Thomas Babington Macaulay Macaulay.

Critical, historical, and miscellaneous essays online

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two hundred and twenty-two died before they could be set-
tled as apprentices.^ The constitutions of many who sur-
vived were completely broken. By the masters to whom
they were apprenticed, they were frequently treated witli in-
humanity. The laws and institutions of Tortola, framed for

1 Mr. Doiigan*8 Beport, p. 7.



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CAPACITIES OF NEGROES. 375

a society made up of masters and slaves, were, as tlie Major
himself states, by no means fitted for the regulation of such
a cbiss of persons as the apprenticed Africans. The poorer
freemen of every colour felt an enmity towards people who
were about to intrude themselves into those trades of which
they possessed a monopoly. The planters were not inclined
to look with favour on the first fruits of the abolition. Ap-
prentices are, in every part of the world, noted for idleness.
The degree of that idleness is in general proportioned to the
l<.*ngtli of the term for which they are bound to an unrequited
service. The man who expects soon to be his own master,
may exert himself to acquire skill in the business by which
he is to subsist. He, on the other hand, who ex)>ects to
waste half of his life in labour without remuneration, will
generally do as little as he possibly can. The liberated Af-
ricans were most injudiciously apprenticed for fourteen years,
and some even for a longer time. They Imd neither the
motive of the freeman, nor that of the slave. Thoy eoukl
not legally demand wages. They could not legally be sub-
jected to the driver. Under these disadvantages was the
trial made. And what was the result ?

Major Moody examined into the conduct of sixty-one ap-
prenticed negroes wlio had been rescued from the Manuella.
The masters and mistresses were carefully interrogated. It
appears from the schedules signed by the Major himself,
that good characters were given to forty. Nine only ap-
peared to be idle and disorderly. With respect to twelve,
no decisive information was obtained. A similar inquiry
took place respecting fifty-five apprentices who had formed
part of the cargo of the Venus. Good accounts were re-
ceived of forty. Only six were described as idle and dis*
orderly.

Among sixty-five negroes who had been taken from the
Candelario, there was not a single instance of grossly bad
conduct. Fifty-seven received fair characters for honesty
and industry.

Lastly, of one hundred and ten negroes who had been on
board cf the Atrevido, only four are characterized as decidedly
worthless. Nine may Ixj considered as doubtful. A favour-
able report is given of the remaining ninety-seven.

These facts, as we have said, we find in the papers signed
by the Major liimself. He has not, it is true, thought it nco



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376 SOCIAL AND INDUSTRIAL

essary to give us the result of hU inquiries in tlie Report so
fX)mpcudiously as we now exhibit it. He dwells at great
length on particular cases which prove nothing. He tills
page afler page with the nonsense of planters who had no
apprentices, who evidently knew nothing about the appren-
tices, and who, in general terms, proving nothing but their
own folly and malevolence, characterized the whole race as
idle, disorderly, quarrelsome, drunken, greedy. But, from
the beginning to the end of the Report, he has not been able
lo spare three lines for the simple fact, that four fifttis of
these vilified people receive excellent characters from their
actual employers, from those who roust have been best ac-
quainted with their disposition, and who would have lost
most by their idleness. Whoever wishes to know how Dan-
iel Onabott broke his wife's nose — how Penelope Whan
whipped a slave wha had the yaws, how the Major, seven-
teen years ago, went without his supper in Guiana — bow
the Hi-ts and sciences proceeded northward from Carthage
till they were stopped by the frozen zone, may find in the
Report all this interesting information, and much more of
the same kind. But those who wish to know that whicli
Major Moody was commissioned to ascertain, and which it
was his peculiar duty to state, must turn over three hundred
folio pages of schedules. The Report does not, as far as we
have been able to discover, give the most distant hint of the
discoveries which they will make there.

We have no idea of charging the Major with intentional
unfairness. But his prejudices really seem to have blinde<l
him as to the effect of the evidence which he had himself
collected. He hints that his colleague had privately pre-
pared the apprentices for the examination. Of the justice
of this charge we shall be better able to judge when the an-
swer of Mr. Dougan shall make its appearance. But be it
well founded or not, it cannot affect our argument. The
Major does not pretend to insinuate, that any arts were
practised with the masters^ and it is on the testimony of the
masters alone that we are willing to rest our ca>'e. Indeed,
the evidence which was collected by the Major in the al>-
sence of his colleague, and which we must therefore suppo.^
to be perfectly pure, tends to the same effect, and would
alone be sufficient to show, that the apprentices have, as «*
body, conducted themselves in a manner which, under anjf
circumstances, would have been most satisfactory.



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CARVCITJKS OF NEGROES. 377

It is peifectly true, that a knot of slave-owners, forming
the legislature of Tortola, petitioned the Government to re-
move these apprentices from the island. From internal evi-
dence, from the peculiar cant in which the petition abounds,
and from the sprinkling of bad grammar which adorns it,
we are half inclined to suspect that it is the Major's own
hundywork. At all events, it is curious to see how he rea-
sons on it. It is curious to see how the Major reasons on
this fact : —

** Doubtless, the le^^islature of Tortola maj be mistaken in tlieii
o|»inioii8 ; but the mere fact of their agreeing to sign such a petition,
sliows tlicy really did think, that the labour of the African apprer*:cc8,
when free, would not be useful to them or the colonists generally

'* And this fact alone, my Lord, is calculated to excite important re-
flections, as to the choiucter of the free Africans, for industry in West
Indian agricultnrc.

** Is it probable, that mcro prejudice against the colour of a man's
skin coukl ever induce any body of people, like the Tortola petitioners.
to make a request so apparently absurd, as that of removing from
their colony a numerous body of Africans, consisting of able bodied
men and women, if they were as willing as they were capable of work-
in*?, and increasing the value of the land now given to pastunige, for
wimt of cultivators to be employed therein 1" ^

We earnestly request our i*eaders to observe the consist-
ency of Major Moody. When his object is to prove, that
whites and blacks cannot amalgamate on t-qual terms, in one
])olitical society, he exaggerates every circumstance which
tends to keep them Jisunder. The physical differences l>e-
tween the races, he tells us, practically defeat benevolent
laws. No Act of Parliament, no order in Council, can sur-
mount the difficulty.* Where these differences exist, the
principles of republican equality are forgotten by the sti-ong-
est republican. Marriage becomes an unnatural prastitution.
Tlie Haytian refuses to admit the white to possess property
within the sphere of negro domination. The 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 1 suppressed all
mention of a physical cause like this, which in practice is
found to have an effect so powerful, however the philanthiXH

» First Part of Major Moody's Report, p. 126.

* Second Part of Major Moody's Keport, p. 20 and 21



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378 SOCIAL AND INDUSTRIAL

pist or the philosopher may regret it, and however it may be
beyond tlieir power to remove it by legislative means."*
But, when It is desirable to prove the idleness of the free
African, this omnipotent physical cause, this instinct agsun^t
which the best and wisest men struggle in vain, which coun-
teracts the attraction of sex, and defies the authority of law,
sinks into a '* mere prejudice against the colour of a man*s
skin," an idle fancy, whicli never could induce any body uf
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 tlie 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
gi'eat expense, from a country greatly understocked w?th
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 sen-ice,
provided that no woman should be employed in tillage. The
blank form of indeiiiure sent out by the government con-
tained a similar re.-iriction with regard to the males.

We are, however, iiichned to believe with the Major, tliat
these people, if they had been left to take their own course,
would not have employed themselves in agriculture. Those
who have become masters 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 we can by no means agree with him.
In order to prove that- the natives of tropical countries enter-
tain a peculiar aversion to agricultural labour, it is by no
means sufficient to show that certain freemen, living in the
torrid zone, do not choose to engage in agricultural hibour.
It is, we humbly conceive, necessary also to show, tluit ilie
wage.>} of agricultural labour are, at the place and time in

> Second l*urt of Mujui* Moody *]i Hcport, p. 21.



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CAPACITIES OF NKGROES. 379

question, at least as high as those which can he obtained by
industry of anotlier description. It by no means follows,
that a man feels an insurmountable dislike to the business of
setting canes, because he 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.

Obvioa^ as these considerations are, it is perfectly cleat
that Major Moody has overlooked them. From the Appen-
dix to his own Report it appears, tliat in every West Indian
island the wages of the artisan are much greater than thoH*
of the cultivator. In Tor<ola, for example, a carpenter
c*arns three shillings sterling a day, a cartwright or a cooper
lour shillings and sixpence, a sawyer 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 agiiculture ! — 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 philosophy of labour.

But, says the Major, all employments, excepting those 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 denumd 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 workinj? ;
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 woric three days for a shilling, than one day for half
a crown. The case, he may be assured, is by no means
such as he supposes. If he will make proper inquiries h«



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S80 SOCIAL AND INDUSTRIAL

will learii, that, even where the thermometer stands at the
lowest, no man will choose a laborious employment, when
he can obtain equal remuneration with la<8 trouble in an-
other line. But it i.^ unnecessary to resort to this argument ;
for it is perfectly clear, on Major Moody':? own showing, tliat
the demand for mechanical industry, though occasional and
Ismail, is still sufficient to render the business of aD artisan
much more lucrative than that of a field labourer.

" I liave shown/' says he, " that tho sngar-plantcr himself, obtaining
2S7 (lays labour on the very cheapest terms, could not have afibrded
to give more than about 9/. per annum for hibourors, and thorelbre, that
he never could hope to induce any Ubenited African to work st^ulilj
for such wages, when the liberated African could obtain from 15/. to
^1/. 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 5«. per annum to the labourer, even if the planter gave ap all
profits on his stock, consisting of lands, buildings, and machinery. If
the liberated Negro would not lalniur steadily for 9l. per annam. It i*
clear he would bo less likely to work for 6/. 15s. pei'aqnum ; but if he
dill not work for less than that sum, the planter in Tortola could obtain
no profit on stock, and consequently could have no motive for employ-
ing any person to work for such wages. The white race, being unable
to work, must in this, as in all similar cases, perish, or abandon their
country and propeity to tlie 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 moans of subsistence in the lowlands of the torrid
zime, where the pleasure of repose forms so great an ingredient in the
h:ippinoss of mankind, whetlior whites, blacks, or Indians." ^

We really stand aghast at the extravagance of a writer
who supposes that the principle which leads a man to prefer
light hibour and twenty-one pounds, to hard labour and six
pounds fitleen shillings, is a principle of which the operation
is confined to the torrid zone ! But the matter may he put
on a very short issue. Let Major Moody find any tropical
country in which the inhabitants prefer mechanical trades 10
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
fact bearing on the question.

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

^ Second Part of Major Moody*8 Report, p. 73.



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CAPACITIES OF NEGROFS. 381

the coercive system. The effect of that system in the West
Indies has been to produce a glut of agricuhural 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 the
only explanation which at pi-esent occurs to us of the enor-
mous price which skilled lalwur 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-
fiideration of the subject. But it is with no feeling of diffi-
dence that we pronounce the whole argument of the Major
absui-d. That he has convinced himself we do not doubt.
Indeed he has given the best proof of sincerity : For he has
acted up to his iheoiy ; 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
<^vident from the account which the Major himself gives.
The wages were higher in St. Thoman 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. Thomas, on these occasions were generally the irregular and oc-
casional industry of porters, servants on board vessels, &c., in which
they often got comparatively high wages, which enabled them to work
for money ai one time in oriler to live, without working 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
whole year.

" From this irregular application to certain kinds of labour and dis-
ike to that of agriculture, it was my wish to turn the attention of the
African apprentices, and therefore I was anxious to prevent their run-
ning away to the Danish island of St. Thomas, or being sent there.
His Excellency Governor Van Scliolton afforded me every facility in
removing them ; but they soon returned again, as the proximity of the



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882 SOCIAL AND INDUSTRIAL

islands, and the frequent intercourse rendered it impossible to preTanl
those AtricAni) from Koing who rat^ht wish it, cither from the serene
treatment of their empbyer, or their own wish to bo nisLsters of their time.
It will also be f»cen that in St. Thomas they were liable to be taken ap
anil sohl as slaves, as was actually the case %rith one apprentice. It is
not undeserving of remark, that not one of the apprentices who thas
withdrew themselves from Tortoia, ever hired themselves to agricultuDil
lulK)r for any fixed period."

" The occasional high wngcs in irregular kinds of industry, liowcver
uncortjiin, )ip|>oir to have pleased them better than the permanent re-
wards profured by an employment less exposed to uncertainty, but
wliich 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 not
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 oHen is it
tliat 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 liave
betrayed during the whole course of his mission.

The M^jor might perhaps be justified in exerting himself
to recover those apprentices who had emigrated without the
consent of their masters. But with regard to the rest, hia

1 First Part of Major Moody*8 Report, p. 67.



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CAPACITIES OF NEGROES. 383

conduct appears to have been equally absurd and mischiev-
ous. He repeatedly tells us that Tortola is a poor island.
It appears from the schedules, that he was in the habit ol
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 thej possess-
ed aU the qualiGcations which would enable them to earn a
livelihood ; but that Tortola was too |H)or to afford them an
adequate field : And this was evidently the cause which in-
duced so many to transport themselves to St. Thomas. Of
all the innumerable instances in which public functionaries
have exposed their ipnorance by officiously meddling wilh
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 whicli 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 wages, 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 purpose of trebling his pres-
ent enjoyments, or of laying up a hoard against bad times ?
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 INDUSTRIAL

When the wages of the workman rise, he everywhere tskc9
out, if we may so express ourselves, some portion of the
nsc in the form of repose. This is the real explanation of
(hat unsteadiness on which Major Moody dwells so much —
an unsteadiness which cannot surprise any person wlio has
ever talked with an English manufacturer, or ever heard
tlie name of Saint Monday. It appears by his own report,
that a negro slave works i'rom Monday morning to Saturday
night on the sugar grounds of Tortola, and receives what is
equivalent to something less than half-a-crown in retam.
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 otlier day be can
pix)cure better food and better clothes than ever he had be-



Online LibraryThomas Babington Macaulay MacaulayCritical, historical, and miscellaneous essays → online text (page 70 of 84)