Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAP. IX. - An Essay on the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species
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CHAP. IX. - 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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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.
THE Slavery of the Africans IN THE EUROPEAN COLONIES.
[* ]Justin, L. 2. C. 1.
[* ]Cicero de Officiis. L. 1. C. 8.