Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XIII. - The History of the Abolition of the African Slave-Trade, vol. 1
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CHAPTER XIII. - 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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Author returns to his History—Committee formed as before mentioned—its proceedings—Author produces a summary view of the Slave-trade and of the probable consequences of its abolition—Wrongs of Africa, by Mr. Roscoe, generously presented to the committee—Important discussion as to the object of the committee—Emancipation declared to be no part of it—Committee decides on its public title—Author requested to go to Bristol, Liverpool, and Lancaster, to collect further information on the subject of the trade.
I return now, after this long digression, to the continuation of my History.
It was shown in the latter part of the tenth chapter, that twelve individuals, all of whom were then named, met together, by means which no one could have foreseen, on the twenty-second of May 1787; and that, after having voted the Slave-trade to be both unjust and impolitic, they formed themselves into a committee for procuring such information and evidence, and for publishing the same, as might tend to the abolition of it, and for directing the application of such money, as had been already and might hereafter be collected for that purpose. At this meeting it was resolved also, that no less than three members should form a quorum; that Samuel Hoare should be the treasurer; that the treasurer should pay no money but by order of the committee; and that copies of these resolutions should be printed and circulated, in which it should be inserted that the subscriptions of all such, as were willing to forward the plans of the committee, should be received by the treasurer or any member of it.
On the twenty-fourth of May the committee met again to promote the object of its institution.
The treasurer reported at this meeting, that the subscriptions already received, amounted to one hundred and thirty-six pounds.
As I had foreseen, long before this time, that my Essay on the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species was too large for general circulation, and yet that a general circulation of knowledge on this subject was absolutely necessary, I determined, directly after the formation of the committee, to write a short pamphlet consisting only of eight or ten pages for this purpose. I called it A Summary View of the Slave-trade, and of the probable Consequences of its Abolition. It began by exhibiting to the reader the various unjustifiable ways in which persons living on the coast of Africa became slaves. It then explained the treatment which these experienced on their passage, the number dying in the course of it, and the treatment of the survivors in the colonies of those nations to which they were carried. It then announced the speedy publication of a work on the Impolicy of the Trade, the contents of which, as far as I could then see, I gave generally under the following heads:—Part the first, it was said, would show, that Africa was capable of offering to us a trade in its own natural productions as well as in the persons of men; that the trade in the persons of men was profitable but to a few; that its value was diminished from many commercial considerations; that it was also highly destructive to our seamen; and that the branch of it, by which we supplied the island of St. Domingo with slaves, was peculiarly impolitic on that account. Part the second, it was said, would show, that, if the slaves were kindly treated in our colonies, they would increase; that the abolition of the trade would necessarily secure such a treatment to them, and that it would produce many other advantages which would be then detailed.
This little piece I presented to the committee at this their second meeting. It was then duly read and examined; and the result was, that, after some little correction, it was approved, and that two thousand copies of it were ordered to be printed, with lists of the subscribers and of the committee, and to be sent to various parts of the kingdom.
On June the seventh the committee met again for the dispatch of business, when, among other things, they voted their thanks to Dr. Baker, of Lower Grosvenor Street, who had been one of my first assistants, for his services to the cause.
At this committee John Barton, one of the members of it, stated that he was commissioned by the author of a poem, entitled The Wrongs of Africa, to offer the profits, which might arise from the sale of that work, to the committee, for the purpose of enabling them to pursue the object of their institution. This circumstance was not only agreeable, inasmuch as it showed us, that there were others who felt with us for the injured Africans, and who were willing to aid us in our designs, but it was rendered still more so, when we were given to understand that the poem was written by Mr. Roscoe, of Liverpool, and the preface to it by the late Dr. Currie, who then lived in the same place. To find friends to our cause rising up from a quarter, where we expected scarcely any thing but opposition, was very consolatory and encouraging. As this poem was well written, but cannot now be had, I shall give the introductory part of it, which is particularly beautiful, to the perusal of the reader. It begins thus,—
In this manner was the subject of this beautiful poem introduced to the notice of the public. But I have no room for any further extracts, nor time to make any further comment upon it. I can only add, that the committee were duly sensible as well of its merits, as of the virtuous and generous disposition of the author, and that they requested John Barton to thank him in an appropriate manner for his offer, which he was to say they accepted gratefully.
At this sitting, at which ten members were present out of the twelve, a discussion unexpectedly arose on a most important subject. The committee, finding that their meetings began to be approved by many, and that the cause under their care was likely to spread, and foreseeing also the necessity there would soon be of making themselves known as a public body throughout the kingdom, thought it right that they should assume some title, which should be a permanent one, and which should be expressive of their future views. This gave occasion to them to reconsider the object, for which they had associated, and to fix and define it in such a manner, that there should be no misunderstanding about it in the public mind. In looking into the subject, it appeared to them that there were two evils, quite distinct from each other, which it might become their duty to endeavour to remove. The first was the evil of the Slave-trade, in consequence of which many thousand persons were every year fraudulently and forcibly taken from their country, their relations, and friends, and from all that they esteemed valuable in life. The second was the evil of slavery itself, in consequence of which the same persons were forced into a situation, where they were deprived of the rights of men, where they were obliged to linger out their days subject to excessive labour and cruel punishments, and where their children were to inherit the same hard lot. Now the question was, which of the two evils the committee should select as that, to which they should direct their attention with a view of the removal of it; or whether, with the same view, it should direct its attention to both of them.
It appeared soon to be the sense of the committee, that to aim at the removal of both would be to aim at too much, and that by doing this we might lose all.
The question then was, which of the two they were to take as their object. Now in considering this question it appeared that it did not matter where they began, or which of them they took, as far as the end to be produced was the thing desired. For, first, if the Slave-trade should be really abolished, the bad usage of the slaves in the colonies, that is, the hard part of their slavery, if not the slavery itself, would fall. For, the planters and others being unable to procure more slaves from the coast of Africa, it would follow directly, whenever this great event should take place, that they must treat those better, whom they might then have. They must render marriage honourable among them. They must establish the union of one man with one wife. They must give the pregnant women more indulgencies. They must pay more attention to the rearing of their offspring. They must work and punish the adults with less rigour. Now it was to be apprehended that they could not do these things, without seeing the political advantages which would arise to themselves from so doing; and that, reasoning upon this, they might be induced to go on to give them greater indulgencies, rights, and privileges in time. But how would every such successive improvement of their condition operate, but to bring them nearer to the state of freemen? In the same manner it was contended, that the better treatment of the slaves in the colonies, or that the emancipation of them there, when fit for it, would of itself lay the foundation for the abolition of the Slave-trade. For, if the slaves were kindly treated, that is, if marriage were encouraged among them; if the infants who should be born were brought up with care; if the sick were properly attended to; if the young and the adult were well fed and properly clothed, and not overworked, and not worn down by the weight of severe punishments, they would necessarily increase, and this on an extensive scale. But if the planters were thus to get their labourers from the births on their own estates, then the Slave-trade would in time be no longer necessary to them, and it would die away as an useless and a noxious plant. Thus it was of no consequence, which of the two evils the committee were to select as the object for their labours; for, as far as the end in view only was concerned, that the same end would be produced in either case.
But in looking further into this question, it seemed to make a material difference which of the two they selected, as far as they had in view the due execution of any laws, which might be made respecting them, and their own prospect of success in the undertaking. For, by aiming at the abolition of the Slave-trade, they were laying the axe at the very root. By doing this, and this only, they would not incur the objection, that they were meddling with the property of the planters, and letting loose an irritated race of beings, who, in consequence of all the vices and infirmities, which a state of slavery entails upon those who undergo it, were unfit for their freedom. By asking the government of the country to do this, and this only, they were asking for that, which it had an indisputable right to do; namely, to regulate or abolish any of its branches of commerce; whereas it was doubtful, whether it could interfere with the management of the internal affairs of the colonies, or whether this was not wholly the province of the legislatures established there. By asking the government, again, to do this and this only, they were asking what it could really enforce. It could station its ships of war, and command its custom-houses, so as to carry any act of this kind into effect. But it could not ensure that an act to be observed in the heart of the islands should be enforced* . To this it was added, that if the committee were to fix upon the annihilation of slavery as the object for their labours, the Slave-trade would not fall so speedily as it would by a positive law for the abolition; because, though the increase from the births might soon supply all the estates now in cultivation with labourers, yet new plantations might be opened from time to time in different islands, so that no period could be fixed upon, when it could be said that it would cease.
Impressed by these arguments, the committee were clearly of opinion, that they should define their object to be the abolition of the Slave-trade, and not of the slavery which sprung from it. Hence from this time, and in allusion to the month when this discussion took place, they styled themselves in their different advertisements, and reports, though they were first associated in the month of May, The Committee instituted in June 1787, for effecting the Abolition of the Slave-trade. Thus, at the very outset, they took a ground which was for ever tenable. Thus they were enabled also to answer the objection, which was afterwards so constantly and so industriously circulated against them, that they were going to emancipate the slaves. And I have no doubt that this wise decision contributed greatly to their success; for I am persuaded that, if they had adopted the other object, they could not for years to come, if ever, have succeeded in their attempt.
Before the committee broke up, I represented to them the necessity there was of obtaining further knowledge on all those individual points, which might be said to belong to the great subject of the abolition of the Slave-trade. In the first place, this knowledge was necessary for me, if I were to complete my work on the Impolicy of this Trade, which work the Summary View, just printed, had announced to the world. It would be necessary also, in case the Slave-trade should become a subject of parliamentary inquiry; for this inquiry could not proceed without evidence. And if any time was peculiarly fit for the procuring of such information or evidence, it was the present. At this time the passions of men had not been heated by any public agitation of the question, nor had interest felt itself biassed to conceal the truth. But as soon as ever it should be publicly understood, that a parliamentary inquiry was certain, (which we ourselves believed would be the case, but which interested men did not then know,) we should find many of the avenues to information closed against us. I proposed therefore that some one of the committee should undertake a journey to Bristol, Liverpool, and Lancaster, where he should reside for a time to collect further light upon this subject; and that if others should feel their occupations or engagements to be such as would make such a journey unsuitable, I would undertake it myself. I begged therefore the favour of the different members of the committee, to turn the matter over in their minds by the next meeting, that we might then talk over and decide upon the propriety of the measure.
The committee held its fourth meeting on the twelfth of June. Among the subjects, which were then brought forward, was that of the journey before mentioned. The propriety and indeed even the necessity of it was so apparent, that I was requested by all present to undertake it, and a minute for that purpose was entered upon our records. Of this journey, as gradually unfolding light on the subject, and as peculiarly connected with the promotion of our object, I shall now give an account; after which I shall return to the proceedings of the committee.
[* ]The late correspondence of the governors of our colonies with Lord Camden in his official situation, but particularly the statements made by Lord Seaforth and General Prevost, have shown the wisdom of this remark, and that no dependence was to be had for the better usage of the slaves but upon the total abolition of the trade.