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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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.
[* ]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.