Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER IX. - The History of the Abolition of the African Slave-Trade, vol. 2
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CHAPTER IX. - 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.
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Continuation from July 1805 to July 1806—Author returns to his duty in the committee—travels again round the kingdom—Death of Mr. Pitt—his character, as it related to the question—Motion for the abolition of the foreign Slave-trade—resolution to take measures for the total abolition of it—Address to the King to negotiate with foreign powers for their concurrence in it—Motion to prevent any new vessel going into the trade—these carried through both houses of parliament.
It was now almost certain, to the inexpressible joy of the committee, that the cause, with proper vigilance, could be carried in the next session in the House of Commons. It became them therefore to prepare to support it. In adverting to measures for this purpose, it occurred to them, that the House of Lords, if the question should be then carried to them from the Commons, might insist upon hearing evidence on the general subject. But, alas, even the body of witnesses, which had been last collected, was broken by death or dispersion! It was therefore to be formed again. In this situation it devolved upon me, as I had now returned to the committee after an absence of nine years, to take another journey for this purpose.
This journey I performed with extraordinary success. In the course of it I had also much satisfaction on another account. I found the old friends of the cause still faithful to it. It was remarkable, however, that the youth of the rising generation knew but little about the question. For the last eight or nine years the committee had not circulated any books; and the debates in the Commons during that time had not furnished them with the means of an adequate knowledge concerning it. When, however, I conversed with these, as I travelled along, I discovered a profound attention to what I said; an earnest desire to know more of the subject; and a generous warmth in favour of the injured Africans, which I foresaw could soon be turned into enthusiasm. Hence I perceived that the cause furnished us with endless sources of rallying; and that the ardour, which we had seen with so much admiration in former years, could be easily renewed.
I had scarcely finished my journey, when Mr. Pitt died. This event took place in January 1806. I shall stop therefore to make a few observations upon his character, as it related to this cause. This I feel myself bound in justice to do, because his sincerity towards it has been generally questioned.
The way, in which Mr. Pitt became acquainted with this question, has already been explained. A few doubts having been removed, when it was first started, he professed himself a friend to the abolition. The first proof, which he gave of his friendship to it is known but to few; but it is, nevertheless, true, that so early as in 1788, he occasioned a communication to be made to the French government, in which he recommended an union of the two countries for the promotion of the great measure. This proposition seemed to be then new and strange to the court of France; and the answer was not favourable.
From this time his efforts were reduced within the boundaries of his own power. As far, however, as he had scope, he exerted them. If we look at him in his parliamentary capacity, it must be acknowledged by all, that he took an active, strenuous, and consistent part, and this year after year, by which he realized his professions. In my own private communications with him, which were frequent, he never failed to give proofs of a similar disposition. I had always free access to him. I had no previous note or letter to write for admission. Whatever papers I wanted, he ordered. He exhibited also in his conversation with me on these occasions marks of a more than ordinary interest in the welfare of the cause. Among the subjects, which were then started, there was one, which was always near his heart. This was the civilization of Africa. He looked upon this great work as a debt due to that continent for the many injuries we had inflicted upon it: and had the abolition succeeded sooner, as in the infancy of his exertions he had hoped, I know he had a plan, suited no doubt to the capaciousness of his own mind, for such establishments in Africa, as he conceived would promote in due time this important end.
I believe it will be said, notwithstanding what I have advanced, that if Mr. Pitt had exerted himself as the minister of the country in behalf of the abolition, he could have carried it. This brings the matter to an issue; for unquestionably the charge of insincerity, as it related to this great question, arose from the mistaken notion, that, as his measures in parliament were supported by great majorities, he could do as he pleased there. But, they who hold this opinion, must be informed, that there were great difficulties, against which he had to struggle on this subject. The Lord Chancellor Thurlow ran counter to his wishes almost at the very outset. Lord Liverpool and Mr. Dundas did the same. Thus, to go no further, three of the most powerful members of the cabinet were in direct opposition to him. The abolition then, amidst this difference of opinion, could never become a cabinet measure; but if so, then all his parliamentary efforts in this case wanted their usual authority, and he could only exert his influence as a private man* .
But a difficulty, still more insuperable, presented itself, in an occurrence which took place in the year 1791, but which is much too delicate to be mentioned. The explanation of it, however, would convince the reader, that all the efforts of Mr. Pitt from that day were rendered useless, I mean as to bringing the question, as a minister of state, to a favourable issue.
But though Mr. Pitt did not carry this great question, he was yet one of the greatest supporters of it. He fostered it in its infancy. If, in his public situation, he had then set his face against it, where would have been our hope? He upheld it also in its childhood; and though in this state of its existence it did not gain from his protection all the strength which it was expected it would have acquired, he yet kept it from falling, till his successors, in whose administration a greater number of favourable circumstances concurred to give it vigour, brought it to triumphant maturity.
Lord Grenville and Mr. Fox, having been called to the head of the executive government on the death of Mr. Pitt, the cause was ushered into parliament under new auspices. In a former year His Majesty had issued a proclamation, by which British merchants were forbidden (with certain defined exceptions) to import slaves into the colonies, which had been conquered by the British arms in the course of the war. This circumstance afforded an opportunity of trying the question in the House of Commons with the greatest hope of success. Accordingly Sir A. Pigott, the attorney-general, as an officer of the crown, brought in a bill on the thirty-first of March 1806, the first object of which was, to give effect to the proclamation now mentioned. The second was, to prohibit British subjects from being engaged in importing slaves into the colonies of any foreign power, whether hostile or neutral. And the third was, to prohibit British subjects and British capital from being employed in carrying on a Slave-trade in foreign ships; and also to prevent the outfit of foreign ships from British ports.
Sir A. Pigott, on the introduction of this bill, made an appropriate speech. The bill was supported by Mr. Fox, Sir William Yonge, Mr. Brook, and Mr. Bagwell; but opposed by Generals Tarleton and Gascoyne, Mr. Rose, Sir Robert Peele, and Sir Charles Price. On the third reading a division being called for, there appeared for it thirty-five, and against it only thirteen.
On the seventh of May it was introduced into the Lords. The supporters of it there were, the Duke of Gloucester, Lord Grenville, the Bishops of London and St. Asaph, the Earl of Buckinghamshire, and the Lords Holland, Lauderdale, Auckland, Sidmouth, and Ellenborough. The opposers were, the Dukes of Clarence and Sussex, the Marquis of Sligo, the Earl of Westmoreland, and the Lords Eldon and Sheffield. At length a division took place, when there appeared to be in favour of it forty-three, and against it eighteen.
During the discussions, to which this bill gave birth, Lord Grenville and Mr. Fox declared in substance, in their respective Houses of Parliament, that they felt the question of the Slave-trade to be one, which involved the dearest interests of humanity, and the most urgent claims of policy, justice, and religion; and that, should they succeed in effecting its abolition, they would regard that success as entailing more true glory on their administration, and more honour and advantage on their country, than any other measure, in which they could be engaged. The bill having passed (the first, which dismembered this cruel trade,) it was thought proper to follow it up in a prudent manner; and, as there was not then time in the advanced period of the session to bring in another for the total extinction of it, to move a resolution, by which both Houses should record those principles, on which the propriety of the latter measure was founded. It was judged also expedient that Mr. Fox, as the prime minister in the House of Commons, should introduce it there.
On the tenth of June Mr. Fox rose. He began by saying that the motion, with which he should conclude, would tend in its consequences to effect the total abolition of the Slave-trade; and he confessed that, since he had sat in that House (a period of between thirty and forty years), if he had done nothing else, but had only been instrumental in carrying through this measure, he should think his life well spent; and should retire quite satisfied, that he had not lived in vain.
In adverting to the principle of the trade, he noticed some strong expressions of Mr. Burke concerning it. “To deal in human flesh and blood,” said that great man, “or to deal, not in the labour of men, but in men themselves, was to devour the root, instead of enjoying the fruit of human diligence.”
Mr. Fox then took a view of the opinions of different members of the House on this great question; and showed that, though many had opposed the abolition, all but two or three, among whom were the members for Liverpool, had confessed, that the trade ought to be done away. He then went over the different resolutions of the House on the subject, and concluded from thence, that they were bound to support his motion.
He combated the argument, that the abolition would ruin the West-Indian Islands. In doing this he paid a handsome compliment to the memory of Mr. Pitt, whose speech upon this particular point was, he said, the most powerful and convincing of any he had ever heard. Indeed they, who had not heard it, could have no notion of it. It was a speech, of which he would say with the Roman author, reciting the words of the Athenian orator, “Quid esset, si ipsum audivissetis!” It was a speech no less remarkable for splendid eloquence, than for solid sense and convincing reason; supported by calculations founded on facts, and conclusions drawn from premises, as correctly as if they had been mathematical propositions; all tending to prove that, instead of the West Indian plantations suffering an injury, they would derive a material benefit by the abolition of the Slave-trade. He then called upon the friends of this great man to show their respect for his memory by their votes; and he concluded with moving, “that this House, considering the African Slave-trade to be contrary to the principles of justice, humanity, and policy, will, with all practicable expedition, take effectual measures for the abolition of the said trade, in such a manner, and at such a period, as may be deemed advisable.”
Sir Ralph Milbank rose, and seconded the motion.
General Tarleton rose next. He deprecated the abolition, on account of the effect which it would have on the trade and revenue of the country.
Mr. Francis said the merchants of Liverpool were at liberty to ask for compensation; but he, for one, would never grant it for the loss of a trade, which had been declared to be contrary to humanity and justice. As an uniform friend to this great cause, he wished Mr. Fox had not introduced a resolution, but a real bill for the abolition of the Slave-trade. He believed that both Houses were then disposed to do it away. He wished the golden opportunity might not be lost.
Lord Castlereagh thought it a proposition, on which no one could entertain a doubt, that the Slave-trade was a great evil in itself; and that it was the duty and policy of Parliament to extirpate it; but he did not think the means offered were adequate to the end proposed. The abolition, as a political question, was a difficult one. The year 1796 had been once fixed upon by the House, as the period when the trade was to cease; but, when the time arrived, the resolution was not executed. This was a proof, either that the House did not wish for the event, or that they judged it impracticable. It would be impossible, he said, to get other nations to concur in the measure; and, even if they were to concur, it could not be effected. We might restrain the subjects of the parent-state from following the trade; but we could not those in our colonies. A hundred frauds would be committed by these, which we could not detect. He did not mean by this, that the evil was to go on for ever. Had a wise plan been proposed at first, it might have been half-cured by this time. The present resolution would do no good. It was vague, indefinite, and unintelligible. Such resolutions were only the Slave-merchants’ harvests. They would go for more slaves than usual in the interim. He should have advised a system of duties on fresh importations of slaves, progressively increasing to a certain extent; and that the amount of these duties should be given to the planters, as a bounty to encourage the Negro-populalation upon their estates. Nothing could be done, unless we went hand in hand with the latter. But he should deliver himself more fully on this subject, when any thing specific should be brought forward in the shape of a bill.
Sir S. Romilly, the solicitor-general, differed from Lord Castlereagh; for he thought the resolution of Mr. Fox was very simple and intelligible. If there was a proposition vague and indefinite, it was that, advanced by the noble lord, of a system of duties on fresh importations, rising progressively, and this under the patronage and cooperation of the planters. Who could measure the space between the present time and the abolition of the trade, if that measure were to depend upon the approbation of the colonies?
The cruelty and injustice of the Slave-trade had been established by evidence beyond a doubt. It had been shown to be carried on by rapine, robbery, and murder; by fomenting and encouraging wars; by false accusations; and imaginary crimes. The unhappy victims were torn away not only in the time of war, but of profound peace. They were then carried across the Atlantic, in a manner too horrible to describe; and afterwards subjected to eternal slavery. In support of the continuance of such a traffic, he knew of nothing but assertions already disproved, and arguments already refuted. Since the year 1796, when it was to cease by a resolution of Parliament, no less than three hundred and sixty thousand Africans had been torn away from their native land. What an accumulation was this to our former guilt!
General Gascoyne made two extraordinary assertions: First, that the trade was defensible on Scriptural ground.—“Both thy bondmen and thy bondmaids, which thou shalt have, shall be of the heathen, that are round about thee; of them shall you have bondmen and bondmaids. And thou shalt take them as an heritance for thy children after thee to inherit them for a possession; they shall be thy bondmen for ever.” Secondly, that the trade had been so advantageous to this country, that it would have been advisable even to institute a new one, if the old had not existed.
Mr. Wilberforce replied to General Gascoyne. He then took a view of the speech of Lord Castlereagh, which he answered point by point. In the course of his observations he showed, that the system of duties progressively increasing, as proposed by the noble lord, would be one of the most effectual modes of perpetuating the Slave-trade. He exposed also the false foundation of the hope of any reliance on the cooperation of the colonists. The House, he said, had on the motion of Mr. Ellis in the year 1797, prayed His Majesty to consult with the colonial legislatures to take such measures, as might conduce to the gradual abolition of the African Slave-trade. This address was transmitted to them by Lord Melville. It was received in some of the islands with a declaration, “that they possibly might, in some instances, endeavour to improve the condition of their slaves; but they should do this, not with any view to the abolition of the Slave-trade; for they considered that trade as their birth-right, which could not be taken from them; and that we should deceive ourselves by supposing, that they would agree to such a measure.” He desired to add to this the declaration of General Prevost in his public letter from Dominica. Did he not say, when asked what steps had been taken there in consequence of the resolution of the House in 1797, “that the act of the legislature, entitled an act for the encouragement, protection, and better government of slaves, appeared to him to have been considered, from the day it was passed until this hour, as a political measure to avert the interference of the mother-country in the management of the slaves.”
Sir William Yonge censured the harsh language of Sir Samuel Romilly, who had applied the terms rapine, robbery, and murder to those, who were connected with the Slave-trade. He considered the resolution of Mr. Fox as a prelude to a bill for the abolition of that traffic, and this bill as a prelude to emancipation, which would not only be dangerous in itself, but would change the state of property in the islands.
Lord Henry Petty, after having commented on the speeches of Sir S. Romilly and Lord Castlereagh, proceeded to state his own opinion on the trade; which was, that it was contrary to justice, humanity, and sound policy, all of which he considered to be inseparable. On its commencement in Africa the wickedness began. It produced there fraud and violence, robbery and murder. It gave birth to false accusations, and a mockery of justice. It was the parent of every crime, which could at once degrade and afflict the human race. After spreading vice and misery all over this continent, it doomed its unhappy victims to hardships and cruelties which were worse than death. The first of these was conspicuous in their transportation. It was found there, that cruelty begat cruelty; that the system, wicked in its beginning, was equally so in its progress; and that it perpetuated its miseries wherever it was carried on. Nor was it baneful only to the objects, but to the promoters of it. The loss of British seamen in this traffic was enormous. One fifth of all, who were employed in it, perished; that is, they became the victims of a system, which was founded on fraud, robbery, and murder; and which procured to the British nation nothing but the execration of mankind. Nor had we yet done with the evils, which attended it; for it brought in its train the worst of all moral effects, not only as it respected the poor slaves, when transported to the colonies, but as it respected those, who had concerns with them there. The arbitrary power, which it conferred, afforded men of bad dispositions full scope for the exercise of their passions; and it rendered men, constitutionally of good dispositions, callous to the misery of others. Thus it depraved the nature of all, who were connected with it. These considerations had made him a friend to the abolition from the time he was capable of reasoning upon it. They were considerations also, which determined the House in the year 1782 to adopt a measure of the same kind as the present. Had any thing happened to change the opinion of members since? On the contrary, they had now the clearest evidence, that all the arguments then used against the abolition were fallacious; being founded not upon truth, but on assertions devoid of all truth, and derived from ignorance or prejudice.
Having made these remarks, he proved by a number of facts the folly of the argument, that the Africans laboured under such a total degradation of mental and moral faculties, that they were made for slavery.
He then entered into the great subject of population. He showed that in all countries, where there were no unnatural hardships, mankind would support themselves. He applied this reasoning to the Negro-population in the West Indies; which he maintained could not only be kept up, but increased, without any further importations from Africa.
He then noticed the observations of Sir W. Yonge on the words of Sir S. Romilly; and desired him to reserve his indignation for those, who were guilty of acts of rapine, robbery, and murder, instead of venting it on those, who only did their duty in describing them. Never were accounts more shocking than those lately sent to government from the West Indies. Lord Seaforth, and the Attorney-general, could not refrain, in explaining them, from the use of the words murder and torture. And did it become members of that House (in order to accommodate the nerves of the friends of the Slave-trade) to soften down their expressions, when they were speaking on that subject; and to desist from calling that murder and torture, for which a governor, and the attorney-general, of one of the islands could find no better name?
After making observations relative to the cooperation of foreign powers in this great work, he hoped that the House would not suffer itself to be drawn, either by opposition or by ridicule, to the right or to the left; but that it would advance straight forward to the accomplishment of the most magnanimous act of justice, that was ever achieved by any legislature in the world.
Mr. Rose declared, that on the very first promulgation of this question, he had proposed to the friends of it the very plan of his noble friend Lord Castlereagh; namely, a system of progressive duties, and of bounties for the promotion of the Negro-population. This he said to show that he was friendly to the principle of the measure. He would now observe, that he did not wholly like the present resolution. It was too indefinite. He wished also, that something had been said on the subject of compensation. He was fearful also, least the abolition should lead to the dangerous change of emancipation. The Negros, he said, could not be in a better state, or more faithful to their masters, than they were. In three attacks made by the enemy on Dominica, where he had a large property, arms had been put into their hands; and every one of them had exerted himself faithfully. With respect to the cruel acts in Barbadoes, an account of which had been sent to government by Lord Seaforth and the Attorney-general of Barbadoes, he had read them; and never had he read any thing on this subject with more horror. He would agree to the strongest measures for the prevention of such acts in future. He would even give up the colony, which should refuse to make the wilful murder of a slave felony. But as to the other, or common, evils complained of, he thought the remedy should be gradual; and such also as the planters would concur in. He would nevertheless not oppose the present resolution.
Mr. Barham considered compensation but reasonable, where losses were to accrue from the measure, when it should be put in execution; but he believed that the amount of it would be much less than was apprehended. He considered emancipation, though so many fears had been expressed about it, as forming no objection to the abolition, though he had estates in the West Indies himself. Such a measure, if it could be accomplished successfully, would be an honour to the country, and a blessing to the planters; but preparation must be made for it by rendering the slaves fit for freedom, and by creating in them an inclination to free labour. Such a change could only be the work of time.
Sir John Newport said that the expressions of Sir S. Romilly, which had given such offence, had been used by others; and would be used with propriety, while the trade lasted. Some slave-dealers of Liverpool had lately attempted to prejudice certain merchants of Ireland in their favour. But none of their representations answered; and it was remarkable, that the reply made to them was in these words. “We will have no share in a traffic, consisting in rapine, blood, and murder.” He then took a survey of a system of duties progressively increasing, and showed, that it would be utterly inefficient; and that there was no real remedy for the different evils complained of, but in the immediate prohibition of the trade.
Mr. Canning renewed his professions of friendship to the cause. He did not like the present resolution; yet he would vote for it. He should have been better pleased with a bill, which would strike at once at the root of this detestable commerce.
Mr. Manning wished the question to be deferred to the next session. He hoped, compensation would then be brought forward as connected with it. Nothing, however, effectual could be done without the concurrence of the planters.
Mr. William Smith noticed, in a striking manner, the different inconsistencies in the arguments of those, who contended for the continuance of the trade.
Mr. Windham deprecated not only the Slave-trade, but slavery also. They were essentially connected with each other. They were both evils, and ought both of them to be done away. Indeed, if emancipation would follow the abolition, he should like the latter measure the better. Rapine, robbery, and murder were the true characteristics of this traffic. The same epithets had not indeed been applied to slavery, because this was a condition, in which some part of the human race had been at every period of the history of the world. It was, however, a state, which ought not to be allowed to exist. But, notwithstanding all these confessions, he should weigh well the consequences of the abolition before he gave it his support. It would be on a balance between the evils themselves and the consequences of removing them, that he should decide for himself on this question.
Mr. Fox took a view of all the arguments, which had been advanced by the opponents of the abolition; and having given an appropriate answer to each, the House divided, when there appeared for the resolution one hundred and fourteen, and against it but fifteen.
Immediately after this division Mr. Wilberforce moved an address to His Majesty, “praying that he would be graciously pleased to direct a negotiation to be entered into, by which foreign powers should be invited to cooperate with His Majesty in measures to be adopted for the abolition of the African Slave-trade.”
This address was carried without a division. It was also moved and carried, that “these resolutions be communicated to the Lords; and that their concurrence should be desired therein.”
On the twenty-fourth of June the Lords met to consider of the resolution and address. The Earl of Westmoreland proposed, that both counsel and evidence should be heard against them; but his proposition was overruled.
Lord Grenville then read the resolution of the Commons. This resolution, he said, stated first, that the Slave-trade was contrary to humanity, justice, and sound policy. That it was contrary to humanity was obvious; for humanity might be said to be sympathy for the distress of others, or a desire to accomplish benevolent ends by good means. But did not the Slave-trade convey ideas the very reverse of this definition? It deprived men of all those comforts, in which it pleased the Creator to make the happiness of his creatures to consist,—of the blessings of society,—of the charities of the dear retionships of husband, wife, father, son, and kindred,—of the due discharge of the relative duties of these,—and of that freedom, which in its pure and natural sense was one of the greatest gifts of God to man.
It was impossible to read the evidence, as it related to this trade, without acknowledging the inhumanity of it, and our own disgrace. By what means was it kept up in Africa? By wars instigated, not by the passions of the natives, but by our avarice. He knew it would be said in reply to this, that the slaves, who were purchased by us, would be put to death, if we were not to buy them. But what should we say, if it should turn out, that we were the causes of those very cruelties, which we affected to prevent? But, if it were not so, ought the first nation in the world to condescend to be the executioner of savages?
Another way of keeping up the Slave-trade was by the practice of man-stealing. The evidence was particularly clear upon this head. This practice included violence, and often bloodshed. The inhumanity of it therefore could not be doubted.
The unhappy victims, being thus procured, were conveyed, he said, across the Atlantic in a manner which justified the charge of inhumanity again. Indeed the suffering here was so great, that neither the mind could conceive nor the tongue describe it. He had said on a former occasion, that in their transportation there was a greater portion of misery condensed within a smaller space, than had ever existed in the known world. He would repeat his words; for he did not know, how he could express himself better on the subject. And, after all these horrors, what was their destiny? It was such, as justified the charge in the resolution again: for, after having survived the sickness arising from the passage, they were doomed to interminable slavery.
We had been, he said, so much accustomed to words, descriptive of the cruelty of this traffic, that we had almost forgotten their meaning. He wished that some person, educated as an Englishman, with suitable powers of eloquence, but now for the first time informed of all the horrors of it, were to address their lordships upon it, and he was sure, that they would instantly determine that it should cease. But the continuance of it had rendered cruelty familiar to us; and the recital of its horrors had been so frequent, that we could now hear them stated without being affected as we ought to be. He intreated their lordships, however, to endeavour to conceive the hard case of the unhappy victims of it; and as he had led them to the last stage of their miserable existence, which was in the colonies, to contemplate it there. They were there under the arbitrary will of a cruel task-master from morning till night. When they went to rest, would not their dreams be frightful? When they awoke, would they not awake
They knew no change, except in the humour of their masters, to whom their whole destiny was entrusted. We might perhaps flatter ourselves with saying, that they were subject to the will of Englishmen. But Englishmen were not better than others, when in possession of arbitrary power. The very fairest exercise of it was a never-failing corrupter of the heart. But suppose it were allowed, that self-interest might operate some little against cruelty; yet where was the interest of the overseer or the driver? But he knew it would be said, that the evils complained of in the colonies had been mitigated. There might be instances of this; but they could never be cured, while slavery existed. Slavery took away more than half of the human character. Hence the practice, where it existed, of rejecting the testimony of the slave: but, if his testimony was rejected, where could be his redress against his oppressor?
Having shown the inhumanity, he would proceed to the second point in the resolution, or the injustice, of the trade. We had two ideas of justice, first, as it belonged to society by virtue of a social compact; and, secondly, as it belonged to men, not as citizens of a community, but as beings of one common nature. In a state of nature, man had a right to the fruit of his own labour absolutely to himself; and one of the main purposes, for which he entered into society, was, that he might be better protected in the possession of his rights. In both cases therefore it was manifestly unjust, that a man should be made to labour during the whole of his life, and yet have no benefit from his labour. Hence the Slave-trade and the Colonial slavery were a violation of the very principle, upon which all law for the protection of property was founded. Whatever benefit was derived from that trade to an individual, it was derived from dishonour and dishonesty. He forced from the unhappy victim of it that, which the latter did not wish to give him; and he gave to the same victim that, which he in vain attempted to show was an equivalent to the thing he took, it being a thing for which there was no equivalent; and which, if he had not obtained by force, he would not have possessed at all. Nor could there be any answer to this reasoning, unless it could be proved, that it had pleased God to give to the inhabitants of Britain a property in the liberty and life of the natives of Africa. But he would go further on this subject. The injustice complained of was not confined to the bare circumstance of robbing them of the right to their own labour. It was conspicuous throughout the system. They, who bought them, became guilty of all the crimes which had been committed in procuring them; and, when they possessed them, of all the crimes which belonged to their inhuman treatment. The injustice in the latter case amounted frequently to murder. For what was it but murder to pursue a practice, which produced untimely death to thousands of innocent and helpless beings? It was a duty, which their lordships owed to their Creator, if they hoped for mercy, to do away this monstrous oppression.
With respect to the impolicy of the trade (the third point in the resolution), he would say at once, that whatever was inhuman and unjust must be impolitic. He had, however, no objection to argue the point upon its own particular merits; and, first, he would observe, that a great man, Mr. Pitt, now no more, had exerted his vast powers on many subjects to the admiration of his hearers; but on none more successfully than on the subject of the abolition of the Slave-trade. He proved, after making an allowance for the price paid for the slaves in the West Indies, for the loss of them in the seasoning, and for the expense of maintaining them afterwards, and comparing these particulars with the amount in value of their labour there, that the evils endured by the victims of the traffic were no gain to the master, in whose service they took place. Indeed Mr. Long had laid it down in his History of Jamaica, that the best way to secure the planters from ruin would be to do that, which the resolution recommended. It was notorious, that when any planter was in distress, and sought to relieve himself by increasing the labour on his estate by means of the purchase of new slaves, the measure invariably tended to his destruction. What then was the importation of fresh Africans but a system, tending to the general ruin of the islands?
But it had often been said, that without fresh importations the population of the slaves could not be supported in the islands. This, however, was a mistake. It had arisen from reckoning the deaths of the imported Africans, of whom so many were lost in the seasoning, among the deaths of the Creole-slaves. He did not mean to say, that under the existing degree of misery the population would greatly increase; but he would maintain, that, if the deaths and the births were calculated upon those, who were either born, or who had been a long time in the islands, so as to be considered as natives, it would be found that the population had not only been kept up, but that it had been increased.
If it was true, that the labour of a free man was cheaper than that of a slave; and also that the labour of a long imported slave was cheaper than that of a fresh imported one; and again, that the chances of mortality were much more numerous among the newly imported slaves in the West Indies, than among those of old standing there (propositions, which he took to be established), we should see new arguments for the impolicy of the trade.
It might be stated also, that the importation of vast bodies of men, who had been robbed of their rights, and grievously irritated on that account, into our colonies (where their miserable condition opened new sources of anger and revenge), was the importation only of the seeds of insurrection into them. And here he could not but view with astonishment the reasoning of the West Indian planters, who held up the example of St. Domingo as a warning against the abolition of the Slave-trade; because the continuance of it was one of the great causes of the insurrections and subsequent miseries in that devoted island. Let us but encourage importations in the same rapid progression of increase every year, which took place in St. Domingo, and we should witness the same effect in our own islands.
To expose the impolicy of the trade further, he would observe, that it was an allowed axiom, that as the condition of man was improved, he became more useful. The history of our own country, in very early times, exhibited instances of internal slavery, and this to a considerable extent. But we should find that precisely in proportion as that slavery was ameliorated, the power and prosperity of the country flourished. This was exactly applicable to the case in question. There could be no general amelioration of slavery in the West Indies, while the Slave-trade lasted: but, if we were to abolish it, we should make it the interest of every owner of slaves to do that, which would improve their condition; and which indeed would lead ultimately to the annihilation of slavery itself. This great event, however, could not be accomplished at once. It could only be effected in a course of time.
It would be endless, he said, to go into all the cases, which would manifest the impolicy of this odious traffic. Inhuman as it was, unjust as it was, he believed it to be equally impolitic; and if their lordships should be of this opinion also, he hoped they would agree to that part of the resolution, in which these truths were expressed. With respect to the other part of it, or that they would proceed to abolish the trade, he observed, that neither the time nor the manner of doing it were specified. Hence if any of them should differ as to these particulars, they might yet vote for the resolution; as they were not pledged to any thing definite in these respects; provided they thought that the trade should be abolished at some time or other; and he did not believe, that there was any one of them, who would sanction its continuance for ever.
Lord Hawkesbury said, that he did not mean to discuss the question on the ground of justice and humanity, as contradistinguished from sound policy. If it could fairly be made out, that the African Slave-trade was contrary to justice and humanity, it ought to be abolished. It did not, however, follow, because a great evil subsisted, that therefore it should be removed; for it might be comparatively a less evil, than that which would accompany the attempt to remove it. The noble lord, who had just spoken, had exemplified this: for though slavery was a great evil in itself, he was of opinion, that it could not be done away but in a course of time.
A state of slavery, he said, had existed in Africa from the earliest time; and, unless other nations would concur with England in the measure of the abolition, we could not change it for the better.
Slavery had existed also throughout all Europe. It had now happily in a great measure been done away. But how? Not by acts of parliament; for these might have retarded the event; but by the progress of civilization, which removed the evil in a gradual and rational manner.
He then went over the same ground of argument, as when a member of the Commons in 1792. He said that the inhumanity of the abolition was visible in this, that not one slave less would be taken from Africa; and that such, as were taken from it, would suffer more than they did now, in the hands of foreigners. He maintained also, as before, that the example of St. Domingo afforded one of the strongest arguments against the abolition of the trade. And he concluded by objecting to the resolution, inasmuch as it could do no good; for the substance of it would be to be discussed again in a future session.
The Bishop of London (Dr. Porteus) began by noticing the concession of the last speaker, namely, that, if the trade was contrary to humanity and justice, it ought to be abolished. He expected, he said, that the noble lord would have proved, that it was not contrary to these great principles, before he had supported its continuance; but not a word had he said to show, that the basis of the resolution in these respects was false. It followed then, he thought, that as the noble lord had not disproved the premises, he was bound to abide by the conclusion.
The ways, he said, in which the Africans were reduced to slavery in their own country, were by wars, many of which were excited for the purpose; by the breaking up of villages; by kidnapping; and by convictions for a violation of their own laws. Of the latter class many were accused falsely, and of crimes which did not exist. He then read a number of extracts from the evidence examined before the privy council, and from the histories of those, who, having lived in Africa, had thrown light upon this subject, before the question was agitated. All these, he said, (and similar instances could be multiplied,) proved the truth of the resolution, that the African Slave-trade was contrary to the principles of humanity, justice, and sound policy.
It was moreover, he said, contrary to the principles of the religion we professed. It was not superfluous to say this, when it had been so frequently asserted, that it was sanctioned both by the Jewish and the Christian dispensations. With respect to the Jews he would observe, that there was no such thing as perpetual slavery among them. Their slaves were of two kinds, those of their own nation, and those from the country round about them. The former were to be set free on the seventh year; and the rest, of whatever nation, on the fiftieth, or on the year of Jubilee. With respect to the Christian dispensation, it was a libel to say, that it countenanced such a traffic. It opposed it both in its spirit and in its principle. Nay, it opposed it positively; for it classed men-stealers, or slave-traders, among the murderers of fathers and mothers and the most profane criminals upon earth.
The antiquity of slavery in Africa, which the noble lord had glanced at, afforded, he said, no argument for its continuance. Such a mode of defence would prevent for ever the removal of any evil. It would justify the practice of the Chinese, who exposed their infants in the streets to perish. It would also justify piracy; for that practice existed long before we knew any thing of the African Slave-trade.
He then combated the argument, that we did a kindness to the Africans by taking them from their homes; and concluded, by stating to their lordships, that, if they refused to sanction the resolution, they would establish these principles, “that though individuals might not rob and murder, yet that nations might—that though individuals incurred the penalties of death by such practices, yet that bodies of men might commit them with impunity for the purposes of lucre,—and that for such purposes they were not only to be permitted, but encouraged.”
The Lord Chancellor (Erskine) confessed, that he was not satisfied with his own conduct on this subject. He acknowledged with deep contrition, that, during the time he was a member of the other House, he had not once attended, when this great question was discussed.
In the West Indies he could say personally, that the slaves were well treated, where he had an opportunity of seeing them. But no judgement was to be formed there with respect to the evils complained of. They must be appreciated as they existed in the trade. Of these he had also been an eyewitness. It was on this account that he felt contrition for not having attended the House on this subject; for there were some cruelties in this traffic which the human imagination could not aggravate. He had witnessed such scenes over the whole coast of Africa: and he could say, that, if their lordships could only have a sudden glimpse of them, they would be struck with horror; and would be astonished, that they could ever have been permitted to exist. What then would they say to their continuance year after year, and from age to age?
From information, which he could not dispute, he was warranted in saying, that on this continent husbands were fraudulently and forcibly severed from their wives, and parents from their children; and that all the ties of blood and affection were torn up by the roots. He had himself seen the unhappy natives put together in heaps in the hold of a ship, where, with every possible attention to them, their situation must have been intolerable. He had also heard proved, in courts of justice, facts still more dreadful than those which he had seen. One of these he would just mention. The slaves on board a certain ship rose in a mass to liberate themselves; and having advanced far in the pursuit of their object, it became necessary to repel them by force. Some of them yielded; some of them were killed in the scuffle; but many of them actually jumped into the sea and were drowned; thus preferring death to the misery of their situation; while others hung to the ship, repenting of their rashness, and bewailing with frightful noises their horrid fate. Thus the whole vessel exhibited but one hideous scene of wretchedness. They, who were subdued, and secured in chains, were seized with the flux, which carried many of them off. These things were proved in a trial before a British jury, which had to consider, whether this was a loss, which fell within the policy of insurance, the slaves being regarded as if they had been only a cargo of dead matter. He could mention other instances, but they were much too shocking to be described. Surely their lordships could never consider such a traffic to be consistent with humanity or justice. It was impossible.
That the trade had long subsisted there was no doubt; but this was no argument for its continuance. Many evils of much longer standing had been done away; and it was always our duty to attempt to remove them. Should we not exult in the consideration, that we, the inhabitants of a small island, at the extremity of the globe, almost at its north pole, were become the morning-star to enlighten the nations of the earth, and to conduct them out of the shades of darkness into the realms of light; thus exhibiting to an astonished and an admiring world the blessings of a free constitution? Let us then not allow such a glorious a opportunity to escape us.
It had been urged that we should suffer by the abolition of the Slave-trade. He believed we should not suffer. He believed that our duty and our interest were inseparable: and he had no difficulty in saying, in the face of the world, that his own opinion was, that the interests of a nation would be best preserved by its adherence to the principles of humanity, justice, and religion.
The Earl of Westmoreland said, that the African Slave-trade might be contrary to humanity and justice, and yet it might be politic; at least, it might be inconsistent with humanity, and yet be not inconsistent with justice: this was the case, when we executed a criminal, or engaged in war.
It was, however, not contrary to justice; for justice in this case must be measured by the law of nations. But the purchase of slaves was not contrary to this law. The Slave-trade was a trade with the consent of the inhabitants of two nations, and procured by no terror, nor by any act of violence whatever. Slavery had existed from the first ages of the world, not only in Africa, but throughout the habitable globe; among the Persians, Greeks, and Romans; and he could compare, with great advantage to his argument, the wretched condition of the slaves in these ancient states with that of those in our colonies. Slavery too had been allowed in a nation, which was under the especial direction of Providence. The Jews were allowed to hold the heathen in bondage. He admitted, that what the learned prelate had said relative to the emancipation of the latter in the year of jubilee was correct; but he denied that his quotation relative to the stealers of men referred to the Christian religion. It was a mere allusion to that, which was done contrary to the law of nations, which was the only measure of justice between states.
With respect to the inhumanity of the trade, he would observe, that if their lordships, sitting there as legislators, were to set their faces against every thing which appeared to be inhuman, much of the security on which their lives and property depended, might be shaken, if not totally destroyed. The question was, not whether there was not some evil attending the Slave-trade, but whether by the measure now before them they should increase or diminish the quantum of human misery in the world. He believed, for one, considering the internal state of Africa, and the impossibility of procuring the concurrence of foreign nations in the measure, that they would not be able to do any good by the adoption of it.
As to the impolicy of the trade, the policy of it, on the other hand, was so great, that he trembled at the consequences of its abolition. The property connected with this question amounted to a hundred millions. The annual produce of the islands was eighteen millions, and it yielded a revenue of four millions annually. How was this immense property and income to be preserved? Some had said it would be preserved, because the Black population in the islands could be kept up without further supplies. But the planters denied this assertion; and they were the best judges of the subject.
He condemned the resolution as a libel upon the wisdom of the law of the land, and upon the conduct of their ancestors. He condemned it also, because, if followed up, it would lead to the abolition of the trade, and the abolition of the trade to the emancipation of the slaves in our colonies.
The Bishop of St. Asaph (Dr. Horsley) said, that, allowing the slaves in the West Indies even to be pampered with delicacies, or to be put to rest on a bed of roses, they could not be happy, for—a slave would be still a slave. The question, however, was not concerning the alteration of their condition, but whether we should abolish the practice, by which they were put in that condition? Whether it was humane, just, and politic in us so to place them? This question was easily answered; for he found it difficult to form any one notion of humanity, which did not include a desire of promoting the happiness of others; and he knew of no other justice than that, which was founded on the principle of doing to others, as we should wish they should do to us. And these principles of humanity and justice were so clear, that he found it difficult to make them clearer. Perhaps no difficulty was greater than that of arguing a self-evident proposition, and such he took to be the character of the proposition, that the Slave-trade was inhuman and unjust.
It had been said, that slavery had existed from the beginning of the world. He would allow it. But had such a trade as the Slave-trade ever existed before? Would the noble Earl, who had talked of the slavery of ancient Rome and Greece, assert, that in the course of his whole reading, however profound it might have been, he had found any thing resembling such a traffic? Where did it appear in history, that ships were regularly fitted out to fetch away tens of thousands of persons annually, against their will, from their native land; that these were subject to personal indignities and arbitrary punishments during their transportation; and that a certain proportion of them, owing to suffocation and other cruel causes, uniformly perished? He averred, that nothing like the African Slave-trade was ever practised in any nation upon earth.
If the trade then was repugnant, as he maintained it was, to justice and humanity, he did not see how, without aiding and abetting injustice and inhumanity, any man could sanction it: and he thought that the noble baron (Hawkesbury) was peculiarly bound to support the resolution; for he had admitted that if it could be shown, that the trade was contrary to these principles, the question would be at an end. Now this contrariety had been made apparent, and his lordship had not even attempted to refute it.
He would say but little on the subject of revealed religion, as it related to this question, because the reverend prelate, near him, had spoken so fully upon it. He might observe, however, that at the end of the sixth year, when the Hebrew slave was emancipated, he was to be furnished liberally from the flock, the floor, and the wine-press of his master.
Lord Holland lamented the unfaithfulness of the noble baron (Hawkesbury) to his own principles, and the inflexible opposition of the noble earl (Westmoreland), from both which circumstances he despaired for ever of any assistance from them to this glorious cause. The latter wished to hear evidence on the subject, for the purpose, doubtless, of delay. He was sure, that the noble earl did not care what the evidence would say on either side; for his mind was made up, that the trade ought not to be abolished.
The noble earl had made a difference between humanity, justice, and sound policy. God forbid, that we should ever admit such distinctions in this country! But he had gone further, and said, that a thing might be inhuman, and yet not unjust; and he put the case of the execution of a criminal in support of it. Did he not by this position confound all notions of right and wrong in human institutions? When a criminal was justly executed, was not the execution justice to him who suffered, and humanity to the body of the people at large?
The noble earl had said also, that we should do no good by the abolition, because other nations would not concur in it. He did not know what other nations would do; but this he knew, that we ourselves ought not to be unjust because they should refuse to be honest. It was, however, self-obvious, that, if we admitted no more slaves into our colonies, the evil would be considerably diminished.
Another of his arguments did not appear to be more solid; for surely the Slave-trade ought not to be continued, merely because the effect of the abolition might ultimately be that of the emancipation of the slaves; an event, which would be highly desirable in its due time.
The noble lord had also said, that the planters were against the abolition, and that without their consent it could never be accomplished. He differed from him in both these points: for, first, he was a considerable planter himself, and yet he was a friend to the measure: secondly, by cutting off all further supplies, the planters would be obliged to pay more attention to the treatment of their slaves, and this treatment would render the trade unnecessary.
The noble earl had asserted also, that the population in the West Indies could not be kept up without further importations; and this was the opinion of the planters, who were the best judges of the subject. As a planter he differed from his lordship again. If indeed all the waste lands were to be brought into cultivation, the present population would be insufficient. But the government had already determined, that the trade should not be continued for such a purpose. We were no longer to continue pirates, or executioners for every petty tyrant in Africa, in order that every holder of a bit of land in our islands might cultivate the whole of his allotment; a work, which might require centuries. Making this exception, he would maintain, that no further importations were necessary. Few or no slaves had been imported into Antigua for many years; and he believed, that even some had been exported from it. As to Jamaica, although in one year fifteen thousand died in consequence of a hurricane and famine, the excess of deaths over the births during the twenty years preceding 1788 was only one per cent. Deducting, however, the mortality of the newly imported slaves, and making the calculation upon the Negros born in the island or upon those who had been long there, he believed the births and the deaths would be found equal. He had a right therefore to argue that the Negros, with better treatment (which the abolition would secure), would not only maintain but increase their population, without any aid from Africa. He would add, that the newly imported Africans brought with them not only disorders, which ravaged the plantations, but danger from the probability of insurrections. He wished most heartily for the total abolition of the trade. He was convinced, that it was both inhuman, unjust, and impolitic. This had always been his opinion as an individual since he was capable of forming one. It was his opinion then as a legislator. It was his opinion as a colonial proprietor; and it was his opinion as an Englishman, wishing for the prosperity of the British empire.
The Earl of Suffolk contended, that the population of the slaves in the islands could be kept up by good treatment, so as to be sufficient for their cultivation. He entered into a detail of calculations from the year 1772 downwards in support of this statement. He believed all the miseries of St. Domingo arose from the vast importation of Africans. He had such a deep sense of the inhumanity and injustice of the Slave-trade, that, if ever he wished any action of his life to be recorded, it would be that of the vote he should then give in support of the resolution.
Lord Sidmouth said, that he agreed to the substance of the resolution, but yet he could not support it. Could he be convinced that the trade would be injurious to the cause of humanity and justice, the question with him would be decided; for policy could not be opposed to humanity and justice. He had been of opinion for the last twenty years, that the interests of the country and those of numerous individuals were so deeply blended with this traffic, that we should be very cautious how we proceeded. With respect to the cultivation of new lands, he would not allow a single Negro to be imported for such a purpose; but he must have a regard to the old plantations. When he found a sufficient increase in the Black population to continue the cultivation already established there, then, but not till then, he would agree to an abolition of the trade.
Earl Stanhope said he would not detain their lordships long. He could not, however, help expressing his astonishment at what had fallen from the last speaker; for he had evidently confessed that the Slave-trade was inhuman and unjust, and then he had insinuated, that it was neither inhuman nor unjust to continue it. A more paradoxical or whimsical opinion, he believed, was never entertained, or more whimsically expressed in that house. The noble viscount had talked of the interests of the planters: but this was but a part of the subject; for surely the people of Africa were not to be forgotten. He did not understand the practice of complimenting the planters with the lives of men, women, and helpless children by thousands for the sake of their pecuniary advantage; and they, who adopted it, whatever they might think of the consistency of their own conduct, offered an insult to the sacred names of humanity and justice.
The noble earl (Westmoreland) had asked what would be the practical effect of the abolition of the Slave-trade. He would inform him. It would do away the infamous practices, which took place in Africa; it would put an end to the horrors of the passage; it would save many thousands of our fellow-creatures from the miseries of eternal slavery; it would oblige the planters to treat those better, who were already in that unnatural state: it would increase the population of our islands: it would give a deathblow to the diabolical calculations, whether it was cheaper to work the Negros to death and recruit the gangs by fresh importations, or to work them moderately and to treat them kindly. He knew of no event, which would be attended with so many blessings.
There was but one other matter, which he would notice. The noble baron (Hawkesbury) had asserted, that all the horrors of St. Domingo were the consequence of the speculative opinions, which were current in a neighbouring kingdom on the subject of liberty. They had, he said, no such origin. They were owing to two causes; first, to the vast number of Negros recently imported into that island; and, secondly, to a scandalous breach of faith by the French legislature. This legislature held out the idea not only of the abolition of the Slave-trade, but also of all slavery; but it broke its word. It held forth the rights of man to the whole human race, and then, in practice, it most infamously abandoned every article in these rights; so that it became the scorn of all the enlightened and virtuous part of mankind. These were the great causes of the miseries of St. Domingo, and not the speculative opinions of France.
Earl Grosvenor could not but express the joy he felt at the hope, after all his disappointments, that this wicked trade would be done away. He hoped that His Majesty’s ministers were in earnest, and that they would, early in the next session, take this great question up with a determination to go through with it; so that another year should not pass, before we extended the justice and humanity of the country to the helpless and unhappy inhabitants of Africa.
Earl Fitzwilliam said he was fearful, lest the calamities of St. Domingo should be brought home to our own islands. We ought not, he thought, too hastily to adopt the resolution on that account. He should therefore support the previous question.
Lord Ellenborough said, he was sorry to differ from his noble friend (Lord Sidmouth), and yet he could not help saying that if after twenty years, during which this question had been discussed by both Houses of Parliament, their Lordships’ judgments were not ripe for its determination, he could not look with any confidence to a time, when they would be ready to decide it.
The question then before them was short and plain. It was, whether the African Slave-trade was inhuman, unjust, and impolitic. If the premises were true, we could not too speedily bring it to a conclusion.
The subject had been frequently brought before him in a way, which had enabled him to become acquainted with it; and he was the more anxious on that account to deliver his sentiments upon it as a peer of Parliament, without reference to any thing he had been called upon to do in the discharge of his professional duty. When he looked at the mode in which this traffic commenced, by the spoliation of the rights of a whole quarter of the globe; by the misery of whole nations of helpless Africans; by tearing them from their homes, their families, and their friends; when he saw the unhappy victims carried away by force; thrust into a dungeon in the hold of a ship, in which the interval of their passage from their native to a foreign land was filled up with misery, under every degree of debasement, and in chains; and when he saw them afterwards consigned to an eternal slavery; he could not but contemplate the whole system with horror. It was inhuman in its beginning, inhuman in its progress, and inhuman to the very end.
Nor was it more inhuman than it was unjust. The noble earl, (Westmoreland) in adverting to this part of the question, had considered it as a question of justice between two nations. But it was a moral question. Although the natives of Africa might be taken by persons authorized by their own laws to take and dispose of them, and the practice therefore might be said to be legal as it respected them, yet no man could doubt, whatever ordinances they might have to sanction it, that it was radically, essentially, and in principle, unjust; and therefore there could be no excuse for us in continuing it. On the general principle of natural justice, which was paramount to all ordinances of men, it was quite impossible to defend this traffic; and he agreed with the noble baron (Hawkesbury) that, having decided that it was inhuman and unjust, we should not inquire whether it was impolitic. Indeed, the inquiry itself would be impious; for it was the common ordinance of God, that that, which was inhuman and unjust, should never be for the good of man. Its impolicy therefore was included in its injustice and its inhumanity. And he had no doubt, when the importations were stopped, that the planters would introduce a change of system among their slaves, which would increase their population, so as to render any further supplies from Africa unnecessary. It had been proved indeed, that the Negro-population in some of the islands was already in this desirable state. Many other happy effects would follow. As to the losses which would arise from the abolition of the Slave-trade, they, who were interested in the continuance of it, had greatly over-rated them. When pleading formerly in his professional capacity for the merchants of Liverpool at their lordships’ bar, he had often delivered statements, which he had received from them; and which he afterward discovered to be grossly incorrect. He could say from his own knowledge, that the assertion of the noble earl (Westmoreland), that property to the amount of a hundred millions would be endangered, was wild and fanciful. He would not however deny, that come loss might accompany the abolition; but there could be no difficulty in providing for it. Such a consideration ought not to be allowed to impede their progress in getting rid of an horrible injustice.
But it had been said, that we should do but little in the cause of humanity by abolishing the Slave-trade; because other nations would continue it. He did not believe they would. He knew that America was about to give it up. He believed the states of Europe would give it up. But, supposing that they were all to continue it, would not our honour be the greater? Would not our virtue be the more signal? for then
to which he would add, that undoubtedly we should diminish the evil, as far as the number of miserable beings was concerned, which was accustomed to be transported to our own colonies.
Earl Spencer agreed with the noble viscount (Sidmouth) that the amelioration of the condition of the slaves was an object, which might be effected in the West Indies; but he was certain, that the most effectual way of improving it would be by the total and immediate abolition of the Slave-trade; and for that reason he would support the resolution. Had the resolution held out emancipation to them, it would not have had his assent; for it would have ill become the character of this country, if it had been once promised, to have withheld it from them. It was to such deception that the horrors of St. Domingo were to be attributed. He would not enter into the discussion of the general subject at present. He was convinced that the trade was what the resolution stated it to be, inhuman, unjust, and impolitic. He wished therefore, most earnestly indeed, for its abolition. As to the mode of effecting it, it should be such, as would be attended with the least inconvenience to all parties. At the same time he would not allow small inconveniences to stand in the way of the great claims of humanity, justice, and religion.
The question was then put on the resolution, and carried by a majority of forty-one to twenty. The same address also to His Majesty, which had been agreed upon by the Commons, was directly afterward moved. This also was carried, but without the necessity of a division.
The resolution and the motion having passed both Houses, one other parliamentary measure was yet necessary to complete the proceedings of this session. It was now almost universally believed, in consequence of what had already taken place there, that the Slave-trade had received its death-wound; and that it would not long survive it. It was supposed therefore, that the slave-merchants would, in the interim, fit out not only all the vessels they had, but even buy others, to make what might be called their last harvest. Hence extraordinary scenes of rapine, and murder, would be occasioned in Africa. To prevent these a new bill was necessary. This was accordingly introduced into the Commons. It enacted, but with one exception, that from and after the first of August 1806, no vessel should clear out for the Slave-trade, unless it should have been previously employed by the same owner or owners in the said trade, or should be proved to have been contracted for previously to the tenth of June 1806, for the purpose of being employed in that trade. It may now be sufficient to say that this bill also passed both houses of parliament; soon after which the session ended.
[* ]This he did with great effect on one or two occasions. On the motion of Mr. Cawthorne in 1791, the cause hung as it were by a thread; and would have failed that day, to my knowledge, but for his seasonable exertions.