Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XX. - The History of the Abolition of the African Slave-Trade, vol. 1
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CHAPTER XX. - 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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Labours of the committee during the author’s journey—Quakers the first to notice its institution—General Baptists the next—Correspondence opened with American societies for Abolition—First individual who addressed the committee was Mr. William Smith—Thanks voted to Ramsay—Committee prepares lists of persons to whom to send its publications—Barclay, Taylor, and Wedgwood elected members of the committee—Letters from Brissot, and others—Granville Sharp elected chairman—Seal ordered to be engraved—Letters from different correspondents as they offered their services to the committee.
The committee, during my absence, had attended regularly at their posts. They had been both vigilant and industrious. They were, in short, the persons, who had been the means of raising the public spirit, which I had observed first at Manchester, and afterwards as I journeyed on. It will be proper, therefore, that I should now say something of their labours, and of the fruits of them. And if, in doing this, I should be more minute for a few pages than some would wish, I must apologize for myself by saying that there are others, who would be sorry to lose the knowledge of the particular manner in which the foundation was laid, and the superstructure advanced, of a work, which will make so brilliant an appearance in our history as that of the abolition of the Slave-trade.
The committee having dispersed five hundred circular letters, giving an account of their institution, in London and its neighbourhood, the Quakers were the first to notice it. This they did in their yearly epistle, of which the following is an extract:—“We have also thankfully to believe there is a growing attention in many, not of our religious Society, to the subject of Negro-slavery; and that the minds of the people are more and more enlarged to consider it as an aggregate of every species of evil, and to see the utter inconsistency of upholding it by the authority of any nation whatever, especially of such as punish, with loss of life, crimes whose magnitude bears scarce any proportion to this complicated iniquity.”
The General Baptists were the next; for on the twenty-second of June, Stephen Lowdell and Dan Taylor attended as a deputation from the annual meeting of that religious body, to inform the committee, that those, whom they represented, approved their proceedings, and that they would countenance the object of their institution.
The first individual, who addressed the committee, was Mr. William Smith, the present member for Norwich. In his letter he expressed the pleasure he had received in finding persons associated in the support of a cause, in which he himself had taken a deep interest. He gave them advice as to their future plans. He promised them all the cooperation in his power: and he exhorted them not to despair, even if their first attempt should be unsuccessful; “for consolation,” says he, “will not be wanting. You may rest satisfied that the attempt will be productive of some good; that the fervent wishes of the righteous will be on your side, and that the blessing of those who are ready to perish will fall upon you.” And as Mr. Smith was the first person to address the committee as an individual after its formation, so, next to Mr. Wilberforce and the members of it, he gave the most time and attention to the promotion of the cause.
On the fifth of July, the committee opened a correspondence, by means of William Dillwyn, with the societies of Philadelphia and New York, of whose institution an account has been given. At this sitting a due sense was signified of the services of Mr. Ramsay, and a desire of his friendly communications when convenient.
The two next meetings were principally occupied in making out lists of the names of persons in the country, to whom the committee should send their publications for distribution. For this purpose every member was to bring in an account of those whom he knew personally, and whom he believed not only to be willing, but qualified on account of their judgment and the weight of their character, to take an useful part in the work, which was to be assigned to them. It is a remarkable circumstance, that, when the lists were arranged, the committee, few as they were, found they had friends in no less then thirty-nine counties* , in each of which there were several, so that a knowledge of their institution could now be soon diffusively spread.
The committee, having now fixed upon their correspondents, ordered five hundred of the circular letters, which have been before mentioned, and five thousand of the Summary Views, an account of which has been given also, to be printed.
On account of the increase of business, which was expected in consequence of the circulation of the preceding publications, Robert Barclay, John Vickris Taylor, and Josiah Wedgwood esquire, were added to the committee; and it was then resolved, that any three members might call a meeting when necessary.
On the twenty-seventh of August, the new correspondents began to make their appearance. This sitting was distinguished by the receipt of letters from two celebrated persons. The first was from Brissot, dated Paris, August the eighteenth, who, it may be recollected, was an active member of the National Convention of France, and who suffered in the persecution of Robespiere. The second was from Mr. John Wesley, whose useful labours as a minister of the gospel are so well known to our countrymen.
Brissot, in this letter, congratulated the members of the committee, on having come together for so laudable an object. He offered his own assistance towards the promotion of it. He desired also that his valuable friend Claviere (who suffered also under Robespiere) might be joined to him, and that both might be acknowledged by the committee as associates in what he called this heavenly work. He purposed to translate and circulate through France, such publications as they might send him from time to time, and to appoint bankers in Paris, who might receive subscriptions and remit them to London for the good of their common cause. In the mean time, if his own countrymen should be found to take an interest in this great cause, it was not improbable that a committee might be formed in Paris, to endeavour to secure the attainment of the same object from the government in France.
The thanks of the committee were voted to Brissot for this disinterested offer of his services, and he was elected an honorary and corresponding member. In reply, however, to his letter it was stated, that, as the committee had no doubt of procuring from the generosity of their own nation sufficient funds for effecting the object of their institution, they declined the acceptance of any pecuniary aid from the people of France, but recommended him to attempt the formation of a committee in his own country, and to inform them of his progress, and to make to them such other communications as he might deem necessary upon the subject from time to time.
Mr. Wesley, whose letter was read next, informed the committee of the great satisfaction which he also had experienced, when he heard of their formation. He conceived that their design, while it would destroy the Slave-trade, would also strike at the root of the shocking abomination of slavery also. He desired to forewarn them that they must expect difficulties and great opposition from those who were interested in the system; that these were a powerful body; and that they would raise all their forces, when they perceived their craft to be in danger. They would employ hireling writers, who would have neither justice nor mercy. But the committee were not to be dismayed by such treatment, nor even if some of those, who professed good-will towards them, should turn against them. As for himself, he would do all he could to promote the object of their institution. He would reprint a new and large edition of his Thought on Slavery, and circulate it among his friends in England and Ireland, to whom he would add a few words in favour of their design. And then he concluded in these words: “I commend you to Him, who is able to carry you through all opposition, and support you under all discouragements.”
On the fourth, eleventh, and eighteenth of September, the committee were employed variously. Among other things they voted their thanks to Mr. Leigh, a clergyman of the established church, for the offer of his services for the county of Norfolk. They ordered also one thousand of the circular letters to be additionally printed.
At one of these meetings a resolution was made, that Granville Sharp, esquire, be appointed chairman. This appointment, though now first formally made in the minute book, was always understood to have taken place; but the modesty of Mr. Sharp was such, that, though repeatedly pressed, he would never consent to take the chair, and he generally refrained from coming into the room till after he knew it to be taken. Nor could he be prevailed upon, even after this resolution, to alter his conduct: for though he continued to sign the papers, which were handed to him by virtue of holding this office, he never was once seated as the chairman during the twenty years in which he attended at these meetings. I thought it not improper to mention this trait in his character. Conscious that he engaged in the cause of his fellow-creatures solely upon the sense of his duty as a Christian, he seems to have supposed either that he had done nothing extraordinary to merit such a distinction, or to have been fearful lest the acceptance of it should bring a stain upon the motive, on which alone he undertook it.
On the second and sixteenth of October two sittings took place; at the latter of which a sub-committee, which had been appointed for the purpose, brought in a design for a seal. An African was seen, (as in the figure* ,) in chains in a supplicating posture, kneeling with one knee upon the ground, and with both his hands lifted up to Heaven, and round the seal was observed the following motto, as if he was uttering the words himself—“Am I not a Man and a Brother?” The design having been approved of, a seal was ordered to be engraved from it. I may mention here, that this seal, simple as the design was, was made to contribute largely, as will be shown in its proper place, towards turning the attention of our countrymen to the case of the injured Africans, and of procuring a warm interest in their favour.
On the thirtieth of October several letters were read; one of these was from Brissot and Claviere conjointly. In this they acknowledged the satisfaction they had received on being considered as associates in the humane work of the abolition of the Slave-trade, and correspondents in France for the promotion of it. They declared it to be their intention to attempt the establishment of a commitee there on the same principles as that in England: but, in consequence of the different constitutions of the two governments, they gave the committee reason to suppose that their proceedings must be different, as well as slower than those in England, for the same object.
A second letter was read from Mr. John Wesley. He said that he had now read the publications, which the committee had sent him, and that he took, if possible, a still deeper interest in their cause. He exhorted them to more than ordinary diligence and perseverance; to be prepared for opposition; to be cautious about the manner of procuring information and evidence, that no stain might fall upon their character; and to take care that the question should be argued as well upon the consideration of interest as of humanity and justice, the former of which he feared would have more weight than the latter; and he recommended them and their glorious concern, as before, to the protection of Him who was able to support them.
Letters were read from Dr. Price, approving the institution of the committee; from Charles Lloyd of Birmingham, stating the interest which the inhabitants of that town were taking in it; and from William Russell, esquire, of the same place, stating the same circumstance, and that he would cooperate with the former in calling a public meeting, and in doing whatever else was necessary for the promotion of so good a cause. A letter was read also from Manchester, signed conjointly by George Barton, Thomas Cooper, John Ferriar, Thomas Walker, Thomas Phillips, Thomas Butterworth Bayley, and George Lloyd, esquires, promising their assistance for that place. Two others were read from John Kerrich, esquire, of Harleston, and from Joshua Grigby, esquire, of Drinkston, each tendering their services, one for the county of Norfolk, and the other for the county of Suffolk. The latter concluded by saying, “With respect to myself, in no possible instance of my public conduct can I receive so much sincere satisfaction, as I shall by the vote I will most assuredly give in parliament, in support of this most worthy effort to suppress a traffic, which is contrary to all the feelings of humanity, and the laws of our religion.”
A letter was read also at this sitting from major Cartwright, of Marnham, in which he offered his own services, in conjunction with those of the reverend John Charlesworth, of Ossington, for the county of Nottingham.
“I congratulate you,” says he in this letter, “on the happy prospect of some considerable step at least being taken towards the abolition of a traffic, which is not only impious in itself, but of all others tends most to vitiate the human mind.
“Although procrastination is generally pernicious in cases depending upon the feelings of the heart, I should almost fear that, without very uncommon exertions, you will scarcely be prepared early in the next sessions for bringing the business into parliament with the greatest advantage. But be that as it may, let the best use be made of the intermediate time; and then, if there be a superintending Providence, which governs every thing in the moral world, there is every reason to hope for a blessing on this particular work.”
The last letter was from Robert Boucher Nickolls, dean of Middleham in Yorkshire. In this he stated that he was a native of the West Indies, and had travelled on the continent of America. He then offered some important information to the committee, as his mite towards the abolition of the Slave-trade, and as an encouragement to them to persevere. He attempted to prove that the natural increase of the Negros already in the West Indian Islands would be fully adequate to the cultivation of them without any fresh supplies from Africa, and that such natural increase would be secured by humane treatment. With this view he instanced the two estates of Mr. Mac Mahon and of Dr. Mapp in the island of Barbadoes. The first required continual supplies of new slaves, in consequence of the severe and cruel usage adopted upon it. The latter overflowed with labourers in consequence of a system of kindness, so that it almost peopled another estate. Having related these instances, he cited others in North America, where, though the climate was less favourable to the constitution of the Africans, but their treatment better, they increased also. He combated, from his own personal knowledge, the argument that self-interest was always sufficient to ensure good usage, and maintained that there was only one way of securing it, which was the entire abolition of the Slave-trade. He showed in what manner the latter measure would operate to the desired end. He then dilated on the injustice and inconsistency of this trade, and supported the policy of the abolition of it, both to the planter, the merchant, and the nation.
This letter of the Dean of Middleham, which was a little Essay of itself, was deemed of so much importance by the committee, but particularly as it was the result of local knowledge, that they not only passed a resolution of thanks to him for it, but desired his permission to print it.
The committee sat again on the thirteenth and twenty-second of November. At the first of these sittings, a letter was read from Henry Grimston, esquire, of Whitwell Hall, near York, offering his services for the promotion of the cause in his own country. At the second, the Dean of Middleham’s answer was received. He acquiesced in the request of the committee; when five thousand of his letters were ordered immediately to be printed.
On the twenty-second a letter was read from Mr. James Mackenzie, of the town of Cambridge, desiring to forward the object of the institution there. Two letters were read also, one from the late Mr. Jones, tutor of Trinity College, and the other from Mr. William Frend, fellow of Jesus College. It appeared from these that the gentlemen of the University of Cambridge were beginning to take a lively interest in the abolition of the Slave-trade, among whom Dr. Watson, the bishop of Llandaff, was particularly conspicuous. At this committee two thousand new Summary Views were ordered to be printed, and the circular letter to be prefixed to each.
[* ]The Quakers by means of their discipline have a greater personal knowledge of each other, than the members of any other religious society. But two-thirds of the committee were Quakers, and hence the circumstance is explained. Hence also nine tenths of our first coadjutors were Quakers.
[* ]The figure is rather larger than that in the seal.