Front Page Titles (by Subject) 118.: THE SUGAR REFINERY BILL AND THE SLAVE TRADE EXAMINER, 18 SEPT., 1831, PP. 594-5 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIII - Newspaper Writings August 1831 - October 1834 Part II
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118.: THE SUGAR REFINERY BILL AND THE SLAVE TRADE EXAMINER, 18 SEPT., 1831, PP. 594-5 - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIII - Newspaper Writings August 1831 - October 1834 Part II 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIII - Newspaper Writings August 1831 - October 1834 Part II, ed. Ann P. Robson and John M. Robson, Introduction by Ann P. Robson and John M. Robson (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1986).
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THE SUGAR REFINERY BILL AND THE SLAVE TRADE
This article is in response to the temporary alliance between the West India planters and traders and the “Saints” (the Evangelical Clapham Sect) and their fellow opponents of slavery, in opposition to “A Bill to Continue and Amend the Provisions of the Acts for Allowing Sugar to Be Delivered out of Warehouse to Be Refined,” 1 & 2 William IV (29 Sept., 1831), PP, 1831, III, 437-40 (not enacted), which was designed to amend and continue 11 George IV & 1 William IV, c. 72 (23 July, 1830). Mill’s leading article, in the “Political Examiner,” is headed as title. Described in his bibliography as “An article headed ‘The Sugar Refinery Bill and the Slave Trade’ in the Examiner of 18th September 1831” (MacMinn, p. 18), it is listed as title and enclosed in square brackets in the Somerville College set.
the saints and the west indians, those inveterate enemies, whose quarrels, next to those of the Orangemen and Catholics, engross the unceasing attention of the Ministry and Parliament; those rival powers between whom the administration of the day is perpetually engaged in negociating a compromise, not on the principle of giving to each his due, but on the simpler and easier one of giving to each half his demand—the Saints and the West Indians, strange to say, are now, for the first time, enlisted under the same banner,—fighting in a common cause against the Ministry. The subject of this contest is the proposed renewal of the temporary act, which permits foreign sugar to be refined in this country. The West Indians oppose this, because the sugar does not come from their plantations; the Saints, because it comes, in great part, from countries which have not effectually abolished the African Slave Trade.
While the Reform Bill is pending,1 the reasons are obvious for keeping all other questions precisely as they are; for attempting no change, which can be deferred until it can be subjected to the deliberation of a better legislature,—commencing no discussion to which the attention of the public, those persons excepted who have a personal interest in the question, would be very slackly and lazily directed. Since, therefore, the proposed Bill does not change the existing law, but keeps it as it is for a year longer, when it would otherwise revert from what it is to what it formerly was;2 the course of every wise and disinterested Member of Parliament should be to vote with the Minister,3 leaving the ultimate disposal of the question to a reformed Parliament.
It is not, however, to be disguised that the objections to the measure, considered as an indirect encouragement of the Slave Trade, are of very considerable weight. And no subject calls more loudly for consideration, so soon as there shall be leisure for it, than the large annual sacrifices which the English nation has long made, and still continues to make, for the suppression of the trade in negroes, while it has yet failed to discover the means of rendering those sacrifices really available for the truly virtuous purpose for which it readily and eagerly incurs them. What follows? Not any motive for abandoning the attempt; but merely a new illustration of the maxim of universal experience, that half-measures are in the end almost always more troublesome and costly than effectual ones.
The treaties for the abolition of the Slave Trade were a phenomenon previously unknown; an indication of an immense step in the progress of mankind; the first solemn recognition by the European powers that nations have duties, other than the merely negative one of not molesting one another; the first international compact which had both for its avowed and for its true object, not the security or aggrandizement, real or imaginary, of the contracting parties themselves—but the performance of a disinterested service to a third party, which that party had no claim to, except the claims of humanity.4 This great step having been achieved, and the possibility having been demonstrated that nations, as well as individuals, may be induced to bind themselves to perform an act of virtue, at the sacrifice of their immediate selfish interests; what is to hinder them from combining in a similar manner to overcome another and a much less appalling difficulty—that of compelling a few unprincipled individuals, or a few unprincipled governments, to abide by the general compact?
For many years it was affirmed, that the French Government was the principal obstacle to the complete annihilation of the slave trade. The French Government would now be no obstacle. It is eager to render its measures of prevention as effectual as possible. In the last session, a bill passed the Chambers, and became law, for this express purpose.5 The interests opposed to the cause of slave-trade abolition, in France, are comparatively feeble; and the public feeling would support the Government (of whose good inclination on this subject there is no doubt) in any reasonable measure which could be proposed to it by our Ministry, for giving effect to the wishes of every honest man in the two countries.
The real obstacles to the extirpation of the Slave Trade are Portugal and Brazil; and shall England and France, either of whom could conquer both countries in a single campaign, allow their noblest purposes to be baffled by these contemptible little powers, when for half the annual expense of Sierra Leone, they might take means for searching every vessel which enters the ports of either country?
In the mean time, England is spending immense sums, and the lives of thousands of her people, upon a pestilential swamp on the coast of Africa; and, finding that this does no good, she is meditating another experiment of the same kind in another spot, little better than the first; she has her Sierra Leone, and her Fernando Po (compare either of them with the American black colony of Liberia!).6 But this is not all: she is inflicting a real injustice upon her own colonists, by restrictive regulations, which do not at all conduce to the suppression of the African Slave Trade, but which greatly aggravate the inevitable ruin of our ancient Slave Colonies. We allude more particularly to the prohibition of the trade in slaves between colony and colony.
It is well known, that the numerous and extensive colonial possessions, which we acquired in the last war,7 have by their inexhaustible productiveness, and the immense increase of their cultivation, so greatly undersold our old Slave Islands (which were never equally fertile, and are now in a great degree exhausted) that the proprietors of the latter are utterly and irrecoverably impoverished.8 As their estates have sunk in value, and their produce has fallen off, there is of course no internal market for their slaves. On the other hand, in the thriving colonies whose competition has ruined them, the increase of the demand for labour is constantly raising the price of slaves; and the difficulty of increasing the number is an increasing temptation to overwork them more and more. We are informed, that in Tobago the price of an able-bodied slave is not more than thirty pounds sterling, while in the neighbouring island of Trinidad, a new and fertile colony, it is not less than eighty. The ruin of the former colony would be partly alleviated, if its proprietors were permitted to dispose of their slaves to those who are suffering for want of them. The old colonies would then be almost entirely abandoned; and the British legislature would no longer be deafened with the din of never-ceasing demands, that the people of England may be taxed to relieve the distress of those, whose distress admits of no permanent relief, unless they are to be maintained as pensioners of the English nation.
We can conceive no motive for the prohibition of the internal Slave Trade, except the fear, that under colour of importing slaves from our own colonies, they would be imported from Africa. But this there could be no difficulty in guarding against, as the slaves are all registered. Governments, when they really wish it, succeed every day in taking efficacious precautions for the observance of regulations far more difficult to enforce.
[1 ]The second version of the Reform Bill (see No. 107, n2) was in fact rejected in the Lords on 8 Oct.
[2 ]See 58 George III, c. 34 (23 May, 1818), which was continued in 1820, 1824, 1825, and 1826.
[3 ]Charles Edward Poulett Thomson (1799-1841), later Baron Sydenham, advocate of free trade and financial reform, M.P. from 1826, Vice-President of the Board of Trade. For the discussion, see PD, 3rd ser., Vol. 6, cols. 1166-8.
[4 ]The Powers at the Congress of Vienna included a clause favouring abolition of the slave trade in the Peace Treaty of 30 Nov., 1815.
[5 ]For the measure, see No. 71, n2.
[6 ]The first settlement of freed slaves was started in Sierra Leone in 1787 but had to be revived in 1791. In 1808 the British government took over the colony, and in the next fifty years about 50,000 Negroes taken from illegal slavers were settled there. Fernando Po, an island off the Guinea Coast, had been settled by the Spanish as a source for slaves. Driven off by yellow fever in 1781, Spain leased bases to Britain after 1807 for the navy in its attempt to police the slave trade. Liberia’s first freed slaves arrived in 1822 after a six-year struggle by the American Colonization Society.
[7 ]Tobago and St. Lucia in the Caribbean and Mauritius in the Indian Ocean were assigned to Britain by the first Treaty of Paris in May 1814 (PP, 1813-14, XIV, 227-65, Art. 8); Demerara, Berbice, and Essequibo (British Guiana) were ceded by the Dutch in August 1814. Tobago, however, had since the early seventeenth century been in British, Dutch, and French hands, and may be considered an “old” slave island. Trinidad may be considered a “new” one, as it had been ceded by Spain to Britain by the Treaty of Amiens in 1802.
[8 ]The old British slave islands, from the early seventeenth century, were Jamaica, Nevis, St. Christopher, Barbados, Antigua, and Bermuda.