John Jay.

The progress and results of emancipation in the English West Indies. A lecture delivered before the Philomathian Society of the city of New-York online

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JasTiTLA. Regis pax est populorum, tutamea patriae, immuoitas plebiB,
temperies aeria, securitaa maris, terras fcBcunditas, hereditas filiorum, denique
ipsa sibimet spes beatudiois futuiBB. — Gregoriiu Nazianzenus.


i,6 William-street.




It is a pleasant thing, my friends, amid the vice and
cruelty visible all around us ; amid the treachery of man
towards man, and of nation towards nation, to be able to
cast our eyes, as we are about to do this evening, at one
little island group dotting the ocean with its green hills,
where justice has triumphed and power has fallen before
right ; where the love of Liberty has been reduced from
an abstraction to a reality, and the conduct of a great
country, which we love to remember as our Mother-land,
has fully accorded with her glorious principles. Even
England has not always been an exception to the rule,
that nations as well as individuals are characterized by
the grossest inconsistencies. Not to cite our own country,
that sad instance pre-eminent among all civilized people,
we may name the Swiss as a striking example of na-
tional inconsistency. We look back to the 14th century,
and amid the general profligacy of Europe we find the
cantons of Ury and Underwald boldly resisting the ty-
rannical usurpation of the Emperor Rudolph, and at the
pass of Morgate 1600 Swiss successfully defending the
cause of freedom against 20,000 Austrians, Sixty

pitched battles were fought to secure their dear-earned
liberty, and as we follow them through succeeding cen-
turies, we see canton after canton joining the association
and read of noble heroism and daring deeds that will
forever live with the remembrance of Lucerne and Zu-
rich : Glaris, Zug, and Berne : Friburg, and Solerne :
Basle, and Shaffhausen. Our bosoms glow with sympa-
thetic emotion, and we are feign to imagine, that though
other lands might boast their love of freedom, Switzer-
land was the very home of her worshippers, and that
each drop of Switzer blood that had stained her snowy
glaciers, or been drunk in by her green valleys, was shed
in the purest devotion to her noble cause. We turn from
this people in time of war, fighting for their children, and
their hearthstones, expecting to see them in the peaceful
days that follow the struggle, relinquishing the sword for
the spade and the pruning hook, to reap in quiet thank-
fulness, the fruits of their exertions. Alas ! we find no
such result. Natural as were our anticipations, they are
yet disappointed by the unutterable deceitfulness of the
human heart, and the inexplicable enigmas of human
conduct. Peace dawns upon the Swiss valleys, and her
people are free as the chamois on her mountains, but the
sword is still unsheathed, and ready to be wielded against
any nation, friend or foe, far or near, in behalf of any
other, that will repay their butchery with gold.

If actual deeds can thus mislead us in forming an es-
timate of character, how much more shall words? It
costs but little to be philanthropic in opinion, just and
righteous in avowal ; and we are not obliged to recur to
other lands or other ages to satisfy ourselves of the truth,
that profession is often empty and heartless, that there
is no virtue without effort, and that to thousands it would
be the severest trial to practice for a day principles
which they profess during their whole lives. It is in-

deed a sad mistake for individuals or nations to suppose
that an idle eulogy of the commands of Jehovah will be
received by Him in lieu of their observance, or that vice
is less odious in His pure eyes, when to the sin of diso-
bedience is added that of hypocrisy ; yet does this
doctrine seem to obtain with all the world, and with
our countrymen in particular ; and from the spectacle
ever present to our view, in Republican Democratic
America, of

" Whips and charters, manacles and rights,"

we turn with a feeling of gladness and relief to the West
Indian dependencies of the royal crown of England.

To obtain a connected view of the progress of eman-
cipation, we must revert, for a moment, to the days of
Wilberforce, and Sharpe, and Clarkson, and the com-
mencement of the righteous war waged against slavery
and the slave trade. It is seldom that we can recall the
ages that are gone, or ponder the records of the past,
with any feeling of delight.

" Time, mighty Painter on the walls immense,
Of this rough world, what colours he has thrown
Of souls — of ages — "*

but how gloomy are his choicest pictures ; and the
lessons we draw from them, at what an expense of
human suffering are they given, as each succeeding age
adds to the vast gallery new portraits and untold scenes.
We are about to look at the outlines of a picture, still
growing in strength and beauty beneath the pencil of
this mightiest artist, and forming, even now, a more de-
lightful studv, than thousands that were limned when the
world was young ; whose colours are mellowed by the
lapse of time, and dimmed by the dust of ages.

• MS. Poem by Rev. A. C. Coxe.


Slavery has fallen in those colonies after a gloomy
reign of centuries. Tens and hundreds of thousands
of immortal spirits, under its bitter tyranny, were born to
sorrow, and lived in wretchedness, and died in darkness.
During that lengthened period, science pursued her dis-
coveries into the recesses of the earth and along the
pathway of the stars. Tlie philosopher dived deep into
the mysteries of nature, and attempted to fathom the
depth of the human intellect. The scholar pushed his
researches far back into ancient times to glean wisdom
from the works of the mighty dead, while statesmen
adjusted the balance of empires, and settled principles
of international law. Years rolled on, and philanthro-
pists visited the prisoner, comforted the sick, and relieved
the afflicted. The ministers of religion discoursed of
truth, and justice, and mercy; and the glorious gospel,
no longer chained to the desks of a profligate priesthood,
extended further and further its blessed rays. Yet still
the African slave trade flourished in all its enormity,
and its wretched victims, uncared for and forgotten,
groaned on tropical plantations.

Neither the philosopher nor the scholar, the statesmen
nor the professed philanthropist, the worldly moralist
nor the divinely commissioned teacher, ever thought of
questioning its righteousness, or doubting of its justice.
INIcn of all classes participated in the traffic and partook
of its spoils, and even in the latter part of the 18th
century, both Commoners and Lords of England were
interested in West Indian plantations, and the Established
Church was a sharer in their unholy gains. The an-
tiquity of the system was sufficient to remove every
scruple and satisfy every doubt ; and here we may re-
mark that of the myriads, who from the beginning of
time, have suffered by the inhumanity of man, the great
majority have so sufibred, under the sanction either of

prei?cnptive usnge, or of positive law, which have been
revered for their antiquity, and regarded as existing by
Divine right. And hence the very fact of a system re-
specting the justice of which, doubts force themselves
upon our minds, having the sanction of long years of ap-
proval, and statutes piled upon statutes — so far from satis-
fying us of the righteousness of that system, should at
once quicken our doubts, since it tends to explain the
moral phenomena of wicked principles so embodied into
cruel laws, being recognized and upheld by men, whom,
judging by their general character and practice, we
might deem incapable of knowingly encouraging any sort
of tyranny. Thus it is that, by the inexplicable provision
of an allwise Providence, truths the most glorious and
mighty are allowed to slumber in the breasts of men.
Thus, even now do they sleep in the bosoms of our
southern brethren, who hug the accursed system as a
boon from heaven. On all questions relating to it,
whether religious, political, or financial : " their counsel,"
in the language of the wise man, "is carried headlong;"
" they meet with darkness in the day time and grope
in the noonday as in the night."*

In England the light at last dawned — slavery in her
West Indian colonies is a thing that is past, and the slave
trade, though still continued, exists, not as a legitimate
traffic, but as akin to piracy. This moral revolution
originated not with the great and the powerful ; science
had no share in it ; learning knew not of its beginning ;
and the Church, in whose sacred bosom it should have
been nurtured, with a few noble exceptions among her
prelates, coldly regarded it with a selfish eye. It was
effected by the simple power of truths uttered by single-
minded and earnest men — truths not by them disco-

* Proverbs v. 14.

vered, but ancient as eternity and known to all — and
which had often before been proclaimed from the ros-
trum, and the pulpit, with the fire of genius, and the
beauty of oratory, but never with the same heartfelt
conviction, the same practical application, the same deep
purpose to reform the evil.

" If feeling does not prompt,
If from the soul the language does not come
By its own impulse to impel the hearts
Of hearers with communicated power,
In vain you strive "♦

The first movement of that moral earthquake, which
has shattered the foundations of slavery throughout the
globe, and engulphed it forever in the West Indian colo-
nies, and whose shocks are even now most sensibly
convulsing its sister tyranny of America, was made by a
few humble individuals in London, of the Society of
Friends, who, with fearless resolve and far-reaching
aim, met, in 1783, *' to consider what steps they should
take for the relief and liberation of the nco;ro slaves in
the West Indies, and for the discouragementof the slave
trade on the coast of Africa." By frequent meetings,
the circulation of tracts and pamphlets, and the efforts
of Clarkson, who was secured as their agent, they steadi-
ly gained ground ; their committee became an import-
ant body, and the souls of many, touched with the truths
they uttered, were gradually moulded into one. Gen-
tlemen of wealth, and rank, and influence, both in the
Parliament and the Church, favored their efibrts, and con-
tributed to their funds. As they enlarged their numbers,
and rose in importance, the hostility of the Slavery Party
increased. Their principles were denounced as " liypo-
critical, fanatic and methodistical." "Abolition," it
was predicted, " would lead to insurrection, massacre

* Goethe's Faust. — A7isler's Translation.


and ruin, in the Colonies and in Great Britain, to the re-
duction of her revenue, the decay of her naval strength,
and the bankruptcies of her merchants and manufac-
turers." The trade was justified by the press, and
vindicated by the pulpit on scriptural grounds. The
first bill lor its suppression introduced into Parliament,
was met with the most malignant hostility, and de-
nounced as "only fit for the bigotry of tlie twelfth cen-

Slaver}^ as it had commenced, so had it its strong-
hold in avarice, that base passion of our nature, that per-
haps above all others, hardens the heart, and narrows
the intellect, and blunts the conscience, and which ex-
hibits, day by day, convincing proofs of the saying of
Holy Writ, that "the love of money is the root of aU
evil." " The interest," sa5^s Clarkson,* " by which it was
supported, was not that of a few individuals, nor of one
body, but of many bodies of men. It was interwoven
again into the system of the commerce and the revenue
of nations. Hence the merchant and the planter, the
mortgagee and the manufacturer, the politician, the
legislator, the cabinet minister, lifted up their voices
against the annihilation of it." Ten times was Wilber-
forcc defeated in his endeavors to obtain its suppression
by the House of Commons, but the perseverance of the
abolitionists was at last rewarded, and in 1S07 the slave
trade was abolished by act of Parhament. Negotiations
were subsequently had with other nations, for the entire
abandonment of the traffic, until, in 1836, it was prohi-
bited by every christian nation in Europe and America. t

Thus will Truth and Justice finally triumph over false-
hood and oppression. Their high influence, viewless as
the winds, and intangible as the, magnet's sympathy,

* History of tlie Slave Trade.

t Preface to Jay's " View of the Actions of the Federal Government, in behalf



wafted from heart to heart, with all the powers of nature
for allies, gathers strength with each setting sun ; and
the oppressors who, trembling with the presentiment of
defeat, attempt to stay the progress of Liberty by fierce
resolves, and penal laws, and brutal force, exhibit wisdom
akin to that of Xerxes, when he would bind the Helles-
pont with fetters, and punish it with scourges.

Having glanced at the steps which led to the abolition
of the slave trade, we pass to a review of the measures
which preceded the abolition of West Indian slavery.
And here we may remark, that we are are opening a
new page in the history of the world. There is no
chapter, it is true, that has not its own interest, or which
teaches not its peculiar lesson. Those which depict the
rise and fall of kingdoms, the advance and decay of na-
tions, the mutations and ravages of time, furnish abun-
dant food for melancholy reflection. In all, we may trace
the workings of the hopes, and fears, and passions, which
exist in every breast, and learn that human expectations
are generally disappointed ; that pride is sure to be hum-
bled, and soaring ambition to meet a fall; that despotic
power always becomes tyrannical, and that tyranny, in
its corrupting and blighting influence, is sooner or later
its own avenger. But we seek in vain for the results of
honesty, justice and kindness, as exemplified in the
dealings of nation towards nation: or in the conduct of
the mighty and powerful towards the defenceless and
the weak. It was reserved for England to furnish this
missing chapter in the history of the world — this un-
limned picture in the Gallery of Time. As she was the
first to abolish the slave trade, so was she the first of the
kingdoms of the earth to annihilate negro slavery : and
while we glance at other of the European cabinets only
to find

" Kingly conclaves stern and bold,
Where blood with gold is bought and sold,"


her parliament were discussing how they might break
the yoke and let the oppressed go free. The abolitionists
continued their appeals long after the trade was forbidden,
until almost the whole nation was aroused to the iniquity
of slavery, and with one voice demanded its abolition.
Although the system in their colonies was not, as a gene-
ral rule, attended with as gross outrages as in our demo-
cratic country, there was still enough, to awaken the
warmest indignation of all, possessing the creed of chris-
tians, or the feelings of men. " What increased the guilt
of the colonists," in the words of Bishop Wilson,* whose
language and conduct in relation to the question con-
trasts strongly with those of some of the Right Rev. Fa-
thers of the American Church, t was, that " it was all sup-
ported by a systematic opposition to reform in the assem-
blies ; by artful and industrious perversion and conceal-
ment of facts, false representation, and colorable excuses ;
by a pertinacity and folly ; and by an infatuation," con-
tinues the Bishop, " which bears along the West Indian
body in blindly defending a system in open hostility with
every principle of humanity, with every view of just
policy, and with every dictate of Religion."

We are accustomed to read, with wonder if not with
incredulity, the story of Milo of old, who commenced

^ Tract on the Sinfulness of West India Slavery.

t The annexed ex-cathedra decisions, show the light in which slaverj- is re-
garded among the Episcopal clergy of the south, and how firm is its stronghold
in the bosom of our Church. It is indeed sad that by the shepherds themselves,
are the sheep devoured, and Christians exposed to the taunt of the infidel,
"Prope templo — procul Deo."

" Slavery is not forbidden by the Divine Law ; so it is left to our own judg-
ment whether we hold slaves or not." — Rev. Dr. Dalcho of South Carolina.

" No man or set of men in our day are entitled to pronounce it wrong; and
we add that slavery, as it exists at the present Day, is agreeable
TO THE order OF DiviNE PROVIDENCE." — Rev. G. W. Freeman, Sermon
preached Nov. 1834. Endorsed by the Right Rev. Bishop Ives of South


with currying a calf, and continued the exercise day by
day until it was become a full grown beast, under the
load of which he walked erect, scarcely inconveni-
enced by its weight ; but what is the weight of an ox,
compared with that burthen of guilt and iniamy, which
long years of tyranny accumulate upon tlie heads of the
opj)ressors, and beneath which slaveholders, bearing the
name of Christians, live and move unmindful of the load,
and assume the part and bearing of honest men, as if
neither robbery, nor cruelty, nor baseness, were heaped
upon their souls, and as if no cloud of vengeance
brooded over their daily walk. In former times arraigned
felons, when they refused to answer to the charge, " guilty
or not guilty," were said to be " dumb vhitutione Dci,^''
and we can explain the phenomena of such moral
insensibility and religious blindness, only by recognizing
their existence as permitted or rather ordained by God.
To remedy this two-fold evil, to free the slaveholder
from guilt and the slave from oppression, England, like
a free and religious people, determined to exert her
power. The consent of the colonists to emancipation it
was impossible to obtain. " Few love to hear the sins
they love to act," and they were determined to resist to
the uttermost every attempt to deprive them of the pro-
perty they claimed, in the bones and sinews of their op-
pressed dependents. Parliament having exhausted the
language of admonition and remonstrance, at length
addressed them in tones of authorit}", and on the 2Sth
August, 1S3S, passed an act, declaring that within twelve
months slavery should positively cease. The change
proposed to be effected, was not however, a change to per-
fect freedom. This course was indeed advocated now by
many, who were satisfied that it was proper to cease from
evil, not gradually, but at once — who thought the path
of duty always safe, and who did not believe that the


Almighty would allow acts of justice and mercy to be re-
warded by rapine and massaci-e. But the government had
less faith ; they feared the eilect upon the minds of the
newly created freemen of the remembrance of "the
innumerable multitude of wrongs" inflicted during dreary
5^ears of servitude. They knew what terrible charms
there are in the idea of retribution, to men smarting un-
der tyranny, but they knew not the effect of" kindness.
Of the results of this treatment they had no experience.
They reasoned without a guide, and conscience made
cowards of them all. Strange ! to imagine that they could
judge of the feelings and conduct of a freeman, by his
feelings and conduct as a slave.
The poet has well said —

" Within a darksome prison, v/ho?c stern bounds
Shut him from all that's g >ofl or dear on earth.
His soul asserts not his humanity."

And such an existence is scarcely more than a living
death, — for what are life and freedom

" But the unfettered use
Of all the powers which God for use has given."

It was accordingly provided by the Act of Emancipa-
tion, that slavery should be succeeded by an appren-
ticeship. The colonies were invited to anticipate the
action of parliament in ordaining laws, by making them
themselves, and submitting them to the home govern-
ment for approval; and to silence the grumblings of the
masters, and the charge of exercising their philanthropy
at the expense of others, parliament oi'dered compensa-
tion for their loss to be paid in sterling money ; and that
payment was withheld, until effectual measures had been
taken by the colonies, for the protection of the newly
emancipated population. Having thus endeavored to
provide for the enactment of proper laws ; in order to


secure their fair administration, magistrates were spe-
cially deputed from England, who should be indepen-
dent of local authorities and unbiassed by local interests.

The chief ends proposed to be effected by the act, were
the abolition of the principle of slavery, the elevation of
the slave from the condition of a chattel to that of a man,
possessing rights and duties, responsible to the laws, and
entitled to their protection. It gave entire freedom to
all children who had been born within the six years pre-
vious. It relieved, to some extent, the physical condi-
tion of the apprentices, and gave them one fourth of the
time which had been before appropriated by the masters.
It provided for the admission of their testimony in the
courts of justice, encouraged them to make contracts and
receive wages, acknowledged their marriages, and re-
moved various obstacles to their education, and their
advancement in religious knowledge. It enabled them
to demand their freedom, on tendering the value of their
remaining services, and exempted females from the

On the other hand, to guard against the supposed evils
of instant emancipation, labor was confined in its former
channels by retaining the obligation to their former mas-
ters, although curtailed in extent, and existing under a
new sanction.*

Two of the colonies, Antigua and Bermuda, anticipat-
ing the evils of the apprenticeship, wisely avoided the
necessity for its adoption by decreeing the entire aboli-
tion of slavery, and the substitution of perfect freedom on
the day appointed, a step which they never afterwards
had the slightest occasion to regret. The other islands
adhered to the apprenticeship, as still continuing to the
masters a limited power over their slaves, and proceeded

* Edinburgh Review, Jan. 1838, p. 484.


to carry into operation the plan proposed to them by the
home government.

The difficuUies that were to be encountered in doing
this were neither few nor trifling. Within twelve
months laws were to be passed by the colonial legis-
latures ; and had they the wish to be honest, they
had scarcely the skill to secure the ends proposed.
Then there were hosts of planters, attorneys, managers,
and overseers, bitter with disappointment and ready to
avail themselves of every quibble or mistake to infringe
the rights of the negro ; and the special magistrates, un-
accustomed to their duties and without precedents to
guide them, were liable to constant vexation and obstruc-
tion in the administration of the law.*

To lessen the power of these magistrates, an appeal
lay from their decisions to the colonial courts, filled with
persons interested in West Indian property, swelling
with West Indian prejudices, and exasperated against
the special magistrates, " as being trusted with power
from which iheir own class was jealously excluded."
" Here," it has been well remarked, " were traces of
slavery which it was beyond the power of Parliament
to abolish."

Ay ! there were traces of slavery, which will linger
long after the Parliament that abolished the system shall
have mouldered into dust. Think you that such an out-
rage upon humanity, persisted in for centuries, can be
atoned for by an act of Parhament ? Can the man who
has shattered his constitution by years of dissipation re-
new his youth by a resolution to reform f Facilms est
dcstruere quam constniere — it is easier to destroy than to
build up; and here, it was not their own work that they
had demolished. In reducing men to chattels, they had
pulled down a house which they builded not, and laid
its heavenly materials level with the dust.

* Edin b U rgh Review .


None can sav to a wicked principle once admitted,
thus far shalt thou go and no farther. The results of
acts committed are beyond control ; and now that the
English people would have abolished slavery, root and

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Online LibraryJohn JayThe progress and results of emancipation in the English West Indies. A lecture delivered before the Philomathian Society of the city of New-York → online text (page 1 of 3)