« PrejšnjaNaprej »
and to add the words "upon this day three months." Sir W. Young thought the amendment wise, temperate, and highly expedient.
Mr. Wilberforce said, that as the sense of parliament had been repeatedly taken on the subject; as they had come to a determination of abolishing this horrid traffic in the present year; and as the sense of the House was so recently taken when he moved for leave to bring in his bill; he had imagined that gentlemen would let the second reading pass as they had done the first; and that in the committee they would merely consider of limiting the time when the disgraceful commerce should cease for ever. Gentlemen saw that he had not his friends about him; and hence they wanted to take him by surprise; but he assured them he never would be found off his guard in this business. He called upon them to remember, that whether the numbers present were small or great, that the decision of that night would be considered as the sense of the Commons of Great Britain, and he hoped, that, bearing this upon their mind, they would come to a decision favourable to the interests of mankind, and becoming the dignity of a British senate.
| passed, these ships would lie useless on their hands. Hence it would be incumbent on government, should the bill pass, to indemnify them for their losses. The encouragement given to seamen by the Liverpool merchants was a great source of naval strength to this country. Ministers had given commissions to many gentlemen for raising black regiments. By the bill these regiments would be emancipated. The disturbances in the West Indies rendered the present period very unfit for the abolition. The war had greatly reduced Westindia property; and the bill, if passed, would inevitably bring it to utter ruin. He would therefore oppose the Speaker's leaving the chair.
March 7. Mr. Wilberforce moved the order of the day for going into a committee on the bill. On the question, "That the Speaker do now leave the Chair,"
General Tarleton said, that many classes of the community were deeply affected by the war, and that the adoption of this measure would aggravate their distresses. A variety of articles of manufacture were made merely for carrying on this commerce, which supported numerous bodies of mechanics; and, if it was abolished, their means of living would go along with it. The merchants of Liverpool had, at a great expense, built ships of a peculiar construction for the convenience of the trade, and if the bill
Mr. Dent contended, that the impolicy and injustice of abolishing the Slave trade at this moment were obvious. So far from serving the cause of humanity, it would encourage disaffection and rebellion, and instead of being a real advantage to the slaves themselves, would be a misfortune to them.
Mr. Barham was convinced, that the bill would not effect the abolition aimed Gentlemen, by such a measure, would hazard the security, peace, and prosperity of the colonies; and probably excite revolt and rebellion. A few months would show the impolicy of the bill: gentlemen would then see that they were wrong. This, however, would be little satisfaction to the planters, when their property was destroyed.
Mr. W. Smith said, that those gentlemen who had taken up the cause of the slaves in that House, did not want the abolition on the ground that they were ill treated by the planters. Were they ever so humanely treated, the trade itself ought not to be allowed on any principle of justice or humanity.
Mr. Bouverie declared, that his opinion on this business had been always the same: he was at all times friendly to the abolition; and surely, if the hon. gentlemen (Mr. Barham) was sincere in what he said, namely, that the trade is now reduced to a non-entity, he need not be so much averse to the bill before the House.
Mr. J. H. Addington opposed the bill on the score of humanity. He thought the immediate abolition would be attended with dangerous consequences.
Mr. Milbank said, that he had only one reason for voting in favour of the bill;
General Tarleton Mr. Foster Barham The House having resolved itself into the committee, Mr. Wilberforce moved, that the trade should be finally abolished on the 1st of March 1797.
Mr. Dent said, that the period was much too short. It was little more than eight months. So long as Magna Charta remained, the bill would be a disgrace to this country. The very principle of it was hostile to the declaration of that great charter. It went also directly to annul the various proclamations that had been issued in favour of the slave trade.
Mr. Buxton said, that the slave trade was a disgrace to this country. He was glad that Magna Charta had been mentioned, for it formed a strong contrast to this abominable trade.
Mr. Serjeant Adair said, he had some concern for the reputation of Magna Charta, having often professed, and as often felt, great veneration for it. He had read it over many times, but he had never seen any thing in it that was favourable to the slave trade. This busi ness, was, indeed, a disgrace to the nation; but it was not the abolition, it was the continuance of the traffic which created this disgrace.
Mr. Dent said, he would repeat it, that the proceeding was contrary to the express declaration of Magna Charta, that
right shall neither be sold, delayed, or denied." Now, if this bill passed, would not right be sold, delayed, and denied? What was the committee now doing?
must protest against the authority, if any such there was, for that protection. He agreed, however, that right, in this case, was sold, delayed, and denied: right was sold when the Africans were sold; right was delayed when the abolition of the slave trade was delayed: right would be denied when the legislature of this country should refuse to put an end to a traffic which created misery and promoted murder.
Mr. Serjeant Adair said, that before we talked of right, we ought to establish the existence of that right. He denied the existence of our right to enslave others: he knew of no origin to the right of slavery in this country; he knew of no power that the legislature of this country had to protect the slave trade; and he [VOL. XXXII.]
The question was put and carried. After the other clauses of the bill had been agreed to, the House being resumed the report was received, and ordered to be taken into consideration on the 15th.
March 15. The order of the day being read for taking the report into consideration,
Sir W. Young said, he objected to the bill, in every point of view in which it could be considered. The principle of it was founded in injustice, and every clause was replete with tyranny and oppression. He addressed the House upon this subject with the strongest feelings. He felt for the West India merchants and planters, who would be consigned to inevitable ruin, if this bill were to pass, and he felt for his own property in the West Indies, of which this measure would necessarily deprive him. He begged gentlemen seriously to consider what were the provisions of this bill, and what were the means by which those provisions were to be carried into execution. In the first place, in order to facilitate prosecutions under this act, the West Indies are to be taken to be in the county of Middlesex, and therefore, in every prosecution, the cause must be tried at that immense distance from the residence of the planter; they must come into England, and leave all their concerns, to defend every prose cution. This, in itself, was a most into lerable hardship; but there was another still greater. The penalty imposed for the violation of this act was no less than fourteen years transportation to Botany Bay. This was a severe punishment even upon a guilty man; but under this act, an innocent proprietor might be made liable to it by the act of his overseer. He begged the House to consider what must be the effect of such a sentence as that of fourteen years transportation to Botany Bay, to gentlemen of rank in society, of polished manners and of extensive connexions. The bill would also terminate
all spirit of adventure, all incitement to
becoming a party in borrowing the loan of 1,500,000%., advanced to the sufferers by this country, he was to be burdened with a debt which he could never hope to discharge, and was to be numbered, perhaps, in the general exile from Great Britain. As to the bill itself, it was problematical as to the means of putting the clauses into execution; it was problema
also as to the manner of executing them: for it would be the cause of bloodshed and horrors on the coast of Africa, as the slaves would be put to immediate death, if the commerce was suddenly to cease. He hoped the House would weigh this, and would pay some respect to the trading interest of London, Liverpool, Bristol, and Glasgow, which would be ultimately ruined if this bill passed into a law.
General Smith prefaced his observations with stating, that he had no property in the West Indies, nor had he any friends or connexions there to influence the part he took; but he should be wanting in his duty to himself and to the country, it he did not meet it openly, however unpopular his opinions of the abolition might be, or however subject to calumny. He then desired the act of the 9th of queen Anne to be read, to show what the proceedings of parliament were in 1709 and 1710, and compare them with the present. If the right hon. gentleman opposite had been for the continuation of the slave trade, the whole House would have rung with the injustice of this bill, but that right hon. gentleman had said, that no consideration of policy ought to weigh with humanity. He admitted the preamble of the bill to be true, but then it was true one hundred years ago as well as at this time; and yet the parliament at that time gave the preference to the policy of the measure, and by that means encouraged our trade, our commerce, and our shipping. We were grown wiser than our ancestors, and now we said that they were wrong in the principle upon which they acted, although we felt the good effects of their proceedings; for who would presume to say, that it was not owing to the wise regulations he had just referred to, that our commerce was at present so extended? If the hon. gentlemen who introduced this bill had said, that it was to prevent the cultivation of new grounds, he would have said the truth. How different, then, was such a proceeding to the proceeding in 1709
10, when 103,000l. was given-to do what? to cultivate new grounds and encourage the importation of negroes for that purpose! How did it clash, also, with the proceedings on a late occasion, when 1,500,000l. was ordered for the defence the colonies! Was the right hon. gentleman opposite ready to say that he would provide funds for the risk that would be incurred by this bill? He feared not, and therefore advised him to be cautious how he carried it into execution, or we might be threatened with the loss of the colonies, to the utter ruin of England. Gentlemen might go home to their dinners or suppers, after voting for such a bill, and enjoy their luxuries at their ease: but it behoved them to have some consideration for those whom they thereby deprived, not only of luxuries, but of necessaries also. It had been said, that the continuation of the slave trade was contrary to justice and humanity; so was the act of pressing seamen; but if he attempted to abolish it, it would be defended upon the plea of necessity. Upon the same plea, then, he opposed the abolition of the slave trade. He wished to have justice and humanity shown towards the proprietors of lands in the West Indies, and to persons interested in the prosperity and cultivation of those lands in our own country, as well as to the negroes on the coast of Africa. Much abuse had been thrown out against the planters for their cruelty, &c., but the strongest proof of the falsehood of these accusations was, the alacrity with which the slaves turned out in defence of their masters and their property against the French. He said he should not look at any of the regulations in the bill, because he held the whole principle of it in absolute abhorrence.
Mr. Francis rose and said; - Mr. Speaker; I really had no thoughts of taking part in this debate. My opinion of the slave trade is sufficiently known. But I confess I have not patience to hear what I have heard this day, without feel ing indignation, and endeavouring to express it. The hon. general introduced his speech with premising, that he had no property in the West Indies, nor any connexion with those who had. Allow me in my turn to declare that, although have no property in the islands, I once was intimately connected with some, who possessed a great deal. The person I allude, to had no relations but in my family.
Her personal fortune was very considerable. The succession to the greatest part of it would undoubtedly have gone, as in justice it ought to have done, to her own relations, to whom she always expresed, as in common gratitude to me she ought to have felt, the warmest affection. Why was that just and reasonable expectation on our part disappointed? Because I did not yield to her earnest and repeated solicitations to vote against the abolition of the slave trade, or at least to be neuter. I voted and spoke for it, and she disposed of her fortune accordingly. The hon. general says, that we are very much at our ease, while we are voting away the property of others; that we go home to the enjoyment of our dinners and our beds, without thinking on the misery and ruin we are to bring on a great body of our fellow-subjects. Well, sir, of me at least it cannot be said that, while I neglected or sacrificed their interests, I was careful of my own. I acted with my eyes open, for I was distinctly threatened with the consequence. And yet I went home that day with appetite to my dinner as I shall to day, and slept soundly that night. Had I done otherwise, I should, have lost the quiet mind, without which neither can the luxuries of the table gratify the palate, nor the bed of down give repose. Forgive me, Sir, for speaking of myself in this manner. The facts I allude to are well known to every one who knows me. My object in referring to them is to obtain credit for my sincerity in the part I now take, even with those who may undervalue my judgment. The hon. baronet, in vehement language and passionate terms, complains of the enor. mous loss and injury, which the West India proprietors and planters are to suffer by this bill, without any compensation. I deny it as a fact. But, if it were true, let them begin by entitling themselves to redress, before they expect that the House will listen to their complaint. I answer them with the authority and in the language of English equity, ever since equity was known in England; "Do justice before you demand it." "Non feret æquum, qui petit iniquum." As long as you are guilty of an enormous injustice, on the very ground and subject matter of your pretended wrongs, the court will not listen to you, even though it were true that you had some equitable claim to compensation or relief. The hon. baronet says, that the preamble to the bill, in
asserting that "the slave trade is contrary to the principles of justice and humanity," is a cruel mockery of the sufferings of persons in his situation, and that it adds insult to wrong. The hon. general, on the other hand, says, that it is nothing but the truth, that it was true a hundred years ago, and has continued so to this hour; and therefore, I suppose, he concludes it is too trite and notorious to be worth asserting. The hon. gentlemen agree better in their views, than in their principles. The hon. baronet says, that the state of the greater part of the West India proprietors is already sufficiently distressing, and in many instances deplorable; that their estates are mortgaged, for nearly the whole of their actual value, to merchants and other monied men in this country; and that this bill will annihilate the security of the mortgagees. Be it so. The interest then is in them, and from them we have had no petition. The hon. baronet's anxiety about the mortgagees is extremely generous, I confess; but, if his account of the actual situation of West India property be correct, the owners would suffer little or nothing, even by a general foreclosure. These gentlemen recommend it to us not to forget policy, while we are talking of justice; from which I can only collect that, in their minds at least, there is an evident distinction between policy and justice. In mine, Sir, they are the the same. If there be any circumstances of the present moment, or in the actual situation of affairs in the West Indies, which may render it prudent or advisable not to carry the measure of abolition into instant execution, his majesty's ministers, who have the best information on such points, and who are trusted with the care of the general interests of the empire, ought to tell us so. I must confide in their prudence. If, by withholding any necessary information of fact, they suffer the House to be misled, they are to answer for it. But, as to general and fundamental principles of policy, I want no instruction from any man. I know that it is by justice only that great empires can preserve their greatness, "sic fortis Etruria crevit," and that, by abandoning that principle, they insure their ruin. But, when argument fails, we are to be threatened if we persist. The example of the loss of America is held up to us by way of warning not to provoke the West India islands, lest the
also should be lost to Great Britain. If this be a speculation only, I answer it with a better ;-that the events and issues of human counsels are at the disposal of a higher wisdom than ours, and that those conclusions, which we most strongly dread and deprecate in prospect, are very often beneficial in the event. If it be a menace, I answer it with a fact. At the outset of that unhappy contest, the terror held out by those who promoted and those who opposed it, was the loss of America; by the former if we yielded, by the latter if we persisted. But all parties agreed, that the loss of America must be the ruin of Great Britain. America was lost; yet in spite of that loss, and of all that this country wasted and suffered in attempting to recover it, Great Britain has survived, and stood as firm and secure as ever; nor do I know with certainty that, setting aside the expenses and calamities attached to the contest, Great Britain is essentially weakened or impoverished by the separation of America. The hon. general states it as an absurdity in the councils of administration to waste so many lives, and to squander such immense sums of money in expedi tions to make conquests in the West Indies, while in effect they forbid the cultivation not only of any you may acquire, but even of those which you possess. Of what use are the acquisitions, if the importation of negroes be forbidden? Sir, it would be improper to enter now into the policy of these expeditions. That question is not before us, nor is this the time for it. But to the objection, as it is. stated, the answer is obvious. On our principles, there is no contradiction between the policy of the expeditions and, the object of the bill. The two measures. may be consistent, at least in the judg ment of persons, who think and maintain, as I do, that the cultivation of all the lands in the West Indies may be effectually provided for without a farther importation of negroes from Africa. The hon. baronet complains of the extreme rigour and severity of the penalties imposed by this bill. My answer is, that if the purposes of the law be good, if the object be just and necessary, the penalties must be suf ficient to enforce the execution, and insure the effect. Beyond that point, I allow, they ought not to be extended. On this part of the subject I call on the gen tlemen of the long robe to give us their advice and assistance. It is properly.