Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER X. - The History of the Abolition of the African Slave-Trade, vol. 1
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CHAPTER X. - Thomas Clarkson, The History of the Abolition of the African Slave-Trade, vol. 1 
The History of the Rise, Progress, and Accomplishment of the Abolition of the African Slave-Trade by the British Parliament, 2 vols. (London: L. Taylor, 1808). Vol. 1.
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Continuation of the fourth class of forerunners and coadjutors up to 1787—Author goes on to enlarge his knowledge in the different departments of the subject—communicates more frequently with Mr. Wilberforce—Meetings now appointed at the house of the latter—Dinner at Mr. Langton’s—Mr. Wilberforce pledges himself there to take up the subject in parliament—Remarkable junction, in consequence, of all the four classes of forerunners and coadjutors before mentioned—Committee formed out of these on the 22d of May, 1787, for the abolition of the Slave-trade.
The manner in which Mr. Wilberforce had received me, and the pains which he had taken, and was still taking, to satisfy himself of the truth of those enormities which had been charged upon the Slave-trade, tended much to enlarge my hope, that they might become at length the subject of a parliamentary inquiry. Richard Phillips also, to whom I made a report at his chambers almost every evening of the proceedings of the day, had begun to entertain a similar expectation. Of course, we unfolded our thoughts to one another. From hence a desire naturally sprung up in each of us to inquire, whether any alteration in consequence of this new prospect should be made in my pursuits. On deliberating upon this point, it seemed proper to both of us, that the distribution of the books should be continued; that I should still proceed in enlarging my own knowledge; and that I should still wait upon members of the legislature, but with this difference, that I should never lose sight of Mr. Wilberforce, but, on the other hand, that I should rather omit visiting some others, than paying a proper attention to him.
One thing however appeared now to be necessary, which had not yet been done. This was to inform our friends in the city, upon whom I had all along occasionally called, that we believed the time was approaching, when it would be desirable that we should unite our labours, if they saw no objection to such a measure; for, if the Slave-trade were to become a subject of parliamentary inquiry with a view to the annihilation of it, no individual could perform the work which would be necessary for such a purpose. This work must be a work of many; and who so proper to assist in it as they, who had before so honourably laboured in it? In the case of such an event large funds also would be wanted, and who so proper to procure and manage them as these? A meeting was accordingly called at the house of James Phillips, when these our views were laid open. When I stated that from the very time of my hopes beginning to rise I had always had those present in my eye as one day to be fellow-labourers, William Dillwyn replied, that from the time they had first heard of the Prize Essay, they also had had their eyes upon me, and, from the time they had first seen me, had conceived a desire of making the same use of me as I had now expressed a wish of making of them, but that matters did not appear ripe at our first interview. Our proposal, however, was approved, and an assurance was given, that an union should take place, as soon as it was judged to be seasonable. It was resolved also, that one day in the week* should be appointed for a meeting at the house of James Phillips, where as many might attend as had leisure, and that I should be there to make a report of my progress, by which we might all judge of the fitness of the time of calling ourselves an united body. Pleased now with the thought that matters were put into such a train, I returned to my former objects.
It is not necessary to say any thing more of the first of these objects, which was that of the further distribution of my book, than that it was continued, and chiefly by the same hands.
With respect to the enlargement of my knowledge, it was promoted likewise. I now gained access to the Custom-house in London, where I picked up much valuable information for my purpose.
Having had reason to believe that the Slave-trade was peculiarly fatal to those employed in it, I wished much to get copies of many of the muster-rolls from the Custom-house at Liverpool for a given time. James Phillips wrote to his friend William Rathbone, who was one of his own religious society, and who resided there, to procure them. They were accordingly sent up. The examination of these, which took place at the chambers of Richard Phillips, was long and tedious. We looked over them together. We usually met for this purpose at nine in the evening, and we seldom parted till one, and sometimes not till three in the morning. When our eyes were inflamed by the candle, or tired by fatigue, we used to relieve ourselves by walking out within the precincts of Lincoln’s Inn, when all seemed to be fast asleep, and thus, as it were, in solitude and in stillness to converse upon them, as well as upon the best means of the further promotion of our cause. These scenes of our early friendship and exertions I shall never forget. I often think of them both with astonishment and with pleasure. Having recruited ourselves in this manner, we used to return to our work. From these muster-rolls I may now observe, that we gained the most important information. We ascertained beyond the power of contradiction, that more than half of the seamen, who went out with the ships in the Slave-trade, did not return with them, and that of these so many perished, as amounted to one-fifth of all employed. As to what became of the remainder, the muster-rolls did not inform us. This, therefore, was left to us as a subject for our future inquiry.
In endeavouring to enlarge my knowledge, my thoughts were frequently turned to the West Indian part of the question, and in this department my friend Richard Phillips gained me important intelligence. He put into my hands several documents concerning estates in the West Indies, which he had mostly from the proprietors themselves, where the slaves by mild and prudent usage had so increased in population, as to supersede the necessity of the Slave-trade.
By attending to these and to various other parts of the subject, I began to see as it were with new eyes: I was enabled to make several necessary discriminations, to reconcile things before seemingly contradictory, and to answer many objections which had hitherto put on a formidable shape. But most of all was I rejoiced at the thought that I should soon be able to prove that which I had never doubted, but which had hitherto been beyond my power in this case, that Providence, in ordaining laws relative to the agency of man, had never made that to be wise which was immoral, and that the Slave-trade would be found as impolitic as it was inhuman and unjust.
In keeping up my visits to members of parliament, I was particularly attentive to Mr. Wilberforce, whom I found daily becoming more interested in the fate of Africa. I now made to him a regular report of my progress, of the sentiments of those in parliament whom I had visited, of the disposition of my friends in the City of whom he had often heard me speak, of my discoveries from the Custom-houses of London and Liverpool, of my documents concerning West India estates, and of all, indeed, that had occurred to me worth mentioning. He had himself also been making his inquiries, which he communicated to me in return. Our intercourse had now become frequent, no one week elapsing without an interview. At one of these, I suggested to him the propriety of having occasional meetings at his own house, consisting of a few friends in parliament, who might converse on the subject. Of this he approved. The persons present at the first meeting were Mr. Wilberforce, the Honourable John Villiers, Mr. Powys, Sir Charles Middleton, Sir Richard Hill, Mr. Granville Sharp, Mr. Ramsay, Dr. Gregory, (who had written on the subject, as before mentioned,) and myself. At this meeting I read a paper, giving an account of the light I had collected in the course of my inquiries, with observations as well on the impolicy as on the wickedness of the trade. Many questions arose out of the reading of this little Essay. Many answers followed. Objections were started and canvassed. In short, this measure was found so useful, that certain other evenings as well as mornings were fixed upon for the same purpose.
On reporting my progress to my friends in the City, several of whom now assembled once in the week, as I mentioned before to have been agreed upon, and particularly on reporting the different meetings which had taken place at the house of Mr. Wilberforce, on the subject, they were of opinion that the time was approaching when we might unite, and that this union might prudently commence as soon as ever Mr. Wilberforce would give his word that he would take up the question in parliament. Upon this I desired to observe, that though the latter gentleman had pursued the subject with much earnestness, he had never yet dropped the least hint that he would proceed so far in the matter, but I would take care that the question should be put to him, and I would bring them his answer.
In consequence of the promise I had now made, I went to Mr. Wilberforce. But when I saw him, I seemed unable to inform him of the object of my visit. Whether this inability arose from any sudden fear that his answer might not be favourable, or from a fear that I might possibly involve him in a long and arduous contest upon this subject, or whether it arose from an awful sense of the importance of the mission, as it related to the happiness of hundreds of thousands then alive and of millions then unborn, I cannot say. But I had a feeling within me for which I could not account, and which seemed to hinder me from proceeding. And I actually went away without informing him of my errand.
In this situation I began to consider what to do, when I thought I would call upon Mr. Langton, tell him what had happened, and ask his advice. I found him at home. We consulted together. The result was, that he was to invite Mr. Wilberforce and some others to meet me at a dinner at his own house, in two or three days, when he said he had no doubt of being able to procure an answer, by some means or other, to the question which I wished to have resolved.
On receiving a card from Mr. Langton, I went to dine with him. I found the party consist of Sir Charles Middleton, Mr. Wilberforce, Mr. Hawkins Browne, Mr. Windham, Sir Joshua Reynolds, and Mr. Boswell. The latter was then known as the friend of Dr. Johnson, and afterwards as the writer of his Tour to the Hebrides. After dinner the subject of the Slave-trade was purposely introduced. Many questions were put to me, and I dilated upon each in my answers, that I might inform and interest those present as much as I could. They seemed to be greatly impressed with my account of the loss of seamen in the trade, and with the little samples of African cloth, which I had procured for their inspection. Sir Joshua Reynolds gave his unqualified approbation of the abolition of this cruel traffic. Mr. Hawkins Browne joined heartily with him in sentiment; he spoke with much feeling upon it, and pronounced it to be barbarous, and contrary to every principle of morality and religion. Mr. Boswell, after saying the planters would urge that the Africans were made happier by being carried from their own country to the West Indies, observed, “Be it so. But we have no right to make people happy against their will.” Mr. Windham, when it was suggested that the great importance of our West Indian islands, and the grandeur of Liverpool, would be brought against those who should propose the abolition of the Slave-trade, replied, “We have nothing to do with the policy of the measure. Rather let Liverpool and the Islands be swallowed up in the sea, than this monstrous system of iniquity be carried on* .” While such conversation was passing, and when all appeared to be interested in the cause, Mr. Langton put the question, about the proposal of which I had been so diffident, to Mr. Wilberforce, in the shape of a delicate compliment. The latter replied, that he had no objection to bring forward the measure in parliament, when he was better prepared for it, and provided no person more proper could be found. Upon this, Mr. Hawkins Browne and Mr. Windham both said they would support him there. Before I left the company, I took Mr. Wilberforce aside, and asked him if I might mention this his resolution to those of my friends in the City, of whom he had often heard me speak, as desirous of aiding him by becoming a committee for the purpose. He replied, I might. I then asked Mr. Langton, privately, if he had any objection to belong to a society of which there might be a committee for the abolition of the Slave-trade. He said he should be pleased to become a member of it. Having received these satisfactory answers, I returned home.
The next day, having previously taken down the substance of the conversation at the dinner, I went to James Phillips, and desired that our friends might be called together as soon as they conveniently could, to hear my report. In the interim I wrote to Dr. Peckard, and waited upon Lord Scarsdale, Dr. Baker, and others, to know (supposing a society were formed for the abolition of the Slave-trade) if I might say they would belong to it? All of them replied in the affirmative, and desired me to represent them, if there should be any meeting for this purpose.
At the time appointed, I met my friends. I read over the substance of the conversation which had taken place at Mr. Langton’s. No difficulty occurred. All were unanimous for the formation of a committee. On the next day we met by agreement for this purpose. It was then resolved unanimously, among other things, That the Slave-trade was both impolitic and unjust. It was resolved also, That the following persons be a committee for procuring such information and evidence, and publishing the same, as may tend to the abolition of the Slave-trade, and for directing the application of such moneys as have been already, and may hereafter be collected for the above purpose.
All these were present. Granville Sharp, who stands at the head of the list, and who, as the father of the cause in England, was called to the chair, may be considered as representing the first class of forerunners and coadjutors, as it has been before described. The five next, of whom Samuel Hoare was chosen as the treasurer, were they who had been the committee of the second class, or of the Quakers in England, with the exception of Dr. Knowles, who was then dying, but who, having heard of our meeting, sent a message to us, to exhort us to proceed. The third class, or that of the Quakers in America, may be considered as represented by William Dillwyn, by whom they were afterwards joined to us in correspondence. The two who stand next, and in which I am included, may be considered as representing the fourth, most of the members of which we had been the means of raising. Thus, on the twenty-second of May 1787, the representatives of all the four classes, of which I have been giving a history from the year 1516, met together, and were united in that committee, to which I have been all along directing the attention of the reader; a committee, which, labouring afterwards with Mr. Wilberforce as a parliamentary head, did, under Providence, in the space of twenty years, contribute to put an end to a trade, which, measuring its magnitude by its crimes and sufferings, was the greatest practical evil that ever afflicted the human race.
After the formation of the committee* , notice was sent to Mr. Wilberforce of the event, and a friendship began, which has continued uninterruptedly between them, from that to the present day.
[* ]At these weekly meetings I met occasionally Joseph Woods, George Harrison, and John Lloyd, three of the other members, who belonged to the committee of the second class of forerunners and coadjutors as before described. I had seen all of them before, but I do not recollect the time when I first met them.
[* ]I do not know upon what grounds, after such strong expressions, Mr. Boswell, in the next year, and Mr. Windham, after having supported the cause for three or four years, became inimical to it.
[* ]All the members were of the society of the Quakers, except Mr. Sharp, Sansom, and myself. Joseph Gurney Bevan was present on the day before this meeting. He desired to belong to the society, but to be excused from belonging to the committee.