Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAP. VI. - An Essay on the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species
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CHAP. VI. - 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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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.