Front Page Titles (by Subject) SPEECH ON MR. BROUGHAM'S MOTION FOR AN ADDRESS TO THE CROWN, WITH REFERENCE TO THE TRIAL AND CONDEMNATION OF THE REV. JOHN SMITH, OF DEMERARA, DELIVERED IN THE HOUSE OF COMMONS, ON THE 1 st OF JUNE, 1824. * - The Miscellaneous Works
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SPEECH ON MR. BROUGHAM’S MOTION FOR AN ADDRESS TO THE CROWN, WITH REFERENCE TO THE TRIAL AND CONDEMNATION OF THE REV. JOHN SMITH, OF DEMERARA, DELIVERED IN THE HOUSE OF COMMONS, ON THE 1 st OF JUNE, 1824. * - Sir James Mackintosh, The Miscellaneous Works 
The Miscellaneous Works. Three Volumes, complete in One. (New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1871).
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SPEECH ON MR. BROUGHAM’S MOTION FOR AN ADDRESS TO THE CROWN, WITH REFERENCE TO THE TRIAL AND CONDEMNATION OF THE REV. JOHN SMITH, OF DEMERARA,
Even if I had not been loudly called upon, and directly challenged by the Honourable Gentleman,† —even if his accusations, now repeated after full consideration, did not make it my duty to vindicate the Petition which I had the honour to present from unjust reproach, I own that I should have been anxious to address the House on this occasion; not to strengthen a case already invincible, but to bear my solemn testimony against the most unjust and cruel abuse of power, under a false pretence of law, that has in our times dishonoured any portion of the British empire. I am sorry that the Honourable Gentleman, after so long an interval for reflection, should have this night repeated those charges against the London Missionary Society, which when he first made them I thought rash, and which I am now entitled to treat as utterly groundless. I should regret to be detained by them for a moment, from the great question of humanity and justice before us, if I did not feel that they excite a prejudice against the case of Mr. Smith, and that the short discussion sufficient to put them aside, leads directly to the vindication of the memory of that oppressed man.
The Honourable Gentleman calls the London Missionary Society “bad philosophers,”—by which, I presume, he means bad reasoners,—because they ascribe the insurrection partly “to the long and inexplicable delay of the government of Demerara in promulgating the instructions favourable to the slave population;” and because he, adopting one of the arguments of that speech by which the deputy judge-advocate disgraced his office, contends that a partial revolt cannot have arisen from a general cause of discontent,—a position belied by the whole course of history, and which is founded upon the absurd assumption, that one part of a people, from circumstances sometimes easy, sometimes very hard to be discovered, may not be more provoked than others by grievances common to all. So inconsistent, indeed, is the defence of the rulers of Demerara with itself, that in another part of the case they represent a project for an universal insurrection as having been formed, and ascribe its being, in fact, confined to the east coast, to unaccountable accidents. Paris, the ringleader, in what is called his “confession,” (to be found in the Demerara Papers, No. II., p. 21,) says, “The whole colony was to have risen on Monday; and I cannot account for the reasons why only the east rose at the time appointed.” So that, according to this part of their own evidence, they must abandon their argument, and own the discontent to have been as general as the grievance.
Another argument against the Society’s Petition, is transplanted from the same nursery of weeds. It is said, that cruelty cannot have contributed to this insurrection, because the leaders of the revolt were persons little likely to have been cruelly used, being among the most trusted of the slaves. Those who employ so gross a fallacy, must be content to be called worse reasoners than the London Missionary Society. It is, indeed, one of the usual common-places in all cases of discontent and tumult; but it is one of the most futile. The moving cause of most insurrections, and in the opinion of two great men (Sully and Burke) of all, is the distress of the great body of insurgents; but the ring-leaders are generally, and almost necessarily, individuals who, being more highly endowed or more happily situated, are raised above the distress which is suffered by those of whom they take the command.
But the Honourable Gentleman’s principal charge against the Petition, is the allegation contained in it, “that the life of no white man was voluntarily taken away by the slaves.” When I heard the confidence with which a confutation of this averment was announced, I own I trembled for the accuracy of the Petition. But what was my astonishment, when I heard the attempt at confutation made! In the Demerara Papers, No. II., there is an elaborate narrative of an attack on the house of Mrs. Walrand, by the insurgents, made by that lady, or for her—a caution in statements which the subsequent parts of these proceedings prove to be necessary in Demerara. The Honourable Gentleman has read the narrative, to show that two lives were unhappily lost in this skirmish; and this he seriously quotes as proving the inaccuracy of the Petition. Does he believe,—can he hope to persuade the House, that the Petitioners meant to say, that there was an insurrection without fighting, or skirmishes without death? The attack and defence of houses and posts are a necessary part of all revolts; and deaths are the natural consequences of that, as well as of every species of warfare. The revolt in this case was, doubtless, an offence; the attack on the house was a part of that offence: the defence was brave and praiseworthy. The loss of lives is deeply to be deplored; but it was inseparable from all such unhappy scenes: it could not be the “voluntary killing,” intended to be denied in the Petition. The Governor of Demerara, in a despatch to Lord Bathurst, makes the same statement with the Petition:—“I have not,” he says, “heard of one white who was deliberately murdered:” yet he was perfectly aware of the fact which has been so triumphantly displayed to the House. “At plantation Nabaclis, where the whites were on their guard, two out of three were killed in the defence of their habitations.” The defence was legitimate, and the deaths lamentable: but as the Governor distinguishes them from murder, so do the Society. They deny that there was any killing in cold blood. They did not mean to deny,—any more than to affirm—(for the Papers which mention the fact were printed since their Petition was drawn up), that there was killing in battle, when each party were openly struggling to destroy their antagonists and to preserve themselves. The Society only denies that this insurrection was dishonoured by those murders of the unoffending or of the vanquished, which too frequently attend the revolts of slaves. The Governor of Demerara agrees with them; the whole facts of the case support them; and the quotation of the Honourable Gentleman leaves their denial untouched. The revolt was absolutely unstained by excess. The killing of whites, even in action, was so small as not to appear in the trial of Mr. Smith, or in the first accounts laid before us. I will not stop to inquire whether “killing in action” may not, in a strictly philosophical sense, be called “voluntary.” It is enough for me, that no man will call it calm, needless, or deliberate.
This is quite sufficient to justify even the words of the Petition. The substance of it is now more than abundantly justified by the general spirit of humanity which pervaded the unhappy insurgents,—by the unparalleled forbearance and moderation which characterised the insurrection. On this part of the subject, so important to the general question, as well as to the character of the Petition for accuracy, the London Missionary Society appeal to the highest authority, that of the Reverend Mr. Austin, not a missionary or a Methodist, but the chaplain of the colony, a minister of the Church of England, who has done honour even to that Church, so illustrious through the genius and learning and virtue of many of her clergy, by his Christian charity,—by his inflexible principles of justice,—by his intrepid defence of innocence against all the power of a government, and against the still more formidable prejudices of an alarmed and incensed community. No man ever did himself more honour by the admirable combination of strength of character with sense of duty; which needed nothing but a larger and more elevated theatre to place him among those who will be in all ages regarded by mankind as models for imitation and objects of reverence. That excellent person,—speaking of Mr. Smith, a person with whom he was previously unacquainted, a minister of a different persuasion, a missionary, considered by many of the established clergy as a rival, if not an enemy, a man then odious to the body of the colonists, whose good-will must have been so important to Mr. Austin’s comfort,—after declaring his conviction of the perfect innocence and extraordinary merit of the persecuted missionary, proceeds to bear testimony to the moderation of the insurgents, and to the beneficent influence of Mr. Smith, in producing that moderation, in language, far warmer and bolder than that of the Petition. “I feel no hesitation in declaring,” says he, “from the intimate knowledge which my most anxious inquiries have obtained, that in the late scourge which the hand of an all-wise Creator has inflicted on this ill-fated country, nothing but those religious impressions which, under Providence, Mr. Smith has been instrumental in fixing,—nothing but those principles of the Gospel of Peace, which he had been proclaiming, could have prevented a dreadful effusion of blood here, and saved the lives of those very persons who are now, I shudder to write it, seeking his life.”
And here I beg the House to weigh this testimony. It is not only valuable from the integrity, impartiality, and understanding of the witness, but from his opportunities of acquiring that intimate knowledge of facts on which he rests his opinion. He was a member of the Secret Commission of Inquiry established on this occasion, which was armed with all the authority of government, and which received much evidence relating to this insurrection not produced on the trial of Mr. Smith.
This circumstance immediately brings me to the consideration of the hearsay evidence illegally received against Mr. Smith. I do not merely or chiefly object to it on grounds purely technical, or as being inadmissible by the law of England. I abstain from taking any part in the discussions of lawyers or philosophers, with respect to the wisdom of our rules of evidence; though I think that there is more to be said for them than the ingenious objectors are aware of. What I complain of is, the admission of hearsay, of the vaguest sort, under circumstances where such an admission was utterly abominable. In what I am about to say, I shall not quote from the Society’s edition of the Trial, but from that which is officially before the House: so that I may lay aside all that has been said on the superior authority of the latter. Mr. Austin, when examined in chief, stated, that though originally prepossessed against Mr. Smith, yet, in the course of numerous inquiries, he could not see any circumstances which led to a belief that Mr. Smith had been, in any degree, instrumental in the insurrection; but that, on the contrary, when he (Mr. Austin) said to the slaves, that bloodshed had not marked the progress of their insurrection, their answer was:—“It is contrary to the religion we profess” (which had been taught to them by Mr. Smith);—“we cannot give life, and therefore we will not take it.” This evidence of the innocence of Mr. Smith, and of the humanity of the slaves, appears to have alarmed the impartial judge-advocate; and he proceeded, in his cross-examination, to ask Mr. Austin whether any of the negroes had ever insinuated, that their misfortunes were occasioned by the prisoner’s influence over them, or by the doctrines he taught them? Mr. Austin, understanding this question to refer to what passed before the Committee, appears to have respectfully hesitated about the propriety of disclosing these proceedings; upon which the Court, in a tone of discourtesy and displeasure, which a reputable advocate for a prisoner would not have used towards such a witness in this country, addressed the following illegal and indecent question to Mr. Austin:—“Can you take it upon yourself to swear that you do not recollect any insinuations of that sort at the Board of Evidence?” How that question came to be waived, does not appear in the official copy. It is almost certain, however, from the purport of the next question, that the Society’s Report is correct in supplying this defect, and that Mr. Austin still doubted its substantial propriety, and continued to resent its insolent form. He was actually asked, “whether he heard, before the Board of Evidence, any negro imputing the cause of revolt to the prisoner?” He answered, “Yes:”—and the inquiry is pursued no further. I again request the House to bear in mind, that this question and answer rest on the authority of the official copy; and I repeat, that I disdain to press the legal objection of its being hearsay evidence, and to contend, that to put such a question and receive such an answer, were acts of mere usurpation in any English tribunal.
Much higher matter arises on this part of the evidence. Fortunately for the interests of truth, we are now in possession of the testimony of the negroes before the Board of Inquiry which is adverted to in this question, and which, be it observed, was wholly unknown to the unfortunate Mr. Smith. We naturally ask, why these negroes themselves were not produced as witnesses, if they were alive; or, if they were executed, how it happened that none of the men who gave such important evidence before the Board of Inquiry were preserved to bear testimony against him before the Court-martial? Why were they content with the much weaker evidence actually produced? Why were they driven to the necessity of illegally obtaining, through Mr. Austin, what they might have obtained from his informants? The reason is plain:—they disbelieved the evidence of the negroes, who threw out the “insinuations,” or “imputations.” That might have been nothing; but they knew that all mankind would have rejected that pretended evidence with horror. They knew that the negroes, to whom their question adverted, had told a tale to the Board of Evidence, in comparison with which the story of Titus Oates was a model of probability, candour, and truth. One of them (Sandy) said, that Mr. Smith told him, though not a member of his congregation, nor even a Christian, “that a good thing was come for the negroes, and that if they did not seek for it now, the whites would trample upon them, and upon their sons and daughters, to eternity.”* Another (Paris) says, “that all the male whites (except the doctors and missionaries) were to be murdered, and all the females distributed among the insurgents; that one of their leaders was to be a king, another to be a governor, and Mr. Smith to be emperor;* that on Sunday, the 17th of August, Mr. Smith administered the sacrament to several leading negroes, and to Mr. Hamilton, the European overseer of the estate Le Ressouvenir; that he swore the former on the Bible to do him no harm when they had conquered the country, and afterwards blessed then revolt, saying, “Go; as you have begun in Christ, you must end in Christ!”† All this the prosecutor concealed, with the knowledge of the Court. While they asked, whether Mr. Austin had heard statements made against Mr. Smith before the Board of Evidence, they studiously concealed all those incredible, monstrous, impossible fictions which accompanied these statements, and which would have annihilated their credit. Whether the question was intended to discredit Mr. Austin, or to prejudice Mr. Smith, it was, in either case, an atrocious attempt to take advantage of the stories told by the negroes, and at the same time to screen them from scrutiny, contradiction, disbelief, and abhorrence. If these men could have been believed, would they not have been produced on the trial? Paris, indeed, the author of this horrible fabrication, charges Bristol, Manuel, and Azor, three of the witnesses afterwards examined on the trial of Mr. Smith, with having been parties to the dire and execrable oath: not one of them alludes to such horrors; all virtually contradict them. Yet this Courtmartial sought to injure Mr. Austin, or to contribute to the destruction of Mr. Smith, by receiving as evidence a general statement of what was said by those whom they could not believe, whom they durst not produce, and who were contradicted by their own principal witnesses,—who, if their whole tale had been brought into view, would have been driven out of any court with shouts of execration.
I cannot yet leave this part of the subject. It deeply affects the character of the whole transaction. It shows the general terror, which was so powerful as to stimulate the slaves to the invention of such monstrous falsehoods. It throws light on that species of skill with which the prosecutors kept back the absolutely incredible witnesses, and brought forward only those who were discreet enough to tell a more plausible story, and on the effect which the circulation of the fictions, which were too absurd to be avowed, must have had in exciting the body of the colonists to the most relentless animosity against the unfortunate Mr. Smith. It teaches us to view with the utmost jealousy the more guarded testimony actually produced against him, which could not be exempt from the influence of the same fears and prejudices. It authorises me to lay a much more than ordinary stress on every defect of the evidence; because, in such circumstances, I am warranted in affirming that whatever was not proved, could not have been proved.
But in answer to all this, we are asked by the Honourable Gentleman, “Would President Wray have been a party to the admission of improper evidence?” Now, Sir, I wish to say nothing disrespectful of Mr. Wray; and the rather, because he is well spoken of by those whose good opinion is to be respected. We do not know that he may not have dissented from every act of this Court-martial. I should heartily rejoice to hear that it was so: but I am aware we can never know whether he did or not. The Honourable Gentleman unwarily asks,—“Would not Mr. Wray have publicly protested against illegal questions?” Does he not know, or has he forgotten, that every member of a court-martial is bound by oath not to disclose its proceedings? But really, Sir, I must say that the character of no man can avail against facts:—“Tolle e causâ nomen Catonis.” Let character protect accused men, when there is any defect in the evidence of their guilt: let it continue to yield to them that protection which Mr. Smith, in his hour of danger, did not receive from the tenor of his blameless and virtuous life: let it be used for mercy, not for severity. Let it never be allowed to aid a prosecutor, or to strengthen the case of an accuser. Let it be a shield to cover the accused: but let it never be converted into a dagger, by which he is to be stabbed to the heart. Above all, let it not be used to destroy his good name, after his life has been taken away.
The question is, as has been stated by the Honourable Gentleman, whether, on a review of the whole evidence, Mr. Smith can be pronounced to be guilty of the crimes charged against him, and for which he was condemned to death. That is the fact on which issue is to be joined. In trying it, I can lay my hand on my heart, and solemnly declare, upon my honour, or whatever more sacred sanction there be, that I believe him to have been an innocent and virtuous man,—illegally tried, unjustly condemned to death, and treated in a manner which would be disgraceful to a civilized government in the case of the worst criminal. I heartily rejoice that the Honourable Gentleman has been manly enough directly to dissent from my Honourable Friend’s motion,—that the case is to be fairly brought to a decision,—and that no attempt is to be made to evade a determination, by moving the previous question. That, of all modes of proceeding, I should most lament. Some may think Mr. Smith guilty; others will agree with me in thinking him innocent; but no one can doubt that it would be dishonourable to the Grand Jury of the Empire, to declare that they will not decide, when a grave case is brought before them, whether a British subject has been lawfully or unlawfully condemned to death. We still observe that usage of our forefathers, according to which the House of Commons, at the commencement of every session of Parliament, nominates a grand committee of justice; and if, in ordinary cases, other modes of proceeding have been substituted in practice for this ancient institution, we may at least respect it as a remembrancer of our duty, which points out one of the chief objects of the original establishment. All evasion is here refusal; and a denial of justice in Parliament, more especially in an inquest for blood, would be a fatal and irreparable breach in the English constitution.
The question before us resolves itself into several questions, relating to every branch and stage of the proceedings against Mr. Smith:—Whether the Court-martial had jurisdiction? whether the evidence against him was warranted by law, or sufficient in fact? whether the sentence was just, or the punishment legal? These questions are so extensive and important, that I cannot help wishing they had not been still further enlarged and embroiled by the introduction of matter wholly impertinent to any of them.
To what purpose has the Honourable Gentleman so often told us that Mr. Smith was an “enthusiast?” It would have been well if he had given us some explanation of the sense in which he uses so vague a term. If he meant by it to denote the prevalence of those disorderly passions, which, whatever be their source or their object, always disturb the understanding, and often pervert the moral sentiments, we have clear proof that it did not exist in Mr. Smith, so far as to produce the first of these unfortunate effects: and it is begging the whole question in dispute, to assert that it manifested itself in him by the second and still more fatal symptom. There is, indeed, another temper of mind called enthusiasm, which, though rejecting the authority neither of reason nor of virtue, triumphs over all the vulgar infirmities of men, contemns their ordinary pursuits, braves danger, and despises obloquy,—which is the parent of heroic acts and apostolical sacrifices,—which devotes the ease, the pleasure, the interest, the ambition, the life of the generous enthusiast, to the service of his fellow-men. If Mr. Smith had not been supported by an ardent zeal for the cause of God and man, he would have been ill qualified for a task so surrounded by disgust, by calumny, by peril, as that of attempting to pour instruction into the minds of unhappy slaves. Much of this excellent quality was doubtless necessary for so long enduring the climate and the government of Demerara.
I am sorry that the Honourable Gentleman should have deigned to notice any part of the impertinent absurdities with which the Court have suffered their minutes to be encumbered, and which have no more to do with this insurrection than with the Popish Plot. What is it to us that a misunderstanding occurred, three or four years ago, between Mr. Smith and a person called Captain or Doctor Macturk, whom he had the misfortune to have for a neighbour,—a misunderstanding long antecedent to this revolt, and utterly unconnected with any part of it! It was inadmissible evidence, and if it had been otherwise, it proved nothing but the character of the witness,—of the generous Macturk; who, having had a trifling difference with his neighbour five years ago, called it to mind at the moment when that neighbour’s life was in danger. Such is the chivalrous magnanimity of Dr. Macturk! If I were infected by classical superstition, I should forbid such a man to embark in the same vessel with me. I leave him to those from whom, if we may trust his name or his manners, he may be descended; and I cannot help thinking that he deserves, as well as they, to be excluded from the territory of Christians.
I very sincerely regret, Sir, that the Honourable Gentleman, by quotations from Mr. Smith’s manuscript journal, should appear to give any countenance or sanction to the detestable violation of all law, humanity, and decency, by which that manuscript was produced in evidence against the writer. I am sure that, when his official zeal has somewhat subsided, he will himself regret that he appealed to such a document. That which is unlawfully obtained cannot be fairly quoted. The production of a paper in evidence, containing general reflections and reasonings, or narratives of fact, not relating to any design, or composed to compass any end, is precisely the iniquity perpetrated by Jeffreys, in the case of Sidney, which has since been reprobated by all lawyers, and which has been solemnly condemned by the legislature itself. I deny, without fear of contradiction from any one of the learned lawyers who differ from me in this debate, that such a paper has been received in evidence, since that abominable trial, by any body of men calling themselves a court of justice. Is there a single line in the extracts produced which could have been written to forward the insurrection? I defy any man to point it out? Could it be admissible evidence on any other ground? I defy any lawyer to maintain it; for, if it were to be said that it manifests opinions and feelings favourable to negro insurrection, and which rendered probable the participation of Mr. Smith in this revolt, (having first denied the fact,) I should point to the statute reversing the attainder of Sidney, against whom the like evidence was produced precisely under the same pretence. Nothing can be more decisive on this point than the authority of a great judge and an excellent writer. “Had the papers found in Sidney’s closets,” says Mr. Justice Foster, “been plainly relative to the other treasonable practices charged in the indictment, they might have been read in evidence against him, though not published. The papers found on Lord Preston were written in prosecution of certain determined purposes which were treasonable, and then (namely, at the time of writing) in the contemplation of the offenders.” But the iniquity in the case of Sidney vanishes, in comparison with that of this trial. Sidney’s manuscript was intended for publication: it could not be said that its tendency, when published, was not to excite dispositions hostile to the bad government which then existed; it was perhaps in strictness indictable as a seditious libel. The journal of Mr. Smith was meant for no human eyes: it was seen by none; only extracts of it had been sent to his employers in England,—as inoffensive, doubtless, as their excellent instructions required. In the midst of conjugal affection and confidence, it was withheld even from his wife. It consisted of his communings with his own mind, or the breathings of his thoughts towards his Creator; it was neither addressed nor communicated to any created being. That such a journal should have been dragged from its sacred secrecy is an atrocity—I repeat it—to which I know no parallel in the annals of any court that has professed to observe a semblance of justice.
I dwell on this circumstance, because the Honourable Gentleman, by his quotation, has compelled me to do so, and because the admission of this evidence shows the temper of the Court. For I think the extracts produced are, in truth, favourable to Mr. Smith; and I am entitled to presume that the whole journal, withheld as it is from us,—withheld from the Colonial Office, though circulated through the Court to excite West Indian prejudices against Mr. Smith,—would, in the eyes of impartial men, have been still more decisively advantageous to his cause. How, indeed, can I think otherwise? What, in the opinion of the judge-advocate, is the capital crime of this journal? It is, that in it the prisoner “avows he feels an aversion to slavery!!” He was so depraved, as to be an enemy of that admirable institution! He was so lost to all sense of morality, as to be dissatisfied with the perpetual and unlimited subjection of millions of reasonable creatures to the will, and caprice, and passions of other men! This opinion, it is true, Mr. Smith shared with the King, Parliament, and people of Great Britain,—with all wise and good men, in all ages and nations: still, it is stated by the judge-advocate as if it were some immoral paradox, which it required the utmost effrontery to “avow.” One of the passages produced in evidence, and therefore thought either to be criminal in itself, or a proof of criminal intention, well deserves attention:—“While writing this, my very heart flutters at the almost incessant cracking of the whip!” As the date of this part of the journal is the 22d of March 1819, more than four years before the insurrection, it cannot be so distorted by human ingenuity as to be brought to bear on the specific charges which the Court had to try. What, therefore, is the purpose for which it is produced? They overheard, as it were, a man secretly complaining to himself of the agitation produced in his bodily frame by the horrible noise of a whip constantly resounding on the torn and bloody backs of his fellow-creatures. As he does not dare to utter them to any other, they must have been unaffected, undesigning almost involuntary ejaculations of feeling. The discovery of them might have recalled unhardened men from practices of which they had thus casually perceived the impression upon an uncorrupted heart. It could hardly have been supposed that the most practised negro-driver could have blamed them more severely than by calling them effusions of weak and womanish feelings. But it seemed good to the prosecutors of Mr. Smith to view these complaints in another light. They regard “the fluttering of his heart at the incessant cracking of the whip,” as an overt act of the treason of “abhorring slavery.” They treat natural compassion, and even its involuntary effects on the bodily frame, as an offence. Such is the system of their society, that they consider every man who feels pity for sufferings, or indignation against cruelty, as their irreconcilable enemy. Nay, they receive a secret expression of those feelings as evidence against a man on trial for his life, in what they call a court of justice. My Right Honourable Friend* has, on a former occasion, happily characterised the resistance, which has not been obscurely threatened, against all measures for mitigating the evils of slavery, as a “rebellion for the whip.” In the present instance we see how sacred that instrument is held,—how the right to use it is prized as one of the dearest of privileges,—and in what manner the most private murmur against its severest inflictions is brought forward as a proof, that he who breathes it must be prepared to plunge into violence and blood.
In the same spirit, conversations are given in evidence, long before the revolt, wholly unconnected with it, and held with ignorant men, who might easily misunderstand or misremember them; in which Mr. Smith is supposed to have expressed a general and speculative opinion, that slavery never could be mitigated, and that it must die a violent death. These opinions the Honourable Gentleman calls “fanatical.” Does he think Dr. Johnson a fanatic, or a sectary, or a Methodist, or an enemy of established authority? But he must know from the most amusing of books, that Johnson, when on a visit to Oxford, perhaps when enjoying lettered hospitality at the table of the Master of University College,† proposed as a toast, “Success to the first revolt of negroes in the West Indies!” He neither meant to make a jest of such matters, nor to express a deliberate wish for an event so full of horror, but merely to express in the strongest manner his honest hatred of slavery. For no man ever more detested actual oppression; though his Tory prejudices hindered him from seeing the value of those liberal institutions which alone secure society from oppression. This justice will be universally done to the aged moralist, who knew slavery only as a distant evil,—whose ears were never wounded by the cracking of the whip. Yet all the casual expressions of the unfortunate Mr. Smith, in the midst of dispute, or when he was fresh from the sight of suffering, rise up against him as legal proof of settled purposes and deliberate designs.
On the legality of the trial, Sir, the impregnable speech of my Learned Friend* has left me little if any thing to say. The only principle on which the law of England tolerates what is called “martial law,” is necessity; its introduction can be justified only by necessity; its continuance requires precisely the same justification of necessity; and if it survives the necessity, in which alone it rests, for a single minute, it becomes instantly a mere exercise of lawless violence. When foreign invasion or civil war renders it impossible for courts of law to sit, or to enforce the execution of their judgments, it becomes necessary to find some rude substitute for them, and to employ for that purpose the military, which is the only remaining force in the community. While the laws are silenced by the noise of arms, the rulers of the armed force must punish, as equitably as they can, those crimes which threaten their own safety and that of society; but no longer;—every moment beyond is usurpation. As soon as the laws can act, every other mode of punishing supposed crimes is itself an enormous crime. If argument be not enough on this subject,—if, indeed, the mere statement be not the evidence of its own truth, I appeal to the highest and most venerable authority known to our law. “Martial law,” says Sir Matthew Hale, “is not a law, but something indulged rather than allowed, as a law. The necessity of government, order, and discipline in an army, is that only which can give it countenance. ‘Necessitas enim, quod cogit, defendit.’ Secondly, this indulged law is only to extend to members of the army, or to those of the opposite army, and never may be so much indulged as to be exercised or executed upon others. Thirdly, the exercise of martial law may not be permitted in time of peace, when the king’s courts are” (or may be) “open.”† The illustrious Judge on this occasion appeals to the Petition of Right, which, fifty years before, had declared all proceedings by martial law, in time of peace, to be illegal. He carries the principle back to the cradle of English liberty, and quotes the famous reversal of the attainder of the Earl of Kent, in the first year of Edward III., as decisive of the principle, that nothing but the necessity arising from the absolute interruption of civil judicature by arms, can warrant the exercise of what is called martial law. Wherever, and whenever, they are so interrupted, and as long as the interruption continues, necessity justifies it.
No other doctrine has ever been maintained in this country, since the solemn Parliamentary condemnation of the usurpations of Charles I., which he was himself compelled to sanction in the Petition of Right. In none of the revolutions or rebellions which have since occurred has martial law been exercised, however much, in some of them, the necessity might seem to exist. Even in those most deplorable of all commotions, which tore Ireland in pieces, in the last years of the eighteenth century,—in the midst of ferocious revolt and cruel punishment,—at the very moment of legalising these martial jurisdictions in 1799, the very Irish statute, which was passed for that purpose, did homage to the ancient and fundamental principles of the law, in the very act of departing from them. The Irish statute 39 Geo. III. c. 2, after reciting “that martial law had been successfully exercised to the restoration of peace, so far as to permit the course of the common law partially to take place, but that the rebellion continued to rage in considerable parts of the kingdom, whereby it has become necessary for Parliament to interpose,” goes on to enable the Lord Lieutenant “to punish rebels by courts-martial.” This statute is the most positive declaration, that where the common law can be exercised in some parts of the country, martial law cannot be established in others, though rebellion actually prevails in those others, without an extraordinary interposition of the supreme legislative authority itself.
I have already quoted from Sir Matthew Hale his position respecting the two-fold operation of martial law;—as it affects the army of the power which exercises it, and as it acts against the army of the enemy. That great Judge, happily unused to standing armies, and reasonably prejudiced against military jurisdiction, does not pursue his distinction through all its consequences, and assigns a ground for the whole, which will support only one of its parts. “The necessity of order and discipline in an army,” is, according to him, the reason why the law tolerates this departure from its most valuable rules; but this necessity only justifies the exercise of martial law over the army of our own state. One part of it has since been annually taken out of the common law, and provided for by the Mutiny Act, which subjects the military offences of soldiers only to punishment by military courts, even in time of peace. Hence we may now be said annually to legalise military law; which, however, differs essentially from martial law, in being confined to offences against military discipline, and in not extending to any persons but those who are members of the army.
Martial law exercised against enemies or rebels cannot depend on the same principle, for it is certainly not intended to enforce or preserve discipline among them. It seems to me to be only a more regular and convenient mode of exercising the right to kill in war,—a right originating in self-defence, and limited to those cases where such killing is necessary, as the means of insuring that end. Martial law put in force against rebels, can only be excused as a mode of more deliberately and equitably selecting the persons from whom quarter ought to be withheld, in a case where all have forfeited their claim to it. It is nothing more than a sort of better regulated decimation, founded upon choice, instead of chance, in order to provide for the safety of the conquerors, without the horrors of undistinguished slaughter: it is justifiable only where it is an act of mercy. Thus the matter stands by the law of nations. But by the law of England, it cannot be exercised except where the jurisdiction of courts of justice is interrupted by violence. Did this necessity exist at Demerara on the 13th of October, 1823. Was it on that day impossible for the courts of law to try offences? It is clear that, if the case be tried by the law of England, and unless an affirmative answer can be given to these questions of fact, the Court-martial had no legal power to try Mr. Smith.
Now, Sir, I must in the first place remark, that General Murray has himself expressly waived the plea of necessity, and takes merit to himself for having brought Mr. Smith to trial before a court-martial, as the most probable mode of securing impartial justice,—a statement which would be clearly an attempt to obtain commendation under false pretences, if he had no choice, and was compelled by absolute necessity to recur to martial law:—“In bringing this man (Mr. Smith) to trial, under present circumstances, I have endeavoured to secure to him the advantage of the most cool and dispassionate consideration, by framing a court entirely of officers of the army, who, having no interests in the country, are without the bias of public opinion, which is at present so violent against Mr. Smith.”* This paragraph I conceive to be an admission, and almost a boast, that the trial by court-martial was a matter of choice, and therefore not of necessity; and I shall at present say nothing more on it, than earnestly to beseech the House to remark the evidence which it affords of the temper of the colonists, and to bear in mind the inevitable influence of that furious temper on the prosecutors who conducted the accusation,—on the witnesses who supported it by their testimony,—on the officers of the Court-martial, who could have no other associates or friends but among these prejudiced and exasperated colonists. With what suspicion and jealousy ought we not to regard such proceedings? What deductions ought to be made from the evidence? How little can we trust the fairness of the prosecutors, or the impartiality of the judges? What hope of acquittal could the most innocent prisoner entertain? Such, says in substance Governor Murray, was the rage of the inhabitants of Demerara against the unfortunate Mr. Smith, that his only chance of impartial trial required him to be deprived of all the safeguards which are the birthright of British subjects, and to be tried by a judicature which the laws and feelings of his country alike abhor.
But the admission of Governor Murray, though conclusive against him, is not necessary to the argument; for my Learned Friend has already demonstrated that, in fact, there was no necessity for a court-martial on the 13th of October. From the 31st of August, it appears by General Murray’s letters, that no impediment existed to the ordinary course of law; “no negroes were in arms; no war or battle’s sound was heard” through the colony. There remained, indeed, a few runaways in the forests behind; but we know, from the best authorities,* that the forests were never free from bodies of these wretched and desperate men in those unhappy settlements in Guiana,—where, under every government, rebellion has as uniformly sprung from cruelty, as pestilence has arisen from the marshes. Before the 4th of September, even the detachment which pursued the deserters into the forest had returned into the colony. For six weeks, then, before the Court-martial was assembled, and for twelve weeks before that Court pronounced sentence of death on Mr. Smith, all hostility had ceased, no necessity for their existence can be pretended, and every act which they did was an open and deliberate defiance of the law of England.
Where, then, are we to look for any colour of law in these proceedings? Do they derive it from the Dutch law? I have diligently examined the Roman law, which is the foundation of that system, and the writings of those most eminent jurists who have contributed so much to the reputation of Holland:—I can find in them no trace of any such principle as martial law. Military law, indeed, is clearly defined; and provision is made for the punishment by military judges of the purely military offences of soldiers. But to any power of extending military jurisdiction over those who are not soldiers, there is not an allusion. I will not furnish a subject for the pleasantries of my Right Honourable Friend, or tempt him into a repetition of his former innumerable blunders, by naming the greatest of these jurists;† lest his date, his occupation, and his rank might be again mistaken; and the venerable President of the Supreme Court of Holland might be once more called a “clerk of the States-General.” “Persecutio militis,” says that learned person, “pertinet ad judicem militarem quando delictum sit militare, et ad judicem communem quando delictum sit commune.” Far from supposing it to be possible, that those who were not soldiers could ever be triable by military courts for crimes not military, he expressly declares the law and practice of the United Provinces to be, that even soldiers are amenable, for ordinary offences against society, to the court of Holland and Friesland, of which he was long the chief. The law of Holland, therefore, does not justify this trial by martial law.
Nothing remains but some law of the colony itself. Where is it? It is not alleged or alluded to in any part of this trial. We have heard nothing of it this evening. So unwilling was I to believe that this Court-martial would dare to act without some pretence of legal authority, that I suspected an authority for martial law would be dug out of some dark corner of a Guiana ordinance. I knew it was neither in the law of England, nor in that of Holland; and I now believe that it does not exist even in the law of Demerara. The silence of those who are interested in producing it, is not my only reason for this belief. I happen to have seen the instructions of the States-General to their Governor of Demerara, in November, 1792,—probably the last ever issued to such an officer by that illustrious and memorable assembly. They speak at large of councils of war, both for consultation and for judicature. They authorise these councils to try the military offences of soldiers; and therefore, by an inference which is stronger than silence, authorise us to conclude that the governor had no power to subject those who were not soldiers to their authority.
The result, then, is, that the law of Holland does not allow what is called “martial law” in any case; and that the law of England does not allow it without a necessity, which did not exist in the case of Mr. Smith. If, then, martial law is not to be justified by the law of England, or by the law of Holland, or by the law of Demerara, what is there to hinder me from affirming, that the members of this pretended court had no more right to try Mr. Smith than any other fifteen men on the face of the earth,—that their acts were nullities, and their meeting a conspiracy,—that their sentence was a direction to commit a crime,—that, if it had been obeyed, it would not have been an execution, but a murder,—and that they, and all other parties engaged in it, must have answered for it with their lives.
I hope, Sir, no man will, in this House, undervalue that part of the case which relates to the illegality of the trial. I should be sorry to hear any man represent it as an inferior question, whether we are to be governed by law or by will. Every breach of law, under pretence of attaining what is called “substantial justice,” is a step towards reducing society under the authority of arbitrary caprice and lawless force. As in many other cases of evil-doing, it is not the immediate effect, but the example (which is the larger part of the consequences of every act), which is most mischievous. If we listen to any language of this sort, we shall do our utmost to encourage governors of colonies to discover some specious pretexts of present convenience for relieving themselves altogether, and as often as they wish, from the restraints of law. In spite of every legal check, colonial administrators are already daring enough, from the physical impediments which render it nearly impossible to reduce their responsibility to practice. If we encourage them to proclaim martial law without necessity, we shall take away all limitations from their power in this department; for pretences of convenience can seldom be wanting in a state of society which presents any temptation to abuse of power.
But I am aware, Sir, that I have undertaken to maintain the innocence of Mr. Smith, as well as to show the unlawfulness and nullity of the proceedings against him. I am relieved from the necessity of entering at large into the facts of his conduct, by the admirable and irresistible speech of my Learned Friend, who has already demonstrated the virtue and innocence of this unfortunate Gentleman, who died the martyr of his zeal for the diffusion of religion, humanity, and civilization, among the slaves of Demerara. The Honourable Gentleman charges him with a want of discretion. Perhaps it may be so. That useful quality, which Swift somewhere calls “an alderman-like virtue,” is deservedly much in esteem among those who are “wise in their generation,” and to whom the prosperity of this world belongs; but it is rarely the attribute of heroes and of martyrs,—of those who voluntarily suffer for faith or freedom,—who perish on the scaffold in attestation of their principles;—it does not animate men to encounter that honourable death which the colonists of Demerara were so eager to bestow on Mr. Smith.
On the question of actual innocence, the Honourable Gentleman has either bewildered himself, or found it necessary to attempt to bewilder his audience, by involving the case in a labyrinth of words, from which I shall be able to extricate it by a very few and short remarks. The question is, not whether Mr. Smith was wanting in the highest vigilance and foresight, but whether he was guilty of certain crimes laid to his charge? The first charge is, that he promoted discontent and dissatisfaction among the slaves, “intending thereby to excite revolt.” The Court-martial found him guilty of the fact, but not of the intention; thereby, in common sense and justice, acquitting him. The second charge is, that, on the 17th of August, he consulted with Quamina concerning the intended rebellion; and, on the 19th and 20th, during its progress, he aided and assisted it by consulting and corresponding with Quamina, an insurgent. The Court-martial found him guilty of the acts charged on the 17th and 20th, but acquitted him of that charged on the 19th. But this charge is abandoned by the Honourable Gentleman, and, as far as I can learn, will not be supported by any one likely to take a part in this debate. On the fourth charge, which, in substance, is, that Mr. Smith did not endeavour to make Quamina prisoner on the the 20th of August,—the Court-martial have found him guilty. But I will not waste the time of the House, by throwing away a single word upon an accusation which I am persuaded no man here will so insult his own reputation as to vindicate.
The third charge, therefore, is the only one which requires a moment’s discussion. It imputes to Mr. Smith, that he previously knew of the intended revolt, and did not communicate his knowledge to the proper authorities. It depends entirely on the same evidence which was produced in support of the second. It is an offence analogous to what, in our law, is denominated “misprision” of treason; and it bears the same relation to an intended revolt of slaves against their owners, which misprision in England bears to high treason. To support this charge, there should be sufficient evidence of such a concealment as would have amounted to misprision, if a revolt of slaves against their private masters had been high treason. Now, it had been positively laid down by all the judges of England, that “one who is told only, in general, that there will be a rising, without persons or particulars, is not bound to disclose.”* Concealment of the avowal of an intention is not misprision, because such an avowal is not an overt act of high treason. Misprision of treason is a concealment of an overt act of treason. A consultation about the means of revolt is undoubtedly an overt act, because it is one of the ordinary and necessary means of accomplishing the object: but it is perfectly otherwise with a conversation, even though in the course of it improper declarations of a general nature should be made. I need not quote Hale or Foster in support of positions which I believe will not be controverted. Contenting myself with having laid them down, I proceed to apply them to the evidence on this charge.
I think myself entitled to lay aside—and, indeed, in that I only follow the example of the Honourable Gentleman—the testimony of the coachman and the groom, which, if understood in one sense is incredible, and in the other is insignificant. It evidently amounts to no more than a remark by Mr. Smith, after the insurrection broke out, that he had long foreseen danger. The concealment of such a general misapprehension, if he had concealed it, was no crime; for it would be indeed most inconvenient to magistrates and rulers, and most destructive of the quiet of society, if men were bound to communicate to the public authorities every alarm that might seize the minds of any of them.
But he did not conceal that general apprehension: on the contrary, he did much more than strict legal duty required. Divide the facts into two parts, those which preceded Sunday the 17th of August, and those which occurred then and afterwards. I fix on this day, because it will not be said, by any one whose arguments I should be at the trouble of answering, that there is any evidence of the existence of a specific plan of revolt previous to the 17th of August. What did not exist could neither be concealed nor disclosed. But the conduct of Mr. Smith respecting the general apprehensions which he entertained before that day is evidence of great importance as to what would have been his probable conduct, if any specific plan had afterwards been communicated to him. If he made every effort to disclose a general apprehension, it is not likely that he should have deliberately concealed a specific plan. It is in that light that I desire the attention of the House to it.
It is quite clear that considerable agitation had prevailed among the negroes from the arrival of Lord Bathurst’s Dispatch in the beginning of July. They had heard from seamen arrived from England, and by servants in the Governor’s house, and by the angry conversations of their masters, that some projects for improving their condition had been favourably received in this country. They naturally entertained sanguine and exaggerated hopes of the extent of the reformation. The delay in making the Instructions known naturally led the slaves to greater exaggerations of the plan, and gradually filled their minds with angry suspicions that it was concealed on account of the extensive benefits it was to confer. Liberty seemed to be offered from England, and pushed aside by their masters and rulers at Demerara. This irritation could not escape the observation of Mr. Smith, and instead of concealing it, he early imparted it to a neighbouring manager and attorney. How comes the Honourable Gentleman to have entirely omitted the evidence of Mr. Stewart?* It appears from his testimony, that Mr. Smith, several weeks before the revolt, communicated to him, (Stewart) the manager of plantation Success, that alarming rumours about the Instructions prevailed among the negroes. It appears that Mr. Smith went publicly with his friend Mr. Elliott, another missionary, to Mr. Stewart, to repeat the information at a subsequent period; and that, in consequence, Mr. Stewart, with Mr. Cort, the attorney of plantation Success, went on the 8th of August to Mr. Smith, who confirmed his previous statements,—said that Quamina and other negroes had asked whether their freedom had come out,—and mentioned that he had some thoughts of disabusing them, by telling them from the pulpit that their expectations of freedom were erroneous. Mr. Cort dissuaded him from taking so much upon himself. Is it not evident from this testimony, that Mr. Smith had the reverse of an intention to conceal the dangerous agitation on or before the 8th of August? It is certain that all evidence of his privity or participation before that day must be false. He then told all that he knew, and offered to do much more than he was bound to do. His disclosures were of a nature to defeat a project of revolt, or to prevent it from being formed;—he enabled Cort or Stewart to put the Government on their guard. He told no particulars, because he knew none; but he put it into the power of others to discover them if they existed. He made these discoveries on the 8th of August: what could have changed his previous system of conduct in the remaining ten days? Nay, more, he put it out of his own power to change his conduct effectually: it no longer depended on himself whether what he knew should not be so perfectly made known to the Government as to render all subsequent concealment ineffectual. He could not even know on the 17th whether his conversations with Stewart and Cort had not been communicated to the Governor, and whether measures had not been taken, which had either ascertained that the agitation no longer generally prevailed, or had led to such precautions as could not fail to end in the destruction of those who should deliberately and criminally conceal the designs of the insurgents. The crime of misprision consists in a design to deceive,—which, after such a disclosure, it was impossible to harbour. If this had related to the communication of a formed plan, it might be said, that the disclosure to private persons was not sufficient, and that he was bound to make it to the higher authorities. I believe Mr. Cort was a member of the Court of Policy. [Here Mr. Gladstone intimated by a shake of his head that Mr. Cort was not.] I yield to the local knowledge of my Honourable Friend—if I may venture to call him so in our present belligerent relations. If Mr. Cort be not a member of the Court of Policy, he must have had access to its members:—he stated to Mr. Smith the reason of their delay to promulgate the Instructions; and in a communication which related merely to general agitation, Mr. Smith could not have chosen two persons more likely to be on the alert about a revolt of slaves than the manager and attorney of a neighbouring plantation. Stewart and Cort were also officers of militia.
A very extraordinary part of this case appears in the Demerara Papers (No. II.) to which I have already adverted. Hamilton, the manager of plantation Ressouvenir, had, it seems, a negro mistress, from whom few of his secrets were hid. This lady had the singularly inappropriate name of Susannah. I am now told that she had been the wife of Jack one of the leaders of the revolt—I have no wish to penetrate into his domestic misfortunes;—at all events, Jack kept up a constant and confidential intercourse with his former friend, even in the elevated station which she had attained. She told him (if we may believe both him and her) of all Hamilton’s conversations. By the account of Paris, it seems that Hamilton had instructed them to destroy the bridges. Susannah said that he entreated them to delay the revolt for two weeks, till he could remove his things. They told Hamilton not only of the intention to rise three weeks before, but of the particular time. On Monday morning Hamilton told her, that it was useless for him to manumit her and her children, as she wished, for that all would soon be free; and that the Governor kept back the Instructions because he was himself a slave-owner. Paris and Jack agree in laying to Hamilton’s charge the deepest participation in their criminal designs. If this evidence was believed, why was not Hamilton brought to trial rather than Smith? If it was disbelieved, as the far greater part of it must have been, why was it concealed from Smith that such wicked falsehoods had been contrived against another man,—a circumstance which so deeply affects the credit of all the negro accomplices, who swore to save their own lives. If, as I am inclined to believe, some communications were made through Susannah, how hard was the fate of Mr. Smith, who suffers for not promulgating some general notions of danger, which, from this instance, must have entered through many channels into the minds of the greater number of whites. But, up to the 17th of August, it appears that Mr. Smith did not content himself with bare disclosure, but proffered his services to allay discontent, and showed more solicitude than any other person known to us, to preserve the peace of the community.
The question now presents itself, which I allow constitutes the vital part of this case,—Whether any communication was made to Mr. Smith on the evening of Sunday the 17th, of which the concealment from his superiors was equivalent to what we call misprision of treason? No man can conscientiously vote against the motion who does not consider the affirmative as proved. I do not say that this would be of itself sufficient to negative the motion; I only say, that it is indispensably necessary. There would still remain behind the illegality of the jurisdiction, as well as the injustice of the punishment. And on this latter most important part of the case I must here remark, that it would not be sufficient to tell us, that the Roman and Dutch law ranked misprision as a species of treason, and made it punishable by death. It must be shown, not only that the Court were by this law entitled to condemn Mr. Smith to death, but that they were also bound to pronounce such a sentence. For if they had any discretion, it will not be said that an English court-martial ought not to regulate the exercise of it by the more humane and reasonable principles of their own law, which does not treat misprision as a capital offence.
. . . I am sorry to see that the Honourable Agent for Demerara* has quitted his usual place, and has taken a very important position. I feel no ill-will; but I dread the sight of him when pouring poison into the ears of the powerful. He is but too formidable in his ordinary station, at the head of those troops whom his magical wand brings into battle in such numbers as no eloquence can match, and no influence but his own can command. . . . .
Let us now consider the evidence of what passed on the 17th of August. And here, once more, let me conjure the House to consider the condition of the witnesses who gave that evidence. They were accomplices in the revolt, who had no chance of life but what acceptable testimony might afford.—They knew the fierce, furious hatred, which the ruling party had vowed against Mr. Smith. They were surrounded by the skeletons of their brethren:—they could perhaps hear the lash resounding on the bloody backs of others, who were condemned to suffer a thousand lashes, and to work for life in irons under the burning sun of Guiana. They lived in a colony where such unexampled barbarities were inflicted as a mitigated punishment, and held out as acts of mercy. Such were the dreadful terrors which acted on their minds, and under the mental torture of which every syllable of their testimony was uttered. There was still another deduction to be made from their evidence:—they spoke to no palpable facts; they gave evidence only of conversation. “Words,” says Mr. Justice Foster, “are transient and fleeting as the wind; frequently the effects of a sudden transport easily misunderstood, and often misreported.” If he spoke thus of words used in the presence of witnesses intelligent, enlightened, and accustomed to appreciate the force and distinctions of terms, what would he have said of the evidence of negro slaves, accomplices in the crime, trembling for their lives, reporting conversations of which the whole effect might depend on the shades and gradations of words in a language very grossly known to them,—of English words, uttered in a few hurried moments, and in the presence of no other witnesses from whom they could dread an exposure of their falsehood? It may be safely affirmed, that it is difficult for imagination to conceive admissible evidence of lower credit, and more near the verge of utter rejection.
But what, after all, is the sum of the evidence? It is, that the negroes who followed Mr. Smith from church on Sunday the 17th, spoke to him of some design which they entertained for the next day. It is not pretended that time, or place, or persons, were mentioned:—the contrary is sworn. Mr. Smith, who was accustomed for six weeks to their murmurs, and had before been successful in dissuading them from violence, contents himself with repeating the same dissuasives,—believes he has again succeeded in persuading them to remain quiet,—and abstains for twenty-four hours from any new communication of designs altogether vague and undigested, which he hoped would evaporate, as others of the same kind had done, without any serious effects. The very utmost that he seems to have apprehended was, a plan for obliging, or “driving,” as they called it, their managers to join in an application to the Governor on the subject of the new law,—a kind of proceeding which had more than once occurred, both under the Dutch and English governments. It appears from the witnesses for the prosecution, that they had more than once gone to Mr. Smith before on the same subject, and that his answer was always the same; and that some of the more exasperated negroes were so dissatisfied with his exhortations to submission, that they cried out, “Mr. Smith was making them fools,—that he would not deny his own colour for the sake of black people.” Quamina appears to have shown at all times a more than ordinary deference towards his pastor. He renewed these conversations on the evening of Sunday the 17th, and told Mr. Smith, who again exhorted them to patience, that two of the more violent negroes, Jack and Joseph, spoke of taking their liberty by force. I desire it to be particularly observed, that this intention, or even violent language, appears to have been attributed only to two, and that in such a manner as naturally to exclude the rest. Mr. Smith again repeated the advice which had hitherto proved efficacious. “He told them to wait, and not to be so foolish. How do you mean that they should take it by force? You cannot do any thing with the white people, because the soldiers will be more strong than you; therefore you had better wait. You had better go and tell the people, and Christians particularly, that they had better have nothing to do with it.” When Mr. Smith spoke of the resistance of the soldiers, Quamina, with an evident view to persuade Mr. Smith that nothing was intended which would induce the military to proceed to the last extremity, observed, that they would drive the managers to town; which, by means of the expedient of a general “strike” or refusal to work, appears to have been the project spoken of by most of the slaves. To this observation Mr. Smith justly answered, that even if they did “drive” the managers to town, they “would not be able to go against the soldiers,” who would very properly resist such tumultuary and dangerous movements. Be it again observed, that Bristol, the chief witness for the prosecution, clearly distinguishes this plan from that of Jack and Joseph, “who intended to fight with the white people.” I do not undertake to determine whether the more desperate measure was at that time confined to these two men: it is sufficient for me that such was the representation made to Mr. Smith. Whoever fairly compares the evidence of Bristol with that of Seaton will, I think, find the general result to be such as I have now stated. It is true, that there are contradictions between them, which, in the case of witnesses of another caste, might be considered as altogether subversive of their credit. But I make allowance for their fears,—for their confusion,—for their habitual inaccuracy,—for their ignorance of the language,—for their own incorrectness, if they gave evidence in English,—for that of the interpreters, if they employed any other language. In return, I expect that no fair opponent will rely on minute circumstances,—that he will also allow the benefit of all chances of inaccuracy to the accused,—and that he will not rely on the manner, where a single word, mistaken or misremembered, might make the whole difference between the most earnest and the faintest dissuasive.
I do not know what other topics Mr. Smith could have used. He appeals to their prudence: “the soldiers,” says he, “will overcome your vain revolt.” He appeals to their sense of religion:—“as Christians you ought not to use violence.” What argument remained, if both these failed? What part of human nature could he have addressed, where neither danger could deter, nor duty restrain? He spoke to their conscience and to their fears:—surely admonition could go no further. There is not the least appearance that these topics were not urged with as perfect good faith, as they must have been in those former instances where he demonstrated his sincerity by the communications which he made to Stewart and Cort. His temper of mind on this subject continued, then, to be the same on the evening of the 17th that it had been before. And, if so, how absolutely incredible it is, that he should, on that night, and on the succeeding morning, advisedly, coolly, and malignantly, form the design of hiding a treasonable plot confidentially imparted to him by the conspirators, in order to lull the vigilance of the Government, and commit himself and his countrymen to the mercy of exasperated and triumphant slaves!
I have already stated the reasons which might have induced him to believe that he had once more succeeded in dissuading the negroes from violence. Was he inexcusable in overrating his own ascendant,—in overestimating the docility of his converts,—in relying more on the efficacy of his religious instructions than men of more experience and colder temper would deem reasonable? I entreat the House to consider whether this self-deception be improbable; for if he believed that he had been successful, and that the plan of tumult or revolt was abandoned, would it not have been the basest and most atrocious treachery to have given such information as might have exposed the defenceless slaves to punishments of unparalleled cruelty, for offences which they had meditated, but from which he believed that he had reclaimed them? Let me for a moment again remind the House of the facts which give such weight to this consideration. He lived in a colony where, for an insurrection in which no white man was wantonly or deliberately put to death, and no property was intentionally destroyed or even damaged, I know not how many negroes perished on the gibbet, and others,—under the insolent, atrocious, detestable pretext of mercy!—suffered a thousand lashes, and were doomed to hard labour in irons for life, under the burning sun, and among the pestilential marshes of Guiana? These dreadful cruelties, miscalled punishments, did indeed occur after the 17th of August. But he, whose “heart had fluttered from the incessant cracking of the whip,” must have strongly felt the horrors to which he was exposing his unhappy flock by a hasty or needless disclosure of projects excited by the impolitic delay of their rulers. Every good man must have wished to find the information unnecessary. Would not Mr. Smith have been the most unworthy of pastors, if he had not desired that such a cup might pass from him? And if he felt these benevolent desires,—if he recoiled with horror from putting these poor men into the hands of what in Demerara is called justice, there was nothing in the circumstances which might not have seemed to him to accord with his wishes. Even without the influence of warm feeling, I do not think that it would have been unreasonable for any man to believe that the negroes had fully agreed to wait. Nay, I am convinced that with Quamina Mr. Smith was successful. Quamina, I believe, used his influence to prevent the revolt; and it was not till after he was apprehended on Monday, on unjust suspicions, and was rescued, that he took refuge among the revolters, and was at last shot by the soldiery when he was a runaway in the forest,—a fact which was accepted by the Court-martial as the sufficient, though sole, evidence of his being a ringleader in the rebellion.
The whole period during which it is necessary to account for Mr. Smith’s not communicating to the Government an immature project, of which he knew no particulars, and which he might well believe to be abandoned, is a few hours in the morning of Monday; for it is proved by the evidence of Hamilton, that he was informed of the intended revolt by a Captain Simson, at one o’clock of that day, in George-Town, the seat of government, at some miles distant from the scene of action. It was then so notorious, that Hamilton never dreamt of troubling the Governor with such needless intelligence; yet this was only four or five hours later than the time when Mr. Smith was held to be bound, under pain of death, to make such a communication! The Governor himself, in his dispatches, said that he had received the information, but did not believe it.* This disbelief, however, could not have been of long duration; for active measures were taken, and Mr. Stewart apprehended Quamina and his son Jack a little after three o’clock on Monday; which, considering the distance, necessarily implies that some general order of that nature had been issued by the Government at George-Town not long after noon on that day.† As all these proceedings occurred before Mr. Smith received the note from Jack of Dochfour about half an hour before the revolt, I lay that fact out of the case, as wholly immaterial. The interview of Mr. Smith with Quamina, on the 19th of August, is negatived by the finding of the Court-martial:—that on the 20th will be relied on by no man in this House, because there is not the slightest proof, nor, indeed, probability, that the conversation at that interview was not perfectly innocent. Nothing, then, called for explanation but the conversation of Sunday evening, and the silence of Monday morning, which I think I have satisfactorily explained, as fully as my present strength will allow, and much more so than the speech of my Learned Friend left it necessary to do.
There is one other circumstance which occurred on Sunday, and which I cannot pass over in silence:—it is the cruel perversion of the beautiful text from the Gospel on which Mr. Smith preached his last sermon. That circumstance alone evinces the incurable prejudice against this unfortunate man, which so far blinded his prosecutors, that they actually represent him as choosing that most affecting lamentation over the fall of Jerusalem, in order to excite the slaves to accomplish the destruction of Demerara. The lamentation of one who loved a country was by them thought to be selected to stimulate those who were to destroy a country;—as if tragical reprehensions of the horrors of an assault were likely to be exhibited in the camp of the assailants the night before they were to storm a city. It is wonderful that these prosecutors should not have perceived that such a choice of a text would have been very natural for Mr. Smith, only on the supposition that he had been full of love and compassion and alarm for the European inhabitants of Demerara. The simple truth was, that the estate was about to be sold, the negroes to be scattered over the colony by auction, and that,—by one of those somewhat forced analogies, which may appear to me unreasonable, but which men of the most sublime genius as well as fervent piety have often applied to the interpretation of Scripture,—he likened their sad dispersion, in connection with their past neglect of the means of improvement, and the chance of their now losing all religious consolation and instruction, to the punishment inflicted on the Jews by the conquest and destruction of Jerusalem.
In what I have now addressed to the House, I have studiously abstained from all discussions of those awful questions which relate to the general structure of colonial society. I am as adverse as any one to the sudden emancipation of slaves,—much out of regard to the masters, but still more, as affecting a far larger portion of mankind, out of regard to the unhappy slaves themselves. Emancipation by violence and revolt I consider as the greatest calamity that can visit a community, except perpetual slavery. I should not have so deep an abhorrence of that wretched state, if I did not regard it as unfitting slaves for the safe exercise of the common rights of mankind. I should be grossly inconsistent with myself, if, believing this corrupt and degrading power of slavery over the mind to be the worst of all its evils, I were not very fearful of changes which would set free those beings, whom a cruel yoke had transformed into wild beasts, only that they might tear and devour each other. I acknowledge that the pacific emancipation of great multitudes thus wretchedly circumstanced is a problem so arduous as to perplex and almost silence the reason of man. Time is undoubtedly necessary; and I shall never object to time if it be asked in good faith. If I be convinced of the sincerity of the reformer, I will not object to the reformation merely on account of the time which it requires. But I have a right to be jealous of every attempt which, under pretence of asking time for reformation, may only aim at evading urgent demands, and indefinitely procrastinating the deliverance of men from bondage.
And here, Sir, I should naturally close; but I must be permitted to relate the subsequent treatment of Mr. Smith, because it reflects back the strongest light on the intentions and dispositions of those who prosecuted him, and of those who ratified the sentence of death. They who can cruelly treat the condemned, are not in general scrupulous about convicting the innocent. I have seen the widow of this unhappy sufferer,—a pious and amiable woman, worthy to be the helpmate of her martyred husband, distinguished by a calm and clear understanding, and, as far as I could discover, of great accuracy, anxious rather to understate facts, and to counteract every lurking disposition to exaggerate, of which her judgment and humility might lead her to suspect herself. She told me her story with temper and simplicity; and, though I ventured more near to cross examination in my inquiries than delicacy would, perhaps, in any less important case have warranted, I saw not the least reason to distrust the exactness, any more than the honesty, of her narrative. Within a few days of his apprehension, Mr. Smith and his wife were closely confined in two small rooms at the top of a building, with only the outward roof between them and the sun, when the thermometer in the shade at their residence in the country stood at an average of eighty-three degrees of Fahrenheit. There they were confined from August to October, with two sentries at the door, which was kept open day and night. These sentries, who were relieved every two hours, had orders at every relief to call on the prisoner, to ascertain by his answer that he had not escaped. The generality, of course, executed their orders: “a few, more humane,” said Mrs. Smith, “contented themselves during the night with quietly looking into the bed.” Thus was he, under a mortal disease, and his wife, with all the delicacy of her sex, confined for two months, without seeing a human face except those of the sentries, and of the absolutely necessary attendants:—no physician, no friends to console, no legal adviser to guide the prisoner to the means of proving his innocence, no mitigation, no solace! The first human face which she saw, was that of the man who came to bear tidings of accusation, and trial, and death, to her husband. I asked her, “whether it was possible that the Governor knew that they were in this state of desolation?” She answered, “that she did not know, for nobody came to inquire after them!” He was afterwards removed to apartments on the ground floor, the damp of which seems to have hastened his fate. Mrs. Smith was set at large, but obliged to ask a daily permission to see her husband for a limited time, and if I remember right, before witnesses! After the packet had sailed, and when there was no longer cause to dread their communication with England, she was permitted to have unrestricted access to him, as long as his intercourse with earthly things endured. At length he was mercifully released from his woes. The funeral was ordered to take place at two o’clock in the morning, that no sorrowing negroes might follow the good man’s corpse. The widow desired to accompany the remains of her husband to the grave:—even this sad luxury was prohibited. The officer declared that his instructions were peremptory: Mrs. Smith bowed with the silent submission of a broken heart. Mrs. Elliot, her friend and companion, not so borne down by sorrow, remonstrated. “Is it possible,” she said, “That General Murray can have forbidden a poor widow from following the coffin of her husband.” The officer again answered that his orders were peremptory. “At all events,” said Mrs. Elliot, “he cannot hinder us from meeting the coffin at the grave.” Two negroes bore the coffin, with a single lantern going before; and at four o’clock in the morning, the two women met it in silent anguish at the grave, and poured over the remains of the persecuted man that tribute which nature pays to the memory of those whom we love. Two negro workmen, a carpenter and a bricklayer,—who had been members of his congregation,—were desirous of being permitted to protect and distinguish the spot where their benefactor reposed:—
They began to rail in and to brick over the grave: but as soon as this intelligence reached the First Fiscal, his Honour was pleased to forbid the work; he ordered the bricks to be taken up, the railing to be torn down, and the whole frail memorial of gratitude and piety to be destroyed!
“English vengeance wars not with the dead:”—it is not so in Guiana. As they began, so they concluded; and at least it must be owned that they were consistent in their treatment of the living and of the dead. They did not stop here: a few days after the death of Mr. Smith, they passed a vote of thanks to Mr. President Wray, for his services during the insurrection, which, I fear, consisted entirely in his judicial acts as a member of the Court-martial. It is the single instance, I believe, in the history of the world, where a popular meeting thanked a judge for his share in a trial which closed with a sentence of death! I must add, with sincere regret, that Mr. Wray, in an unadvised moment, accepted these tainted thanks, and expressed his gratitude for them. Shortly after they did their utmost to make him repent, and be ashamed of his rashness. I hold in my hand a Demerara newspaper, containing an account of a meeting, which must have been held with the knowledge of the Governor, and among whom I see nine names, which from the prefix “Honourable,” belong, I presume, to persons who were members either of the Court of Justice or of the Court of Policy. It was an assembly which must be taken to represent the colony. Their first proceeding was a Declaration of Independence:—they resolved, that the King and Parliament of Great Britain had no right to change their laws without the consent of their Court of Policy. They founded this pretension,—which would be so extravagant and insolent, if it were not so ridiculous,—on the first article of the Capitulation now lying before me, bearing date on the 19th of September, 1803, by which it was stipulated that no new establishments should be introduced without the consent of the Court of Policy,—as if a military commander had any power to perpetuate the civil constitution of a conquered country, and as if the subsequent treaty had not ceded Demerara in full sovereignty to his Majesty. I should have disdained to notice such a declaration if it were not for what followed. This meeting took place eighteen days after the death of Mr. Smith. It might be hoped, that, if their hearts were not touched by his fate, at least their hatred might have been buried in his grave; but they showed how little chance of justice he had when living within the sphere of their influence, by their rancorous persecution of his memory after death. Eighteen days after he had expired in a dungeon, they passed a resolution of strong condemnation against two names not often joined,—the London Missionary Society and Lord Bathurst;—the Society, because they petitioned for mercy (for that is a crime in their eyes),—Lord Bathurst, because he advised His Majesty to dispense it to Mr. Smith. With an ignorance suitable to their other qualities, they consider the exercise of mercy as a violation of justice. They are not content with persecuting their victim to death:—they arraign nature, which released him, and justice, in the form of mercy, which would have delivered him out of their hands. Not satisfied with his life, they are incensed at not being able to brand his memory,—to put an ignominious end to his miseries and to hang up his skeleton on a gibbet, which, as often as it waved in the winds, should warn every future missionary to fly from such a shore, and not dare to enter that colony to preach the doctrines of peace, of justice, and of mercy!
[* ] The Rev. John Smith, an Independent minister, had been sent out to Demerara in the year 1816 by the London Missionary Society. The exemplary discharge of his sacred functions on the eastern shore of that colony for six years, amid difficulties which are said to have distinguished Demerara even among all her sister slave colonies, had so far impaired his health, that he was, by medical advice, on the point of leaving the country for a more salubrious climate, when, in the month of August, 1823, a partial insurrection of the negroes in his neighbourhood proved the means of putting a period alike to his labours and his life. The rising was not of an extensive or organised character, and was, in fact, suppressed immediately, with little loss of life or property. Its suppression was, however, immediately followed by the establishment of martial law, and the arrest of Mr. Smith as privy beforehand to the plot. As the evidence in support of this charge had necessarily to be extracted for the most part from prisoners trembling for their own lives, incurable suspicion would seem to attach to the whole of it; though candour must admit, on a careful consideration of the whole circumstances, including the sensitive feelings and ardent temperament of the accused, that it was not impossible that he had been made the involuntary depositary of the confidence of his flock. It was not till he had been in prison for nearly two months that Mr. Smith, on the 14th of October, was brought to trial before a court-martial. After proceedings abounding in irregularities, which lasted for six weeks, he was found guilty, and sentenced to death, but was recommended to the mercy of the Crown. He died in prison on the 6th of February following, awaiting the result. Sir James Mackintosh had presented, at an earlier period of the session, the appeal of the London Missionary Society on behalf of his memory and his widow. The present speech was delivered in support of Mr. Brougham’s motion for an Address to the Crown on the subject.—Ed.
[† ] Mr. Wilmot Horton, who conducted the defence of the authorities at Demerara.—Ed.
[* ] Demerara Papers. No. II. p. 26.
[* ] Demarara Papers, No. II. p. 30.
[† ] Ibid. p. 41.
[* ] Mr. Canning.—Ed.
[† ] Dr. Wetherell, father of the Solicitor-General.
[* ] Mr. Brougham.—Ed.
[† ] History of the Common Law, chap. xi.
[* ] General Murray (Governor of Demerara) to Earl Bathurst, 21st of October, 1823.
[* ] See Stedman, Bolingbroke, &c.
[† ] Bynkershoek,—of whose professional rank Mr. Canning had professed ignorance.—Ed.
[* ] Kelynge, p. 22.
[* ] Trial, &c., p. 47.
[* ] Mr. William Holmes, who was also the Treasury “whipper-in,” was for the moment seated next, and whispering to, Mr. Canning.—Ed.
[* ] Demerara Papers, No. II. p. 1.
[† ] Ibid., p. 70.
[* ] Gray’s Elegy.—Ed.