of it. And there were reasons why they should. The trade was conducted for the benefit of certain speculators who introduced Africans for the purpose of breaking up new land, and bringing it in competition with the old estates in the island; and therefore those who were now living in opulence on the produce of their estates were desirous for their own sakes that the accursed traffic should be stopped. But how was the expression of opinion received in that country? It was regarded as a criminal offence, and visited with the severest penalties; and there were instances in which persons had been imprisoned and banished from the island merely because they had expressed with freedom their opinion of this traffic. It came, therefore, to this, that the Spanish Government, instead of being overborne by popular violence, itself put down the wholesome feeling of the island, in order that it might retain this trade. And why, he would ask, was it that the Government of Spain had shown itself anxious that the iniquitous traffic in slaves should be maintained? He was afraid that its conduct in that respect was to be ascribed to the basest of all possible motives—the love of gain—the personal advantage of serving great people who received their reward from the gains of this accursed trade. There was, he believed, little doubt that persons of high position in Spain—persons standing near to the throne of that country—had received largely the wages which resulted from the continuance of that guilty commerce which was one of the great curses of mankind. It was a matter of notoriety that more than one Captain General had been sent out to Cuba—were sent out for one purpose only,—with a view that he might replenish his exhausted fortunes by means of fees received upon the importation of those unhappy Africans. It appeared, indeed, from papers which had been laid upon the table of the House, that certain persons who had held that office had within a very short time been enabled to realize as much as £100,000, and to return to Spain enriched by unlawful gains purchased with the blood of those whom, contrary to treaty, they had permitted to be introduced as slaves into the island over whose interests they had been appointed to watch. It was a well known fact, be believed, that one of those officers had received a fee of three doubloons per head for slaves thus illegally imported. But this was not all—there was another feature in this case which brought home to the Government itself the criminality of this thing—there were repeated instances of a wilful falsification upon the part of the authorities of the returns of the number of slaves in the island, repeated year after year, in order to evade the treaty. For instance, a return had been made upon one occasion which went to show that the whole number of the slaves in a single year was only 300,000, although there was unmistakeable evidence to show that the number was 900,000; and that the authorities themselves were aware that they were making a statement which was absolutely untrue. There was, however, another ground of complaint in connection with the subject to which he desired briefly to call their Lordships' attention—he referred to the treatment of that class of Africans who were designated in the treaty by the name of emancipados. It was a part of the engagements that in regard to the island of Cuba, all those slaves who happened to have been introduced into the island after a certain date should, after an apprenticeship of five years, be set free, and enabled thenceforward to work for wages. How, he would ask, had that arrangement been carried into effect? The way in which the Cuban authorities had evaded this engagement was that those emancipados who ought to have been allowed to go at liberty were actually substituted for the slaves who happened to die under work in the plantations, the treaty which had been entered into with this country being thereby directly evaded. He thought he had now brought the case to this point, that this violation of treaties was not the consequence of a weak Government overborne by a popular movement, but was the direct act of the Government itself; and it was the act of the Government, not from any desire to develope the resources of the country, but in order that certain persons might have reserved to them the means of gaining wealth through the miseries of the African people. He would now turn to another side of the subject. Was this, he would ask, a state of things which Great Britain could in the face of the world honestly allow to be continued? He would answer that question by stating it to be his firm conviction that we were bound by every obligation which a nation like our own must regard as most sacred to use every means in our power to put a stop to the evils to which he had called their Lordships' attention, and to provide that the provisions of those treaties into which we had solemnly entered should be strictly enforced. We were bound to adopt that course in the discharge of our duty to our own West India colonists, inasmuch as in consequence of an act which he could not help designating as most unworthy of this country—the equalisation of the duties upon slave-grown and free-grown sugar—we gave them just reason to expect that we would at all events not allow them to be ruined by undue competition with countries which imported slaves for the cultivation of sugar, and that, too, in violation of treaties which the dictates of right and policy alike called upon us to maintain. But it was not our duty to our colonists alone which demanded that we should insist that these treaty obligations should be observed. We owed it to the people of this country, who were heavily taxed for the support of a squadron upon the coast of Africa to intercept the slavers, that that course should be adopted. It was a noble use to which to apply money; but we had no right to do that, and at the same time to allow the very evil to be created by the breach of treaties. There would otherwise be a manifest inconsistency in our maintaining that squadron—an inconsistency which would do much to damage our fair fame in the eyes of the world, and which would lead the English nation to suppose that Her Majesty's Government were actuated by some secret motive in the line of policy they were pursuing, inasmuch as, if such were not the case, they would not suffer a country like Spain to proceed for so long a period in defiance of the obligations into which she had entered. It did not become the high character of England to permit any State whatsoever thus to scoff at the solemn engagements which she had contracted. There was another reason—a great moral consideration. No nation should undertake the succour of the afflicted as we had done, and then flinch from the labour and self sacrifice which that clientship entailed. We had no right to put ourselves forward to the world as the suppressors of the slave trade unless we were prepared honestly and firmly to enforce those treaties for its suppression which our allies had made with us. To renounce the responsibilities which attached to us under those circumstances would be a dishonour- able abandonment of our duty—a line of conduct utterly unworthy of a great people. There was another subject which ought to be considered in connection with this question. Looking at the condition of things which we had too long suffered to exist, it must be seen that the position of Cuba exposed us to the danger of hostile feeling from the United States, and perhaps of hostile acts. The people of that country, it should be remembered, were the inheritors of our blood; they had our own love for the sea as well as our own jealousy for their national honour and their national flag; and we could not carry on the operations which we were pledged to carry on without coming continually into contact, if not with ships of that nation, at least with ships sailing for security under its flag. The right of search was at this moment in a very unsettled state; and how easy was it for the intemperance of a single commander, actuated by honourable feeling, but carrying too far the right we claimed of seeing whether a vessel was or was not an American, to cast a spark into the slumbering magazine of mischief and involve all in a common ruin! He said "in a common ruin," for what could be more fatal to the advancement of the human race, to rational liberty and to civilization, than that war should break out between these two nations, or even that there should ensue between them any permanent alienation? Yet, while we suffered Cuba to continue a slave importing State, it must in the nature of things be a continual provocative of the most dangerous extremities between England and America. It was like allowing a magazine of powder to exist close to our most precious possessions, and then calmly suffering sparks to be constantly falling around what ought to be its well guarded stores. He contended that the state of things at this moment existing ought to impress upon the nation and the Government the necessity of taking a high tone with Spain, and of enforcing upon it the fulfilment of its treaties. Now, if happily Spain were to follow the example so nobly set her by Portugal—if she would do for Cuba what Portugal had done, as far she could, by influencing the Brazilian Government to abolish the slave trade there—if Spain would do this, and would give to these imported Africans the liberty which under treaty with us was now theirs; if Cuba were in this way constituted a country with free African labourers, they would then remove the temptation which now continually beset certain parts of the United States to annex this island for certain internal State purposes peculiar to the confederation. In this matter, then, we had calls of right which no nation could possibly disregard, as well as calls of interest which it was of the highest moment now to attend to. We were bound in the face of Europe and of the world to suffer these treaties no longer to continue a dead letter, but to require—aye, and to use every means which the Government of this country could employ to make that requisition binding—that this tardy, this equivocating State should at last free itself, as it had so long engaged to do, from the accursed stain of this traffic in men. The right rev. Prelate concluded by moving that the petition should lie on the table.


said, that the right rev. Prelate who had just sat down was evidently actuated by the noblest motives, and had addressed the House with an eloquence and fervour worthy of his name. He trusted that the Government would give some intimation of its intentions in regard to the question generally, and particularly as to carrying into effect the suggestions which had been so justly made by his right rev. Friend. It should be remembered that the Government of England had some right to use its influence on the Spanish Government, inasmuch as the latter had received upwards of half a million of money for its accession to treaties, which it had ever since systematically violated. His right rev. Friend had alluded to a very delicate subject—the chance of a difference with the United States. But if we insisted on Spain acting up to her engagements, that risk would be avoided. The present dissensions he regarded as an alarm-bell, which should warn us to be wise in time; and though such alarms were unpleasant, we might remember Mr. Burke's saying that the fire-bell which disturbs our slumbers may save us from being burut in our beds. It was not only the bounden duty, but the plain interest of our own Government, of the Spanish Government, and of the Government of France, to put an end to the transportation of slaves to the coast of Cuba. It was sometimes said that the United States had an interest in the slave trade; but they had none. Not one of the slaves carried from Africa was imported into the United States; a few went to Martinique, but 999 out of every 1,000 went to Cuba. The number and complexity of the coral reefs on the Cuban coast would render it impossible for any squadron which might be maintained there effectually to suppress the slave trade; but he believed that, if an end were put to that gross system of corruption under which the Governors of Cuba had enriched themselves by bribes at the rate of so much a head for every unhappy African landed on the Cuban coast, they would prevent the great difficulties which arose between the United States and this country with respect to the right of search. Let us, however, treat our American brethren with perfect frankness as well as fairness in dealing with this subject. The United States would not allow the right of search, treating it as a belligerent right, which had no existence in time of peace. This whole subject had been explained in an able and most valuable Compendium of the Law of Nations which had been published by two learned members of the profession to which he had the honour to belong—he meant Mr. Hazlitt and Mr. Roche—and in which the question of the right of search was most clearly and accurately handled. He thought no lawyer would deny that the right of search was a belligerent right only; but, making that admission, he did not at all admit it as a consequence that any ship of any country —not mere slave-traders, but common pirates and robbers—were to be allowed, simply by hoisting a certain piece of bunting, to carry on their nefarious proceedings with impunity. But if the Americans objected to the exercise of the right of search —even to visits for police purposes—in time of peace, on the ground that they were prohibited by international law, they must on the other hand admit that, according to international law, the same doctrine applies equally to small as to great States; and therefore, that such States as Lubeck, which possessed some three or four ships— and Monaco, which, although possessing no vessels, was yet an independent State—and San Marino, which might become owner of A small sea-board—might cover by their flags vessels which were engaged in this traffic, and no other nation would have any right to interfere with them—nay, any common pirate might use their flag at his pleasure, instead of his own black flag, and no one had a right to ask him whether he was making a right or a wrong use of that flag, because only cruisers of the nation whose flag was thus used had a right to visit. If it were admitted that, according to the American doctrine, the right of visit as well as search was belligerent, and only to be exercised in case of war, the principle must of course apply to Lubeck, Monaco, and San Marino, and to every small State, as well as to France, America, or England. For his own part he conceived that this question might be most satisfactorily arranged by friendly and kindly discussion between those Powers whose interests were concerned; but, at the same time, he thought that all discussion would be rendered unnecessary if Spain did her duty by performing the obligations she had contracted, and for which she had been well paid. He could not conclude without saying one word respecting the slave trade which was carried on with the sanction of the French Government, by exporting slaves from Africa, and carrying them across the Atlantic to Martinique and elsewhere, under colour of their being free labourers. He had had conversations with French naval officers, who, according to a most excellent regulation, had been placed on board vessels which conveyed negroes from the African coast. One of these gentlemen told him that he had been on board a vessel containing 350 slaves, that the passage occupied thirty days, and during its continuance thirtyfive negroes died, being at the rate of 10 per cent. per month; that it was necessary, as the crew only consisted of from fifteen to twenty men, to take great precautions in keeping the negroes in the hold, and that many of the negroes were in irons, and were not allowed on deck for the time which was necessary for their health. A heavy mortality was the necessary consequence. He (Lord Brougham) was not surprised, after hearing such an account of the mode in which this traffic was conducted, at seeing a statement that the poor unhappy negroes on board one of these ships had been unable to bear their confinement and their chains, and that they had risen upon the crew, and murdered the whole of them with one exception. [Earl GREY: Not murdered—killed them.] The noble Earl was right. The negroes "killed" the whole crew except one man, and some people were rather disposed to complain that a single exception had been made. The person whose life was spared, was however, the medical officer who had behaved very kindly to the negroes. As regarded what had been said about the negroes going on board of their own free will, he did not believe a word of it. He asked the French officer to whom he had alluded how the 350 negroes had got on board the vessel he superintended, and he found that they were all slaves who had been bought on the coast from chiefs well-known as slave-traders, although they had been temporarily liberated—if such a term could be correctly used in such a case—in order that it might be said they were free emigrants. He hoped that Her Majesty's Government would bear this question in mind in any communications they might have on the subject with the Government of France. He thought a very great mistake had been made in not endeavouring to establish a better system of communication between this country and the African chiefs,—many of whom looked upon the slave trade with abhorrence, and were most desirous of establishing a legitimate commerce in palm oil, cotton, drugs, and other articles. He was afraid it was too true that this lawful commerce had materially diminished within the last eighteen months in consequence of the establishment of that system of "free emigration" to which he had adverted. He would say one word with respect to the petition itself—and he certainly thought that the inhabitants of Jamaica had a right to complain on this subject. If it were admitted, for the sake of argument, that slave-grown sugar might be allowed to enter into the English consumption, and that the slave-grown sugar might increase by the natural increase of the slaves or by more effectual cultivation, yet it was a totally different thing that that slave-grown sugar should be increased by the unnatural, forced, and infernal traffic in Africans carried on by force and fraud. That was a cruel addition to the burdens imposed on the planters of Jamaica, and they bad a most undeniable right to call on the British Government to stay the importation of negroes into Cuba, or to prevent the importation of Cuban slave-grown sugar.


said, my Lords, the reason that I listened for my noble and learned Friend to speak is, that the other night he gave me notice that he should follow my right rev. Friend and ask me some questions as to some events that have taken place on the coast of South Africa. Your Lordships have heard the hereditary eloquence and seen the hereditary feeling with which my right rev. Friend (the Bishop of Oxford) has addressed the House on a subject always interesting in this country. I wish I could say that it is an object of as great interest to other countries as to this; but I regret to say that we are not aided as we might wish on this subject by other nations, and this is one of the greatest difficulties with which we have to contend. With the greatest justice, my right rev. Friend has laid unmitigated blame on the Spanish Government for a long course of breach of treaty and the commission of gross cruelty towards the African race—and this, too, after all the despatches which have been written from England to Spain on the subject, and which, I believe, if they were woven together, would reach from here to Cuba itself. I am not now defending the present Government, which has only been so short a time in existence, but it would be unfair to say that this has been its fault. One British Ministry after another has done its best to induce Spain to do its duty, and all have signally failed. Spain has opposed to us that passive resistance which is the most difficult resistance in the world to overcome; and it has not been without the greatest risk of collision with other countries that we have attempted to take measures that have appeared to those countries stronger than we had a right to take, and which, if carried further, might have involved us in war. The right rev. Prelate must recollect that the Foreign Minister of this country cannot act entirely upon the feeling which he possesses as an Englishman upon this subject. The matter involves so much complication —it involves so much risk of offence to other nations who—I say it without offence to them—do not feel so strongly as we do on this subject, that every step must be taken with caution, and the Minister cannot act with the vigour he might be disposed to adopt. It was not only that other nations have descended into a sort of relaxation of feeling with respect to the principle of slavery and slavery itself, but that they do not even admit those doctrines of international law which my noble and learned Friend who spoke last has laid down. My noble and learned Friend said that there was a difference between the right of search and the right to visit; that although we have no right to search, we have a right to visit, in order to carry out the police of the ocean. I must be permitted to say that the United States have constantly and categorically refused to admit that distinction. They say that on no account, for no purpose and upon no sus- picion, shall a ship carrying the American flag be boarded except by an American ship, unless at the risk of the officer boarding or detaining her; and the doctrine laid down by the United States has been adopted by other countries. It is not long ago that we tried to obtain from all civilized nations some agreement by which our officers might know how far they should go in cases of strong suspicion, and be protected from the consequences of any mistake on their part in boarding a vessel of another country not liable to seizure. I tried to ascertain what license other nations would give in this respect; but I was anticipated by the French Government, who laid it down that no French ship should be detained, stopped, or boarded, but that certain forms should be gone through without detaining her, which, to a certain but very small extent, might ascertain her right to carry the flag which flies at her mast head. I have no reason to conceal what I have done since recent events. I need hardly tell the House that I have admitted the international law as laid down by the American Minister for Foreign Affairs; but I have not done so until that statement had been approved and fortified by the opinions of the law officers of the Crown. But having admitted that, I have put it as strongly as possible to the American Government that if it is known that the American flag covers every iniquity, every pirate and slaver on earth will carry it and no other; that this must bring disgrace on that honoured banner, and that instead of vindicating the honour of their country by an obstinate adherence to their present declaration, the contrary results will follow—that the American flag will be prostituted to the worst of purposes. I have urged, and I shall continue to urge, that it is necessary in these civilized times, with countless vessels navigating the ocean, that there should be a police of the ocean; that there should be, if not a right by international law, an agreement amongst nations how far they would go to verify the nationality of vessels and ascertain their right to bear a particular flag. From the language I have used, from the conversations which I have had with the American Minister resident in this country, and from the observations contained in a very able paper drawn up by General Cass on this subject, I am not without strong hopes that some arrangement of this kind may be made with the United States, which, with the instructions given to the officers of both countries, may enable us to verify the flags of all countries without running the risk of offence to the country to which a ship belongs. Your Lordships, I think, cannot expect me to go more into detail as to the great practical difficulties that lie in our way in suppressing the slave trade. I must say, however, that I think we made a mistake in sending our squadrons to the Cuban waters instead of keeping them on the coast of Africa. On the Cuban coast they are in American waters; the ships detained are outward bound from those countries—no doubt they have on board provisions for slaves; no doubt they are going to Africa, and will return with slaves; but they are not carrying slaves when they are detained. Admiral Fanshawe, who is about to command Her Majesty'e fleet in the Mediterranean, told me that so effectual were the operations of our squadrons on the coast of Africa, that at the beginning of the Russian war the slave trade was nearly extinct. He stated that when, about ten years ago, he took the command on that station, fifty-four slavers were captured in the first year of his command; fifty in the next; not more than two or three in the third; and that, during the command of the Admiral who succeeded him, the captures were reduced to an almost infinitessimal amount. During the Russian war, however, it was necessary to withdraw a large part of our squadron, and the result was, that the slave trade again made progress. I must say, that the conduct of Spain towards us on this question has been marked by the greatest ingratitude. We have taken her part on several occasions against those whom she has suspected of designs adverse to her. It has always been the policy of England and of other European countries to support Spain, and defend her in the occupation of Cuba against hostile invasions, as well as to prevent any agreement by which she might be induced to part with it. But I do not hesitate to say, in my place in Parliament, that if Spain continues to show that utter want of principle, and that utter and base ingratitude which she has displayed towards this country, which has always been her friend, I do not hesitate to say that she must expect that indifference will be exchanged for amity, and instead of our taking her part she must expect us to leave her to whatever consequences may ensue, whether proceeding from her present conduct or not. I have now only to give a short account of the occurrence on the coast of Liberia to which my noble and learned Friend has referred. A ship was lying on the coast of Africa, having on hoard a number of negroes, who were called emigrants by the French Government, but were neither more nor less than slaves. They were manacled; but they managed to effect a rising in the absence of the captain, who had gone on shore, and murdered all the crew, except the surgeon. They then sailed away. An English ship, which had heard of the disaster, chased the slaver, which immediately gave herself up without making any defence, the persons on board expressing the greatest joy and pleasure in meeting with an English ship. The French captain, who had followed her in a boat, then took possession of her, took her from the English vessel, so far as the command went, and took her into Liberia. The French admiral, or the officer on the station, claimed the ship, and took her out of the Liberian waters. As a matter of law, we were not justified in taking the slaver in Liberian waters without the consent of the Liberian Government; so that the quarrel as it now stands is between the French Government and the Liberian Government. The English Government have nothing to say in the matter. I have only to add, that Her Majesty's present Government will, as Her Majesty's late Government did, take advantage of every opportunity they may have of protesting to the French Government against a line of conduct which, although it affects to be a system of emigration, can only be called, in the language of truth, a renewal of the slave trade.


rose to express his great satisfaction that this paramount subject had been brought under their Lordships' attention. He called it "paramount" because there was no other great question so calculated to excite the sympathy and interest of the whole world. He had had an opportunity of seeing some of the effects of importing negroes into the island of Cuba, and in his opinion it was to the eternal disgrace of the Spanish Government that such a system had been so long carried on in that beautiful island. No one would shrink more than he would from saying anything which could complicate or embitter our relations with the American Government—he knew that even such a purpose as the suppression of the slave trade must be carried on with some reference to changing circumstances and conditions; and he felt convinced that in the interest of suppression strict care should be taken that we did not exceed the limits of our well-defined rights or encroach on the rights and prerogatives of others. Still, he felt bound to express his opinion that the countrymen of Clarkson, Wilberforce and Brougham, had already done so much for the suppression of the slave trade they would never consent to a disgraceful retreat or retrograde course upon this great question. He rejoiced, too, to hear that there was a prospect of a satisfactory solution of the dispute between this country and the United States.


said, that however much it might have been our duty to put an end to the slave trade carried on by our own subjects, he felt considerable doubts whether the policy of interference with foreign States was originally a wise policy; but, having embarked in it and pursued it with considerable success for a long series of years, we ought not precipitately to abandon it. He rejoiced to hear of the course which had been taken with reference to the difficulty with the United States, and he thought the language used by the noble Earl wise and judicious. He had not the slightest doubt it would turn out that there had been great exaggeration in the American newspapers as to what had been done by the officers of our cruisers; but he was convinced that, no matter what instructions were given to our officers, if we undertook by an armed squadron to visit and examine the great number of American vessels which passed through those waters, sooner or later serious differences with the United States would occur. He would put it to their Lordships what would be the feeling in this country if an armed squadron were to be placed in the Channel to stop and search our outward-bound vessels? Whatever might be the reason with a foreign Power for doing so, it would undoubtedly give rise to a most disagreeable state of feeling in the public mind of this country. He believed there was a great deal more moderate feeling on the part of the majority of the people of the United States on this subject than might sometimes be supposed from the accounts which we read in, their newspapers, and that the temperate course pursued by Her Majesty's Government would tend to calm the excitement that did exist; but he thought it was a matter more worthy of the attention of the Government how far we ought from time to time to involve ourselves in embarrassments with foreign Powers on questions like these—embarrassments which might be attended with serious consequences, and which could not fail to be productive of great inconvenience. He regretted to hear from the noble Earl opposite a confirmation of the statement which they had heard of the proceedings of the French on the coast of Africa. He agreed with his noble Friend opposite, that what the French were doing in Africa was neither more nor less than the practice of the slave trade; and he strongly hoped that the remonstrances of Her Majesty's Government on that subject would have the effect of putting a stop to the system. This was one proof of the difficulty that existed in dealing with foreign Governments on this subject; for there was no disguising the fact that other nations did not look with the same abhorrence on the slave trade as we in this country did. There was one point not yet touched upon which he was anxious to notice—he meant the present state of our relations with Brazil. Owing to an Act passed in this country, and known under the name of "Lord Aberdeen's Act," we had never been able to conclude with Brazil either a slave-trade treaty or a commercial treaty. He would not discuss now the reasons for passing that Act, but it was productive of one most valuable result—that of putting an end to a most flagrant slave trade, and it induced the Brazilian Government to act with such energy in the matter that an enlightened public opinion grew up in the country, which he believed would not submit to the renewal of the slave trade there. Some years had now elapsed since the slave trade had been carried on in Brazil, and he thought it would be a wise policy to repeal the Act to which he had referred, and enter into such treaties with regard to the slave trade as Brazil would be ready to conclude with us, and at the same time to enter into a commercial treaty with that empire:—generally, in fact, to modify the policy which was rightly adopted some years ago, but which altered circumstances no longer required. He would rejoice to see an increase in the legitimate trade of the coast of Africa. Such a trade would carry civilization in its train, and would do more for the ultimate suppression of the slave trade than any treaties into which they could enter, or the employment of any squadron, however powerful.


said, he entirely concurred with his noble Friend who had just sat down with regard to the extreme importance of the trade with the African coast, as the means of civilizing and christianizing that country. But he must remind him that it was the opinion of every one acquainted with the subject, and especially of that distinguished man Dr. Livingstone, that the legitimate trade could not go on until the slave trade was put an end to. Legitimate commerce was destroyed by the conduct of the traders engaged in the slave trade, and it was only by the interference of this country that we could hope to put an end to it. Our efforts had been at one point to a great degree successful: a legitimate trade had sprung up and was rapidly increasing, and great hopes had been entertained that in a few years the slave trade would be put down. But that bright prospect had been blighted, and, to their disgrace, by those two great countries the United States of America and France. It was of no use, from fear of giving offence, to refrain from speaking the truth on such a question as this; and he would assert boldly, and without fear of contradiction, that in the eyes of God and man the United States and France were responsible for the renewal of the African slave trade. With regard to the United States, he concurred in the opinions which had been expressed, of the necessity of our acting with the greatest caution and forbearance. However indignant we might feel—and he trusted there was no Englishman who did not feel indignant—at the monstrous prostitution of the United States flag, it was not only our duty but true wisdom—having regard to the object in view—to remain rigidly within the line of our duty, and not by measures of questionable legality to put ourselves in the wrong. But he could not help thinking that his noble Friend who spoke last attached too much credit to the American accounts of what had occurred, which had not yet been checked by those of our own officers, and that we were acting too hastily. His noble Friend spoke of an American squadron in the Channel overhauling our outward-bound vessels. No doubt we should not allow that for a moment, and he doubted whether we had ever consented to the right of search. Our orders to our officers were if they knew that a ship was bona fide a vessel belonging to the United States—though she might be engaged in the slave trade—though there was proof legal and moral that she was a slaver—the orders to our cruisers were not to interfere with her; but we had a treaty with Spain against the slave trade, and we were not to be prevented in the case of a ship coming out of Cuba, though under the United States flag, from ascertaining whether she was a United States ship or whether she was Spanish or not, or whether she had no papers at all, and was consequently a pirate; in that case only we claimed a right to visit a vessel, and to see what she really was. If, however, we found, she had good American papers, even though the evidence was palpable that she was engaged in the slave trade, we discharged her, and left to the United States the disgrace of being engaged in such a traffic. But in order to ascertain whether a flag was properly carried by a vessel we must have the right to visit. At the same time he hoped from what had fallen from the noble Earl, that the orders to our cruisers would be strict not to visit ships against which there was not strong prima facie evidence that they had no right to use the American flag. Great discretion ought to be exercised, and if it was not exercised officers who failed in that respect ought to be recalled. So much with regard to the United States—with regard to France the case was still stronger. That a great Christian nation, that the great empire of France, should become nothing better than a gigantic slave-dealer was a thing almost too disgraceful to be believed; but so it was. We knew that it was with reference to the ship which was captured by negroes. We knew that wars were stirred up in Africa in order that prisoners might be taken for the purpose of being sold to the French Government. France was amenable in the eyes of God and man for devastating a part of Africa in which commerce and civilization had begun to take root. It was known that negroes were brought down to the coast and put manacled on board vessels commanded by French officers. In the case in question the slaves rose—and did not murder—but in the exercise of a sacred right, the attempt to recover their liberty, killed the crew of the vessel when the ship was in the power of the negroes, they having obtained their liberty by force.


They could not manage the ship, and our vessel saved them.


That was perfectly right; but what he thought ought to have been done should have been to put hands on board, and take the ship to Sierra Leone.


She was in Liberian waters, and it could not be done.


Neither the authorities of Liberia, nor any one else, had a right to interfere with the possession of the ship by the negroes, which they had de facto and de jure; and if we had sent her to any port they chose to go to, no one could have had any right to object. He hoped that poor Liberia would not be brought into the quarrel. We were bound to give those negroes all the assistance in our power, without inquiring into the nationality of those who, by an act of piracy, had taken possession of them.


said, that the instructions to our officers, unless they had been changed, were drawn up under his superintendence; they were communicated to the American Government, and were approved by Mr. Webster and the Government of the day; and he believed that our officers were now acting under those instructions. If that was the ease, he was at a loss to comprehend what were called British outrages on American ships. We made no claim to visit or to search any American vessel, slaver or otherwise; and it was only in cases where our cruisers bad well-founded suspicions that a vessel was not an American that they had a right to visit her. That rule was laid down by his noble Friend with perfect accuracy, according to the instructions he caused to be drawn up under the direction of Sir George Cockburn, Dr. Lushington, and others acquainted with international law. They were then certainly approved by the American Government, and he did not know what new circumstances had arisen to cause difficulties in those waters. If our officers obeyed their instructions it was impossible that there could be any such difficulty, and be hoped he should not hear that those instructions, to which the American Government had never made any objection had been changed. They were sufficient for the purpose, the American Government had no objection to them, and if they were only acted on with caution there could be no difficulty. For when our cruisers had a suspicion that a vessel bearing the American flag, was not an American, the officers were bound to write in the log what it was that caused that suspicion. It was not from mere caprice that they would overhaul a vessel bearing the American flag, but there must be reasonable suspicion that she was not a vessel of the country whose flag she carried before they could venture to visit, still less to search her. This was necessary, for, in the first place, a vessel might hoist no flag at all, and all you had to do was to ascertain what she was, and if then she turned out to be a pirate, you could deal with her; or if she was a Spanish vessel, or a vessel belonging to a Power with which you had a treaty, you could deal with her. In the case of an American vessel, or a vessel belonging to a Power with which we had no treaty, we could not interfere in any manner; even if she was full of slaves she might go on her way and we could not arrest her. That was the law of the case, and in which the American Government had acquiesced. That being the case, he was at a loss to understand what was meant by British outrages in American waters. He agreed that it was desirable to limit the action of our squadron more to the coast of Africa than had recently been the case, rather than to direct them to the coast of Cuba. He was satisfied, looking to the spirit of conciliation in which this matter had been treated, that unless the American Government had very much changed since he had to deal with them, we could not fail in bringing it to a satisfactory conclusion. He would only say a word with regard to an Act relative to Brazil which had been introduced by him, and was called by his name, but which he believed in Brazil was called the Algerine Act. When he brought in that Act he assured the Brazilian Government that nothing would give him so much pleasure as the arrival of the day when he should move the repeal of that Act. He was not sure that the time had arrived yet; but he hoped and believed that Her Majesty's Government, who must have more information on the subject, looked forward to the same object: the conduct of Brazil had entitled that country to much consideration; and he would only recommend to the care of the Government the realization of the hope which he had ventured to express when he introduced the Act in question into that House.


said, that the noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Aberdeen) observed that there must have been some great change or there would have been no difficulty in bringing about an arrangement of this matter with the American Government. The noble Earl should recollect that the feelings of that Government were more acute on this subject than they were before, inasmuch as it was not the practice when the noble Earl was in office for the British squadrons to appear in such large force on the coast of Cuba, or for the cruisers to enter the ports for the obvious purpose of watching the state of the shipping. What had been the cause of the alteration of the system he did not know, but there had been no allegation of the officers of the navy having conducted themselves without their usual caution, while at the same time they had displayed their zeal and activity in the cause in which they were engaged. Perhaps some of them had a little overstepped the line within which we should desire them to keep, and it might turn out that we were not altogether clear of some degree of blame in this matter. He was not surprised at the indignation expressed on this subject by the right rev. Prelate and the noble and learned Lord (Lord Brougham), whose name was identified with the cause of the poor African. It was natural that he, as well as other noble Lords, should express themselves warmly, considering the long course of policy we had pursued, and the great sacrifices we had made in order to put down the slave trade and ameliorate the condition of our unfortunate coloured brethren. That indignation must be aggravated when we considered that up to within a very short period a great diminution had taken place in the export of slaves, and a great improvement in the cultivation of the soil of Africa by the native chiefs and their dependants; while the exports of palm oil and other legitimate traffic of the country for 1857 amounted to no less than £1,500,000 in value. It was, he admitted, dispiriting to hear, under such circumstances, of the chiefs on the coast taking up arms and making inroads into the interior for the purpose of slave bunting. The noble Earl (Earl Grey) was rather severe on the French Government for having stimulated the slave trade. That trade had been aided and abetted by ships of France; but, on the other hand, he was bound to say that the course pursued by the French Government itself was in strict accordance with the desire we had expressed as to the system, and there was every reason to believe that the French Government were prepared to make a total change of policy in this respect, and that seeing the dangerous tendency of the present system they would no longer persevere in it. On the other hand, he was bound to say that the French Government were sincere in their desire of engaging these persons as free labourers. The moment they were received on board ship their manacles were struck off, and their wages were reckoned from that hour, their unhappy condition being entirely changed. He only did justice to the French Government in making that declaration, for they had stated that upon satisfactory proof being afforded them of the impolicy of the system of negro emigration, they would be prepared to abandon it. Though he was not competent to say what steps had been taken by his noble Friend, he could confidently state that they were steps which would meet the views of noble Lords opposite, and show how honestly Government had acted in this matter.


said, he had heard with great satisfaction the observations made by the noble Earl (the Earl of Hardwicke). He hoped that the noble Earl would lay upon the table those papers to which he had referred, and which conveyed such a satisfactory announcement as to the intentions of the French Government in respect to African labour.


suggested that the noble Earl should give notice of a Motion for the production of those papers.


said, he would certainly move for the production of the papers to which he alluded. There was no doubt that a system had been for some time carried on in Africa which in effect occasioned all the evils of the slave trade. Both Spain and France were rivals in the African market, offering a certain sum per man; and it appeared to him that there was no difference in the treatment of those negroes whether they were conveyed to Cuba or to a French colony. Such a system, whatever it might be called, was nothing more nor less than a slave trade. Now, it would be most gratifying to them to know that in consequence of representations made by our Government to the Government of France, the latter had declared their intention to make a complete change in the system they had been pursuing. He therefore wished for the production of those papers upon the authority of which the noble Earl made his declaration.


In answer to the Motion made by the noble Earl, I think my noble Friend will, on consideration, agree with me that no public interest would be answered by placing those papers on the table of the House; because they relate, more or less, to something like a controversy that has been going on for some time between the two Governments as to the results of this new French system. On the one hand, we have had cases described to us in which it appears that those labourers from Africa were comparatively well treated by the French, and were by no means placed in that state of subjugation and misery which we are induced to believe was the fate of other unhappy beings. There is no doubt that the French Government can produce instances, and has produced instances, and has challenged investigation into them, showing that there was much tenderness displayed in the shipping of those people, and that great care was taken of them afterwards. But in my opinion that does not at all affect the main question. Whatever they may say of it, the system can be nothing more nor less, in my opinion, than a renovation of the slave trade.


only wished to ask the noble Earl if any correspondence had taken place between the two Governments on the subject of the vessel which had been retaken in the Liberian waters, or, if any correspondence had taken place at all that would elucidate the matter, whether he had any objection to place it before the House.


was understood to say that the information which the Government had received upon the subject had come from a Mr. Chillingworth and was not of an official character.


trusted some inquiry would be made, and that the subject would not be lost sight of, for as the matter at present stood he thought great injustice had been done.

Petition to lie on the table.

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