Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAP. VIII. - An Essay on the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species
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CHAP. VIII. - Thomas Clarkson, An Essay on the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species 
An Essay on the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species, particularly the African, translated from a Latin Dissertation, which was Honoured with the First Prize, in the University of Cambridge, for the Year 1785, with Additions (London: J. Phillips, 1786).
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But if men therefore, at a time when under the influence of religion they exercised their serious thoughts, abolished slavery, how impious must they appear, who revived it; and what arguments will not present themselves against their conduct!* The Portugueze, within two centuries after its suppression in Europe, in imitation of those piracies, which we have shewn to have existed in the uncivilized ages of the world, made their descents on Africa, and committing depredations on the coast,‡first carried the wretched inhabitants into slavery.
This practice, however trifling and partial it might appear at first, soon became serious and general. A melancholy instance of the depravity of human nature; as it shews, that neither the laws nor religion of any country, however excellent the forms of each, are sufficient to bind the consciences of some; but that there are always men, of every age, country, and persuasion, who are ready to sacrifice their dearest principles at the shrine of gain. Our own ancestors, together with the Spaniards, French, and most of the maritime powers of Europe, soon followed the piratical example; and thus did the Europeans, to their eternal infamy, renew a custom, which their own ancestors had so lately exploded, from a conscientiousness of its impiety.
The unfortunate Africans, terrified at these repeated depredations, fled in confusion from the coast, and sought, in the interiour parts of the country, a retreat from the persecution of their invaders. But, alas, they were miserably disappointed! There are few retreats, that can escape the penetrating eye of avarice. The Europeans still pursued them; they entered their rivers; sailed up into the heart of the country; surprized the unfortunate Africans again; and carried them into slavery.
But this conduct, though successful at first, defeated afterwards its own ends. It created a more general alarm, and pointed out, at the same instant, the best method of security from future depredations. The banks of the rivers were accordingly deserted, as the coasts had been before; and thus were the Christian invaders left without a prospect of their prey.
In this situation however, expedients were not wanting. They now formed to themselves the resolution of settling in the country; of securing themselves by fortified posts; of changing their system of force into that of pretended liberality; and of opening, by every species of bribery and corruption, a communication with the natives. These plans were put into immediate execution. The Europeans erected their * forts; landed their merchandize; and endeavoured, by a peaceable deportment, by presents, and by every appearance of munificence, to seduce the attachment and confidence of the Africans. These schemes had the desired effect. The gaudy trappings of European art, not only caught their attention, but excited their curiosity: they dazzled the eyes and bewitched the senses, not only of those, to whom they were given, but of those, to whom they were shewn. Thus followed a speedy intercourse with each other, and a confidence, highly favourable to the views of avarice or ambition.
It was now time for the Europeans to embrace the opportunity, which this intercourse had thus afforded them, of carrying their schemes into execution, and of fixing them on such a permanent foundation, as should secure them future success. They had already discovered, in the different interviews obtained, the chiefs of the African tribes. They paid their court therefore to these, and so compleatly intoxicated their senses with the luxuries, which they brought from home, as to be able to seduce them to their designs. A treaty of peace and commerce was immediately concluded: it was agreed, that the kings, on their part, should, from this period, sentence prisoners of war and convicts to European servitude; and that the Europeans should supply them, in return, with the luxuries of the north. This agreement immediately took place; and thus begun that commerce, which makes so considerable a figure at the present day.
But happy had the Africans been, if those only, who had been justly convicted of crimes, or taken in a just war, had been sentenced to the severities of servitude! How many of those miseries, which afterwards attended them, had been never known; and how would their history have saved those sighs and emotions of pity, which must now ever accompany its perusal. The Europeans, on the establishment of their western colonies, required a greater number of slaves than a strict adherence to the treaty could produce. The princes therefore had only the choice of relinquishing the commerce, or of consenting to become unjust. They had long experienced the emoluments of the trade; they had acquired a taste for the luxuries it afforded; and they now beheld an opportunity of gratifying it, but in a more extensive manner. Avarice therefore, which was too powerful for justice on this occasion, immediately turned the scale: not only those, who were fairly convicted of offences, were now sentenced to servitude, but even those who were suspected. New crimes were invented, that new punishments might succeed. Thus was every appearance soon construed into reality; every shadow into a substance; and often virtue into a crime.
Such also was the case with respect to prisoners of war. Not only those were now delivered into slavery, who were taken in a state of publick enmity and injustice, but those also, who, conscious of no injury whatever, were taken in the arbitrary skirmishes of these venal sovereigns. War was now made, not as formerly, from the motives of retaliation and defence, but for the sake of obtaining prisoners alone, and the advantages resulting from their sale. If a ship from Europe came but into sight, it was now considered as a sufficient motive for a war, and as a signal only for an instantaneous commencement of hostilities.
But if the African kings could be capable of such injustice, what vices are there, that their consciences would restrain, or what enormities, that we might not expect to be committed? When men once consent to be unjust, they lose, at the same instant with their virtue, a considerable portion of that sense of shame, which, till then, had been found a successful protector against the sallies of vice. From that awful period, almost every expectation is forlorn: the heart is left unguarded: its great protector is no more: the vices therefore, which so long encompassed it in vain, obtain an easy victory: in crouds they pour into the defenceless avenues, and take possession of the soul: there is nothing now too vile for them to meditate, too impious to perform. Such was the situation of the despotick sovereigns of Africa. They had once ventured to pass the bounds of virtue, and they soon proceeded to enormity. This was particularly conspicuous in that general conduct, which they uniformly observed, after any unsuccesful conflict. Influenced only by the venal motives of European traffick, they first made war upon the neighbouring tribes, contrary to every principle of justice; and if, by the flight of the enemy, or by other contingencies, they were disappointed of their prey, they made no hesitation of immediately turning their arms against their own subjects. The first villages they came to, were always marked on this occasion, as the first objects of their avarice. They were immediately surrounded, were afterwards set on fire, and the wretched inhabitants seized, as they were escaping from the flames. These, consisting of whole families, fathers, brothers, husbands, wives, and children, were instantly driven in chains to the merchants, and consigned to slavery.
To these calamities, which thus arose from the tyranny of the kings, we may now subjoin those, which arose from the avarice of private persons. Many were kidnapped by their own countrymen, who, encouraged by the merchants of Europe, previously lay in wait for them, and sold them afterwards for slaves; while the seamen of the different ships, by every possible artifice, enticed others on board, and transported them to the regions of servitude.
As these practices are in full force at the present day, it appears that there are four orders of involuntary slaves on the African continent; of *convicts; of prisoners of war; of those, who are publickly seized by virtue of the authority of their prince; and of those, who are privately kidnapped by individuals.
It remains only to observe on this head, that in the sale and purchase of these the African commerce or Slave Trade consists; that they are delivered to the merchants of Europe in exchange for their various commodities; that these transport them to their colonies in the west, where their slavery takes place; and that a fifth order arises there, composed of all such as are born to the native Africans, after their transportation and slavery have commenced.
Having thus explained as much of the history of modern servitude, as is sufficient for the prosecution of our design, we should have closed our account here, but that a work, just published, has furnished us with a singular anecdote of the colonists of a neighbouring nation, which we cannot but relate. The learned * author, having described the method which the Dutch colonists at the Cape make use of to take the Hottentots and enslave them, takes occasion, in many subsequent parts of the work, to mention the dreadful effects of the practice of slavery; which, as he justly remarks, “leads to all manner of misdemeanours and wickedness. Pregnant women,” says he, “and children in their tenderest years, were not at this time, neither indeed are they ever, exempt from the effects of the hatred and spirit of vengeance constantly harboured by the colonists, with respect to the † Boshies-man nation; excepting such indeed as are marked out to be carried away into bondage.”
“Does a colonist at any time get sight of a Boshies-man, he takes fire immediately, and spirits up his horse and dogs, in order to hunt him with more ardour and fury than he would a wolf, or any other wild beast? On an open plain, a few colonists on horseback are always sure to get the better of the greatest number of Boshies-men that can be brought together; as the former always keep at the distance of about an hundred, or an hundred and fifty paces (just as they find it convenient) and charging their heavy fire-arms with a very large kind of shot, jump off their horses, and rest their pieces in their usual manner on their ramrods, in order that they may shoot with the greater certainty; so that the balls discharged by them will sometimes, as I have been assured, go through the bodies of six, seven, or eight of the enemy at a time, especially as these latter know no better than to keep close together in a body.”—
“And not only is the capture of the Hottentots considered by them merely as a party of pleasure, but in cold blood they destroy the bands which nature has knit between their husbands, and their wives and children, &c.”
With what horrour do these passages seem to strike us! What indignation do they seem to raise in our breasts, when we reflect, that a part of the human species are considered as game, and that parties of pleasure are made for their destruction! The lion does not imbrue his claws in blood, unless called upon by hunger, or provoked by interruption; whereas the merciless Dutch, more savage than the brutes themselves, not only murder their fellow-creatures without any provocation or necessity, but even make a diversion of their sufferings, and enjoy their pain.
End of the First Part.
THE African Commerce, OR SLAVE TRADE.
[* ]The following short history of the African servitude, is taken from Astley’s Collection of Voyages, and from the united testimonies of Smyth, Adanson, Bosman, Moore, and others, who were agents to the different factories established there; who resided many years in the country; and published their respective histories at their return. These writers, if they are partial at all, may be considered as favourable rather to their own countrymen, than the unfortunate Africans.
[‡ ]We would not wish to be understood, that slavery was unknown in Africa before the piratical expeditions of the Portuguese, as it appears from the Nubian’s Geography, that both the slavery and commerce had been established among the natives with one another. We mean only to assert, that the Portuguese were the first of the Europeans, who made their piratical expeditions, and shewed the way to that slavery, which now makes so disgraceful a figure in the western colonies of the Europeans. In the term “Europeans,” wherever it shall occur in the remaining part of this first dissertation, we include the Portuguese, and those nations only, who followed their example.
[* ]The Portuguese erected their first fort at D’Elmina, in the year 1481, about forty years after Alonzo Gonzales had pointed the Southern Africans out to his countrymen as articles of commerce.
[* ]In the ancient servitude, we reckoned convicts among the voluntary slaves, because they had it in their power, by a virtuous conduct, to have avoided so melancholy a situation; in the African, we include them in the involuntary, because, as virtues are frequently construed into crimes, from the venal motives of the traffick, no person whatever possesses such a power or choice.
[* ]Andrew Sparrman, M. D. professor of Physick at Stockholm, fellow of the Royal Academy of Sciences in Sweden, and inspector of its cabinet of natural history, whose voyage was translated into English, and published in 1785.
[† ]Boshies-man, or wild Hottentot.