THE HISTORY OF THE RISE, PROGRESS, AND ACCOMPLISHMENT OF THE ABOLITION OF THE SLAVE-TRADE, BY THE BRITISH PARLIAMENT
BY THOMAS CLARKSON, M.A.
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THE RIGHT HONOURABLE WILLIAM, LORD GRENVILLE,
THE RIGHT HONOURABLE CHARLES, EARL GREY,
THE RIGHT HONOURABLE FRANCIS, EARL MOIRA,
THE RIGHT HONOURABLE GEORGE JOHN, EARL SPENCER,
THE RIGHT HONOURABLE HENRY RICHARD, LORD HOLLAND,
THE RIGHT HONOURABLE THOMAS, LORD ERSKINE,
THE RIGHT HONOURABLE EDWARD, LORD ELLENBOROUGH,
THE RIGHT HONOURABLE LORD HENRY PETTY,
THE RIGHT HONOURABLE THOMAS GRENVILLE,
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NINE OUT OF TWELVE OF HIS MAJESTY'S LATE CABINET MINISTERS,
TO WHOSE WISE AND VIRTUOUS ADMINISTRATION BELONGS
THE UNPARALLELED AND ETERNAL GLORY
OF THE ANNIHILATION,
AS FAR AS THEIR POWER EXTENDED,
OF ONE OF THE GREATEST SOURCES OF CRIMES AND SUFFERINGS,
EVER RECORDED IN THE ANNALS OF MANKIND;
AND TO THE MEMORIES OF
THE RIGHT HONOURABLE WILLIAM PITT,
THE RIGHT HONOURABLE CHARLES JAMES FOX,
UNDER WHOSE FOSTERING INFLUENCE
THE GREAT WORK WAS BEGUN AND PROMOTED;
THE RISE, PROGRESS, AND ACCOMPLISHMENT OF THE ABOLITION OF THE SLAVE TRADE,
IS RESPECTFULLY AND GRATEFULLY INSCRIBED.
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PREFATORY REMARKS ON THE ABOLITION OF SLAVERY
CHAPTER I Introduction.—Estimate of the evil of the Slave Trade; and of the blessing of the Abolition of it.—Usefulness of the contemplation of this subject
CHAPTER II Those, who favoured the cause of the Africans previously to 1787, were so many necessary forerunners in it.—Cardinal Ximenes; and others
CHAPTER III Forerunners continued to 1787; divided now into four classes.—First consists of persons in England of various descriptions, Godwyn, Baxter, and others
CHAPTER IV Second, of the Quakers in England, George Fox, and his religious descendants
CHAPTER V Third, of the Quakers in America.—Union of these with individuals of other religious denominations in the same cause
CHAPTER VI Facility of junction between the members of these three different classes
CHAPTER VII Fourth, consists of Dr. Peckard; then of the Author.—Author wishes to embark in the cause; falls in with several of the members of these classes
CHAPTER VIII Fourth class continued; Langton, Baker, and others.—Author now embarks in the cause as a business of his life
CHAPTER IX Fourth class continued; Sheldon, Mackworth, and others.—Author seeks for further information on the subject; and visits Members of Parliament
CHAPTER X Fourth class continued.—Author enlarges his knowledge.—Meeting at Mr. Wilberforce's.—Remarkable junction of all the four classes, and a Committee formed out of them, in May, 1787, for the Abolition of the Slave Trade.
CHAPTER XI History of the preceding classes, and of their junction, shown by means of a map.
CHAPTER XII Author endeavours to do away the charge of ostentation in consequence of becoming so conspicuous in this work.
CHAPTER XIII Proceedings of the Committee; Emancipation declared to be no part of its object.—Wrongs of Africa by Mr. Roscoe.
CHAPTER XIV Author visits Bristol to collect information.—Ill-usage of seamen in the Slave Trade.—Articles of African produce.—Massacre at Calabar.
CHAPTER XV Mode of procuring and paying seamen in that trade; their mortality in it.—Construction and admeasurement of slave-ships.—Difficulty of procuring evidence.—Cases of Gardiner and Arnold.
CHAPTER XVI Author meets with Alexander Falconbridge; visits ill-treated and disabled seamen; takes a mate out of one of the slave-vessels, and puts another in prison for murder.
CHAPTER XVII Visits Liverpool.—Specimens of African produce.—Dock duties.—Iron instruments used in the traffic.—His introduction to Mr. Norris.
CHAPTER XVIII Manner of procuring and paying seamen at Liverpool in the Slave Trade; their treatment and mortality.—Murder of Peter Green.—Dangerous situation of the Author in consequence of his inquiries.
CHAPTER XIX Author proceeds to Manchester; delivers a discourse there on the subject of the Slave Trade.—Revisits Bristol; new and difficult situation there; suddenly crosses the Severn at night.—Returns to London.
CHAPTER XX Labours of the Committee during the Author's journey.—Mr. Sharp elected chairman.—Seal engraved.—Letters from different correspondents to the Committee.
CHAPTER XXI Further labours of the Committee to February, 1788.—List of new Correspondents.
CHAPTER XXII Progress of the cause to the middle of May.—Petitions to Parliament.—Author's interviews with Mr. Pitt and Mr. Grenville.—Privy Council inquire into the subject; examine Liverpool delegates.—Proceedings of the Committee for the Abolition.—Motion and Debate in the House of Commons; discussion of the general question postponed to the next Session.
CHAPTER XXIII Progress to the middle of July.—Bill to diminish the horrors of the Middle Passage; Evidence examined against it; Debates; Bill passed through both Houses.—Proceedings of the Committee, and effects of them.
CHAPTER XXIV Continuation from June, 1788, to July, 1789.—Author travels in search of fresh evidence.—Privy Council resume their examinations; prepare their report.—Proceedings of the Committee for the Abolition; and of the Planters and others.—Privy Council report laid on the table of the House of Commons; debate upon it.—Twelve propositions.—Opponents refuse to argue from the report; examine new evidence of their own in the House of Commons.—Renewal of the Middle Passage Bill.—Death and character of Ramsay.
CHAPTER XXV Continuation from July, 1789, to July, 1790.—Author travels to Paris to promote the abolition in France; his proceedings there; returns to England.—Examination of opponents' evidence resumed in the Commons.—Author travels in quest of new evidence on the side of the Abolition; this, after great opposition, introduced.—Renewal of the Middle Passage Bill.—Section of the slave-ship.—Cowper's Negro's Complaint.—Wedgewood's Cameos.
CHAPTER XXVI Continuation from July, 1790, to July, 1791.—Author travels again.—Examinations on the side of the Abolition resumed in the Commons; list of those examined.—Cruel circumstances of the times.—Motion for the Abolition of the Trade; debates; motion lost.—Resolutions of the Committee.—Sierra Leone Company established.
CHAPTER XXVII Continuation from July, 1791, to July, 1792.—Author travels again.—People begin to leave off sugar; petition Parliament.—Motion renewed in the Commons; debates; abolition resolved upon, but not to commence till 1796.—The Lords determine upon hearing evidence on the resolution; this evidence introduced; further hearing of it postponed to the next Session
CHAPTER XXVIII Continuation from July, 1792, to July, 1793.—Author travels again.—Motion to renew the Resolution of the last year in the Commons; motion lost.—New motion to abolish the foreign Slave Trade; motion lost.—Proceeding of the Lords
CHAPTER XXIX Continuation from July, 1793, to July, 1794.—Author travels again.—Motion to abolish the foreign Slave Trade renewed, and carried; but lost in the Lords; further proceedings there.—Author, on account of declining health, obliged to retire from the cause
CHAPTER XXX Continuation from July, 1794, to July, 1799.—Various motions within this period
CHAPTER XXXI Continuation from July, 1799, to July, 1805.—Various motions within this period
CHAPTER XXXII Continuation from July, 1805, to July, 1806.—Author, restored, joins the Committee again.—Death of Mr. Pitt.—Foreign Slave Trade abolished.—Resolution to take measures for the total abolition of the trade.—Address to the King to negotiate with foreign powers for their concurrence in it.—Motion to prevent new vessels going into the trade.—All these carried through both Houses of Parliament
CHAPTER XXXIII Continuation from July, 1806, to July, 1807.—Death of Mr. Fox.—Bill for the total abolition carried in the Lords; sent from thence to the Commons; amended, and passed there, and sent back to the Lords; receives the royal assent.—Reflections on this great event
Plan and Sections of a Slave Ship
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THE PRESENT EDITION.
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The invaluable services rendered by Thomas Clarkson to the great question of the Slave Trade in all its branches, have been universally acknowledged both at home and abroad, and have gained him a high place among the greatest benefactors of mankind. The History of the Abolition which this volume contains, affords some means of appreciating the extent of his sacrifices and his labours in this cause. But after these, with the unwearied exertions of William Wilberforce, had conducted its friends to their final triumph, in 1807, they did not then rest from their labours. There remained four most important objects, to which the anxious attention of all Abolitionists was now directed.
First,—The law had been passed, forced upon the Planters, the Traders, and the Parliament, by the voice of the people; and there was a necessity for keeping a watchful eye over its execution.
Secondly,—The statute, however rigorously it might be enforced, left, of course, the whole amount of the Foreign Slave traffic untouched, and it was infinitely to be desired that means should be adopted for extending our Abolition to other nations.
Thirdly,—Some compensation was due to Africa, for the countless miseries which our criminal conduct had for ages inflicted upon her, and strict justice, to say nothing of common humanity and Christian charity, demanded that every means should be used for aiding in the progress of her civilization, and effacing as far as possible the dreadful marks which had been left upon her by our crimes.
Lastly,—Many of those whom we had transported by fraud and violence from their native country, and still more of the descendants of others who had fallen a sacrifice to our cruelties, and perished in the course of nature, slaves in a foreign land, remained to suffer the dreadful evils of West India bondage. It seemed to follow, that the earliest opportunity consistent with their own condition, should be taken to free those unhappy beings, the victims of our sordid cruelty; and all the more to be pitied, as we were all the more to be blamed, because one result of our transgression was the having placed them in so unnatural a position, that their enemies might seem to be furnished with an argument more plausible than sound, drawn from the Negro's supposed unfitness for immediate emancipation.
In order to promote these four great objects, a society was formed in May 1807, called the African Institution, and although, at first, its labours were chiefly directed to the portion of the subject relating to Africa, by degrees, as the extinction of the British Slave Trade was accomplished, its care was chiefly bestowed on West India matters, which were more within the power of this country than the slave traffic, still carried on by foreign nations. But it is necessary in the first place, to recite the measures by which our own share in that enormous crime was surrendered, and the stigma partially obliterated, which it had brought upon our national character, Thomas Clarkson bore a forward and important part in all these useful and virtuous proceedings. His health was now, by rest among the Lakes of Westmoreland for several years, comparatively restored and his mind once more bent itself to the accomplishment of the grand object; of his life, we may he permitted reverently to suggest, the end of his existence.
Mr. Stephen and others, at first, deemed the certainty of the Act passed in March 1807, being evaded under the stimulus, and the insurance against capture afforded by the enormous profits of the traffic, so clear, that they expected the law to become, almost from the time of its being enacted, a dead letter. There soon appeared the strongest reasons to concur in this opinion, the result of long and close observation in the Islands where Mr. Stephen had passed part of his life. The slave-dealers knew the risk of penalty and forfeiture which they ran; but they also knew that if one voyage in three or four was successful, they were abundantly remunerated for all their losses; and, therefore, they were no more restrained by the Abolition Act, than by any moderate increase of the cost or the risk attending their wicked adventures. This was sure, to be the case, as long as the law only treated slavetrading as a contraband commerce, subjecting those who drove it to nothing but pecuniary penalties. But it was equally evident that the same persons who made these calculations of profit and risk, while they only could lose the ship or the money by a seizure, would hesitate before they encountered the hazard of being tried as for a crime. And, surely, if ever these was an act which deserved to be declared felony, and dealt with as such, it was this of slave-trading. Accordingly, in 1810, Mr. Brougham, then a member of the House of Commons, in moving an address to the crown, (which was unanimously agreed to,) for more vigorous measures against the traffic, both British and Foreign, gave notice of the Bill, which he next year carried through Parliament, and which declared the traffic to be a felony, punishable with transportation. Some years afterwards it was by another Act made capital, under the name of Piracy, but this has since been repealed. Several convictions have taken place under the former Act, (of 1811,) and there cannot be the least doubt that the law has proved effectual, and that the Slave Trade has long ceased to exist as far as the British dominions are concerned.
That foreign states continue shamefully to carry it on, is no less certain. There are yearly transported to Cuba and Brazil, above 100,000 unhappy beings, by the two weakest nations in Europe, and these two most entirely subject to the influence and even direct control of England. The inevitable consequence is, that more misery is now inflicted on Africa by the criminals, gently called Slave-traders, of these two guilty nations, than if there were no treaties for the abolition of the traffic. The number required is always carried over, and hence, as many perish by a miserable death in escaping from the cruisers, as reach their destination. The recitals of horror which have been made to Parliament and the country on this dreadful subject, are enough to curdle the blood in the veins and heart of any one endued with the common feelings of humanity. The whole system of prevention, or rather of capture, after the crime has been committed, seems framed with a view to exasperate the evils of the infernal traffic, to scourge Africa with more intolerable torments, and to make human blood be spilt like water. Our cruisers, are excited to an active discharge of their duty, by the benefit of sharing in the price fetched when the captured ship is condemned and sold; but this is a small sum, indeed, compared with the rich reward of head-money held out, being so much for every slave taken on board. It is thus made the direct interest of these cruisers, that the vessels should have their human cargoes on board, rather than be prevented from shipping them. True, this vile policy may prove less mischievous where no treaty exists, giving a right to seize when there are no slaves in the vessel, because here a slave ship is suffered to pass, how clear soever her destination might be; yet, even here, the inducement to send in boats, and seize as soon as a slave or two may be on board, is removed, and the cruiser is told, "only let all these wretched beings be torn from their country, and safely lodged in the vessel's hold, and your reward is great and sure." Then, whenever there is an outfit clause, that is a power to seize vessels fitted for the traffic, this mischievous plan tends directly to make the cruiser let the slaver make ready and put to sea, or it has no tendency or meaning at all. Accordingly, the course is for the cruiser to stand out to sea, and not allow herself to be seen in the offing—the crime is consummated—the slaves are stowed away—the pirate—captain weighs anchor—the pirate-vessel freighted with victims, and manned by criminals fares forth—the cruiser, the British cruiser, gives chace—and then begin those scenes of horror, surpassing all that the poet ever conceived, whose theme was the torments of the damned and the wickedness of the fiends. Casks are filled with the slave, and in these they are stowed away; or to lighten the vessel, they are flung overboard by the score; sometimes they are flung overboard in casks, that the chasing ship may be detained by endeavours to pick them up; the dying and the dead strew the deck; women giving birth to the fruit of the womb, amidst the corpses of their husbands and their children; and other, yet worse and nameless atrocities, fill up the terrible picture, of impotent justice and triumphant guilt. But the guilt is not all Spanish and Portuguese. The English Government can enforce its demands on the puny cabinets of Madrid and Lisbon, scarce conscious of a substantive existence, in all that concerns our petty interests: wherever justice and mercy to mankind demand our interference, there our voice sinks within us, and no sound is uttered. That any treaty without an outfit clause should be suffered to exist between powers so situated, is an outrage upon all justice, all reason, all common sense. But one thing is certain, that unless we are to go further, we have gone too far, and must in mercy to hapless Africa retrace our steps. Unless we really put the traffic down with a strong hand, and instantly, we must instantly repeal the treaties that pretended to abolish it, for these exacerbate the evil a hundred fold, and are ineffectual to any one purpose but putting money into the pockets of our men of war. The fact is as unquestionable, as it is appalling, that all our anxious endeavours to extinguish the Foreign Slave Trade, have ended in making it incomparably worse than it was before we pretended to put it down; that owing to our efforts, there are thrice the number of slaves yearly torn from Africa; and that wholly because of our efforts, two thirds of these are murdered on the high seas and in the holds of the pirate vessels.
It is said, that when these scenes were described to an indignant nation last session of Parliament, the actual effects of this bad system were denied, though its tendency could not be disputed.
It was averred that "no British seaman could be capable of neglecting his duty for the sake of increasing the gains of the station." But nothing could be more absurd than this. Can the direct and inevitable tendency of the head-money system be doubted? Are cruisers the only men over whom motives have no influence? Then why offer a reward at all? When they want no stimulus to perform their duty, why tell them that if the ship is empty, they get a hundred pounds: if laden, five thousand? They know the rules of arithmetic;—they understand the force of numbers. But, in truth, there is not an individual on all the coast of Africa who will be misled by such appeals, or suffer all this to divert them from their purpose of denouncing the system. There are persons high in rank among the best servants of the crown, who know the facts from their own observations, and who are ready to bear witness to the truth, in spite of all the attempts that have been made to silence them.
The other great object of the African Institution regarded the West Indies. The preparation of the negroes for that freedom which was their absolute right, and could only be withheld for an hour, on the ground of their not being prepared for it, and therefore being better without it, was the first thing to be accomplished. Here the friends of the abolition, all but Mr. Stephen, suffered a great disappointment. He alone had uniformly-foretold that the hopes held out, as it seemed very reasonably, of better treatment resulting from the stoppage of the supply of hands, were fallacious. All else had supposed that interest might operate on men whom principle had failed to sway; that they whom no feelings of compassion for their fellow-creatures could move to do their duty, might be touched by a feeling of their own advantage, when interest coincided with duty. The Slave-mart is now closed, it was said; surely the stock on hand will be saved by all means, and not wasted when it can no longer be replaced. The argument was purposely rested on the low ground of regarding human beings as cattle, or even as inanimate chattels, and it was conceived that human life would be regarded of as much value as the wear and tear of beasts, of furniture, or of tools. Hence it was expected that a better system of treatment would follow, from the law which closed the African market, and warned every planter that his stock must be spared by better treatment, and kept up by breeding, since it no longer could be, as it hitherto had been, maintained by new supplies.
Two considerations were, in these arguments, kept out of view, both of a practical nature, and both known to Mr. Stephen,—the cultivation of the Islands by agents having wholly different interests from their masters, and the gambling spirit of trading and culture which long habit had implanted in the West Indian nature. The comforts of the slave depended infinitely more upon the agent on the spot, than the owner generally resident in the mother country; and though the interest of the latter might lead to the saving of negro life, and care for negro comforts, the agent had no such motives to influence his conduct; besides, it was with the eyes of this agent that the planter must see, and he gave no credence to any accounts but his. Now the consequence of cruelty is to make men at war with its objects. No one but a most irritable person feels angry with his beast, and even the anger of such a person is of a moment's duration. But towards an inanimate chattel even the most irritable of sane men can feel nothing like rage. Why? Because in the one case there is little, in the other no conflict or resistance at all. It is otherwise with a slave; he is human, and can disobey—can even resist. This feeling always rankles in his oppressor's bosom, and makes the tyrannical superior hate, and the more oppress his slave. The agent on the spot feels thus, and thus acts; nor can the voice of the owner at a distance be heard, even if interest, clearly proved, were to prompt another course. But the chief cause of the evil is the spirit of speculation, and it affects and rules resident owners even more than absentees. Let sugar rise in price, and all cold calculations of ultimate loss to the gang are lost in the vehement thirst of great present gain. All, or nearly all, planters are in distressed circumstances. They look to the next few years as their time; and if the sun shines they must make hay. They are in the mine, toiling for a season, with every desire to escape and realize something to spend elsewhere. Therefore they make haste to be rich, and care little, should the speculation answer and much sugar bring in great gain, what becomes of the gang ten years hence. Add to all this, that any interference of the local legislatures to discourage sordid or cruel management, to clothe the slaves with rights, to prepare them for freedom by better education, to pave the way for emancipation by restraining the master's power, to create an intermediate State of transition from slavery to freedom by partial liberty, as by attaching them to the soil, and placing them in the preparatory state through which our ancestors in Europe passed from bondage in gross to entire independence—all such measures were in the absolute discretion; not of the planters, but of the resident agents, one of the worst communities in the world, who had little interest in preparing for an event which they deprecated, and whose feelings of party, as well as individually, were all ranged on the oppressor's side. All this Mr. Stephen, enlightened by experience, and wise by long reflection, clearly and alone foresaw; all this vision of the future was too surely realized by the event. No improvement of treatment took place; no additional liberality in the supplies was shown; no abstinence in the exaction of labour appeared; no interference of the Colonial Legislature to check misconduct was witnessed; far less was the least disposition perceived to give any rights to the slaves, any security against oppression, any title independent of his Master, any intermediate state or condition which might prepare him for freedom. It is enough to say, that a measure which every man, except Mr. Stephen, had regarded as the natural, almost the necessary effect of the abolition—attaching the slaves to the soil—was not so much as propounded, far less adopted; it may be even said, was never mentioned in any one local assembly of any of our numerous colonies, during the thirty years which elapsed between the abolition and the emancipation! This is unquestionable, and it is decisive.
As soon as it began to be perceived that such was likely to be the result of the abolition in regard to the emancipation, Mr. Stephen's authority with his coadjutors, always high, rose in proportion to the confirmations which the event had lent his predictions; and his zealous endeavours and unwearied labours for the subversion of the accursed system became both more extensive and more effectual. If, however, strict justice requires the tribute which we have paid to this eminent person's distinguished services, justice also renders it imperative on the historian of the Abolition in all its branches, to record an error into which he fell. Having originally maintained that the traffic would survive the Act of 1807, in which he was right, that Act only imposing pecuniary penalties, he persisted in the same opinion after the Act of 1811 had made slave-trading a felony; and long after it had been effectually put down in the British dominions, he continued to maintain that it was carried on nearly as much as ever, reasoning upon calculations drawn from the island returns. Hence he insisted upon a general Registry Act, as essential to prevent the continuance of an importation which had little or no real existence. The importance of such a measure was undeniable, with a view to secure the good treatment of the negroes in the islands; but the extinction of the Slave Trade had long before been effectually accomplished.
In the efforts to obtain Negro Emancipation, all the Abolitionists were now prepared to join. The conduct of the Colonial Assemblies having long shown the fallacy of those expectations which had been entertained of the good work being done in the islands as soon as the supply of new hands should be stopped by the Abolition, there remained no longer any doubt whatever, that the mother country alone could abate a nuisance hateful in the sight of God and man. Constant opportunities were therefore offered to agitate this great question, which was taken up by the enlightened, the humane, and the religious, all over the empire.
The magnitude of the subject was indeed worthy of all the interest it excited. The destiny of nearly a million of human beings—nay, the question whether they should be treated as men with rational souls, or as the beasts which perish—should enjoy the liberty to which all God's creatures are entitled, as of right, or be harassed, oppressed, tormented, and stinted, both as regarded bodily food, and spiritual instruction—whether the colonies should be peopled with tyrants and barbarians, or inhabited by civilized and improving christian communities—was one calculated to put in action all the best principles of our nature, and to move all the noblest feelings of the human heart.
Thomas Clarkson, as far as his means extended, aided this great excitement. He renewed his committees of correspondence all over the country; aided by the Society of Friends, his early and steady coadjutors in this pious work, he recommenced the epistolary intercourse with the provinces, held for so many hopeless years on the Slave Trade, but now made far more promising by the victory which had been obtained, and by the unanimity with which all Abolitionists now were resolved to procure emancipation. He also recommenced his journeys through the different parts of the island, and visited in succession part of Scotland, almost all England, and the whole of Wales, encouraging and interesting the friends of humanity wherever he went, and forming local societies and committees for furthering the common object.
But it was, after all, in Parliament that the battle must be fought; and Mr. Buxton, of whose invaluable services in the House of Commons the cause has lately been deprived, repeatedly, with the support of Messrs. Wilberforce, William Smith, Brougham, Lushington, and others, urged the necessity of interference upon the representatives of a people unanimous in demanding it; and he repeatedly urged it in vain. The Government always leaned towards the planter, and the most flimsy excuses were constantly given for preferring to the effectual measures propounded by the Abolitionists, the most flimsy of expedients, useless for any one purpose, save that of making pretences and gaining time.
At length came the great case of the missionary Smith's persecution, trial, and untimely death, when all the forms of judicature had been prostituted, all the rules of law broken, all the principles of justice outraged, by men assuming to sit in judgment as a court of criminal jurisprudence; and though assisted by legal functionaries, exhibiting such a spectacle of daring violation of the most received and best known canons of procedure, as no civilized community ever before were called upon to endure. This subject was immediately brought before Parliament by Mr. Brougham, and his motion of censure, which might have been an impeachment of the governor and the court of Demerara, was powerfully supported by Mr. Wilberforce, the amiable, eloquent, and venerable leader of the party, Mr. Denman, Mr. Williams, and Dr. Lushington, but rejected by a majority of the Commons, whom Mr. Canning led, in a speech little worthy of his former exertions against the Slave Trade, and far from being creditable either to his judgment or to his principles. Yet this memorable debate was of singular service to the cause. The great speeches delivered were spread through all parts of the country; the nakedness of the horrid system was exposed; the corruptions as well as cruelty of slavery were laid bare; the determination of colonies to protect its worst abuses was demonstrated; necessity of the mother-country interfering with a strong hand was declared; and even the loss of the motion showed the people of England how much their own exertions were still required if they would see slavery extirpated, by proving that upon them alone the fate of the execrable system hung.
The effects of this great debate cannot be over estimated. The case of the missionary became the universal topic; The name of the martyred Smith, the general rallying cry. The superior interest excited by individual sufferings to any general misery inflicted upon masses of the people, or any evil, however gigantic, which operates over a large space, and in a course of time, has always been observed. The remark was peculiarly applicable in this instance. Although all reflecting men had, for many long years, been well aware of the evils pervading our colonial system, and though the iniquity and perverseness of West Indian judicatures had long been the topic of universal comment, yet this single case of a persecuted individual falling a victim to those gross perversions of law and justice which are familiar to the colonial people, produced an impression far more general and more deep than all that had ever been written or declaimed against system of West India slavery; and looking back on the consummation of all our hopes in 1833 and 1838, we at once revert from this auspicious era to that ever memorable occasion as having laid the solid foundation of our ultimate triumph.
In this important day, which has thus by its effects proved decisive of the Emancipation question, Mr. Stephen bore no part. He had long ceased to adorn and enlighten the House of Commons. His retirement was the result of honest differences of opinion respecting West India slavery with his political friends, then in the plenitude of their power. Those differences caused him to take the noble part, so rarely acted by politicians, of withdrawing from Parliament rather than lend his great support to men with whom he differed upon a question admitting no compromise; and he devoted his exertions in private life to the furtherance of the cause ever nearest his heart, the publication of his able and elaborate work on the Colonial Slave Laws was the fruit of his leisure; and had he never lent any other aid to the Emancipation, this would alone have placed him high among its most able and effective supporters. In all the consultations which were held before Mr. Brougham's motion in 1824, he bore an active and useful part. In pushing the advantages gained by the debate he was unwearied and successful. Unhappily it pleased Providence that he should not receive here below the final reward of his long and valued labours; for he was called to his final repose some months before the Emancipation Bill passed into a law.
There remains little to add, except that this measure, which was carried with little opposition in 1833, owed its success in Parliament to the ample bribe of twenty millions, by which the acquiescence of the West Indians was purchased. The measure had hardly come into operation, when all men perceived that the intermediate state of apprenticeship was anything rather than a preparation for freedom, and anything rather than a mitigation of slavery. It is due to some able and distinguished friends of the negro race to state, that they all along were averse to this plan of a transition state. Lord Howick, then in the Colonial Office as Under-Secretary, went so far as to leave the department, from his dislike of this part of the measure. Mr. Buxton and others protested against it. Even its friends intimated that they wished the period of apprenticeship to end in 1838 instead of 1840; but there was a general belief of the preparatory step being necessary,—a belief apparently founded on experience of the negro character, and indeed of the vicious tendency of all slavery, to extinguish the power of voluntary labour, as well as to make the sudden change to freedom unsafe for the peace of the community. The fact soon dispersed these opinions. Antigua in a minute emancipated all her slaves to the number of thirty thousand and upwards. Not a complaint was ever heard of idleness or indolence; and, far from any breach of the peace being induced by the sudden change in the condition of the people, the Christmas of 1833 was the first, for the last twenty years, that martial law was not proclaimed, in order to preserve the public peace. Similar evidence from Jamaica and other islands, proving the industrious and peaceable habits of the apprentices, showed that there was nothing peculiar in the circumstances of Antigua.
An important occurrence is now to be recorded as having exercised a powerful influence upon the question of immediate emancipation. Joseph Sturge, of Birmingham, a member of the Society of Friends, stricken with a sense of the injustice perpetrated against the African race, repaired to the West Indies, in order that he might examine, with his own eyes, the real state of the question between the two classes. He was accompanied by John Scoble and Thomas Harvey; and these able, excellent, and zealous men returned in a few months with such ample evidence of the effects produced by apprenticeship, and the fitness of the negroes for liberty, that the attention of the community was soon awakened to the subject, even more strenuously than it ever before had been; and the walls of Parliament were soon made once more to ring with the sufferings of the slave, only emancipated in name, and the injustice of withholding from him any longer the freedom which was his indefeasible right, as soon as he was shown capable of enjoying it beneficially for himself and safely for the rest of the community.
In these transactions, both in Jamaica, where he is one of the largest planters, and in Parliament, where he is one of the most respected members, the Marquess of Sligo bore an eminent and an honourable part. His praise has been justly sounded by all who have supported the cause of negro freedom, and his conduct was by all admitted to be as much marked by the disinterested virtue of a good citizen and amiable man, as it was by the sagacity and ability of an enlightened statesman. Both as governor of Jamaica, as the owner of slaves whom he voluntarily liberated, and as a peer of Parliament, his patriotism, his humanity, and his talents, shone conspicuously through this severe and glorious struggle. While such was the conduct of those eminent philanthropists, some difference of opinion prevailed among the other and older leaders of the cause, chiefly grounded upon doubts whether the arrangement made by Parliament in 1833, might not be regarded as a compact with the planters which it would be unjust to violate by terminating their right to the labour of the apprentices at a period earlier than the one fixed in the Emancipation Act. A little consideration of the question at issue soon dispelled those doubts, and removed every obstacle to united exertion, by restoring entire unanimity of opinion. The slaves, it was triumphantly affirmed, were no party to the compact. But moreover, the whole arrangement of the apprenticeship was intended as a benefit to them, by giving them the preparation thought to be required before they could, safely for themselves, be admitted to unrestricted freedom,—not as a benefit to the planters, whose acquiescence was purchased with the grant of twenty millions. Experience having shown that no preparation at all was required, it was preposterous to continue the restraint upon natural liberty an hour longer, as regarded the negroes,—the only party whom we had any right to consider in the question; and as for the planters there was the grossest absurdity in further regarding any interests or any claims of theirs. The arrangement of 1833, as far as regards the transition or intermediate state, had been made under an error in fact, an error propagated by the representations of the masters. That error was now at an end, and an immediate alteration of the provisions to which it had given rise was thus a matter of strict justice;—not to mention that the planters had failed to perform their part of the contract. The Colonial Assemblies had, except in Antigua, done nothing for the slave in return for the large sum bestowed upon the West India body. So that in any view there was an end of all pretext for the further delay of right and justice.
The ground now taken by the whole Abolitionists; therefore, both in and out of Parliament was, that the two years which remained of the indentured apprenticeship must immediately be cut off, and freedom given to the slaves in August, 1838, instead of 1840; The peace of the West Indian community, and the real interests of the planters, were affirmed to be as much concerned in this change as the rights of the negroes themselves. Far from preparing them for becoming peaceable subjects and contented members of society at the end of their apprenticeship, those two years of compulsory labour would, it was justly observed, be a period of heart-burning and discontent between master and servant, which must, in the mean while, be dangerous to the peace of society, and must leave, at the end of the time, a feeling of mutual ill-will and distrust. The question could no longer be kept from the cognizance of the negro people. Indeed, their most anxious expectations were already pointed towards immediate liberty, and their strongest feelings were roused to obtain it.
Of these sentiments the whole community partook; meetings were everywhere held; petitions crowded the tables of Parliament; the press poured forth innumerable tracts which were eagerly received; the pulpit lent its aid to this holy cause; and discussions upon petitions and upon incidental motions shook the walls of Parliament, while they stimulated the zeal of the people. The Government adopted an unfortunate course, which contributed greatly to weaken their hold on the confidence and affections of the country; they resisted all the motions that were made on behalf of the slaves, and appeared to regard only the interests of the master, turning a deaf ear to the arguments of right and of justice.
It was found, during the course of these debates, that a new Slave Trade had sprung up in the East Indies, with the sanction of an English Order in Council. Under pretence that hands were wanted to cultivate their estates, the Demerara planters had obtained permission to import what they termed, with a delicacy borrowed from the vocabulary of the African Slave Trade, "labourers" from Asia and from Africa east of the Cape, and to make them Indentured Apprentices for a term of years. No restrictions whatever were imposed by this unheard-of Order. No tonnage was required in proportion to the numbers shipped, no amount of provision, no medical assistance; no precautions were taken, or so much as thought of, to prevent kidnapping and fraud, nay, to prevent main force being used in any part of Eastern Africa, or of all Asia, in carrying on board the victims of West Indian avarice; in short, a worse Slave Trade than the African was established, and all the dominions of the East India Company, with all the African and Asiatic coasts, as yet independent, were given over to its ravages. This was repeatedly denounced by Lord Brougham in the House of Lords; and although his motion for rescinding the order was supported by Lord Lyndhurst, Lord Ellenborough, and Lord Wharncliffe, the influence of the Government and the planters prevailed, and the House rejected it. A bill was afterwards brought in to check the enormities complained of; but no remedy at all effectual is as yet applied. The official documents, however, proved that already men had been inveigled on board, by the agents of the Mauritius planters, in different parts of the East, and that the mortality on that comparatively short voyage exceeded even the dreadful waste of life which had characterized, and impressed with marks of horrid atrocity, the accursed Middle Passage.
This subject, as might well be expected, once more roused the energies of Thomas Clarkson: he addressed an able and convincing letter to Lord Brougham, his old friend and coadjutor in the sacred cause; and it was printed and universally circulated. The subject still remains unsettled: and the labours of the enlightened philanthropist cannot now be directed to one more important, or more urgent.
Meanwhile, in the spring of 1838, the question of Immediate Emancipation was agitated throughout the country. The Government proved hostile. Immense meetings were held at Exeter Hall, which were attended by many members of Parliament, over which Lord Brougham presided. Among others who were present and bore a distinguished part, were certain representatives of Ireland who promised their strenuous support. It is a painful duty to add, that their fellow-members from Ireland did not, on this great occasion, follow their good example; for eleven only of those, on whose votes reliance had been placed, opposed the Government, while no less than twenty-seven gave them support.
The question was rejected by the House of Lords, when brought forward by Lord Brougham; but in spite of the efforts of the Government; the defalcation of the Irish, of a still greater proportion of the Scotch representatives, two hundred and seventeen members of the House of Commons voted for Immediate Abolition, out of four hundred and eighty-nine who were present on the occasion. A second effort in the same session placed Ministers in a minority; but they immediately gave notice, they should strenuously oppose any attempt to carry into practical effect this decision of the House; and in this determination they were supported by a majority on a third division.
The word, however, had gone forth all over England, that the Slave should be free. It had not only pervaded Europe, it had reached America; and the West Indians at length perceived that they could no longer resist the voice of the British people, when it spoke the accents of humanity and of justice. The slaves would have met the dawn of the first of August,—the day which all the motions in Parliament and all the prayers of the petitions had fixed,—with perfect quiet, but with a resolute determination to do no work. The peace would not have been broken, but no more would a clod have been turned after that appointed sun had risen. A handful of whites surrounded by myriads of negroes,—now substantially free, and free without a blow,—must have been overwhelmed in an hour after sunrise on that day, had they resisted. The Colonial Legislatures, therefore, now listened to the voice of reason, and they, one after another, emancipated their slaves. The first of August saw not a bondsman, under whatever appellation, in any part of the Western Sea which owns the British rule.
The Mauritius, however, still held out, and on the Mauritius the hand of the Imperial Parliament must and will be laid, to enforce mercy and justice on those to whom mercy and justice have so long called aloud in vain. In truth, if the case for instant emancipation was strong everywhere, it was in no quarter half so strong as in the Mauritius; and the distribution of the grant by Parliament to this Colony was the most unjustifiable, and even incomprehensible. For, elsewhere, there existed at least a title to the slave, over whom an unjust and unchristian law recognised the right of property. But in the Mauritius there was not, nor is there now, one negro to whom a good title is clearly provable. The atrocious conduct of Governors and other functionaries, in conniving at the Slave Trade of Eastern Africa, had filled that Colony with thousands of negroes, every one of whom was carried there by the commission of felony, long after Slave Trading had been declared a capital crime by the law of the land, as by the law of nature it always was. Sir George Murray, when Colonial Secretary of State, had admitted, that at least thirty thousand of the negroes in the settlement were nominally slaves, but in reality free, having been carried thither contrary to law. He understated it by twenty thousand or more: yet on all these negroes, in respect of property, were two millions and more claimed: for all these the compensation money was given and taken, which Parliament had lavishly bestowed. How then was it possible to doubt, that every slave in the Mauritius should receive his freedom, when the only ground alleged for not singling out and liberating this fifty thousand, was the inability to distinguish them from the rest? If ten men are tried for an offence, and it is clear that five are innocent, though you cannot distinguish them from their companions, what jury will hesitate in acquitting the whole, on the ordinary principle of its being better five guilty should escape than five guiltless suffer? The same is still the state of the case in that most criminal settlement, which, having far surpassed all others in the enormity of its guilt, is now the only one where no attempt has been made to evince repentance by amendment of conduct. But the Government which has the power of compelling justice will share the crime which they refuse to prevent, and the Legislature must compel the Government, if their guilty reluctance shall continue, or it will take that guilt upon itself[A].
[Footnote A: It is truly gratifying to state, that the late Secretary for the Colonies, Lord Glenelg, has, since this was written, given the most satisfactory assurances of orders having been sent over for immediate emancipation, in case the former instructions to the Governor of Mauritius should have failed, to make the Colonists themselves adopt the measure. Lord Glenelg's conduct on this occasion is most creditable to him.]
The latest act of Thomas Clarkson's life has been one which, or rather the occasion for which, it is truly painful to contemplate; but this too must be recorded, or the present historical sketch would be incomplete. He whose days had all been spent in acts of kindness and of justice to others, was at last forced to exert his powers, supposed, by some, and erroneously supposed, to be enfeebled by age, in obtaining redress for his own wrongs. He whose thoughts had all been devoted to the service of his fellow-creatures, was now obliged to think of himself. A life spent in works of genuine philanthropy, alike standing aloof from party, and retiring with genuine humility from the public gaze, might have well hoped to escape that detraction, which is the lot of those who assume the leading stations among their contemporaries, and mingle in the contentious scenes of worldly affairs. Or, at least, it might have been expected that his traducers would only be found among the oppressors of the New World, or the slave-traders of the Old. This felicity has not been his lot; and the evening of his days has been overcast by an assault upon his character, proceeding from the quarter of all others the most unexpected and the most strange.
The sons of his old and dear friend William Wilberforce,—whose incomparable merits he had ever been the first to acknowledge, whom he loved as a brother, and revered as the great leader of the cause to which his whole life had been devoted,—in publishing a Life of their illustrious parent, thought fit to charge Thomas Clarkson with having suppressed his services while he exaggerated his own; and not content with bringing a charge utterly groundless, (as it was instantly proved,) they deemed it worthy of their subject and of their name, to drag forth into the light of day a private correspondence of a delicate nature, with the purpose of proving that their father and others had assisted him with money, and that he had been pressing in his demands of a subscription. Two extracts of Letters of his were printed by these reverend gentlemen, upon which a statement was afterwards grounded in the Edinburgh Review of their book, that the subscription was raised to remunerate him for his services in the Abolition. They further asserted, that their father was in the field before him, and that it was under their father's direction that he, and the Abolition Committee of 1786, acted. In the whole history of controversy, we venture to affirm, there never was an instance of so triumphant a refutation as that by which these slanderous aspersions were instantly refuted, and their authors and their accomplices reduced to a silence as prudent as discreditable.
The venerable philanthropist took up his pen, worn down in the cause of humanity and of justice. First, he showed, by incontrovertible evidence, the utter falsehood of the charge, that he had underrated the merits of others and exalted his own. These proofs were the references to his volumes themselves, which it really seemed as if the two reverend authors had never even looked into. He then proved to demonstration that he had taken the field earlier than William Wilberforce. This was shown, first, by known dates, matter of history; next, by letters from the friends of both parties, as Archdeacon Corbet and William Smith; but, lastly, by the words of William Wilberforce himself, as well privately as at public meetings, asserting that he (William Wilberforce) came into the field after his valued friend. But a striking fact may be cited, as a sample at once of the course pursued by the assailants, and the completeness of the defence. The reverend authors in proof of their unqualified assertion, that Thomas Clarkson and the Committee acted from the first under William Wilberforce's directions, refer to "MS. Minutes of the Committee" for their authority. But the friend who so ably superintended the publication of Thomas Clarkson's defence, and who added to that tract an appendix of singular merit and great interest (H.C. Robinson), showed that the parts referred to by the reverend authors, in proof of their assertion, completely disproved it; and that six months after the Committee had been working, William Wilberforce applied to them for any information of which they might be possessed on the subject of the Slave Trade.
But the publication of the letters and the colour given to the transaction were far worse. The preservation of that correspondence, at all, by the sons, could only be justified by the belief of its being accidentally kept by the father, but, of course, never intended to be made public; least of all without the usual precaution of asking the writer's leave, and giving him the opportunity of explaining it. The biographers printed it without any kind of communication with him, and he saw it for the first time in print.
Then, the attempt was made to represent this pure, and valuable, and disinterested man as a mendicant philanthropist, who, for his exertions in the cause of justice, stooped to the humiliating attitude of collecting a remuneration from his friends. The words of William Wilberforce, and other Abolition leaders, prove that he had expended a very considerable portion of his own small patrimony in the cause, and that the subscription was to pay a debt,—a just and lawful debt; not to confer a bounty, or reward, or remuneration for services performed. It is also proved, that after being reimbursed to the amount of the sum contributed, or rather levied on those for whom the poorest of their body had advanced his own money, he remained out of pocket far more than others had ever given, after their share of the repayment was credited to them, in this debtor and creditor account.
But this is not all: Mr. Wilberforce himself, then a man of ample fortune, and Member for Yorkshire, had in 1807, published a pamphlet in the cause. The Minutes of the Committee for 6th June, 1811, contained an entry of an order to pay 83l. out of the subscription funds to Mr. Cadell, being Mr. Wilberforce's share of the loss sustained by that publication. There had been no mention at all of this in his life, by these reverend authors, who scrupled not to print the garbled letters, with the manifest design of lowering the character of their father's friend, by ranking him among venal stipendiary pretenders to philanthropy, and jobbing mendicant patriots.
Wherefore, it may be asked, was this matter at all dragged forth to light, except to effect that unworthy purpose, and to give pain to a man as eminently as deservedly respected and beloved? The false pretext is, the vindication of their father's memory.—But it had never been attacked. They affect to suppose such an attack, that they may have a pretext for inflicting a wound in a fictitious and almost a fraudulent defence.—But if it had been ever so rudely attacked, the letters are no defence. For the only possible pretence of attack was the notion of Thomas Clarkson having assumed the priority, and these letters can have no earthly relation to that point. Whether Wilberforce, or Clarkson, or neither of them, first began the abolition struggle, is a question as utterly wide of the subscription as any one private matter in the life of either party can be of any one public transaction in which both were engaged.
The indignation of mankind was awakened by this disgraceful proceeding, and it was in vain that the friends of the Wilberforces urged, as some extenuation of their offence, the zeal which they naturally cherished for the memory of their parent. Men of reflection felt that no well-regulated mind can ever engage in slandering one person for the purpose of elevating another. Men of ordinary discernment perceived that the assaults on Clarkson's reputation had no possible tendency to raise Wilberforce's reputation. Men of observation saw at once that there lurked behind the wish to praise the one party, a desire to wound the other; and gave them far less credit for over-anxiety to gratify their filial affections than eagerness to indulge their hostile feelings. It was plain, too, that they sought this gratification at the hazard of bringing a stain upon the memory of their father; for what could be more natural than the suspicion that they had obtained from him the materials out of which their web of detraction was woven? And what more discreditable to the author of the affectionate and familiar letters of Wilberforce to Clarkson than their discrepancy with the charges now urged against him? It is due to the memory of this venerable man, now gone to his rest, to say that no one who knew him, ever so slightly, could believe in the possibility of his holding one language to his friend and another to his children: far less of his bequeathing to them anything like materials for the attack upon one to whom he professed the most warm and steady attachment. But if such be the conclusion of all who knew the man, assuredly in arriving at it they have derived no help from the lights afforded by his family.
The vindication of Thomas Clarkson has been triumphant; the punishment of his traducers has been exemplary. His character stands higher than ever; his name is lofty and it is unsullied; they have a character to retrieve,—a name which they have tarnished since it descended upon them, they have to restore by their own future deserts.
The astonishment of the world was at its pitch when the champion of Abolition, the steady ally of Thomas Clarkson and Granville Sharpe, the Edinburgh Review, was seen attempting to rescue these parties, and taking part against the injured man, the patriarch of a cause defended by that celebrated Journal during a brilliant period of much above thirty years. The boldness displayed in its pages on this occasion was excessive. As if feeling that the weak and indefensible part in the assault was the publishing of the letters, it had the confidence to affirm, that this proceeding was called for in justice to Wilberforce's memory. So daring an attempt upon the integrity of facts has not often been witnessed. What! The publication of these letters, which had no possible connexion with Wilberforce's character, (a character, indeed, that no one had assailed,) letters which were absolutely foreign even to the question of priority in the abolition cause,—the publication of these necessary to the defence of Wilberforce? Then, upon what ground necessary? How had he been attacked? Where was he to be defended? But, if attacked, how did the letters aid,—how connect themselves with,—how, in any manner of way, bear upon the defence, or any defence, or any portion of Wilberforce's character and life? They showed him to have contributed towards the payment of a debt he had contracted to Clarkson. But who had ever charged him with refusing to pay his debts? With his merits as to the Abolition, (if that be what is meant by his character,)—merits which it was a mere fabrication to pretend that Clarkson had ever been slow to acknowledge,—those letters had absolutely no possible connexion; and whoever, on this score, affects to defend this publication, is capable of vindicating the printing any private letter upon the most delicate subject, by any man who writes the history of any other affair, or who writes on any subject from which the correspondence is wholly foreign. It is proper to add, that the editors of this Journal have most properly published a retractation of the charges made, in their ignorance of the whole facts of the case.
The acute and sagacious editor of T. Clarkson's vindication, has given his reasons for suspecting that this criticism, in the Edinburgh Review, must have proceeded from some party directly concerned in the publication of Wilberforce's life. We enter into no discussion of the circumstantial evidence adduced in favour of this supposition. The editors of the Journal are the parties to whom we look; and as they, after being to all appearance misled by some partial writer, have made the best reparation for an involuntary error, by doing justice to the injured party, we can have no further remark to make upon the subject.
But it is impossible to close these pages without mentioning the extraordinary merit of this latest, and, in all likelihood, this last production of Clarkson's pen. It is indeed a most able performance, and has been admired by some of the ablest controversial writers of the age, as a model of excellence in controversial writing. Plain, vigorous, convincing, perfectly calm and temperate, devoid of all acrimony, barely saying enough to repel unjust aggression without one word of retaliation, never losing sight for a moment of its purely defensive object, and accordingly, from the singleness of purpose with which that object is pursued, attaining it with the most triumphant success,—no wonder that the public judgment has been loudly and universally pronounced in its favour, that its adversaries have been reduced to absolute silence, that its author's name has been exalted even higher than before it stood. But the wonder is to see such unimpaired vigour at four-score years of age, after a life of unwearied labour, latterly clouded by domestic calamity, and a spirit as young as ever in zeal for justice, tempered only by the mellowness which the kindly heart spreads over the fruits of the manly understanding.
There wanted no testimonials of esteem from his country to consummate the venerable philanthropist's renown; yet these too have been added. Various meetings have addressed their gratulations to him. Of these the great corporation of London claims the first regard, and after presenting him with the freedom of the city, they have ordered to be erected in their hall, as a memorial of his extraordinary virtue, a likeness of the mortal form of Thomas Clarkson.
* * * * *
HISTORY OF THE ABOLITION OF THE SLAVE TRADE.
* * * * *
No subject more pleasing than that of the removal of evils.—Evils have existed almost from the beginning of the world; but there is a power in our nature to counteract them—this power increased by Christianity.—Of the evils removed by Christianity one of the greatest is the Slave Trade.—The joy we ought to feel on its abolition from a contemplation of the nature of it; and of the extent of it; and of the difficulty of subduing it.—Usefulness also of the contemplation of this subject.
I scarcely know of any subject, the contemplation of which is more pleasing, than that of the correction or of the removal of any of the acknowledged evils of life; for while we rejoice to think that the sufferings of our fellow-creatures have been thus, in any instance, relieved, we must rejoice equally to think, that our own moral condition must have been necessarily improved by the change.
That evils, both physical and moral, have existed long upon earth there can be no doubt. One of the sacred writers, to whom we more immediately appeal for the early history of mankind, informs us that the state of our first parents was a state of innocence and happiness; but that, soon after their creation, sin and misery entered into the world. The poets in their fables, most of which, however extravagant they may seem, had their origin in truth, speak the same language. Some of these represent the first condition of man by the figure of the golden, and his subsequent degeneracy and subjection to suffering by that of the silver, and afterwards of the iron age. Others tell us that the first female was made of clay; that she was called Pandora, because every necessary gift, qualification, or endowment, was given to her by the gods, but that she received from Jupiter, at the same time, a box from which, when opened, a multitude of disorders sprung, and that these spread themselves immediately afterwards among all of the human race. Thus it appears, whatever authorities we consult, that those which may be termed the evils of life existed in the earliest times. And what does subsequent history, combined with our own experience, tell us, but that these have been continued, or that they have come down in different degrees through successive generations of men, in all the known countries of the universe, to the present day?
But though the inequality visible in the different conditions of life, and the passions interwoven into our nature, (both which have been allotted to us for wise purposes, and without which we could not easily afford a proof of the existence of that, which is denominated virtue,) have a tendency to produce vice and wretchedness among us, yet we see, in this our constitution, what may operate partially as preventives and corrective of them. If there be a radical propensity in our nature to do that which is wrong, there is, on the other hand, a counteracting power within it, or an impulse by means of the action of the divine Spirit upon our minds, which urges us to do that which is right. If the voice of temptation, clothed in musical and seducing accents, charms us one way, the voice of holiness, speaking to us from within, in a solemn and powerful manner, commands us another. Does one man obtain a victory over his corrupt affections? an immediate perception of pleasure, like the feeling of a reward divinely conferred upon him, is noticed. Does another fall prostrate beneath their power? a painful feeling, and such as pronounces to him the sentence of reproof and punishment is found to follow. If one, by suffering his heart to become hardened, oppresses a fellow-creature, the tear of sympathy starts up in the eye of another, and the latter instantly feels a desire, involuntarily generated, of flying to his relief. Thus impulses, feelings, and dispositions have been implanted in our nature, for the purpose of preventing and rectifying the evils of life. And as these have operated, so as to stimulate some men to lessen them by the exercise of an amiable charity, so they have operated to stimulate others in various other ways to the same end. Hence the philosopher has left moral precepts behind him in favour of benevolence, and the legislator has endeavoured to prevent barbarous practices by the introduction of laws.
In consequence then of these impulses and feelings, by which the pure power in our nature is thus made to act as a check upon the evil part of it, and in consequence of the influence which philosophy and legislative wisdom have had in their respective provinces, there has been always, in all times and countries, a counteracting energy, which has opposed itself, more or less, to the crimes and miseries of mankind. But it seems to have been reserved for Christianity to increase this energy, and to give it the widest possible domain. It was reserved for her, under the same divine influence, to give the best views of the nature and of the present and future condition of man; to afford the best moral precepts, to communicate the most benign stimulus to the heart, to produce the most blameless conduct, and thus to cut off many of the causes of wretchedness, and to heal it wherever it was found. At her command, wherever she has been duly acknowledged, many of the evils of life have already fled. The prisoner of war is no longer led into the amphitheatre to become a gladiator, and to imbrue his hands in the blood of his fellow-captive for the sport of a thoughtless multitude. The stern priest, cruel through fanaticism and custom, no longer leads his fellow-creature to the altar to sacrifice him to fictitious gods. The venerable martyr, courageous through faith and the sanctity of his life, is no longer hurried to the flames. The haggard witch, poring over her incantations by moon-light, no longer scatters her superstitious poison among her miserable neighbours, nor suffers for her crime.
But in whatever way Christianity may have operated towards the increase of this energy, or towards a diminution of human misery, it has operated in none more powerfully than by the new views and consequent duties, which it introduced on the subject of charity, or practical benevolence and love. Men in ancient times looked upon their talents, of whatever description, as, their own, which they might use, or cease to use at their discretion. But the Author of our religion was the first who taught that, however in a legal point of view, the talent of individuals might belong exclusively to themselves, so that no other person had a right to demand the use of it by force, yet in the Christian dispensation they were but the stewards of it for good; that so much was expected from this stewardship, that it was difficult for those who were intrusted with it to enter into his spiritual kingdom; that these had no right to conceal their talent in a napkin, but that they were bound to dispense a portion of it to the relief of their fellow-creatures; and that, in proportion to the magnitude of it, they were accountable for the extensiveness of its use. He was the first who pronounced the misapplication of it to be a crime, and to be a crime of no ordinary dimensions. He was the first who broke down the boundary between Jew and Gentile, and, therefore, the first who pointed out to men the inhabitants of other countries, for the exercise of their philanthropy and love. Hence a distinction is to be made both in the principle and practice of charity, as existing in ancient or in modern times. Though the old philosophers, historians, and poets, frequently inculcated benevolence, we have no reason to conclude from any facts they have left us, that persons in their days did anything more than occasionally relieve an unfortunate object, who might present himself before them, or that, however they might deplore the existence of public evils among them, they joined in associations for their suppression, or that they carried their charity, as bodies of men, into other kingdoms. To Christianity alone we are indebted for the new and sublime spectacle, of seeing men going beyond the bounds of individual usefulness to each other; of seeing them associate for the extirpation of private and public misery; and of seeing them carry their charity, as a united brotherhood, into distant lands. And in this wider field of benevolence it would be unjust not to confess, that no country has shone with more true lustre than our own, there being scarcely any case of acknowledged affliction, for which some of her Christian children have not united in an attempt to provide relief.
Among the evils corrected or subdued, either by the general influence of Christianity on the minds of men, or by particular associations of Christians, the African[A]. Slave Trade appears to me to have occupied the foremost place. The abolition of it, therefore, of which it has devolved upon me to write the history, should be accounted as one of the greatest blessings, and as such should be one of the most copious sources of our joy: indeed, I know of no evil, the removal of which should excite in us a higher degree of pleasure. For, in considerations of this kind, are we not usually influenced by circumstances? Are not our feelings usually affected according to the situation, or the magnitude, or the importance of these? Are they not more or less elevated, as the evil under our contemplation has been more or less productive of misery, or more or less productive of guilt? Are they not more or less elevated again, as we have found it more or less considerable in extent? Our sensations will undoubtedly be in proportion to such circumstances, or our joy to the appreciation or mensuration of the evil which has been removed.
[Footnote A: Slavery had been before annihilated by Christianity; I mean in the West of Europe, at the close of the twelfth century]
To value the blessing of the abolition as we ought, or to appreciate the joy and gratitude which we ought to feel concerning it, we must enter a little into the circumstances of the trade. Our statement, however, of these needs not be long: a few pages will do all that is necessary! A glance only into such a subject as this will be sufficient to affect the heart,—to arouse our indignation and our pity,—and to teach us the importance of the victory obtained.
The first subject for consideration, towards enabling us to make the estimate in question, will be that of the nature of the evil belonging to the Slave Trade. This may be seen by examining it in three points of view. First, as it has been proved to arise on the Continent of Africa, in the course of reducing the inhabitants of it to slavery. Secondly, in the course of conveying them from thence to the lands or colonies of other nations. And, thirdly, in continuing them there as slaves.
To see it, as it has been shown, to arise in the first case, let us suppose ourselves on the Continent just mentioned. Well then, We are landed,—We are already upon our travels,—We have just passed through one forest,—We are now come to a more open place, which indicates an approach to habitation. And what object is that which first obtrudes itself upon our sight? Who is that wretched woman whom we discover under that noble tree, wringing her hands, and beating her breast, as if in the agonies of despair? Three days has she been there, at intervals, to look and to watch; and this is the fourth morning, and no tidings of her children yet. Beneath its spreading boughs they were accustomed to play: but, alas! the savage man-stealer interrupted their playful mirth, and has taken them for ever from her sight.
But let us leave the cries of this unfortunate woman, and hasten into another district. And what do we first see here? Who is he that just now started across the narrow pathway, as if afraid of a human face? What is that sudden rustling among the leaves? Why are those persons flying from our approach, and hiding themselves in yon darkest thicket? Behold, as we get into the plain, a deserted village! The rice-field has been just trodden down around it; an aged man,—venerable by his silver beard,—lies wounded and dying near the threshold of his hut. War, suddenly instigated by avarice, has just visited the dwellings which we see. The old have been butchered, because unfit for slavery, and the young have been carried off, except such as have fallen in the conflict, or have escaped among the woods behind us.
But let us hasten from this cruel scene, which gives rise to so many melancholy reflections. Let us cross yon distant river, and enter into some new domain. But are we relieved even here from afflicting spectacles? Look at that immense crowd which appears to be gathered in a ring. See the accused innocent in the middle! The ordeal of poisonous water has been administered to him, as a test of his innocence or his guilt: he begins to be sick and pale. Alas! yon mournful shriek of his relatives confirms that the loss of his freedom is now sealed.
And whither shall we go now? the night is approaching fast. Let us find some friendly hut, where sleep may make us forget for a while the sorrows of the day. Behold a hospitable native ready to receive us at his door! let us avail ourselves of his kindness. And now let its give ourselves to repose. But why, when our eyelids are but just closed, do we find ourselves thus suddenly awakened? What is the meaning of the noise around us, of the trampling of people's feet, of the rustling of the bow, the quiver, and the lance? Let us rise up and inquire. Behold! the inhabitants are all alarmed! a wakeful woman has shown them yon distant column of smoke and blaze. The neighbouring village is on fire: the prince, unfaithful to the sacred duty of the protection of his subjects, has surrounded them. He is now burning their habitations, and seizing, as saleable booty, the fugitives from the flames.
Such then are some of the scenes that have been passing in Africa, in consequence, of the existence of the Slave Trade; or such is the nature of the evil, as it has shown itself in the first of the cases we have noticed. Let us now estimate it as it has been proved to exist in the second; or let us examine the state of the unhappy Africans reduced to slavery in this manner, while on board the vessels, which are to convey them across the ocean to other lands. And here I must observe at once, that, as far as this part of the evil is concerned, I am at a loss to describe it. Where shall I find words to express properly their sorrow, as arising from the reflection of being parted for ever from their friends, their relatives, and their country? Where shall I find language to paint, in appropriate colours, the horror of mind brought on by thoughts of their future unknown destination, of which they can augur nothing but misery from all that they have yet seen? How shall I make known their situation, while labouring, under painful disease, or while struggling in the suffocating holds of their prisons, like animals enclosed in an exhausted receiver? How shall I describe their feelings as exposed to all the personal indignities, which lawless appetite or brutal passion may suggest? How shall I exhibit their sufferings as determining to refuse sustenance and die, or as resolving to break their chains, and, disdaining to live as slaves, to punish their oppressors? How shall I give an idea of their agony when under various punishments and tortures for their reputed crimes? Indeed, every part of this subject defies my powers, and I must, therefore, satisfy myself and the reader with a general representation, or in the words of a celebrated member of Parliament, that "Never was so much human suffering condensed in so small a space."
I come now to the evil, as it has been proved to arise in the third case; or to consider the situation of the unhappy victims of the trade, when their painful voyages are over, or after they have been landed upon their destined shores. And here we are to view them, first under the degrading light of cattle: we are to see them examined, handled, selected, separated, and sold. Alas! relatives are separated from relatives, as if, like cattle, they had no rational intellect, no power of feeling the nearness of relationship, nor sense of the duties belonging to the ties of life! We are next to see them labouring; and this for the benefit of those to whom they are under no obligation, by any law either natural or divine, to obey. We are to see them, if refusing the commands of their purchasers, however weary, or feeble, or indisposed, subject to corporal punishments, and if forcibly resisting them to death: we are to see them in a state of general degradation and misery. The knowledge which their oppressors have of their own crime, in having violated the rights of nature, and of the disposition of the injured to seek all opportunities of revenge, produces a fear which dictates to them the necessity of a system of treatment, by which they shall keep up a wide distinction between the two, and by which the noble feelings of the latter shall be kept down, and their spirits broken. We are to see them again subject to individual persecution, as anger, or malice, or any bad passion may suggest: hence the whip, the chain, the iron-collar! hence the various modes of private torture, of which so many accounts have been truly given. Nor can such horrible cruelties be discovered so as to be made punishable, while the testimony of any number of the oppressed is invalid against the oppressors, however they may be offences against the laws. And, lastly, we are to see their innocent offspring, against whose personal liberty the shadow of an argument cannot be advanced, inheriting all the miseries of their parents' lot.
The evil then, as far as it has been hitherto viewed, presents to us, in its three several departments, a measure of human suffering not to be equalled—not to be calculated—not to be described. But would that we could consider this part of the subject as dismissed! would that in each of the departments now examined there was no counterpart left us to contemplate! But this cannot be; for if there be persons who suffer unjustly there must be others who oppress: and if there be those who oppress, there must be to the suffering, which has been occasioned, a corresponding portion of immorality or guilt.
We are obliged then to view the counterpart of the evil in question, before we can make a proper estimate of the nature of it. And, in examining this part of it, we shall find that we have a no less frightful picture to behold than in the former cases; or that, while the miseries endured by the unfortunate Africans excite our pity on the one hand, the vices, which are connected with them, provoke our indignation and abhorrence on the other. The Slave Trade, in this point of view, must strike us as an immense mass of evil on account of the criminality attached to it, as displayed in the various branches of it, which have already been examined. For, to take the counterpart of the evil in the first of these, can we say that no moral turpitude is to be placed to the account of those, who, living on the continent of Africa, give birth to the enormities, which take place in consequence of the prosecution of this trade? Is not that man made morally worse, who is induced to become a tiger to his species, or who, instigated by avarice, lies in wait in the thicket to get possession of his fellow-man? Is no injustice manifest in the land, where the prince, unfaithful to his duty, seizes his innocent subjects, and sells them for slaves? Are no moral evils produced among those communities, which make war upon other communities for the sake of plunder, and without any previous provocation or offence? Does no crime attach to those, who accuse others falsely, or who multiply and divide crimes for the sake of the profit of the punishment, and who for the same reason continue the use of barbarous and absurd ordeals as a test of innocence or guilt?
In the second of these branches, the counterpart of the evil is to be seen in the conduct of those who purchase the miserable natives in their own country, and convey them to distant lands. And here questions, similar to the former, may be asked. Do they experience no corruption of their nature, or become chargeable with no violation of right, who, when they go with their ships to this continent, know the enormities which their visits there will occasion, who buy their fellow-creature man, and this, knowing the way in which he comes into their hands, and who chain, and imprison, and scourge him? Do the moral feelings of those persons escape without injury, whose hearts are hardened? And can the hearts of those be otherwise than hardened, who are familiar with the tears and groans of innocent strangers forcibly torn away from every thing that is dear to them in life, who are accustomed to see them on board their vessels in a state of suffocation and in the agonies of despair, and who are themselves in the habit of the cruel use of arbitrary power?
The counterpart of the evil in its third branch is to be seen in the conduct of those, who, when these miserable people have been landed, purchase and carry them to their respective homes. And let us see whether a mass of wickedness is not generated also in the present case. Can those have nothing to answer for, who separate the faithful ties which nature and religion have created? Can their feelings be otherwise than corrupted, who consider their fellow-creatures as brutes, or treat those as cattle, who may become the temples of the Holy Spirit, and in whom the Divinity disdains not himself to dwell? Is there no injustice in forcing men to labour without wages? Is there no breach of duty, when we are commanded to clothe the naked, and feed the hungry, and visit the sick and in prison, in exposing them to want, in torturing them by cruel punishment, and in grinding them down by hard labour, so as to shorten their days? Is there no crime in adopting a system, which keeps down all the noble faculties of their souls, and which positively debases and corrupts their nature? Is there no crime in perpetuating these evils among their innocent offspring? And finally, besides all these crimes, is there not naturally in the familiar sight of the exercise, but more especially in the exercise itself, of uncontrolled power, that which vitiates the internal man? In seeing misery stalk daily over the land, do not all become insensibly hardened? By giving birth to that misery themselves, do they not become abandoned? In what state of society are the corrupt appetites so easily, so quickly, and so frequently indulged, and where else, by means of frequent indulgence, do these experience such a monstrous growth? Where else is the temper subject to such frequent irritation, or passion to such little control? Yes—if the unhappy slave is in an unfortunate situation, so is the tyrant who holds him. Action and reaction are equal to each other, as well in the moral as in the natural world. You cannot exercise an improper dominion over a fellow-creature, but by a wise ordering of Providence you must necessarily injure yourself.
Having now considered the nature of the evil of the Slave Trade in its three separate departments of suffering, and in its corresponding counterparts of guilt, I shall make a few observations on the extent of it.
On this subject it must strike us, that the misery and the crimes included in the evil, as it has been found in Africa, were not like common maladies, which make a short or periodical visit and then are gone, but that they were continued daily. Nor were they like diseases, which from local causes attack a village or a town, and by the skill of the physician, under the blessing of Providence, are removed; but they affected a whole continent. The trade with all its horrors began at the river Senegal, and continued, winding with the coast, through its several geographical divisions to Cape Negro; a distance of more than three thousand miles. In various lines or paths formed at right angles from the shore, and passing into the heart of the country, slaves were procured and brought down. The distance, which many of them travelled, was immense. Those, who have been in Africa, have assured us, that they came as far as from the sources of their largest rivers, which we know to be many hundred miles inland, and the natives have told us, in their way of computation, that they came a journey of many moons.
It must strike us again, that the misery and the crimes, included in the evil, as it has been shown in the transportation, had no ordinary bounds. They were not to be seen in the crossing of a river, but of an ocean. They did not begin in the morning and end at night, but were continued for many weeks, and sometimes by casualties for a quarter of the year. They were not limited to the precincts of a solitary ship, but were spread among many vessels; and these were so constantly passing, that the ocean itself never ceased to be a witness of their existence.
And it must strike us, finally, that the misery and crimes, included in the evil as it has been found in foreign lands, were not confined within the shores of a little island. Most of the islands of a continent, and many of these of considerable population and extent, were filled with them. And the continent itself, to which these geographically belong, was widely polluted by their domain. Hence, if we were to take the vast extent of space occupied by these crimes and sufferings from the heart of Africa to its shores, and that which they filled on the continent of America and the islands adjacent, and were to join the crimes and sufferings in one to those in the other, by the crimes and sufferings which took place in the track of the vessels successively crossing the Atlantic, we should behold a vast belt as it were of physical and moral evil, reaching through land and ocean to the length of nearly half the circle of the globe.
The next view which I shall take of this evil will be as it relates to the difficulty of subduing it.
This difficulty may be supposed to have been more than ordinarily great. Many evils of a public nature, which existed in former times, were the offspring of ignorance and superstition, and they were subdued of course by the progress of light and knowledge. But the evil in question began in avarice. It was nursed also by worldly interest. It did not therefore so easily yield to the usual correctives of disorders in the world. We may observe also, that the interest by which it was thus supported, was not that of a few individuals, nor of one body, but of many bodies of men. It was interwoven again into the system of the commerce and of the revenue of nations. Hence the merchant—the planter—the mortgagee—the manufacturer—the politician—the legislator—the cabinet-minister—lifted up their voices against the annihilation of it. For these reasons, the Slave Trade may be considered like the fabulous hydra, to have a hundred heads, every one of which it was necessary to cut off before it could be subdued. And as none but Hercules was fitted to conquer the one, so nothing less than extraordinary prudence, courage, labour, and patience, could overcome the other. To protection in this manner by his hundred interests, it was owing, that the monster stalked in security for so long a time. He stalked too in the open day, committing his mighty depredations. And when good men, whose duty it was to mark him as the object of their destruction, began to assail him, he did not fly, but gnashed his teeth at them, growling savagely at the same time, and putting himself into a posture of defiance.
We see then, in whatever light we consider the Slave Trade, whether we examine into the nature of it, or whether we look into the extent of it, or whether we estimate the difficulty of subduing it, we must conclude that no evil more monstrous has ever existed upon earth. But if so, then we have proved the truth of the position, that the abolition of it ought to be accounted by us as one of the greatest blessings, and that it ought to be one of the most copious sources of our joy. Indeed, I do not know, how we can sufficiently express what we ought to feel upon this occasion. It becomes us, as individuals, to rejoice. It becomes us, as a nation, to rejoice. It becomes us even to perpetuate our joy to our posterity. I do not mean, however, by anniversaries, which are to be celebrated by the ringing of bells and convivial meetings, but by handing down this great event so impressively to our children, as to raise in them, if not continual, yet frequently renewed thanksgivings, to the great Creator of the universe, for the manifestation of this his favour, in having disposed our legislators to take away such a portion of suffering from our fellow-creatures, and such a load of guilt from our native land.
And as the contemplation of the removal of this monstrous evil should excite in us the most pleasing and grateful sensations, so the perusal of the history of it should afford us lessons, which it must be useful to us to know or to be reminded of. For it cannot be otherwise than useful to us to know the means which have been used, and the different persons who have moved in so great a cause. It cannot be otherwise than useful to us to be impressively reminded of the simple axiom which the perusal of this history will particularly suggest to us, that "the greatest works must have a beginning;" because the fostering of such an idea in our minds cannot but encourage us to undertake the removal of evils, however vast they may appear in their size, or however difficult to overcome. It cannot, again, be otherwise than useful to us to be assured, (and this history will assure us of it,) that in any work, which is a work of righteousness, however small the beginning may be, or however small the progress may be that we may make in it, we ought never to despair; for that, whatever checks and discouragements we may meet with, "no virtuous effort is ever ultimately lost." And finally, it cannot be otherwise than useful to us, to form the opinion, which the contemplation of this subject must always produce, namely, that many of the evils which are still left among us, may, by an union of wise and virtuous individuals, be greatly alleviated, if not entirely done away; for if the great evil of the Slave Trade, so deeply entrenched by its hundred interests, has fallen prostrate before the efforts of those who attacked it, what evil of a less magnitude shall not be more easily subdued? O may reflections of this sort always enliven us, always encourage us, always stimulate us to our duty! May we never cease to believe, that many of the miseries of life are still to be remedied, or to rejoice that we may be permitted, if we will only make ourselves worthy by our endeavours, to heal them! May we encourage for this purpose every generous sympathy that arises in our hearts, as the offspring of the Divine influence for our good, convinced that we are not born for ourselves alone, and that the Divinity never so fully dwells in us, as when we do his will, and that we never do his will more agreeably, as far as it has been revealed to us, than when we employ our time in works of charity towards the rest of our fellow-creatures!