Thomas Babington Macaulay Macaulay.

Critical, historical, and miscellaneous essays online

. (page 71 of 84)
Online LibraryThomas Babington Macaulay MacaulayCritical, historical, and miscellaneous essays → online text (page 71 of 84)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


ibi'e. In no country irom the Pole to the Equator, would a
labourer under such ciix!umstances 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 distress — 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
ntising 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 tluit
men all over the world should labour more steadily than
they now do ; but whether the laws which regulate labour
within the tropics difier 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 Africiin does not work so
steadily 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
st(*adily than the Englishman. In this island, the industry
of the porter or the waterman, is less steady than the indus-



Digitized



byGoogk



CAPACITIES OF NEGROES. 885

tiy 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 done
without any diminution 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 iri-egular, 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.

Tlie 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
rejmrted at length, instead of a meal.* He, as usual, attrib-
utes 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
for those comforts which industr}' alone can procure. They
still obstinately adhere to their old mode of life. The inde-
pendence, the strong excitement, the occasional periods of
intense exertion, the long intervals of repose, have become
delightful and almost necessary to them. It is well known
that 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.
vou VI. 17



Digitized



byGoogk



886 SOCIAL AND INDUSTRIAL

State of society, and even by its sufferings ami nazard&
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
been surrounded on every side by the great woriis of hunian
liibour. 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 —nil must hnve
constantly reminded them of the conveniences and luxurica
wliich are to be obtained by steady exertion. They were
|>ersecuted under a thousand pretexts, whipped for vagrants,
imprisoned for poachers, ducked for witches. The severest
laws wero enacted against them. To consort with them wad
long a capital offence. Yet a remnant of the race still pre-
serves its peculiar language and manners — still prefers a
tattered tent and a chance-meal of carrion to a warm hoase
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 w^ill equally prove,
tliat 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 reinforcementa
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
heat of the sun. A better explanation may be given in one
word, insecurity. During about one hundred years, the
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 lo
pieces? on the rack, or roasted on slow fires. They attempted
10 avoid the danger, by frequently changing, and coirefally
concealing their rc:?idence. The accidental crowing of a



Digitized



byGoogk



CAPACITIES OF NEGROES. 887

sock, had brought destruction on a whole tribe. That a peo-
ple thu8 situated should labour to acquire property which
they could not enjoy — that they should engage in employ-
ments which would necessai-ily attach them to a particular
spot^ was not to be expected. Their habits necessarily be-
came irregular and ferocious. They plundered the <!olony —
they plundered each other — they lived by hunting and fish-
ing. The only productions of the earth which they culti-
vated, were such as could be speedily reared, and easily con-
et^aled. But during the last fifty years, the.se tribes have
enjoyed a greater degree of security ; and from the state-
ment of Major Moody, who has himself visited that country,
and who, though a wretched logician, is an unexceptionable
witness, it appears, that they are rapidly advancing in civili-
zation; that they have acquired a sense of new wants, and a
relish for new pleasures ; that agriculture has taken a more
regular form ; and that the vices and miseries of savage lite
are disappearing together.

" The younj; men among the Maroons acknowledged, that the con-
duct of the chiefs had become much better, in respect of not interfer-
ing with the wives of others, and that everybody now could have his
own wife."

** I observed, that they had adopted tlie system of sometimes domes-
ticating wild animals, and rearing those already domesticated for food ;
that instead of always boucaning their moats, like the Indians, they
now often used salt when thev could get it ; and, finally, that instead of
depending on the forests for fruits, or cultivating roots wliich were soor
reaped, and could easily be concealed, they had generally adopted tlie
banana and nlantain as a food, which requires about twelve months to
produce its fruiu, and the tree obtains a considerable height." ....

" I also found, that a certain degree of occasional industry had taken
place among the Maroons. Some of these young men had tievoted n
few days in the year to cutting down trees which nature had planted.
From such occasional labour they were enabled to procure finery for
a favourite female, a better gun, or ^ new axe." *

" Surely this statement is most encouraging. No sooner
was security given to these Maroons, than improvement com-
menced. A single generation has sufficed to change these
hunters into cultivators of the earth, to teach them the use
of domestic animals, to awaken among them a taste for the
luxuries and distinctions of polished societies. That their
■ labour is still only occasional, we grant. But this, we can-
Qot too oflen repeat, is not the question. If occasional la-

• AAoond Part of Major Moody*8 Report, pages 49, 50, 52.



Digitized



byGoogk



S88 SOCIAL AND INDUSTRIAL

Ixnir will supply the inhabitant of the temperate zone witli
comforts greater than those to which he is accustomed, he
will labour only occasionally. These negroes are not only
willing to work rather than forego their usual comforts, but
«ire also willing to make some addition to their labour, for
the sake of some addition to their comforts. Nothing more
can be said for the labourers of any country. ' The principle
which has made England and Holland what they are, is evi-
dently at work in the thickets of Surinam.

That the habits of the fugitives were altogether idle and
irregular till within the last fifly }'^ars,is nothing to the par-
pose. How much of regular industry was formerly to be
found among the outlawed moss-troopers of our Border, or
in the proscribed clan of the Macgregors? Down to a very
late period, a large part of the Scotch people were as avenge
to steady industry as any tribe of Maroons. In the year
1G98, Fletcher of Saltoun called the attention of the Scot-
tish Parliament to this horrible evil. ** This country,** says
he, ** has always swarmed with such numbers of idle vaga-
bonds as no laws could ever restrain. There are at this day
in Scotland two hundred thousand people begging from door
to door, living without any regard or subjection to the laws
of the land, or to even those of God and nature. No mag-
istrate could ever discover or be informed which way one in a
hundred of these wretches died, or that ever they were baptis-
ed.'* He advises the Government to set them to work ; but
he strongly represents the difficulty of such an undertaking.
^ That sort of people is so de-sperately wicked, such enemies
of all work and labour, and, which is yet more amazing, so
proud in esteeming their own condition above that which
they will be sure to call slavery, that, unless prevented by
the utmost industry and diligence^ upon the first publication
of any orders for putting in execution such a design, they
will rather die with hunger in caves and dens, and murder
their young children.*' Fletcher was a brave, honest, and
sensible man. He had fought and suffered for liberty. Yet
the circumstances of his country shook his faith in the true
principles of government. He looked with dismay on the
mountains occupied by lawless chiefs and their gangs, and
the lowlands cursed by the depredations of some plunderers
and the protection of others. Everywhere he saw swarms
of robbers and beggars. He contrasted this desolate pros-



Digitized



byGoogk



CAPACITIES OF NEGROES. 889

pect with the spectacle whicli Holland presented, the mimcles
which human industry had there achieved, a country res-
cued from the ocean, vast and splendid cities, ports crowded
with ships, meadows cultivated to the highest point, canals
along which hundreds of boats were constantly passing, mer-
Ciintile houses of which the daily payments excwded the
whole rental of the Highlands, an immense population whose
habits were sober and laborious, and who acquired their
comforts, not by injuring, but by benefiting their neighbours.
He did not sufficiently consider that this state of things
sprung from the wisdom and vigour of a government, which
insured to every man the fruits of his exertions, and protected
equally the pleasures of every class, from the pipe of the
mechanic to the picture-gallery and the tulip-garden of the
Burgo-master ; — that in Scotland, on the contrary, the po-
lice was feeble, and the gentry rich in men and destitute of
money ; that robbery was in consequence common ; that peo-
ple will not build barns to be burned, or rear cattle to be
lifted ; that insecurity pixxiuced idleness, and idleness crimes ,
that these crimes again augmented the insecurity from whicli
they had sprung. He overlooked these circumstances, and
attributed the evil to the want of coercion. He censured
the weak humanity of those fathers of the church who had
represented slavery as inconsistent with Christianity. He
cited those texts with which the controversies of our own
times have rendered us so familiar. Finally, he proposed to
convert the lower classes into domestic bondsmen. His ar-
r^uments were at least as plausible as those of Major Moody.
But how signally has the event refuted them ! Slavery was
not established in Scotland. On the contrary, the changes
which have taken place there have been favourable to [ler-
fonal liberty. The power of the chiefs has been destroyed.
Security has been given to the capitalist and to the labourer.
CiMild Fletcher now revisit Scotland, he would find a coun-
try which might well bear a comparison with his favourite
iiolhind.

The History of the Maroons of Surinam appears to us
strictly analogous to that of the Scottish peasantry. In both
cases insecurity produced idleness. In both security pro-
duces industry. The African community indeed, in the mid-
dle of the last century was far more barbarous than any
part of the Scotch nation has ever been since the dawn of



Digitized



byGoogk



890 SOCIAL AND INDUSTRIAL

authentic history. Not one of the fugitives had ever beea
taught to read and write. The traces of civih'zation which
they brought from the colony were very slight, and were
soon effaced by the habits of a lawless and perilous life. Of
late, however, their progress has been i*apid. Judging of
the future by the past, we entertain a strong hope tliat tbey
will soon form a flourishing and respectable society. At all
events, we are sure that their condition affords no ground for
believing that the labourer, within the tropics, acts on priD«
ciples different from tliose which regulate his conduei els^^
where.

We now come to the case of Hayti, a case on which Bia-
jor Moody and his disciples place the strongest reliance.
The Report tells us, that Toussaint, Christophe and Hoyer^
have all found it necessary to compel the free negroes of
that island to employ themselves in agriculture — that ex-
|K)rtation has diminished — that the quantity of coffee now
I>roduced is much smaller than that which was grown 'under
the French government — that the cultivation of sugar is
abandoned — that the Haytians have not only ceased to ex-
port that article, but have begun to import it — that the men
indulge themselves in repose, and force the women to work
for them ; and, finally, that this dislike of labour can be ex-
plained only by the heat of the climate, and can be subdued
only by coercion.

Now we have to say, in the first place, that the proofs
which the Major brings refute each other. If, as he states
the Haytians are coerced, and have been coerced during the
hist thirty years, their idleness may be an excellent argument
against slavery, but can be no argument against liberty. If
it be said that the coercion empbyed in Hayti is not suffi-
ciently severe, we answer thus: — We never denied, that of
two kinds of coercion, the more severe is likely to be the
more efiicient. Men can be induced to work only by two
motives, hope and fear; the former is the motive of the free
labourer, the latter of the slave. We hold that, in the long
run, hope will answer best But we are perfectly ready to
admit, that a strong fear will stimulate industry more power-
fully than a weak fear. The case of Hayti, therefore, can
at most only prove tliat severe slavery answers its purpose
better than lenient slavery. It (ran prove nothing for shivery
against freedom. But the Major is not entitled to u.-^e two



Digitized



byGoogk



OAPACITIKS OF NEGROKS. 391

contradictory argument^. One or the other he must aban-
don. If he chooses to reason on the decrees of Toussaint
and Christophe, he has no right to talk of the decrease of
production. If, on the other hand, he insists on the idle*
ness of the Haytians, he must admit their liberty. If they
are not free, their idleness can be no argument against
freedom.

But we will do more than expose the inconsistency of the
Major. We will take both Suppositions successively, and
show that neither of them can atfect the present question.

First, then, let it be supposed that a coercive system is es-
tablished in HaytL Major Moody seems to think thatthiA
(act, if admitted, is sufficient to decide the controversy.

" The annexed re^^larions," sa>'8 he, " of TonssaJnt, Dcsformeau,
and Christophe, as well as those of President Boyer, intended for peo-
ple in eircunistan(«s similar to those of the liberated Africans, appear
to prove praeticall^ that some such measures are necessary as tnose
which I have submitted ns the result of my own personal obsenration
and experience, in the control of human labour in different climes, and
under rarious circumstances." ^

We must altogether dis:?ent from this doctrine. It does
not appear to us quite self-evident, that every law which
every government may choose to make is necessarily a wise
law. We have sometimes been inclined to suspect tliat, even
in this enlightened country, legislators have interfered in
matters which should have been lefl to take their own course.
An English Parliament formerly thought fit to limit the
wages df labour. This proceeding does not perfectly satisfy
us, that wages had previously been higher than they should
have been. Elizabeth, unquestionably the greatest sover-
eign that ever governed England, passed those laws for the
support of the poor, which, though in seeming and intention
most humane, have produced more evil than all the cruel-
ties of Nero and Maximin. We have just seen that, at
the close of the seventeenth century, a most respectable and
enlightened Scotch gentleman thought slavery the only cure
lor the maladies of his country. Christophe ivas not desti-
tute of talents. Toussaint was a man of great genius and
unblemished integrity, a brave soldier, and in many respects
a wise statesman. But both these men had been slaves.
Both were ignorant of history and political economy. That

1 Second Part of Major Moody's iCeport, p. 90.



Digitized



byGoogk



392 SOCIAL AND INDUSTRIAL

4dleDess and disorders should follow a general civil war,
perfectly natural. That rulers, accustomed to a system of
compulsory labour, should think such a system the only cure
for those evils, is equally natural. But what inference can
be drawn from such circumstances?

The negligence with which Major Moody has arranged
his Appendix, is most extraordinary. He has, with strange
inconsistency, given us no copy of the decree of Toussaint
in the original, and no translation of the decree of Chris-
tophe. The decree of Boyer, the most important of the
three, he has not thought fit to publish at all ; though he re-
peatedly mentions it in terms which seem to imply that be
has seen it. Our readers are probably aware, that the de-
cree of Toussaint, or rather the Major's translation of iu
was retouched by some of the statesmen of Jamaica, docked
of the firat and last paragraphs, which would at once have
betrayed its date, and sent over by th(? Assembly to England,
as a new law of President Boyer. Tliis forgery, the silliest
and most impudent that has been attempted within our re-
membrance, was at once exposed. The real decree, if there
be such a decree, is not yet before the public.

The decree of Toussaint was issued in a time of such ex-
treme confusion, that even if we were to admit its expedi-
ency, which we are very far from doing, we should not be
bound to draw any general conclu-^ion from it. All the rea-
sonings which Major Moody founds on the decree of Chris-
tophe, may be refuted by this simple answer — tliat decree
lays at least as many restraints on the capitalist as on the
labourer. It directs him to provide machinery and mills. It
limits the amount of his live-stock. It prescribes the cir-
cumstances under which he may form new plantations of
coffee. It enjoins the manner in which he is to press his
i*anes and to clean his cotton. The Major reasons thus:
Christophe compelled the field-negroes to work. Hence it
follows, that men who live in hot climates will not cultivate
the soil steadily without compulsion. We may surely say.
wiM) equal justice, Christophe prescribed the manner in
which the proprietor was to employ his capital, it is, there-
tore, to be inferred, that a capitalist in a hot climate cannot
judge of his own interests, and that the government ought
to take the management of his concerns out of his hand-v
If the Major will not adopt this conclusion, he must aban*



Digitized



byGoogk



CAPACITIES OF NEGROES. 393

Ion his own. All our readers will admit, that a Prince
who could lay the capitalists under such restrictions as tho-'^e
which we have mentioned, must have been ignorant of po-
liticjil science, and prone to interfere in cases where legisla-
tive interference is foolish and pernicious. What conclusion,
then, can be justly drawn from the restraints imposed by
such a ruler on the freedom of the peasant ?

We have thus disposed of the first hypothesis, namely,
that the Haytians are coerced. We will proceed to the sec-
ond. 'Let it be supposed, that the Haytians are not coerced.
In that case we say, that if they do not export as much as
formerly, it will not necessarily follow that they do not
work as much as formerly ; and that, if they do not work
as much as formerly, it still will not follow that their idle-
ness proceeds from physical causes, or forms any exception
to the general principles which regulate labour.

The first great cause which depresses the industry of the
Haytians, is the necessity of keeping up large and costly es-
tablishtnents. All who, since the expulsioa of the French,
have governed that country, have wisely and honourably
sacrificed every other consideration to the preservation of
independence. Large armies have been kept up. A con-
siderable part of the population has consequently been sup-
ported in an unproductive employment ; and a heavy burden
has been laid on the industry of the rest. Major Moody
quotes the following passage from the narrative of a most
respectable and benevolent American, Mr. Dewey : —

" Throughout the island the women perform the principal part of the

labour in the field and in the house I wa» often moved

with pity for their lot, though I rejoiced that the burden was now vol-
untary, and admired the spirit of women who could so readily perform
the work of the men, that the men may be employed in the defence and
preservation of their liberties."

The Major pounces on the fact stated by Mr. Dewey ; but,
with the amiable condescension of a superior nature, gently
corrects his inferences.

" That Mr. Dewey, and pious persons like him, do state the facts
which he observed correctly, I am quite convinced : but when he, and
those who reason in his manner, assign causes as solely producing the
effect, it is then that error glides into their statements." ^

We are not so completely convinced as the Major seems
1 Second Part of Major Moody^s Report, p. 88.



Digitized



byGoogk



394 SOCIAL AlJD INDUSTRIAL

to be,'that all pious persons state correctly such facts as Mr.
Dewey has observed : but we are sure, that Mr. Dewey ma^
be the most ungrateful of men, if he is not grateful for ^ucb
compliments. Indeed, the style which the Major always



Online LibraryThomas Babington Macaulay MacaulayCritical, historical, and miscellaneous essays → online text (page 71 of 84)