Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER VIII. - The History of the Abolition of the African Slave-Trade, vol. 2
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
Also in the Library:
CHAPTER VIII. - Thomas Clarkson, The History of the Abolition of the African Slave-Trade, vol. 2 
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. 2.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
Continuation from July 1799 to July 1805—Various motions within this period.
The question had now been brought forward in almost every possible way, and yet had been eventually lost. The total and immediate abolition had been attempted; and then the gradual. The gradual again had been tried for the year 1793, then for 1795, and then for 1796, at which period it was decreed, but never allowed to be executed. An abolition of a part of the trade, as it related to the supply of foreigners with slaves, was the next measure proposed; and when this failed, the abolition of another part of it, as it related to the making of a certain portion of the coast of Africa sacred to liberty, was attempted; but this failed also. Mr. Wilberforce therefore thought it prudent, not to press the abolition as a mere annual measure, but to allow members time to digest the eloquence, which had been bestowed upon it for the last five years, and to wait till some new circumstances should favour its introduction. Accordingly he allowed the years 1800, 1801, 1802, and 1803 to pass over without any further parliamentary notice than the moving for certain papers; during which he took an opportunity of assuring the House, that he had not grown cool in the cause, but that he would agitate it in a future session.
In the year 1804, which was fixed upon for renewed exertion, the committee for the abolition of the Slave-trade elected James Stephen, Zachary Macaulay, Henry Brougham, esquires, and William Phillips, into their own body. Four other members also, Robert Grant and John Thornton, esquires, and William Manser and William Allen, were afterwards added to the list. Among the reasons for fixing upon this year one may be assigned, namely, that the Irish members, in consequence of the Union which had taken place between the two countries, had then all taken their seats in the House of Commons; and that most of them were friendly to the cause.
This being the situation of things, Mr. Wilberforce, on the thirtieth of March, asked leave to renew his bill for the abolilition of the Slave-trade within a limited time. Mr. Fuller opposed the motion. A debate ensued. Colonel Tarleton, Mr. Devaynes, Mr. Addington, and Mr. Manning spoke against it. The latter, however, notwithstanding his connection with the West Indies, said he would support it, if an indemnification were offered to the planters, in case any actual loss should accompany the measure.
Sir William Geary questioned the propriety of immediate abolition.
Sir Robert Buxton, Mr. Pitt, Fox, and Barham, spoke in favour of the motion.
Mr. William Smith rose, when the latter had seated himself, and complimented him on this change of sentiment, so honourable to him, inasmuch as he had espoused the cause of humanity against his supposed interest as a planter. Mr. Leigh said, that he would not tolerate such a traffic for a moment. All the feelings of nature revolted at it. Lord de Blaquiere observed, “it was the first time the question had been proposed to Irishmen as legislators. He believed it would be supported by most of them. As to the people of Ireland, he could pledge himself, that they were hostile to this barbarous traffic.” An amendment having been proposed by Mr. Manning, a division took place upon it, when leave was given to bring in the bill, by a majority of one hundred and twenty-four to forty-nine.
On the seventh of June, when the second reading of the bill was moved, it was opposed by Sir W. Yonge, Dr. Laurence, Mr. C. Brook, Mr. Dent, and others. Among these Lord Castlereagh professed himself a friend to the abolition of the trade, but he differed as to the mode. Sir J. Wrottesley approved of the principle of the bill, but would oppose it in some of its details. Mr. Windham allowed the justice, but differed as to the expediency, of the measure. Mr. Deverell professed himself to have been a friend to it; but he had then changed his mind. Sir Laurence Parsons wished to see a plan for the gradual extinction of the trade. Lord Temple affirmed, that the bill would seal the death-warrant of every White inhabitant of the islands. The second reading was supported by Sir Ralph Milbank, Mr. Pitt, Fox, William Smith, Whitbread, Francis, Barham, and by Mr. Grenfell, and Sir John Newport. Mr. Grenfell observed, that he could not give a silent vote, where the character of the country was concerned. When the question of the abolition first came before the public, he was a warm friend to it; and from that day to this he had cherished the same feelings. He assured Mr. Wilberforce of his constant support. Sir John Newport stated that the Irish nation took a virtuous interest in this noble cause. He ridiculed the idea, that the trade and manufactures of the country would suffer by the measure in contemplation; but, even if they should suffer, he would oppose it. “Fiat justitia, ruat cœlum.” Upon a division, there appeared for the second reading one hundred, and against it forty-two.
On the twelfth of June, when a motion was made to go into a committee upon the bill, it was opposed by Mr. Fuller, C. Brook, C. Ellis, Dent, Deverell, and Manning: and it was supported by Sir Robert Buxton, Mr. Barham, and the honourable J. S. Cocks. The latter condemned the imprudence of the planters. Instead of profiting by the discussions, which had taken place, and making wise provisions against the great event of the abolition, which would sooner or later take place, they had only thought of new stratagems to defeat it. He declared his abhorrence of the trade, which he considered to be a national disgrace. The House divided: when there were seventy-nine for the motion, and against it twenty.
On the twenty-seventh of June the bill was opposed in its last stage by Sir W. Young, Mr. Dickenson, G. Rose, Addington, and Dent: and supported by Mr. Pitt, W. Smith, Francis, and Barham; when it was carried by a majority of sixty-nine to thirty-six. It was then taken up to the Lords; but on a motion of Lord Hawkesbury, then a member of that House, the discussion of it was postponed to the next year.
The session being ended, the committee for the abolition of the Slave-trade increased its number, by the election of the right honourable Lord Teignmouth, Dr. Dickson, and Wilson Birkbeck, as members.
In the year 1805, Mr. Wilberforce renewed his motion of the former year. Colonel Tarleton, Sir William Yonge, Mr. Fuller, and Mr. Gascoyne opposed it. Leave, however, was given him to introduce his bill.
On the second reading of it a serious opposition took place; and an amendment was moved for postponing it till that day six months. The amendment was opposed by Mr. Fox and Mr. Huddlestone. The latter could not help lifting his voice against this monstrous traffic in the sinews and blood of man, the toleration of which had so long been the disgrace of the British legislature. He did not charge the enormous guilt resulting from it upon the nation at large; for the nation had washed its hands of it by the numerous petitions it had sent against it; and it had since been a matter of astonishment to all Christendom, how the constitutional guardians of British freedom should have sanctioned elsewhere the greatest system of cruelty and oppression in the world.
He said that a curse attended this trade even in the mode of defending it. By a certain fatality, none but the vilest arguments were brought forward, which corrupted the very persons, who used them. Every one of these were built on the narrow ground of interest; of pecuniary profit; of sordid gain; in opposition to every higher consideration; to every motive that had reference to humanity, justice, and religion; or to that great principle, which comprehended them all. Place only before the most determined advocate of this odious traffic the exact image of himself in the garb and harness of a slave, dragged and whipped about like a beast: place this image also before him, and paint it as that of one without a ray of hope to cheer him; and you would extort from him the reluctant confession, that he would not endure for an hour the misery, to which he condemned his fellowman for life. How dared he then to use this selfish plea of interest against the voice of the generous sympathies of his nature? But even upon this narrow ground the advocates for the traffic had been defeated. If the unhallowed argument of expediency was worth any thing when opposed to moral rectitude, or if it were to supersede the precepts of Christianity, where was a man to stop, or what line was he to draw? For any thing he knew, it might be physically true, that human blood was the best manure for the land; but who ought to shed it on that account? True expediency, however, was, where it ever would be found, on the side of that system, which was most merciful and just. He asked how it happened, that sugar could be imported cheaper from the East Indies, than from the West, notwithstanding the vast difference of the length of the voyages, but on account of the impolicy of slavery, or that it was made in the former case by the industry of free men, and in the latter by the languid drudgery of slaves.
As he had had occasion to advert to the Eastern part of the world, he would make an observation upon an argument, which had been collected from that quarter. The condition of the Negros in the West Indies had been lately compared with that of the Hindoos. But he would observe that the Hindoo, miserable as his hovel was, had sources of pride and happiness, to which not only the West Indian slave, but even his master, was a stranger. He was to be sure a peasant; and his industry was subservient to the gratifications of an European lord. But he was, in his own belief, vastly superior to him. He viewed him as one of the lowest cast. He would not on any consideration eat from the same plate. He would not suffer his son to marry the daughter of his master, even if she could bring him all the West Indies as her portion. He would observe too, that the Hindoo-peasant drank his water from his native well; that, if his meal were scanty, he received it from the hand of her, who was most dear to him; that, when he laboured, he laboured for her and his offspring. His daily task being finished, he reposed with his family. No retrospect of the happiness of former days, compared with existing misery, disturbed his slumber; nor horrid dreams occasioned him to wake in agony at the dawn of day. No barbarous sounds of cracking whips reminded him, that with the form and image of a man his destiny was that of the beast of the field. Let the advocates for the bloody traffic state what they had to set off on their side of the question against the comforts and independence of the man, with whom they compared the slave.
The amendment was supported by Sir William Yonge, Sir William Pulteney, Colonel Tarleton, Mr. Gascoyne, C. Brook, and Hiley Addington. On dividing the House upon it, there appeared for it seventy-seven, but against it only seventy.
This loss of the question, after it had been carried in the last year by so great a majority, being quite unexpected, was a matter of severe disappointment; and might have discouraged the friends of the cause in this infancy of their renewed efforts, if they had not discovered the reason of its failure. After due consideration it appeared, that no fewer than nine members, who had never been absent once in sixteen years when it was agitated, gave way to engagements on the day of the motion, from a belief that it was safe. It appeared also, that out of the great number of Irish members, who supported it in the former year, only nine were in the House, when it was lost. It appeared also that, previously to this event, a canvass, more importunate than had been heard of on any former occasion, had been made among the latter by those interested in the continuance of the trade. Many of these, unacquainted with the detail of the subject, like the English members, admitted the dismal representations, which were then made to them. The desire of doing good on the one hand, and the fear of doing injury on the other, perplexed them; and in this dubious state they absented themselves at the time mentioned.
The causes of the failure having been found accidental, and capable of a remedy, it was resolved, that an attempt should be made immediately in the House in a new form. Accordingly Lord Henry Petty signified his intention of bringing in a bill for the abolition of the foreign part of the Slave-trade; but the impeachment of Lord Melville, and other weighty matters coming on, the notice was not acted upon in that session.