Thomas Clarkson.

The History of the Rise, Progress and Accomplishment of the Abolition of the African Slave Trade by the British Parliament (1808) Volume II online

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Online LibraryThomas ClarksonThe History of the Rise, Progress and Accomplishment of the Abolition of the African Slave Trade by the British Parliament (1808) Volume II → online text (page 24 of 27)
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a doubt, that the Slave-trade was a great evil in itself; and that it was
the duty and policy of Parliament to extirpate it; but he did not think the
means offered were adequate to the end proposed. The abolition, as a
political question, was a difficult one. The year 1796 had been once fixed
upon by the House, as the period when the trade was to cease; but, when the
time arrived, the resolution was not executed. This was a proof, either
that the House did not wish for the event, or that they judged it
impracticable. It would be impossible, he said, to get other nations to
concur in the measure; and, even if they were to concur, it could not be
effected. We might restrain the subjects of the parent-state from following
the trade; but we could not those in our colonies. A hundred frauds would
be committed by those, which we could not detect. He did not mean by this,
that the evil was to go on for ever. Had a wise plan been proposed at
first, it might have been half-cured by this time. The present resolution
would do no good. It was vague, indefinite, and unintelligible. Such
resolutions were only the Slave-merchants' harvests. They would go for more
slaves than usual in the interim. He should have advised a system of duties
on fresh importations of slaves, progressively increasing to a certain
extent; and that the amount of these duties should be given to the
planters, as a bounty to encourage the Negro-population upon their estates.
Nothing could be done, unless we went hand in hand with the latter. But he
should deliver himself more fully on this subject, when any thing specific
should be brought forward in the shape of a bill.

Sir S. Romilly, the solicitor-general, differed from Lord Castlereagh; for
he thought the resolution of Mr. Fox was very simple and intelligible. If
there was a proposition vague and indefinite, it was that, advanced by the
noble lord, of a system of duties on fresh importations, rising
progressively, and this under the patronage and cooperation of the
planters. Who could measure the space between the present time and the
abolition of the trade, if that measure were to depend upon the approbation
of the colonies?

The cruelty and injustice of the Slave-trade had been established by
evidence beyond a doubt. It had been shown to be carried on by rapine,
robbery, and murder; by fomenting and encouraging wars; by false
accusations; and imaginary crimes. The unhappy victims were torn away not
only in the time of war, but of profound peace. They were then carried
across the Atlantic, in a manner too horrible to describe; and afterwards
subjected to eternal slavery. In support of the continuance of such a
traffic, he knew of nothing but assertions already disproved, and arguments
already refuted. Since the year 1796, when it was to cease by a resolution
of Parliament, no less than three hundred and sixty thousand Africans had
been torn away from their native land. What an accumulation was this to our
former guilt!

General Gascoyne made two extraordinary assertions: First, that the trade
was defensible on Scriptural ground. - "Both thy bondmen and thy bondmaids,
which thou shalt have, shall be of the heathen, that are round about thee;
of them shall you have bondmen and bondmaids. And thou shalt take them as
an heritance for thy children after thee to inherit them for a possession;
they shall be thy bondmen for ever." Secondly, that the trade had been so
advantageous to this country, that it would have been advisable even to
institute a new one, if the old had not existed.

Mr. Wilberforce replied to General Gascoyne. He then took a view of the
speech of Lord Castlereagh, which he answered point by point. In the course
of his observations he showed, that the system of duties progressively
increasing, as proposed by the noble lord, would be one of the most
effectual modes of perpetuating the Slave-trade. He exposed also the false
foundation of the hope of any reliance on the cooperation of the colonists.
The House, he said, had on the motion of Mr. Ellis in the year 1797, prayed
His Majesty to consult with the colonial legislatures to take such
measures, as might conduce to the gradual abolition of the African
Slave-trade. This address was transmitted to them by Lord Melville. It was
received in some of the islands with a declaration, "that they possibly
might, in some instances, endeavour to improve the condition of their
slaves; but they should do this, not with any view to the abolition of the
Slave-trade; for they considered that trade as their birth-right, which
could not be taken from them; and that we should deceive ourselves by
supposing, that they would agree to such a measure." He desired to add to
this the declaration of General Prevost in his public letter from Dominica.
Did he not say, when asked what steps had been taken there in consequence
of the resolution of the House in 1797, "that the act of the legislature,
entitled an act for the encouragement, protection, and better government of
slaves, appeared to him to have been considered, from the day it was passed
until this hour, as a political measure to avert the interference of the
mother-country in the management of the slaves."

Sir William Yonge censured the harsh language of Sir Samuel Romilly, who
had applied the terms rapine, robbery, and murder to those, who were
connected with the Slave-trade. He considered the resolution of Mr. Fox as
a prelude to a bill for the abolition of that traffic, and this bill as a
prelude to emancipation, which would not only be dangerous in itself, but
would change the state of property in the islands.

Lord Henry Petty, after having commented on the speeches of Sir S. Romilly
and Lord Castlereagh, proceeded to state his own opinion on the trade;
which was, that it was contrary to justice, humanity, and sound policy, all
of which he considered to be inseparable. On its commencement in Africa the
wickedness began. It produced there fraud and violence, robbery and murder.
It gave birth to false accusations, and a mockery of justice. It was the
parent of every crime, which could at once degrade and afflict the human
race. After spreading vice and misery all over this continent, it doomed
its unhappy victims to hardships and cruelties which were worse than death.
The first of these was conspicuous in their transportation. It was found
there, that cruelty begat cruelty; that the system, wicked in its
beginning, was equally so in its progress; and that it perpetuated its
miseries wherever it was carried on. Nor was it baneful only to the
objects, but to the promoters of it. The loss of British seamen in this
traffic was enormous. One fifth of all, who were employed in it, perished;
that is, they became the victims of a system, which was founded on fraud,
robbery, and murder; and which procured to the British nation nothing but
the execration of mankind. Nor had we yet done with the evils, which
attended it; for it brought in its train the worst of all moral effects,
not only as it respected the poor slaves, when transported to the colonies,
but as it respected those, who had concerns with them there. The arbitrary
power, which it conferred, afforded men of bad dispositions full scope for
the exercise of their passions; and it rendered men, constitutionally of
good dispositions, callous to the misery of others. Thus it depraved the
nature of all, who were connected with it. These considerations had made
him a friend to the abolition from the time he was capable of reasoning
upon it. They were considerations also, which determined the House in the
year 1782 to adopt a measure of the same kind as the present. Had any thing
happened to change the opinion of members since? On the contrary, they had
now the clearest evidence, that all the arguments then used against the
abolition were fallacious; being founded not upon truth, but on assertions
devoid of all truth, and derived from ignorance or prejudice.

Having made these remarks, he proved by a number of facts the folly of the
argument, that the Africans laboured under such a total degradation of
mental and moral faculties, that they were made for slavery.

He then entered into the great subject of population. He showed that in all
countries, where there were no unnatural hardships, mankind would support
themselves. He applied this reasoning to the Negro-population in the West
Indies; which he maintained could not only be kept up, but increased,
without any further importations from Africa.

He then noticed the observations of Sir W. Yonge on the words of Sir S.
Romilly; and desired him to reserve his indignation for those, who were
guilty of acts of rapine, robbery, and murder, instead of venting it on
those, who only did their duty in describing them. Never were accounts more
shocking than those lately sent to government from the West Indies. Lord
Seaforth, and the Attorney-general, could not refrain, in explaining them,
from the use of the words murder and torture. And did it become members of
that House (in order to accommodate the nerves of the friends of the
Slave-trade) to soften down their expressions, when they were speaking on
that subject; and to desist from calling that murder and torture, for which
a governor, and the attorney-general, of one of the islands could find no
better name?

After making observations relative to the cooperation of foreign powers in
this great work, he hoped that the House would not suffer itself to be
drawn, either by opposition or by ridicule, to the right or to the left;
but that it would, advance straight forward to the accomplishment of the
most magnanimous act of justice, that was ever achieved by any legislature
in the world.

Mr. Rose declared, that on the very first promulgation of this question, he
had proposed to the friends of it the very plan of his noble friend Lord
Castlereagh; namely, a system of progressive duties, and of bounties for
the promotion of the Negro-population. This he said to show that he was
friendly to the principle of the measure. He would now observe, that he did
not wholly like the present resolution. It was too indefinite. He wished
also, that something had been said on the subject of compensation. He was
fearful also, lest the abolition should lead to the dangerous change of
emancipation. The Negros, he said, could not be in a better state, or more
faithful to their masters, than they were. In three attacks made by the
enemy on Dominica, where he had a large property, arms had been put into
their hands; and every one of them had exerted himself faithfully. With
respect to the cruel acts in Barbadoes, an account of which had been sent
to government by Lord Seaforth and the Attorney-general of Barbadoes, he
had read them; and never had he read any thing on this subject with more
horror. He would agree to the strongest measures for the prevention of such
acts in future. He would even give up the colony, which should refuse to
make the wilful murder of a slave felony. But as to the other, or common,
evils complained of, he thought the remedy should be gradual; and such also
as the planters would concur in. He would nevertheless not oppose the
present resolution.

Mr. Barham considered compensation but reasonable, where losses were to
accrue from the measure, when it should be put in execution; but he
believed that the amount of it would be much less than was apprehended. He
considered emancipation, though so many fears had been expressed about it,
as forming no objection to the abolition, though he had estates in the West
Indies himself. Such a measure, if it could be accomplished successfully,
would be an honour to the country, and a blessing to the planters; but
preparation must be made for it by rendering the slaves fit for freedom,
and by creating in them an inclination to free labour. Such a change could
only be the work of time.

Sir John Newport said that the expressions of Sir S. Romilly, which had
given such offence, had been used by others; and would be used with
propriety, while the trade lasted. Some slave-dealers of Liverpool had
lately attempted to prejudice certain merchants of Ireland in their favour.
But none of their representations answered; and it was remarkable, that the
reply made to them was in these words. "We will have no share in a traffic,
consisting in rapine, blood, and murder." He then took a survey of a system
of duties progressively increasing, and showed, that it would be utterly
inefficient; and that there was no real remedy for the different evils
complained of, but in the immediate prohibition of the trade.

Mr. Canning renewed his professions of friendship to the cause. He did not
like the present resolution; yet he would vote for it. He should have been
better pleased with a bill, which would strike at once at the root of this
detestable commerce.

Mr. Manning wished the question to be deferred to the next session. He
hoped, compensation would then be brought forward as connected with it.
Nothing, however, effectual could be done without the concurrence of the

Mr. William Smith noticed, in a striking manner, the different
inconsistencies in the arguments of those, who contended for the
continuance of the trade.

Mr. Windham deprecated not only the Slave-trade, but slavery also. They
were essentially connected with each other. They were both evils, and ought
both of them to be done away. Indeed, if emancipation would follow the
abolition, he should like the latter measure the better. Rapine, robbery,
and murder were the true characteristics of this traffic. The same epithets
had not indeed been applied to slavery, because this was a condition, in
which some part of the human race had been at every period of the history
of the world. It was, however, a state, which ought not to be allowed to
exist. But, notwithstanding all these confessions, he should weigh well the
consequences of the abolition before he gave it his support. It would be on
a balance between the evils themselves and the consequences of removing
them, that he should decide for himself on this question.

Mr. Fox took a view of all the arguments, which had been advanced by the
opponents of the abolition; and having given an appropriate answer to each,
the House divided, when there appeared for the resolution one hundred and
fourteen, and against it but fifteen.

Immediately after this division Mr. Wilberforce moved an address to His
Majesty, "praying that he would be graciously pleased, to direct a
negotiation to be entered into, by which foreign powers should be invited
to cooperate with His Majesty in measures to be adopted for the abolition
of the African Slave-trade."

This address was carried without a division. It was also moved and carried,
that "these resolutions be communicated to the Lords; and that their
concurrence should be desired therein."

On the twenty-fourth of June the Lords met to consider of the resolution
and address. The Earl of Westmoreland proposed, that both counsel and
evidence should be heard against them; but his proposition was overruled.

Lord Grenville then read the resolution of the Commons. This resolution, he
said, stated first, that the Slave-trade was contrary to humanity, justice,
and sound policy. That it was contrary to humanity was obvious; for
humanity might be said to be sympathy for the distress of others, or a
desire to accomplish benevolent ends by good means. But did not the
Slave-trade convey ideas the very reverse of this definition? It deprived
men of all those Comforts, in which it pleased the Creator to make the
happiness of his creatures to consist, - of the blessings of society, - of
the charities of the dear relationships of husband, wife, father, son, and
kindred, - of the due discharge of the relative duties of these, - and of
that freedom, which in its pure and natural sense was one of the greatest
gifts of God to man.

It was impossible to read the evidence, as it related to this trade,
without acknowledging the inhumanity of it, and our own disgrace. By what
means was it kept up in Africa? By wars instigated, not by the passions of
the natives, but by our avarice. He knew it would be said in reply to this,
that the slaves, who were purchased by us, would be put to death, if we
were not to buy them. But what should we say, if it should turn out, that
we were the causes of those very cruelties, which we affected to prevent?
But, if it were not so, ought the first nation in the world to condescend
to be the executioner of savages?

Another way of keeping up the Slave-trade was by the practice of
man-stealing. The evidence was particularly clear upon this head. This
practice included violence, and often bloodshed. The inhumanity of it
therefore could not be doubted.

The unhappy victims, being thus procured, were conveyed, he said, across
the Atlantic in a manner which justified the charge of inhumanity again.
Indeed the suffering here was so great, that neither the mind could
conceive nor the tongue describe it. He had said on a former occasion, that
in their transportation there was a greater portion of misery condensed
within a smaller space, than had ever existed in the known world. He would
repeat his words; for he did not know, how he could express himself better
on the subject. And, after all these horrors, what was their destiny? It
was such, as justified the charge in the resolution again: for, after
having survived the sickness arising from the passage, they were doomed to
interminable slavery.

We had been, he said, so much accustomed to words, descriptive of the
cruelty of this traffic, that we had almost forgotten their meaning. He
wished that some person, educated as an Englishman, with suitable powers of
eloquence, but now for the first time informed of all the horrors of it,
were to address their lordships upon it, and he was sure, that they would
instantly determine that it should cease. But the continuance of it had
rendered cruelty familiar to us; and the recital of its horrors had been so
frequent, that we could now hear them stated without being affected as we
ought to be. He intreated their lordships, however, to endeavour to
conceive the hard case of the unhappy victims of it; and as he had led them
to the last stage of their miserable existence, which was in the colonies,
to contemplate it there. They were there under the arbitrary will of a
cruel task-master from morning till night. When they went to rest, would
not their dreams be frightful? When they awoke, would they not awake,

- - "only to discover sights of woe,
Regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace
And rest can never dwell, hope never comes
That comes to all; but torture without end
Still urges?" - -

They knew no change, except in the humour of their masters, to whom their
whole destiny was entrusted. We might perhaps flatter ourselves with
saying, that they were subject to the will of Englishmen. But Englishmen
were not better than others, when in possession of arbitrary power. The
very fairest exercise of it was a never-failing corrupter of the heart. But
suppose it were allowed, that self-interest might operate some little
against cruelty; yet where was the interest of the overseer or the driver?
But he knew it would be said, that the evils complained of in the colonies
had been mitigated. There might be instances of this; but they could never
be cured, while slavery existed. Slavery took away more than half of the
human character. Hence the practice, where it existed, of rejecting the
testimony of the slave: but, if his testimony was rejected, where could be
his redress against his oppressor?

Having shown the inhumanity, he would proceed to the second point in the
resolution, or the injustice, of the trade. We had two ideas of justice,
first, as it belonged to society by virtue of a social compact; and,
secondly, as it belonged to men, not as citizens of a community, but as
beings of one common nature. In a state of nature, man had a right to the
fruit of his own labour absolutely to himself; and one of the main
purposes, for which he entered into society, was, that he might be better
protected in the possession of his rights. In both cases therefore it was
manifestly unjust, that a man should be made to labour during the whole of
his life, and yet have no benefit from his labour. Hence the Slave-trade
and the Colonial slavery were a violation of the very principle, upon which
all law for the protection of property was founded. Whatever benefit was
derived from that trade to an individual, it was derived from dishonour and
dishonesty. He forced from the unhappy victim of it that, which the latter
did not wish to give him; and he gave to the same victim that, which he in
vain attempted to show was an equivalent to the thing he took, it being a
thing for which there was no equivalent; and which, if he had not obtained
by force, he would not have possessed at all. Nor could there be any answer
to this reasoning, unless it could be proved, that it had pleased God to
give to the inhabitants of Britain a property in the liberty and life of
the natives of Africa. But he would go further on this subject. The
injustice complained of was not confined to the bare circumstance of
robbing them of the right to their own labour. It was conspicuous
throughout the system. They, who bought them, became guilty of all the
crimes which had been committed in procuring them; and, when they possessed
them, of all the crimes which belonged to their inhuman treatment. The
injustice in the latter case amounted frequently to murder. For what was it
but murder to pursue a practice, which produced untimely death to thousands
of innocent and helpless beings? It was a duty, which their lordships owed
to their Creator, if they hoped for mercy, to do away this monstrous

With respect to the impolicy of the trade (the third point in the
resolution), he would say at once, that whatever was inhuman and unjust
must be impolitic. He had, however, no objection to argue the point upon
its own particular merits; and, first, he would observe, that a great man,
Mr. Pitt, now no more, had exerted his vast powers on many subjects to the
admiration of his hearers; but on none more successfully than on the
subject of the abolition of the Slave-trade. He proved, after making an
allowance for the price paid for the slaves in the West Indies, for the
loss of them in the seasoning, and for the expense of maintaining them
afterwards, and comparing these particulars with the amount in value of
their labour there, that the evils endured by the victims of the traffic
were no gain to the master, in whose service they took place. Indeed Mr.
Long had laid it down in his History of Jamaica, that the best way to
secure the planters from ruin would be to do that, which the resolution
recommended. It was notorious, that when any planter was in distress, and
sought to relieve himself by increasing the labour on his estate by means
of the purchase of new slaves, the measure invariably tended to his
destruction. What then was the importation of fresh Africans but a system,
tending to the general ruin of the islands?

But it had often been said, that without fresh importations the population
of the slaves could not be supported in the islands. This, however, was a
mistake. It had arisen from reckoning the deaths of the imported Africans,
of whom so many were lost in the seasoning, among the deaths of the
Creole-slaves. He did not mean to say, that under the existing degree of
misery the population would greatly increase; but he would maintain, that,
if the deaths and the births were calculated upon those, who were either
born, or who had been a long time in the islands, so as to be considered as
natives, it would be found that the population had not only been kept up,
but that it had been increased.

If it was true, that the labour of a free man was cheaper than that of a
slave; and also that the labour of a long imported slave was cheaper than
that of a fresh imported one; and again, that the chances of mortality were
much more numerous among the newly imported slaves in the West Indies, than
among those of old standing there (propositions, which he took to be
established), we should see new arguments for the impolicy of the trade.

It might be stated also, that the importation of vast bodies of men, who
had been robbed of their rights, and grievously irritated on that account,
into our colonies (where their miserable condition opened new sources of
anger and revenge), was the importation only of the seeds of insurrection

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Online LibraryThomas ClarksonThe History of the Rise, Progress and Accomplishment of the Abolition of the African Slave Trade by the British Parliament (1808) Volume II → online text (page 24 of 27)