Mr. Wilmot Horton
said, that before he proceeded to enter on the motion which stood for that evening, he felt it necessary to make an observation with respect to some circumstances that had recently occurred. Yesterday a conversation arose on a petition being presented relative to the situation of negroes in the colonies, and the learned member for Winchelsea then made several observations which he had declared his intention of answering when he brought forward the motion of which he had given notice. The learned gentleman had then requested him to put off the discussion until seven o'clock this evening; and afterwards the learned gentleman wished him to postpone it altogether. He was obliged to notice this, because many gentlemen were anxious that the discussion should come on immediately. He, however, would be guided by the feeling of the House [cries of "go on."] The motion, then, which he meant to propose to the House was, "that the minutes of evidence taken before his majesty's privy council, in the matter of the Demerara and Berbice manumission order in council, be laid before this House." And he felt it to be his duty to call the attention of the House to those circumstances which induced him to consider such a course as highly expedient. He begged it to be distinctly understood, that the step he was taking was not in the slightest degree influenced by any communications with the members of his majesty's government. He, as a privy councillor, attended the original investigation, and, in the performance of his duty as a member of parliament, he now brought the question forward. Gentlemen were aware, that in May 1823, certain resolutions were passed in that House, which pledged the House to pursue a certain course of policy with respect to slaves. The resolution which was then proposed by the hon. member for Weymouth (Mr. F. Buxton) set forth, "that the state of slavery is repugnant to the principles of the British constitution, and of the Christian religion; and that it ought to be gradually abolished throughout the British colonies, with as much expedition as may be found consistent with a due regard to the well- 1024 being of the parties concerned." That resolution was rejected by the House, and the following resolutions were substituted:—"1. That it is expedient to adopt effectual and decisive measures for ameliorating the condition of the slave-population in his majesty's colonies. 2. That through a determined and persevering, but at the same time judicious and temperate enforcement of such measures, this House looks forward to a progressive improvement in the character of the slave-population, such as may prepare them for a participation in those civil rights and privileges which are enjoyed by other classes of his majesty's subjects. 3. That this House is anxious for the accomplishment of this purpose, at the earliest period that shall be compatible with the well-being of the slaves themselves, with the safety of the colonies, and with a fair and equitable consideration of the interests of private property."—The House were aware of the-effects which these resolutions produced; and it was necessary, if gentlemen wished to be able to judge of the extreme delicacy of the situation in which that House and the government were now placed with reference to these resolutions, that they should look minutely at all that had occurred since they were passed. If gentlemen felt an "interest in the well-being of the slaves themselves," and were anxious, while they furthered that well-being, for "the fair and equitable consideration of the interests of private property," they would attend, for once, to that series of circumstances which led to the present state of things in the colonies. He begged leave to read the prayer of the memorial which had been laid before his majesty in council, from Demerara and Berbice. The memorialists prayed "that your majesty will be pleased not to send forth any order in council for the manumission of slaves, until your majesty shall be graciously pleased to hear the appellants by their counsel." He wished to call the attention of the House most particularly to the clause for compulsive manumission. That clause arose thus:—After the resolutions of 1823, pledging the government to a specific course, and pledging the House to look to the well-being of the slave as well as to the interests of his master, were passed, lord Bathurst, in the month of July, sent out to the colonies a certain despatch, and he directed those to whom it was addressed, to adopt measures in 1025 furtherance of the instructions contained in that despatch. In that paper, however, no allusion whatever was made to compulsory manumission: but the governor of Trinidad, sir Ralph Woodford, was told that all the matters contained in it were sanctioned by the government, and by the West-India body resident in England. Now, sir Ralph, in obedience to the orders of lord Bathurst, sent back to his majesty's privy council a draught of the Spanish law, as it existed in the colony of Trinidad. This was done, because Mr. Canning, when he brought forward his motion, in March, 1824, for the amelioration of the condition of the slaves, laid it down as wise and expedient, to gather all the laws with respect to slaves which were known in the West Indies, to concentrate them, and to make them part and parcel of the law by which the slave-population was to be governed and regulated. This clause for compulsory manumission being found to be part of the law of Trinidad, was included in the new code, of which it then formed a part. Mr. Canning had stated this. The law was laid on the table of that House, and the clause of compulsory manumission would be found in it, with very little alteration from the law of Spain on that point. Now it was necessary to state to the House, that neither on the part of those gentlemen who were supposed to represent the slaves, nor on the part of those who, on the other hand, were supposed to represent the planters, had any opposition been given to this measure. No reclamation had been made with respect to it, on the part either of the abolitionists, or of the proprietors. But no sooner was it extended, or announced that it was to be extended, to Berbice and Demerara, than the court of policy there, combining and interweaving the Dutch law with it, put a wrong construction on it, expressed themselves hostile to it, and sent home a representation on the subject to the Secretary of State. They required that the law should either be modified or repealed altogether, and they declared that they could only submit to it on account of the overruling power, with regard to the colonies, which the mother country possessed. There had been laid on the table, from time to time, since that period, a series of voluminous despatches, bearing on this subject; but, though much information was contained in them, still no law had yet been passed, 1026 with respect to compulsory manumission, differing from that which sir Ralph Wood-ford had stated to be the Spanish law in the colony of Trinidad. What he wished to impress on the House was this,—that neither the abolitionists, nor their opponents here were perfectly aware of the consequences of that law, or of the very different situation in which the colony was placed in 1823, when the law was promulgated, compared with former times. And he would go the whole length of saying, that, if the abolitionists, as he had heard them declare in that House, meant to stand or fall by this law of Trinidad, they would find it wholly inoperative; they would find that it would not provide for the well-being of the slave, or for the private interest of his master. By the Spanish law, the slave, invito domino, might claim his right to manumission; and at a time when there was an unlimited market for slaves,—when there were abundance of slaves in the Spanish colonies,—the working of that law created no inconvenience or difficulty, because vacancies occasioned by the appeal of slaves to this lex non scripta (for that it was a law, no man could doubt, though it could not be traced to any distinct record) were easily supplied. The process was very simple. The slave went to his master and claimed his freedom. The latter employed an appraiser, who adjudged the price of the slave. The individual had then only to proceed to the market and purchase a slave of equal value. In the West Indies, even after the slave trade was done away, little inconvenience was felt from the operation of this law, in consequence of the large importation of slaves from islands, the soil of which was poor, into Trinidad. Now, he would show where the defects existed in the Trinidad order in council. By a clause in that order, it was required that the owner should receive a fair and just value for his slave; that in case of any dispute arising in the appraisement of the slave, the owner and the protector of slaves should each appoint a referee. Nothing could be more simple than this clause; but then it contained nothing to direct the principle on which the appraisers were to make their valuation. Where there could be a reference made to a market, there was no difficulty; but here was no market, and the principle of the appraisement ought therefore to be defined. The whole of this question, and the whole of the 1027 difficulties connected with it, turned on one point; namely, the degree of probability of the owner being able to supply the place of his slave. In 1823, the country was deluged with assurances that it was the greatest of all mistakes to suppose that free labour would not be found as effectual as the labour of slaves in the cultivation of sugar. Although no one wished more heartily than himself that these assurances might prove true, he doubted their correctness. The event had proved that his doubts were not unfounded. To find out the manner in which this fact bore upon the general question, was his intention, and for that reason he had been induced to move for the production of these papers. The measure resolved on was, that the appraiser should replace an equivalent to the slave removed on the estate of the owner. Now, there were great difficulties in putting this measure into practice. He freely admitted that the resolutions of that House in 1824, showed that the House looked forward to the slave-population arriving, by progressive stages, to a state of perfect freedom. But the House had also resolved, that this should be done with a fair and equitable consideration of the interests of private property; and here the difficulty was to be found. The master derived profit only by working his estate, and if the labour was abstracted from him, how could he obtain any profit,—how could his interests be fairly and equitably considered? The whole difficulty turned on this:—the market for slaves was limited, and the cultivation of sugar was carried on by a body of slaves, because it was necessary that the work should be continuous, that there should be no interruption, that the labourers should be available at all periods. Now, if free labour were introduced in the West Indies, the same effects would prevail as were seen in this country. The liberty which the labourer possessed here of working or refusing to work as he pleased, or as his necessities would allow, would attach also to the emancipated slave. Any gentleman who would investigate the evidence given on this subject would see that in this way a planter might be placed under such circumstances, that labour would be abstracted from him without his receiving an equivalent. All he was anxious about was, that the House should show that they understood these difficulties, that they did not legislate in ignor- 1028 ance, and that they might prove to the inhabitants of the colonies, that it was their wish to give a candid investigation of all the difficulties of the question before they legislated upon it finally. If the House rested upon the Trinidad order, they rested upon a law which was inoperative. To make a law, and not to point out the means by which it could be carried into effect, was unjust. It was a very great mistake to suppose that all slaves were to be estimated at an equal value. The large cultivator expected a larger return than the individual who cultivated less. The former having invested more fixed capital on his estate than the latter, the abstraction of the labour of the former was more detrimental to him than the abstraction of the labour of the latter would be to him. Suppose, in England, that there were two farms, on the one of which 12,000l. had been expended, and on the other only 1,000l.; then, although the labour on both might be equal, yet, if the labour were abstracted from both, the owner of the former would lose a great deal more than the owner of the latter, because he had laid out much more upon the estate which he was precluded from working. It had been suggested, that it would be a wise plan to purchase the children of slaves; but the same argument applied to this proposition. The man who had the greater proportion of fixed capital, would be more injured than the man who had the lesser portion, if they were both compelled to sell the children of their slaves at the same price. Notwithstanding these difficulties, he would not shrink from the avowal, that human ingenuity could devise no mediate course, no alternative between waiting for that length of time, which some witnesses had declared might be centuries, and compulsory manumission. Unless, indeed, they were prepared actually to purchase the whole of the property of the West-India Islands. Let the House, therefore, consider the difficulty in which they were placed. On the one hand, they were called upon to protect the interests of private property; on the other, to effect the freedom of the slaves. If gentlemen would condescend to look into this difficulty, and show the West-Indians that they were as anxious to secure their property to them, as they were to provide for the well-being of the slaves, they would be more likely to obtain the concurrence of the legislative 1029 power of the colonies in the measures which they might be inclined to adopt. He regretted that his learned friend, the member for Winchelsea (Mr. Brougham) was absent,—not that any thing that he had said required his presence, or that of any other person; for he had invited no argument, he had merely invited the House and the country to investigate, in order that they might understand the difficulties which he had pointed out, and agree that these propositions ought to be modified. It was of paramount necessity, that the West-Indians should be convinced that the House had no desire to overlook their interests, while it insisted on measures of melioration. The learned member for Winchelsea had last night introduced the analogy of the silk trade, and had said that, upon the introduction of some late regulations, the persons engaged in that trade might as well have asked for compensation as the slave-owners. But he would point out to the House one plain reason which disposed of that sort of analogy altogether. The compensation claimed by the slave-owners was for property abstracted, and not a claim founded upon incident. In this country, if a canal were cut, or a street built, the interest of individuals was made to yield to the public interest; but then it was well known that the individuals always received a compensation. Now, the West-Indian had property which he could only work by means of slave-labour; and was he not, therefore, equally entitled to compensation, if deprived of that labour, as the man in this country was, who had his property destroyed, either by the building of a street or the construction of a canal? In either case, the compensation was for property abstracted, and not for loss accruing from incident. They never yet heard of people claiming a compensation, because a duty had been imposed upon any particular article. If a man who lived in Bond-street were to come forward and claim compensation because Regent-street had been built, he would very properly be laughed at; but a man who lived in Swallow-street, and whose house was pulled down to make way for Regent-street, had a claim for compensation, and his claim was allowed.—The West-Indian must be insane, who would not rather employ free labour than slaves, if the former would answer his purpose; but then, he said, very fairly, "You are bound to shew me that there is a chance 1030 of free labour succeeding." As long as an equivalent slave could be produced to the master, not in theory, but in practice, there would be no inconvenience. The West-Indian did not complain of such a substitution. What he complained of was, that, in the letter of the law, the House had not followed the principles it had professed. It had been said, that this compensation could not be estimated in money. He could not agree in this. Indeed, he thought that there was no quality, either mental or corporeal, which, more or less, money would not compensate for. It had been asked, too, what was to be done when equivalent slaves could not be purchased? This case was not provided for, and though it was a prospective case, yet it had been pleaded as a difficulty. The learned member for Winchelsea had imputed to him (Mr. W. Horton) the expression, that a scale of compensation ought to be agreed upon before anything else was done; but he had never said so. What he had said was this—let the House recommend as strongly as it pleased, but when it legislated on property, the difficulties of the question ought to be seriously considered, and the House ought not to pledge itself irrevocably to do an act of substantive injustice, for the sake of conforming to certain resolutions which it had passed. He had also been accused by the same learned gentleman, of being an opponent to the abolitionists. But when that learned gentleman told him, that he was an opponent to the abolitionists, he must beg leave to ask, who were meant by the term abolitionists? They were all pledged in one way—all had agreed to the resolutions of 1823—all were bound to carry them into execution; and he challenged any honourable member to say that he had ever done anything which did not tend to the accomplishment of these resolutions. As he had before observed, those resolutions contemplated the ultimate attainment of perfect freedom by the slaves: but they also intended, that private property should be respected; and they did therefore involve tremendous difficulties. Slavery had been represented to be an excrescence which was not wanted, and which would be removed the moment free labour came into operation. The event had proved that this representation was incorrect. He could assure the House that the common sergeant, Mr. Denman, and Mr. sergeant Bosanquet had been requested to find out, if possible, any persons who could 1031 shew that the Berbice appellants suffered less difficulty than they represented themselves to be labouring under. They were told that every assistance should be furnished them in their inquiries; but no person came forward. If any contrary evidence was to be obtained, he called upon hon. gentlemen to tell the House where it was to be found, and show that the difficulties which he had pointed out were ideal. He could not admit that this question ought to be disposed of by an arithmetical computation of what orders had been complied with, and what had not: though he saw no reason why those which one colony had complied with could not be complied with by another. If they did wish to conciliate the slave and the proprietor, the difficulties must be investigated. The interests of the master and the slave must be kept up, but not placed in collision; for if they were placed in collision, no pecuniary advantage would result to the master, and no benefit to the slave. The preservation of the two interests was a delicate matter. In this country, if property were put into the hands of trustees, to be applied to the use of children, but according to the interests of their father, no one could doubt that, in the performance of the trust, these parties would be very likely to be brought into collision. And thus it was with the interests of the slave and his master. But this he would venture to say, that the master who most consulted the benefit and happiness of his slave paid the greatest attention to his own interests. In considering this subject, it ought particularly to be recollected what the condition of the slaves was at the present time. It ought not to be forgotten, that there was a vast difference between the slave now, and the slave who, just imported from Africa, was bursting with indignation against his captors, and fretful and uneasy under fetters which he then were for the first time; sighing after the freedom he had lost, and grieving, among strangers, at the recollection of his friends and kindred from whom he had been torn. These were feelings, and this a situation of which the Creole slave was ignorant. He had been born in slavery, and never knew what freedom was. It ought to be recollected, that measures which might be adapted to the slave when first imported were not measures applicable to the present state of slavery in the West Indies. The right hon. gentleman concluded by declaring that it was not his 1032 object to vindicate the conduct of the colonial legislatures; but if the House was anxious to prevent ill consequences, it would show the colonies that, in proportion to its power to enforce, so was its inclination to reason guardedly, and to act with forbearance, upon a subject of much delicacy. One fact ought never to be lost sight of; namely, that the gratuitous benevolence of the House affected those hon. members who were believed to exhibit it neither in purse nor in person. Some lenity was due to those who felt it possible that their nearest interests, and those of all who were dependent upon them, might perhaps be hazarded, not by malevolence, but by the mere haste of acting without competent information. He should sit down with moving, "That a humble address be presented to his Majesty, praying that the minutes of evidence before the Privy Council, in the matter of the Demerara and Berbice manumission order, be laid before the House."
§ Mr. Keith Douglas
seconded the motion; but the hon. member was not audible in the gallery. We understood him to support the arguments of his right hon. friend, and to contend, while he approved of the resolutions of that House, that they ought to be enforced with equity and mildness. Great caution was necessary in their proceedings, particularly in the absence of the requisite information. This point had been much insisted on by the Colonial Legislature of Jamaica, and was the object of one of their resolutions in 1826. As to the Slave Trade, he was afraid the introduction of slaves into the foreign islands had not diminished, and that the restrictions we had imposed on that trade subjected the slaves, during the passage, to increased privations and hardships. He referred to several authorities to shew that parliament was greatly uninformed as to the true situation of the slaves in the West Indies.
§ Lord Nugent
did not rise to oppose the motion, but for the purpose of making a protest against some of the doctrines laid down by the right hon. gentleman. The right hon. gentleman had deprecated going into any controversial matter; but he had stated some opinions, against which he found himself obliged to protest. He agreed with the right hon. gentleman in what he had said of the two resolutions of that House, with the exception of one word. There was a higher power than parliament, 1033 and parliament could never guarantee a right against which nature had set her face. The law of nature and the law of God, said that man could not have a property in man; and therefore he must deny that the colonists had any claim to compensation for the manumission of their slaves, as a matter of right. He was ready to grant them that as a boon; he would deal liberally with them; but he must deny that they had any right to compensation. He could never admit, and he rose to protest against this doctrine, that any compensation could be legally claimed for a loss of property, which could not be acquired without a violation of all natural rights.
§ Mr. W. Whitmore
differed in one point from his right hon. friend. His right hon., friend had argued that, because there was no market-price for slaves, the appraisers could have no principle by which to determine their value. Now, he would contend, that there was a market price for slaves, they were still, and they would be, transferred—this would give a market-price, and by this the appraiser might regulate his conduct. There would be some evil, however, in settling the price this way, for as the demand for them outgrew the supply, the price would rise. But still he would contend that there must, even on this principle, be a market-price for slaves. Those who owned land that yielded a profit of six or twelve per cent, would transfer their slaves to those who owned land that yielded eighteen per cent; and as long as a difference of this kind existed between estates, there must, and would be transfers of slaves, and a market-price. Certainly, they could not enforce compulsory manumission at a fixed price, but he was persuaded that our colonies would never be in a flourishing condition until all the slaves were converted into free labourers. This was what he looked to to give security to the planters themselves. In his opinion, the time was not far distant when the whole cultivation of the West Indies would be carried on by free labourers, and this was a state of things that would be, he was persuaded, infinitely more advantageous to the planters and the negroes than their present state. It must not be said that a vertical sun and a tropical climate would prevent this; for the House must know, that sugar was cultivated in Mexico by free labourers. Let the House look also to the East Indies: there sugar was culti- 1034 vated by free labour. However long this wholesome system might yet be delayed, he was persuaded that it was only upon this system that the West Indies could flourish, and sooner or later it would be forced on them.
§ Mr. W. Smith
said, he must protest, as he ever had done and should do, against the doctrine, that the ownership of slaves could be assimilated to the laws applicable to any other species of property. Man never could become the legal property of man. There was a maxim "nullum tempus occurrit regi;'' so it was with the imprescriptible rights of man. No prescription in slavery could render it just. He should like to know, whether any white man in this country would consent to give up his freedom, because ages back his ancestors were bondsmen. He would maintain that no right whatever existed to compensation; but he thought it possible, if any benefit had acccrued from the labour of those slaves, that other parties who had given the semblance of a right, or a temptation to continue in the acquisition of such property, ought to give a compensation for any damages that might be proved to have arisen; always provided that those who looked for that compensation had used that property as they ought, and that the loss they suffered did not arise from their own fault. That, however, was a right which could not affect negro property in itself, nor deprive negroes of that indefeasible claim to freedom which was the right of every man.
said, he would not follow the line of argument pursued by some of his hon. friends as to the abstract right of property in the negro, or how far slavery was inconsistent with the laws of God; but he could not avoid remarking, that that mode of argument must naturally tend to excite distrust in the minds of the West-India proprietors towards those who had voted for the resolutions on a former occasion". When he heard such arguments as those of the noble lord, and of his hon. friend, the member for Norwich, as to compensation, he begged to ask them if they could get rid of the resolutions of parliament in 1823, which were founded on the rights of property? His hon. friend who spoke last had said, that no man had any right of property in another man. Now if he were a West-India proprietor, which he, was not, he should think, from the tenour of the resolutions of parliament 1035 in 1823, that he was entitled to some compensation; but he must own that he could expect but little from the tone of his hon. friend. Without going into the abstract question of slavery, he thought that under the different modifications of the relations between the rich and poor, in which the labours of the many were for the benefit of the few, his hon. friend would find among many classes of the people, much that required his commiseration, more than the condition of the negro slaves. There was, he thought (and he meant no imputation upon the benevolent motives of his hon. friend), but there was, he thought, a kind of quackery abroad on this question, and a feeling was excited, as if the slaves were in a most miserable and abominable condition. No authority, however high, was sufficient to remove this impression. If a report were presented from a governor of a colony, speaking of the comfortable condition of the slaves, it was at once said that he partook of the planters' turtle and punch, and that he was biassed in his opinion. If a military officer gave a statement on the same subject, interested motives were imputed; and while such authorities were disregarded, calumnies were daily spread abroad, and a state of things was described as related to the slaves, which he was sure only existed in the imaginations of those by whom such reports were circulated. He mentioned this, in reply to the general assertions which he had heard of the state of the slave-population in the West Indies. He, on the other hand, would assert, that the condition of that population, on well-regulated estates, was superior to that of many of the labouring classes in this country; but he would confine this assertion solely to the physical condition of the negroes. He was satisfied, that, as far as respected their moral improvement, the slaves of Antigua would, if examined as Christians by a set of catechists, be found to possess as much knowledge of the Christian doctrines as many classes of the population of the metropolis. He would take, for example, the large parish of St. Giles, and would back the Negro population of Antigua against the labouring classes in that parish, though with the advantage of being in a metropolis where people were in the habit of sitting in judgment on the morality of the rest of the world. He admitted with his right hon. friend, that there were difficulties in the settlement of 1036 this question. He agreed that parliament was bound to endeavour to ameliorate the condition of the slaves; but if those measures were carried to extremes, they would do much injury to the slaves themselves as well as to their masters. There was, it could not be denied, some reluctance on the part of some of the colonial legislatures to adopt all the measures recommended, but they were naturally distrustful of any recommendations from the government at home, when they found that most of those by whom such measures were urged upon the government here, openly avowed that their object was a total emancipation, and maintained the doctrine, that the colonists had no legal property in their slaves. They found hon. members saying one thing one day, and departing from it another. They might truly say, "We cannot trust you; we do not know the whole of what you would wish to do: and until we do, we will not adopt that which you now recommend, and which otherwise we might be disposed to accede to." It was said by some, that amelioration was recommended with a view to ultimate abolition, but his hon. friend (Mr. W. Smith) would go to abolition at once; he would not wait a moment. [Mr. W. Smith denied that he had said so.] His hon. friend might not have said so in direct terms, but that was the inference to be drawn from his line of argument. He differed from his hon. friends on the question of compulsory manumission. He thought that would be attended with difficulties which some of his hon. friends did not believe to exist. Under the Spanish law formerly, no difficulty existed on this score, because the place of the slave who purchased his manumission was soon supplied by the fresh importation which was at that time going-on from Africa; but no such importation now existed, and if the price rose with the increase of manumission, the system would soon cease to work; or if it were carried on even at the increased price, there must be an end of working the sugar plantations; for if the numbers on an estate were reduced very low, the labour of the remainder would be insufficient for its cultivation, and would therefore be of no value. This difficulty would not, he contended, be removed by means of labour. From all he had heard on this subject, he did not believe that in any one island of the West Indies free labour would be 1037 found sufficient for the cultivation of the estates. Where the land was rich, and the negro could procure with a little labour enough for the supply of his wants, no inducement which the colonists could hold out would be sufficient to make him work. He would talk about equal rights (of which they had heard so much from the hon. member for Norwich), and would Work for himself only. The House might learn from Mr. Coleridge's book the kind of value set upon freedom by the negro population of Trinidad, where the slave, in contempt for the freeman, called him a "Wilberforce nigger." He did trust that amelioration would be followed up as far as it was practicable, and that it would be carried on in that temperate tone from which only benefit could accrue to the slave as well as to the master. Now that the country had become rich and flourishing, people did not seem to attach much value to the colonies; but he feared the time would come when we should repent this line of conduct, and have to regret the neglect of those colonies which had served as so great a stimulus to our trade, and so great a mart for our manufactures.
Mr. Secretary Huskisson
said, that amongst all the difficulties with which government had had to contend, in carrying into effect the measures with reference to the West-India colonies, none were more serious than those founded upon the doctrine of the abstract rights of man, advanced by the noble lord, and by his hon. friend the member for Norwich. This difficulty, great as it was, was very much aggravated by the opposite extremes indulged in by his hon. friend the member for Callington, who endeavoured to impress upon the House and the country, that slavery was in itself unavoidable, and that the condition of the slaves was preferable to that of the average of free labourers in this country. He was not surprised to hear such an unsound and extravagant principle advanced on one side, when he heard it advanced by a noble lord on the other side, that there could be no such thing as a legal right of property—no such thing as an ownership in slaves. He did not know what this last assertion meant, for it appeared to him that the ownership in slaves was similar to other rights established by law. He acknowledged that it was an ownership entirely distinct from any other species of description of property; but let it not 1038 be supposed that he could ever entertain the opinion, that the right, whatever it was, could be violated without a compensation to the owner. He did hope that, when the House came to a discussion of this great question, which had arisen only incidentally upon a motion which nobody opposed, they would agree to avoid any discussion of abstract rights of property, and of abstract rights of man, and attend only to the legal rights of private ownership. Whilst the House did this, he should also wish them to bear equally in mind the resolutions of parliament, which directed the course of government to the gradual change from slavery to one which was to raise the negro to the same condition as the other subjects of the Crown. The present was an occasion oh which it would be altogether undesirable to enter into the merits of the case. When it was stated to him, that an opportunity of compulsory emancipation grew out of the situation of. the government of Trinidad, with respect to the Spanish laws, and that no difficulty arose of applying the principle to any other of the Spanish Islands, he dissented from the doctrine. By the old Spanish law, facilities were offered of supplying, by untutored savages from Africa, the places of what he might call the educated and apprenticed negroes, who were to be liberated. He fully agreed with what had been stated respecting the immensely improved state of the slaves in our old settled islands, subsequent to the abolition of the slave trade. The present negroes, in consequence of the abolition of the slave trade, were a race of beings very considerably raised in the scale of moral intelligence, and they were greatly improved in every thing that constituted moral worth and general utility. They had as much improved within the last twenty years as any people had improved in an equal space of time within the cognizance of history. Within these very few days he had had the opportunity of communicating with an individual who had just returned from Jamaica (he meant the Bishop of Jamaica), and he could assure the House, that the report which that right reverend individual had furnished, was very satisfactory as to the progress of moralization among the slave population since the abolition of the slave trade and, since the efforts made by his majesty's government to ameliorate the condition of the negroes. But it would be greatly to be 1039 lamented, for the sake of the slaves themselves, and of humanity in general, if the House were to interfere with the progress of the measures of government, so as to disturb the settled state of things; which, he maintained, was gradually leading to great improvements in civilization. The hon. member for Callington had said, that the negroes of Antigua were as well informed with respect to their religious duties as the labouring classes of St. Giles's, or of any of the central districts of the metropolis, or as the labouring classes of this country in general. If this were the case, he would ask his hon. friend whether these facts did not give him (Mr. Huskisson) a right to call upon the legislature of that colony to give these well-instructed, religious, and moral, persons, a full enjoyment of their civil rights —the right to be heard in courts of justice, and to have their evidence received in the administration of justice. Was it no part of the rights of a civil member of the community that his evidence should be received in a court of justice? Let any hon. member reflect upon the many incidents in life in which this exclusion of evidence would affect the deepest feelings and interests of the slave population. The negro ought to be able to claim this right, when his property, or the welfare of his fellow-creature, was at stake. The first great act of melioration in the condition of the slave, was the interruption of the supply of negroes from the coast of Africa. It was admitted, that if a slave was emancipated by a compulsory process, another would be furnished to supply his place. An analogy had been drawn from labourers upon a small or upon a large farm; on these different farms there might be different degrees of profit; but the value of each labourer might be the same. The profits were greatest on the largest farm. One effect of what some were pressing in the House would be, that domestic slaves would be transferred to plantation labour. But the question of contingent compulsion was not to be considered at the present moment. In the Resolutions of 1823, two great points were to be considered. One was the amelioration of slavery—the parties still continue in a state of slavery. This was what all parties would acquiesce in. But there was another part of the resolution —the gradual transition from slavery to freedom. The House would not depart from this object. He did not 1040 mean to say that it would not be well to consider what other mode might be substituted, and what modifications of the present regulations might with propriety be introduced. These, however, were matters upon which it was the duty of ministers to wait until parliament took a different view of the question. They had taken one course, and had shown their inclination to adopt it. The next course must be, he would not fix any time, ultimately, securely, and with a view alike to the benefit of the negro, and the interest of the master—to take such measures as will improve his civil and moral condition in a material degree. It was not his intention to detain the House further than by observing, that while ministers advised a revision of the course pursued elsewhere, they must keep their minds firmly fixed upon the principles with which they had set out, and the views arising out of those principles.
§ Mr. Fowell Buxton
said:—I had originally resolved to follow the advice given by the noble lord (Nugent) considering the importance of the subject, the interests that are involved in it, and the absence, upon our part, of the information which the right hon. gentleman possesses. I had resolved to abstain from troubling the House with a single observation. The hon. member for Callington renders it impossible for me to adhere to that resolution. It is incumbent upon someone of those who have advocated the cause of the slaves, to stand up in his place and notice and repel his accusations. Up to the moment when he rose, the debate had been conducted with all possible tranquillity of temper. But the hon. gentleman favours us with a lecture upon temperance, moderation, command of temper, and control of tongue, in a speech just the most immoderate, intemperate, violent, and exasperating, that ever I heard in my life. In order to accomplish his purpose of calming irascible feelings, and banishing from this debate all topics which might create animosity, he is pleased to charge us with exaggeration, misrepresentation, quackery, and nonsense.
I must confess, however, that he has sneered at us in very good company—the rights of man and the laws of God were equally visited by his sarcasm. Now I defy him to prove any one instance of misrepresentation. I challenge him to abstain from general condemnation, and 1041 to put his finger upon that particular in which we have deceived the country. I will do so with regard to him. I will mark out those particulars in which himself has been guilty of misrepresentation. When I first agitated the question of slavery, I adverted to the use of the cart-whip; the hon. gentleman was the man who denied that any such instrument was in use in the West Indies. He termed my statement a gross and unwarrantable calumny. He was followed by a noble lord; who admitted that the whip was exhibited as an emblem of authority and a badge of office, but that it was ignorance, or a worse motive, which could induce any man to assert, that it was employed for any other than those innocent purposes of display. He was followed by an hon. member, who told us that he had resided for twenty years in the West Indies, and that he had never so much as heard of the cart-whip —that he believed it to be a pure fiction invented in this country. What answer could we give to these assertions, grounded as they appeared to be upon experience? We were obliged to yield in silence to such a mass of authority. His Majesty's Government proposed to the West-Indians to abolish the use of the cart-whip altogether. Then we were told by the West-Indians that the extinction of the cart-whip would be the extinction of slavery. "O!" said they, "you must leave us the whip; we cannot do without it."
Again, we stated that there were obstacles to manumission. It was denied, and stoutly; and the debate of this night, and the propositions of the right hon. gentleman show with what truth it was denied. It was asserted by us, that Sunday was the market day—a most vile and groundless calumny. But; when we called upon the colonists to give to the negro that which was equally the right of man and the cause of God—the free use of the sabbath, this was pronounced to be an infringement of property, and a call was made for compensation. The hon. gentleman has dwelt this night upon the felicity of the slaves, and I understood him to say, that they are in a condition to be envied by the British peasant—that they are the happiest of men, and the best of Christians; well fed, well clothed, well instructed, with none of the cares, with all the enjoyments, which pertain to men. But I wish to ask him if the negro is so very good a Christian, why you reject his 1042 testimony in a court of justice, and how it is that you explain your refusal to do so by saying, that the negro does not understand the nature and obligation of an oath, and that he is so false, that you cannot believe a word he says? how happens it that your very good Christian is in this predicament so very degraded and so very false?
Again, these happiest of the happy—will the hon. gentleman solve one difficulty that occurs to me? The negroes are better fed and better clothed, they eat more and work less than any people upon earth-—but how happens it that their numbers decrease —decrease at a rate entirely unequalled in the history of man? The negro population of the West Indies are disappearing at a rate such as no population has ever disappeared, in any of the parts of the world? If the whole family of man were to decrease in numbers at the rate in which the slave population is now perishing in Demerara, the earth would be depopulated in fifty years.
The hon. member has indignantly censured [my hon. friend (W. Smith) for introducing the phrases "rights of men and laws of God," and I do not wonder that he is somewhat provoked at those obnoxious expressions; for one cannot think of slavery without perceiving, that it is an usurpation of the one and a violation of the other. In my estimation, my hon. friend did right in adverting to them. The right hon. gentleman (Wilmot Horton) tells us, that it is impossible to redeem the pledge of parliament, and to adhere to compulsory manumission. We cannot reconcile the promise which we have given for the extinction of slavery with a promise which we have also given for a due consideration of the rights of the parties interested. We are reduced to the alternative, he tells us, of sacrificing the planter to the interest of the slave, or the slave to the interest of the planter. If we are in that predicament, and must decide for the one or the other, my judgment is unequivocally in favour of the slave. And it is a consideration of the rights of man and the laws of God which lead me to that, unequivocal decision. Three parties are before us—the planter, the British public, and the slave: and let us see the respective merits of the parties. From what is the planter's claim derived? From a crime. It is painful to say, but it is the hon. member for Callington who has extracted 1043 from us the truth—it is a crime. [Mr. Gordon here observed that it was no crime, the slave trade was tolerated by law.]
The hon. member has told us that there was no criminality in the slave trade, because the law allowed it. What! is that no crime in itself which our law denounces as a felony? was that perfectly innocent which we now punish as a piracy? Could any planter of that day have been so blinded by his interest, and so insensible to truth, as to think that to go to Africa, to seize the unoffending natives, and commit spoliation, and robbery, and murder —to render a quarter of the earth a ravaged wilderness—to crowd its captured population into the holds of slave ships, and expose them to horrors worse than death—to consign the survivors to perpetual servitude—could the planter, I say, of those days believe that all these were innocent and righteous acts? It was a crime, and they knew it to be so; and that crime is the origin of their right.
The British government, the second party, stands in the shameful predicament of having permitted and encouraged that crime. The only party who comes before us without reproach is the negro, who has been the victim of crimes which have been perpetrated by the one, and instigated by the other. When I heard the right hon. gentleman ask, "Are we to sacrifice the negro to the planter, or the planter to the negro," I put the case to my own mind thus: A and B commit a joint robbery; A being the principle, and B the accessory. The accessory, visited by pangs of conscience, wishes to make all the reparation in his power; namely, restitution of the things stolen to their rightful owner. The principal says, "No! not till you have settled with me. I only did what you recommended. I cannot afford to renounce my share of the spoil, until you have indemnified me from any loss I may sustain, I will give up the property with all my heart, when you have given me an equivalent, and guaranteed me from every possible damage."
But the third party has still to be heard. The slave may ask, "what have I to do with any disputes between those who have conspired to rob me?" He argues, that there are two questions—one, the restitution of the thing stolen to the person to whom it belongs; the other, the adjustment of the proportion of loss between the offending parties. The first is every thing 1044 to the negro—the last nothing. He has no kind of concern or interest in the question between the principal and the accessory, in "the robbery between the West-Indian planter and the British government—and why are disputes between parties who are both in the wrong, to delay, for a single hour, the enjoyment of that which unquestionably belongs to him?
I am not for immediate emancipation —not that I am deterred by any supposed rights on the part of the planter, not that I think that the planter has the smallest title of right on the person of the negro, but because I do believe, that the West-Indians too truly assert, that the negroes are not fit for emancipation. They are so sunk, and debased, and brutalized, by slavery, that they are not fit, perhaps, for the common enjoyment and rights of mankind. I pause, therefore, before I would grant them immediate emancipation But, the more I am convinced of their degradation, the more do I hate slavery, the cause of that degradation. I would give the negro all that I could give him with security. I would do every possible thing to mitigate and sweeten his lot; and to his children I would give unqualified emancipation.
Having done this, I would settle with the planter. I am a friend to compensation, but it is compensation upon the broadest scale. Perhaps the West-Indians may think my notions inconveniently extensive upon the subject of compensation, I am for compensation to all who have suffered by us; and in proportion to the degree in which each has suffered. The slave owner, by the laws of the mother country, has been tempted to embark his property in an unlawful investment. He went to the West Indies at our instigation. This is his claim, but if the planter was led to the West Indies by Our law, the slave was dragged thither by the same law. You have permitted, not forced, the one to commit a crime. You have forced, not permitted, the other to become the victim of that crime. Do you ask compensation for him who has wielded the whip? Then I ask compensation for him who has smarted under its lash. Do you ask compensation for loss of property, contingent and future? Then I ask compensation for unnumbered wrongs, the very least of which, is the incapacity of possessing any property whatever. If compensation be demanded, we re-echo the 1045 demand. It is that which we most fervently desire, only let it be just compensation, dealt out for the many who have suffered, and not confined to the few who may suffer in one particular.
Sir, these are the truths of the case. They have been extorted from me by the hon. member. I had no intention of saying a word, for reasons immaterial to the House. I had resolved to take no part in this or any other discussion during the session, but the hon. member has compelled me to speak the plain truth—and the plain truth is, that be has no right whatever to the person of the negro, though he may have some claim upon the liberality of the British government; and if any man thinks, that it were better not to divulge and insist upon these truths, I tell him that for their proclamation this night, he has to thank the hon. member for Callington, that as often as I shall hear the hon. member make the charge which he has made this night, so often shall I meet him as I have done.
said, that in the part which he was about to take in the discussion, he should avoid anything like an irritated or angry feeling. He appealed to his hon. friend, the member for Weymouth, whether he had not upon all occasions discussed this question calmly and dispassionately; Indeed, he always felt sorry when he found anything like angry discussion introduced into so important a subject. But he was not sorry at finding that the opinions expressed by the hon. member for Weymouth had been elicited that evening. He had taken a fair and manly course, and had given to the House the tone and opinions of himself and his coadjutors in the work (the great work no doubt he and they thought it) in which they were engaged. His hon. friend had at length plainly told them, that he would look to the compensation of the negro before that of the white master [hear, hear !]. An hon. member cheered, but he would tell him, that that was not the wisest course to take, in order to attain the object which his hon. friend had in view. The West-Indians might be a weak body; but if driven and forced together, it might be found that they could muster both strength, and courage to resist those opposed to them, and who attempted to destroy their just rights. The hon. member went on to deny the decrease in the negro population. He was taken by surprise by the assertion, and 1046 was not at that period prepared to contradict it by documents; but he assured his hon. friend, that in many parts of Jamaica, particularly the sea coast, there existed many of the original African stock, who still contaminated the blood of the Creole population, by infusing into them feelings and dispositions of which they had never divested themselves. The hon. member, after adverting to the negro Sunday-market for the produce of their fowls, gardens, and pig-styes, went on to observe, that the Sunday-market was the wish of the negroes, and that they grumbled when the market hours were restricted to eleven o'clock. But were there not many things such as fish of particular kinds allowed to be sold in this country on Sunday mornings for the convenience of the poor? The hon. member had objected to the non-admission of slave evidence. Now, the House of Assembly in Jamaica, had extended the testimony of slaves to capital cases by their late law, and there had actually been two persons of free condition convicted upon slave evidence since the passing of the law. But, in consequence of that law being disallowed by his majesty, those convictions had fallen to the ground. He thought his majesty had been ill-advised in refusing to pass that particular act, which was only a temporary experiment: it had nipped the bud of expectation. He thought the government should speak out. The West-Indian interest had a right to demand from government a plain statement of what they meant to do. That sort of property was now unsafe; especially since it had been declared that it was bottomed in crime.
§ Mr. Sykes
justified the course pursued by the hon. members for Norwich and Weymouth. He thought the principle of negro slavery so inequitable, it was so unfair, that any body of men should govern their fellow creatures by a system of laws which enacted the penalty of twenty stripes for one offence, of thirty for another, and so on, punishing human infirmities by a self-assumed right as a superior order of beings: he considered this system so abhorrent to humanity, and so essentially repugnant to justice, that he would not detain the House by commenting on it. He maintained, that the slave population was decreasing at the rate of 2½ per cent. per annum. As to the Sunday-market, he thought the sacredness of that day ought not to be disregarded, and that another 1047 day in the week should be given to the slaves in lieu of it.
§ Mr. James Wilson
complained of the aspersions and insinuations thrown out against the West-India proprietors, whenever an opportunity for doing so occurred. He would say to his compassionate brethren over the way, who were for galloping away thousands of miles from their own country and seeking to bestow their benevolence every where but in those places where it was most wanted, "look at home; go to Ireland and Scotland; there you will find misery and wretchedness enough; there you can be at no loss to discover plenty of starvation. In these places you may find persons, perhaps, related to yourselves, in a state of the utmost destitution, actually starving. When you have done what you ought to do in this respect, when you have relieved the poor of your own country, go abroad as fast as you like; relieve Ireland first, and then I will go hand-in-hand with you in assisting the West Indies, which, however, stands in need of assistance much less than the places already mentioned." He was the owner of a small parish in the north of England, and he had an estate in the West Indies, containing nearly the same number of subjects; and he could say most conscientiously, that the condition of the black-coloured people was infinitely superior to that of the tenantry of his parish in England. If one of his tenants in that parish wanted a glass of wine, he must go without it. Now that was a state of things which he never recollected in the West Indies. The hon. gentleman had thrown out a great deal of abuse upon the West-India planters, but he could say that they had feelings of kindness equal to any of the modern philanthropists. He desired those hon. gentlemen to recollect, that the planters held their estates and their present rights under the authority of acts of that House. Their situation was no act of their own; they went out from this country and purchased or laboured for their property, and left it to the children under the sanction of that House. Widows and orphans were the holders of much of that property, and he called upon the House to pause before it interfered with their rights. He called for protection to them and to himself with as much confidence as he called upon them for protection to his parish in Yorkshire. He spoke as a plain country gentleman, who had seen many ups and downs in life; 1048 he had seen many frosty mornings. He had laboured as much as any man for what he possessed; and though he did happen to be one of the masters of that portion of his Majesty's subjects who had dark complexions—although he was one of their unfortunate masters—he had always been disposed to act by them conscientiously. He had lived among them since he was a boy, in every situation; and he would tell his saintly brethren on the other side of the House, that if he was among the negroes and held but his little finger up, it would be enough. Subordination was necessary. Nothing could be accomplished without obedience to authority. He liked instruction well enough, but it must be in a moderate and temperate way. By doing too much they would do nothing. Emancipation in his opinion, must grow up from the seedlings, like the oak from the acorn. If they went to work temperately, he would lend them a helping hand; and without the cordial assistance of the West-India planter, he could assure the philanthropists they could never hope to be successful in their objects.
§ The motion was agreed to.