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PART II.: THE African Commerce, OR SLAVE TRADE. - 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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THE African Commerce, OR SLAVE TRADE.
AS we explained the History of Slavery in the first part of this Essay, as far as it was necessary for our purpose, we shall now take the question into consideration, which we proposed at first as the subject of our inquiry, viz. how far the commerce and slavery of the human species, as revived by some of the nations of Europe in the persons of the unfortunate Africans, and as revived, in a great measure, on the principles of antiquity, are consistent with the laws of nature, or the common notions of equity, as established among men.
This question resolves itself into two separate parts for discussion, into the African commerce (as explained in the history of slavery) and the subsequent slavery in the colonies, as founded on the equity of the commerce. The former, of course, will be first examined. For this purpose we shall inquire into the rise, nature, and design of government. Such an inquiry will be particularly useful in the present place; it will afford us that general knowledge of subordination and liberty, which is necessary in the case before us, and will be found, as it were, a source, to which we may frequently refer for many and valuable arguments.
It appears that mankind were originally free, and that they possessed an equal right to the soil and produce of the earth. For proof of this, we need only appeal to the divine writings; to the golden age of the poets, which, like other fables of the times, had its origin in truth; and to the institution of the Saturnalia, and of other similar festivals; all of which are so many monuments of this original equality of men. Hence then there was no rank, no distinction, no superiour. Every man wandered where he chose, changing his residence, as a spot attracted his fancy, or suited his convenience, uncontrouled by his neighbour, unconnected with any but his family. Hence also (as every thing was common) he collected what he chose without injury, and enjoyed without injury what he had collected. Such was the first situation of mankind;* a state of dissociation and independence.
In this dissociated state it is impossible that men could have long continued. The dangers to which they must have frequently been exposed, by the attacks of fierce and rapacious beasts, by the prœdatory attempts of their own species, and by the disputes of contiguous and independent families; these, together with their inability to defend themselves, on many such occasions, must have incited them to unite. Hence then was society formed on the grand principles of preservation and defence: and as these principles began to operate, in the different parts of the earth, where the different families had roamed, a great number of these societies began to be formed and established; which, taking to themselves particular names from particular occurrences, began to be perfectly distinct from one another.
As the individuals, of whom these societies were composed, had associated only for their defence, so they experienced, at first, no change in their condition. They were still independent and free; they were still without discipline or laws; they had every thing still in common; they pursued the same manner of life; wandering only, in herds, as the earth gave them or refused them sustenance, and doing, as a publick body, what they had been accustomed to do as individuals before. This was the exact situation of the * Getæ and Scythians, of the † Lybians and Gœtulians, of the ‡ Italian Aborigines, and of the ∥ Huns and Alans. They had left their original state of dissociation, and had stepped into that, which has been just described. Thus was the second situation of men a state of independent society.
Having thus joined themselves together, and having formed themselves into several large and distinct bodies, they could not fail of submitting soon to a more considerable change. Their numbers must have rapidly increased, and their societies, in process of time, have become so populous, as frequently to have experienced the want of subsistence, and many of the commotions and tumults of intestine strife. For these inconveniences however there were remedies to be found. Agriculture would furnish them with that subsistence and support, which the earth, from the rapid increase of its inhabitants, had become unable spontaneously to produce. An assignation of property would not only enforce an application, but excite an emulation, to labour; and government would at once afford a security to the acquisitions of the industrious, and heal the intestine disorders of the community, by the introduction of laws.
Such then were the remedies, that were gradually applied. The societies, which had hitherto seen their members, undistinguished either by authority or rank, admitted now of magistratical pre-eminence. They were divided into tribes; to every tribe was allotted a particular district for its support, and to every individual his particular spot. * The Germans, who consisted of many and various nations, were exactly in this situation. They had advanced a step beyond the Scythians, Gœtulians, and those, whom we described before; and thus was the third situation of mankind a state of subordinate society.
As we have thus traced the situation of man from unbounded liberty to subordination, it will be proper to carry our inquiries farther, and to consider, who first obtained the pre-eminence in these primœval societies, and by what particular methods it was obtained.
There were only two ways, by which such an event could have been produced, by compulsion or consent. When mankind first saw the necessity of government, it is probable that many had conceived the desire of ruling. To be placed in a new situation, to be taken from the common herd, to be the first, distinguished among men, were thoughts, that must have had their charms. Let us suppose then, that these thoughts had worked so unusually on the passions of any particular individual, as to have driven him to the extravagant design of obtaining the preeminence by force. How could his design have been accomplished? How could he forcibly have usurped the jurisdiction at a time, when, all being equally free, there was not a single person, whose assistance he could command? Add to this, that, in a state of universal liberty, force had been repaid by force, and the attempt had been fatal to the usurper.
As empire then could never have been gained at first by compulsion, so it could only have been obtained by consent; and as men were then going to make an important sacrifice, for the sake of their mutual happiness, so he alone could have obtained it, (not whose ambition had greatly distinguished him from the rest) but in whose wisdom, justice, prudence, and virtue, the whole community could confide.
To confirm this reasoning, we shall appeal, as before, to facts; and shall consult therefore the history of those nations, which having just left their former state of independent society, were the very people that established subordination and government.
The commentaries of Cæsar afford us the following accounts of the ancient Gauls. When any of their kings, either by death, or deposition, made a vacancy in the regal office, the whole nation was immediately convened for the appointment of a successor. In these national conventions were the regal offices conferred. Every individual had a voice on the occasion, and every individual was free. The person upon whom the general approbation appeared to fall, was immediately advanced to pre-eminence in the state. He was uniformly one, whose actions had made him eminent; whose conduct had gained him previous applause; whose valour the very assembly, that elected him, had themselves witnessed in the field; whose prudence, wisdom and justice, having rendered him signally serviceable, had endeared him to his tribe. For this reason, their kingdoms were not hereditary; the son did not always inherit the virtues of the sire; and they were determined that he alone should possess authority, in whose virtues they could confide. Nor was this all. So sensible were they of the important sacrifice they had made; so extremely jealous even of the name of superiority and power, that they limited, by a variety of laws, the authority of the very person, whom they had just elected, from a confidence of his integrity; Ambiorix himself confessing, “that his people had as much power over him, as he could possibly have over his people.”
The same custom, as appears from Tacitus, prevailed also among the Germans. They had their national councils, like the Gauls; in which the regal and ducal offices were confirmed according to the majority of voices. They elected also, on these occasions, those only, whom their virtue, by repeated trial, had unequivocally distinguished from the rest; and they limited their authority so far, as neither to leave them the power of inflicting imprisonment or stripes, nor of exercising any penal jurisdiction. But as punishment was necessary in a state of civil society, “it was permitted to the priests alone, that it might appear to have been inflicted, by the order of the gods, and not by any superiour authority in man.”
The accounts which we have thus given of the ancient Germans and Gauls, will be found also to be equally true of those people, which had arrived at the same state of subordinate society. We might appeal, for a testimony of this, to the history of the Goths; to the history of the Franks and Saxons; to the history, in short, of all those nations, from which the different governments, now conspicuous in Europe, have undeniably sprung. And we might appeal, as a farther proof, to the Americans, who are represented by many of the moderns, from their own ocular testimony, as observing the same customs at the present day.
It remains only to observe, that as these customs prevailed among the different nations described, in their early state of subordinate society, and as they were moreover the customs of their respective ancestors, it appears that they must have been handed down, both by tradition and use, from the first introduction of government.
We may now deduce those general maxims concerning subordination, and liberty, which we mentioned to have been essentially connected with the subject, and which some, from speculation only, and without any allusion to facts, have been bold enough to deny.
It appears first, that liberty is a natural, and government an adventitious right, because all men were originally free.
It appears secondly, that government is a *contract; because, in these primœval subordinate societies, we have seen it voluntarily conferred on the one hand, and accepted on the other. We have seen it subject to various restrictions. We have seen its articles, which could then only be written by tradition and use, as perfect and binding as those, which are now committed to letters. We have seen it, in short, partaking of the fæderal nature, as much as it could in a state, which wanted the means of recording its transactions.
It appears, thirdly, that the grand object of the contract, is the happiness of the people; because they gave the supremacy to him alone, who had been conspicuous for the splendour of his abilities, or the integrity of his life: that the power of the multitude being directed by the wisdom and justice of the prince, they might experience the most effectual protection from injury, the highest advantages of society, the greatest possible happiness.
Having now collected the materials that are necessary for the prosecution of our design, we shall immediately enter upon the discussion.
If any man had originally been endued with power, as with other faculties, so that the rest of mankind had discovered in themselves an innate necessity of obeying this particular person; it is evident that he and his descendants, from the superiority of their nature, would have had a claim upon men for obedience, and a natural right to command: but as the right to empire is adventitious; as all were originally free; as nature made every man’s body and mind his own; it is evident that no just man can be consigned to slavery, without his own consent.
Neither can men, by the same principles, be considered as lands, goods, or houses, among possessions. It is necessary that all property should be inferiour to its possessor. But how does the slave differ from his master, but by chance? For though the mark, with which the latter is pleased to brand him, shews, at the first sight, the difference of their fortune; what mark can be found in his nature, that can warrant a distinction?
To this consideration we shall add the following, that if men can justly become the property of each other, their children, like the offspring of cattle, must inherit their paternal lot. Now, as the actions of the father and the child must be thus at the sole disposal of their common master, it is evident, that the authority of the one, as a parent, and the duty of the other, as a child, must be instantly annihilated; rights and obligations, which, as they are founded in nature, are implanted in our feelings, and are established by the voice of God, must contain in their annihilation a solid argument to prove, that there cannot be any property whatever in the human species.
We may consider also, as a farther confirmation, that it is impossible, in the nature of things, that liberty can be bought or sold! It is neither saleable, nor purchasable. For if any one man can have an absolute property in the liberty of another, or, in other words, if he, who is called a master, can have a just right to command the actions of him, who is called a slave, it is evident that the latter cannot be accountable for those crimes, which the former may order him to commit. Now as every reasonable being is accountable for his actions, it is evident, that such a right cannot justly exist, and that human liberty, of course, is beyond the possibility either of sale or purchase. Add to this, that, whenever you sell the liberty of a man, you have the power only of alluding to the body: the mind cannot be confined or bound: it will be free, though its mansion be beset with chains. But if, in every sale of the human species, you are under the necessity of considering your slave in this abstracted light; of alluding only to the body, and of making no allusion to the mind; you are under the necessity also of treating him, in the same moment, as a brute, and of abusing therefore that nature, which cannot otherwise be considered, than in the double capacity of soul and body.
But some person, perhaps, will make an objection to one of the former arguments. “If men, from the superiority of their nature, cannot be considered, like lands, goods, or houses, among possessions, so neither can cattle: for being endued with life, motion, and sensibility, they are evidently superiour to these.” But this objection will receive its answer from those observations which have been already made; and will discover the true reason, why cattle are justly to be estimated as property. For first, the right to empire over brutes, is natural, and not adventitious, like the right to empire over men. There are, secondly, many and evident signs of the inferiority of their nature; and thirdly, their liberty can be bought and sold, because, being void of reason, they cannot be accountable for their actions.
We might stop here for a considerable time, and deduce many valuable lessons from the remarks that have been made, but that such a circumstance might be considered as a digression. There is one, however, which, as it is so intimately connected with the subject, we cannot but deduce. We are taught to treat men in a different manner from brutes, because they are so manifestly superiour in their nature; we are taught to treat brutes in a different manner from stones, for the same reason; and thus, by giving to every created thing its due respect, to answer the views of Providence, which did not create a variety of natures without a purpose or design.
But if these things are so, how evidently against reason, nature, and every thing human and divine, must they act, who not only force men into slavery, against their own consent; but treat them altogether as brutes, and make the natural liberty of man an article of publick commerce! and by what arguments can they possibly defend that commerce, which cannot be carried on, in any single instance, without a flagrant violation of the laws of nature and of God?
That we may the more accurately examine the arguments that are advanced on this occasion, it will be proper to divide the commerce into two parts; first, as it relates to those who sell, and secondly, as it relates to those who purchase, the human species into slavery. To the former part of which, having given every previous and necessary information in the history of servitude, we shall immediately proceed.
Let us inquire first, by what particular right the liberties of the harmless people are invaded by the prince. “By the right of empire,” it will be answered; “because he possesses dominion and power by their own approbation and consent.” But subjects, though under the dominion, are not the property, of the prince. They cannot be considered as his possessions. Their natures are both the same; they are both born in the same manner; are subject to the same disorders; must apply to the same remedies for a cure; are equally partakers of the grave: an incidental distinction accompanies them through life, and this—is all.
We may add to this, that though the prince possesses dominion and power, by the consent and approbation of his subjects, he possesses it only for the most salutary ends. He may tyrannize, if he can: he may alter the form of his government: he cannot, however, alter its nature and end. These will be immutably the same, though the whole system of its administration should be changed; and he will be still bound to defend the lives and properties of his subjects, and to make them happy.
Does he defend those therefore, whom he invades at discretion with the sword? Does he protect the property of those, whose houses and effects he consigns at discretion to the flames? Does he make those happy, whom he seizes, as they are trying to escape the general devastation, and compels with their wives and families to a wretched servitude? He acts surely, as if the use of empire consisted in violence and oppression; as if he, that was most exalted, ought, of necessity, to be most unjust. Here then the voice of nature and justice is against him. He breaks that law of nature, which ordains, “that no just man shall be given into slavery, against his own consent:” he violates the first law of justice, as established among men, “that no person shall do harm to another without a previous and sufficient provocation;” and he violates also the sacred condition of empire, made with his ancestors, and necessarily understood in every species of government, “that, the power of the multitude being given up to the wisdom and justice of the prince, they may experience, in return, the most effectual protection from injury, the highest advantages of society, the greatest possible happiness.”
But if kings then, to whom their own people have granted dominion and power, are unable to invade the liberties of their harmless subjects, without the highest injustice; how can those private persons be justified, who treacherously lie in wait for their fellow-creatures, and sell them into slavery? What arguments can they possibly bring in in their defence? What treaty of empire can they produce, by which their innocent victims ever resigned to them the least portion of their liberty? In vain will they plead the antiquity of the custom: in vain will the honourable light, in which piracy was considered in the ages of barbarism, afford them an excuse. Impious and abandoned men! ye invade the liberties of those, who, (with respect to your impious selves) are in a state of nature, in a state of original dissociation, perfectly independent, perfectly free.
It appears then, that the two orders of flaves, which have been mentioned in the history of the African servitude, “of those who are publickly seized by virtue of the authority of their prince; and of those, who are privately kidnapped by individuals,” are collected by means of violence and oppression; by means, repugnant to nature, the principles of government, and the common notions of equity, as established among men.
We come now to the third order of involuntary slaves, “to convicts.” The only argument that the sellers advance here, is this, “that they have been found guilty of offences, and that the punishment is just.” But before the equity of the sentence can be allowed, two questions must be decided, whether the punishment is proportioned to the offence, and what is its particular object and end?
To decide the first, we may previously observe, that the African servitude comprehends banishment, a deprivation of liberty, and many corporal sufferings.
On banishment, the following observations will suffice. Mankind have their local attachments. They have a particular regard for the spot, in which they were born and nurtured. Here it was, that they first drew their infant-breath: here, that they were cherished and supported: here, that they passed those scenes of childhood, which, free from care and anxiety, are the happiest in the life of man; scenes, which accompany them through life; which throw themselves frequently into their thoughts, and produce the most agreeable sensations. These then are weighty considerations; and how great this regard is, may be evidenced from our own feelings; from the testimony of some, who, when remote from their country, and in the hour of danger and distress, have found their thoughts unusually directed, by some impulse or other, to their native spot; and from the example of others, who, having braved the storms and adversities of life, either repair to it for the remainder of their days, or desire even to be conveyed to it, when existence is no more.
But separately from these their local, they have also their personal attachments; their regard for particular men. There are ties of blood; there are ties of friendship. In the former case, they must of necessity be attached: the constitution of their nature demands it. In the latter, it is impossible to be otherwise; since friendship is founded on an harmony of temper, on a concordance of sentiments and manners, on habits of confidence, and a mutual exchange of favours.
We may now mention, as perfectly distinct both from their local and personal, the national attachments of mankind, their regard for the whole body of the people, among whom they were born and educated. This regard is particularly conspicuous in the conduct of such, as, being thus nationally connected, reside in foreign parts. How anxiously do they meet together! how much do they enjoy the sight of others of their countrymen, whom fortune places in their way! what an eagerness do they shew to serve them, though not born on the same particular spot, though not connected by consanguinity or friendship, though unknown to them before! Neither is this affection wonderful, since they are creatures of the same education; of the same principles; of the same manners and habits; cast, as it were, in the same mould; and marked with the same impression.
If men therefore are thus separately attached to the several objects described, it is evident that a separate exclusion from either must afford them considerable pain. What then must be their sufferings, to be forced for ever from their country, which includes them all? Which contains the spot, in which they were born and nurtured; which contains their relations and friends; which contains the whole body of the people, among whom they were bred and educated. In these sufferings, which arise to men, both in bidding, and in having bid, adieu to all that they esteem as dear and valuable, banishment consists in part; and we may agree therefore with the ancients, without adding other melancholy circumstances to the account, that it is no inconsiderable punishment of itself.
With respect to the loss of liberty, which is the second consideration in the punishment, it is evident that men bear nothing worse; that there is nothing, that they lay more at heart; and that they have shewn, by many and memorable instances, that even death is to be preferred. How many could be named here, who, having suffered the loss of liberty, have put a period to their existence! How many, that have willingly undergone the hazard of their lives to destroy a tyrant! How many, that have even gloried to perish in the attempt! How many bloody and publick wars have been undertaken (not to mention the numerous servile insurrections, with which history is stained) for the cause of freedom!
But if nothing is dearer than liberty to men, with which, the barren rock is able to afford its joys, and without which, the glorious sun shines upon them but in vain, and all the sweets and delicacies of life are tasteless and unenjoyed; what punishment can be more severe than the loss of so great a blessing? But if to this deprivation of liberty, we add the agonizing pangs of banishment; and if to the complicated stings of both, we add the incessant stripes, wounds, and miseries, which are undergone by those, who are sold into this horrid servitude; what crime can we possibly imagine to be so enormous, as to be worthy of so great a punishment?
How contrary then to reason, justice, and nature, must those act, who apply this, the severest of human punishments, to the most insignificant offence! yet such is the custom with the Africans: for, from the time, in which the Europeans first intoxicated the African princes with their foreign draughts, no crime has been committed, no shadow of a crime devised, that has not immediately been punished with servitude.
But for what purpose is the punishment applied? Is it applied to amend the manners of the criminal, and thus render him a better subject? No, for if you banish him, he can no longer be a subject, and you can no longer therefore be solicitous for his morals. Add to this, that if you banish him to a place, where he is to experience the hardships of want and hunger (so powerfully does hunger compel men to the perpetration of crimes) you force him rather to corrupt, than amend his manners, and to be wicked, when he might otherwise be just.
Is it applied then, that others may be deterred from the same proceedings, and that crimes may become less frequent? No, but that avarice may be gratified; that the prince may experience the emoluments of the sale: for, horrid and melancholy thought! the more crimes his subjects commit, the richer is he made; the more abandoned the subject, the happier is the prince!
Neither can we allow that the punishment thus applied, tends in any degree to answer the publick happiness; for if men can be sentenced to slavery, right or wrong; if shadows can be turned into substances, and virtues into crimes; it is evident that none can be happy, because none can be secure.
But if the punishment is infinitely greater than the offence, (which has been shewn before) and if it is inflicted, neither to amend the criminal, nor to deter others from the same proceedings, nor to advance, in any degree, the happiness of the publick, it is scarce necessary to observe, that it is totally unjust, since it is repugnant to reason, the dictates of nature, and the very principles of government.
We come now to the fourth and last order of slaves, to prisoners of war. As the sellers lay a particular stress on this order of men, and infer much, from its antiquity, in support of the justice of their cause, we shall examine the principle, on which it subsisted among the ancients. But as this principle was the same among all nations, and as a citation from many of their histories would not be less tedious than unnecessary, we shall select the example of the Romans for the consideration of the case.
The law, by which prisoners of war were said to be sentenced to servitude, was the*law of nations. It was so called from the universal concurrence of nations in the custom. It had two points in view, the persons of the captured, and their effects; both of which it immediately sentenced, without any of the usual forms of law, to be the property of the captors.
The principle, on which the law was established, was the right of capture. When any of the contending parties had overcome their opponents, and were about to destroy them, the right was considered to commence; a right, which the victors conceived themselves to have, to recall their swords, and, from the consideration of having saved the lives of the vanquished, when they could have taken them by the laws of war, to commute blood for service. Hence the Roman lawyer, Pomponius, deduces the etymology of slave in the Roman language. * “They were called servi, says he, from the following circumstance. It was usual with our commanders to take them prisoners, and sell them: now this circumstance implies, that they must have been previously preserved, and hence the name.” Such then was the right of capture. It was a right, which the circumstance of taking the vanquished, that is, of preserving them alive, gave the conquerors to their persons. By this right, as always including the idea of a previous preservation from death,† the vanquished were said to be slaves; and, “as all slaves,” says Justinian, “are themselves in the power of others, and of course can have nothing of their own, so their effects followed the condition of their persons, and became the property of the captors.”
To examine this right, by which the vanquished were said to be slaves, we shall use the words of a celebrated Roman author, and apply them to the present case. * “If it is lawful,” says he, “to deprive a man of his life, it is certainly not inconsistent with nature to rob him;” to rob him of his liberty. We admit the conclusion to be just, if the supposition be the same: we allow, if men have a right to commit that, which is considered as a greater crime, that they have a right, at the same instant, to commit that, which is considered as a less. But what shall we say to the hypothesis? We deny it to be true. The voice of nature is against it. It is not lawful to kill, but on necessity. Had there been a necessity, where had the wretched captive survived to be broken with chains and servitude? The very act of saving his life is an argument to prove, that no such necessity existed. The conclusion is therefore false. The captors had no right to the lives of the captured, and of course none to their liberty: they had no right to their blood, and of course none to their service. Their right therefore had no foundation in justice. It was founded on a principle, contrary to the law of nature, and of course contrary to that law, which people, under different governments, are bound to observe to one another.
It is scarce necessary to observe, as a farther testimony of the injustice of the measure, that the Europeans, after the introduction of Christianity, exploded this principle of the ancients, as frivolous and false; that they spared the lives of the vanquished, not from the sordid motives of avarice, but from a conscientiousness, that homicide could only be justified by necessity; that they introduced an exchange of prisoners, and, by many and wise regulations, deprived war of many of its former horrours.
But the advocates for slavery, unable to defend themselves against these arguments, have fled to other resources, and, ignorant of history, have denied that the right of capture was the true principle, on which slavery subsisted among the ancients. They reason thus. “The learned Grotius, and others, have considered slavery as the just consequence of a private war, (supposing the war to be just and the opponents in a state of nature), upon the principles of reparation and punishment. Now as the law of nature, which is the rule of conduct to individuals in such a situation, is applicable to members of a different community, there is reason to presume, that these principles were applied by the ancients to their prisoners of war; that their effects were confiscated by the right of reparation, and their persons by the right of punishment.”—
But such a presumption is false. The right of capture was the only argument, that the ancients adduced in their defence. Hence Polybius; “What must they, (the Mantinenses) suffer, to receive the punishment they deserve? Perhaps it will be said, that they must be sold, when they are taken, with their wives and children into slavery: But this is not to be considered as a punishment, since even those suffer it, by the laws of war, who have done nothing that is base.” The truth is, that both the offending and the offended parties, whenever they were victorious, inflicted slavery alike. But if the offending party inflicted slavery on the persons of the vanquished, by what right did they inflict it? It must be answered from the presumption before-mentioned, “by the right of reparation, or of punishment:” an answer plainly absurd and contradictory, as it supposes the aggressor to have a right, which the injured only could possess.
Neither is the argument less fallacious than the presumption, in applying these principles, which in a publick war could belong to the publick only, to the persons of the individuals that were taken. This calls us again to the history of the ancients, and, as the rights of reparation and punishment could extend to those only, who had been injured, to select a particular instance for the consideration of the case.
As the Romans had been injured without a previous provocation by the conduct of Hannibal at Saguntum, we may take the treaty into consideration, which they made with the Carthaginians, when the latter, defeated at Zama, sued for peace. It consisted of three articles. * By the first, the Carthaginians were to be free, and to enjoy their own constitution and laws. By the second, they were to pay a considerable sum of money, as a reparation for the damages and expence of war: and, by the third, they were to deliver up their elephants and ships of war, and to be subject to various restrictions, as a punishment. With these terms they complied, and the war was finished.
Thus then did the Romans make that distinction between private and publick war, which was necessary to be made, and which the argument is fallacious in not supposing. The treasury of the vanquished was marked as the means of reparation; and as this treasury was supplied, in a great measure, by the imposition of taxes, and was, wholly, the property of the publick, so the publick made the reparation that was due. The elephants also, and ships of war, which were marked as the means of punishment, were publick property; and as they were considerable instruments of security and defence to their possessors, and of annoyance to an enemy, so their loss, added to the restrictions of the treaty, operated as a great and publick punishment. But with respect to the Carthaginian prisoners, who had been taken in the war, they were retained in servitude: not upon the principles of reparation and punishment, because the Romans had already received, by their own confession in the treaty, a sufficient satisfaction: not upon these principles, because they were inapplicable to individuals: the legionary soldier in the service of the injured, who took his prisoner, was not the person, to whom the injury had been done, any more than the soldier in the service of the aggressors, who was taken, was the person, who had committed the offence: but they were retained in servitude by the right of capture; because, when both parties had sent their military into the field to determine the dispute, it was at the private choice of the legionary soldier before-mentioned, whether he would spare the life of his conquered opponent, when he was thought to be entitled to take it, if he had chosen, by the laws of war.
To produce more instances, as an illustration of the subject, or to go farther into the argument, would be to trespass upon the patience, as well as understanding of the reader. In a state of nature, where a man is supposed to commit an injury, and to be unconnected with the rest of the world, the act is private, and the right, which the injured acquires, can extend only to himself: but in a state of society, where any member or members of a particular community give offence to those of another, and they are patronized by the state, to which they belong, the case is altered; the act becomes immediately publick, and the publick alone are to experience the consequences of their injustice. For as no particular member of the community, if considered as an individual, is guilty, except the person, by whom the injury was done, it would be contrary to reason and justice, to apply the principles of reparation and punishment, which belong to the people as a collective body, to any individual of the community, who should happen to be taken. Now, as the principles of reparation and punishment are thus inapplicable to the prisoners, taken in a publick war, and as the right of capture, as we have shewn before, is insufficient to intitle the victors to the service of the vanquished, it is evident that slavery cannot justly exist at all, since there are no other maxims, on which it can be founded, even in the most equitable wars.
But if these things are so; if slavery cannot be defended even in the most equitable wars, what arguments will not be found against that servitude, which arises from those, that are unjust? Which arises from those African wars, that relate to the present subject? The African princes, corrupted by the merchants of Europe, seek every opportunity of quarrelling with one another. Every spark is blown into a flame; and war is undertaken from no other consideration, than that of procuring slaves: while the Europeans, on the other hand, happy in the quarrels which they have thus excited, supply them with arms and ammunition for the accomplishment of their horrid purpose. Thus has Africa, for the space of two hundred years, been the scene of the most iniquitous and bloody wars; and thus have many thousands of men, in the most iniquitous manner, been sent into servitude.
We shall beg leave, before we proceed to the arguments of the purchasers, to add the following observations to the substance of the three preceding chapters.
As the two orders of men, of those who are privately kidnapped by individuals, and of those who are publickly seized by virtue of the authority of their prince, compose together, at least, * nine tenths of the African slaves, they cannot contain, upon a moderate computation, less than ninety thousand men annually transported: an immense number, but easily to be credited, when we reflect that thousands are employed for the purpose of stealing the unwary, and that these diabolical practices are in force, so far has European injustice been spread, at the distance of a thousand miles from the factories on the coast. The slave merchants, among whom a quantity of European goods is previously divided, travel into the heart of the country to this amazing distance. Some of them attend the various markets, that are established through so large an extent of territory, to purchase the kidnapped people, whom the slave-hunters are continually bringing in; while the rest, subdividing their merchandize among the petty sovereigns with whom they deal, receive, by an immediate exertion of fraud and violence, the stipulated number.
Now, will any man assert, in opposition to the arguments before advanced, that out of this immense body of men, thus annually collected and transported, there is even one, over whom the original or subsequent seller can have any power or right? Whoever asserts this, in the first instance, must contradict his own feelings, and must consider himself as a just object of prey, whenever any daring invader shall think it proper to attack him. And, in the second instance, the very idea which the African princes entertain of their villages, as parks or reservoirs, stocked only for their own convenience, and of their subjects, as wild beasts, whom they may pursue and take at pleasure, is so shocking, that it need only be mentioned, to be instantly reprobated by the reader.
The order of slaves, which is next to the former in respect to the number of people whom it contains, is that of prisoners of war. This order, if the former statement be true, is more inconsiderable than is generally imagined; but whoever reflects on the prodigious slaughter that is constantly made in every African skirmish, cannot be otherwise than of this opinion: he will find, that where ten are taken, he has every reason to presume that an hundred perish. In some of these skirmishes, though they have been begun for the express purpose of procuring slaves, the conquerors have suffered but few of the vanquished to escape the fury of the sword; and there have not been wanting instances, where they have been so incensed at the resistance they have found, that their spirit of vengeance has entirely got the better of their avarice, and they have murdered, in cool blood, every individual, without discrimination, either of age or sex.
* The following is an account of one of these skirmishes, as described by a person, who was witness to the scene. “I was sent, with several others, in a small sloop up the river Niger, to purchase slaves: we had some free negroes with us in the practice; and as the vessels are liable to frequent attacks from the negroes on one side of the river, or the Moors on the other, they are all armed. As we rode at anchor a long way up the river, we observed a large number of negroes in huts by the river’s side, and for our own safety kept a wary eye on them. Early next morning we saw from our masthead a numerous body approaching, with apparently but little order, but in close array. They approached very fast, and fell furiously on the inhabitants of the town, who seemed to be quite surprized, but nevertheless, as soon as they could get together, fought stoutly. They had some fire-arms, but made very little use of them, as they came directly to close fighting with their spears, lances, and sabres. Many of the invaders were mounted on small horses; and both parties fought for about half an hour with the fiercest animosity, exerting much more courage and perseverance than I had ever before been witness to amongst them. The women and children of the town clustered together to the water’s edge, running shrieking up and down with terrour, waiting the event of the combat, till their party gave way and took to the water, to endeavour to swim over to the Barbary side. They were closely pursued even into the river by the victors, who, though they came for the purpose of getting slaves, gave no quarter, their cruelty even prevailing over their avarice. They made no prisoners, but put all to the sword without mercy. Horrible indeed was the carnage of the vanquished on this occasion, and as we were within two or three hundred yards of them, their cries and shrieks affected us extremely. We had got up our anchor at the beginning of the fray, and now stood close in to the spot, where the victors having followed the vanquished into the water, were continually dragging out and murdering those, whom by reason of their wounds they easily overtook. The very children, whom they took in great numbers, did not escape the massacre. Enraged at their barbarity, we fired our guns loaden with grape shot, and a volley of small arms among them, which effectually checked their ardour, and obliged them to retire to a distance from the shore; from whence a few round cannon shot soon removed them into the woods. The whole river was black over with the heads of the fugitives, who were swimming for their lives. These poor wretches, fearing us as much as their conquerors, dived when we fired, and cried most lamentably for mercy. Having now effectually favoured their retreat, we stood backwards and forwards, and took up several that were wounded and tired. All whose wounds had disabled them from swimming, were either butchered or drowned, before we got up to them. With a justice and generosity, never I believe before heard of among slavers, we gave those their liberty whom we had taken up, setting them on shore on the Barbary side, among the poor residue of their companions, who had survived the slaughter of the morning.”
We shall make but two remarks on this horrid instance of African cruelty. It adds, first, a considerable weight to the statements that have been made; and confirms, secondly, the conclusions that were drawn in the preceding chapter. For if we even allow the right of capture to be just, and the principles of reparation and punishment to be applicable to the individuals of a community, yet would the former be unjust, and the latter inapplicable, in the present case. Every African war is a robbery; and we may add, to our former expression, when we said, “that thus have many thousands of men, in the most iniquitous manner, been sent into servitude,” that we believe there are few of this order, who are not as much the examples of injustice, as the people that have been kidnapped; and who do not additionally convey, when we consider them as prisoners of war, an idea of the most complicated scene of murder.
The order of convicts, as it exists almost solely among those princes, whose dominions are contiguous to the European factories, is from this circumstance so inconsiderable, when compared with either of the preceding, that we should not have mentioned it again, but that we were unwilling to omit any additional argument that occurred against it.
It has been shewn already, that the punishment of slavery is inflicted from no other motive, than that of gratifying the avarice of the prince, a consideration so detestable, as to be sufficient of itself to prove it to be unjust; and that it is so disproportionate, from its nature, to the offence, as to afford an additional proof of its injustice. We shall add now, as a second argument, its disproportion from its continuance: and we shall derive a third from the consideration, that, in civil society, every violation of the laws of the community is an offence against the state.‡
Let us suppose then an African prince, disdaining for once the idea of emolument: let us suppose him for once inflamed with the love of his country, and resolving to punish from this principle alone, “that by exhibiting an example of terrour, he may preserve that happiness of the publick, which he is bound to secure and defend by the very nature of his contract; or, in other words, that he may answer the end of government.” If actuated then by this principle, he should adjudge slavery to an offender, as a just punishment for his offence, for whose benefit must the convict labour? If it be answered, “for the benefit of the state,” we allow that the punishment, in whatever light it is considered, will be found to be equitable: but if it be answered, “for the benefit of any individual whom he pleases to appoint,” we deny it to be just. The * state alone is considered to have been injured, and as injuries cannot possibly be transferred, the state alone can justly receive the advantages of his labour. But if the African prince, when he thus condemns him to labour for the benefit of an unoffended individual, should at the same time sentence him to become his property; that is, if he should make the person and life of the convict at the absolute disposal of him, for whom he has sentenced him to labour; it is evident that, in addition to his former injustice, he is usurping a power, which no ruler or rulers of a state can possess, and which the great Creator of the universe never yet gave to any order whatever of created beings.
That this reasoning is true, and that civilized nations have considered it as such, will be best testified by their practice. We may appeal here to that slavery, which is now adjudged to delinquents, as a punishment, among many of the states of Europe. These delinquents are sentenced to labour at the oar, to work in mines, and on fortifications, to cut and clear rivers, to make and repair roads, and to perform other works of national utility. They are employed, in short, in the publick work; because, as the crimes they have committed are considered to have been crimes against the publick, no individual can justly receive the emoluments of their labour; and they are neither sold, nor made capable of being transferred, because no government whatsoever is invested with such a power.
Thus then may that slavery, in which only the idea of labour in included, be perfectly equitable, and the delinquent will always receive his punishment as a man; whereas in that, which additionally includes the idea of property, and to undergo which, the delinquent must previously change his nature, and become a brute; there is an inconsistency, which no arguments can reconcile, and a contradiction to every principle of nature, which a man need only to appeal to his own feelings immediately to evince. And we will venture to assert, from the united observations that have been made upon the subject, in opposition to any arguments that may be advanced, that there is scarcely one of those, who are called African convicts, on whom the prince has a right to inflict a punishment at all; and that there is no one whatever, whom he has a power of sentencing to labour for the benefit of an unoffended individual, and much less whom he has a right to fell.
* Having now fully examined the arguments of the sellers, and having made such additional remarks as were necessary, we have only to add, that we cannot sufficiently express our detestation at their conduct. Were the reader coolly to reflect upon the case of but one of the unfortunate men, who are annually the victims of avarice, and consider his situation in life, as a father, an husband, or a friend, we are sure, that even on such a partial reflection, he must experience considerable pain. What then must be his feelings, when he is told, that, since the slave-trade began, †nine millions of men have been torn from their dearest connections, and sold into slavery. If at this recital his indignation should arise, let him consider it as the genuine production of nature; that she recoiled at the horrid thought, and that she applied instantly a torch to his breast to kindle his resentment; and if, during his indignation, she should awaken the sigh of sympathy, or seduce the tear of commiseration from his eye, let him consider each as an additional argument against the iniquity of the sellers.
It remains only now to examine by what arguments those, who receive or purchase their fellow-creatures into slavery, defend the commerce. Their first plea is, “that they receive those with propriety, who are convicted of crimes, because they are delivered into their hands by their own magistrates.” But what is this to you receivers? Have the unfortunate convicts been guilty of injury to you? Have they broken your treaties? Have they plundered your ships? Have they carried your wives and children into slavery, that you should thus retaliate? Have they offended you even by word or gesture?
But if the African convicts are innocent with respect to you; if you have not even the shadow of a claim upon their persons; by what right do you receive them? “By the laws of the Africans,” you will say; “by which it is positively allowed.”—But can laws alter the nature of vice? They may give it a sanction perhaps: it will still be immutably the same, and, though dressed in the outward habiliments of honour, will still be intrinsically base.
But alas! you do not only attempt to defend yourselves by these arguments, but even dare to give your actions the appearance of lenity, and assume merit from your baseness! and how first ought you particularly to blush, when you assert, “that prisoners of war are only purchased from the hands of their conquerors, to deliver them from death.” Ridiculous defence! can the most credulous believe it? You entice the Africans to war; you foment their quarrels; you supply them with arms and ammunition, and all—from the motives of benevolence. Does a man set fire to an house, for the purpose of rescuing the inhabitants from the flames? But if they are only purchased, to deliver them from death; why, when they are delivered into your hands, as protectors, do you torture them with hunger? Why do you kill them with fatigue? Why does the whip deform their bodies, or the knife their limbs? Why do you sentence them to death? to a death, infinitely more excruciating than that from which you so kindly saved them? What answer do you make to this? for if you had not humanely preserved them from the hands of their conquerors, a quick death perhaps, and that in the space of a moment, had freed them from their pain: but on account of your favour and benevolence, it is known, that they have lingered years in pain and agony, and have been sentenced, at last, to a dreadful death for the most insignificant offence.
Neither can we allow the other argument to be true, on which you found your merit; “that you take them from their country for their own convenience; because Africa, scorched with incessant heat, and subject to the most violent rains and tempests, is unwholesome, and unfit to be inhabited.” Preposterous men! do you thus judge from your own feelings? Do you thus judge from your own constitution and frame? But if you suppose that the Africans are incapable of enduring their own climate, because you cannot endure it yourselves; why do you receive them into slavery? Why do you not measure them here by the same standard? For if you are unable to bear hunger and thirst, chains and imprisonment, wounds and torture, why do you not suppose them incapable of enduring the same treatment? Thus then is your argument turned against yourselves. But consider the answer which the Scythians gave the Ægyptians, when they contended about the antiquity of their original, * “That nature, when she first distinguished countries by different degrees of heat and cold, tempered the bodies of animals, at the same instant, to endure the different situations: that as the climate of Scythia was severer than that of Ægypt, so were the bodies of the Scythians harder, and as capable of enduring the severity of their atmosphere, as the Ægyptians the temperateness of their own.”
But you may say perhaps, that, though they are capable of enduring their own climate, yet their situation is frequently uncomfortable, and even wretched: that Africa is infested with locusts, and insects of various kinds; that they settle in swarms upon the trees, destroy the verdure, consume the fruit, and deprive the inhabitants of their food. But the same answer may be applied as before; “that the same kind Providence, who tempered the body of the animal, tempered also the body of the tree; that he gave it a quality to recover the bite of the locust, which he sent; and to reassume, in a short interval of time, its former glory.” And that such is the case experience has shewn: for the very trees that have been infested, and stripped of their bloom and verdure, so surprizingly quick is vegetation, appear in a few days, as if an insect had been utterly unknown.
We may add to these observations, from the testimony of those who have written the History of Africa from their own inspection, that no country is more luxurious in prospects, none more fruitful, none more rich in herds and flocks, and none, where the comforts of life can be gained with so little trouble.
But you say again, as a confirmation of these your former arguments, (by which you would have it understood, that the Africans themselves are sensible of the goodness of your intentions) “that they do not appear to go with you against their will.” Impudent and base assertion! Why then do you load them with chains? Why keep you your daily and nightly watches? But alas, as a farther, though a more melancholy proof, of the falsehood of your assertions, how many, when on board your ships, have put a period to their existence? How many have leaped into the sea? How many have pined to death, that, even at the expence of their lives, they might fly from your benevolence?
Do you call them obstinate then, because they refuse your favours? Do you call them ungrateful, because they make you this return? How much rather ought you receivers to blush! How much rather ought you receivers to be considered as abandoned and execrable; who, when you usurp the dominion over those, who are as free and independent as yourselves, break the first law of justice, which ordains, “that no person shall do harm to another, without a previous provocation;” who offend against the dictates of nature, which commands, “that no just man shall be given or received into slavery against his own consent;” and who violate the very laws of the empire that you assume, by consigning your subjects to misery.
Now, as a famous Heathen philosopher observes, from whose mouth you shall be convicted, * “there is a considerable difference, whether an injury is done, during any perturbation of mind, which is generally short and momentary; or whether it is done with any previous meditation and design; for, those crimes, which proceed from any sudden commotion of the mind, are less than those, which are studied and prepared,” how great and enormous are your crimes to be considered, who plan your African voyages at a time, when your reason is found, and your senses are awake; who coolly and deliberately equip your vessels; and who spend years, and even lives, in the traffick of human liberty.
But if the arguments of those, who sell or deliver men into slavery, (as we have shewn before) and of those, who receive or purchase them, (as we have now shewn) are wholly false; it is evident that this commerce, is not only beyond the possibility of defence, but is justly to be accounted wicked, and justly impious, since it is contrary to the principles of law and government, the dictates of reason, the common maxims of equity, the laws of nature, the admonitions of conscience, and, in short, the whole doctrine of natural religion.
[* ]This conclusion concerning the dissociated state of mankind, is confirmed by all the early writers, with whose descriptions of primitive times no other conclusion is reconcileable.
[* ]Justin. L. 2. C. 2.
[† ]Sallust. Bell. Jug.
[‡ ]Sallust. Bell. Catil.
[∥ ]Ammianus Marcellinus. L. 31. C. 2. et inseq.
[* ]Agri pro Numero Cultorum ab universis per vicos occupantur, quos mox inter se secundum dignationem partiuntur. Tacitus. C. 26. de Mor. Germ.
[* ]The author has lately read a work, intitled Paley’s Moral and Political Philosophy, which, in this one respect, favours those which have been hinted at, as it denies that government was a contract. “No social compact was ever made in fact,”—“it is to suppose it possible to call savages out of caves and deserts, to deliberate upon topicks, which the experience and studies, and the refinements of civil life alone suggest. Therefore no government in the universe begun from this original.” But there are no grounds for so absurd a supposition; for government, and of course the social compact, does not appear to have been introduced at the time, when families coming out of their caves and deserts, or, in other words, quitting their former dissociated state, joined themselves together. They had lived a considerable time in society, like the Lybians and Gætulians before-mentioned, and had felt many of the disadvantages of a want of discipline and laws, before government was introduced at all. The author of this Essay, before he took into consideration the origin of government, was determined, in a matter of such importance, to be biassed by no opinion whatever, and much less to indulge himself in speculation. He was determined solely to adhere to fact, and, by looking into the accounts left us of those governments which were in their infancy, and, of course in the least complicated state, to attempt to discover their foundation: he cannot say therefore, that upon a very minute perusal of the excellent work before quoted, he has been so far convinced, as to retract in the least from his sentiments on this head, and to give up maxims, which are drawn from historical facts, for those, which are the result of speculation. He may observe here, that whether government was a con ract or not, it will not affect the reasoning of the present Essay; since where ever the contract is afterwards mentioned, it is inferred only that its object was “the happiness of the people,” which is confessedly the end of government. Notwithstanding this, he is under the necessity of inserting this little note, though he almost feels himself ungrateful in contradicting a work, which has afforded him so much entertainment.
[*]Jure Gentium servi nostri sunt, qui ab hostibus capiuntur. Justinian, L. 1. 5. 5. 1.
[* ]Serverum appellatio ex eo fluxit, quod imperatores nostri captivos vendere, ac per hoc servare, nec occidere solent.
[† ]Nam sive victoribus jure captivitatis servissent, &c. Justin, L. 4. 3. et passim apud scriptores antiquos.
[* ]Neque est contra naturam spoliare eum, si possis, quem honestum est necare. Cicero de officiis. L. 3. 6.
[* ]1. Ut liberi suis legibus viverent. Livy, L. 30. 37.
[* ]The total annual exportation from Africa, is estimated here at 100,000 men, two thirds of whom are exported by the British merchants alone. This estimate is less than that which is usually made, and has been published. The author has been informed by disinterested people, who were in most of the West India islands during the late war, and who conversed with many of the most intelligent of the negroes, for the purpose of inquiring by what methods they had originally been reduced to slavery, that they did not find even two in twenty, who had been reduced to that situation, by any other means than those mentioned above. The author, desirous of a farther confirmation of this circumstance, stopped the press till he had written to another friend, who had resided twenty years in the West-Indies, and whose opinion he had not yet asked. The following is an extract from the answer. “I do not among many hundreds recollect to have been but one or two slaves, of those imported from Africa, who had any scars to shew, that they had been in war. They are generally such as are kidnapped, or sold by their tyrants, after the destruction of a village. In short, I am firmly of opinion, that crimes and war together do not furnish one slave in an hundred of the numbers introduced into the European colonies. Of consequence the trade itself, were it possible to suppose convicts or prisoners of war to be justly sentenced to servitude, is accountable for ninety-nine in every hundred slaves, whom it supplies. It is an insult to the publick, to attempt to palliate the method of procuring them.”
[* ]The writer of the letter of which this is a faithful extract, and who was known to the author of the present Essay, was a long time on the African coast. He had once the misfortune to be shipwrecked there, and to be taken by the natives, who conveyed him and his companions a considerable way up into the country. The hardships which he underwent in the march, his treatment during his captivity, the scenes to which he was witness, while he resided among the inland Africans, as well as while in the African trade, gave occasion to a series of very interesting letters. These letters were sent to the author of the present Essay, with liberty to make what use of them he chose, by the gentleman to whom they were written.
[‡ ]Were this not the case, the government of a country could have no right to take cognizance of crimes, and punish them, but every individual, if injured, would have a right to punish the aggressor with his own hand, which is contrary to the notions of all civilized men, whether among the ancients or the moderns.
[* ]This same notion is entertained even by the African princes, who do not permit the person injured to revenge his injury, or to receive the convict as his slave. But if the very person who has been injured, does not possess him, much less ought any other person whatsoever.
[* ]There are instances on the African continent, of parents selling their children. As the slaves of this description are so few, and are so irregularly obtained, we did not think it worth our while to confider them as forming an order; and, as God never gave the parent a power over his child to make him miserable, we trust that any farther mention of them will be unnecessary.
[† ]Abbè Raynal, Hist. Phil. vol. 4. P. 154.
[* ]Justin, L. 2. C. 1.
[* ]Cicero de Officiis. L. 1. C. 8.