§ Mr. T. Duncombe
thought it would be better, before going into committee, that the hon. and learned Member for Woodstock, who had now the charge of the bill, should state to the House what were the modifications which it was proposed to make in the bill—they would then be in a condition to judge whether it was worth while going into committee at all upon such a measure.
§ Viscount Sandon
would suggest a preliminary question—viz., whether at that late period of the Session, and after so many other important hills had been postponed, they ought to take any discussion upon the bill at all, relating as it did to an entirely new subject, involving great and complicated interests, and affecting in a material degree our commerce with the Brazils, with Cuba, and Africa.
§ Mr. Forster
begged to differ from the noble Lord who had just sat down as to 931 the propriety of postponing the discussion of this bill till next Session. He thought, on the contrary, it was highly desirable that full discussion should take place in order to disabuse the public mind of those prejudices and errors with which it had been imbued by parties out of doors, who had intermeddled with this subject in total ignorance of our colonial trade and the mode of conducting it. He had most anxiously waited for the period which would afford him the opportunity of fully meeting the charges and implications which had been cast by those parties on the merchants and traders connected with our African commerce. Considering the full and searching nature of the inquiry which took place before the committee of that House last Session, nothing was to him so unexpected as that a bill should be introduced, in either House of Parliament founded as this was on that misconception and misrepresentation which, by that investigation, were so fully exposed and refuted. He was quite sure the hon. Member for Northampton could not have read that evidence, or he would never have given to such a measure the benefit of his countenance; he was convinced also that neither the evidence nor the report of the committee could have been read by the noble Lord who had introduced the measure in the other House; because, had that noble Lord read the evidence, he never would have proposed a bill containing clauses in direct opposition to that and the report of the committee, which evidence and report distinctly negatived all the imputations which had been cast on the African merchants. He could not, indeed, find that any one of those persons, who, it would be supposed, would have taken care to make themselves fully acquainted with the facts before meddling with such a question, had read that evidence. In regard to the charge cast on the parties interested in the bill for not opposing it in the other House, he must distinctly disclaim any blame on that subject. There was not a single person out of doors who, up to the last moment, supposed the bill would ever pass the House of Lords. There was very great difficulty in ascertaining what was its real nature, while it was before the House. He himself had repeatedly applied to the Parliamentary Paper Office of the House of Lords without being able to obtain a copy of the bill. He was invariably told the bill had undergone some change, and 932 was in the hands of the printer. And in this there was some truth, for the bill continued to change its character during the whole time it was in the hands of its noble author; and on the very day on which it passed, some change was made in it. He thought, therefore, no blame could justly attach to the parties interested for not opposing a bill of the precise character of which they could have no knowledge. But surely it was the duty of the Government and of the Board of Trade especially to make themselves acquainted with the provisions of the measure, and to oppose it if necessary. No doubt there might have been reasons on the part of the Government for conciliating the noble and learned Lord, who was the author of the bill, in return for the political support and services he had rendered them; but he could not think these were motives which should justify them in neglecting their duty or in bartering away the great interests of commerce. It had been said the absurdity of the bill was so great that there was no reason for opposing it or apprehending that it would pass; and as there were some arguments so absurd as not to require an answer, so there might be some Acts of Parliament so absurd and preposterous as to render opposition unnecessary, because it might be presumed they would fall by their own weight, and he certainly looked upon the present bill as one of that class. The measure appeared to him to embody all the folly, rashness, presumption, and recklessness of its noble author, and it was quite evident he had never considered the subject upon which he proposed to legislate. If the House would permit him he would go into the details of the bill. Then he would conclude by saying, that when the details should come on for discussion he should be prepared to show the utter absurdity and folly of that part of it which affected the African trade, and that so far from the clauses being calculated to promote the object in view, they were directly calculated to promote the slave-trade by shackling and embarrassing that commerce on which alone they could rely for the best assistance in civilising Africa, and thus finally suppressing the slave-trade. He should reserve any further observations until he saw the course adopted by the promoters of the bill.
§ Sir T. Wilde
did not consider himself responsible to the House in regard to this bill; but as to many of the objections which had been raised to it, he thought they 933 were wholly without foundation. He could not discover in it that mass of absurdity and folly which the two hon. Gentlemen who had preceded him had charged against it; nor could he believe that the noble and learned Lord, its author, had not well considered the question on which he sought to legislate, for every one who had paid any attention to the question of slave-trade suppression, must know that the cause had benefited most materially by the noble and learned Lord's exertions—more, perhaps, than by the exertions of any other person. Neither did he think there was any difficulty in obtaining access to that noble Lord, or that he showed any want of attention to parties interested in any subject with which he was in any way connected. There was no Peer or commoner more accessible than Lord Brougham, or more ready to attend to any suggestion made to him. Neither did he think that there was any ground for saying the bill came upon the country by surprise. Great sacrifices had been made by this country to put an end to the slave-trade. Every one knew the extent of the interests involved, and the arguments urged for its suppression. By the 5th George 4th, it was enacted, that British subjects should not deal or traffic in slavery, but these objects of that act had been perverted if, as it was alleged to be the case, British capital was employed in foreign countries in employing slave labour, and thus the intention of that act was evaded. The main object of this bill, as he understood it, was to give effect to what was the true meaning and intention of the 5th George 4th; namely, that neither British subjects nor the capital of British subjects should be employed anywhere in promoting and continuing the slave-trade. The noble and learned Lord brought a bill into the other House, not to declare the intention of the law, for that would subject all persons who had acted under misapprehension of its true meaning to punishment for acts done, but a bill enacting that in regard to future transactions, the operation of that act should extend to British subjects dealing in slaves in foreign possessions as well as in British dominions. That was the general object of the bill, but the noble and learned Lord went further, and added other clauses having other objects in view, and a noble Duke connected with the Government then said, that if the noble and learned Lord would withdraw these general objects, and bring in the bill as at 934 the first proposed, it should have the support of Government. Accordingly during the last Session most distinct notice was given of the intention to bring in a bill to the effect of the first clause of the present bill, and early in the present Session this bill was in fact introduced in the other House. It certainly was a new mode of treating that House as a branch of the Legislature, to assume that it was less willing than this House to hear evidence on behalf of parties interested in the bill; he apprehended the House of Lords was quite ready as this House to hear evidence and consider objection in regard to any bill, and as it had the power to examine on oath, it was certainly not a less competent tribunal. The bill was brought in at the earliest period of the Session, though certainly it hail not come down till late to this House. But as far as the first provision—the most important one—was concerned, full notice had been given. This country had made great sacrifices to suppress the slave-trade, and could it be supposed, that their object had merely been to transfer British capital engaged in that trade to foreign countries? The first clause was expressly directed against British capital being so employed, and if they refused to confirm its principle they would have done infinite mischief by the course of their legislation on this subject. In the Brazils the produce of sugar had increased in five or six years from 160,000,000 lbs. to 370,000,000 lbs. Now that increase could only be accounted for by excessively working the old slaves, or by new importations of slaves, which had been effected, although the Brazilian government had prohibited the dealing in slaves, and denounced it as piracy, with what sincerity let the world judge, while the trade in slaves is openly carried on. And the whole principle and object of the first clause of this bill was to prevent British subjects being parties to that trade or dealing in slaves in any part of the world, and to carry out a principle to which the legislature had been long pledged, and for the sake of which the country had been taxed to an enormous amount. Now, as to the other parts of the bill, the second clause dealt with the pawn system, and defined who should be considered slaves and who should not. That was in regard to those negroes who, under some bargain or agreement, had sold their liberty either for a certain or an unlimited period, for a debt perhaps of a few pounds. The clause enacted, that 935 these pawns should be considered slaves within the meaning of the act. The next clause was to give facilities for investigating cases that might arise. Then, with regard to the, 5th clause, if it were not approved of by the Government, he could not say that he was so well satisfied with its wisdom and policy as to insist upon it. This clause proposed to give to the Queen in council the power of making regulations, from time to time, applicable to the West African trade. He could not suppose that the Government would not on all occasions afford full opportunity to the parties interested to make suggestions, or fail to give to those suggestions their due weight; but he did not think it fair that British subjects should be deprived of the benefit and protection of the House of Commons in making laws for their government. He thought it a bad principle to depute the legislative authority to the King in council, except in cases of absolute necessity. There was another clause relating to British companies. It was considered that the influence of these companies was applied to the encouragement of the slave-trade, and facilitating its being carried on. It had been said, that even in this country, some of these companies in giving an account of their disbursements for the past year had stated that 5,000l. had been laid out in the purchase of slaves, and had stated the necessity of recruiting their stock in consequence of deaths. The sixth clause prevented these companies from becoming the purchasers of slaves. On these points he would not decide. He would leave them for others better acquainted with them. If the bill was unsound in principle, the Government ought to have paid more attention to it in the other House, and not have allowed it to come down to the House of Commons especially as there was a trade department to look into these things. But he did not consider it was open to the objections which had been made to it. As to the seventh clause, it was proposed to modify it, or rather to concede to the objections made against it. As it would stand, persons holding shares in any company which might be implicated as dealing in slaves would be criminally liable for the acts of the company—or to make parties liable for any proceedings taken in respect to existing mortgages, or on account of money already advanced on the security of slaves. But the first clause was the most important; all the subsequent ones 936 were subsidiary to that, and he did not see why the first clause, which merely went to carry into effect the 5th of Geo. 4th., should not pass, even if the others were modified or admitted.
§ Mr. Mildmay
opposed the measure, as calculated to inflict a most serious injury on the commerce of the country connected with those regions to which the bill applied. The bill ought to be called a bill to suppress the foreign colonial trade of the empire. No man could enter into trade with any country between Virginia and Brazils, who did not run the risk of falling under the penalties of the bill, or seeing the Spaniard, Frenchmen, and others getting securities for their debts, and payments for their advances, which this bill would withhold from the English merchant. If the bill had been brought in so early in the House of Lords, somebody must have been guilty of great negligence in not bringing it into that House before the very end of the Session. He saw no reason for destroying the property of the English merchants by the bill, except to gratify a distinguished individual in the other House, who must have something to occupy him. He thought the alterations now proposed, quite sufficient to justify them in throwing out the bill, as the effect of those alterations could not be known. He could assure the House that the Legislature could not reach the dishonest merchants, and it was too hard to place the honest merchant under a great disadvantage. The dishonest merchant could set up a man of straw, and easily evade all the provisions of this bill. He thought there was so much injustice in preventing English merchants from obtaining security for their debts that he should oppose the bill, and move that the committee be put off for six months.
§ Sir R. Peel
said, he should support the motion for going into committee on this bill. He did not think, that the fact of the bill having been brought down to the House late in the Session should be made a reason for refusing to go into the consideration of it. The House had not refused, on the ground of the late period of the Session, to go into other measures of importance; and it was a dangerous doctrine to lay down that, because it was the month of August, the House should not proceed to the consideration of such a measure. Though the bill was not brought down from the House of Lords till the month of August, there was a distinct 937 notice given last year that the attention of Parliament would be called to this most important question, whether British capital should be permitted to be employed in foreign countries in the encouragement of the slave trade, and whether this mode of evading the provisions of the Consolidated Slave Trade Abolition Act should be allowed to continue? That notice was given by Lord Brougham, and he was very sorry to hear any remarks made upon the character or motives of that noble and learned Lord in connection with this subject. Who had laboured more successfully in the abolition of the slave-trade than Lord Brougham? By whose exertions had more important measures for the purpose been carried? Whose perseverance had done more for the abolition of slavery than that of Lord Brougham? So far from a notice from Lord Brougham that he should bring in a measure on this subject, being calculated to produce indifference, he should have thought both from his past conduct, and from the success that had attended his past exertions, that such a notice was liable to have quite a contrary effect, and to have made the parties who were interested fully alive to the possible effect of his proposal; and when the Government were charged with indifference and neglect, he must be permitted to say, that the parties who felt an interest in the subject ought to have exerted themselves to ascertain the character of the bill, how far it affected them, and in taking steps, if necessary, by a timely representation to the Government to oppose it in the other House; for it could not be denied that the recommendation of the House of Lords to a measure was a powerful argument in its favour when it came before the House of Commons, more especially when that recommendation was in favour of a bill which, like the present, involved high and important legal considerations. But the representations made to the Government were not against the whole bill, but against particular clauses. [An hon. Member: And those were not altered.] No, but let them go into committee to discuss the details. To the great principle of the bill no objection was made—that great principle being—was it right, after all the sacrifices made by this country, and still making, in respect to our commerce with the Brazils, with the view to abolish slavery—looking also at the suspicion attaching to us in foreign countries as to the honesty and 938 genuineness of our motives in this respect, was it right that, having prohibited the slave-trade, and the employing of British capital in the slave-trade in our own dominions, we should connive at the employment of that capital, directly or indirectly, in the slave trade in foreign countries? That was the question the House was called upon to decide—that was the principle upon which the bill proceeded. If they were prepared to allow British capital to be so employed in foreign countries, why prevent it being employed in the same manner in our own colonies? Because then it would be under the control of the Legislature; they could make regulations for it from time to time, and it would be subject to the influence of the public opinion of this country. But if they desired that the slave-trade should be carried on in such a way as that, the greatest enormities might exist, and the greatest cruelties be perpetrated, without the control of the Legislature or the checks of public opinion; then we should only continue to permit that capital to be so employed in foreign countries, and all the suspicion now entertained by those foreign countries as to our motives would be confirmed. Then, what was the situation of the West Indian proprietor? You tell him, we riot only shall not carry on the slave trade, or cultivate the estate you have purchased, so as to enable you successfully to compete with the foreign sugar grower, but you will permit that British capital, which might be employed in enabling you to maintain the profitable cultivation of your property, if you were allowed to avail yourself of slave labour—but we will subject you to the additional disadvantage of leaving that capital employed in encouraging the slave trade, and slave labour in foreign countries. Why, there never was so grievous an act of injustice committed as would thus be inflicted on the West Indian interests—those interests which had strong claims on the justice of the House and the country. It was true we had paid the West Indian proprietors twenty millions as compensation when we abolished slavery—a large sum for us to pay, undoubtedly; yet, so fir as a permanent compensation to them for the loss sustained by our act, perfectly inadequate, especially when the difficulties of their position in competing with the foreign slave owner were taken into account. It was true, they could not give any additional compensation, but the West 939 Indian proprietors had at least a strong claim upon the justice of the House, and were entitled to demand that Parliament should prohibit British capital being brought into competition with them by its being employed in maintaining the slave-trade in foreign countries. Suppose they were to throw open the British markets to the sugar of the Brazils and of Cuba, and bring it into competition with the produce of our West Indian colonies, was it to be tolerated that British capital should be employed, (no effort being made to suppress the slave-trade in those countries) in bringing that sugar into competition with the West India sugar by means of slave labour? We had treaties with the Brazils. Did they know that the law of that country prohibiting the slave trade, was openly violated—that gangs of slaves were marched in open day through their principal towns, and that our treaties were utterly ineffectual, and the Brazilian laws perfectly powerless in preventing that trade. Why, some months ago, while our cruisers were absent from the coast of the Brazils, in protecting British interests at Monte Video and Buenos Ayres, the import of slaves had increased to an enormous extent. Our West India colonies were subject to natural disadvantages—in the quality of the soil and in the climate—as compared with the Brazils; and if, by means of the application of British capital, advantages of cultivation, in addition to those natural advantages, were given to other countries, the fate of the West Indian colonies was sealed, and their ruin would be completed. He spoke only of the great principle of prohibiting the employment of British capital to the encouragement of the slave trade. An assertion of that principle was necessary to the character of this country. The enormous increase in the cultivation of foreign sugar proved the increase of the slave trade. He understood that 80,000 or 90,000 slaves had been imported into Cuba. Was there sufficient capital in Cuba to carry on this immense trade? He feared that the application of the capital of other countries must be responsible for the greater part of it. He should wish the House to go into committee, in order to consider the clauses of the bill, but he should hope that no clause would be passed that would tend to defeat its main object, It would be better to defer the bill to another Session than to legislate precipitately. If the examination of the bill by legal minds suggested any 940 doubts that did not occur to the House of Lords, perhaps it would be better to defer them for inquiry by a future committee.
§ Mr. Hawes
was glad that the right hon. Gentleman had consented to go into committee on the bill. He approved of the general principle of the bill. While he was opposed on all occasions to slavery and the slave-trade, he could not do such an injustice to the West-India colonies as to allow the employment of British capital in a cultivation by slaves in foreign countries. He supported the bill. He thought they should look to the competition which was growing up in the east, in which British capital was employed, he believed, in promoting slave cultivation, as well as in the west.
§ Mr. Bright
wished to make an observation with respect to one part of the speech of the right hon. Baronet. He had spoken of the great sacrifices made by the people of this country to put an end to slavery and the slave-trade, and amongst these alluded to the sacrifices they were now making in refusing Brazilian sugar, owing to its being the product of slave labour. Now he contended that the people had never refused to receive that sugar, nor did they advance any such grounds for declining to use it. It was denied to the people by the Government, who were more careful to defend the West and East India monopolists than to do what was right for the community at large. The right hon. Gentleman made this statement on the supposition, that the course pursued by the remnant of the old anti-slavery body was approved of by the anti-slavery public. He believed nothing could be a greater mistake than to imagine that the Anti-Slavery Committee represented any influential number of any class in the country. The main portion of those who had in former years struggled to abolish the crime of slavery, did not coincide with the views of those who now called themselves the committee of the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society. Many provincial associations had condemned their conduct, and he could assert that, of the religious society to which he himself belonged, and whose labours in the cause of abolition were well known, not only not a numerical majority, but indeed a comparatively small number of them, had any sympathy with the unsound and mischievous policy pursued by that committee. That committee had no real power in the country; they had a character derived from past exertions, but they were not 941 now to be considered as having any influence over the great body of those who, in former years had struggled for emancipation under their guidance. He was not surprised to find hon. Members opposite willing to form a partnership with any one, or any party, whose name could aid them in maintaining their unjust monopoly; but he warned the Government, that they were relying upon a support that would fail them, if they fancied that the eccentricities of the remnant of the old antislavery society could much longer afford them any real aid. It was his belief, that the present bill would but incumber the statute book without being of any real use. He would make as great sacrifices as most men to put down so horrible a crime as that of slavery; but he was convinced that this law would be evaded and rendered in-operative. The holders of shares in foreign companies could transfer their shares to some foreigner, or hold them under a fictitious name, or as trustee for some one whom the law could not affect, and thus the object of the act would not be gained, whilst much inconvenience would arise to many merchants and others without the evil being put down, or a single slave liberated. He thought that, seeing this result it would be better to leave the matter to the honourable and moral feeling of individuals, and to the progress of public opinion, than to pass a law which would be a dead letter from the hour it received the royal assent. He was surprised to hear the right hon. Baronet lay so much stress upon the alleged injustice of allowing British capital to hold slaves in a foreign country, when it could not do so in a British colony. The West Indian would have just as much liberty for his capital as any other British subject. If invested in any part of the British dominions, he came within the law, but if out of those dominions, he would be beyond the law. British capital might be employed in growing tobacco in Virginia or in our colonies, but it was not allowed to be so employed in Ireland; the injustice in this case was quite as great as that mentioned by the right hon. Baronet. He would recommend them not to pass the bill this Session; he believed further inquiry would show that it would produce mischief and inconvenience in some cases, without answering the end proposed, and the character of the House suffered from all legislation which fell short of the object aimed at.
did not quarrel with any 942 conscientious sentiments or arguments, either of the new or the old Anti-Slavery Society. He asked the hon. Member for Durham, however, was he ready to deny the immutable principles of justice? He objected to allowing British capital being employed in supporting and favouring slavery and the slave-trade in Cuba and Brazils, and other places; and he contended that those who so sanctioned the employment of British capital, sanctioned the slave-trade and slavery. He objected to trusting to the principles of morality, as proposed by the hon. Member for Durham, in his Utopian scheme; and he insisted on the necessity of restraining the application of capital that way by legislation. He thought that the right hon. Baronet (Sir Robert Peel) had placed the question on a fair footing, like a Statesman and a man of candour. The West India body knew little or nothing of the bill, and he had only heard of complaints from persons connected with foreign colonies. He was surprised at that, because a great principle was involved in it affecting them.
§ Mr. Brotherton
said, that they had legislated to put down slavery in the West Indies, and he thought that it was not consistent with justice to encourage slavery in other quarters. Let them not legislate in one case, and allow another to go free.
§ House in committee.
§ On the first clause,
§ Viscount Sandon
wished to understand clearly the bearing of the clause as proposed to be amended by the hon. and learned Gentleman, and owing to its length it was difficult, without some time was given for its consideration, to do so. He understood the object was to extend the provisions of the Consolidated Slave Act, which now applied to British subjects acting on the sea or in British dominions to British subjects acting in foreign countries. He quite agreed that if it was practicable to do so without inflicting gross injustice, and even greater evils than those which it was proposed to remedy, it was right that they should prevent the employment of British capital in connection with the slave-trade or slave labour. But he believed since the clause of the Consolidated Slave Act, which it was now proposed to extend the operation of, had been the law of the land, no British subject had either directly or indirectly been 943 connected with the slave-trade. At all events there was nothing in the evidence taken by the committee of last year to prove the contrary in so far as the coast of Africa was concerned. Another committee, which was composed of many gentlemen who were most deeply interested in putting down the slave-trade, were generally of that opinion. They did not say that the practice of employing British capital in the slave-trade did not exist, but that there was no evidence brought before them is show that it did. Then, with regard to the high seas and our own dominions. the provisions of the Slave Act had been effectual: and the question then was, could they make them equally effectual in places not within British jurisdiction? And he thought this was the first attempt that had been made to carry our municipal laws into countries under foreign jurisdiction. How could they make the principle effective? It was charged against British subjects that they were contravening one of the provisions of the Slave Act by employing slaves within the dominions of the emperor of the Brazils. By what means could they bring that charge under the cognizance of the British tribunals? What opportunity would the defendant have to disprove the charge? Or what authority would the court have to go to the heart of the Andes to obtain evidence for or against the charge? He thought the bill was going beyond the proper limits of the British Legislature. It was not sufficient in matters of legislation, or in private affairs, that the object was good; but it must also be attainable, and attainable without creating greater evils than it proposed to remove.
§ Sir T. Wilde
remarked, that if the defendant could show to the court, that the witnesses necessary to disprove the charge were in a distant country, and could not be got at, the court would postpone the trial, and if the bar to the trial were permanent it would die.
wished to know the substance and effect of the clause as amended. He apprehended the object was to extend to British subjects residing beyond the limits of British dominion, the material provisions of the Consolidated Slave Trade Act, which now applied only to British subjects residing within those circuits. That being the case, he hoped the committee would pass the clause, for he understood that to that principle there was no objection.
understood the clause to be entirely prospective, and that it was not intended to apply to those who were now in possession of, or who had been in possession of a right of property in slaves in foreign countries. The seventh clause of the bill related to parties acquiring such property—involuntarily on their part, as by inheritance or otherwise—but the Consolidated Slave Act made it an offence to sell as well as to buy slaves; and he wished to know how the hon. and learned Gentleman intended to deal with persons who came into possession of this kind of property, and who desired to divest themselves of it by sale? Was the selling of the slave under such circumstances to be treated as an offence, and punishable as a felony?
§ Mr. Dennistoun
asked where would those who bad to sell slaves find purchasers? It was intended, he understood, to prevent all dealing in slaves. Was it intended to prevent the subjects of this country from holding slaves in foreign countries?
§ The Solicitor-general
thought it would be advisable to postpone the clause, for it could not carry into effect the object of his hon. and learned Friend. He wished it to be understood what the bill meant. If the second section of the Slave Trade Suppression Act only were introduced, it would not be sufficient to attain the end in view. He suggested that it would be better to consider the clause betwixt this and Monday. He thought the House ought not now to be called on to give its assent to this clause, for the House could not be aware of its effect.
§ Viscount Sandon
thought, that the doubts of the hon. and learned Solicitor-general would justify those who had opposed the bill because they dui not know what it intended. The hon. and learned Gentlemen who concurred in the measure seemed neither to know the bearings of their bill, nor their own intentions, and it would be better to postpone the bill till the next Session. All trade to the coast of Africa gave indirect or direct support to the slave-trade; and as the ramifications of trade were so extensive, he hoped that the bill would not be pressed. They had all a common object in view—the suppression of slavery, and they ought to carry it out in the best manner.
§ Sir T. Wilde
again explained, that the object of the bill was to apply the princi- 945 ples of the act of 5th of Geo. 4th to British subjects in foreign countries. He was anxious however, to meet the objection of his opponents, and would consent to move clauses pro formâ to meet their views. In answer to Viscount Sandon, the hon. and learned Gentleman explained that the bill would not interfere with any slave holding which was now legal. It did not interfere either with slave hiring.
§ Viscount Sandon
contended, that under this bill they were about to make that a felony in foreign colonies which was not a felony in our own colonies.
said that his noble Friend overlooked the Emancipation Act. He denied that the bill created new felonies.
§ Viscount Palmerston
though the House was bound to look to the effect produced by our legislation upon other countries. He had been assured that there could be no doubt that British capital had been employed largely in this trade up to the present period—a circumstance the knowledge of which had embarrassed, and must continue to create great embarrassment to the Government of this country in any effort it made to induce other countries to co-operate in the total suppression of the slave-trade and slavery in their respective dominions. Happy should he be if he could be instrumental in putting an end effectually to the trade directly, but much more so if he could prevent the employment of British capital in its indirect support. To permit the increase of the number of slaves employed in those places was in effect to abet and encourage slavery. But when the British Government, in pursuance of enactments by the legislature, endeavoured to obtain the consent of the Governments of other countries to co-operate and make sacrifices in a commercial point of view for the purpose of putting an end to slavery, it was but too likely to have the remonstrance met by that which was calculated to bring up a blush in a Minister's face. "How can you, who, with all your laws upon the subject, cannot prevent your own merchants from employing their capital in the maintenance of slavery, from buying slaves and dealing in them as property, require us to induce our subjects to give up a traffic in which so large a portion of our property and population has been engaged, without restriction for many years?" He sincerely hoped the noble Lord would not induce the committee to postpone the clause, but that the he would allow the amendments at 946 once to be brought up, and the alterations to be agreed to this Session.
§ Viscount Sandon
said, he was by no means favourable, nor ever had been, to the continuance of slavery. He should hail with joy the day when slavery was abolished all over the world; but he was desirous that the Legislature should not, in its eager desire to destroy one evil, inflict an injury upon our own subjects. He begged that hon. Members would take the pains to examine the measure, and they would he was confident, discover that this was not an act merely against the slave-trade, but something more. It purported to be the former, but it really was a measure affecting slave-owners and slave-dealing in foreign countries; and unless the noble Lord the late Secretasy for Foreign Affairs could devise some means to give effect to that law in a foreign country, the labour of legislating for this object would be all lost.
§ Viscount Palmerston
said, if the noble Lord would move any amendment which would have the effect of putting an end by law to the hiring of slaves by one planter or person from another, he would assist his object by every means in his power.
§ Mr. T. Duncombe
said, no confidence was felt in, the source from whence this bill proceeded. No one could know whether they would find the noble and learned Lord who proposed this bill standing on his head or his heels; he had no fixed principles—no one could tell what he was at. They saw him at one time covering certain parties with vituperation, and at another loading them with flattery and fawning. There was no fixed principle in him. The House was therefore to judge fur itself as to the measure. He believed there was never a greater mass of absurdity brought together than in this bill; but if the omission of the 5th and 6th clauses was agreed to he should not oppose it further, for it would then be neutralized, and it would be no matter what became of it. The Government was placed in a perplexing situation respecting this measure. Upon the one hand it was pressed by its own convictions and its own common sense of the probable inefficacy of the bill; on the other hand by a grateful sense of the services which it had lately received from the promoter of this bill. Why would not the noble Lord assent to postpone a measure so strongly objected to now, which measure was not to come into effect until 947 the month of March, 1844, when it was intended to from a portion of the Consolidated Slave-trade Bill? If they did not agree to strike out the 5th and 6th clauses, the bill would prove a complete mass of absurdities.
§ Mr. Forster
As his right hon. And learned Friend had intimated his intention of abandoning the 5th clause of the bill, which related to the trade of Western Africa, he felt that nearly all further interference or opposition on his part with the bill became unnecessary, because with that clause the imputations implied on the African merchants fell to the ground, and they were left, as the committee of last Session left them, free all imputation and blame.
admitted the bill did not place the British merchant in the Brazils upon the same footing, in respect to the question of slavery, as in our own colonies in the West Indies. It would be for that purpose necessary to have in this bill a clause corresponding with the 13th the right to transfer slaves was suffered to continue under the sanction of law, they would not have the slightest security that this recognition of the power to enslave slaves on an estate, would not induce their owners to keep up the supply of labour by the illicit import of slaves.
§ Viscount Sandon
said that the slave-trade was decaying under the present law. There were not above 1,500 slaves held by British residents in Brazil out of millions of slaves belonging to the planters of that country. He would put it fairly to the supporters of the bill whether a permission to keep up these 1,500 slaves by occasionally supplying them with 200 or 300 in a year would materially assist in giving any great impulse to the slave-trade in Brazil. The noble Lord quoted the passage from the report of the committee of last year, which exonerated the merchants who trade to the west coast of Africa from being engaged in the slave-trade in any way.
observed, the noble Lord's argument would, if followed up, go to legalise slavery under the sanction and by the agency of British capitalists. Although those slaves in their employment did not exceed 1,500, still the maintenance of them by British masters ought to be condemned; it was in effect a 948 nucleus for the sanction and growth of slavery, and ultimately of a trade in slaves.
§ Sir R. Peel
observed that an act of George the 4th on this subject permitted the purchase of slaves in our own colonies, but on condition that those slaves were law-fully there. By law a slave imported after 1831 would be free, though that had been evaded in some instances. It was in vain to attempt to deny that British capital was proved to have been employed in the maintenance of slave labour. The evidence given by Mr. Gordon before the committee in 1838 distinctly proved the fact. At first the merchants would not supply articles for slave maintenance but upon payment in hard money; but in 1839 they had been found to have embarked in supplying their wants upon the lottery of success on the part of those owning the slaves. Was it right to suffer such a state of the law as that a British subject might go to Brazil, and establish on the banks of some navigable river there a sugar or other plantation, and buy 500 slaves to work the estate? He would remind the committee, that if the slave-trade had declined there, as it certainly had, it was not owing to the alteration of public opinion as to the cruelty of the traffic, nor to the exertions of the Brazilian Government, but to the great activity of our cruisers in those seas; for when those cruisers had been withdrawn, to protect for a time British interests at Monte Video and Buenos Ayres, the Brazilians, by means of their clippers, so inundate the market with negroes that it was found necessary by our Government to make the strongest remonstrances upon the subject to that court.
§ Mr. Hawes
expressed his surprise at the language which had falleu from the noble Lord (Viscount Sandon). That language would go to encourage the slave-trade; and he contended, in opposition to the noble Lord, that there was ample evidence in the report of the committee to show that British capital was employed in the slave-trade on the coast of Africa. He thought it would be wise to prevent by law the practice of hiring slaves.
§ Mr. Forster
begged to thank the noble Lord (Viscount Sandon) for the statement he had made of the result of the inquiry into the subject of the trade with Africa in the last Session. It must be gratifying to the House, as it would be tot the public; 949 and he hoped it would go forth to the public, after the calumnies that had been circulated on the subject, that the result of that full and searching inquiry was the complete refutation of those calumnies; and he hoped they would never again hear of persons, ignorant on the subject, and who had never read the evidence and report of that committee, giving ear or countenance to the imputations on which the abandoned clause of this bill was founded. After the observations which had fallen from the hon. Member for Lambeth, in respect to the inquiry of last Session into the system of trade on the west coast of Africa, he felt called upon to trouble the House with a few words in reply. The hon. Member had referred to Dr. Madden's report, which formed the groundwork of that inquiry. It was true that Dr. Madden, writing in ignorance on the subject, and under the influence of prejudice and misrepresentation, did cast imputations on the African trade, as favouring the slave-trade, but the hon. Member had forgot to state that Dr. Madden's statements were subject to a most scrutinising inquiry by the committee, and found to be utterly groundless, false, and unjust, and as such rejected unanimously by the committee. He felt no great interest in this clause as far as the British traders on the coast of Africa were concerned, because he did not believe that any British subject now employed pawns, it having been found an expensive mode of obtaining labour. The clause was founded on a complete misunderstanding of what the pawn system is, which is not a system of slavery, or anything like it, and is a proof of the ignorance which has presided over the framing of this bill. The danger I apprehended from this clause is the interference it may occasion with the customs of the natives in the neighbourhood of our forts, which might drive them to the foreign settlements, or occasion an insurrection in the country, similar to what took place in 1822, when the settlements were under the Crown, and which led the Colonial Office to abandon them into the hands of the merchants from inability to govern them. They all knew the sort of men which the Colonial Office usually selected for the government of our African settlements, taken from the quarter-deck and barrack-room, totally unacquainted with the people and the country. In the hands of such 950 men such a clause might be most mischievous.
explained, that it was not the intention of the Government at all to interfere with the ordinary commercial transactions with the natives upon the western coast of Africa. It was necessary the House should be made aware of the system often resorted to, of carrying on trade in those parts, which was known by the name of pawning, or pawns. The system was as follows:—When a native wished to carry on a trade with the interior without means of doing so, he obtained goods to traffic with, by pawning himself to the creditors until he received some returns from his speculations with which to redeem himself. It was no less than selling himself into slavery, until a certain event took place. The pawns were in effect slaves, and worked as such for a master who held them in his power. The hon. Member might not think this a cruel or improper practice. But it was the object of this Government to prevent a British subject residing within these territories, from set ting an example to the natives of the practice of slavery, in holding pawns in this way. If such a person held pawns he would be punishable under the second clause in the same way as if he kept slaves.
§ Mr. Forster
The noble Lord misunderstood him, if he supposed, that he objected to the clause as far as British subjects were concerned, who had really no interest in it, and cared nothing about it; as the noble Lord assured the House that it was not intended to interfere with the natives, by which the peace of the country might be endangered, he should offer no further opposition to the clause.
The 2nd clause agreed to, also the 3rd and 4th clauses. The 5th and 6th were omitted.
§ Upon the 7th clause being read,
§ Viscount Sandon
wished for some explanation of the clause from the hon. and learned Gentleman. Could a British subject take as security for money lent, an estate with the slaves on it with in Maryland, Virginia, or other slave-owning provinces?
§ Sir T. Wilde
said, it was permissible if not for the purpose of dealing in slaves, and no evasion of the object of the bill. A mortgage might be admissible if the mortgage were made whilst the mortgagor was really in debt, or to secure an advance; 951 but not to give a colour to a fraudulent transfer of the slaves of one man to another in violation of the act.
§ Mr Mildmay
believed, that this would create great difficulties in trade, and, that after this bill had passed, no man would be able safely to conduct this sort of business in that part of the world.
explained, that the British creditor in these slave states could not, under this bill, be suffered to take slaves in discharge of his debts. In answer to the objection raised, that this proviso would create inconveniencies in trade there, he would observe that without it the pretext would be constantly afforded for transfer of slave property under the show of a claim of a debt, and a judgment thereupon.
said, in respect to an existing debt, a creditor could take in execution an estate and the slaves on it, and have them sold to pay him his debt. In that respect the slaves would not be held by him but by the law, and the law, having realised the money out of the estate by sale, would repay him his advance. To meet the difficulty, it perhaps would be enough to introduce the words, "for any bonâ fide debt."
§ Sir T. Wilde
thought these words would not sufficiently meet the case. By lending money and taking as security an execution, a man might acquire all the slaves on an estate, with the estate, or, vice versa, and transfer them to another by borrowing money on this sort of security. If the hiring were sanctioned, they would soon hear of hiring of slaves for thirty and for fifty years, and this evasion would be as great an evil as slavery, which in effect it would be. At present the British merchant might sell in these localities, and of course he knew no reason why he should not buy. Certainly he might. It was merely converting the judgment at law into the price of the articles sold. Here, therefore, a clause to prevent evasion of the object of the law ought to be introduced, and the hon. and learned Attorney-general's amendment would not afford that protection to these poor creatures which it was the object of the bill to provide.
§ Mr. Dennistoun
said, that the clause contained a proposition which was most unjust. If this clause were adopted, it would operate greatly to the prejudice of the British merchant. In the case of a 952 planter failing, whose property consisted solely of slaves, an American merchant would receive a portion of his debt, while the English merchant would not receive a farthing. This act would, he feared, cut off all commercial intercourse with the southern and slave countries, and throw it into the hands of the Portuguese and Spanish capitalists, who would have no restraint upon them from realising upon the sale of slave estates the advances of money which they would most willingly make the planters.
§ Mr. Mildmay
said, the clause was tantamount to knocking any man down in the street, in order to get hold of a rogue. He preferred the clause without the amendment of the Attorney-general.
§ Sir R. Peel
said, they certainly ought to give the British creditor in these countries all that was necessary to secure him an equal probability of the recovery of his debts as a foreigner; still it became the legislature, on the contrary, to provide against this being made the cover for collusive transactions contrived to defeat the law. It would be better to let the trade have time to suggest clauses to guard against frauds of this kind, and which also should secure them the recovery of their just demands.
§ Clause agreed to, as were the remaining clauses. The House resumed, report was brought up, and ordered to be further considered on Monday.
§ House adjourned.