§ The order of the day being read for resuming the adjourned debate on the motion made by Mr. Brougham, on the 1st instant, respecting the Trial and Condemnation of Missionary Smith at Demerara; and the question being again proposed, viz.
§ "That an humble address be presented to his Majesty, representing that this House, having taken into their most serious consideration the papers laid before them relating to the trial and condemnation of the late reverend John Smith, a missionary in the colony of Demerara, deem it their duty now to declare, that they contemplate with serious alarm and deep sorrow the violation of law and justice which is manifest in those unexampled proceedings; and most earnestly praying, that his Majesty will be graciously pleased to adopt such measures as to his royal wisdom may seem meet, for securing such a just and humane administration of law in that colony as may protect the voluntary instructors of the Negroes, as well as the Negroes themselves, and the rest of his majesty's subjects, from oppression,"
§ Mr. Speaker
; never in the whole course of my public life, when I have had occasion to address a public assembly, have I felt a greater solicitude to discharge my 1207 duty with strict fidelity to the principles of justice and impartiality. In my endeavours to vindicate the character of Mr. Smith from the charges brought against him by the colonial government of Demerara—charges which I have heard with sincere regret repeated from a high quarter in this House—I feel particularly anxious to establish that vindication, without affording the remotest ground for imputing to me that I have been guilty of injustice to any of the parties implicated in these proceedings. In those observations which I shall feel it my duty to submit to this House, relative to the proceedings before the court-martial, and the conduct pursued there, I wish it to be distinctly understood, that I shall rest my arguments on the evidence furnished by themselves against themselves, and not on any extraneous communications hear, hear.!]. For the vindication of Mr. Smith, and in proof of the gross injustice of the treatment he experienced, I shall rest solely and exclusively on the documents laid before this House by his majesty's government [hear!]—documents admitted on all sides, as far as they extend, to be unquestionable.
Having stated the documents on which I rest my case, it is next most proper that I should put this House in possession of those principles which I conceive, in the view I am determined to take, applicable to this great and important question. I mean not to limit myself to the mere shewing whether the proceedings adopted against Mr. Smith were legal or not: I go more directly to the great issue. I claim for that injured man perfect innocence, both legal and moral [cheers]; and I am satisfied in my conscience that I shall establish it by evidence which any fairly-constituted tribunal, any judges seeking the truth only, will declare to be unim-peached and unimpeachable. It is my purpose also to shew, that by the tribunal before which he was arraigned, not only all the forms of Jaw were overlooked or disregarded, but that the most sacred principles of justice fundamental rules, indispensable to fair inquiry, without adhering to which guilt can never be satisfactorily established, were, on this memorable occasion, in almost every stage of the proceeding, shamelessly abandoned and culpably violated. In my view of the case, it is not a question whether the concealment of an intended revolt was or was not high treason by the 1208 laws prevailing at Demerara. I am ready to concede, that, if it can be shewn that Mr. Smith was a party to any guilty concealment of an intended revolt, he deserved to be duly arraigned for the crime, and, if duly convicted, to suffer.
There are certain facts, unquestionable and undisputed, which it is of the highest importance to a just consideration of this case that all those who are solicitous to give an impartial decision should, on reviewing the evidence, continue to keep in their full recollection. Some time in the month of May, the governor of Demerara, general Murray, issued a circular in that colony, establishing certain regulations and restrictions with respect to the attendance of the slaves on divine worship on Sundays—regulations which I do not now stop to examine, but which, beyond all doubt, excited much dissatisfaction in the breasts of that unfortunate and oppressed class. It was on the 21st of July that the despatches of the earl Bathurst, communicating to the governor of Demerara the benevolent intentions of his majesty's government, having for their object the welfare of the slaves, in conformity with the expressed declaration of the legislature—which despatches were dated the 28th of May—were laid before the Court of Policy in the colony. These despatches particularly specified the prohibition of flogging females; the abolition of the use of the whip in the field; and other improvements calculated to ameliorate the condition of the slave population generally. On the 18th of August the revolt broke out in the colony. On the 21st of August Mr. Smith was apprehended; and on the 13th of October he was brought to trial. It appears, also, that the principal charges of which Mr. Smith was found guilty, were:—of having created dissatisfaction among the slaves: of having concealed the intended revolt: and of having corresponded with the rebel leaders, after that revolt had commenced, and while it was in progress. By my hon. friend, the under secretary for the colonies (Mr. W. Horton), much blame has been imputed to Mr. Smith in the general discharge of his duties, at a period long antecedent to the occurrence of those transactions which led to his trial, and to all the more immediate subjects of our present consideration. Mr. Smith has been accused of too enthusiastic a devotion to the cause he espoused; of evincing, both in his conduct, his preaching, and 1209 his writing, too intemperate a disapprobation of that system of crime and misery with which it was his lot to be daily conversant. I do most unequivocally deny, that, in the documents laid before this House, there exists any evidence to justify any imputation, either on the principles he maintained, the discretion with which he advocated them, or his general demeanour during his residence in that settlement. Indeed, on the contrary, though his private journal has been ransacked for accusatory matter; though the scrutiny into the whole of his past life for years, has been as unsparing in extent as unjustifiable in principle; I cannot refrain from expressing my surprise and admiration, that, amidst all vexations and embarrassments, even when contending with the most disgraceful impediments, and provoked by unjust opposition; though his feelings were naturally and necessarily excited by the oppression, cruelty, and misery which be constantly witnessed; still he abstained from all violence of invective, and, in all the doctrines which he preached, inculcated the duty of obedience from the slave to the master, even to the utmost verge of those limits beyond which obedience to man becomes disobedience to the religion he came to propagate and maintain. I doubt if there be any man, under similar circumstances, fervently believing the divine truths of the religion of which he was a minister, who under equal excitement, would have more eminently displayed patient endurance, or so well have tempered his zeal with discretion. Indeed, had less been said or done, there might almost have existed cause for doubting the sensibility or the sincerity of the missionary. From this vague charge of excessive enthusiasm, and general indiscretion, as well as from accusations of a more tangible description, I do, on the part of Mr. Smith, claim a verdict of entire acquittal.
I now proceed to consider more particularly the charges on which he was arraigned, and found guilty; and, especially, the imputed concealment of the intended revolt, after it had, as alleged, come to his knowledge. I deny the knowledge, and, consequently, the possibility of guilty concealment. In support of this charge, the conversation between Mr. Smith and some of the negroes on the 17th of August, the day preceding the revolt, has been relied on; and, in weighing the effect of this testimony, it is 1210 most important to attend to the respective dates, and to the connexion of the occurrences. That interview is stated to have taken place on Sunday the 17th, after the evening service. Now, it is to be recollected, that Mr. Smith had not been at plantation Le Resouvenir a great portion of the week before; he had been down on the west coast, on a visit to Mr. Elliot, and only returned the Friday evening before to his own residence. It is stated in the charges against him, that he had, previously to that period, advised rebellion, and endeavoured to promote it; but, in no part of the evidence of the witnesses, nor in any of the documents, is there the slightest proof of this averment. I admit, however, that, unimpeached as his conduct is by any testimony prior to the 17th of August, yet if at the interview on the evening of the 17th, it did appear that any thing transpired between the negroes, from which it was conclusive that he was apprised of a rebellion being in progress, and, if so apprised, he did keep his peace, then he was guilty of the offence laid to his charge. That admission I explicitly avow; but, while I make that admission, let us attend minutely to the proofs of Mr. Smith's guilt or innocence. To this all-important point I implore the attention of the House, I implore the attention of every individual member; I call upon them, individually and collectively, to listen to the evidence, to examine and compare the testimony of the different witnesses, and to found their judgment exclusively on that evidence, and the inferences which naturally arise from it. Be there any member disposed to acquit, to hear the vindication of Mr. Smith is essentia even to acquittal; but much more is it the indispensable duty of every man well to know and understand the evidence before he proceeds to condemnation. To the evidence, therefore, as it bears upon the guilt or innocence of Mr. Smith, I shall at present proceed, reserving my observations on the court-martial till I shall have disposed of it. I court inquiry. I am, in vindication of Mr. Smith's innocence, anxious for the most rigid investigation; and, with that feeling, I hope that those who differ with me will not spare their examination of those parts of the evidence on which I rest that vindication.
That portion of the evidence to which I request your attention, is the very part to which my hon. and learned friend, the member for Peterborough (Mr. Scarlett) 1211 had adverted on the former night; and whom I regret not now to see in his place. I regret it, because I am about to make observations which lead to a very different inference from that which he then drew; I mention it, because, in commenting on that inference in his absence, I wish the House to remember that no blame can rest with me. In the first place, it is material to bear in mind, that the circumstances which occurred at the interview on the 17th of August, after evening service rest exclusively upon the evidence of negro slaves; not slaves merely, but acknowledged accomplices. Let us consider the weight which is due to such evidence. In what degree of estimation do the colonists themselves hold the testimony of negro slaves, even when there exists no suspicion of any culpability attaching upon them with respect to the transaction under examination? True it is, that in Demerara, where the Dutch civil law prevails, the testimony of negro slaves is, under certain circumstances, admitted; but this is an exception from the general rule: in all our other West-India colonies testimony of that description, no matter how high the character of the individual, no matter the degree of confidence that his master, from experience of his honesty and good conduct, might repose in him, is universally rejected. Even on questions of property, of the most trivial value, the law refuses to receive the evidence of the best-informed slave, though in the result he cannot have the slightest interest. Now mark the grounds on which the colonists and slave-owners have justified the total rejection of negro evidence in the administration of every branch of justice, both civil and criminal; observe the principles, or rather the assertions, on which they refuse, even on trials for the most atrocious offences, the evidence of the slaves. We do not allow such evidence say the colonists, because the negro slave is not impressed with the sacred obligation of an oath; and how can you expect truth where there is no conscientious conviction of the sin and danger of perjury? Again: they aver, that the negroes are almost universally destitute of education; so ignorant, that they cannot discriminate between right and wrong, or detail an ordinary statement with any reasonable accuracy. Under all circumstances, therefore, and almost on all occasions, in the judgment of the colonists themselves, even of those who have been the foremost 1212 of Mr. Smith's accusers, negro evidence is proscribed, and considered to be entitled to a very slight, if any, degree of credit. But it is upon negro evidence Mr. Smith has been found guilty; upon negro evidence solely; for there is no other testimony even asserted to bear upon the charges on which the court-martial pronounced the accused guilty. Nor is this all: it is not even upon pure negro evidence, if such an expression can be applied to the subject, that the judgment of this court-martial has rested; it is upon negro evidence, subject to a deduction of the greatest importance—a deduction which detracts from the evidence of every witness, though in all other respects he might be best calculated to give testimony. All those negroes who were admitted as witnesses, are, by their own statements, accomplices; and not accomplices merely in the alleged guilt of Mr. Smith, but the planners of the revolt itself, and active participators therein. Now, what are the principles which the law of England, of justice, and of common sense, apply to such evidence? That it shall always be viewed with suspicion and distrust, and shall never produce a conviction unless corroborated by other unexceptionable testimony. Let it be remembered, that the evidence given on this memorable occasion was not the evidence of pardoned accomplices, but of men swearing for their pardon; liable, at the pleasure of the government, to be tried for the same offence; to be convicted on their own admissions; to be executed, or to suffer worse than death, the tortures of a thousand lashes—a sentence which this humane tribunal passed on several of the unfortunate beings who were placed at their bar, and which, to the everlasting disgrace of the British name, was, in some instances, actually carried into execution. With the hope of life on one hand, with the fear of death or torture on the other, were these negro witnesses dragged to the bar; well knowing, if they knew any thing, the nature of the evidence they were expected to give, and what would conduce to their own safety and protection.
Remembering therefore, the worthless-ness, in the estimate of West-Indians, of negro evidence in all cases; remembering that in this case these slaves were acknowledged accomplices; let the House now look to the charges, and the testimony adduced to uphold them. The whole of the accusation against Mr. Smith, resting 1213 upon this evidence, has no reference to any act commmitted by the accused, but is exclusively confined to the conversations he heard from others. It is not alleged that he participated in this revolt by doing any overt act; nor that he uttered a single expression to encourage it; but merely that he heard a conversation which gave him knowledge of the intended revolt, and that he did not immediately commmunicate it to the constituted authorities. Then the question at issue is, the purport of these alleged conversations, and the fact whether Mr. Smith did overhear a treasonable conversation and concealed it. In addition to all the general objections applying to the evidence of slaves, here is another, arising from the peculiar nature of the charge itself. Look to the testimony of Mr. Van Cooten. Being asked, if negroes are generally capable of relating with accuracy any conversation which may have taken place in their presence, what was his answer? "I think," said he, "very badly in general; some of them may be more capable than others." Again, he is asked, "Is it customary to send negroes with verbal messages, where accuracy is required?" "No, it is not; at least I would not do it."—"For what reason would you not send such message verbally?" "Because I think negroes in general bad messengers; ten to one if they carried it correctly." Such is the testimony of a gentleman who was the attorney of the estate Le Resouvenir; himself the owner of a plantation, and who had acquired his experience by a residence of fifty years in the colony. How admirably does the evidence of that respectable man contrast with the statements of other colonists, whose passions and prejudices, rather than truth and candour, have governed all their depositions.
Having offered these preliminary observations, that the House may be enabled to form a more correct judgment of the degree of credit to be given to the witnesses, I now proceed to call its attention to the only evidence on which it was attempted to affix the charge of a guilty concealment. Bristol, speaking of the Sunday afternoon, states, in fol. 14, as follows: "After service I did not go straight home; we stopped close to the chapel a little while, when we heard Jack and Joseph talking about the paper which had come from home, that the people were all to be made free. Emanuel told 1214 Quamina that he had better go and ask Mr. Smith about it; and when Quamina was going into Mr. Smith's house, I went in with him; and when we went, Quamina asked Mr. Smith if any freedom had come out for them in a paper; he told them that there was a good law come out, but no freedom for them." The House will bear in mind, that the witness states, that no one was present at this conversation but himself, Quamina, and Mr. Smith; and that it was the first time he (Bristol) had been in Mr. Smith's house, on that day. Bristol then proceeds: "Mr. Smith said, 'You must wait a little, and the governor or your masters will tell you about it.' Quamina then said, 'Jack and Joseph were speaking much about it;' he said, 'they (Jack and Joseph) wanted to take it by force.' Mr. Smith said,' You had better tell them to wait, and not be foolish; how do you mean that they should take it by force? they cannot do any thing with the white people, because the soldiers will be more strong than you; therefore you had better wait.' He said, 'Well you had better go and tell the people, and the Christians, particularly that they had better have nothing to do with it;' and then we came out."—The only other passage in the evidence of this witness, of similar import, is as follows: "When Mr. Smith observed to Quamina that the soldiers would be too strong for them, Quamina said, they would drive all the white people, and make them go to town."
Now, let us consider how far the testimony of this negro accomplice is corroborated by other evidence; though, indeed, if he has spoken truly, his statement was incapable of any. direct corroboration: for Quamina, the only other person by him asserted to have been present on the occasion, was killed previously to the trial. Seaton, another negro accomplice, is however produced; and he begins by at once falsifying and contradicting the evidence of the preceding witness, for he swears, that he himself was present at this conversation; and, in folio 23, he gives the following account of it: "Quamina went to Mr. Smith and asked him about this paper; Mr. Smith said, Yes; that the paper is come out; that the paper had come out so far as to break the drivers; and that nobody should be licked any more again; and that if any body should be licked, it should be by their masters, or their managers; and if any 1215 thing more than that, they were to be confined. After I had heard that, Quamina told me to go away to the middle-path of Success, to stop the people till he came, and I went with Manuel to stop them." Manuel is called, and his deposition, so far as it goes, contradicts Bristol, and confirms Seaton; but not a single expression falls from him, denoting the avowal of any intended revolt in Mr. Smith's presence.
In support of this charge, which sought to sacrifice the life of the accused, it seems almost incredible to say, that this was the whole evidence adduced on behalf of the prosecution; but yet this is strictly the fact. In this country it can scarcely be credited, that, on testimony like this, an Englishman should be put upon his trial; but so it was. That all the three witnesses for the prosecution should have spoken truly, is impossible, for they are manifestly at variance with each other: they differ as to the persons present at the conversation; they differ as to what passed on the occasion; they put language into the mouth of Mr. Smith which it is impossible he could have uttered. Mr. Smith was not a low, ignorant, and illiterate man, and yet he is made to have uttered expressions which could have been used by none save those of the lowest class. It is possible that Mr. Smith might, had he been under the influence of infatuation, have known and concealed, or even encouraged, a rebellion; but it was not possible for a man of knowledge and education to have used the language imputed to him on this occasion. It is manifest, therefore, from this as well as all the other circumstances, that these witnesses have not truly and correctly slated what passed at that meeting. That Mr. Smith may, on that occasion, have delivered his opinion respecting the letter of lord Bathurst somewhat to the effect, though not in the words, deposed to by the witnesses, is consistent with probability; and sentiments more likely to have conciliated the minds of the negroes, and allayed the ferment which the concealment of the contents of that letter had occasioned could not have been uttered; and how grossly inconsistent is it to suppose, that, at the very moment the missionary was avowing sentiments which even his enemies must approve, he was listening to disclosures of treason, and wilfully concealing his information! With all these circumstances of gross improbability, the 1216 charge finally rests on Bristol's assertion, that in the missionary's presence it was declared, that Jack and Joseph said they wanted to take their freedom by force, and that Mr. Smith said the soldiers would be too strong for them. On the assertion of this negro slave, an avowed accomplice, unsupported by the testimony of any human being, and in many parts contradicted by the evidence brought to uphold it, was this conviction founded. Had Mr. Smith used the expression imputed to him, as to the soldiers, it is impossible it could have escaped the recollection of those who were present. Upon that word hinges the whole charge of concealed rebellion; and yet, though questioned with all the ingenuity of the court and counsel, from the second accomplice, Seaton, the courtmartial could not extract an admission that the word "soldiers" had ever escaped the lips of the prisoner. Of all words, it was that very one which was most calculated to make an impression upon the mind of a negro slave engaged in a conspiracy to revolt. If, when the chances of revolt were discussing, the dangers of the proposed rebellion were debating, the word "soldiers" had been mentioned, is it possible that persons so circumstanced, with all their attention roused to the subject, could have forgotten an expression which must at once have called forth all their fears and apprehensions? Was not the danger from the soldiers that which they most naturally contemplated in attempting to carry their designs into effect? Had Mr. Smith uttered the word, it was impossible that any hearer could have forgotten it.
Nor is this all. The House has already seen that the three witnesses have given three different versions of the same conversation; they will now perceive that Bristol is not consistent even with himself. In page 17, on cross-examination, he swears positively that he had a conversation respecting his little girl, when no one else was present except Mr. and Mrs. Smith; yet in his previous testimony he declared he went in with Quamina, who continued with him at the interview, and that they left the house together. He swore, moreover, on his examination in chief, that after the interview was over he went directly home; on cross-examination, that he went to the chapel. And, yet it is on evidence in itself so unworthy of credit, so contradicted and so full of contradictions, that my hon. and learned 1217 friend (Mr. Scarlett), is prepared to conclude that the criminality of Mr. Smith has been established!
It is now time to advert to the evidence of the witnesses produced on behalf of the accused; and if their testimony be credited, the evidence of Bristol is wholly gone. At this same interview the girl Charlotte positively swears, Bristol, Quamina, and Peter were present. Here then is a new actor introduced on the stage. What says Peter? He was a negro slave, it is true; but how was he circumstanced? He was an accomplice—an acknowledged accomplice. Every word he uttered in favour of the prisoner endangered his own life. Whatever came from a witness thus situated in regard to the prisoner, was entitled to much greater consideration than, under any other circumstances, his testimony could claim. Let us see his account of the transaction. "Were there any other persons present?" "Bristol, Seaton, a boy named Shute, a field negro of Le Resouvenir, and Mr. Smith, were present, and, with myself, made six."—"Did Quamina say any thing to the prisoner; if yea, what was it" "Yes: he said that they should drive all those managers from the estates to the town, to the courts, to see what was the best thing they could obtain for the slaves. Then Mr. Smith answered, and said that was foolish; how will you be able to drive the white people to town?' and he said further, 'the white people were trying to do good for them; and that if the slaves behaved so, they would lose their right;' and he said, 'Quamina, don't bring yourself in any disgrace; that the white people were now making a law to prevent the women being flogged; but that the law had not come out yet; and that the men should not get any flogging in the field, but when they required to be flogged they should be brought to the manager, attorney, or proprietor, for that purpose:' and he said, Quamina, do you hear this?' and then we came out."—"What did Quamina say in answer, when Mr. Smith said 'you hear?" "He said yes, Sir;' that was all."—"How long were you and Quamina, and the rest, at the prisoner's house?" "We did not stop a minute."—"Was Seaton with you the whole time at that conversation?"—"yes."—"Which of you all went out of the prisoner's house first?" "We all five came out together."—Hence it appears, that, so far from this interview having taken place between Mr. Smith and Quamina in 1218 the presence of Bristol only, as he positively deposed, the number of persons is eventually doubled. Seaton adds himself; and, according to Peter's account, on this occasion there were assembled Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Quamina, Bristol, Seaton, Shute, and himself. Shute is the last witness, and he contradicts Bristol, confirms Peter, and explains what had been previously stated as to driving the managers to town. His evidence is to be found in page 65, and is as follows:—"Were you at the chapel the Sunday before the revolt?" "Yes."'—"Did you see Quamina of Success on that day?" "Yes."—"Where did you see him?" "At the chapel."—"Did you see him any where else?" "Yes, I saw him at Success middle-path, and I saw him after that come over from Success to our place, to Mr. Smith."—"Did you see him at Mr. Smith's?" "Yes, I saw him there, and was there myself."—"Was any body, and who, present when you saw him at Mr. Smith's?" "Seaton, Bristol, and Peter, with Qua mina and myself".—"Did any, and what, conversation pass on that occasion?" "Yes: Quamina said to Mr. Smith he was going to drive all the managers down; and Mr. Smith told him, No; for the white people are doing many good things for you; and if you are going to do that—you must not do that, Quamina, I tell you.' Quamina said, 'Yes, I will see;' and after that we all came out of the house from Mr. Smith."—"Did Quamina say what he was going to drive the managers down for?" "That they must come down, that they may have a good law to give them a day or two for themselves."—"Was Seaton there all the time?" "Yes."—"Which of you went away from Mr. Smith's house first?" "We all together went."—It has been urged against the accused, that, even from the expressions used by his own witnesses, he must have been cognisant of some intended rising; and it was asked, what other explanation could be given of the expression "driving the managers?" To this I answer, that, even presuming it could with justice be contended (as I verily think it cannot) that these identical words were used, still that, according to every rule of law and justice, they must be considered in con-junction, with the context; and taken with that context, the whole inference falls to the ground. The managers were to be driven to "the courts," say some of the witnesses, in order to procure a new law 1219 for the treatment of the slaves. Could any man, by the utmost stretch of human ingenuity, convert this expression into a declaration, that a revolt was already planned, and rebellion about to be carried into execution? Is it not abundantly clear, that by this expression remonstrance alone could be understood—an application to the constituted authorities of the colony? What have the courts to do with open revolt; or new laws, with insurrection and rebellion? If any doubt could exist, that this is the true interpretation of this conversation, look to the evidence of Shute, who declares, that they intended "to drive the managers down, that they may have a good law to give them a day or two for themselves."
And here let me notice the argument of my hon. and learned friend the member for Peterborough; an argument which, I confess, has filled me with astonishment—I might almost say, indignation. In attempting to maintain that Mr. Smith was guilty of the charges brought against him, not only did my hon. and learned friend rely on the evidence of Bristol, without noticing the inconsistencies which pervade Ins evidence, or the testimony by which it is contradicted and invalidated, but, strange to say, he argued upon Mr. Smith's admission that he was on the spot at the time of the alleged conversation, as a circumstance confirmatory of Bristol's testimony, because there could be no doubt that he would otherwise have attempted to prove an alibi. Why, good God! Sir, what was the fact? Mr. Smith did produce evidence, not to deny that he had had a conversation with Bristol, Quamina, and the other negroes; he admitted, as an honest man was bound to admit, that he was present at the conversation; but he positively denied that the tenor of the conversation was such as could attach to him the slightest suspicion of his being cognisant of the rebellious object in contemplation. What would be the consequence if such an argument as that to which my hon. and learned friend resorted, were to carry conviction in similar cases? Perhaps the House may recollect, that about twenty years ago the present lord chief justice of the court of Common Pleas wa9 accused of an attempt to commit a rape at his chambers, in. the Temple, on a lady who came to consult him professionally. What would my hon. and learned friend the member for Peterborough have said to the lord chief justice 1220 of the court of Common Pleas, if instead of admitting the fact that he was in his chambers at the time, and standing on his character, and on other evidence for the assertion of his innocence, he had attempted to establish an alibi It is impossible to conceive a more unjust or a more illogical conclusion than that of my hon. and learned friend. I ask ray hon. and learned friend, if he were himself so unfortunate as to be accused of an offence similar to that to which I have alluded, he would attempt to defend himself by calling his clerk to swear that he was in court at the time? Instead of expecting such an opinion to escape from the lips of my hon. and learned friend, I should have really hardly expected it to escape from the lips of one of the deputy assistants to the judge advocate at Demerara. When, however, we consider how the ingenuity of my hon. and learned friend was evidently taxed to support the failing testimony of Bristol: when we find that a lawyer so skilled in his profession, and of such long experience, as my hon. and learned friend, had no better mode of corroborating Bristol's assertion of the guilt of Mr. Smith, than the argument, that Mr. Smith's own admission of having been present at the conversation with the negroes was a proof of his having a knowledge of their criminal intentions, I am sure the House will be sensible, that a cause must be bad indeed which is compelled to have recourse to such means for support [hear, hear!].
But, Sir, there are two other matters much relied on by those who assert that Mr. Smith was guilty of the offence with which he was charged. One is, the note received by Mr. Smith on the evening of the revolt, from a negro of the name of Jacky Reed, communicating the contents of a letter which had been sent him by another negro called Jack Gladstone. To that note Mr. Smith answers: "I am ignorant of the affair you allude to, and your note is too late for me to make any inquiry. I learnt yesterday that some scheme was in agitation, but, without asking questions on the subject, I begged them to be quiet, and I trust they will; hasty, violent, or concerted measures are quite contrary to the religion we profess, and I hope you will have nothing to do with them." Here is Mr. Smith alleging his ignorance of the real intentions of the negroes. Certainly, if it be a crime that he remained silent when he bed received 1221 a vague intimation that some application was about to be made by the negroes to their managers for redress of certain grievances of which they complained; if it be a crime, that having obtained some loose information that some proceeding or other was in agitation, without any knowledge of time, place, object, or other circumstance, he did not consider it his duty instantly to denounce his congregation, and to become an informer against them, in utter ignorance of the facts to which his information referred; then, perhaps, Mr. Smith might be deemed criminal. It appears, however, that the court itself was not satisfied with the evidence which had been adduced in inculpation of Mr. Smith, and therefore that an attempt was made to find something in the confession of Mr. Smith himself which might warrant the conclusion that he was guilty. I call upon the House to consider the injustice of this mode of proceeding. Let us look at the kind of testimony by which the alleged confession is supported. Is it probable, that, on the very night of the insurrection, Mr. Smith would make such a communication to persons in the condition of the two witnesses whose testimony is relied on in this respect; men whom he had never before seen in his life? Is it likely that he would have communicated a secret so personally dangerous to himself, to such persons? One of them, John Bailey, a servant to the ordnance store keeper, swears, that Mr. Smith told him he knew of the intended rising of the negroes six weeks before. Now, Sir, it is utterly impossible that Mr. Smith could know, six weeks before, of a revolt, which there is evidence to prove was planned only on the day before its occurrence. The other witness, John Aves, coachman to colonel Goodman, who was examined immediately after John Bailey, for the purpose of confirming the evidence of the latter, negatives the evidence of Bailey, and denies that Mr. Smith made any such declaration. But it is clear that John Bailey also swears to that which is a palpable falsehood, as proved by the evidence of Dr. Robson, the witness immediately following the two witnesses I have just alluded to. John Bailey says, "I asked Mr. Smith what time this disturbance took place? He said, 'about seven o'clock when the negroes came from their work.' He said he had been busy writing all day." Now, it is proved by the evidence of Dr. Robson, 1222 as well as by Mr. Smith's own journal, that on that very day, Monday the 18th of August, Mr. Smith had been to the town, nine miles distant from his own home, to consult that physician professionally. What-reliance, therefore, can be placed on the evidence of an individual who puts into the mouth of Mr. Smith words which it is impossible he could have ever uttered; who swears that Mr. Smith declared that he had been writing all day, when the fact, by his own statement, and by the evidence of a physician, was, that he had been to the town to consult the physician professionally? But mark the next assertion of this witness, Bailey: "He (Mr. Smith) said the two overseers ran to him for protection; the manager was away." The fact was, first, that the manager applied to Mr. Smith for assistance, and that Mr. Smith saved his life; and, secondly, that the overseers were not there. Now, Sir, I do put it to the House, when they find a person, not a negro, not a slave, not an accomplice, but a freeman and an Englishman, come forward and make against him a deliberate statement, two of the allegations in which are proved to be false, with what justice any part of that person's testimony can be depended on? The objections which have been usually made to negro evidence are not, in the colonies, applicable to negroes alone. The perjury of white witnesses on this trial, is at least equal to that of which any black ones could be guilty. Nor is it Mr. John Bailey alone to whom this observation is applicable. There are others, in higher stations, on whose testimony little reliance can be justly placed. While I am on this part of the case, I beg to advert to the statement of my hon. and learned friend, the member for Peterborough, that Mr. Smith ought instantly to have communicated to Mr. Stewart and Mr. Cort what he had learnt from Quamina. Really my hon. and learned' friend appears to have read just as much of the evidence as tended to support the accusation, and to have entirely neglected that which supports the defence. The interview which Mr. Smith had with Mr. Stewart and Mr. Cort was long prior to the insurrection of the 17th of August; after that day he had no opportunity of communication, had there been any matter tit to be mentioned; and the whole of' this argument is founded on the evidence of the negro Manuel, who has confused the dates of the different transactions. 1223 With these observations, I leave the charge, so strangely denominated misprision of treason, and so ingeniously converted into a capital offence; and well assured am I, that, in the judgment of every man unbiassed by colonial prejudices, whose heart is not hardened and understanding clouded by participation in the horrors of the slave system, a verdict of perfect innocence must be recorded.
The next charge brought before the court-martial against Mr. Smith was, that he had communication with Quamina on Wednesday the 20th of August. That charge Mr. Smith did not deny, for the best of all possible reasons, that there was nothing on his part criminal in that communication. It was clear from the evidence, that Mr. Smith had never sought the interview in question; but that it had taken place accidentally, in consequence of Mrs. Smith's wishing to see Quamina at her house. And here J beg to observe, that, contrary to all the principles of justice, and all the rules of evidence, the court admitted evidence as to what Mrs. Smith said or did in the absence of her husband. For instance, on Mrs. Smith's conversation with Quamina is built the charge, that Mr. Smith corresponded with and aided and assisted the insurgent negroes. I maintain and I am persuaded there is not a single honourable member who will not say on his conscience that he believes, that not a single word ever dropped from Mr. Smith having a tendency to encourage rebellion among negroes. I believe any Such accusation is repudiated by both sides of the House; and that it exists no where, except in those receptacles of every species of calumny and abuse, the newspapers of that ill-fated settlement.—There were other charges adverted to by the under-secretary of state for the colonies, of a totally different description—such as, I believe, were never the subjects of inquiry in any court of justice, or before any other tribunal whatever. I mean, the conduct of Mr. Smith during the whole term of his residence (six years) in the colony of Demerara. Sir, I never heard before of any tribunal, especially of any tribunal acting under English law, putting a man on his trial for all his actions and all his words during a period of six years continuance; and that, too, without specifying time, place, and circumstances—merely one sweeping accusation, that, by his general conduct, during a residence of six years, he had greatly contributed 1224 to the creation of dissatisfaction and discontent among the negroes. Where, Sir, is the man who would dare to trust his life to the issue of such an investigation? Where, Sir, is the individual so bold as to challenge such an inquiry? Where, Sir, is the tribunal so unjust as to pronounce sentence upon any individual so accused.
The hon. secretary charged Mr. Smith with being an enthusiast; with requiring from the negroes too strict an observance of the rites of the Christian church. I wish, Sir, I could have been spared the pain of touching on this part of the subject. I wish so, because it is difficult to describe the sacred obligation of keeping holy the sabbath-day, without the use of terms which many persons will think savour of cant; or without falling into the other, and much more dangerous error, of lowering that sacred obligation, by not speaking of it with adequate reverence. To steer a middle course in such a case is difficult. It is difficult to draw a precise line under such circumstances. It is difficult, when any deviation is allowed from the direct rule, to say where that deviation ought to be unhesitatingly checked. I am not one of those who are disposed to prohibit innocent amusement, or even necessary employment, on the sabbath-day. I wish that day to be spent in a manner calculated to gladden and enliven all human hearts. But, if ever there was a state of society in which the adherence to the Divine command for the observance of the Sabbath is more essential than in any other, it is a state in which slavery exists; a state in which, during the other six days of the week, man commands his fellow men to work for his benefit. Is it too much to say, that in such a state of society, the man who labours for others on the six days of the week, ought on the seventh to be wholly exempt from labour? Is it too much to say, that the vengeance of public opinion, and of public law, ought to fall on those who endeavour to compel their unfortunate slaves to incessant, to unintermitting toil? By the law of Demerara, a fine, I believe, of 500 guilders is imposed on every planter who compels his slaves to work on the sabbath; but, notwithstanding that fine, it is evident throughout the papers respecting this subject, that the law is constantly evaded. It is evident, from the proclamations of the governor himself, as well as by the state- 1225 ments of Mr. Austin, Mr. Smith, and others, that the slaves are compelled, in many instances, to labour on the sabbath; and that every endeavour on their part to obtain redress for this grievance has proved fruitless;—aye, as I have been reminded by an hon. friend near me, that the sole effect of such endeavour has, in many cases, been, to call down on the unhappy slaves the vengeance of those masters of whose oppression they have complained. In such a state of society, I ask the House what is the line of conduct which Mr. Smith ought to have pursued? The House will, I hope, allow me to shew, from the evidence of one or two of Mr. Smith's disciples, the nature of the doctrines which he really preached to them. Manuel one of the negro witnesses for the prosecution, deposes: "Parson said, if your master has any work for you on Sunday, it is your duty to tell him Sunday is God's day." Sir, is that criminal doctrine? But how does the witness go on with his statement of Mr. Smith's exhortation? "That if the water-dam broke on Sunday, it was our duty to go and stop it; that if the boat was to ground on a sandbank on Sunday, it was our duty to shove it off; and that if people got drunk on a Sunday, it was right of their masters to make them work, to prevent them walking about, and making mischief." Is there any thing in these declarations which deserves reprehension? Romeo, another witness for the prosecution, when he is asked whether he did not hear Mr. Smith say that the negroes were fools for working on a Sunday, for the sake of a few lashes, answers, "No, I did not hear that; but I heard him say, that if their masters gave them work, they must do it patiently: and if they punish you for a wrong cause, you must not grieve for it." It appears, therefore, Sir, that Mr. Smith preached such obedience to the commands of man as was consistent with the commands of God. If he had used other language; if he had attempted to deceive the negroes, by preaching one doctrine to them, and allowing them a practice of another and an opposite nature, he would have been a renegado to his faith, and an apostate from his religion. So far, however, from his having been an enthusiast, as my hon. friend the under-secretary for the colonies was pleased to call him, Mr. Smith appears to me to have acted with the greatest circumspection and care, and to have avoided, with all possible caution, 1226 any thing that could have a tendency to excite discontent in the negro population of Demerara.
I know that there is to be found, in the evidence of a single negro witness for the prosecution, one passage which seems to imply the contrary. Azor, a negro, deposes: "I heard him (Mr. Smith) say, 'You are fools for working on Sunday for the sake of a few lashes.'" Against that single passage in the testimony of one witness, I set all the testimony of the other witnesses; I set the testimony of Mr. Austin as to the general conduct of Mr. Smith; nay, I set the conduct of the very slaves themselves. If, Sir, we seek for the effect which the doctrines inculcated by Mr. Smith had on the minds of the negroes, let us look to the evidence of one of the planters; let us look to the evidence of Mr. Van Cooten, a gentleman who, at the time of the trial, had resided above fifty years in the colony of Demerara. Mr. Van Cooten declares it to be his opinion, "that the negroes had become more obedient in consequence of their attendance on Mr. Smith." Other witnesses would not have been wanting to confirm this gentleman's testimony, if the prejudice against Mr. Smith in the colony had not been so great as to prevent their giving honest evidence. As it was, Mr. Smith was compelled to rely for his character on the testimony of Mr. Van Cooten and Mr. Austin, and on the prodigious number of certificates of recommendation which form so large a part of the documents on the table. Sir, I will shew the House why Mr. Smith could not rely on the testimony of other witnesses, who were nevertheless cognisant of the favourable impression he had made on the minds of the negroes. For that purpose I will take the examination of a planter of the name of John Reed, who was summoned to tell what he knew of the accused. The House will find it in folio 52 of the printed proceedings. Let us see how Mr. Reed gives his testimony. A document produced in the court having been read, he is asked, "Did you send the paper or letter just read, or deliver it to the prisoner?" "I delivered it to the prisoner."—"Where were you when you so delivered it?" "I was on my sick bed at Dochfour: the prisoner intruded himself at my domestic board, even at my sickbed side: asked and obtained permission to erect a place of worship on disinterested, though legal conditions."—It is clear 1227 that the impression which this witness intended to create was, that Mr. Smith was so great an enthusiast, that, without regard to common decency, he forced himself on his, Mr. Reed's, privacy. His examination continues:—"How many times was the prisoner at your house?" "I think three or four times."—"Do you remember at what time of day, and on what occasion did the prisoner go first to your house?" "It was early in the morning, for the purpose of obtaining leave to erect a place of worship."—"Where did you on that morning meet with the prisoner, and did you ask him to stay breakfast, or did he remain without invitation?" "I met him on the road leading to the estate and I believe I asked him to stay breakfast."—All this shewed what was working in this planter's mind. The House will recollect that, at the commencement of Mr. Reed's examination, he declares that Mr. Smith intruded himself at his domestic board, and even at his sick-bed side. The close of his examination, however, is as follows:—"What do you mean when you say the prisoner intruded himself?" "I was unacquainted with the prisoner before, and on one occasion he brought Mrs. Smith along with him: perhaps I should not have deemed it an intrusion but for his subsequent conduct."—"Did the prisoner go into your sickbed room without being asked?" "No, he did not" [hear, hear!]. Now this, Sir, is an exemplification of the kind of feeling that prevails in this ill-fated settlement. At the moment of the trial of Mr. Smith, such was the outcry against all religious instruction, that the very effort to erect a chapel for the purpose of benefiting the negroes in his neighbourhood was considered reprehensible, and produced, as has just appeared, a bias, which induced a witness to make a statement in the early part of his evidence, which the fear of a prosecution for perjury forced him at the conclusion of his evidence to admit to be a total falsehood. The whole of the evidence is liable to similar comments; and yet it was on evidence like this that the cburtmartial found the accused person guilty; on such evidence did they, after fire days deliberation, sentence him to the punishment of death; on such evidence did the governor of the colony, to his eternal, shame and everlasting disgrace, sanction the sentence!
In my humble opinion, Sir, I have stated enough already to justify me in de- 1228 claring, that no impartial tribunal, no competent judges, no honest jury, ever pronounced such a sentence as that which the court-martial at Demerara pronounced upon Mr. Smith; and that it could have emanated from nothing but the most virulent spirit of prejudice. But I will not be satisfied with what I have yet stated: I will endeavour to shew the House, in as few words as possible, the foundation of the accusation which I unhesitatingly prefer against this court-martial; namely, that of having knowingly and wilfully given a false verdict. Sir, these are strong terms; but they are not too strong for the occasion. I know I have no right to travel out of the evidence before the court for the purpose of making good my charges, and I pledge myself not to utter a syllable which is not to be found in the documents on the table. In the first place, then, Sir, the court compelled Mr. Smith to plead before they allowed him counsel, and thus deprived him of every opportunity of objecting cither to the jurisdiction of the court itself, or to the illegality of the charges exhibited against him. In the second place, the charges are, on their very face, illegal; referring, as they do, to various offences supposed to be consummated by the prisoner before the proclamation of martial law, which alone gave the court-martial power to try a civilian; and stating neither the time, nor the place, nor the circumstances of those imputed offences. Even my hon. and learned friend, the member for Peterborough, admits that it was illegal to try a man by martial law for an offence committed before that martial law was proclaimed. Does my hon. and learned friend consider it more legal to try a man for offences committed years before the accusation, without any specification of the particulars of those offences? Sir, the next charge I make against the court-martial is, that they allowed the judge-advocate to make such a speech as that which he made on opening the case. On that occasion he was bound, as prosecutor, to state in detail the specific offences with which he charged the prisoner. Instead of that, he merely says "I shall first adduce in evidence, that the prisoner, even from the beginning of his arrival in this colony, has begun to interfere with the complaints of the different negroes upon the estates in the district where he has been admitted as a regular missionary;" and then goes on with a number of 1229 similar general charges, without entering upon a single specific statement. My next accusation against the court-martial refers to the partial spirit which they exhibited, and to their evident prejudice against the prisoner. This is apparent in many parts of the proceeding. For instance: Seaton, a negro witness for the prosecution, is cross-examined by the prisoner: "Have you been instructed by any one to say what you have just told the court?" "I have been examined before at Mrs. Meerten's, by Mr. Smith, judge.advocaie."—"Was what you so told put down in writing?" "Yes."—"Have you since seen or heard what was so put down in writing?" "I saw the paper at the time, but not since; it has not been read to me."—Now, Sir, these are very-ordinary questions on a cross-examination. They are very proper, in order to ascertain if a witness has been previously tampered with, or has received any intimation of the evidence expected from him. The court-martial, however, instantly take fire at this cross-examination by the prisoner, charge as an offence that which he had an undoubted right to do, swear the deputy judge-advocate, and thus examine him: "Have you examined the witnesses for the purposes of this prosecution?" "I have examined several of them, and the witness is one."—"Have you attempted to mislead or instruct the witnesses as to the evidence?" "As a witness here I must answer, No; but I should think on ordinary occasions such a question too degrading to be put to me." And then, as if to mark still more strongly the spirit of the court, there comes this paragraph: "The court observed, that the two preceding questions were put for the purpose of protecting the judge-advocate from the imputations attempted to be thrown upon him by the prisoner." Now, I will only ask, not whether such a proceeding as this was consistent with good sense, but whether it could have been prompted by any thing but the most profound ignorance, the most invincible prejudice, the most determined disregard of decency?—The next accusation I make against this court is, their admission of such a mass of hearsay evidence—the hearsay evidence of negro witnesses, two or three deep. I contend also, that the court plainly shewed the feelings by which they were actuated, when they permitted the judge-advocate, after four days preparation, to make the reply which he did. And, lastly, 1230 I maintain that no honest man would have concurred in pronouncing such a sentence as that which the court pronounced, even if he believed the prisoner guilty of the offence imputed to him [hear]. And what, Sir, can be advanced in extenuation of the conduct of the court? Is it that they were ignorant of the law? Can that be said, when among their members was the chief-justice of the colony? That this gentleman is a man of liberal education, was declared to the House the other evening by his hon. and learned friend, the member for Peterborough, who told us that Mr. Wray was a Fellow of Trinity College. He is also a barrister, selected by his majesty's government to fill the highest station in the colony: so that, of course, he must know something of law. What did he do in the extraordinary circumstances in which he found himself placed? Did he remonstrate against the proceedings of the court, or did he not? If he did, that would certainly be some extenuation of his own offence, but would involve in still deeper guilt all the other members of the court: who, having their ignorance dispelled, and their eyes opened to the real character of their proceedings, nevertheless disregarded the opinion and advice of their instructor, and obstinately persevered in a course of error and injustice. But, how monstrous was it, if this gentleman did not remonstrate against the conduct of the court? Good God the instant he heard the nature of the charges preferred against the prisoner, the speech of the judge-advocate in opening the prosecution, the admission of evidence in a shape partial and injurious, ought he not instantly to have expressed his warm indignation—ought he not to have insisted on the strict observance of the rules of law and of justice; and, in the event of a refusal to acquiesce in his representations, to have quitted a court in which he could not remain without shame and degradation? Sir, was his conduct in not doing so, worthy of a man of liberal education, of a fellow of Trinity College, of a barrister? I am ashamed, deeply ashamed, that the gown which I have the honour to wear should have been so disgraced on this occasion.
But, Sir, we have been told that the situation of affairs in Demerara was one of a very critical nature, and that some strong measures were indispensable to the public security. We, who represent, the injustice of these proceedings, have been 1231 told, "All that you say is very true, but some allowance must be made for the urgency of the case." Let us inquire what this urgency was. The trial commenced on the 13th of October: sentence was pronounced on the 24th November, the court having deliberated for five days before they were determined thus to record their everlasting shame. The revolt of the negroes commenced on the I8th of August, and not a trace of its existence remained on the 23rd of the same month. Three months, therefore, elapsed from the extinction of the insurrection to the commencement of the trial. Now, Sir, although I can make allowances for the urgency of art occasion, although I can make allowances for the impressions of fear, I can make no allowances for that urgency, or for that panic which continues for three months, and which then issues in an act of gross cruelty and monstrous injustice [hear]. There never was any thing more unfounded than the extenuation pleaded upon this occasion. From beginning to end the arguments of its supporters only serve to shew the weakness, the hopelessness of their cause.
I am aware that I have already trespassed considerably upon the attention of the House [hear, hear], and in a few words more I shall have done. The House must perceive that I have hitherto abstained from saving a single word upon what has appeared in the missionary copy of these proceedings. If it be true, as stated in that copy, that certain questions proposed by Mr. Smith were refused to be put by the court, then I say that it enhances the guilt of that court a thousand fold, and adds to the disgrace and discredit of the whole transaction in the same proportion [hear, hear]. I do not say whether those statements are true or false, but I maintain that they ought to be inquired into.—Let me now be permitted to say a word or two with respect to the causes of this revolt. It has been said, that that revolt was owing to the dissatisfaction created in the negroes' minds by the doctrines preached by Mr. Smith. Now, Sir, if ever any set of men could be expected to revolt sooner than another, it was the set of men implicated in this transaction, the slaves of Demerara. In the first place, there had been the largest importations of slaves into that colony, and the mortality there was quadruple what it was in other places. According to the official report of September 1823, 1232 it appears that one great cause of the mortality was the absence of medical aid in the hospitals! The governor, it appears, gave orders in May, which had for their object, right or wrong, to prevent the attendance of the negroes at places of public worship. This produced discontent. But, the principal cause of dissatisfaction arose from the extraordinary measures taken with respect to lord Bathurst's letter, which arrived on the 7th of July. What did the governor do upon that occasion? Did he keep silent with respect to the contents of that paper: did he take care that they should not transpire? He did no such thing: on the contrary, he allowed a general rumour to go forth; he allowed it to reach even into the huts of the negroes, that something good had come out for them in a paper; but, up to the 18th of August nothing whatever is published upon the subject. Now, Sir, let me ask, what must be the necessary effect of such treatment upon ignorant minds? Their religious feelings were violated; their hopes were excited by reports respecting a paper, of the contents of which they were kept in ignorance down to the very day of the revolt. Here, then, you have at once the motives which induced the revolt: you have their hopes deterred, the severity of their punishments increased; and if you torture men thus, if you increase their punishments and defeat their hopes, must you not at length drive them to resist that tyranny which they find insupportable? [hear, hear!] Do we not find this to be every day the case? And it is well the it is so. It has pleased God in his wisdom to fix in the human mind a point beyond which endurance will not go, and at which the oppressed is stimulated to turn round and avenge himself upon his oppressor. This has been ordained by the wisdom of an unerring Providence, as a means of preventing the perpetuation of tyranny and slavery [hear, hear!]. The House are aware that Mr. Smith lived on the plantation called Le Resouvenir, and that the next plantation is called Success, to which Quamina and some others of the negroes belonged; others, again, lived on adjoining plantations. It has been already stated, that the orders sent out by lord Bathurst were for the abolition of the cart-whip in the field, and the total prohibition to flogging females. Now, I find that Mr. Hamilton, of Le Resouvenir, stated on the 15th July, that, if he was 1233 not allowed to Hog his female slaves, he would put them into solitary confinement, without food [hear, hear!]. That humane gentleman at the same time comforted himself by expressing his conviction, that the plan of Mr. Canning would not be carried into effect. I sincerely hope he will find himself disappointed; I hope and trust that that right hon. gentleman will, as I know he can, introduce such measures as neither this manager, nor all the managers of all the estates in our colonies, will be able to resist. But Mr. Hamilton did not stop here: when he heard that cart-whips were to be prohibited in the field, he humanely furnished his drivers with cats-o'-nine-tails in addition. To the credit of Mr. Van Cooten, however, he took the cats-o'-nine-tails from the drivers, and turned Mr. Hamilton away.
I cannot conclude without observing, that the spirit which dictated this prosecution, and seems to have attended it in its progress before the court-martial, is not yet at rest. I find that there still exists the same spirit of resistance to the mild and lenient measures advocated by the mother country; the same anxiety to persecute every individual who stands up in support of the cause of truth and justice. The House are already aware of the part taken by the rev. Mr. Austin, a clergyman of the established church, in this transaction; but they are not, perhaps, aware of the extent of malice, and misrepresentation, and obloquy, to which he has been subjected, in consequence of the honourable and Christian part which he took on the trial of Mr. Smith. In the Guiana Chronicle and Demerara Gazette of the 26th of April, I find the following observations:
"And now for the sleek-headed Philistine—the preacher of bad-will to all men—the slanderer of all men, and the evil spirit of Demerara." In the Guiana Chronicle of the 9th February the following paragraph appeared:—"There is some individual in this colony, a wolf in sheep's clothing, who is doing incalculable mischief to the cause of truth and the interest of the community, by his methodktical mummery, and the mendacious and scandalous writings to people of his own class in England. The name of the individual has been hinted to us, and not only hinted to us, but, by the sacredness of the cause we advocate, if we happen to fix on the worthless animal in a tangible and credited 1234 shape, it shall be no fault of his if we do not make him publicly execrable.
"This wolf in sheep's clothing, this worthless animal, we have now fixed upon in a 'tangible and credited shape;' and, as the editor of the Royal Gazette says, the rev. Mr. Austin is the man!' To find language sufficiently expressive to denote our abhorrence of the conduct of this individual, is impossible. There is no language in the known world capable of supplying us with words sufficiently strong for the purpose. It deserves every epithet that is bad: it merits every stigma which can be cast upon it: and it is calculated to excite that unlimited reprobation, with which the acts even of the most hardened criminals are universally visited. To repeat the extract from Mr. Austin's letter, verbatim et literatim, as it appears in the Missionary Chronicle, will not be necessary, it is recorded in our last; it will only be proper that we take to pieces that part of it which contains a direct charge against the inhabitants of this colony, of attempting the life of a fellow-creature. In this we are in some measure relieved by our correspondent, 'Episcopalian,' whose communication we recommend to the perusal of our readers.
"In penning this paragraph, Nothing but those principles of the Gospel of Peace, which he (Mr. Smith) has been proclaiming, could have prevented a dreadful effusion of blood here, and saved the lives of those very persons who are now (I shudder to write it) seeking his—Mr. Austin has not used that circumspection which his better sense ought to have prescribed for him. The contents of this paragraph are as false and libellous as falsehood and libel can be, and we recommend the gentlemen of this colony, who have any public spirit in their veins, and whose rank in society entitles them to display it, to wait upon his honour, the first fiscal, in a body, and insist upon the vilifier and traducer being prosecuted for his scandalous and infamous charge. This is the way in which our colonists are sacrificed. This is the way in which materials are afforded to the saints to fabricate their weapons of attack, and to bear down the colonists before them. The very people whom we clothe and feed, the very people whom we nourish and enrich, are those who are our bitterest enemies, and who do us more mischief by far, than a whole host of declared opponents. We meet the latter on fair terms, but we have no means of defending 1235 ourselves against the former. They stab us in the dark, and the blow becomes mortal before a remedy can be applied. And will the people of this colony continue the tool of these fellows any longer? Will the inhabitants of Demerara permit Mr. Austin to continue to pocket their money at the expense of their lives? For what can we expect, when our own well-paid minister, a minister of the established church, rises in rebellion against us, but that ruin awaits our property—and—they do take our lives,When they do take the means by which we live.'If they do, we can only say, that Mr. Austin will be fully authorized to follow the line of business he has so fitly commenced, and to go on dealing out, by wholesale and retail, and for exportation, ready-made lies, and other articles, for the convenience and assistance of the saints. If, however, they do not, and we are in hopes that this will be the case, let them pursue that line of conduct towards their lurking foe, as shall render his longer residing amongst us more a matter of necessity than of choice. Let them do this, and they will prove themselves to be the friends of the country.
"Mr. Austin's character is forever gone. As a clergyman, as a preacher of the doctrines of our Saviour, the fundamental principle of which was truth, he is sunk beyond redemption; his honour is forfeited; his name is blighted; and the pulpit cannot shield him from shame and disgrace, nor from the justly merited reproaches of an injured and calumniated set of people. Wherever he goes, the finger of hatred shall point him out, and derision shall laugh him to scorn; while the misery of those who are connected with him shall add poignancy to the reflection, that his reputation is blasted for ever; and that, for mere worldly gain, he betrayed the friends who fostered him, and,—'like the base Indian,Threw a pearl away richer than all his tribe.'"It was our intention to have entered more largely into this matter—to have noticed the forfeiture of his word, of his honour, to his excellency the late governor, which he sacredly offered as a pledge, that he would not write home to the missionary society upon any thing connected with the trial of the late Smith; and to have touched upon his remarks before the Board of Inquiry, &c. But these points are ably bandied by an Episcopalian,' and supersede the utility or necessity of our saying a word more.
1236 "In conclusion, we appeal to the inhabitants—we call upon them, as they respect the laws and institutions of the colony—as they feel for the common weal and welfare—and as they are identified with its safety and its danger—to unite in expelling, by all the legal means in their power, this pest from the shores of the country. We call upon them, as fathers, as Christians, and as men, to discontinue their attendance at his church, until his presence shall no longer profane it; and to offer up their morning and evening prayers in the retirement of their own dwellings, where the honest sentiments of devotion will be heard, though no crafty gownsman shall superintend the scene.' We call upon them to do all this, as a duty they owe to themselves, and to the country which by birth or adoption is their own; and, finally, we call upon them to. shun, in public and private places, all intercourse with the being who is a disgrace to his cloth, and an enemy to the establishments and prosperity of the colony".—[hear, hear! from both sides of the House].
Now, Sir, mark:—.The revolt took place on the 19th of August; the publication which I have just read was given to the world on the 26th of the following April—a period of seven months having elapsed! The House will from this be able to judge what a malignant and persecuting spirit still exists in that colony. I could shew from other documents (but it is not necessary) the same spirit of hostility to religious education—the same determination to degrade the negro character, openly, disgracefully avowed in that colony. And Sir, those opinions will lead to the humiliation and disgrace of our tribunals of public justice in the colonies, unless this House expresses in the strongest and most decided terms its reprobation of such proceedings [hear, hear!]. If you do not do this, you will let it go abroad that you do not mean to govern your colonies upon principles of law and justice. An awful responsibility now rests upon his majesty's ministers and upon this House. If we allow this question to. go by without deep and serious consideration, we shall let slip an opportunity not easily regained. The right hon. gentleman opposite (Mr. Canning), whose talents all admire, and whose weight in this House and the country is notorious, can settle the question at once [hear, hear!]. That right hon. gentleman has hitherto stood forward as the 1237 friend and advocate of every measure introduced for the benefit of the negro population of our colonies. I call upon him to consider what will be the effect of negativing my hon. and learned friend's motion this evening. I call upon him to reflect upon the triumph that will be obtained in Demerara by such a proceeding. Let it once be known in that settlement that this motion has been negatived, and the persecutors of Mr. Smith will rejoice, the shouts of victory will burst forth. How, then, is the complaint of the humble negro to be heard—now are injustices, daily inflicted upon him, to be remedied? The consequence of such a determination on the part of this House will be, that the severity exercised to the negroes, will be increased an hundred fold, the cause of religion will fall to the ground, government will lose its authority, and all the hateful and degrading passions of man will be brought into full and unrestrained action [hear, hear!]. I say, Sir, that we owe it to ourselves—we owe it to justice—we owe it to him who is gone to render his account at the bar of Heaven, to come to no decision upon this question which, as conscientious men, we cannot approve of as just and right. I call, then, upon every man who hears me, not to vote until he has read the evidence, and fully sifted the grounds upon which the question stands. I hope the decision to which we shall come will be in unison with the voice of the country, and that we shall, by our vote this night, mark, as it deserves, an act alike repugnant to British justice and British feeling [hear!].
§ Mr. Tindal
said, that, in rising to oppose the motion of his hon. and learned friend, it was not his intention to offer himself either as the apologist or the defender of certain little irregularities which had, it appeared, crept into the proceedings before this court-martial. If his hon. and learned friend who had just sat down had called upon the House to consider what would be the effect of negativing this motion, he (Mr. T.) begged of them to consider what would be the effect of adopting it [hear, hear!]. The motion of his hon. and learned friend was for an humble address to his Majesty, stating, on the part of that House, that they had taken into their most serious consideration the papers submitted to them relative to the trial of Mr. Smith, and that they felt it their duty to declare, that they contemplated with feelings of 1238 serious alarm and deep sorrow the facts therein stated. The House should bear in mind, that by this motion they would condemn, unheard, a set of men, bred in the school of honour, and who had acted under the solemn sanction of an oath. It should be recollected, that if Mr. Smith's character was dear to him and to his friends, there were in the settlement of Demerara, gentlemen whose characters were also dear to them.
He could not help expressing some surprise at the turn which the debate appeared to have taken since the last discussion. On the former evening, he understood the main point argued to be the illegality of the tribunal before which this missionary had been tried. To-night it appeared that his hon. and learned friend who had just sat down admitted what he (Mr. T.) had been led to consider as the great offence. [Dr. Lushington dissented from this statement]. For surely, if the illegality of the tribunal could have been shewn, it must have appeared from the stores of learning which his hon. and learned friend, (Dr. Lush-ington) was capable of bringing to bear upon it. Before the House could pronounce an opinion, that there had been a gross violation of law in the proceedings of the court-martial, it must found such an opinion on one of these grounds—either the measure of punishment inflicted must have been too heavy; or the court must have been without jurisdiction; or the conduct of the court must have been grossly partial and unjust. He for his part took it, that the court was competent to the performance of the duties imposed upon it, and to award in this case the punishment of death; but, lest any doubt should remain upon that point, he should trouble the House with a few authorities, to prove, that the punishment of death, was the only punishment that could, according to law, be inflicted for the offence. It was hardly necessary for him to state, that the laws of Demerara were founded on the Dutch law; or to add, that the laws of Holland were founded upon the old Roman law. And no man would hesitate to admit, that, by the ancient civil law, the punishment of death was inflicted alike upon persons who committed treason, or who, knowing of its commission, concealed that knowledge. Huber, an eminent writer upon civil law of the sixteenth century, laid it down, in terms not to be mistaken, that 1239 to conceal treason was the same offence as to commit it; and he added, "if any man excites sedition, or commits it, he shall suffer death." It was not for him to defend that law, or to contend that the milder law of England was preferable; it was sufficient for him to know that it was the law of Demerara, which was the Dutch law; and it was in Demerara that Mr. Smith was tried. The hon. and learned gentleman quoted other writers upon civil law, French and Dutch, in support of this part of his argument, in which it was stated, that a person concealing high treason was liable to the punishment of death, although he had no participation in the criminal act. The House had, therefore, a concurrent system of law established in Europe, in support of the power of the court to pass the sentence which it did on Mr. Smith.
Having now disposed of the first point, with respect to the measure of punishment, which, he trusted, he had set altogether at rest, he would apply himself to the second point; namely, the jurisdiction of the court, and inquire, whether it was not the best constituted and most impartial court that could have been, under all the circumstances, obtained. He agreed, that, as a court-martial sitting under the mutiny act, it was only the proclamation of martial law which could justify it. But, the proclamation of martial law at once superseded all civil process, and made it necessary that some other courts should be substituted in its stead. Before he went further, he wished to guard himself against a conclusion which had been come to by some hon. and learned gentlemen on the other side. It was said, that martial-law had been proclaimed on the 19th, and that the offence of Mr. Smith, if any, had been committed on the 17th; and then it was asked, whether that law was to have an ex-post facto operation, and that under it all by-gone offences were to be tried? He said, certainly not; it would not be lawful to try in this way an offence committed last year, or at any previous period, which gave it a character distinct and separate from the circumstances which occasioned the proclamation of martial-law. But here the case was different: Mr. Smith was charged with having a guilty knowledge of meditated treason and rebellion on the 17th of August, and with having concealed that knowledge. On the 18th, the ne- 1240 groes revolt, and, in consequence, martial-law was the next day proclaimed. Was he not, then, drawing too nice and subtle distinctions—distinctions unworthy of the hon. and learned members on the other side—to say, that the offence of concealing the knowledge of the treason on the 17th, was a by-gone offence, and not an offence cognisable by this court-martial, there being then, under martial-law, no other court in the colony by which it could be tried?
Having said so much about the offence, he would inquire what the construction of the court was, and whether it was not the best that could have been obtained? And, first, if a court-martial had not been appointed, by what tribunal could Mr. Smith have been tried? According to the law of the colony in ordinary cases, he would have been tried by a court composed of the president of the court of justice, and a certain number of planters, who would be judges alike of the law and the fact, and who, as planters, would necessarily have been interested in the decision. Now, he would put it to the candour of the House, whether a court composed of British officers, for the most part strangers, having no connexion with the colony (with the exception of the Vendue-Master), and therefore disinterested—he would put it to the House, whether a court so constituted was not preferable to the former, and more likely to be favourable to the prisoner? His hon. and learned friend had not acted quite fairly in his allusions to Mr. Wray, the president of the civil tribunal. He was a gentleman of liberal education and amiable manners, to whom he had the pleasure of being known in the course of professional intercourse; and he did not believe that he would, for a moment, have lent himself to any base or unworthy proceedings, such as those described.—Again: with respect to the proceedings of the court. Leading questions had been objected to; but it would be found, that more leading questions had been put on the part of the prisoner than by the other side, and that, upon the whole, the balance was considerably in his favour. The same observation would apply to another complaint, that of hearsay evidence. He had again to complain of a little unfairness on the part of his hon. and learned friend, in not using, with his usual candour, the observations made by his hon. and learned friend (Mr. Scarlett) on a former evening, re- 1241 lative to the statements of some of the witnesses having been confirmed by Mr. Smith himself. Now, it appeared from the evidence, page 41, that he was present at a conversation, in which, while he was taking a glass of wine in an inner room, he heard Quamina and Seaton talk in a low tone, and speak of "driving their managers" and "a new law." Upon this part of the case it was asked, whether every man should be bound to prove an alibi, against whom it was stated that he had been in some place where something illegal was spoken? But that was not the point at issue. Here it appeared, that testimony was given by Mr. Smith himself, strongly corroborative of what had been stated by Bristol and Seaton. It could not be disputed, that there was clear evidence of the following facts; namely, that a revolt had taken place on the 18th of August; that that revolt had been headed by persons high in office or duly attending at the Bethel chapel, where the accused officiated; that Mr. and Mrs. Smith remained in their house upon the estate, after the other whites in the colony had become alarmed and were flying for shelter: that on the evening when the revolt broke out, Mr. and Mrs. Smith had been found walking near the spot; that Smith had had an opportunity of informing the governor of what he knew, as he had been that morning in town on horseback, for the purpose of consulting his medical adviser; and that, in the evening of that day, he was put in possession of information which he ought to have communicated to the governor, but which, though he had an opportunity of doing so, he withheld.
He now came to the fact of the communications made to Mr. Smith on Sunday the 17th of August. It appeared, from the evidence of Bristol and Seaton, as well as of Aves and Bailey, that he had had an intimation of discontent and dissatisfaction amongst the slaves so far back as six weeks before. But, to come to the case of the 17th: Mr. Smith, in page40, says, "They (Bristol, Seaton, and Quamina) were all standing together, and I went into the hall to get a glass of wine. While drinking it, I heard Quamina and Seaton, who were talking together in a low tone of voice, use the words 'manager, and new law.' This induced me to rebuke them for talking of such things." Why, he asked, rebuke them, unless he considered their conduct improper; and if improper, 1242 why conceal what he knew from the governor? He then goes on to say; "From all that passed, I had not the smallest idea that they intended to revolt. The receipt of Jackey's note on Monday evening brought to my recollection what I had heard on the preceding day, and caused me then to attach to it a meaning which I had not attached to it before." But, the fair inference is, that he knew more of the conspiracy than he was willing to admit. For mark what Peter says, when examined by the prisoner: "Were you at the chapel the Sunday before the revolt?" Yes".—"Did you see Quamina of Success on that day?" "Yes"—"Where did you see him?" "At Mr. Smith's house."—"Were there any other persons present?" "Bristol, Seaton, a boy named Shute, a field negro of Le Resouvenir, and Mr. Smith, were present, and, with myself, made six."—"Did Quamina say any thing to the prisoner; if yea, what was it?" "Yes he said that they should drive all those managers from the estates to the town, to the courts, to see what was the best thing they could obtain for the slaves: then Mr. Smith answered, and said, that that was foolish; how will you be able to drive the white people to town? and he said further, the white people were trying to do good for them, and that if the slaves behaved so, they would lose their right; and he said, 'Quamina, don't bring yourself into any disgrace; that the white people were now making a law to prevent the women being flogged, but that the law had not come out yet; and that the men should not get any flogging in the field, but when they required to be flogged they should be brought to the manager, attorney, or proprietor, for that purpose;' and he said, Quamina, do you hear this?' and then we came out"—"What did Quamina say in answer, when Mr. Smith said 'you hear?'" "He said, 'yes, sir;' that was all."—He would ask, could any person, who was acquainted with the state of society at Demerara, who knew the strong distinction between the whites and blacks, and who possessed the knowledge which it was proved had been communicated to Mr. Smith—could he, he would ask, be considered as doing the duty of a good citizen in not making it known to the government? Would any man but Mr. Smith have contented himself with exhorting the blacks to be peaceable; and not have found it his duty to caution the government, that such steps might be 1243 taken as the probable course of events rendered necessary?
It was important, too, for the House to recollect, as was stated in evidence, at page 26, that a letter was sent on the Monday, the morning of the insurrection, by Jack Gladstone to Jacky Read, which the latter sends, enclosed in one from himself, to the prisoner. Jack Gladstone, it would be recollected, was the son of Qua-mina. The House would see, by referring to this letter, how far it was confirmatory. A slave, Jack Gladstone, writes to Jacky Head, and Read sends the letter to Smith. Now, what is Smith's answer? "To Jacky Read—I am ignorant of the affair you allude to, and your note is too late for me to make any inquiry. I learnt yesterday that some scheme was in agitation, but, without asking any questions, I begged them to be quiet, and trust they will. Hasty, violent, or concerted measures, are quite contrary to the religion we profess; and I hope you will have nothing to do with them." This was Mr. Smith's answer and could any reasonable man doubt, after having read it, that Mr. Smith had not more knowledge than he thought it prudent to confess? At least, he must have known there was something in agitation. But this would be confirmed, he thought, by Jack Gladstone's letter, which was as follows:—"My dear brother Jacky—I hope you are well, and I write to you concerning our agreement last Sunday. I hope you will do according to your promise. This letter is written by Jack Gladstone, and the rest of the brethren of Bethel chapel; and all the rest of the brothers are ready, and put their trust in you, and we hope that you will be read}' also; we hope there will be he disappointment either one way or the other. We shall begin to-morrow night at the Thomas, about seven o'clock." Now, this letter was from the brethren of Bethel chapel, and sent to the rest of the brethren; it came to Mr. Smith three quarters of an hour before the revolt was to break out. It was proved, by the evidence of his own servant Charlotte, that he had a horse in his stable; and what prevented him that instant from sending a communication to the government? He would now look at the answer. The letter of Jacky Read says: "Dear Sir, Excuse the liberty I take in writing to you; I hope this letter may find yourself and Mrs. Smith well. Jack Gladstone has sent me a letter, which appears as if 1244 I had made an agreement upon some actions, which I never did; neither did I promise him any thing; and I hope that you will see to it, and inquire of members whatever it is that they may have in view, which I am ignorant of; and to inquire after it, and know what it is about. The time is determined on for seven o'clock to-night." It was important to notice what was Mr. Smith's answer to this. Was he ignorant of the affair alluded to in the letter of Read? Must he not have known of those concerted measures, of which he alone speaks? If he did know of them, was he doing his duty, as a citizen of Demerara, in keeping this knowledge to himself, remaining quiescent when the colony was on the eve of a rebellion? "I am ignorant," he says, "of this affair." But, of what affair? and did not his use of such words shew that a suspicion at least did exist in his mind [hear, hear!]. Why fancy "hasty, violent, and concerted measures," when no such measures were alluded to in the letter, unless he had good reason to know they were to take place? This part of the letter was extremely strong as a proof, and ought to be well weighed.
He would not go through all the details of the evidence, but allude to some parts of it only. It was on the evening of Wednesday that Quamina made his appearance and received some provision from Mr. Smith. This shews distinctly that there was not only a communication, but a connexion between the two. If the only question were the guilt or innocence of Mr. Smith, this ought to be considered as entirely settling that point. But this was not the question before the House. They were called on to pass a censure on the court-martial which tried him. Was this usual in other cases? Was it customary, when a prisoner was committed by a magistrate, after that magistrate had duly investigated the matter, to censure that magistrate, if it were afterwards discovered that the evidence had been erroneous? In trials before the usual courts of justice, where the judges used their best discretion, was it, he would ask, customary to pass a censure on them immediately after they had pronounced the sentence of the law? It was not; and they never were censured for their proceedings, when they behaved with a proper discretion; and it was only in cases in which all mankind cried out against them, that they were subjected to reproof or punishment [hear, hear!]. 1245 He did not mean now to argue the question, whether Mr. Smith was guilty or innocent; but he meant to say, that it would be the hardest thing possible, without hearing the members of that court, without hearing those who tried the prisoner, and learning from them what parts of this evidence influenced their minds; it would be the hardest case possible to pass a vote of censure on those honourable persons, and consign them to ignominy for life [The learned gentleman sat down amidst considerable cheering.
§ Mr. J. Williams
said: Mr. Speaker, my hon. and learned friend, for whom, on all accounts, I have great respect, and whose judicial and temperate manner forms so striking, and, so far as he is concerned, favourable a contrast to the violence of the proceedings which he undertakes to defend, began by observing, that the debate has this night assumed a new shape. I am at a loss to account for this observation; for surely the House cannot have forgotten, that my hon. and learned friend, who introduced this subject (Mr. Brougham), in a speech worthy of his abilities, arraigned the whole proceedings; the constitution of the court, the law under which they affected to act, their conduct during the trial, and the deficiency of the evidence upon which they undertook to convict. To my hon. and learned friend himself (Mr. Tindal) the observation may, with much greater truth, be applied. He, indeed, has introduced into the debate a perfect novelty. For neither the hon. member for Newcastle, connected with the colonial defiartment (Mr. W. Horton); nor my earned friend the member for Peterborough (Mr. Scarlett), who expressly abandoned the sentence, which my hon. and learned friend, by his new lights, steps forward to defend, ever thought of resting their palliation (for I cannot call it defence) upon those authorities which the fortunate adjournment for a week has enabled my hon. and learned friend to produce for the support and maintenance of the case. But, above all, never did those persons who had the conduct of the cause upon the spot, and who might be supposed to abound with precepts of colonial law, refer or allude to that recondite learning upon which now, for the first time reliance has been placed, as the foundation and justification of these proceedings. What said the deputy judge-advocate Mr. Smith? 1246 Where, in the course of that most laboured harangue, occupying, as it does, eighteen mortal pages of the parliamentary report, during which the learned gentleman tortured his faculties in a manner and to an extent so remarkable, when compared with the opening speech of half a page—where, I repeat, is to be found any reference to the civil law, to the law of France, or of Holland, with citations from which, by an after-thought, my learned friend has instructed the House? Not a word of any of them from the deputy Judge-advocate. He had bottomed himself upon other authorities—upon Hale, upon Blackstone, upon living writers on the English law of evidence, Serjeant Peake and Mr. Phillips—upon the Mutiny act;—in short, upon the laws or statutes of England, and no where else.
Sir, my hon. and learned friend has observed early in his speech, and again at its close, that the resolutions import matter of grave and serious accusation. And if it be so, with whom is the blame? With the resolutions, or the acts of those whom they arraign? If the language be of some severity, it is but copied from those authorities for whom my hon. friend, I know, has an unfeigned and habitual respect, and who express themselves with some harshness, or, if my hon. friend will have it so, coarseness of language, respecting excesses committed under colour of martial law—if law it deserves to be called at all. Lord Hale, indeed, declares, "that it is in reality no law, but something indulged rather than allowed as law; that the necessity of order and discipline is the only thing that can give it countenance, and therefore it ought not to be permitted in time of peace, when the king's courts are open for all persons to receive justice according to the law of the land; and if a court-martial put a man to death in time of peace, the officers are guilty of murder." To the same effect, and in terms of equal severity, lord Coke also, the great apostle of the law of England, expresses himself: "If," says he, "a lieutenant or other, that has commission of martial law, doth in time of peace, hang or otherwise execute a man, by colour of martial law, this is murder." My hon. and learned friend also, by the never-failing course pursued in this House when the conduct of persons vested with authority, and more particularly if accused of an abuse or stretch of that authority, is brought under review, has said much of the respectability 1247 of the governor, and the gentlemen composing the court-martial. Into that question, Sir, I will not enter. It costs me nothing to believe—I am ready to admit—that the character given to them all, and to one (Mr. Wray) from personal knowledge of my hon. friend, may have been perfectly well deserved. My concern is with the particular transaction, and not with the men. The object of the motion is, by a notice of this case (a most fit and proper one surely for the purpose), to read a lesson to our colonies and dependencies—to have it clearly understood and practically taught, that this House will allow no instance of violence and oppression, and, above all, violence and oppression under the colour of legal forms, to pass without due notice and animadversion.
Sir, my learned friend who spoke last, with the exception already noticed, has retreated upon the same ground already occupied by my learned friend, the member for Peterborough. He also rests upon the concealment by Mr. Smith, on the Sunday, of—the plot, as he says; of—something, as I say, according to the evidence—or, as the fashion has been to call it, misprision, upon a supposed (I trust I shall shew it to be an unfounded) analogy to the case of high treason. It is, perhaps, hardly worth stopping to notice, that, though my learned friend set out by assuming the same point of time as my learned friend, the member for Peterborough, for the alleged misprision—Sunday—he afterwards (I presume, because two accusations seemed better than one) travelled into the Monday evening, and fixed upon the suppression of the letter as further misprision. This subsidiary charge, however, it will be seen at once, profits my learned friend little; because the revolt began about four or five, or, in other words, about two hours before the receipt of the letter, which my learned friend says Mr. Smith ought to have revealed, to put people on their guard against mischief to happen! Permit me, however, Sir, for a moment to pause, for the purpose of remarking, that, of criminal intention, of the consciousness of wrong, of moral guilt, Mr. Smith has been by all acquitted. My learned friend who spoke last never went the length of making that imputation; nor my learned friend the member for Peterborough; nor the hon. member for Newcastle, connected with the colonial department. The latter gen- 1248 tleman throughout his speech, so far from expressing his belief of that guilt, which was, by the sentence at least, imputed to this unfortunate man, and which, if justly imputed, made him, of all men in the colony, a hundred-fold the most criminal, spoke of "enthusiasm,"—of "indiscretion,"—of "imprudence,"—of "objectionable conduct,"—of "conduct approaching so near to criminality, that it assumed the aspect of criminality itself;"—but of his belief in guilt, never. Consider, also, Sir, I beg of you, how much has been abandoned by gentlemen on the opposite side. What is become of two-thirds of the reply of the deputy Judge-advocate?—of 12 out of 18 pages of the report of his speech? Have my honourable friends forgotten, or do they cast behind them with scorn (I am sure they do), the use attempted to be made of the private journal of Mr. Smith; the laborious proof of the sale by him of bibles, testaments, and primers, to the negroes; the miserable details of presents made of ducks, chickens, and yams, to Mr. and Mrs. Smith; the breach of quarantine, in preaching to the slaves supposed to have about them the possibility of contagion from the small-pox, and not driving them from his chapel, four years before (though if the Mutiny act had any relation to the proceedings, no offence committed more than three years before was cognisable at all); and that most serious and enormous outrage, so copiously proved and enlarged upon, of Mr. Smith having read the Old Testament to the negroes, and, above all, that horrible narrative of the escape of the children of Israel from Pharaoh and his host—things which, however culpable on the other side of the ocean, are enjoined by the articles of the church, prescribed by its liturgy, and read, when they happen to officiate, by its dignitaries, to the white congregations of England? These charges, though well calculated, it seems, for the fiery climate of Demerara, obtain no currency in this more temperate region; but hon. gentlemen, one and all, and my learned friend who last addressed the House as much as any of the rest, have concentrated their defence in a corner of the third charge—this same misprision. And within narrow limits surely, it must be admited, the defence is now cooped up, when it is remembered that my learned friend, the member for Peterborough, the founder of that defence, abandoned the commencement of 1249 the proceedings, because no man, he thought most truly, should be tried by martial law for acts done before its existence; that he abandoned also the conclusion, for the sentence he did not approve: and that the middle shared the same fate, for he censured the ravaging of his journal, and the attempt, by extracts and selections, to fix criminality upon Mr. Smith.
But, Sir, to pursue the argument of my learned friend who spoke last, which seeks to prove that, for misprision or concealment of treason, by the law newly brought to light, the sentence of death was at least within the jurisdiction and competence of the court. Has my learned friend shewn, or attempted to shew, that the law on which he relies, if ever the law of the colony, still remained so after the cession to this country, and to the time of the trial? Does he mean to contend, that every usage and institution, of whatever kind, however outrageous and monstrous for absurdity or cruelty, and repugnant to the essential principles of the law and constitution of England, if once existing in a conquered or ceded territory, for ever continues in force? This was necessary for the conclusiveness of the argument, but it has not been done. On the contrary, the silence of the colonial lawyers, and their constant reference to the law of England, is almost conclusive against him, upon the matter of fact. But, further still: has my learned friend considered (if he has, he has not communicated his views and opinions to the House), how far Mr. Smith, a British subject, could be involved in the guilt of treason by the proceedings, however dangerous, of the blacks, upon the occasion in question? It has not, I am persuaded, escaped the observation of my learned friend, that the charges themselves no where describe the revolt and rebellion (as it is termed) to have been a revolt and rebellion against the constituted authorities of the colony, which, perhaps by fair inference, might imply a rebellion against the king: but the revolt and rebellion is defined (in the only place where a definition is given at all) to have been one "against the authority of their lawful masters, managers, and overseers." Be it then that these unfortunate beings, by rules and orders established against them, and them only, by the will and pleasure of the whites—for I will not condescend to dignify them by the respectable appellation of law; law 1250 implying equality, law protecting every class and denomination, law recognizing no distinction, and least of all that of colour—be it, that the negro slaves, for running away, striking work, for combination (to use a phrase which I trust will soon be less familiar in this country), had been guilty of revolt and rebellion against their masters; or, if you please, had been guilty, in the phraseology of Demerara applicable to slaves, of high treason: does it therefore follow, that a white inhabitant, one of the privileged class, and a free subject of the king, can, by the same acts, involve himself in the guilt—not of Demerara high treason, but—of high treason within the statute of Edward 3rd; that statute, which covers the accused with the whole armour of law, not for the purpose of oppression but defence, and of which Mr. Smith has, by this course of proceeding, been deprived? These, Sir, are, as it seems to me, serious considerations, overlooked by my learned friend, and yet necessary to be established before he safely arrives at the conclusion that, even with his own law, the sentence of the court can, in its utmost extent, be sustained.
I proceed, however, Sir, to the evidence to sustain this charge of misprision (whatever the punishment might legally have been), alleged to have been committed by Mr. Smith on the Sunday, by withholding knowledge then communicated to him; this being, as I have observed already, the view of the subject originally taken by my learned friend the member for Peterborough. And here, again, I maintain, that this harsh and forced analogy, derived from the doctrine of high treason, absolutely and completely fails. But I beg, Sir, before I proceed, to be distinctly understood as abandoning no portion of the argument of my learned friend the member for Ilchester (Dr. Lushington); that I adopt all his observations, and agree in the conclusion, deduced from his most judicious and skilful dissection of the evidence, that the quality of the testimony, and the collision and contradiction amongst the witnesses (and such witnesses!) ought to have led any reasonable man to the conclusion of the innocence of Mr. Smith. I believe the larger position—the outer works, which he occupied—may be, as they were by my learned friend, successfully defended. My ground, however, shall be taken within his. Admitting, then, that 1251 the evidence bad been from persons the most unsuspicious, instead of run-away slaves with halters about their necks: granting that the testimony of Bristol and Manuel (the only two witnesses for the prosecution who speak of any knowledge of any thing by Mr. Smith) must be taken without reserve; and, further, that it (I speak more particularly of that of Bristol, as being the most important) received no contradiction, instead of being contradicted by not less than three other witnesses—even upon this most gratuitous admission, made only, as you perceive, Sir, for the sake of argument, I fearlessly contend, that this charge is not proved. To sustain this hopeful analogy, Mr. Smith must have had knowledge of a revolt and rebellion—a settled and organized plan, and not merely a vague suspicion of something about to happen. This cannot be denied. My learned friend the member for Peterborough, who seemed to quarrel with a statement of my learned friend the member for Knaresborough, understanding that statement as more generally laid down than it actually was, and said, that it is not necessary, in order to make a man an accessary to treason, or guilty of misprision, that the treason should be complete—as, for instance, if a plan be formed to put the king to death on a certain day, a man may be guilty of misprision by secreting the conspiracy before the accomplishment of the purpose—must also admit to us, that the knowledge must be of treason, and nothing else (I perceive he does admit it, and it could not be otherwise); but that a suppressed knowledge of general and rising dissatisfaction, of personal but indeterminate hostility, of any thing, in a word, short of high treason itself, would not amount to guilt.
Try the case, Sir, by these admitted principles: The evidence of a communication to Mr. Smith, relied upon by gentlemen opposite, is that of Manuel and Bristol; for it should be premised, that there is no proof that he had any knowledge of the meeting at Middle-walk on Sunday afternoon; Bristol, in his cross-examination (by the court, of course, as the answer was expected to be unfavourable) expressly stating, that neither he, nor Quamina to his knowledge, acquainted Mr. Smith with it. Now, the evidence of Manuel is, that he was at Mr. Smith's on a Sunday (mistakenly supposed by him to have been three weeks before the 1252 commotion) and that there was a conversation between Mr. Smith and Quamina as to the paper come from England. "He (Mr. Smith) told Quamina, that there was no freedom in the paper at all; he told them to bear patience; if there was any thing good come, it was come for the women, because the drivers were not to carry whips any longer in the field. Quamina told Mr. Smith to take Jack and Joseph, and talk to them; Mr. Smith agreed to take them after chapel; and after one o'clock he did take them, but I cannot tell what he said. Quamina told the parson, in my hearing, that Jack and Joseph wished to make trouble on account of this affair about the paper, and to make a push for it, and for that reason he wished the parson to speak to them." And this is the whole revelation deposed to by Manuel. Not, I beg of you to observe, Sir, that the negroes were determined to make "a push for it;" not that they listened to the suggestions of Jack and Joseph, or even knew of their "wishes to make trouble:" nothing definite, nothing specific, nothing general, so far as appears, was to be attempted, or had even been thought of. The other piece of evidence is at page 14 of the parliamentary report; for I also, as well as my learned friend the member for Ilchester, do not travel out of that. This is Bristol's account of what passed on the Sunday. "Quamina asked Mr. Smith if any freedom had come out for them in a paper: he told them, No, but that there was a good law come out, but there was no freedom come out for them: he said, You must wait a little, and the governor, or your masters, will tell you about it. Quamina then said, Jack and Joseph were talking much about it; he said, 'they (Jack and Joseph) wanted to take it by force.'" This is the whole of the evidence as to communication to Mr. Smith, who proceeds immediate!}', according to the account, to use to Quamina (to be repeated to Jack and Joseph) such arguments as, it must be admitted, were best calculated to repress any design. He points out the difficulty attending any enterprise of violence, and the means by which it could not fail to be speedily put down, and, naturally, as a leading topic, alludes to the soldiers, who would be sure to overpower them. And here again the same remarks apply: it is a communication of no general plan; it is of a purpose, be it observed, of the same two negroes, not, 1253 so far as appears, divulged to, still less adopted by, the whole body. The conversation, however, is not with the two malcontents, but with a third person, who himself disapproves, and wishes them to be checked. The very utmost that the most malignant sagacity and hostile exaggeration can make of this, is, that Mr. Smith knew (as in his letter, page 26, he admits) of "some scheme" in agitation, though, at the same time, he adds, he exhorted them to be quiet. To infer from this that he knew of the scheme, the plan of revolt and rebellion (which, by the way, according to the evidence of Seaton, page 22, did not exist till after Jack and Quamina were seized, between four and five o'clock on Monday afternoon) is not acting upon evidence, but concluding in favour of guilt upon wild surmise and hazardous conjecture, and that, too, in a capital case.
And here I must observe, that my learned friend who has just sat down, if, as I rather collected from his manner, his eye-sight did not fail him, stopped short in reading the testimony of Peter (page 63), in a manner most unfair and unfavourable to Mr. Smith. This witness, after having given a very different version from Bristol's of the conversation with Mr. Smith on the Sunday—(I am now alluding to that part of the evidence which has been read to the House)—proceeds to give the remonstrances of Mr. Smith, as follows: "He (Mr. Smith) said further, the white people were trying to do good for them; and that if the slaves behaved so, they would lose their right; and he said, Quamina, don't bring yourself into disgrace; that the white people were now making a law to prevent the women being flogged, but that the law had not come out yet; and that the men should not get any flogging in the field, but, when they required to be flogged, should be brought to the manager, attorney, or proprietor, for that purpose; and he said, 'Quamina do you hear this?' and Quamina said, in answer, 'Yes, Sir,' that was all." (p. 63.) Why, Sir, this man's evidence, which alludes only to the same conversation as Bristol, and contradicts him in many points, proves also this, that Mr. Smith, when he was informed of something (whether more or less) intended, had good reason for believing that his dissuasion and reproof would be attended with the desired effect. What sort of reasoning is this? The deputy judge-ad- 1254 vocate labours again and again (p. 74) to inculpate Mr. Smith through the ascendancy obtained by him over the minds of the slaves; yet, when another view of the subject is presented, and when it cannot be denied, that, the greater were the ascendancy and authority of Mr. Smith, the greater is the probability that his recommendations would be followed; and the greater his reason for believing that his exhortations to tranquillity, which were uniform, the evidence upon that point being all one way, would be listened to, and prevent any disturbance; then are his imputed ascendancy and authority forgotten and rejected from the case. But, waving this consideration, and conceding to the uttermost the effect of the adverse evidence, it proves no more than this, that Mr. Smith was informed of something—not of any thing definite, not of a scheme actually formed and prepared—but of dissatisfaction at the freedom from England being withheld, which every body else knew, from the governor downwards—of discontent, which might, some time or other, grow up into acts of violence and disturbance, or might not—but of nothing more; and if so, this forced and strained analogy, derived from misprision of treason, the only support of the adverse argument, is cut up by the roots.
And here, Sir, I cannot help expressing my surprise, that, when the conduct of Mr. Smith was considered elsewhere, and is re-considered in this House, it never seems, for a moment, to have occurred to honourable gentlemen to reflect what manner of person this was, to whom this kind of guilt is imputed. I should have thought, that if (which has never been pretended here) the piety of his ransacked closet—his private journal, mutilated and mangled for the purpose—did raise up any colour of imputation or prejudice against him, it must also have produced an unavoidable, however reluctant, conclusion, that if he ever thought of obtaining kingdoms, they were, assuredly, not kingdoms of this world. It would not, I confess, have crossed my mind, to scan and estimate all his actions, or rather sayings, as if he had been some aspiring chief or military adventurer sighing for command; who, rather than remain in obscurity, would be content to "wade through blood and slaughter to a throne," even though it were a throne amongst negroes, and in the steaming swamps of Demerara. I could not think of judging him, as if I 1255 had become a convert to those monstrous and impossible stories contained in the confession of Paris (p. 31, second series)—too strong for the acceptance and belief even of the colony itself—that Jack was to be king; Gill, I presume, queen; Hamilton, commander-in-chief; and Mr. Smith himself to be emperor! It does seem to me, that if he really was, as it is impossible to doubt his having been, an obscure, Jowly, and retiring person; of great simplicity of life and singleness of purpose; intent upon the objects of his mission; unused to deeds of arms, and ignorant (what wonder?) of martial law, even after he had consulted his Encyclopedia, for information, as we collect from the evidence (page 30)—it does seem to me, Sir, little short of a miracle, a fact hardly to be established by any accumulation of the most convincing proof, that he should, all at once, quit his peaceful habits, and suddenly, as if in a dream, begin to think only of principalities, and powers, and empires—imperium, fasces, legions! What object had he to gain by commotion? What was there, in a scene of violence and bloodshed, which was not contrary to the whole tenor of his life, and, as he himself expressed it, "to the religion he professed?"
Sir, I have observed already, how much has been sunk and abandoned by the abettors of these proceedings in this House; and that one only of the four charges has received any countenance here. It is not my intention, however, to let the remainder escape without something like notice and exposure.—The first charge imputes to Mr. Smith having promoted discontent amongst, the slaves, "thereby intending to excite the said Negroes to break out in such open revolt," &c. The intention constitutes the crime: without it, the reading of the ten commandments or any portion of the Old or New Testament, might, undesignedly by him, by an association the most unforeseen and fortuitous, have created the dissatisfaction of the slaves. Sir, the court find the fact of Mr. Smith having created dissatisfaction, but acquit him of any such intention: they acquit him, then, absolutely, I affirm by all law criminal or civil, French or Dutch; by all the sense, the feeling, and practice, of mankind; in morality, as well as law—I repeat it—they absolutely acquit him. And yet (could you have believed it, Sir?) upon this charge as well as the rest, have these "second Daniels 1256 coming to judgment," under the information and learning of Trinity college—or ought I not rather compare such sternness to the conduct of the Æacuses and Rhadamanthuses of history or fable?) with a vigour of nerve and infirmity of understanding, pronounced a sentence—not that Mr. Smith should be reprimanded for "enthusiasm," or "imprudence," or "indiscretion," in the comparatively mild language of the colonial secretary—.but that he should be hanged by the neck until he was dead! And that sentence stands uncancelled, unrevoked—nay, I grieve to add, palliated, if not defended, in this House! But, it may be said, this same court may never sit again; and the man, it is certain, is gone where, if he is to render an account, it will, I doubt not, be before a more mild and indulgent tribunal than that by which he was condemned. Yes; but, for the sake of the justice and honour of the country, these things ought not to be done and to pass without censure.
Of the two remaining charges, the second and fourth, the latter imputes to Mr. Smith the not having seized Quamina on the Wednesday, and, also, the not having given information to the proper authorities. As to the seizure; when Mr. Smith, sinking under a fatal disease, and with one foot treading on his grave, made an affecting appeal to his own weakly appearance and faded form, that part of the charge was too much for the military judges; they acquit him of that. Why, then, as to information; what had he to give? Was he to tell the constituted authorities on Wednesday the 20th of August, that there was a revolt? Did they not know it? Had they not been two days fighting with it? As well might I stop to inform you, Sir, whose eyes are dazzled by them, that lights are burning in this House. These things, but for the event, would be ludicrous.—I shall conclude my notice of this charge by the panegyric bestowed upon it by the deputy judge advocate (page 90):"The fourth charge is satisfied by shewing the bare circumstance of his (Mr. Smith's) being in the presence of Quamina at his house on the 19th and 20th of August!" Never surely, before, was there a capital charge of so capacious and accommodating a nature. What! if, during every moment that Quamina was in the presence of Mr. Smith, the latter had been upbraiding, threatening, remonstrating, entreating to recal Quamina to his 1257 duty, supposing him engaged in the revolt—would that have satisfied the charge? Why, so then would any thing else.—The second and only remaining charge attributes to Mr. Smith the having "aided and assisted the rebellion, by advising and communicating, &c. with Quamina, a negro slave" (this charge, with the usual laxity of the whole, no where stating directly that Quamina was in open revolt, &c.) "touching the same."' Of this charge Mr. Smith has been found guilty upon mere speculation and surmise. A grave and serious imputation this is, Sir, surely, if it can be made out, against the finding and judgment of a court in a case of life and death. But this language is too mild for the occasion: it is a finding against evidence; nay, more, against all the evidence; which, uniformly, and without a single exception, represents Mr. Smith as having held one language only,—peace. At pages 8, 14, 22, 26, 50, testimony to this effect is to be found from witnesses for the prosecution, as much as for the accused, and there is nothing against it. If there be, I shall be obliged by any honourable member now stopping me, and pointing out a single expression to the contrary throughout the whole body of evidence. But it is impossible'; for there is none such. One part of this testimony, recommended at once by the station and character of the person (Mr. Austin) who gives it, I must read to the House. This gentleman says: "I had received an impression that the prisoner, Mr. Smith, was highly instrumental to the insurrection, and proceeded to inquiries. A variety of reasons were given, which I do not consider necessary to recapitulate, farther than as they apply to the prisoner. I must add that in no one instance, among my numerous inquiries, did it appear, or was it stated, that Mr. Smith had been, in any degree, instrumental to the insurrection. A hardship, in being restricted in attendance on his chapel, was, however, very generally a burthen of complaint" (page 53). So then, I am sustained in my assertion, that this charge was not only not proved, but by the whole body of the evidence disproved.
Sir, when my learned friend who spoke last undertook to defend the previous proceedings, as well as the result; he surely must, for an instant have overlooked the time at which the court martial was held. Upon that subject he was wholly silent. But, how does the matter stand? On the 1258 26th of August the governor, in his dispatches (page 8, second series), describes the improved state of the colony; and on the 31st of the same month he repeats the statement, and says that there had been no interruption to his hopes, before expressed, of returning tranquillity: yet, six weeks after that, was Mr. Smith tried by martial law Why not as well at the end of six months or of twelve? Where would my learned friend assign the limit, and draw the line, except the excuse for having recourse to this form of proceeding must be considered as at an end whenever actual warfare ceases? Certain it is that the great authorities of the law of England, to whom I before referred, will allow no place for this kind of trial when peace is restored. It is "indulged," when the more slow and cautious forms of the ordinary tribunals cannot be resorted to from the prevalence of conflict and disorder, and when the flagrancy and notoriety of the guilt of men, taken with arms in their hands, supersedes, in some sort, the necessity of more deliberate inquiry: the importance of an immediate and prompt example is then supposed to be of more value than the preservation of general rules. Beyond this, it is not, in the language, of Hale "allowed for law;" it is not law.
But it may be said, that, apart from all legal views of the subject, it must surely be admitted to have been shamefully negligent on the part of Mr. Smith not to have communicated to the proper authorities even his suspicions, considering the nature of the case. Some communication to Mr. Stewart, a person in authority "about the rumour among the negroes of their freedom having come," he did make on the 7th of August (page 57). Further than this I much doubt whether I, in the same situation, should have been disposed to have gone. If Mr. Smith had been living in a state of society regulated by equal law, where parties accused would have been sure of a fair trial under the protection of that law, a question of some nicety, perhaps—but not this question, I beg to observe might have arisen. There as Mr. Smith well knew, the ill-fated beings, whom he must have inculpated, were living under a system of coercion and of punishment, and that a whisper from him, of intended or possible mischief would have been enough to hand over the persons suspected, to the whips and scourges of their tormentors, or to the more merciful, because compendious, 1259 stroke of the executioner. I have no difficulty in avowing, that, in such a state of things, I also should not, any more than Mr. Smith, have been forward in "asking questions" (p. 26). I am sure I should have paused, and should not have acted without knowledge. Vague suspicion I should have thought, if in his place, and I do think now, a poor ground, not for putting a number of fellow-creatures upon trial, but for subjecting them to certain punishment.
One word more, Sir, and I have done. My utter aversion to this proceeding depends not a little, I confess, upon an opinion, a rooted and fixed belief, that it was not so much the person of Mr. Smith which was attacked, as Mr. Smith the missionary—as instruction of every description, and particularly religious instruction. Example, the most powerful of all arguments, leaves in my mind, upon this subject, no doubt. Why, I ask, was Hamilton spared, and Smith persecuted? Hamilton, against whom the second scries of papers (if there be any truth in them) teems with accusations; Hamilton, who consulted with the negroes upon the most effectual means of conducting their operations—Hamilton, who took the oath (page 41, second series)—Hamilton, who recommended the best method of preventing "the big guns from being brought up?" Why was Hamilton spar-ed? He had, doubtless, his redeeming qualities—he was no missionary; he was no zealot for instruction—of that, I am persuaded, he might justly have been acquitted—he was no enthusiast—except, 'indeed, as we learn from my honourable friend (Dr. Lushington), for additional torture. This man is spared; but Mr. Smith, with his journal, his religion, and his piety, is persecuted unto death. Here, Sir, I beg leave to adopt the observation of the foreign secretary (Mr. Canning), upon the recent occasion of Mr. Buckingham's complaint against some of the authorities in India,—"Let not the man be attacked through the faults and vices of the system." If it be indeed true, that the mild precepts of the Christian religion, and slavery—pure, unmitigated, uncompensated slavery—cannot long exist together, but that the introduction of that religion would be only the harbinger of immediate amelioration or total abolition; and if, further, for the protection of the interests of the colonies, all attempts to introduce its doctrines, or any instruction, 1260 must be discountenanced and suppressed; say so at once. Change your system. Make your laws, and proclaim them. Then, but not till then, try the missionaries; level down the chapels; burn the Bibles. But never, whilst an opposite course is not merely connived at and tolerated, but justified and recommended, let this House lend itself to the angry and furious spirit which now more than ever appears (from that unmeasured abuse of Mr. Austin, for merely speaking the truth, which my learned friend has this night read) to inflame the colony. Never let this House, by refusing to pronounce a censure upon violence and injustice, sanction an attempt manifestly made, through the sides of Mr. Smith when living, and by abuse of his memory when dead, to put down all instruction; and, by so doing, stifle the only hope, and check the only means, which the ministers of the Crown themselves have held out, of mitigating at least, if not abolishing, that cruel system of bondage, which, more than any thing else, is a bitter sarcasm upon the vaunted civilization of modern times, a foul stain upon the character of our country, and a disgrace to human nature itself.
said, that, in the observations which he proposed to address to the House, he should not occupy a great portion of its time; but, after the speech of his hon. and learned friend who had just sat down, he felt that he should not discharge his duty, unless he briefly expressed his opinion on this very important subject. He did not feel bound to admit, that he must take part with the honourable gentlemen opposite, unless he could affirm, that, if he had been obliged to sit in judgment on Mr. Smith, the proceedings against whom were the subject of the present discussion, he should have come to the same conclusion that the members of the court-martial had adopted. That, however, was not the question before the House. The persons composing that court must be allowed to have been as independent of the colony as he could pretend to be: they were acting under the sanction and responsibility of an oath: they came to their decision after deliberately hearing the evidence on both sides. He could not, therefore, take upon himself to say, because he should, perhaps, have come to a different conclusion; that they had acted erroneously; much less that they had acted cruelly, unjustly, and corruptly, and had been influenced by 1261 the motives which had been so liberally ascribed to them by gentlemen on the other side of the House. Nothing could, he conceived, be more unjust, than that, because, upon a cool and careful revision of the evidence, the House should form an opinion different from that of the court, it should therefore pronounce the court guilty of error and corruption.
In calling the attention of the House to the actual state of the question, he would first observe, that, with respect to the proclamation of martial law, no person could justify that measure, but upon the ground of absolute necessity, He admitted, that the doctrine laid down by lord Hale, which had been already stated, was the correct law on the subject. Unless gentlemen, therefore, were satisfied, that a case of necessity existed, no justification could be made out for that measure. Let the House, then, look at the situation of the colony at Demerara when the events alluded to took place: and, although in that House they were sitting in perfect safety and in tranquil deliberation, they would, he was sure, make some allowances for the influence of the terror which surrounded the inhabitants of that colony. The white population consisted of 4,000 persons, thinly scattered over a very large extent of country: and there were nearly 80,000 slaves, in actual or supposed hostility against those whites. The military force of the settlement consisted of only 400 soldiers; and, when an application was made to the commander in chief of the Windward Islands for a reinforcement, he had replied, that he was not able to furnish any additional force. The white population were thus compelled to call in the aid of the Indians, to make head against their revolted slaves. Now, if any circumstances could justify the proclamation of martial law, surely such as he had detailed would do so. The whites had to protect every thing that was most dear to them—their wives and families; their own lives and properties. And, could it be expected, that they would expose themselves naked to the barbarians who were armed for their destruction, instead of resorting to the most vigorous means which were presented to them, for averting the evils by which they were threatened? Was it to be supposed that they had forgotten the horrors which accompanied the revolt of the negroes in the neighbouring island of St. Domingo? Under such circumstances, who would not say, 1262 that the governor was justified in calling into exercise every power he possessed, for the preservation of the colony?
But, it was said, that as soon as the revolt was put down, the system of martial law should have come to an end. This, no doubt, was very true. But, the House was not in a situation to judge of the precise moment at which the danger had ceased. No persons could judge of it, but those who were on the spot. It could not be the interest of the inhabitants of the colony that martial law should continue an hour longer than was necessary. They could have no desire to encounter the fatigue of military duty, to which they were unused; to have their ordinary occupations deranged, their commercial transactions interrupted, and those tribunals, by which their civil rights were protected, suspended. They would gladly have got rid of those evils, had it been possible. He would boldly ask, whether, under such circumstances, persons on the spot were not better judges of the expediency of prolonging martial law than the members of that House? Enough, how-ever, was known to shew its expediency. At the very time when the proceedings of the court-martial were going on, a negro called Richard was in the woods, at the head of a party of blacks, and unsubdued, and the inhabitants felt their only safety was in arms.
As to the mode of trial which had been chosen, it was obvious, that if it had been, as was alleged by some hon. gentlemen, the object of the governor to deprive Mr. Smith of a fair trial, he would never have had recourse to the mode which had actually been adopted. Let gentlemen mark of what description of persons the court was composed. They were, for the most part, military men, who had no connexion with the settlement, but such as arose from the discharge of their military duties in it. The individual who had been selected to preside had previously filled the office of judge-advocate in Spain for many years, and was fully qualified by his knowledge as well as by his character, to perform the function to which he was on this occasion called. His hon. and learn-ed friend who brought forward the present question, had, with the ingenuity of an advocate, produced a paper, in which that gentleman's name appeared affixed to all the advertisements for the sale of slaves. This practice, however, would continue if there were not a single slave 1263 in the settlement; for his interference as vendue-master was necessary, according to the law, in all public transfers of personal property. It had been mentioned, too, as if he had an interest in the number of slaves sold, and was in the habit of receiving a percentage on them; but the fact was, that he received a fixed salary for his services, and had no emolument whatever from the slaves. Mention had also been made of the President Wray, in a manner which he did not deserve. When the proclamation was first issued, that gentleman offered his services to assist in the emergency, as far as he was able. He was solicited to act as judge-advocate; but he declined this, lest it should be said that he would have exercised too much influence had he taken upon him the office of counsel for the prosecution. He could not have been impelled to this course by any motives but those of a most praiseworthy and honourable description. What emolument, what distinction, could he hope to gain? There was nothing for him to expect, but a very burthensome task and a great responsibility; which, however, he could not evade, without shrinking from the performance of a paramount duty. It was not necessary for him to repeat what had been said of Mr. Wray. He had known him long, and he subscribed to all that had been so justly advanced in that gentleman's commendation. His learning and his talents were of the first order; and his judgment was clear, his temper calm and dispassionate, to a degree beyond those of most men with whom he had ever been acquainted. What, then, could be expected from him but fairness and justice?
It had been said, that it was resolved by the court to oppress Mr. Smith, and under the pretence of a trial, to compass, per fas et nefas, his condemnation. To examine the truth of this very grave assertion, the better way would be, to look at the facts of the case. If Mr. Smith had been tried by the ordinary civil tribunal, his judges would have been the president and eight planters. Now, if he had been so tried and found guilty, with what censure of unfairness and partiality would not such a trial have been assailed? His learned friend, the member for Winchelsea, seemed to think, that if he had been tried by that ordinary tribunal, his life would have been safe, because he would have been tried by the president alone on his responsibility. But, according to 1264 the constitution of that court, a majority of five had the power of deciding: so that, either Mr. Wray must have had four planters of his own opinion, or he must have been in the minority, and thus would have had no voice in deciding on the fate of the prisoner.—In the observations which had been made respecting the evidence, great stress had been laid on that of the slaves, to which many objections were taken. It should, however, be remembered, that these slaves were examined, and cross-examined, in open court, and in a way which was best of all calculated to elicit the truth. If they had been examined in the usual way, it would have been on interrogatories, and the cross-examination would have been conducted in the same manner; and he asked, whether, for the interests of justice, it was not better that the open system should have been adopted, than that of interrogatories? The introduction of hearsay evidence had been objected to; but he must tell the House on this subject, that, if Mr. Smith had been tried by the ordinary tribunal no objections could have been made on this score. His hon. and learned friends knew this well; and that there were not any courts, in any country of the world, where the same distinction was made with respect to evidence, hearsay evidence being almost always admitted. And Mr. Smith was to be tried by the law of Demerara, and not by that of England.
He would say one word with respect to the crime of misprision of treason. There was not a single individual, at all acquainted with the law of Demerara who did not know, that if a man were acquainted with the existence of a treason able plot, and did not communicate it, he incurred the punishment of death; and that accompanied by circumstances of horror which it was not necessary here to mention. It had been said, that it was a hardship upon Mr. Smith that the prosecutor was allowed four or five days to prepare his reply; but surely this could not be objected to, when it was recollected, that the prisoner had been allowed four or five times as many [Dr. Lushington, across the table, denied that Mr. Smith had been allowed more than five days]. He might be mistaken, but he thought it was as he stated. With respect to his application for counsel having been refused, all he had to say was, that the application was not made until after the I prisoner had pleaded.
1265 Now, he had a few words to say respecting the evidence. Whether the prisoner ought to have been tried under the law of England, or under that of Detnerara, it was not necessary now to: inquire, because he thought this would be admitted to be quite clear, that he was amenable to the laws prevailing in that country where the offence was committed. If by the law of England Mr. Smith's of fence had been treason, and by that of Demerara only a misdemeanour, it would have been the height of injustice to visit upon him the former punishment, in a country where the latter was usually enforced. The converse of this rule must, be allowed also to be just; and if misprision of treason was punished as treason in Demerara, it was under that law that Mr. Smith, if guilty, ought Jo have been sentenced. Let them look, then, to what the intentions of the revolted negroes were. In the first place, they avowed that they proposed to gain possession of Geotge-town, and drive away the whites. He presumed there could be no doubt that this was treason; and, that this was their intention, the evidence amply and indisputably proved. Any person who knew that such was their intention—although he might not know the manner in which it was to be effected, the number of the troops, the way in which they were armed, or the point of their attack—and did not communicate his knowledge to the government, was decidedly guilty of misprision of treason. Could any man doubt that Mr. Smith really knew so much of the intentions of the negroes? According to his own defence, according to the admissions which he chose to make—not as was proved by the evidence of the slaves, but by his own letters—this was manifested beyond all question. Besides this, there was the evidence of Bristol", by which it appeared, that Mr. Smith must have had communications on the subject with the slaves. It was true, Bristol was a black; but there was another, of the name of Seaton, who confirmed his testimony. His learned friend said, that the evidence of these men contradicted each other; but he was not borne out in this assertion, for Seaton Only said that he went away and left Mr. Smith and Bristol together, after which the communication might have been, as Bristol swore it was, made to Mr. Smith. His learned friend said, that the evidence of two other witnesses was inconsistent; but he forgot to 1266 add, that these were witnesses called by the prisoner himself. Peter and Shute, the witnesses alluded to, however, stated, in point of fact, the same thing: they said, that Mr. Smith advised them not to do what they contemplated, which he said was foolish, and could not succeed. But Mr. Smith's own letter put the matter beyond all doubt: he admitted in it, that he knew of the revolt, but that he purposely avoided putting any questions. A fortnight before this, Manuel said that Quamina had a conversation with Jack and Joseph, when they said they were resolved to have a push for their freedom.
He now came to, Jacky Read's letter. That letter was accompanied by Jacky Gladstone's letter, which announced that the rising was to take place at seven, at Thomas's. The brothers were in it; all the members of the chapel were in it; and yet honourable members complained that there was nothing of precise information. Why, was there nothing precise in all this? Upon considering this evidence attentively, he really thought no person could doubt but that, at six o'clock of the day on which the insurrection broke out, the intention of rising was communicated to Smith, in terms so precise as could have admitted of no mistake. The defence of Mr. Smith to this point was, "that, upon receiving the letter, he was really so agitated and alarmed, that he did not know what to do." But was he so alarmed, so agitated? Nothing could well be imagined more collected than his letter to Jacky Gladstone, written at this time. Every body would be struck with the palpable inconsistencies contained in the defence. Mr. Smith had a horse; and some discrepancy in the evidence in respect to that horse had been relied upon as in Mr. Smith's favour; but the only question, on that part of the case, was neither more nor less than whether, at a particular time, the horse was in the yard or in the stable. He said, that, after he had received any information at all, he had not sufficient time to make a communication to a single person before the insurrection actually broke out. But, did he do any thing at all in the way of attempting such a communication? He did not. Shortness of time was nothing to plead: the question was, what he had endeavoured to do in that short time? Though the manager's house was not much more than 100 yards, and Captain M'Turk not more than 300 roods from 1267 from him, he never communicated the intelligence to the manager. At six o'clock on the day of the revolt he had precise information that at seven the insurrection would break out. And what did he do in consequence? Nothing at all: but take a long walk with his wife. And yet the House was asked to visit with such a measure as that proposed, the gentlemen who had come to an opinion, that Mr. Smith was guilty of suppressing the important knowledge he possessed in this season of revolt and danger. On the Tuesday after the day of the insurrection (the day on which Mr. Smith received Jacky Gladstone's letter, with another from Quamina's son,) Mitchell, a negro, saw Quamina come on the estate of Le Resouvenir, and pass along through the yard to Mr. Smith's. And what took place on Wednesday, the next day? Let the House mark the effect of what was deposed (at page 19 of the proceedings) by the slave called Romeo. Smith had expressed to Romeo, on the Tuesday after the revolt, a desire to see Quamina, observing, "that Quamina was afraid to come and see him now." Quamina did come; and how? Mrs. Smith employed a witness of the name of Antje to send for him. Antje dispatched a boy, named Andrew, to him; and on the Wednesday he came at night to Antje's house, and sent her to Smith's to see if any one was there. Upon going, she saw Mrs. Smith, with whom was a Miss Kitty Stuart, whom Antje carried away with her. After that she saw Quamina go before her into Smith's House; "Mrs. Smith stood at the door, and as Quamina went in she shut the door, and the witness went back to her own house." Such was the way in which Mrs. Smith saw him. Quamina himself was a slave belonging to plantation Success, on which property all the slaves had' revolted. This was a material circumstance. A Miss Kitty Stuart, when Antje went into Smith's house at Quamina's request, was there, and had been Invited to sleep there all night; she was now, however, desired by Mrs. Smith, Quamina being expected, to go home with Antje; and, after shewing some reluctance, did occompany that witness to her house. The negro child Elizabeth was the only spectatress within doors of this transaction; and Mrs. Smith told her, "that she must not tell any body that uncle Quamina had been in the house; for that if she did, she (Mrs. Smith) would 1268 beat her." The House would not fail to observe the secrecy with which this visit was managed, and all the accompanying circumstances of it. His learned friend, however, had said that there was no evidence whatever for the purpose of proving that Quamina was engaged in the revolt; and the learned member for Knares-borough, pursuing the same line of argument, had read some absurd answer to a question propounded to a slave who was one of the witnesses on this point. There were, however, several witnesses, who all swore, in the most distinct and positive manner, that Quamina was one of the leaders of this insurrection, and was seen with a pistol in his hand busily engaged. Honourable gentlemen on the other side, however, seemed disposed to admit this, conditionally at least; but asked, if all was taken to be true, what proof was there in Smith's harbouring Quamina, that he knew of Quamina's being concerned in this revolt? He answered, that there was strong presumptive proof in these circumstances: 1st, that Quamina was the originator of the insurrection; 2nd, that he belonged to Success plantation, all the slaves upon which, as Smith knew, had revolted; 3rd, that he was introduced into Smith's house in the manner described, because Kitty Cumming, who was a slave on Success when the revolt broke out, was at Smith's when Antje came to his wife, and was sent out of the way, seeing that, had she been allowed to remain, she must have known Quamina. Now, the secrecy with which the matters he had referred to were conducted, and the connexion shewn to have subsisted between the parties, did evidently prove that Mr. Smith knew of the intended revolt of these negro slaves before it took place, and concealed that knowledge from I any part of the local government.
He was not pressing these circumstances, however, to prove that Mr. Smith was guilty of all the practices that had been imputed to him before the court; he was only shewing what the nature of the evidence was which had been submitted to that court; and he would now ask the House, whether, upon the facts so submitted to that tribunal, it could be fairly blamed for having found Mr. Smith guilty of misprision of treason? or whether they would concur in the vote of his hon. and learned friend—a vote which went to visit the proceedings of this court with so severe a censure? Sorry as he 1269 was to have detained the House at so great a length, he felt it incumbent upon him to demonstrate the strong grounds on which the parties concerned might reasonably have supposed they were proceeding; and although, on as careful a view as he had been enabled to take of this case, through the medium of the notes of evidence, he considered it very possible that he should not have concurred in their sentence, yet he did in his conscience believe, that the court-martial assembled to decide on the case of Mr. Smith had acted conscientiously, in their endeavours to administer justice impartially between the country on the one side, and the prisoner on the other.
Mr. Wilber force
said:—Sir, the course pursued by the learned gentleman who has just sitten down, in his endeavour, I will not say to defend, but to palliate, the decision of the court-martial which condemned the missionary Smith, I cannot but regard as somewhat unfair; and, at least, as very different from that which would have been dictated by the liberal spirit of the judicial proceedings of this country. To do Mr. Smith justice, the learned gentleman should have considered all the circumstances of his situation, and all the particulars of his conduct; whereas he has picked out of the great mass of evidence two or three passages, which, taken by themselves, may produce an unfavourable impression towards Mr. Smith, but to which an abundant answer would have been supplied by other passages, and still more by a general view of Mr. Smith's situation and character, and of the circumstances of the witnesses against him, as well as of their testimony. It should ever be borne in mind, that, from Mr. Smith's entrance into the colony, the public prints were incessantly labouring to render the Christian missionaries, and more especially Mr. Smith himself, the object of the most bitter jealousy and hatred. They were represented as the agents and correspondents of the Anti-Slavery party in this country, who were endeavouring, through them, to excite the most dangerous discontents among the slaves, indifferent to the interest, and even to the personal safety, of the white population. More especially the chief newspaper of the colony, called, if I mistake not, the Guiana Chronicle, abounded in these misrepresentations; and as no one undertook the defence of the calumniated individuals, it is not wonderful, that, except in the minds 1270 of a few men of more than ordinary liberality, strong prejudices against the missionaries were insensibly generated, and prevailed through out the whole community. This newspaper, it must be remembered, was under the influence of government, and might be the rather supposed to speak the language which the governor himself did not disapprove, because, from being himself a planter, he was likely to have contracted the ordinary prejudices of this class of individuals. To a community thus prejudiced, actions and language in themselves indifferent might assume a suspicious character. The learned gentleman, indeed., bringing forward the defence contained in one of the governor's letters, has urged, that it was for the purpose of counteracting these prejudices, that Mr. Smith had been tried by a court-martial, rather than by the ordinary civil tribunal of the colony. But it is an unanswerable argument, to all that can be urged in favour of the trial by martial law, that if Mr. Smith had been tried by the usual civil tribunal, he would have had the benefit of the right of appeal to this country. And what would have been the judgment and feelings of that august body, the privy-counsel, by which the appeal would have been tried, we may infer from seeing, that there has not been found one single man in this House, or in this country, who has defended the unfair proceedings of the court-martial, although there are some who with difficulty bring themselves to the admission that Mr. Smith's conduct was not altogether blameless, in the single particular of his not having communicated to government the information he had received of an intended insurrection. I should like to have witnessed the indignation and shame with which the worthy counsel would have treated such attempts at evidence as were made before the court-martial, by bringing against Mr. Smith, witnesses from their dungeons, in chains, hoping to obtain their own pardon by the testimony they should give against the obnoxious missionary. What would the privy council have said to the indecent production of Mr. Smith's private journal, publicly ransacked, in order to find matter of accusation against him? How would they have sympathized with a passage, which seems to have excited no sort of feeling in the court-martial, that, while he was writing his memoranda, his heart was fluttering at the dreadful sound of the crack of the cart-whip! What indignation, 1271 again, would have been expressed at the attempt to change the religion of the New Testament, and to make it a matter of accusation against the missionary, that he did not teach the slaves that they were at liberty, without breaking the laws of God, to do their ordinary work on the Sunday! Oh no I Smith's enemies were too well aware of the effect of suffering any appeal to be made to a British tribunal; and therefore they adopted the plan of trying the missionary by martial law. But let it not be supposed, that the generally prevailing prejudices against West-Indian reforms were not likely to exist, because Smith was to be tried by a set of military officers. Several of these officers had been long resident in the West Indies; and some of them, I understand, were West-India proprietors; others had offices under the government. But they who, like my hon. friend near me (Mr. W. Smith), were parties to our early proceedings in the cause of the abolition of the Slave-trade, will well remember that there was no class of persons which imbibed the colonial esprit de corps more speedily, or were more completely under its influence, than naval or military men; who, associating with the owners or superintendants of slaves, and when they visited estates seeing every thing in holiday trim, were sure to sympathize rather with the white proprietor than with the negro slave. How well do I remember, that, when the naval and military men, of the highest personal respectability, were examined concerning the state of the West-India slaves, they universally spoke of it as being all that the most exquisite humanity could desire! And this, let it be remembered, when the system contained all its abuses unmitigated, and before any one of those ameliorating laws had passed which, we are assured by the colonial assemblies, have done so much to improve the slaves' condition. One most respectable witness, a friend of my own, and a man of the most amiable dispositions, declared, that so happy were the slaves, that he had often wished himself to be one of the number! And, if this was the case in the instance of witnesses of this high description, who were but for a short time conversant with the colonies, how much more must not similar feelings be expected to prevail in the instance of those of whom Mr. Smith's court-martial was composed; who, in truth, by the proof they have given us, in the production of the journal 1272 of their being entirely destitute of those sympathies which the perusal of it has excited in a British public, have manifested that their West-Indian associations, in a colony in which the anti-reform spirit prevails with peculiar force, have completely changed the feelings with which, I doubt not, they originally entered a West-Indian community. In truth, Smith's judges were utterly incapable of forming an unbiassed judgment of the case on which chey had to decide. And let it be remembered, that, although every one who in this House has expressed any disapprobation of Mr. Smith's conduct, has confined it altogether to the crime of misprision; yet that what was imputed to him in Demerara was, that he had been for many years prosecuting a regular plan of corrupting the negroes, with a view of bringing them at the last to rise against their masters and take possession of the colony. Surely nothing but the grossest prejudice could have rendered it possible, for any men in their senses, to impute to Mr. Smith any such design—a design at once of the most detestable wickedness and of the grossest folly. Mr. Smith had maintained through life the character of a truly amiable and good man; and was it to be supposed possible, that such a man could calmly devise, and deliberately, during a course of years, pursue, a plan which he must know would produce universal bloodshed and ruin throughout the whole community? But such a design was no less absurd than it was wicked. Even granting that Mr. Smith had been mad enough to think it possible that the negroes could establish a black community in Demerara, was it possible for any man so to deceive himself, as to conceive that such a community would be allowed to possess the settlement in quiet, or that it could resist the whole force of this country, which would, doubtless, be exerted to recover it? Was it possible that any man, more especially such a reasonable man as Smith appeared to be, could suppose that an unarmed and untrained set of negroes could even obtain the temporary possession of the colony, still less that they could permanently retain it? What was he, then, to get by this wicked enterprise? What possible motive could urge him to attempt it? Yet all this was universally believed of him in Demerara! and the speech in which the evidence was summed up, was really worthy of any grand inquisitor that had 1273 ever exercised his office in that tribunal of oppression and cruelty.
The subject we are now considering is of no small importance, inasmuch as it involves a question of the rights and happiness of a British subject, and, still more, the administration of justice in the West-India colonies. But there is another point of view in which the question is to be regarded, in which it will assume far more importance, and excite a still deeper interest. Let it be remembered, that this House, about a year ago, declared its determination to ameliorate the condition of the slaves in the West Indies; and, more especially, by a course of religious instruction, gradually to prepare them for the safe participation in those civil privileges which are enjoyed by their fellow-subjects in this country. We know but too well, that a contrary spirit prevails very generally in the West Indies. It was not against Mr. Smith only, and the particular body of religionists with which he was connected, that the resentment of the colonial population was pointed; it was against all who were endeavouring, by religious instruction, to raise the condition of that degraded class whom we have taken under our protection. In Demerara, on the late occasion, all the missionaries were at first seized and imprisoned; and all of them, without exception, had been vilified and calumniated for a course of years in the Guiana newspaper. But it was not to Demerara that such an anti-ameliorating spirit is confined. The extraordinary transaction that has lately taken place in Barbadoes, deserves our most serious consideration. At the very time when the prejudices against the methodists had in some places subsided; when those good men had fairly lived them down by their inoffensive and meritorious conduct; in that very settlement of Barbadoes, in which the proportion of the whites to the blacks is the largest, and which, has been supposed to bear the strongest resemblance to an English community, a chapel, lately erected at the expense of several thousand pounds, was utterly destroyed—not by a sudden impulse of fury, but after a regular notice, and by a preconcerted collection of people—not by what is commonly termed a "mob," the lower orders of the community, but, as was boasted, by men of superior rank and property—not at one heat, but after they were wearied by their first day's work, returning again the next day to complete the demolition of 1274 the building, of which every trace was swept away, and to drive the missionary himself out of the colony. In fact, the rage against him was such, that, had he not been concealed from the fury of his enemies, and been able to escape out of the island, his life could not possibly have been saved. It ought not to be left unstated, that, when the governor of the island, after conniving at this outrage at the time, and slumbering over it afterwards, did at length issue a proclamation, offering a reward for the discovery and apprehension of the perpetrators of this outrage—will this House believe it?—the governor's proclamation was met by a counter-proclamation, posted in all the streets, denouncing the vengeance of the colony against all who should dare to attempt to bring the destroyers of the chapel to punishment; but reminding the public, that they had their cause in their own hands; intimating, that, as they were to be jury, no one should ever be found guilty on account of so meritorious a transaction.
A similar anti-negro spirit has lately also appeared in the island of Jamaica, though of a somewhat different kind, yet equally arising out of that abhorrence of the doctrine that black men are to be considered as entitled to the rank and consideration of whites, which, in fact, is the basis, or rather the vital spirit, of the colonial system. This spirit has been powerfully called forth in our colonies by the Resolutions of this House to meliorate the condition of the slaves; and the decision we form on the present question will be regarded as the test of our disposition to adhere to our determination, or of our being inclined to connive at the determination which prevails so generally throughout the colonies, to resist the reformation of the system. In Demerara, it was meant, by Mr. Smith's condemnation, to deter other missionaries from attempting the conversion of the slaves, and, by the terrors of his example, to frighten away those whose Christian: zeal might otherwise prompt them to devote themselves to the service of this long injuredbody of their fellow-creatures. We ourselves, therefore, are upon our trial, and by our decision on the present question men will judge of the leanings of our opinion, whether, from the influence of the West-Indian proprietors in this country, and even in this House, we ore not in some I measure under the influence of the same 1275 prejudices which prevail in all their force in the colonies of Guiana.
But, to return to the case of Mr. Smith. Though his defence was on the whole able, and conceived in the manly spirit of a British subject, yet there were some points which he himself did not press with sufficient force. As an instance of this, let me refer to one particular, which, was clearly established on the trial—that, a fortnight before the rising of the negroes, Mr. Smith had declared himself willing to inform the slaves from the pulpit, that they were mistaken in the notion they had formed, that orders for their emancipation had come out from the government at home. Is it not undeniable that this fact was utterly inconsistent with the idea of his having any concern in exciting the insurrection? But, in truth, the testimony in Mr. Smith's favour of the rev. Mr. Austin, is decisive. He declared, that none of the slaves had mentioned Mr. Smith's name, when they were questioned concerning the instigators and fomentors of their revolt. Indeed, Mr. Austin's testimony to Mr. Smith's character, highly honourable as it is to the missionary (for he declared that Mr. Smith had discharged his important duties in a manner that entitled him to the general esteem of mankind, and to the gratitude of the poor objects of his kindness), reflects even still greater honour on himself. He declared, that he originally had entertained suspicions, that Mr. Smith was in some degree a party to the insurrection, but these were afterwards overborne by the most satisfactory evidence; and, with the genuine spirit of a British subject, and the humanity of a true Christian, he boldly avowed his conviction of Mr. Smith's innocence; though he knew but too well, as the event indeed proved, that he was thereby blasting any views of preferment he might justly have entertained, and that he must subject himself to the universal hatred and indignation of the colony.
The utmost, however, that has been imputed to Mr. Smith, by any member of this assembly, is, that he ought to have informed the government of the criminal intentions of the slaves. But, in fact, it appeared in the evidence that he knew no more of those intentions than various other persons in the colony, some of them connected even with the government itself And what, in fact, did he know? Not that there was to be any thing that deser- 1276 ved the name of an insurrection—merely that there prevailed a discontent among the slaves, just as it had prevailed on former occasions. But Mr. Smith had before experienced such a want of candour and liberality when he did make communications to government, that he had but too much reason to apprehend, that any thing he might state to them would be unfairly used, and would be turned to the purpose of pointing the resentment against the religious slaves, and also of making him appear as their enemy and their betrayer.
But it is said, and I am more afraid of the effect of this consideration than of any other argument that can be adduced, that if we accede to the motion of my learned friend, we shall be passing a censure upon a set of British officers, whose conduct we ought to regard with liberality and indulgence. But it is not we who have placed the members of the court-martial in the situation which they occupy, it is they themselves on whom it is chargeable, or governor Murray, who adopted that course of proceeding. We are, in fact, placed in a dilemma; and the question is, whether we should leave a much-injured man labouring under a stigma most unjustly endeavoured to be affixed upon his character, or whether we should express that sense of the proceedings and conduct of the court-martial which justice most powerfully exacts from us. I shall indeed regret—it will indeed be a matter of deep condemnation to us from our countrymen—if we can suffer such proceedings as those on which we are now called upon to pronounce our sentence, to pass, without expressing our strong and decided reprobation of them. The protracted sufferings of that much-injured man were such as one would have supposed likely to call forth pity from the hardest hearts. For a man labouring under a disease which was gradually wearing away his strength, and rapidly bringing! him to the grave, to be kept in close confinement, in a tropical climate, in a small room, debarred from the common comforts of prisoners, called upon every two hours, sometimes when he was asleep, to ascertain, as it was pretended, whether he had not made his escape, was such wanton and unnecessary cruelty as cannot be too strongly condemned. It really reminds me of the barbarities exercised on another poor victim of cruelty, the Dauphin of France, whose sufferings have drawn forth 1277 such deep commiseration. Let us not, then, be contented, as some respectable authorities appear to be, with expressing our sentiments on the shameful proceedings of the court-martial in a fugitive sentence which will possess no authority, and will be soon forgotten. Let us not be satisfied with coldly expressing, as our individual opinions in our speeches, that there were circumstances in the trial which are to be regretted; but let us do justice to the character of a deeply-injured man, by solemnly recording our judgment in the language proposed by the motion of my learned friend. Let us thereby manifest our determination to shield the meritorious, but unprotected missionary, from the malice of his prejudiced oppressors, however bigoted and powerful. Let us shew the sense we entertain of the value of such services, and prove, that, whatever may be the principles and feelings which habitual familiarity with the administration of a system of slavery may produce in the colonies, we in this House at least have the disposition and judgment and feelings which justice and humanity, and the spirit of the British constitution, ensure from the members of the House of Commons.
Mr. Secretary Canning
Whatever difference of opinion may prevail with respect to the vote to which the House ought to come on this occasion, and whatever shades of difference there may be even among those who may concur in the same vote, there is one point on which I think the opinion of all who hear me will agree,—and that is, that the question of this night is one of the most painful that ever was discussed within these walls. Indeed, Sir, I scarcely recollect any one question upon which I could say, what I feel that I must say upon this—that there is no part of it on which I can look with the smallest satisfaction. To many of the principles which have been enforced in this debate with so much eloquence, I am disposed to give my hearty assent. But I entirely differ from my hon. friend who spoke last, as to one part of his speech, although I admit that, generally speaking, my hon. friend has put the question on a fair issue. I allude to the assertion, that the House is placed in the dilemma of being obliged either to contend, on the one hand, for the perfectness and propriety of every part of the proceedings of the court-martial, or, on the other hand, to be prepared to assign to the unfortunate 1278 gentleman who was the object of these proceedings the title or the honours of a martyr. I, Sir, am not prepared for either of these extravagant extremes, and I do hope to be able to satisfy the House, that they will best discharge their duty to all parties concerned in this transaction—to them selves and to the country—by abstaining from pronouncing any such exaggerated opinions. Sir, it may be a very skilful and masterly artifice of debate, to endeavour to throw upon those who do not agree to the resolution proposed by the hon. and learned gentleman the task of proceeding step by step through every stage of this protracted, anomalous, and difficult proceeding; and of explaining step by step as they go on, the grounds which justify them in dissenting from that resolution. For my own part I do not hold myself bound to do any thing of the kind. In dissenting from the resolution of the learned member for Winchelsea, I shall be solicitous only to justify that dissent on grounds which appear to me to be perfectly sound and satisfactory, without necessarily identifying my opinions with those of the persons by whom Mr. Smith was tried, or maintaining in all its parts the sentence by which Mr. Smith was condemned.
Sir, the charges which are brought against the proceedings of the court martial seem to resolve themselves into three principle heads—first, the impropriety of the tribunal; secondly, the incorrectness of its mode of acting; and, thirdly, the violence of the sentence;—all which charges are aggravated by the assumption throughout, that Mr. Smith was entirely innocent. Sir, it has been stated, that no man can dissent from the hon. and learned gentleman's resolution, who is not prepared to maintain the guilt of Mr. Smith to the utmost extent to which that guilt has been assigned. Here I am again compelled to declare myself of a different opinion; and, without wearying the House by repeated reference to the particulars of the evidence (which has already been discussed with so much ability, as to have impressed on every man, who has gone through the duty of previously reading it, a complete analysis of all its parts and all its bearings) I have no difficulty in stating the honest persuasion of my own mind to be this, that of that crime call it by what name you will, which consists in the silence of Mr. Smith upon the subject of those alarming movements 1279 which he knew to be in agitation, and a danger which he knew to be imminent, I cannot acquit Mr. Smith. I state this persuasion, however, with no circumstances of aggravation, with no imputation of design on the part of Mr. Smith, with no presumption that I can dive into the motives of that individual. But as to the fact, after the most painful examination, I feel individually, upon my honour and my conscience, a persuasion that Mr. Smith did know that, which, if he knew its character, he ought to have divulged, and of which, if he had had only common discretion, the character must have been apparent to him! [hear, hear.]
Now, Sir, whether the law of Demerara, as derived from its Dutch constitution; whether the law of courts-martial, as sitting under the Mutiny act; whether martial law in its larger sense; assigned to that crime, under the peculiar circumstances of the case, that punishment which by the sentence of the court-martial was awarded to it, is a question on which, from my own sources of learning and information, I do not pretend to decide. But when the House are called upon to inculpate the court-martial of murder (for that is the effect of the proposition before us), the questions that I am to ask myself are "Did the court-martial believe that they were acting legally in passing that sentence? and were they borne out by authority in doing so?"
I will add, that I should have a very different task to undertake, and I should stand up in this House with a much heavier feeling of responsibility, if I were defending, or called upon to defend, a confirmation of that sentence; because I should then have to defend an act of the executive government, of which I form a part, adopting that sentence as their own; in which call I should be bound to shew, and to prove, that the sentence was in every part legal. From the authorities that have been cited, I do believe the sentence to have been legal; but, under all the circumstances under which it was passed, it was felt by his majesty's government, as is I believe already well known to the individual members of the House (but it is fit that it should be distinctly stated in this debate), that the sentence should not be carried into execution. Upon this point there was not a dissentient voice, nor a moment's hesitation in his majesty's government. I stand here, therefore, not to defend the 1280 moral propriety of passing and executing that sentence, but only to vindicate the vote which, as a member of parliament, I shall give, for not condemning unheard the tribunal by whom that sentence was pronounced.
Sir, another circumstance, which appears not to have been stated in this debate, but which seems to be a very material one, is this: that, in pronouncing that sentence, the tribunal itself pronounced it in a way to afford the prisoner that only benefit, belonging to the law of Demerara, which my honourable friend has said that he would have enjoyed if tried by that law (but a benefit which would have been counterbalanced by many disadvantages of that mode of trial)—I mean, the advantage of appeal: for with the sentence was coupled the recommendation to mercy; a recommendation which in this case was not, as it often is, formal, and liable to be ineffectual, but which, as those who coupled the recommendation with the sentence must have known, carried with it its own execution. They knew it to be utterly impossible that a sentence of death, pronounced at Demerara under martial law, could be remitted to the king in council sitting here, not under martial law, but in the free light and liberty of this country—they knew, I say, that it was impossible that a sentence of death so remitted home with a recommendation of mercy, should be otherwise than completely null.
Now, Sir, it is no fault of mine, that at the period at which we are now called upon—not to institute inquiry, not to demand new lights, but to pronounce a sweeping condemnation under the circumstances as they appear before us—it is no fault of mine, that I am obliged to resort to conjecture, as to the considerations which may have prompted the severer rather than a more mitigated sentence. It undoubtedly occurs to many men to ask, why, if the sentence of death was to be coupled with a recommendation to mercy, the court-martial did not rather, in the first instance, apply some lenient sentence, which might have been executed without shocking the feelings of any portion of mankind?—why not transport from the colony?—why not inflict a lesser degree of punishment, by imprisonment? Why, Sir, the reason, I can conceive—I do not say it is so—but the reason may be this: because any minor sentence, be it what it might, transportation or impri- 1281 sonment, must have been carried into immediate effect, without any pretence for appealing to the government at home. The capital sentence, with the recommendation of mercy annexed to it, while it appeased (for I do not deny that a great deal of irritation did exist in the colony)—while it appeased, I say, the inflamed passions of the colonists, in effect preserved the victim from the fate to which it appeared to consign him.
But, was it only on the knowledge of the sentence itself that the feelings of his majesty's government were awakened to the state of that colony, and as to the possible consequences of a judicial proceeding there? No, Sir! My hon. friend must, I think, have known, and I dare say remembers, that, at the period when the first news arrived in this country of the arrest of Mr. Smith, and of his proble destination for trial, application was made to his majesty's government to rescue him from the tribunals of a country where the minds of the population were inflamed against him, and to bring him home for trial. I do not know whether my hon. friend is aware, that the immediate consequence of that application was, an order from the secretary of state, to direct, that, if the proceedings were not already begun, Mr. Smith should be sent home unless the attempt to do so were likely to endanger the peace of the colony. We were not then aware, Sir, what the circumstances of the case might be the charges were not then before us. Unluckily, the order did not arrive in time—the proceedings had already been carried to a conclusion—but, still, the order itself shewed the disposition of the government here; and it operated, when known there, as an additional inducement to the colonial government to take Mr. Smith, as far as possible, out of the reach of the local prejudices against him.
But the character of the tribunal is not to be inferred from that of the colony. Their fault, if they be in fault, is the fault of a competent tribunal; with respect to whom there is not the slightest ground for presuming partiality a priori. What reason is there, then, why the House of Commons should do that in this case; which, with respect to the most ordinary magistrate, I the highest legal tribunal in this country would not do—namely, condemn as criminal an act of competent jurisdiction, where malice or corruption is not imputed? Now Sir, surely gentlemen 1282 must know, and especially the hon. and learned gentleman who spoke last but one on that side of the House, that the more they press the fact, that the colony was inflamed against Mr. Smith, and that it was utterly impossible that by a colonial tribunal he should have been judged fairly—the more they press that argument, the more ought they to agree with me, that the governor did his best to counteract the effect of that exasperation, and to ensure to the prisoner a fair trial, when he withdrew him from that colonial jurisdiction which, by your own shewing, must have been unfair as against him, and gave him over for judgment to a tribunal composed at least of unprejudiced men.—of men untainted with colonial prejudice—and with respect to whom no man suggests that there was any personal disposition to do injustice. Taking this view of the case, how, let me ask, would the resolution before the House operate? Would it be calculated to restore that feeling which it is so desirable should exist in the colony? I think not. What consequences can my hon. friend apprehend from the forbearance of the House to pronounce the severe censure proposed by the hon. and learned gentleman? If I for one moment conceived, that by passing by this sentence on the present occasion a feeling would be excited in the minds of the inhabitants of any of our West-India colonies, that either parliament or government were desirous of going back from the promises they had mode, that religious instruction should be the basis of all the future improvement of slaves—if it could be imagined that they could be likely to adopt some of the opinions expressed in resolutions passed in that colony—I do not say, Sir, that I should be contented to purchase the exemption from that danger by committing an act of injustice, such as in my conscience I think the condemnation of the court-martial would be; but there is scarcely any resolution to which I would not give my assent, rather than submit to be so misconstrued. But I assure my hon. friend, that I believe it to be impossible that the opinion either of the government or of parliament should be so misconstrued. The opinion of parliament may Be gathered as well from what passes in this debate, as from any recorded resolution. The colonists cannot be mistaken, they are not mistaken, with respect to the opinion of the government. We know that by the surest of all tests: 1283 we know it by the hostile animadversions which are heaped upon us by the resolutions of that colony, first, for having attempted to withdraw Mr. Smith (as they say) from justice; secondly, for not allowing the sentence to be executed; and, thirdly, for being disposed to press new instruments of instruction on their acceptance. They well know, that the not condemning, that the passing by without any condemnation, the proceedings of this court-martial, the coming to no resolution upon it, has nothing in common with any disposition to recede from the pledges which have been given, or to retract the opinions which have been declared.
Sir, my hon. friend has stated another instance which he thinks might come in aid of the apprehension which he entertains—I mean, the destruction of the chapel and the expulsion of the missionary from Barbadoes. But my hon. friend surely ought to have completed the picture: it would have been more candid—and I am sure it was only from forgetfulness, and not from want of candour, that he omitted—to add, that that missionary, so expelled by a tumult from Barbadoes, found shelter in a neighbouring island—in the island of St. Vincent—where he founded a new establishment. As to Demerara, my conviction is, that the notice which this case has aturacted, and for which I think the hon. and learned gentleman is entitled to our thanks—I think the notice this case has attracted, and the mode in which it has been treated in this House, cannot fail to show the colony of Demerara, that, whatever may have been the guilt or imprudence of any one individual, and however desirous they may be to put down religious instruction (and if such was their design, they have been, to a certain degree, lucky in the selection of their first victim), that in the person of that individual, the spirit of religious instruction is not extinguished; and that the colony would find enough to be convinced that theirs was not a triumph over this individual as a missionary; and that many such triumphs (if triumphs they should be called) would only hasten the final triumph overall attempts to shut out instruction.
I therefore think need, Sir, that the House not entertain any apprehension of any practical mischief from adopting the motion with which I shall take the liberty to conclude—a motion, the object of which is only to avoid a decision to which J think we can- 1284 not come without injustice. The motion which I shall propose to the House, is the "previous question;"—a proceeding which will not give to the colony of Demerara any ground for supposing that there is any disposition at home to approve in detail what has been done in the colony; but which shall, at the same time, rescue from injustice men who have acted as conscientiously, perhaps, as we could have done ourselves, in the discharge of a most painfulduty—a duty not sought for by them for the purposes of vengeance, or from a spirit of hostility, but cast upon them for the express purpose of rescuing this man—(this innocent man, as is contended on one side; but this man whom I in my conscience believe to have been guilty, though I will not undertake to define his crime)—of rescuing him from a tribunal in which he would have been heard with prejudice and judged with the extremest severity.
Sir, I am unwilling to dwell on any other parts of the question besides those which I have touched upon; but I must shortly say, that the points of charge against Mr. Smith, which I think it impossible to get over, are these: his knowledge that something was in agitation—a something, the knowledge of which went back beyond the 18th of August, though it was not till that day that he clearly comprehended the exact nature of it. He admits, that the receipt of the letter, on the 18th of August, withdrew the veil from his eyes. I feel as strongly as any man the sentiment of (what shall I call it?) disgust, at the publication of the details of Mr. Smith's journal; and, if I were trying Mr. Smith I hope I should dismiss them entirely from my mind; but the question that I am now trying is, whether there was that degree of innocence in Mr. Smith which calls upon me to condemn his judges; and, in that view of the question, I cannot throw out of my mind the moral conviction which the knowledge of Mr. Smith's feelings and opinions! however obtained, is calculated to produce. It is clear that he did generally apprehend some convulsion in the colony—an apprehension perhaps not distinct either as to mode or as to time; but he was of opinion, that there were not only the elements of convulsion, but strong probabilities of their explosion. And why do I state this circumstance? Why, Sir, because, to a mind so prepared, it was almost impossible that such information as 1285 Mr. Smith received could have appeared so undeserving of attention as he represents himself to have considered it. If I had known—if it had been apparent, from the disclosure of his journal, or from any other source—that Mr. Smith was a man living in perfect unconsciousness of any danger; in a state of mind completely unapprehensive of any thing likely to lead to tumult or confusion; and that, whilst in this unsuspecting temper, some facts of an equivocal nature had come to his knowledge; I might, in that case, have believed it possible that a man so totally unprepared might disregard such circumstances altogether. But when, by his own confession, his mind was in habitual expectation of some such event as did actually occur, it appears to me, I own, that not only it is not in human nature that information such as he received should excite no suspicion; but that, on the contrary, in a mind so prepared, "trifles light as air" would have excited suspicion, even without a cause. I find Mr. Smith's mind previously impressed with a general dread of some undefined danger: while he is under that impression, there comes to him a specific communication of at least an equivocal character; and this communication, he avers, awakens in him no particular apprehension. Sir, I cannot believe it. Mr. Smith admits that the letter of the 18th of August led back his awakened judgment upon the communication previously made to him, and shewed to him its true nature. And what docs he do with that letter? He tears it into pieces, and holds his tongue as to its contents! Why, Sir, I cannot think that this is the act of an entirely innocent man. Is it not rather the act of a man conscious of guilt and apprehensive of personal danger? Here, Sir, I am aware of the technical objection that nothing ought to have been broughtagainst him on the trial which had occurred before the proclamation of the governor. I admit, that, if I were now trying Mr. Smith, I would try him by the strict rules of evidence, and give him the benefit of every technical objection; but the question before me now is, whether the conduct of the court-martial was such as could only have arisen from malicious motives; and if, in my own mind, I am conscientiously convinced that the corpus delicti was there, I cannot join in condemning the court-martial, even although in their place I might not have come to their conclusion. I would not have taken advantage of a 1286 knowledge of Mr. Smith's secret thoughts to convict him; but, in reviewing historically the question whether he was wrongfully, as well as perhaps irregularly, found guilty, I cannot shut my eyes to that evidence. Why, good God! that a man habitually expecting some commotion could receive without alarm the communication that a "push" was to be made! (such, I think, was the expression): is that credible? Was it to be believed of Mr. Smith that, as Mirabeau said of the planters in St. Domingo, "They sleep on the verge of a volcano, and the first sparks that burst from it give them no alarm?" Mr. Smith was well aware that he was sleeping on the verge of a volcano; the first sparks could not be invisible to him; and yet it was not till the explosion took place that he conceived the smallest apprehension! Do I therefore impute to Mr. Smith, either the wickedness or the folly of promoting or conniving at insurrection, with a view to any personal ambition of his own? Oh no, Sir; no! I will not impute to him any other motive for concealment, than that sentiment which is common to all men more or less, and which, perhaps, belongs to refined and sensitive natures more than to any others—an unwillingness to betray—a horror of the name of "informer." But, while I morally make this excuse for him, it was surely no excuse before a court-martial, or any legal tribunal. Military law, or any other law which takes the safety of communities under its protection, is not at liberty to indulge those finer feelings. Who is there, who, in reading the scene between Pierre and Jaffier, after the council is over in which they had planned the shedding of so much of their fellow-citizens' blood—who is there, who, after hearing the vows of fidelity interchanged, does not feel an involuntary contempt for Jaffier, when he gives information of their plot, even though so many lives were to be saved by that act of the informer? However one may rejoice at the consequence of the information, one will detest the informer. But although such may be the code of honour in poetry, and such the colouring of sentimental enthusiasm, such is not the doctrine of morality, nor can such be the practice of ordinary life. We cannot, in administering justice, and in consulting the safety of the community, soften down the language of the law, and call misprision delicacy, and concealment an honourable fidelity! If the state is to be saved, it must be rather 1287 by the practice of duties, harsh though those duties may be than by the indulgence of romantic generosity. To betray a friend in betraying the plot, may be a hard struggle; but if, by faithfulness to that friend, you ruin your country, your country will vindicate its right, and your life may be the forfeit of your friendship. Such, I say, is the language of law and justice, and such the duties of allegiance to a state. Mr. Smith must, in this whole question, be considered as a subject of the colony in which he lived. Giving him, therefore, every credit for unwillingness to bring to punishment those who had eaten his bread and crowded around his threshold, and perhaps for a little of human vanity, in not liking that examples of misconduct should be detected in his own particular congregation—making every allowance for these feelings, laudable perhaps on one side, and natural on the other. I cannot forget, that Mr. Smith was a subject of that colony, and owed allegiance to its government; and if he was conscious as conscious in my opinion he must have been, of a danger threatening its peace, it was his duty to give information at whatever cost that information might be given. But, Sir, was it necessary, in giving that information, that he should bring down punishment on the slaves? I say, no: he might have stated to the magistrates of the place, that which he confided to his own journal;—that he had a general apprehension of danger: and that circumstances had lately come to his knowledge which made him believe that danger to be at hand. Nay might he not have stipulated for the safety of those whom his intelligence involved? Did that never occur to him? Did it never occur to him, when he was called on under military law, and refused to serve, partly on the mistaken ground of his profession, and partly on the ground of his weakness—did it never occur to him that, there was another way in which he could have discharged his duty to the colony? Did it never occur to him, that, having gained over his congregation a holy and just influence (to which be it admitted that his doctrines and his life might entitle him), he might have said, to those who called on him to "arm," "No; it is not with arms like those that I can serve you; but I have spiritual arms, of brighter temper and greater force; send me into the field I midst this tumultuous congregation, and answer for it, that they shall return, 1288 through a sense of religion, to their duty:" If Mr. Smith were the excellent person that he is represented, such is the influence that he might naturally have possessed, and such is the use which he would naturally have made of it. He did not do this: he withheld information; he passed, on the day before the insurrection, by the door of the governor twice, in going from his own house and in returning to it; he passed, and he paused not a moment to warn the governor of the impending danger.
Sir, I enter not into his motives. I lament many parts of his trial, and most deeply do I deplore his fate; but I do not see, in the proceedings that have been had against him, either, on the one hand, that entire exculpation which entitles Mr. Smith to the glory of martyrdom, or that proof of malus animus, on the part of his judges, which ought to subject them to such a sentence as the resolutions, proposed to us imply. I think, Sir that the House will best discharge its, duty by taking no further cognisance of the question, on which it is utterly impossible to come to a completely satisfactory judgment. And I propose this mode of disposing of the question with the more confidence, as I am satisfied, that the discussion itself will have answered every now attainable purpose of public justice; and that we cannot be misinterpreted, as intending by our vote to shew any luke warmness in the cause of the improvement of our fellow creatures, or in our belief that religion is the instrument by which that improvement is to be effected [loud cheers].
§ Mr. Denman
assured the House, that the difficulty which he felt in expressing himself, in a manner adequate to his own feelings, was aggravated at this moment by following a speech so eloquent as that of the right hon. gentleman, and so full of statesman-like views, though leading, he thought, in the end, to a conclusion condemnatory of themselves. It seemed, indeed, extraordinary, that after the sentence of the court-martial had been given up as indefensible by every one who had spoken on the question; that, after the right hon. secretary had, as the climax, stated that the sentence had been annulled by the government; the House of Commons alone was to be prevented from expressing its disapprobation of if. But if, in point of fact, the sentence had not, up to this moment, remained unannulled, his learned friend (Mr. Brougham) would not have 1289 made that powerful statement, by which he had carried home conviction to all those who heard him. But when the sentence, in point of fact, was unannulled; when, the sentence, that he be hanged; by the neck, had remained upon the unhappy man till he died; when the government had adopted the sentence, and only complimented the decision of the court by adopting its recommendation, and banishing him for ever from the colony in which he had done no wrong; it became the House of Commons to step in, and condemn the policy under which these monstrous proceedings had been carried on. The government had thus acted a very inconsistent part. Indeed, it was curious to observe the inconsistencies to which the opposers of the motion were driven. The right hon. gentleman, at the time that he professed to make allowance for that delicacy of feeling, in the case of Mr. Smith, which made him unwilling to become an informer, had, at the same time, endeavoured to make it almost a legal crime, that he had not gone forth between the contending parties, and had not exposed his breast to the cutlasses of the negro and the tender mercies of the government of Demerara. Was it probable that he could have escaped the double danger; or that he might not have fallen under that torture, which was allowed by that civil law under which to-night, for the first time, an attempt had been made to palliate the truly-called anomalous proceedings of the court-martial?—As to these proceedings, he did not wish to go further in their condemnation than the defender of them, his learned friend (Mr. Scarlett) had done, who only condemned them in the beginning, the middle, and the end [hear hear]. He only wished that those who went along with him in that opinion should come to a resolution expressive of it, and thus give his majesty's government the authority with which it would invest them. The right hon. gentleman had said, that he would not enter into the minutiæ of the law of the court-martial. If this were a question of cicelies and minutitæ, he (Mr. D.) should be very unwilling to enter into it. If it were even like the case of an officer acting upon an in formal warrant, which was conscientiously believed to be valid, he should be most unwilling to animadvert on the court-martial. But this was a case in which, not the minutæ, but the substance, of law had been departed 1290 from; and in which its forms had been perverted to injustice, for the purpose of putting to death an Innocent man. He did not complain of the first proclamation of martial-law; but why, after it had been proclaimed on-the 20th of August, was it continued, without a shadow of cause, to the end of the trial on the 20th November, and to the month of January following? But it was said, that, if the prisoner had not been tried by martial law, he must have been tried by the civil law, and that his judges would have been, in fact, the president, and eight commissaries, probably planters, from whom the government wished to protect him. He would have been tried, it was true, by the judge and eight commissaries—not necessarily planters, but any residents, the judge directing them, and acting under his responsibility, and in his character as a judge. Could it be said, that there was no difference between the security against a judge so acting, and a judge voluntarily throwing off his judicial character, and associating himself as a member of a court-martial, among persons over whom he had no control? In the civil court they had a fixed standard of right and wrong: in the trial by court-martial there was a much wider discretion. If this were a disadvantage even to a soldier, how much more to a man situated as Mr. Smith was? A soldier tried by a count-martial was tried by his peers; and in the members of such a court there was naturally a strong feeling of the members towards the prisoner, as one of their own profession, whom they regarded kindly, perhaps from intimacy, and whom they were led, on the principle of honour, to protect. The accused soldier, therefore, looked with confidence to his judges. But, how different was the case of the destitute missionary—an outcast; against whom all prejudices were running high; and who, from the beginning, had been stigmatized as the author of the revolt, which he (Mr. D.) verily believed he had from the beginning endeavoured to prevent; and who was alike ignorant of his judges and of the forms of their court? How many were the safeguards for the prisoner under the civil law! In the first place, it was necessary to petition the governor for liberty to arrest the accused, which he might refuse, and bail him, if he chose. The proceedings then commenced on the part of the prosecution, and the evidence was taken, (it was true, in writing) but at 1291 least as accurately as these oral depositions; seemed to have been taken. Then the charge was drawn up on the demand of: the Fiscal; and from this period forward, he could affirm, though the contrary had been alleged, the prisoner was allowed counsel. Then the evidence was gone through, and the president and court decided what evidence should be admitted, and what rejected. Now, he took the liberty to ask this question. Was it possible, if this court had formally and responsibly exercised this judgment, as to what evidence should be admitted and what rejected, that the journal of Mr. Smith should have been produced against him; or, what was more monstrous, that particular passages should have been admitted, to the exclusion of all the rest After all these advantages in favour of the prisoner, there then followed the public discussion of all the evidence; and, finally, supposing the party was convicted, there was an appeal on the whole case to the king in council [hear].
It was said, an appeal had been made to the government; but this was not an appeal to the king in council, but an appeal to the mercy of the governor of Demerara; and, considering the temper of the colony, it would not have been wonderful if the punishment had been inflicted on this innocent and injured man. He had happened to read the evidence some time ago, when he had seen nothing on the subject except insinuations against Mr. Smith, and had heard none of the statements more recently made in his favour. He (Mr. D.) was no fanatic; he subscribed to no missionary society; and he had no other feeling on the subject than that it would be wise to let West-Indian questions alone for the present, if the people of Demerara would let them. Yet, with all these feelings, he had read the evidence with utter astonishment; he had looked page after page for the proofs of Mr. Smith's guilt, and he found none; and, looking fairly and honestly at the whole case, he thought this man had been most foully and unjustly treated, nay, that the very circumstances brought forward in proof of his guilt proved his innocence. Even the suppression of parts of his journal on the trial went to prove it. In his own mind, he could find nothing against Mr. Smith but an anxious desire to prevent the mischief, and too much confidence, perhaps, in the power of doing so. The right hon. gentleman had said, that 1292 Smith had slept on the verge of the volcano, and had given no alarm of the first sparks which indicated its eruption. The illustration would be perfect if the fact were true. But the fact was, that he had given an intimation as distinct as his own knowledge of the subject. He did communicate to those in authority, the attorney and manager of Success, all he knew. He stated, from his imperfect knowledge, the discontent of the slaves, in consequence of the non-publication of lord Bathurst's letter. The neglect, therefore, lay with those by whom that information had been held back. There was surely much difference between a combination for striking work, which he might have anticipated, and which might lead to riot, and perhaps assaults on particular persons—there was a great difference between this and treason. If a man were to suspect, or even to know, that a combination of workmen was to take place, with a view to a strike, in England, in consequence of the non-publication or non-fulfilment of some regulation relative to wages, could the concealment of that knowledge be called misprision of treason? He contended that it could not, even though the combination might afterwards be attended with fatal consequences.
The learned gentleman here entered into an examination of several parts of the evidence, and contended, that it was not of sufficient weight to convict Mr. Smith of any of the crimes of which he was accused. The whole tendency of it went rather to shew, that, as far as he had any reason to suspect the intentions of any of the slaves to be bad, he had endeavoured to dissuade them from any rash attempt, by pointing out its dreadful consequences. Two wretched men, Baily and Aves, were brought to say, that he had told them that he had known six weeks before that something must happen, and this was construed into positive knowledge of the plot! What motive, indeed, could Mr. Smith I have had to engage in such a plot? The poor miserable men who were under sentence of death knowing that a missionary I would be an acceptable sacrifice, forged one story upon another against him, but none of them made out any guilt; and, when about to be executed, they all retracted their accusations as false and Groundless It appeared to him that there never had been a more gross perversion of evidence than this case exhibited. Much had been said of hearsay evidence, but 1293 he was one of those who was very glad that it had been received, for it was impossible for any man to have gone through that hearsay examination and say that Smith had acted wrong. The right hon. gentleman had asked, whether they supposed the court martial had not thought they were justified by authorities in the course they had pursued? He should like to know what were those authorities. But of this he was quite certain, that there was no authority to shew that martial law could have properly existed in the colony at the time of Smith's trial. An attempt had been made to excuse the proceedings against Mr. Smith, on the ground that the white population of Demerara was in a state of great agitation. But, why were courts of law established in the colonies, except for the purpose of allaying those angry feelings which might pervert the course of justice? The justification of this proceeding which had been set up, appeared to him to be its condemnation; but it was quite enough to shew, that the sentence was indefensible, and the evidence open to reproof. And that it was a case loudly demanding inquiry, was abundantly proved by the parties themselves. It was idle to say that the House was not in a condition to express an opinion. For what other purpose were the papers laid on the table? Here the parties themselves had made the returns. He denied altogether that the resolution charged murder; if he could learn the terms in which his learned friend (Mr. Scarlett) would express his opinion, he was ready to adopt them. In no instance, with which he was acquainted, had such hard measure been dealt out to any man as to the memory of the unfortunate Smith. And how was even the means of this defamation procured? Why, out of the defence of Smith himself on his trial. Nothing was ever heard like it. All they had in the way of evidence was, that he had listened to a conversation; and then they gave credit to his testimony up to the very point which could betray him into danger, and after that he was to be disbelieved [hear, hear!]. He was not aware of any instance besides this, in which the admission of a prisoner was taken, up to a certain point, in confirmation of other circumstances which had not been proved in evidence. But, in all this there was involved a much higher principle—he meant with respect to the government of the colonies themselves. In passing over the case, they 1294 would hold out a general proclamation of impunity to all abuses abroad; and it would be only necessary hereafter to find out a good case of abuse, in order to load it with panegyric. He should give his cordial support to the motion.
§ Sir Joseph Yorke
said, that the learned doctor (Lushington), had advised every member of the House to read over the evidence on the trial of Mr. Smith before he gave his vote. He had read the evidence, and he declared conscientiously, that he saw no reason for finding Mr. Smith guilty of the crime with which he was charged, If he had been a petty-juryman, he would have acquitted Mr. Smith upon the evidence. A whole lunar month had been consumed by the court-martial in finding him guilty. On this subject he remembered a circumstance which took place in the early part of the revolutionary war. The present lord chancellor, then attorney general, had spoken for nine hours, to make out his charge of treason against Messrs. Tooke and Hardy. A witty friend observed to him at the time, that if such a sharp, shrewd chap as the attorney general, found it necessary to speak at such length, in order to substantiate his charge against the prisoners, they were sure to be acquitted. He could not help thinking, that the long period which Mr. Smith's trial occupied, proved the weakness of the case against him. The speech of the right hon. secretary for foreign affairs had not satisfied his mind it was a mere brilliant apology, and not a defence 'of the proceedings against Mr. Smith. He thought that that most bloody record ought to be blotted out; and, under that impression, he would vote with great pleasure for the motion.
§ Mr. Brougham
, in reply, said:—
I do assure the House, that I feel great regret at having to address them again so late in the night; but, considering the importance of the case, I cannot be satisfied to let it rest where it is, without trespassing upon their patience for a short time; indeed, that I rise at all is chiefly in consequence of the somewhat new shape into which the proposition of the right hon. secretary has thrown the question. For, Sir, as to the question itself, not only have I heard nothing to shake the opinion which I originally expressed, or to meet the arguments which I feebly endeavoured to advance in its support, but I am seconded by the admissions of those who would resist the motion: for, beside the power- 1295 ful assistance I have received from my learned friends en the benches around me, and who; one after another, have distinguished themselves in a manner never to be-forgotten in this House, or by their country—men of all clashes, and of all parties, without regard to difference of political sentiments or of religious persuasion, will hold them in lasting remembrance; and pronounce their honoured names with unceasing; gratitude; for the invaluable service which their brilliant talents and honest zeal have-rendered to the cause of truth and justice.—Besides this, what have I on the-other side? Great ability, no doubt, displayed—much learning exbibited—men of known expertness and high official authority put in requisition—others for the first time brought forward in debate—an hon. and learned friend-bf mine, for whom I have the most sincere esteem, and of whose talents I did not for the first time to-night witness the exhibition—yet; with all those talents, and all that research from him and from others-who-followed him, instead of any thing to controvert the positions I set out with, I find support. I have an admission—for it amounts to nothing less than an admission—a confession—a plea of guilty, with a recommendation to mercy. We have an argument in mitigation of the punishment of this court-martial, and of the government who put their proceedings in motion—nothing against Mr. Smith, nothing on the merits of those proceedings. An attempt, no doubt, was made, by my learned friend, the attorney-general, to go a little further than any other gentleman who has addressed the House. He would fain have stept beyond the argument which alone has been urged from all other quarters; against this poor missionary, and would have attempted to shew that there was some foundation for the charge which makes him an accomplice, as well as guilty of misprision: all others, as well of the legal profession as laymen, and particularly the secretary of state who spoke last but one, have at once abandoned, as utterly desperate, each and every of the charges against Mr. Smith, except that of misprision; and even this they do not venture very stoutly to assert. "It is something like a misprision," says the right hon. secretary—for the House will observe, that he would not take upon himself to say that he had been guilty of misprision of treason; strictly so called. He would not say there was any treason 1296 in existence, of which a guilty concealment could take place; still less would he affirm (which is, however, necessary, in order to make it misprision at all), that Mr. Smith had known a treason to exist in a specific and tangible shape, and that this knowledge being conveyed to him, he had sunk it in his own breast, instead of divulging it to the proper authorities. All the charge was this—in this it began; in this it centered; in this it ended: "I cannot help thinking," said the right hon. gentleman, "when I take every thing into consideration, whatever may be the facts as to the rest of the case—I cannot get out of my mind the impression, that, somehow or other, he must have known that all was hot right; must have suspected that there might be something wrong; and, knowing, or suspecting, there was something wrong, he did not communicate that some thing to the lawful authorities!" My learned friend, the attorney general, indeed, went a little further: he felt, as a lawyer, that this was not enough, and particularly when we are talking, not merely of a crime, but of a capital crime—not merely of a charge' of guilty, and of "something wrong," and having a misgiving in our mind, that that "something wrong" was known to him, and, being known to him, was concealed by him—but that on this something waste be founded, not barely an accusation of wrong doing, but a charge of Criminality; and not merely a charge, but a conviction; and not merely a conviction of guilt, bat a conviction of the highest guilt known to the law of this Or of any county; and a sentence of death following that capital conviction; and that ignominious sentence standing unrepealed, though unexecuted; sanctioned, nay adopted, by tire government of this country, because suffered to remain unrescinded; and carried into effect, as far as its authors dared give it operation, by treating its object as a criminal, and making him owe his escape to mercy, who was entitled to absolute acquittal. Accordingly, what says my learned friend (Mr. Tindal), in order to shew that there was some foundation for those proceedings? He feels that English law with not do; that is quite out of the question; so does the attorney-general. Therefore, forth comes their Dutch code; and upon it they are fain, at least for a season, to rely. They say, "True it is, all this would have been; too monstrous to be for one instant endured in any court in England—true, 1297 there is nothing like a capital crime committed here; certain it is, if treason had been committed by conspiring the death of the king, if an overt act had been proved, if the very bond of the conspirators had been produced, with their seals, in court, to convict them of this treason; and if another man, namely, Smith, had been proved to have known it, to have seen the bond with the seals and the names of the conspirators upon it, and had been the confidential depositary of their secret treasons, and had done all but make himself their accomplice, he might have known it, he might have seen its details in black and white, he might have had it communicated to him by word or by writing, he might have had as accurate knowledge of it as any man has of his own household, and he might have buried the secret in his own breast, so that no one should learn it until the design, well matured, was at length carried openly into execution; and yet that knowledge and concealment, that misprision of treason, could not by possibility have subjected him to capital punishment in any English court of justice!" This they know, and this they admit; and the question being, What shall we do, and how shall we express our opinion on the conduct of a court-martial, which, having no jurisdiction with respect to the offence, even if the person of the prisoner had been under their authority, chose to try him over whom they had no jurisdiction of whatever offence he might be accused—and moreover, to try him capitally for an offence for which no capital sentence could be passed, even if the party had been amenable to their jurisdiction, and if, When put upon his trial he had at once pleaded guilty, and confessed that he had committed all he was accused of a hundred times over!—This being the question before the House, my learned friends being called upon to say how we shall deal with those who first arrogate to themselves an authority utterly unlawful, and then sentence a man, whom they had no pretence for trying, to be hanged for that which he never did, but which, had he done it, is not a capital crime:—such being the question, the gentlemen on the other side feeling the pinch of it, and aware that there is no warrant for such a sentence in the English law, betake themselves to the Dutch, contending that it punishes misprision with death! But here my learned friend (Mr. Tindal) gets into a difficulty 1298 with which all his acuteness only enables him to see the more clearly that there is no struggling, and from which the whole resources of his learning have no power to extricate him. Nay—I speak it with the most sincere respect for him—I was not the only person who felt, as he was going on, that in this part of his progress he seemed oppressed with the nature of his task, and, far from getting over the ground with as easy a pace and as firm a footstep as usual, he hesitated, and even stumbled; as if unaware beforehand of the slipperiness of the path, and only sensible of the kind of work he had undertaken when already in the midst of it. The difficulty, the insurmountable difficulty, is this; You must choose between jurisdiction to try at all, and power to punish misprision capitally; both you cannot have by the same law. If the Dutch law make the crime capital, which the English does not, the Dutch law gives you no right to try by a military tribunal. The English law it was that alone could make the court-martial legal; so, at least, the court and the prosecutor say. "Necessity," they assert, "has no law—proclaim martial law, every man is a soldier, and amenable to a military court." They may be right in this position, or they may be wrong; but it is their only defence of the jurisdiction which they assumed. By the law of England, then, not of Holland, was the court assembled, According to English forms it sate; by English-law principles it affected to square its modes of proceeding; to authorities of English law it constantly appealed. Here indeed, this night, we have heard Dutch jurists cited in profusion; the erudite Van Schooten, the weighty Voetius, the luminous Huber, ornaments of the Batavian. school—and Dommat, who is neither Dutch nor English, but merely French, and therefore has as much to do with the question, in any conceivable view, as if he were a Mogul doctor; yet his name, too, is brandished before us, as if to shew the exuberance and variety of the stores at the command of my learned friends. But, was any whisper of all this Hollandish learning ever heard in the court itself? Was it on those worthies that the parties themselves relied, for whom the fertile invention of the gentlemen opposite is now so nimbly forging excuses? No such thing. They appealed to the Institutes of that far-famed counsellor of justice, Blackstone; the edict of the states- 1299 general, commonly called the Mutiny act; the Crown Law of that elaborate commentator of Rotterdam, Hawkins; and the more modern tractate upon Evidence of my excellent friend, the very learned professor Phillipps of Leyden. It is to these authorities that the judge-advocate, or rather the many judge-advocates who were let loose upon the prisoner, constantly make their appeal; with quotations from these laws and these text-writers that they garnish their arguments; and Voet, and Bynkershoeck, and Huber, are no more mentioned than if they had never existed, or Guiana had never been a colony of the Dutch. Thus, then, in order to get jurisdiction, without which you cannot proceed one step, because the whole is wrong from the beginning if you have it not, you must abandon your Dutch authors, leave your foreign codes, and be content with that rude, old-fashioned system, part written, part traditional, the half-Norman, half-Saxon code, which we are wont to respect, under the name of the old, every-day law of England. Without that you cannot stir one step. Having got your foot on that, you have something like a jurisdiction, or at least a claim to a jurisdiction, for the court-martial. But, then, what becomes of your capital punishment? Where is your power of putting to death for misprision? Because, the instant you abandon the Dutch law, away goes capital punishment for misprision; and if you acquit this court-martial of the monstrous solecism (I purposely avoid giving it a worse name) of having pronounced sentence of death for a clergyable offence, you can only do so by having recourse to the Dutch law, and then away goes the jurisdiction:—so that the one law takes from you the jurisdiction—the authority to try at all; and the other takes away the right to punish as you have punished. Between the horns of this dilemma I leave my learned friend. Now, this is no immaterial part of the argument; on the contrary, it lies at the foundation of the whole; and I cannot help thinking, that the practised understanding of my learned friend, the attorney-general, perceived its great importance, and had some misgivings that it must prove decisive of the question; for he applied himself to strengthen the weak part, to find some way by which he must steer out of the dilemma—some middle course, which might enable him to obtain the jurisdic- 1300 tion from one law, and the capital punishment from the other. Thus according to him, you must neither proceed entirely by the Dutch, nor yet entirely by the English law, but just take from each what suits your immediate purpose, pursuing it no further than the necessities of your case require. The English law gives you jurisdiction: use it then to open the doors: but, having them thus flung open, allow not to enter the gracious figure of English justice, with those forms, the handmaids that attend her. Make way for the body of Dutch jurisprudence, and enthrone her, surrounded with her ministers, the Hubers, and Voets, and Van Cootens. Now, this mode of treating a difficulty is one of the most ordinary, and among the least excusable, of all sophisms; it is that by which, in order to get rid of an absurdity inherent in any proposition, we arbitrarily and gratuitously alter its terms, as soon as we perceive the contradictory results to which it necessarily loads; carving and moulding our data at pleasure; not before the argument begins, but after the consequences are perceived. The alteration suddenly made, arises, not out of the argument, or the facts, or the nature of things; but is made violently, and because there is no doing without it; and it is never thought of till this is discovered. Thus, no one ever dreamt of calling in the Dutch code till better lawyers than the court-martial found, that the English Jaw condemned half their proceedings; and then the English was abandoned, until it was perceived that the other half stood condemned by the Dutch. Therefore, a third expedient is resorted to: the Jaw under which they claim their justification is to be part Dutch, when that will suit; part English, when they can't get on without it; something compounded of both, and very little like either—shewing to demonstration, that they acted without any law, or only set about discovering by what law they acted, after their conduct was impeached; and then were forced to fabricate a new Jaw to suit their proceedings, instead of having squared those proceedings to any known rule of any existing law. To put all such arbitrary assumptions at once to flight, I need only remind the House how the jurists of Demerara treated the Dutch law. Admitting, for argument sake, that the doors of the court were opened by the English law giving them jurisdiction, then that by 1301 violence the Dutch law was forced through and made to preside, of course we shall find all appeal to English statutes, and forms, and common law, cease from the instant that they have served their purpose of giving jurisdiction, and every thing will be conducted upon Dutch principles. Was it so? Was any mention made, from beginning to end, of Dutch rules or Dutch forms? Was there a word quoted of those works now so glibly referred to? Was there a single name pronounced of those authorities, for the first time cited in this House to-night? Nothing of the kind. All was English from first to last: all the laws appealed to on either side, all the writers quoted, all the principles laid down, without a single exception, were the same that would have been resorted to in any court sitting in this country; and the court-martial were content to rest their proceedings upon our own law, and to be an English judicature, or to be nothing at all.
Sir, I rejoice (well knowing that a legal argument, whether Dutch or English, or, like the doctrine I have been combatting, made up of both, is at all times very little of a favourite with this House, and less than ever at the hour of the morning to which we are now approaching) that what I have said, coupled with the more luminous and cogent reasons which have been urged by my hon. and learned friends, may suffice to settle the point of law, and relieve me from the necessity of detaining you longer upon so dry a part of the question. My only excuse for having gone so far into it, is its intimate connexion with the defence of the court-martial, of whose case it indeed forms the very corner-stone. And now, in passing to the merits of the inquiry before that court, I have to wish that my learned friend, the member for Peterborough (Mr. Scarlett) was here in his place; that, after the example of others who have gone before me, I too might, in my turn, have taken the opportunity of paying my respects to him. But, if he has gone himself, he has left a worthy representative in the hon. under-secretary for colonial affairs, by whom, in the quality for which his very remarkable speech the other night shone conspicuous—I mean, an entire ignorance of the facts of the case—he is, I will not say out-done, because that may safely be pronounced to be beyond the power of any man, but almost if not altogether, equalled. There 1302 was, however, this difference, between the two;—that the hon. under-secretary, with a gravity quite imposing, described the great pains he had taken to master, the details of the subject; whereas, my learn-ed friend avowed that he considered it ast a matter which any one might take up at, an odd moment during the debate; that, accordingly, he had come down to the; House perfectly ignorant of the whole question, and been content to pick up what he could while the discussion went on, partly by listening, partly by reading. I would most readily have taken his word for this, as I would for any thing else he had chose to assert; but if that had not been sufficient, his speech would have proved it to demonstration. If, as he says, he came down in a state of entire ignorance, assuredly he had not mended his condition by the sort of attention he might have given to the question in his place—unless a man can be said to, change his ignorance for the better, by. gaining a kind of half-blind, left-handed knowledge, which is worse than ignorance, as it is safer to be uninformed than misinformed. In this respect, too, the right hon. secretary of state is his worthy successor; for the pains which he has taken to inform himself, seem but to have Jed him the more widely astray. I protest I never in my life witnessed such an elaborate neglect of the evidence, as pervaded the part of his speech which affected to discuss it. He appeared to have got as far wrong, without the same bias, as my hon. friend was led by the jaundiced eye with which he naturally enough views such questions, from his West-Indian connexions, and the recollections associated with the place of his birth and the scene of his earliest years. Without any such excuse from nature, the right hon. secretary labours to be in the wrong, and is eminently successful. His argument against Mr. Smith rests upon the assumption, that he had an accurate knowledge of a plot, which the right hon. secretary by another assumption, supposes to have been proved; and he assumes that Mr. Smith had this knowledge twenty-four hours before he could possibly have known any thing of the matter. Every thing turns upon this; and whoever has read the evidence with attention, is perfectly aware that this is the fact. Tell me not of Jacky Reed's letter, which was communicated to him on Monday evening at six o'clock, or later! Talk not to me 1303 of going to the constituted authorities as soon as he knew of a revolt! If he had known it the night before; if he had been aware of the design before the insurrection broke out, then indeed there might have been some ground for speaking about concealment. If he had obtained any previous intelligence, though nothing had been confided to him, by a figure of speech we might have talked of concealment—hardly of misprision. But when did the note reach him? The only discrepancy in the evidence is, that one witness says it was delivered at six, and he was the bearer of it, while another, ascertaining the time by circumstances, which are much less likely to deceive than the vague recollection of an hour, fixes the moment, by saying that it was at night-fall, half an hour later. But take it at the earliest period, and let it be six. When did the revolt break out? I hear it said, at half-past six. No such thing; it broke out at half-past three: aye, and earlier. Look at the 15th page of the evidence, and you will find one witness speaking to what happened at half-past three, and another at half-past four. A most important step had then been taken. Quamina and Jack the two alleged ringleaders—one of them, Jack, unquestionably was the contriver of the whole movement, or resolution to strike work, or call it what you will; and Quamina was suspected—and I believe the suspicion to have been utterly groundless; nor have I yet heard, throughout the whole proceedings, a word to confirm it—but both these men, the real and the supposed ringleader, had been actually in custody for the revolt, nay, had been both arrested for the revolt, and rescued by the revolters, two or three hours before the letter came into Mr. Smith's hands! It is for not disclosing this, which all the world knew better than himself, for not telling them at night what they knew in the afternoon, that he is to be blamed! Why go and communicate to a man that the sun is shining at twelve o'clock in the day? Why tell this House that these candles are burning; that we are sitting in a great crowd, in no very pleasant atmosphere, and listening to a tedious speech Why state things which were as plain as the day-light, and which every one knew better and earlier than Mr. Smith himself? He was walking, with his wife under his arm, say the witnesses: be should have walked away with her, or hired a horse and rode to Georgetown, 1304 says the right hon. secretary. Why, this would have been, at the least, only doing what was manifestly superfluous, and, because superfluous, ridiculous. But in the feeling which then prevailed; in the irritation of men's minds; in the exasperation towards himself which, I am sorry to say, had been too plainly manifested; I believe such a folly would not have been considered as superfluous only: he would have been asked, "Why are you meddling? what are you interfering about? keep you quiet at your own house; if you are indeed a peaceable missionary, don't enter into quarrels you have no concern in, or busy yourself with other people's matters." Answers of that kind he had received before: rebuffs had been given him of a kind which might induce him to take an opposite course. Not a fortnight previous to that very night he had been so treated. I, for one, am not the man to marvel that he kept himself still at his house, instead of going forth to tell tales which all the world knew, and to give information extremely unlike that which the evidence would have communicated to the hon. under-secretary, if he had read it correctly; and to the member for Peterborough, if he had read it at all. It would have informed no one, because all knew it.
But, says the right hon. gentleman, why did not this missionary, if he would not fly to the destruction of his friends upon some vague surmise—if he would not make haste to denounce his flock upon rumour or suspicion—if he would not tell, that which he did not know—if he would not communicate a treason which probably had no existence, which certainly did not to his knowledge exist—if he would not disclose secrets which no man had entrusted to him—if he would not betray a confidence which no mortal had ever reposed in him—(for that is the state of the case up to the delivery of Jacky Reed's letter; that is the precise state of the case at the time of receiving the letter)—if he did not please to do all these impossibilities, there was one possibility, it seems, and that mentioned for the first time to-night (I know not when it was discovered), which he might do: Why did he not go forth into the field, when the negroes were all there, rebellious and inarms—some arrested and rescued, others taken by the insurgents and carried back into the woods—why did he not proceed where he could not take a step, according 1305 to the same authority that suggests such an operation, without seeing multitudes of martial slaves—why not, in this favourable state of things, at this very opportune moment, at a crisis so auspicious for the exertions of a peaceful missionary among his enraged flock—why not greedily seize such a moment, to reason with them, to open his Bible to them, to exhort them and instruct them and catechize them, and, in fine, take all those steps which for having pursued, in a season of profound tranquillity, he was brought into peril of his life!—why not now renew that teaching and preaching to them, for which, and for nothing else, he was condemned to death, his exhausted frame subjected to lingering torture, and his memory blighted with the name of traitor and felon! Why, he was wise in not doing this! If he had made any such unseasonable and wild attempts, we might now think it only folly, and might be disposed to laugh at the ridiculous project; but at that moment of excitement, when the exasperation of his enemies had waxed to such a height as he knew it to have reached against him, and men's minds were in a state of feverish alarm that made each one deem every other he met his foe, and all who were in any manner of way connected with plantations fancied they saw the very head and ringleader of their common enemy in whatever bore the shape of a christian pastor—(this Mr. Smith knew, independent of his personal experience, independent of experience the most recent—experience within the last fortnight from the time when such courses are pointed out as rational, nay, obvious and necessary)—but if, with only his own general knowledge of the state of society, the recollection of what had happened to him in former times, and the impression which every page of his journal proves to have been the genuine result of all he saw daily passing before his eyes—if, in such a crisis, and with this knowledge, he had fared forth upon the hopeless errand of preaching peace, when the cutlasses of the insurgents were gleaming in his eyes, I say he would not merely have exposed himself to the just imputation of insanity from the candid and reflecting, but have encountered, and for that reason encountered, the persecutions of those who now, with monstrous inconsistency, blame him for not employing his pastoral authority to restrain a rebellious multitude, and who pursued him to the 1306 death for teaching his flock the lessons of forbearance and peace [hear, hear].
Sir, I am told that it is unjust to censure the court-martial so vehemently as I propose doing in the motion before you: and, really, to hear gentlemen talk of it, one would imagine that it charged enormous crimes in direct terms. Some have argued as if murder were plainly imputed to the court: They have confounded together the different parts of the argument urged in support of the motion, and then imported into the motion itself that confusion, the work of their own brains. But even if the accusations of which they complain had been preferred in the speeches that introduced or supported the proposition, could any thing be conceived more grossly absurd than to decide as if you were called upon to adopt or reject the speeches, and not the motion, which alone is the subject of the vote? Truly this would be a mode of reasoning surpassing any thing the most unfair and illogical that I have ever heard attempted even in this place, where I have certainly heard reasonings not to be met with elsewhere. The motion conveys a censure, I admit; but in my humble opinion, a temperate and a mitigated censure. The law has been broken; justice has been outraged. Whoso believes not in this, let him not vote for the motion. But whosoever believes that a gross breach of the law has been committed; that a flagrant violation of justice has been perpetrated is it asking too much at the hands of that man, to demand that he honestly speak his mind, and record his sentiments by his vote? In former times, this house of parliament has not scrupled to express, in words far more stringent than any you are now required to adopt, its sense of proceedings displaying the triumph of oppression over the law. When there came before the legislature a case remarkable in itself; for its consequences yet more momentous; resembling the present in many points; to the very letter in some things resembling it—I mean, the trial of Sidney—did our illustrious predecessors within these walls shrink back, from the honest and manly declaration of their opinion in words suited to the occasion and screen themselves behind such tender phrases as are this night resorted to,—"Don't be too violent—pray be civil—do be gentler—there has only been a man murdered, nothing more—a total breach of all law, to be sure; an utter contempt, no doubt, of justice, and 1307 every thing like it, in form as well as in substance; but that's all: surely, then, you will be meek, and patient, and forbearing, as were the Demerara judges to this poor missionary; against whom, if somewhat was done, a great deal more was meditated than they durst openly perpetrate; but who, being condemned to die in despite of law and evidence, was only put to death by slow and wanton severity!" In those days no such language was holden. On that memorable occasion, plain terms were not deemed too strong when severe truth was to be recorded. The word "murder" was used, because the deed of blood had been done. The word "murder" was not reckoned too uncourtly, in a place where decorum is studied somewhat more scrupulously than even here: on the journals of the other House stands the appointment of lords committees, "to inquire of the advisers and prosecutors of the murder of lord Russell and colonel Sidney:" and their lordships make a report, upon which the statute is passed to reverse those execrable attainders. I will not enter into any detailed comparison of the two cases, which might be thought fanciful; but I would remind the House, that no legal evidence was given of Mr. Smith's handwriting in his journal, any more than of Sidney's in his manuscript Discourse on Government. Every lawyer, who reads the trial, must at once perceive this. The witness who swears to Mr. Smith's hand, cannot say that he ever saw him write; and when asked how he knows, the court say "that question is unnecessary, because he has said he knows the hand!" although all the ground of knowledge he had stated was having received letters from him, without a syllable of having afterwards seen him to ascertain that they were his, or having written in answer to them, or otherwise acted upon them. Now, in Sidney's case there was an endorsement on bills of exchange produced, and those bills had been paid; nevertheless parliament pronounced his conviction murder, for this, among other reasons, that such evidence had been received. The outrageous contempt of the most established rules of evidence, to which I am alluding, was indeed committed by a court of fourteen military officers, ignorant of the law; but, that their own deficiencies might be supplied, they had joined with them the first legal authority of the colony. Why, the", did they not avail themselves of Mr. 1308 President Wray's knowledge and experience? Why did they over-rule by their numbers what he must have laid down to them as the law? I agree entirely with my learned friend (Mr. Scarlett), that the President must have protested strenuously against such proceedings. I take for granted, as a matter of course, that he resisted them to the utmost of his power. My learned friend and I have too good an opinion of that learned judge, and are too well persuaded of his skill in our common profession, to have a doubt in our minds of his being as much astonished at those strange things as any man who now hears of them; and far more shocked, because they were done before his eyes; and, though really in spite of his efforts to prevent them, yet clothed in outward appearance with the sanction of his authority.
In Sidney's case, another ground of objection at the trial, and of reprobation ever afterwards, was the seizure and production of his private manuscript, which he described, in eloquent and touching' terms, as containing "sacred truths and hints that came into his mind, and were designed for the cultivation of his understanding, nor intended to be as yet made public." Recollect the seizure and production of the missionary's journal; to which the same objection and the same reprobation is applicable: with this only, difference, that Sidney avowed the intention of eventually publishing his discourse,-while Mr. Smith's papers were prepared to meet no mortal eye but his own. In how many other particulars do these two memorable trials agree? The preamble of the act rescinding the attainder seems almost framed to describe the proceedings of the court at Demerara. Admission or hearsay evidence; allowing matters to be law for one party, and refusing to the other the benefit of the same law; wresting the evidence against the prisoner; permitting proof by comparison of hands—all these enormities are to be found in both causes.
But, Sir, the demeanour of the judges after the close of the proceedings, I grieve to say it, completes the parallel. The chief justice who presided, and whom a profligate government made the instrument of Sidney's destruction, it is stated in our most common books—Collins, and, I believe slso Rapin—"when he allowed the account of the trial to be published, carefully made such alterations and sup- 1309 pressions as might shew his own conduct in a more favourable light." That judge was Jeffries, of immortal memory! who will be known to all ages as the chief—not certainly of ignorant and inexperienced men, for he was an accomplished lawyer, and of undoubted capacity—but as the chief and head of unjust and cruel and corrupt judges. There, in that place, shall Jeffries stand hateful to all posterity, while England stands; but there he would not have stood, and his name might have come down to us with far other and less appropriate distinction, if our forefathers, who sat in this House, had consented to fritter away the expression of their honest indignation, to mitigate the severity of that record which should carry their hatred of injustice to their children's children—if, instead of deeming it their most sacred duty, their highest glory, to speak the truth of privileged oppressors, careless whom it might strike, or whom offend, they had only studied how to give the least annoyance, to choose the most courtly language, to hold the kindest and most conciliating tone towards men who shewed not a gleam of kindness, conciliation, courtesy, no, nor bare justice, nor any semblance or form of justice, when they had their victim under their dominion. Therefore it is, that I cannot agree to this previous question. Rather let me be met by a direct negative: it is the manlier course. I could have wished that the government had still "screwed up their courage to the sticking-place," where for a moment it perched the first night of the debate, when by the hon. gentleman from the colonial department we were told, that he could not consent to meet this motion in any way but the most triumphant—a decided negative. [Mr. Wilmot Horton.—"No!"]—I beg the hon. member's pardon. I was not present at the time, but took my account of what passed from others, and from the usual channels of intelligence. I understood that he had given the motion a direct negative. [Mr. Wilmot Horton.—"I said no such thing; I said I should give my dissent to the motion without any qualification."J—I was not bred up in the Dutch schools, nor have practised in the court of Demerara; and I confess my inability to draw the nice distinction, so acutely taken by the hon. gentleman, between a direct negative, and a dissent without any qualification. In my plain judgment, unqualified dissent is that frame of mind which begets a direct 1310 negative. Well, then, call it which you will, I prefer, as more intelligible and more consistent, the direct negative, or unqualified dissent. What is the meaning of this "previous question," which the right hon. secretary has to-night substituted for it? Plainly this: there is much to blame on both sides; and, for fear of withholding justice from either party, we must do injustice to both. That is exactly the predicament in which the right hon. gentleman's proposition would place the government and the House with respect to West-Indian interests. But what can be the reason of all this extraordinary tenderness towards the good men of Demerara? Let us only pause for a moment, and consider what it can mean. How striking a contrast does this treatment of those adversaries of his majesty's ministers afford to the reception which we oftentimes meet with from them here! I have seen, in my short experience, many motions opposed by the gentlemen opposite, and rejected by the House, merely because they were accompanied by speeches unpalatable to them and their majorities. I have seen measures of the greatest importance, and to which no other objection whatever was made, flung out, only because propounded by Opposition men, and recommended by what were called factious arguments. I remember myself once moving certain resolutions upon the commercial policy of the country, all of which have, I think, either been since adopted by the ministers (and I thank them for it), or are in the course of being incorporated with the law of the state. At the time, there was no objection urged to the propositions themselves—indeed, the chancellor of the Exchequer professed his entire concurrence with my doctrines—and, as I then said, I had much rather see his good works than hear his profession of I faith, I am now happy that he has appealed to this test of his sincerity, and given me what I asked—the best proof that the government entirely approved of the measures I recommended. But, upon what grounds were they resisted at the time? Why, nine parts in ten of the arguments I was met by, consisted of complaints, that I had introduced them with a factious speech, intermixed them with party topics, and combined with the commercial part of the subject a censure upon the foreign policy of the government, which has since been, I think, also well-nigh given up by themselves. Now, then, how 1311 have the Demerara men entitled themselves to the especial protection and favour of those same ministers? Have they Shewn any signal friendship, or courtesy, or decent respect, towards his majesty's government? Far enough from it. I believe the gentlemen opposite have very seldom had to bear such violence of attack from this side of the House, bad though We be, as from their Guiana friends. I suspect they have not in any quarter had to encounter so much bitterness of opposition as from their new favourites, whom they are so fearful of displeasing. Little tenderness, or indeed forbearance, have they shewn towards the government which anxiously cherishes them. They have held public meetings to threaten all but separation; they have passed a vote of censure upon one minister by name; and, that none might escape, another upon the whole administration in a mass and the latest accounts of their proceedings left them contriving plans in the most factious spirit, in the very teeth of the often avowed policy of the government, for the purpose of prohibiting all missions and expelling all missionaries from the settlement. Sir, missions and missionaries may divide the opinions of men in any other part of our dominions but the slave colonies, and the most opposite sentiments may honestly and conscientiously be entertained upon their expediency; but in those countries it is not the question, whether you will have missionary teachers or no, but, whether you will have teachers at all or no. The question is not, shall the negroes be taught by missionaries, but, shall they or shall they not be taught at all? For it is the unvarying result of all men's experience in those parts, members of the Establishment as well as Dissenters—nay, the most absolute opinions on record, and the most strongly expressed, have come from Churchmen—that there is but this one way practicable of attempting the conversion of these poor heathens. With what jealousy, then, ought we to regard any efforts, but especially by the constituted authorities who bore a part in those proceedings, to frustrate the positive orders for the instruction of the slaves, not only given by his majesty's government, but recommended by this House—a far higher authority as it is, higher still as it might be, if it but dared now and then to have a will of its own, and, upon questions of paramount importance, to exercise fearlessly an unbiassed judgment? 1312 To obtain the interposition of this authority for the protection of those who alone Will, or can, teach the negroes, is one object of the motion upon which I shall now take the sense of the House. The rest of it relates to the case of the individual who has been persecuted. The right hon. gentleman seems much disposed to quarrel with the title of martyr, which has been given him. For my own part, I have no fault to find with it; because I deem that man to deserve the name, as in former times he would have reaped the honours of martyrdom, who willingly suffers for conscience. Whether I agree with him or not in his tenets, I respect his sincerity, I admire his zeal; and when, through that zeal, a Christian minister has been brought to die the death, I would have his name honoured and holden in everlasting remembrance. His blood cries from the ground—but not for vengeance! He expired, not imprecating curses upon his enemies, but praying for those who had brought him to an untimely grave. It cries aloud for justice to his memory, and for protection to those who shall tread in his footsteps, and—tempering their enthusiasm by discretion; uniting with their zeal knowledge; forbearance with firmness; patience to avoid giving offence, with courage to meet oppression, and to resist when the powers of endurance are exhausted—shall prove themselves worthy to follow him, and worthy of the cause for which he suffered. If theirs is a holy duty, it is ours to shield them, in discharging it, from that injustice which has persecuted the living and blasted the memory of the dead, [cheers.]
Sir, it behoves this House to give a memorable lesson to the men who have so demeaned themselves. Speeches in a debate will be of little avail. Arguments on either side neutralize each other. Plain speaking on the one part, met by ambiguous expressions—half censure, half acquittal, betraying the wish to give up, but with an attempt at an equivocal defence—will carry out to the West Indies a motley aspect; conveying no definite or intelligible expression, incapable of commanding respect, and leaving it extremely doubtful whether those things, which all men are agreed in reprobating, have actually been disapproved of or not. Upon this occasion, most eminently, a discussion is nothing, unless followed up by a vote to promulgate with authority what is admitted to be universally felt. That 1313 vote is called for, in tenderness to the West Indians themselves—in fairness to those other colonies which have not shared the guilt of Demerara. Out of a just regard to the interests of the West-Indian body, who, I rejoice to say, have kept aloof from this question, as if desirous to escape the shame when they bore no part in the crime, this lesson must now be taught by the voice of parliament—that the mother country will at length make her authority respected—that the rights of property are sacred, but the rules of justice paramount and inviolable—that the claims of the slave owner are admitted but the dominion of parliament indisputable—that we are sovereign alike over the White and the Black; and though we may for a season, and out of regard for the interests of both, suffer men to hold property in their fellow-creatures, we never, for even an instant of time, forget that they are men, and the fellow-subjects of their masters—that, if those masters shall still hold the same perverse course—if, taught by no experience, warned by no auguries, scared by no menaces from parliament, or from the Crown administering those powers which parliament invoked it to put forth—but, blind alike to the duties, the interests, and the perils of their situation, they rush headlong through infamy to destruction; breaking promise after promise made to delude us; leaving pledge after pledge unredeemed, extorted by the pressure of the passing occasion; or only, by laws passed to be a dead letter, for ever giving such an elusory performance as adds mockery to breach of faith;—yet a little delay; yet a little longer of this unbearable trifling with the commands of the parent state, and she will stretch out her arm, in mercy, not in anger to those deluded men themselves; exert at last her undeniable authority; vindicate the just rights, and restore the tarnished honour of the English name!
The previous question being put, "That the question be now put" the House divided: Ayes 146. Noes 193. Majority against Mr. Brougham's motion 47.
|List of the Minority.|
|Abercromby, hon. J.||Belgrave, visc.|
|Acland, sir T.||Benet, J.|
|Allen, J. H.||Benyon, B.|
|Anson, sir G.||Birch, J.|
|Astley, sir J. D.||Blake, sir F.|
|Barham, J. F.||Boughton, sir W.|
|Barret, S. M.||Brougham H.|
|Brown, J.||Macdonald, J.|
|Brownlow, C.||Mackintosh, sir J.|
|Burdett, sir F.||Maddocks, W. A.|
|Bury, visc.||Marjoribanks, S.|
|Butterworth, J.||Maxwell, J.|
|Byng, G.||Monck, J. B.|
|Calcraft, J.||Newman, R. W.|
|Calcraft, J. H.||Normanby, visc.|
|Calthorpe, hon. F.||Nugent, lord|
|Calvert, C.||Ord, W.|
|Calvert, N.||Oxmantown, lord|
|Carter, J.||Palmer, C.|
|Cavendish, lord G.||Palmer, C. F.|
|Cavendish, C.||Pares, T.|
|Cavendish, H.||Parnell, sir H.|
|Chaloner, R.||Pelham, C. F.|
|Chamberlayne, W.||Philips, G.|
|Clifton, visc.||Philips, G. R.|
|Coke, T. W. jun.||Powlett, hon. W.|
|Corbett, P.||Poyntz, W. J.|
|Cradock, S.||Proby, hon. G. L|
|Creevy, T.||Pryse, Pryse|
|Davenport, D.||Pym, F.|
|Davies, T. H.||Ramsden, J. C.|
|Denison, W. J.||Rice, S.|
|Denman, T.||Rickford, W.|
|Dickenson, W.||Robarts, col.|
|Duncannon, visc.||Robinson, sir G.|
|Dundas, hon. F.||Rowley, sir W.|
|Dundas, C.||Rumbold, C.|
|Ebrington, visc.||Russell, lord G. W.|
|Ellis, hon. G. A.||Russell, lord J.|
|Ellison, C.||Ryder, rt. hon. R.|
|Evans, W.||Scott, J.|
|Farrand, R.||Sebright, sir J.|
|Fergusson, sir R.||Sefton, earl of|
|Fitzgerald, rt. hon. M.||Smith, A.|
|Fitzroy, lord J.||Smith, J.|
|Ford, M.||Smith, G.|
|Gaskill, B.||Smith, S.|
|Gordon, R.||Smith, hon. R.|
|Graham, S.||Smith, W.|
|Grattan, J.||Smyth, (Westmeath)|
|Griffiths, J. W.||Stanley, hon. E.|
|Grosvenor, hon. R.||Staunton, sir G.|
|Guise, sir B. W.||Townshend, lord C.|
|Gurney, R. H.||Tulk, C. A.|
|Heathcote, G. J.||Wall, C. B.|
|Heron, sir R.||Warre, J. A.|
|Heygate, ald.||Webb, E.|
|Hobhouse, J. C.||Wharton J.|
|Honywood, W. P.||White, col.|
|Hurst, R.||Whitbread, S.|
|Hutchinson, hon. H. C.||Whitbread, W.|
|Inglis, sir R.||Wilberforce, W.|
|Jervoise, G. P.||Wilbraham, E. B.|
|Johnes, J.||Williams, J.|
|Kemp, T. R.||Williams, sir R.|
|Kennedy, J. F.||Williams, W.|
|Knight, R.||Wilson, sir R.|
|Lambton, J. G.||Wilson, W. C.|
|Lawley, T.||Wodehouse, E.|
|Leader, W.||Wood, alderman|
|Lennard, T. B.||Wrottesley, sir J.|
|Leycester, R.||Yorke, sir Joseph|
|TELLERS.||Newport, sir J.|
|Buxton, T. F.||Price, R.|
|Lushington, Dr.||Portman, E.|
|PAIRED OFF.||Taylor, M. A.|
|Coke, T, W. (Norfolk)||Tavistock, marquis|
|Grenfell, Pascoe||Stewart, W. (Armagh)|
|Gurney, H.||Stanley, lord|
|Milton, visc.||Hamilton, lord|
|Mostyn, sir T.||Browne, D.|
|Money, W. T.|