Baron Thomas Babington Macaulay Macaulay.

Critical, historical, and miscellaneous essays and poems, Volume 3 online

. (page 70 of 83)
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We earnestly request our readers to observe the consist-
ency of Major Moody. When his object k to prove, that
whites and blacks cannot amalgamate on equal terms, in one
political society, he exaggerates every circumstance which
tends to keep them asunder. The physiciil differences be-
tween the races, he tells us, practically defeat benevolent
laws. No Act of Parliament, no order fn Council, can sur-
mount the difficulty.* Where these differences exist, the
principles of republican equality are. forgotten by the strong-
est republican. Marriage becomes an unnatural prostitution.
The Ilaytian refuses to admit the white to possess property
within the sphere of negro domination. Tire most humane
and enlightened citizen of the United States, can discover
no means of benefiting the free African, but by sending
him to a distance from men of European blood. '' I should
ill-perform my duty," says the Major, " if I suppressed all
mention of a physical cause like this, which in practice ia
found to have an effect so powerful, however the philanthro

> First Part of Maior Moody's Report, p. 126.

* Second Part of Mi^or Melody's Report, p. 20 and 21



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678 S6CIAL AXD INDUSTRUL

pist or the philosopher may regret it, and however it may be
beyond tlieir power to remove it by le^jislative means."*
But, when it is desirable to prove the idleness of the free
African, this omnipotent physical cause, this instinct against
which the best and wisest men struggle in vain, which couii«
leracts the attraction of sex, and defies the authority of law^
Binks into a " mere prejudice against the colour of a man's
Bkin,",an idle fancy, which never could induce any body of
people to remove able bodied men and women from their
country, if those men and women were willing to work. Are
all the free negroes of North America infirm, or are they all
unwilling to work ? They live in a temperate climate, and
to them the Major's theory does not apply. Yet the whites
are subscribing to transport them to another country. Why
should we suppose the planters of Tortola to be superior to
feelings which some of the most respectable men in the world
are disposed to gratify, by sending thousands of people, at a
great expense, from a country greatly understocked with
hands ?

It is true that the apprenticed Africans were not employed
in the cultivation of the soil. The cause is evident. They
could not legally be so employed. The Order in Council
under the authority of which they were put out to service,
provided that no woman should be employed in tillage* The
blank form of indenture sent out by the government con-
tained a similar restriction with regard to the males.

We are, however, inclined to believe with the Major, that
these people, if they had been left to take their own course,
would not have employed themselves in agriculture. Those
who have become raiisters of their time, rarely do so employ
themselves. We will go further. We allow that very few
of the free blacks in our West Indian Islands, will undergo
the drudgery of cultivating the ground. Major Moody
seems to think that, when this is granted, all his principles
follow of course. But \ye can by no means agree with him.
In order to prove that the natives of tropicid countries enter-
tain a peculiar*' aversion to agricultural labour, it is by no
oicans sufficient to show that certain freemen, living in the
torrid zone, do not choose to engage in agricultural labour
It is, we humbly conceive, necessary also to show, tiiat the
iTHges of agricultural labour are, at the place and time in

1 Second Part of Mcyor Moody*8 Report, p. 21.



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CAPACITIES OF NEGROES. 870

question, at least as high as those which can be obtained by
industry of another description. It by no means follows,
that a man feels nn insurmountable dislike to the business of
Betting canes, because lie will not set canes for sixpence a
day, when he can earn a shilling by making baskets. We
^ might as well say, that the English people dislike agricultural
labour, because Major Moody prefers making systems to
making ditches.

Obvious as these considerations are, it is perfectly clear
that Major Moody has overlooked them. From the Ap|)en»
dix to his own Report it appears, that in every "West Indian
island the wages of the artisan are much greater than those
of the cultivator. In Tortola, for example, a carpenter
eanis three shillings sterling a day, a cartwright or a cooper
four shillings and sixpence, a sawyef six shillings; an able-
bodied field negro, under the most advantageous circum-
stances, nine pounds a year, about seven pence a day, allow-
ing for holidays. And because a free African prefers six -
shillings to seven pence, we are told that he has a natural
and invincible aversion to agriculture ! — because he prefers
wealth to poverty, we are to conclude that he prefers repose
to wealth. Such is the mode of reasoning which the Major
designates as the pRilosophy of labour.

But, says the Major, all employments, excepting thoi?e of
the cultivator and the domestic servant, are only occasional.
There is little demand for the labour of the carpenter, the
cooper, and the sawyer.* Let us suppose the demand to be so
incredibly small, that the carpenter can obtain work only one
day in six, the cooper one day in nine, and the sawyer one
day in twelve ; still the amount of their earnings will be
greater than if they broke clods almost daily through the
whole year. Of two employments which yield equal wages,
the inhabitants of all countries, both within and without the
'tropics, will choose that which requires the least labour
Major Moody seems throughout his Report to imagine, that
people in the temperate zone work for the sake of working ;
that they consider labour, not as an evil to be endured for
the sake of a good produced by it, but as a blessing, from
which the wages are a sort of drawback ; that they would
rather work three days for a shilling, than one day for half
a crrwn. The case, he may be assured, is by no means
htxch as he supposes. If he will make proper inquiries he

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S80 SOCIAL AND INDUSTRIAL

will learn, that, even where the thermometer stands at the
lowest^ no man will choose a laborious employment, when
he can obtain equal remuneration with less trouble in an-
other line. . But it is unnecessary to resort to this argument ;
for it is perfectly clear, on Major Moody's own showing, that
the demand for mechanical industry, though occasional and
gmall, is still sufficient to render the business of an artisac
much more lucrative than that of a field labourer.

" I have shown," says he, " that the sugar-planter himself, obtaining
287 days laboar on the very cheapest terms, coold not have afforded
to give more than about 9/. per annum for labourers, and therefore, thai
he never could hope to induce any liberated African to work steadily
for such wages, when the liberated African could obtain from 15/. to
2lL per annum by the irregular labour of occasionally cutting firewood,
grass, or catching fish, &c, . . , . .

** This is the most favourable view of the case ; for the fact is, the
sugar-planter, on the very best soils in Tortola, could only afford- to
give 9*. per annum ; but in soils of average fertility, he could only af-
ford 6/. 1 5s. per annum to the labourer, even if the planter gave up all
profits on his stock, consisting of lands, buildings, and machinery. If
the liberated Negro would not labour steadily for 9/. per annum, it is
clear he would be less likely to work for 6/. I5s. per annum ; but if he
did not work for less than that sum, the planter in Tortola could obtain
no profit on stock, and consequently could have no motive for emplor-
ing any ^erson to work for such wages. The -white race, being unave
to work, must in this, as in all similar cases, perish, or abandon their
country and property to the blacks, who can work, but who, as I have
shown, are not likely to make use of more voluntary steady exertion
than will afford the means of subsistence in the lowlands of the torrid
Eone, where the pleasure of repose forms so great an ingredient in the
happiness of mankind, whether whites, blaoks, or Indians." ^

TVe really stand aghast at the extravagance of a writer
who supposes that the principle which leads a man to prefer
light labour and twenty-one pounds, to hard labour and six
pounds fifteen shillings, is a principle of which the operation
is confined to the torrid zone ! But the matter may be put
on a very short issue. Let Major Moody find any tropical
country in which the inhabitants prefer mechanical trades to
field labour when higher advantages are offered to the field
labourer than to the mechanic He will then have done
what he has not done hitherto. He will have adduced one
(sLCt bearing on the question.

If the circumstances which we have been considering
prove any thing, they appear to prove the inexpediency of

1 Second Part of Major Moody's Report, p. 72.



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CAPACITIES OF NEGROKS. 881

the coercive system. The effect of that system in the West
Indies has been to produce a glut of agricultural labour, and
a scarcity of mechanical dexterity. The discipline of a
plantation may stimulate a sluggish body ; but it has no
tendency to stimulate a sluggish mind. It calls forth a cer-
tain quantity of muscular exertion ; but it does not encourage
that ingenuity which is necessary to the artisan. This is thu
only explanation which at present occurs to us of the enor-
mous price which skilled labour fetches in a country in which
the cultivator can barely obtain a subsistence. We offer it,
however, with diffidence, as the result of a very hasty con-
sideration of the subject. But it is with no feeling of diffi-
dence that we pronounce the whole argument of the Major
absurd. That he has convinced himself we do not doubt.
Indeed he has given the best proof of sincerity : For he has
actecf hp to his theory ; and left us, we must confess, in some
doubt whether to admire him more as an active or as a spec-
ulative politician.

Many of the African apprentices emigrated from Tortola
to the Danish island of St. Thomas, some with the consent
of their masters, and others without it. Why they did so, is
-evident from the account which the Major himself gives.
The wages were higher in St. Thomas than in Tortola. But
such theorists as the Major are subject to illusions as strange
as those which haunted Don Quixote. To the visionary
Knight every inn was a castle, every ass a charger, and
every basin a helmet. To the Major every fact, though ex-
plicable on ten thousand obvious suppositions, is a confirma-
tion of his darling hypothesis. He gives the following ac-
count of his opinions and of his consequent measures.

" The occupations followed by the apprentices in the Danish island
of St. Thomafi, on these occasions were generally the irregular and oc-
casional industry of porteifs, servants on board vessels, &c., in which
they often got comparatively high wages, which enabled them to work
for money at one time in order to live, without wDrking for a longer or
shorter period ; such a mode of existence being more agreeable to them
than steady and regular industry affording employment during the
ivhole year.

" From this irregular application to certain kinds of labour and dis-
:ike to that of agriculture, it was my wish to tiirn the attention of the
^Vfirican appre.itices, and therefore I was anxious to prevent their nin-
ning away to the Danish island of St. Thomas, or being sent there.
His Excellency Governor Van Scholton afforded me every facility in
femoving them ; but they soon returned again, as the proximity of tht



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882 SOCIAL AND INDUSTRIAL

islands, and the freqnent intercourse rendered it impossible to preyeni
those Africans from going who might wish it, eithier from the seyero
treatm jnt of their employer, or their own wish to be masters of their time.
It will also be seen that in St. Thomas they were liable to be taken up
and sold as slaves, as was actually the case with one apprentice. It is
not undeserving of remark, that not one of the apprentices who thus
withdrew themselves from Tortola, ever hired themselves to agricultural
labor for any fixed period."

** The occasional high wages in irregular kinds of industry, however
uncertain, appear to have pleased them better than the permanent re-
wards procured by an employment less exposed to uncertainty, but
which required a steady exertion." ^

"What the permanent rewards of agricultural labour were
in Tortola, we have seen. The planter would have found it
ruinous on most estates to give more than six pounds fifteen
shillings a year, or about fourpence a day. Unless, there-
fore, they were much higher in St. Thomas, it is surely pot
extraordinary that they did not induce these apprentices to
quit the employments to which, not by their own choice, but
by the orders of the Government, they had been trained, for
a pursuit uncongenial to all their habits. How often is it
that an Englishman, who has served his apprenticeship to an
artisan, hires himself to agricultural labour when he can find
work in his own line ?

But we will pass by the absurdity of condemning people
for preferring high wages with little labour, to low wages
with severe labour. We have other -objections to make.
The Major has told us that the African apprentices could not
legally be employed in agriculture on the island of Tortola.
If so, we wish to know how their dislike of agricultural la-
bour could be their motive for quitting Tortola, or how, by
bringing them back to Tortola, he could improve their hab-
its in that respect ? To bring a man by main force from a
residence which he likes, and to place him in the hands of
an employer acknowledged to be cruel, for fear that he may
possibly be made a slave, seems to us also a somewhat curi-
ous proceeding, and deserves notice, as being the only indi-
cation of zeal for liberty which the Major appears to have
betrayed during the whole course of his mission.

The Major might perhaps be justified in exerting himself
to rccov 3r those apprentices who had emigrated without the
eonsent of their masters. But with regard to the rest, hif

1 First Part of Major Moody's Rep<»rt, p. *7.

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CAPACITIES OF NEGROES. 883

conduct appears to have been equally absurd and mischiev-
ous. He repeatedly tells us that Tortola is a poor islands
It appears from the schedules, that he was in the habit of
asking the masters and mistresses, whether their apprentices,
after the term of service should have expired, would be able
to support themselves. In the case of some most respectable
and industrious workmen, the answer was, that they possess-
ed all the qualifications which would enable them to earn a
livelihood ; but that Tortola was too poor to afford them aa
adequate field : And this was evidently the cause iit hich iiH
duced so many to transport themselves to St. Thomas. Of
all the innumerable instances in which public functionaries
have exposed their ignorance by officiously meddling with
matters of which individuals ought to be left to judge for
themselves, we remember none more conspicuous than that
which Major Moody has thus recorded against himself.

But it seems the industry of these emigrants, and indeed
of the free Blacks generally, is not regular or steady. These
are words of which Major Moody is particularly fond, and
which he generally honours with Italics. We have, through*
out this article, taken the facts as he states them, and con-
tented ourselves with exposing the absurdity of his inferences.
We shall do so now. We will grant that the free blacks do
not work so steadily as the slaves, or as the labourers in
many other countries. But how does Major Moody connect
this unsteadiness with the climate? To us it appears to be
the universal effect of an advance in w^ages, an effect not
confined to tropical countries, but daily and hourly witnessed
in England by every man who attends to the habits of the
lower orders. Let us suppose, that an English manufacturer
can provide himself with those indulgences which use has
rendered necessary to his comfort for ten shillings a week,
and that he can earn ten shillings a week by working steadily
twelve hours a day. In that case, he will probably work
twelve hours a day. But let us suppose that the wages of
his labour rise to thirty shillings* Will he still continue to
work twelve hours a day, for the pui*pose of trebling his pres-
ent enjoyments, or of laying up a hoard against bad timea ?
Notoriously not. He will perhaps work four days in the
week, and thus earn twenty shillings, a sum larger than that
which he formerly obtained, but less than that which he
might obtain if he chose to labour as he formerly laboured



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884 SOCIAL AND INDUSTRUL

When the wages of the workman rise, he everywhere takes
out, if we may so express ourselves, some portion of the
rise in the form of repose. This is the real explanation of
that unsteadiness on which Major Moody dwells so much —
Rn unsteadiness which cannot surprise any person who has
ever talked with an English manufacturer, or ever heard
the name of Saint Monday. It appears by his own report,
that a negro slave works from Monday morning to Saturday
night on the sugar grounds of Tortola, and receives what is
equivalent to something less than half-a-crown in return.
But he ceases to be a slave, and becomes his own master ;
and then he finds that by cutting firewood, an employment
which requires no great skill, he can earn eight shillings
and fourpence a week. By working every other day he can
procure better food and better clothes than ever he had be-
fore. In no country from the Pole to the Equator, would a
labourer under such circumstances work steadily. The Ma-
jor considers it as a strange phenomenon, peculiar to the
torrid zone, that these people lay up little against seasons of
sickness and (^istress — as if this were not almost universally
the case among the far more intelligent population of Eng-
land — as if we did not regularly see our artisans thronging
to the alehouse when wages are high, and to the pawnbrok-
er's shop when they are low — as if we were not annually
raising millions, in order to save the working classes from
the misery which otherwise would be the consequence of
their own improvidence.

We are not the advocates of idleness and imprudence.
The question before us is, not whether it be desirable that
men all over the world should labour more steadily than
they now do ; but whether the laws which regulate labonr
within the tropics differ from those which are in operation
elsewhere. This is a question which never can be settled,
merely by comparing the quantity of work done in different
places. By pursuing such a course, we should establish a
separate law of labour for every country, and for every
trade in every country. The free African does not work so
jteadily as the Englishman. But the wild Indian, by the
Major's own account, works still less steadily than the Afri-
can. The Chinese labourer, on the other hand, works more
iteadily than the Englishman. In this island, the industry
#f the porter or the waterman, is less steady than the indu»



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CAPACITIES OF NEGROES. 885

by of the ploughman. But the great general principle is
the same in all. All will work extremely hard rather than
miss the comforts to which they have been habituated ; and
all, when they find it possible to obtain their accustomed
comforts with less than their accustomed labour, will not
work so hard as they formerly worked, merely to increase
them. The real point to be ascertained, therefore, is, whether
the free African is content to miss his usual enjoyments, not
whether he works steadily or not ; for the Chinese peasant
would work as irregularly as the Englishman, and the Eng-
lishman as irregularly as the negro, if this could be dono
without ahy diminutioij of comforts. Now, it does not ap-
pear from any passage in the whole Report, that the free
blacks are retrograding in their mode of living. It appears
on the contrary, that their work, however irregular, does in
fact enable them to live more comfortably than they ever did
as slaves. The unsteadiness, therefore, of which they are
accused, if it be an argument for coercing them, is equally
an argument for coercing the spinners of Manchester and
the grinders of Sheffield.

The next case which we shall notice is, that of the native
Indians within the tropics. That these savages have a great
aversion to steady labour, and that they have made scarcely
any advances towards civilization we readily admit. Major
Moody speaks on this subject with authority ; for it seems
that, when he visited one of their tribes, they forgot to boil
the pot for him, and put him off with a speech, which he has
reported at length, instead of a meal.^ He, as usual, attrib-
. tes their habits to the heat of the climate. But let us
» consider that the Indians of North America, with much
greater advantages, live in the same manner. A most en-
lightened and prosperous community has arisen in their vi-
cinity. Many benevolent men have attempted to correct
their roving propensities, and to inspire them with a taste
forjihose comforts which industry alone can procure. They
still obstinately adhere to their old mode of life. The inde-
pendence, the strong excitement, the occasional periods of
intense cTcertion, the long intervals of repose, have become
delightful and almost necessary to them. It is well known
Ihat Europeans, who have lived among them for any length
of time, are strangely fascinated by the pleasures of that

* Second Part of Major Moody's Report, p. 63.
roi.. VI, 17



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38§ SOCIAL AND INDUSTRIAL

State of society, and even hj its sufferings and tiazard&
Among ourselves, the Gypsey race, one of the most beauti«
ful and intelligent on the face of the earth, has lived for cen-
turies in a similar manner. Those singular outcasts have
liecn surrounded on eyfery side by the great works of human
labour. The advantages of industry were forced upon their
notice. The roads on which they travelled, the hedges un-
der which they rested, the hen-roosts which furnished their
repast, the silver which crossed their palms — all must have
constantly reminded them of the conveniences and luxuries
which are to be obtained by steady exertion. They were
persecuted under a thousand pretexts, whipped for vagrants,
imprisoned for poachers, ducked for witches. The severest
laws were enacted agaitist them. To consort with them was
long a capital offence. Yet a remnant of the race still pre-
serves its peculiar language and manners t— still prefers a
tattered tent and a chance-meal of carrion to a warm house
and a comfortable dinner. If the habits of the Indians of
Guiana prove that slavery is necessary within the tropics,
the habits of the Mohawks and Gypsies will equally prove,
that it is necessary in the temperate zone. The heat cannot
be the cause of that which is found alike in the coldest and
in the hottest countries.

Major Moody gives a long account of the Maroon settle-
ments near Surinam. These settlements were first formed
by slaves, who fled from the plantations ,on the coast, about
the year 1667. The society was, during^ the following cen-
tury, augmented from time to time by fresh reinforcements
of fugitive negroes. This supply, however, has now been
for many years stopped. It is perfectly true, that these
people were long contented with a bare subsistence, and that
little of steady agricultural industry has ever existed amongst
them. The Major again recurs to physical causes, and the
neat of the sun. A better explanation may be given in one
word, insecurity. During about one hundred years, th^
Maroons were absolutely run down like mad dogs. It ap-
pears from the work of Captain Stedman, to which the Ma*
jor himself alludes, that those who fell into the hands of the
whites were hung up by hooks thrust into their ribs, torn to
pieces on the rack, or roasted on slow fires. They attempted
to avoid the danger, by frequently changing, and carefully
poncealing their residence. The accidental crowing of a



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CAPACITIES OF NEGROES. 387

cock, had brought destruction on a whole tribe. That a peo-
ple thus situated should labour to acquire property which
they could not enjoy — that they should engage in en^ploy-



Online LibraryBaron Thomas Babington Macaulay MacaulayCritical, historical, and miscellaneous essays and poems, Volume 3 → online text (page 70 of 83)