Slike strani
PDF
ePub

and morality. He appealed to the House, whether this was a proper period for carrying such a measure. It was, he was convinced, the very reverse. The attachment of the slaves to their masters was well known. Before the hon. gentleman had made his motion, he ought to have read a history lately published, of the state of the trade on the coast of Africa. In that book he would read, that the natives escaped the cruelty of their petty princes, by being sold to the West India planter: and that the king of Dahomey, who sold his prisoners to the Europeans, if he could not dispose of them, had declared his resolution to put them to death. In neither the West India islands, nor on the coast of Africa, would the situation of the slave be bettered by the measure; on the conrrary, the planter would be ruined in his property, and this country much injured in its com

merce.

Mr. Burton thought the conduct of the committees had been perfectly constitutional. He hoped constituents would always continue to instruct their representatives. For his own part, he had uniformly been in favour of the abolition. Possessing liberty and the rights of man, he wished to see others enjoy the same blessings, and on that principle supported the motion.

and were stamped with the seal of the Eternal's vengeance. Another argument was, that the negroes were better used to the climate than Europeans, and therefore, ought to be imported. Unfortunate indeed, was it for these miserable beings, that because they were born under the tropics, they must be torn from their dearest friends and relations, and drudge through a life of slavery! The religion, the logic, and the morality of the supporters of this diabolical traffic, were equally consistent and praiseworthy. It was impossible that this inhuman traffic could go on without the total loss of our West India islands. It had been said, that the condition of the slaves had been meliorated. But was not that one of the blessed consequences of the regulations proposed by the hon. mover? He hoped the House had heard such futile arguments too often, to be any longer deceived by them, and that they would not be perpetually sounding the words morality, christianity, and revealed religion, without giving an example of the doctrines they inculcate.

Mr. Courtenay said, that the hon. baronet had alluded to the methodists as the authors and abettors of the motion, who, acting upon the absurd notions of the rights of man, introduced doctrines injurious to society. It so happened, however, that the present motion was founded in practical humanity. The object of it was to release a wretched herd of men from slavery, to raise them to society, to enlarge their minds, increase their enjoyments, and extend their use. Unfortunately, there was a malicious narrow-minded desire to counteract this; and this insidious spirit of gain and persecution, had been found to reside in men of high birth and station, and even in some of the clergy, who, in direct disobedience to the precepts of their mission, had laboured to traduce and pervert the scriptures to their sophistry, and had hurled forth their anathemas against those who dared to controvert them. These fanatics had presumed to say, that because Cain murdered his brother Abel, some five or six thousand years ago, the negroes, were doomed to eternal bondage,

Mr. Jenkinson said, that in the pre sent state of our national concerns, he could not but deprecate a motion of this nature. He was apprehensive that its tendency would be to lead the negroes into an idea that the House was about to take up, what they supposed to be their cause, in opposition to their mas ters. The effect of such an opinion, when entertained by them, would be to destroy all subordination, and to endanger the present state of the West India islands. In his opinion, the danger of agitating such a topic, was infinitely greater at the present, than it would have been in former times; in proportion as the French principles of equality prevailed, in the same ratio was the danger increased of an insurrection among our West India negroes. A country might be in that uncivilized state (as, perhaps, was the case in some parts of Poland and Russia), that but little comparative risk attached to the discussion of such a subject; but in the West India islands, the people of colour in particular, from their increased sources of intelligence, had it much in their power to influence the untutored minds of the African negroes. He therefore considered the danger of insurrection from the slaves newly imported, to be far less than that which would arise, were an act of the

I

British legislature to be considered by them as holding cut an idea of support against their masters. When to this he added the present convulsed state of the islands, arising from the war, he could not but anxiously wish the question to be at least postponed till the restoration of peace. He thought that when the blessings of peace came, some measure might be adopted for the relief of the negroes, with perfect safety; till then, he wished the subject to be buried in oblivion. Had the hon. mover attempted less, perhaps he might have accomplished more; but in his opinion, no good consequences could arise from the present motion, in comparison with the evils it would probably produce.

enforce a precipitate abolition had allowed this internal to prepare gradually for a conclusion. The destined period had elapsed, and during the course of it, the traffic had been carried on to a greater extent than at any former time. The question, therefore, which was then before the House, was, whether it would agree to do that at last, which it had pledged itself to the world, to perform four years before? The only argument which he felt of weight suffi cient to combat, was one, which was ri vetted by the force of prejudice. It was said the prejudices which had been formed by habit and custom in favour of the trade were not to be removed; hence the argument of those, who, though they were driven, from the force of con viction, to abjure the traffic of slavery, yet were brought to acquiesce in its continuance, from the idea that more practical mischief would be done from its abolition, than any advantages which could accrue from such a measure. He would insist on it, that it was dangerous to allow pretexts of one sort or another, to prolong a system which in itself, was admitted by those to whom he referred, to be indefensible. Pretexts would thus never be wanting, to prolong, from time to time, a system which merited immediate condemnation. Thus, at one time excuses were drawn from its being a time of peace, and at the present, from its being a time of war. So far from feeling such objections, he, for one, concurred with those who thought that the danger to which our West India islands stood exposed, was an additional reason for wishing that the abolition of this trade should be delayed no longer. The topics of opposition urged by his hon. friend, with him led to different conclusions. He would not minutely argue what state of the human mind was the readiest to be infected with the poison of dangerous principles. He thought, however, that it was either when it was wholly uninformed, or when it was debased by oppression; either when it was so rude, so blank and uninstructed, as to be equally incapable of the impressions of virtue, and the suggestions of mischief; or, when it was groaning under the pressure of slavery and injustice. Granting the whole force of the hon. gentleman's argument, that the newly-imported negroes were most secure against the influence of Jacobinical Principles, still it must be admitted, that

Mr. Pitt said, that on a subject which had been so often and so elaborately debated, it was not to be expected that any arguments could be adduced which had great novelty to recommend them. When, however, he considered the vast importance of the object, he could not for a moment admit that any possible circumstance, any question of expediency or of local difficulties should impede the discussion. For his own part, he wished to enforce it, because he still adhered to the opinion which the House had already given upon the subject; and he should consider himself as doing injus. tice to those principles which governed his conduct, were he to wave them upon any inferior consideration. It was impossible for those who felt as he did to admit any argument of expediency or plea of existing circumstances to influence their determination upon the question of the immediate abolition, an idea which, to the utmost of his power, he was resolved to enforce. But while they would do injustice to their principles to compromise this grand object, it was fair to allow their fullest force to the objections of those who dissent from the present motion in the utmost extent of its principle. His hon. friend who spoke last, had declared himself adverse to a hasty abolition of the slave trade. He was asto nished at such a declaration. After a strenuous and decided opposition on the part of some, and after the conviction of many of the original enemies of the measure was effected by the powerful evidence that had been adduced, the House four years ago came to the resolution that at the present time it should cease. The House, upon the idea that it was improper to

they were open to the attempts of others to enlist them as auxiliaries in riots and insurrections. If, then, there were any danger from the uninformed minds of the newly-imported negroes being operated upon by the perverted minds of the negroes of another description, it was evident that the one and the other of these dangers were united, so long as the system of slavery was continued. But it had been argued, that the danger arising from the negroes who have been long in the islands, would be much increased, were the future importation from Africa to be stopped. But this was an opinion founded upon the argument, that the House, by adopting the decision proposed this evening, would be considered by the negroes as taking a part with them against their masters, and holding out to them encouragement to insurrection. But what was this but to confound the two distinct ideas of abolishing the slave trade on the African coast, with the emancipation of the negroes at present in the West Indies? The one point had no connexion whatver with the other. This much he could say at any rate, that the abolition of the traffic must long precede the period when the negroes were to be made free. A great change must previously be effected in their situation and upon their minds. Degraded and wretched as they now were, to declare them free would be only to confer an empty name; it could not be. stow the substance. He had heard of the humanity of the planters, and what was the conclusion which this observation authorized? Could it be doubted that the planter possessed more the confidence and the attachmen: of the slaves born upon his estate, than of those who, torn from every tender relation, became the reluctant victims of slavery? By putting a stop to a trade which interfered with those principles by which the planter and the slave were placed in the most agree able relations, which confounded those propensities, and disappointed the operation of those advantages which would result from them, a very important object would be gained. But so long as the importation of new Africans was permitted, new seeds of discord would be sown, and confidence, security, and the interest of the planters would be proportionably lessened. The hon. gentleman had argued that the negroes would consider the present motion as taking their cause against their masters; but this was so far from

|

being the fact, that it would be giving to the master fresh means of attaching the negroes to his service. It was said, that the negroes were desirous of new importations of slaves, that these might enjoy the happiness which their situation bestowed. On the other hand, the negroes were described as delighted with the prospect of emancipation, and dissatisfied with the hardships to which they were exposed. Both these accounts could not be true; and, in fact, neither of them had any foundation. Upon the whole, he was so far from feeling any force in the arguments which had been adduced, in opposition to the motion, that every consideration derived from the critical state of the country, and of the islands, furnished so many additional reasons, in his opinion for adopting the measure proposed.

Sir Richard Hill said, that as to the time of bringing forward the motion, there could be no time improper to do what was right, and to abolish what was wrong. He only lamented that a traffic so contrary to the laws of nature, and of God, should so long have disgraced this country. He hoped, it was now going to be put a stop to, and should give his most hearty assent to the motion.

Mr. Dent denied that the slaves were treated with harshness. He was astonished to hear it asserted, that new importations would injure the islands by strengthening the spirit of insurrection that prevailed; for it was the speeches delivered in that House which promoted the disposition to revolt. Whilst humanity was so much talked of, he wished justice might not be overlooked. He argued against the motion upon the ground of political interest: the West Indies produced a great revenue to this country; but by the measure proposed, the House was going to deprive the planters of the means of paying that revenue. He believed that the merchants of Liverpool and elsewhere had but one wish, that the House would adopt strong measures to prevent any of the Africans from being ill-treated. The regulations already made, tended to make the middle passage thoroughly comfortable. As to giv. ing the negroes their freedom, without the means of procuring a livelihood, that would only be giving them up to a spirit of plunder.

Mr. W. Smith said, that it was his anxious wish, as we valued our character

as a nation, to abolish so infamous a traffic. He considered the arguments of the hon. gentleman who spoke last, as a trite repetition of the arguments refuted over and over again. He had asserted, that the merchants of Liverpool, &c. had no other wish than to prevent the slaves from being ill used; whereas, he could not avoid remarking, that they had not proposed a single regulation, to render the middle passage more comfortable; so far from it, they opposed every step taken, totis viribus, and strove to the utmost. per fus aut nefas, to hinder the measures then pursued. When the friends of the abolition had disclosed the secrets of the prison-houses no less than eight years ago, surely no epithets could be less properly applied than rash, hasty, and sudden. The hon. baronet had said, upon the authority of Mr. Bryan Edwards, that the committees in London had been the authors of the mischiefs in St. Domingo. For his own part, he thought that these committees had been of great service in informing the minds of the people, and in raising their abhorrence of the inhuman traffic. As to the affairs of St. Domingo, he would defy Mr. Edwards to prove that the evils which prevailed in that island were in any way connected with the committee. He wished to say nothing to the prejudice of the planters; at the same time, he could not help fearing, that before this subject was brought forward, the situation of those under their power was not so happy as it was at present. Whatever might be the natural dispositions of the planters, arbitrary power corrupted the mind, and the possession of unlimited authority easily led to its abuse. The House could not allow the claims of persons prejudiced from habit and biassed by interest, to decide upon a great question of general policy.

Mr. Serjeant Adair said, that as he never yet had delivered his sentiments on this subject, he could not content himself with a silent support of the motion for the abolition. The question depended upon principles so few and so simple, that details were not only superfluous, but insulting to the House. Before he mentioned these, however, he felt himself called upon to return his thanks to the hon. moved, for his zealous exertions in a cause which involved the dearest interests of mankind. He was much surprised on this, as well as on former occasions, to see so much of the time of the House

consumed in debating upon, policy and expediency of what, on all hands, was deemed to be a matter of right. In matters of doubtful right, or even in cases of gratuitous benevolence, it was certainly proper to discuss the policy of the measure to be adopted. But in cases. where the right was indubitable, and justice loudly calls for a decision on its side, then all the suggestions of policy should be for ever set apart. In highway robberies, the necessities of the robber were not to be sustained as an apology, for the crime: neither in the slave trade was the interest of the merchant to be sustained as an argument for persevering in the traffic. He begged the House would attend to the question upon which they were now deliberating; it was no less than this, whether it was politic and expedient to deliver a whole nation and their posterity into slavery, with whom we are not at war? He appealed to the general feeling of the House, if any motives of expediency, however powerful; if any argument of interest, however conclusive, ought to influence their decision upon such a point. Though it were. proved, by the most irrefragable arguments, to be for the interest of the West India planters, that the trade should be continued, he would not give up the question of justice. He had the satisfaction of learning, however, that persons could be found voluntarily to perform the task assigned to the negroes infinitely more to the advantage of the planters But even though this were not the case, a British House of Commons could never hesitate a moment in preferring the claims of justice to policy. They had heard a great deal about the comforts of the middle passage. But to talk of the comforts of a voyage, by which thousands of the human race, together with their posterity, were to be consigned to perpetual slavery, was a language with which he was not acquainted. He was happy in believing that the abolition of this nefarious trade would not operate to the injury of the West India planters. He did not, however, give this vote upon any such ground, but because he was so tied down by principle, that he had no right to vote otherwise. The learned serjeant concluded with observing, that to all who believed in a superintending Providence, the existence of the slave trade was of itself sufficient to account for all the calamities which had lately befallen Europe,

ing angel, in entirely extirpating those nations from the face of the earth, who had availed themselves of their commercial eminence, to oppress and enslave such a numerous tribe of their fellow

and might completely justify the avenging gradual regulations, according to the ages of those imported from Africa, never would succeed. Even supposing, however, that not another slave was to be exported from Africa to the British West India islands, the cause of humanity would not gain in the least from such abolition; it would only throw the trade into the hands of other commercial powers, who would benefit from our mistaken benevolence, and would carry it on without any regulations whatever.-Those who differed from him in opinion exclaimed, "let us wipe away the stain of this iniquitous traffic from the national character." This might be a fine figure in rhetoric, but it certainly was not a logical argument; nor was it in fact any argument in the cause of humanity. This was not the ground, however, on which he opposed the present motion. He opposed it because he thought, were it agreed to by the House, it would endanger the peace of the country. What was the measure, he asked, which was now proposed? His learned friend disclaimed all idea of emancipation; though, when he remarked this, he could not but remind the learned serjeant, that his argument, if carried to its full extent, would go to show that the emancipation of every slave in the West Indies was a right, which in justice they might claim. Supposing it, however, only to amount to a prohibition of the trade with Africa, he contended, that such a resolution, if passed into a law in the present distracted state of the colonies, would throw them entirely into the power of the enemy. In support of this proposition, he begged the House would only tend to the nature of the war in the West Indies. On the part of this country, it was not a war for riches or lo cal aggrandizement, but a war for security. On the part of the enemy, it was a war, not for conquest with a view to enrich themselves, but a war of devastation, in order to impoverish this country, and thus to obtain, not a direct, but an indirect superiority over their enemies. The way in which they had carried it on in order to attain this object, had been by attempts to stir up the slaves to insurrection against their masters. And the engine which they had used in this warfare, was, proclaiming liberty to the negroes, while at the same time, under pretext of espousing their cause, they exercised cruelties unheard of before, and imposed a bondage to which their newly acquired

creatures.

Mr. Secretary Dundas said, that having solemnly, and after due consideration of this important question, given his opinion upon it on a former occasion, he had to state, that in the course of the last four years he had been confirmed in every principle which he had delivered, and in every expedient which he had held forth at the commencement of that period. With those who argued on the general principle of the slave trade as inexpedient, impolitic, and incompatible with the justice and humanity of the British constitution, he had always, and must still agree. But to those who at this time took up the question, he must say, that however laudable their motives might be, the mode which they had taken rather tended to retard the object they had in view, than to promote and accelerate it. And he firmly believed, that the hon. mover was farther from attaining his end than he was four years ago: For whatever opinions men might form upon general principles and speculative points, if they did not carry along with them the prejudices and the interests of mankind, they would certainly fail in the application of those principles. Though he had no difficulty in giving it as his opinion, that the West India planters had taken too wide a field of opposition to the measures which had been proposed, and had mistaken their interests by persevering in the trade of carrying slaves from Africa, yet he could by no means join in the high tone which the learned serjeant had assumed; a tone in which he was convinced his learned friend would not have spoken had he been aware of the full extent to which his reasoning went. He could not go so far as to brand all his ancestors, who had encouraged the trade by a long series of legislation, as impious and unjust. In justice, therefore, to the manes of his ancestors, as well as to other considerations of still greater weight, he was restrained from going the length that the opinion of the learned serjeant went. He repeated it again, however, that the motion which had been proposed that evening, would defeat its own object, and that any other mode of abolition than that by introduc

« PrejšnjaNaprej »