THOUGHTS ON THE NECESSITY OF IMPROVING THE CONDITION OF THE SLAVES IN THE BRITISH COLONIES, WITH A VIEW TO THEIR ULTIMATE EMANCIPATION; AND ON THE PRACTICABILITY, THE SAFETY, AND THE ADVANTAGES OF THE LATTER MEASURE.
BY T. CLARKSON, ESQ.
The following sheets first appeared in a periodical work called The Inquirer. They are now republished without undergoing any substantial alteration. The author however thinks it due to himself to state, that he would have materially qualified those parts of his essay which speak of the improved Condition of the Slaves in the West Indies since the abolition, had he then been acquainted with the recent evidence obtained upon that subject. His present conviction certainly is, that he has overrated that improvement, and that in point of fact Negro Slavery is, in its main and leading feature, the same system which it was when the Abolition controversy first commenced.
It is possible there may be some, who, having glanced over the Title Page of this little work, may be startled at the word Emancipation. I wish to inform such, that Mr. Dundas, afterwards Lord Melville, an acute Man, and a Friend to the Planters, proposed this very measure to Parliament in the year 1792. We see, then, that the word Emancipation cannot be charged with Novelty. It contains now no new ideas. It contains now nothing but what has been thought practicable, and even desirable to be accomplished. The Emancipation which I desire is such an Emancipation only, as I firmly believe to be compatible not only with the due subordination and happiness of the labourer, but with the permanent interests of his employer.
I wish also to say, in case any thing like an undue warmth of feeling on my part should be discovered in the course of the work, that I had no intention of being warm against the West Indians as a body. I know that there are many estimable men among them living in England, who deserve every desirable praise for having sent over instructions to their Agents in the West Indies from time to time in behalf of their wretched Slaves. And yet, alas! even these, the Masters themselves, have not had influence enough to secure the fulfilment of their own instructions upon their own estates; nor will they, so long as the present system continues. They will never be able to carry their meritorious designs into effect against Prejudice, Law, and Custom. If this be not so, how happens it that you cannot see the Slaves, belonging to such estimable men, without marks of the whip upon their backs? The truth is, that so long as overseers, drivers, and others, are entrusted with the use of arbitrary power, and so long as Negro-evidence is invalid against the white oppressor, and so long as human nature continues to be what it is, no order from the Master for the better personal treatment of the Slave will or can be obeyed. It is against the system then, and not against the West Indians as a body, that I am warm, should I be found so unintentionally, in the present work.
One word or two now on another part of the subject. A great noise will be made, no doubt, when the question of Emancipation comes to be agitated, about the immense property at stake, I mean the property of the Planters;—and others connected with them. This is all well. Their interests ought undoubtedly to be attended to. But I hope and trust, that, if property is to be attended to on one side of the question, it will be equally attended to on the other. This is but common justice. If you put into one scale the gold and jewels of the Planters, you are bound to put into the other the liberty of 800,000 of the African race; for every man's liberty is his own property by the laws of Nature, Reason, Justice, and Religion? and, if it be not so with our West Indian Slaves, it is only because they have been, and continue to be, deprived of it by force. And here let us consider for a moment which of these two different sorts of property is of the greatest value. Let us suppose an English gentleman to be seized by ruffians on the banks of the Thames (and why not a gentleman when African princes have been so served?) and hurried away to a land (and Algiers is such a land, for instance), where white persons are held as Slaves. Now this gentleman has not been used to severe labour (neither has the African in his own country); and being therefore unable, though he does his best, to please his master, he is roused to further exertion by the whip. Perhaps he takes this treatment indignantly. This only secures him a severer punishment. I say nothing of his being badly fed, or lodged, or clothed. If he should have a wife and daughters with him, how much more cruel would be his fate! to see the tender skins of these lacerated by the whip! to see them torn from him, with a knowledge, that they are going to be compelled to submit to the lust of an overseer! and no redress. "How long," says he, "is this frightful system, which tears my body in pieces and excruciates my soul, which kills me by inches, and which involves my family in unspeakable misery and unmerited disgrace, to continue?"—"For ever," replies a voice Suddenly: "for ever, as relates to your own life, and the life of your wife and daughters, and that of all their posterity," Now would not this gentleman give all that he had left behind him in England, and all that he had in the world besides, and all that he had in prospect and expectancy, to get out of this wretched state, though he foresaw that on his return to his own country he would be obliged to beg his bread for the remainder of his life? I am sure he would. I am sure he would instantly prefer his liberty to his gold. There would not be the hesitation of a moment as to the choice he would make. I hope, then, that if the argument of property should he urged on one side of the question, the argument of property (liberty) will not be overlooked on the other, but that they will be fairly weighed, the one against the other, and that an allowance will be made as the scale shall preponderate on either side.
I know of no subject, where humanity and justice, as well as public and private interest, would be more intimately united than in that, which should recommend a mitigation of the slavery, with a view afterwards to the emancipation of the Negroes, wherever such may be held in bondage. This subject was taken up for consideration, so early as when the Abolition of the slave trade was first practically thought of, and by the very persons who first publicly embarked in that cause in England; but it was at length abandoned by them, not on the ground that Slavery was less cruel, or wicked, or impolitic, than the slave trade, but for other reasons. In the first place there were not at that time so many obstacles in the way of the Abolition, as of the Emancipation of the Negroes. In the second place Abolition could be effected immediately, and with but comparatively little loss, and no danger. Emancipation, on the other hand, appeared to be rather a work of time. It was beset too with many difficulties, which required deep consideration, and which, if not treated with great caution and prudence, threatened the most alarming results. In the third place, it was supposed, that, by effecting the abolition of the slave trade, the axe would be laid to the root of the whole evil; so that by cutting off the more vital part of it, the other would gradually die away:—for what was more reasonable than to suppose, that, when masters could no longer obtain Slaves from Africa or elsewhere, they would be compelled individually, by a sort of inevitable necessity, or a fear of consequences, or by a sense of their own interest, to take better care of those whom they might then have in their possession? What was more reasonable to suppose, than that the different legislatures themselves, moved also by the same necessity, would immediately interfere, without even the loss of a day, and so alter and amend the laws relative to the treatment of Slaves, as to enforce that as a public duty, which it would be thus the private interest of individuals to perform? Was it not also reasonable to suppose that a system of better treatment, thus begun by individuals, and enforced directly afterwards by law, would produce more willing as well as more able and valuable labourers than before; and that this effect, when once visible, would again lead both masters and legislators on the score of interest to treat their slaves still more like men; nay, at length to give them even privileges; and thus to elevate their condition by degrees, till at length it would be no difficult task, and no mighty transition, to pass them to that most advantageous situation to both parties, the rank of Free Men?
These were the three effects, which the simple measure of the abolition of the slave trade was expected to produce by those, who first espoused it, by Mr. Granville Sharp, and those who formed the London committee; and by Mr. Pitt, Mr. Fox, Mr. Burke, Mr. Wilberforce, and others of illustrious name, who brought the subject before Parliament. The question then is, how have these fond expectations been realized? or how many and which of these desirable effects have been produced? I may answer perhaps with truth, that in our own Islands, where the law of the abolition is not so easily evaded, or where there is less chance of obtaining new slaves, than in some other parts, there has been already, that is, since the abolition of the slave trade, a somewhat better individual treatment of the slaves than before. A certain care has been taken of them. The plough has been introduced to ease their labour. Indulgences have been given to pregnant women both before and after their delivery; premiums have been offered for the rearing of infants to a certain age; religious instruction has been allowed to many. But when I mention these instances of improvement, I must be careful to distinguish what I mean;—I do not intend to say, that there were no instances of humane treatment of the slaves before the abolition of the slave trade. I know, on the other hand, that there were; I know that there were planters, who introduced the plough upon their estates, and who much to their Honour granted similar indulgences, premiums, and permissions to those now mentioned, previously to this great event. All then that I mean to say is this, that, independently of the common progress of humanity and liberal opinion, the circumstance of not being able to get new slaves as formerly, has had its influence upon some of our planters; that it has made some of them think more; that it has put some of them more upon their guard; and that there are therefore upon the whole, more instances of good treatment of slaves by individuals in our Islands (though far from being as numerous as they ought to be) than at any former period.
But, alas! though the abolition of the slave trade may have produced a somewhat better individual treatment of the slaves, and this also to a somewhat greater extent than formerly, not one of the other effects, so anxiously looked for, has been realized. The condition of the slaves has not yet been improved by law. It is a remarkable, and indeed almost an incredible fact, that no one effort has been made by the legislative bodies in our Islands with the real intention of meeting the new, the great, and the extraordinary event of the abolition of the slave trade. While indeed this measure was under discussion by the British Parliament, an attempt was made in several of our Islands to alter the old laws with a view, as it was then pretended, of providing better for the wants and personal protection of the slaves; but it was afterwards discovered, that the promoters of this alteration never meant to carry it into effect. It was intended, by making a show of these laws, to deceive the people of England, and thus to prevent them from following up the great question of the abolition. Mr. Clappeson, one of the evidences examined by the House of Commons, was in Jamaica, when the Assembly passed their famous consolidated laws, and he told the House, that "he had often heard from people there, that it was passed because of the stir in England about the slave trade;" and he added, "that slaves continued to be as ill treated there since the passing of that act as before." Mr. Cook, another of the evidences examined, was long resident in the same island, and, "though he lived there also since the passing of the act, he knew of no legal protection, which slaves had against injuries from their masters." Mr. Dalrymple was examined to the same point for Grenada. He was there in 1788, when the Act for that island was passed also, called "An Act for the better Protection and promoting the Increase and Population of Slaves." He told the House, that, "while he resided there, the proposal in the British Parliament for the abolition of the slave trade was a matter of general discussion, and that he believed, that this was a principal reason for passing it. He was of opinion, however, that this Act would prove ineffectual, because, as Negro evidence was not to be admitted, those, who chose to abuse their slaves, might still do it with impunity; and people, who lived on terms of intimacy, would dislike the idea of becoming spies and informers against each other." We have the same account of the ameliorating Act of Dominica. "This Act," says Governor Prevost, "appears to have been considered from the day it was passed until this hour as a political measure to avert the interference of the mother country in the management of the slaves." We, are informed also on the same authority, that the clauses of this Act, which had given a promise of better days, "had been wholly neglected." In short, the Acts passed in our different Islands for the pretended purpose of bettering the condition of the slaves have been all of them most shamefully neglected; and they remain only a dead letter; or they are as much a nullity, as if they had never existed, at the present day.
And as our planters have done nothing yet effectively by law for ameliorating the condition of their slaves, so they have done nothing or worse than nothing in the case of their emancipation. In the year 1815 Mr. Wilberforce gave notice in the House of Commons of his intention to introduce there a bill for the registration of slaves in the British colonies. In the following year an insurrection broke out among some slaves in Barbadoes. Now, though this insurrection originated, as there was then reason to believe, in local or peculiar circumstances, or in circumstances which had often produced insurrections before, the planters chose to attribute it to the Registry Bill now mentioned. They gave out also, that the slaves in Jamaica and in the other islands had imbibed a notion, that this Bill was to lead to their emancipation; that, while this notion existed, their minds would be in an unsettled state; and therefore that it was necessary that it should be done away. Accordingly on the 19th day of June 1816, they moved and procured an address from the Commons to the Prince Regent, the substance of which was (as relates to this particular) that "His Royal Highness would be pleased to order all the governors of the West India islands to proclaim, in the most public manner, His Royal Highness's concern and surprise at the false and mischievous opinion, which appeared to have prevailed in some of the British colonies,—that either His Royal Highness or the British Parliament had sent out orders for the emancipation of the Negroes; and to direct the most effectual methods to be adopted for discountenancing these unfounded and dangerous impressions." Here then we have a proof "that in the month of June 1816 the planters had no notion of altering the condition of their Negroes." It is also evident, that they have entertained no such notion since; for emancipation implies a preparation of the persons who are to be the subjects of so great a change. It implies a previous alteration of treatment for the better, and a previous alteration of customs and even of circumstances, no one of which can however be really and truly effected without a previous change of the laws. In fact, a progressively better treatment by law must have been settled as a preparatory and absolutely necessary work, had emancipation been intended. But as we have never heard of the introduction of any new laws to this effect, or with a view of producing this effect, in any of our colonies, we have an evidence, almost as clear as the sun at noonday, that our planters have no notion of altering the condition of their Negroes, though fifteen years have elapsed since the abolition of the slave trade. But if it be true that the abolition of the slave trade has not produced all the effects, which the abolitionists anticipated or intended, it would appear to be their duty, unless insurmountable obstacles present themselves, to resume their labours: for though there may be upon the whole, as I have admitted, a somewhat better individual treatment of the slaves by their masters, arising out of an increased prudence in same, which has been occasioned by stopping the importations, yet it is true, that not only many of the former continue to be ill-treated by the latter, but that all may be so ill-treated, if the latter be so disposed. They may be ill-fed, hard-worked, ill-used, and wantonly and barbarously punished. They may be tortured, nay even deliberately and intentionally killed without the means of redress, or the punishment of the aggressor, so long as the evidence of a Negro is not valid against a white man. If a white master only take care, that no other white man sees him commit an atrocity of the kind mentioned, he is safe from the cognizance of the law. He may commit such atrocity in the sight of a thousand black spectators, and no harm will happen to him from it. In fact, the slaves in our Islands have no more real protection or redress from law, than when the Abolitionists first took up the question of the slave trade. It is evident therefore, that the latter have still one-half of their work to perform, and that it is their duty to perform it. If they were ever influenced by any good motives, whether of humanity, justice, or religion, to undertake the cause of the Negroes, they must even now be influenced by the same motives to continue it. If any of those disorders still exist, which it was their intention to cure, they cannot (if these are curable) retire from the course and say—there is now no further need of our interference.
The first step then to be taken by the Abolitionists is to attempt to introduce an entire new code of laws into our colonies. The treatment of the Negroes there must no longer be made to depend upon the presumed effects of the abolition of the slave trade. Indeed there were persons well acquainted with Colonial concerns, who called the abolition but a half measure at the time when it was first publicly talked of. They were sure, that it would never of itself answer the end proposed. Mr. Steele also confessed in his letter to Dr. Dickson (of both of whom more by and by), that "the abolition of the stave trade would be useless, unless at the same time the infamous laws, which he had pointed out, were repealed." Neither must the treatment of the Negroes be made to depend upon what may be called contingent humanity. We now leave in this country neither the horse, nor the ass, nor oxen, nor sheep, to the contingent humanity even of British bosoms;—and shall we leave those, whom we have proved to be men, to the contingent humanity of a slave colony, where the eye is familiarized with cruel sights, and where we have seen a constant exposure to oppression without the possibility of redress? No. The treatment of the Negroes must be made to depend upon law; and unless this be done, we shall look in vain for any real amelioration of their condition. In the first place, all those old laws, which are repugnant to humanity and justice, must be done away. There must also be new laws, positive, certain, easy of execution, binding upon all, by means of which the Negroes in our islands shall have speedy and substantial redress in real cases of ill-usage, whether by starvation, over-work, or acts of personal violence, or otherwise. There must be new laws again more akin to the principle of reward than of punishment, of privilege than of privation, and which shall, have a tendency to raise or elevate their condition, so as to fit them by degrees to sustain the rank of free men.
But if a new Code of Laws be indispensably necessary in our colonies in order to secure a better treatment to the slaves, to whom must we look for it? I answer, that we must not look for it to the West Indian Legislatures. For, in the first place, judging of what they are likely to do from what they have already done, or rather from what they have not done, we can have no reasonable expectation from that quarter. One hundred and fifty years have passed, during which long interval their laws have been nearly stationary, or without any material improvement. In the second place, the individuals composing these Legislatures, having been used to the exercise of unlimited power, would be unwilling to part with that portion of it, which would be necessary to secure the object in view. In the third place, their prejudices against their slaves are too great to allow them to become either impartial or willing actors in the case. The term slave being synonymous according to their estimation and usage with the term brute, they have fixed a stigma upon their Negroes, such as we, who live in Europe, could not have conceived, unless we had had irrefragable evidence upon the point. What evils has not this cruel association of terms produced? The West Indian master looks down upon his slave with disdain. He has besides a certain antipathy against him. He hates the sight of his features, and of his colour; nay, he marks with distinctive opprobrium the very blood in his veins, attaching different names and more or less infamy to those who have it in them, according to the quantity which they have of it in consequence of their pedigree, or of their greater or less degree of consanguinity with the whites. Hence the West Indian feels an unwillingness to elevate the condition of the Negro, or to do any thing for him as a human being. I have no doubt, that this prejudice has been one of the great causes why the improvement of our slave population by law has been so long retarded, and that the same prejudice will continue to have a similar operation, so long as it shall continue to exist. Not that there are wanting men of humanity among our West Indian legislators. Their humanity is discernible enough when it is to be applied to the whites; but such is the system of slavery, and the degradation attached to this system, that their humanity seems to be lost or gone, when it is to be applied to the blacks. Not again that there are wanting men of sense among the same body. They are shrewd and clever enough in the affairs of life, where they maintain an intercourse with the whites; but in their intercourse with the blacks their sense appears to be shrivelled and not of its ordinary size. Look at the laws of their own making, as far as the Negroes are concerned, and they are a collection of any thing but—wisdom.
It appears then, that if a new code of laws is indispensably necessary in our Colonies in order to secure a better treatment of the slaves there, we are not to look to the West Indian Legislatures for it. To whom then are we to turn our eyes for help on this occasion? We answer, To the British Parliament, the source of all legitimate power; to that Parliament, which has already heard and redressed in part the wrongs of Africa. The West Indian Legislatures must be called upon to send their respective codes to this Parliament for revision. Here they will be well and impartially examined; some of the laws will be struck out, others amended, and others added; and at length they will be returned to the Colonies, means having been previously devised for their execution there.
But here no doubt a considerable opposition would arise on the part of the West India planters. These would consider any such interference by the British Parliament as an invasion of their rights, and they would cry out accordingly. We remember that they set up a clamour when the abolition of the slave trade was first proposed. But what did Mr. Pitt say to them in the House of Commons? "I will now," said he, "consider the proposition, that on account of some patrimonial rights of the West Indians, the prohibition of the slave trade would be an invasion of their legal inheritance. This proposition implied, that Parliament had no right to stop the importations: but had this detestable traffic received such a sanction, as placed it more out of the jurisdiction of the Legislature for ever after, than any other branch of our trade? But if the laws respecting the slave trade implied a contract for its perpetual continuance, the House could never regulate any other of the branches of our national commerce. But any contract for the promotion of this trade must, in his opinion, have been void from the beginning; for if it was an outrage upon justice, and only another name for fraud, robbery, and murder, what pledge could devolve upon the Legislature to incur the obligation of becoming principals in the commission of such enormities by sanctioning their continuance?"
They set up again a similar clamour, when the Registry Bill before mentioned was discussed in Parliament, contending that the introduction of it there was an interference with their rights also: but we must not forget the reply which Mr. Canning made to them on that occasion. "He had known, (he said,) and there might again occur, instances of obstinacy in the colonial assemblies, which left the British Parliament no choice but direct interference. Such conduct might now call for such an exertion on the part of Parliament; but all that he pleaded for was, that time should be granted, that it might be known if the colonial assemblies would take upon them to do what that House was pleased to declare should be done. The present address could not be misunderstood. It told the colonial assemblies, You are safe for the present from the interference of the British Parliament, on the belief, and on the promise made for you, that left to yourselves you will do what is required of you. To hold this language was sufficient. The Assemblies might be left to infer the consequences of a refusal, and Parliament might rest satisfied with the consciousness, that they held in their hands the means of accomplishing that which they had proposed." In a subsequent discussion of the subject in the House of Lords, Lord Holland remarked, that "in his opinion there had been more prejudice against this Bill than the nature of the thing justified; but, whatever might be the objection felt against it in the Colonies, it might be well for them to consider, that it would be impossible for them to resist, and that, if the thing was not done by them, it would be done for them." But on this subject, that is, on the subject of colonial rights, I shall say more in another place. It will be proper, however, to repeat here, and to insist upon it too, that there is no effectual way of remedying the evil complained of, but by subjecting the colonial laws to the revision of the Legislature of the mother country; and perhaps I shall disarm some of the opponents to this measure, and at any rate free myself from the charge of a novel and wild proposition, when I inform them that Mr. Long, the celebrated historian and planter of Jamaica, and to whose authority all West Indians look up, adopted the same idea. Writing on the affairs of Jamaica, he says: "The system of Colonial government, and the imperfection of their several laws, are subjects, which never were, but which ought to be, strictly canvassed, examined, and amended by the British Parliament."
The second and last step to be taken by the Abolitionists should be, to collect all possible light on the subject of emancipation with a view of carrying that measure into effect in its due time. They ought never to forget, that emancipation was included in their original idea of the abolition of the slave trade. Slavery was then as much an evil in their eyes as the trade itself; and so long as the former continues in its present state, the extinction of it ought to be equally an object of their care. All the slaves in our colonies, whether men, women, or children, whether Africans or Creoles, have been unjustly deprived of their rights. There is not a master, who has the least claim to their services in point of equity. There is, therefore, a great debt due to them, and for this no payment, no amends, no equivalent can be found, but a restoration to their liberty.
That all have been unjustly deprived of their rights, may be easily shown by examining the different grounds on which they are alleged to be held in bondage. With respect to those in our colonies, who are Africans, I never heard of any title to them but by the right of purchase. But it will be asked, where did the purchasers get them? It will be answered, that they got them from the sellers; and where did the sellers, that is, the original sellers, get them? They got them by fraud or violence. So says the evidence before the House of Commons; and so, in fact, said both Houses of Parliament, when they abolished the trade: and this is the plea set up for retaining them in a cruel bondage!!!
With respect to the rest of the slaves, that is, the Creoles, or those born in the colonies, the services, the perpetual services, of these are claimed on the plea of the law of birth. They were born slaves, and this circumstance is said to give to their masters a sufficient right to their persons. But this doctrine sprung from the old Roman law, which taught that all slaves were to be considered as cattle. "Partus sequitur ventrem," says this law, or the "condition or lot of the mother determines the condition or lot of the offspring." It is the same law, which we ourselves now apply to cattle while they are in our possession. Thus the calf belongs to the man who owns the cow, and the foal to the man who owns the mare, and not to the owner of the bull or horse, which were the male parents of each. It is then upon this, the old Roman law, and not upon any English law, that the planters found their right to the services of such as are born in slavery. In conformity with this law they denied, for one hundred and fifty years, both the moral and intellectual nature of their slaves. They considered them themselves, and they wished them to be considered by others, in these respects, as upon a level only with the beasts of the field. Happily, however, their efforts have been in vain. The evidence examined before the House of Commons in the years 1789, 1790, and 1791, has confirmed the falsehood of their doctrines. It has proved that the social affections and the intellectual powers both of Africans and Creoles are the same as those of other human beings. What then becomes of the Roman law? For as it takes no other view of slaves than as cattle, how is it applicable to those, whom we have so abundantly proved to be men?
This is the grand plea, upon which our West Indian planters have founded their right to the perpetual services of their Creole slaves. They consider them as the young or offspring of cattle. But as the slaves in question have been proved, and are now acknowledged, to be the offspring of men and women, of social, intellectual, and accountable beings, their right must fall to the ground. Nor do I know upon what other principle or right they can support it. They can have surely no natural right to the infant, who is born of a woman slave. If there be any right to it by nature, such right must belong, not to the master of the mother, but to the mother herself. They can have no right to it again, either on the score of reason or of justice. Debt and crime have been generally admitted to be two fair grounds, on which men may be justly deprived of their liberty for a time, and even made to labour, inasmuch as they include reparation of injury, and the duty of the magistrate to make examples, in order that he may not bear the sword in vain. But what injury had the infant done, when it came into the world, to the master of its mother, that reparation should be sought for, or punishment inflicted for example, and that this reparation and this punishment should be made to consist of a course of action and suffering, against which, more than against any other, human nature would revolt? Is it reasonable, is it just, that a poor infant who has done no injury to any one, should be subjected, he and his posterity for ever, to the arbitrary will and tyranny of another, and moreover to the condition of a brute, because by mere accident, and by no fault or will of his own, he was born of a person, who had been previously in the condition of a slave?
And as the right to slaves, because they were born slaves, cannot be defended either upon the principles of reason or of justice, so this right absolutely falls to pieces, when we come to try it by the touchstone of the Christian religion. Every man who is born into the world, whether he be white or whether he be black, is born, according to Christian notions, a free agent and an accountable creature. This is the Scriptural law of his nature as a human bring. He is born under this law, and he continues under it during his life. Now the West Indian slavery is of such an arbitrary nature, that it may be termed proper or absolute. The dominion attached to it is a despotism without control; a despotism, which keeps up its authority by terror only. The subjects of it must do, and this instantaneously, whatever their master orders them to do, whether it be right or wrong. His will, and his will alone, is their law. If the wife of a slave were ordered by a master to submit herself to his lusts, and therefore to commit adultery, or if her husband were ordered to steal any thing for him, and therefore to commit theft, I have no conception that either the one or the other would dare to disobey his commands. "The whip, the shackles, the dungeon," says Mr. Steele before mentioned, "are at all times in his power, whether it be to gratify his lust, or display his authority." Now if the master has the power, a just, and moral power, to make his slaves do what he orders them to do, even if it be wrong, then I must contend that the Scriptures, whose authority we venerate, are false. I must contend that his slaves never could have been born free agents and accountable creatures; or that, as soon as they became slaves, they were absolved from the condition of free-agency and that they lost their responsibility as men. But if, on the other hand, it be the revealed will of God, that all men, without exception, must be left free to act, but accountable to God for their actions;—I contend that no man can be born, nay, further, that no man can be made, held, or possessed, as a proper slave. I contend that there can be, according to the Gospel-dispensation, no such state as West Indian slavery. But let us now suppose for a moment, that there might be found an instance or two of slaves enlightened by some pious Missionary, who would refuse to execute their master's orders on the principle that they were wrong; even this would not alter our views of the case. For would not this refusal be so unexampled, so unlooked-for, so immediately destructive to all authority and discipline, and so provocative of anger, that it would be followed by immediate and signal punishment? Here then we should have a West Indian master reversing all the laws and rules of civilized nations, and turning upside down all the morality of the Gospel by the novel practice of punishing men for their virtues. This new case affords another argument, why a man cannot be born a proper slave. In fact, the whole system of our planters appears to me to be so directly in opposition to the whole system of our religion, that I have no conception, how a man can have been born a slave, such as the West Indian is; nor indeed have I any conception, how he can be, rightly, or justly, or properly, a West Indian slave at all. There appears to me something even impious in the thought; and I am convinced, that many years will not pass, before the West Indian slavery will fall, and that future ages will contemplate with astonishment how the preceding could have tolerated it.
It has now appeared, if I have reasoned conclusively, that the West Indians have no title to their slaves on the ground of purchase, nor on the plea of the law of birth, nor on that of any natural right, nor on that of reason or justice, and that Christianity absolutely annihilates it. It remains only to show, that they have no title to them on the ground of original grants or permissions of Governments, or of Acts of Parliament, or of Charters, or of English law.
With respect to original grants or permissions of Governments, the case is very clear. History informs us, that neither the African slave trade nor the West Indian slavery would have been allowed, had it not been for the misrepresentations and falsehoods of those, who were first concerned in them. The Governments of those times were made to believe, first, that the poor Africans embarked voluntarily on board the ships which took them from their native land; and secondly, that they were conveyed to the Colonies principally for their own benefit, or out of Christian feeling for them, that they might afterwards be converted to Christianity. Take as an instance of the first assertion, the way in which Queen Elizabeth was deceived, in whose reign the execrable slave trade began in England. This great princess seems on the very commencement of the trade to have questioned its lawfulness. She seems to have entertained a religious scruple concerning it, and indeed, to have revolted at the very thoughts of it. She seems to have been aware of the evils to which its continuance might lead, or that, if it were sanctioned, the most unjustifiable means might be made use of to procure the persons of the natives of Africa. And in what light she would have viewed any acts of this kind, had they taken place to her knowledge, we may conjecture from this fact—that when Captain (afterwards Sir John) Hawkins returned from his first voyage to Africa and Hispaniola, whither he had carried slaves, she sent for him, and, as we learn from Hill's Naval History, expressed her concern lest any of the Africans should be carried off without their free consent, declaring, "that it would be detestable and call down the vengeance of Heaven upon the undertakers." Capt. Hawkins promised to comply with the injunctions of Elizabeth in this respect. But he did not keep his word; for when he went to Africa again, he seized many of the inhabitants and carried them off as slaves, "Here (says Hill) began the horrid practice of forcing the Africans into slavery, an injustice and barbarity, which, so sure as there is vengeance in Heaven for the worst of crimes, will sometime be the destruction of all who encourage it." Take as an instance of the second what Labat, a Roman missionary, records in his account of the Isles of America. He says, that Louis the Thirteenth was very uneasy, when he was about to issue the edict, by which all Africans coming into his colonies were to be made slaves; and that this uneasiness continued, till he was assured that the introduction of them in this capacity into his foreign dominions was the readiest way of converting them to the principles of the Christian religion. It was upon these ideas then, namely, that the Africans left their own country voluntarily, and that they were to receive the blessings of Christianity, and upon these alone, that the first transportations were allowed, and that the first English grants and Acts of Parliament, and that the first foreign edicts, sanctioned them. We have therefore the fact well authenticated, as it relates to original Government grants and permissions, that the owners of many of the Creole slaves in our colonies have no better title to them as property, than as being the descendants of persons forced away from their country and brought thither by a traffic, which had its allowed origin in fraud and falsehood.
Neither have the masters of slaves in our colonies any title to their slaves on account of any charters, which they may be able to produce, though their charters are the only source of their power. It is through these that they have hitherto legislated, and that they continue to legislate. Take away their charters, and they would have no right or power to legislate at all. And yet, though they have their charters, and though the slavery, which now exists, has been formed and kept together entirely by the laws, which such charters have given them the power to make, this very slavery is illegal. There is not an individual, who holds any of the slaves by a legal title: for it is expressed in all these charters, whether in those given to William Penn and others for the continent of North America, or in those given for the islands now under our consideration, that "the laws and statutes, to be made there, are not to be repugnant, but, as near as may be, agreeable, to the laws and statutes of this our kingdom of Great Britain." But is it consistent with the laws of England, that any one man should have the power of forcing another to work for him without wages? Is it consistent with the laws of England, that any one man should have the power of flogging, beating, bruising, or wounding another at his discretion? Is it consistent with the laws of England, that a man should be judged by any but his peers? Is it consistent with the same laws, that a man should be deprived of the power of giving evidence against the man who has injured him? or that there should be a privileged class, against whom no testimony can be admitted on certain occasions, though the perpetrators of the most horrid crimes? But when we talk of consistency on this occasion, let us not forget that old law of Barbadoes, made while the charter of that island was fresh in every body's memory, and therefore in the very teeth of the charter itself, which runs thus: "If any slave, under punishment by his master or by his order, shall suffer in life or member, no person shall be liable to any fine for the same: but if any person shall wantonly or cruelly kill his own slave, he shall pay the treasury 15 l." And here let us remark, that, when Lord Seaforth, governor of Barbadoes, proposed, so lately as in 1802, the repeal of this bloody law, the Legislature of that island rejected the proposition with indignation. Nay, the very proposal to repeal it so stirred up at the time the bad passions of many, that several brutal murders of slaves were committed in consequence; and it was not till two or three years afterwards that the governor had influence enough to get the law repealed. Let the West Indians then talk no more of their charters; for in consequence of having legislated upon principles, which are at variance with those upon which the laws of England are founded, they have forfeited them all. The mother country has therefore a right to withdraw these charters whenever she pleases, and to substitute such others as she may think proper. And here let it be observed also, that the right of the West Indians to make any laws at all for their own islands being founded upon their charters, and upon these alone, and the laws relating to the slaves being contrary to what such charters prescribe, the slavery itself, that is, the daily living practice with respect to slaves under such laws, is illegal and may be done away. But if so, all our West Indian slaves are, without exception, unlawfully held in bondage. There is no master, who has a legal title to any of them. This assertion may appear strange and extravagant to many; but it does not follow on that account that it is the less true. It is an assertion, which has been made by a West Indian proprietor himself. Mr. Steele, before quoted, furnishes us with what passed at the meeting of the Society of Arts in Barbadoes at their committee-room in August 1785, when the following question was in the order of the day: "Is there any law written, or printed, by which a proprietor can prove his title to his slave under or conformable to the laws of England?" And "Why, (immediately said one of the members,) why conformable to the laws of England? Will not the courts in England admit such proof as is authorized by our slave laws?"—"I apprehend not, (answered a second,) unless we can show that our slave laws (according to the limitations of the charter) are not repugnant to the laws of England."—The same gentleman resumed: "Does the original purchaser of an African slave in this island obtain any legal title from the merchant or importer of slaves—and of what nature? Does it set forth any title of propriety, agreeable to the laws of England (or even to the laws of nations) to be in the importer more than what depends upon his simple averment? And have not free Negroes been at sundry times trepanned by such dealers, and been brought contrary to the laws of nations, and sold here as slaves?"—"There is no doubt, (observed a third,) but such villainous actions have been done by worthless people: however, though an honest and unsuspicious man may be deceived in buying a stolen horse, it does not follow that he may not have a fair and just title to a horse or any thing else bought in an open and legal market; but according to the obligation of being not repugnant to the laws of England, I do not see how we can have any title to our slaves likely to be supported by the laws of England." In fact, the Colonial system is an excrescence upon the English Constitution, and is constantly at variance with it. There is not one English law, which gives a man a right to the liberty of any of his fellow creatures. Of course there cannot be, according to charters, any Colonial law to this effect. If there be, it is null and void. Nay, the very man, who is held in bondage by the Colonial law, becomes free by English law the moment he reaches the English shore. But we have said enough for our present purpose. We have shown that the slaves in our Colonies, whether they be Africans, or whether they be Creoles, have been unjustly deprived of their rights. There is of course a great debt due to them. They have a claim to a restoration to liberty; and as this restoration was included by the Abolitionists in their original idea of the abolition of the slavetrade, so it is their duty to endeavour to obtain it the first moment it is practicable. I shall conclude my observations on this part of the subject, in the words of that old champion of African liberty, Mr. W. Smith, the present Member for Norwich, when addressing the House of Commons in the last session of parliament on a particular occasion. He admitted, alluding to the slaves in our colonies, that "immediate emancipation might be an injury, and not a blessing to the slaves themselves. A period of preparation, which unhappily included delay, seemed to be necessary. The ground of this delay, however, was not the intermediate advantage to be derived from their labour, but a conviction of its expediency as it related to themselves. We had to compensate to these wretched beings for ages of injustice. We were bound by the strongest obligations to train up these subjects of our past injustice and tyranny for an equal participation with ourselves in the blessings of liberty and the protection of the law; and by these considerations ought our measures to be strictly and conscientiously regulated. It was only in consequence of the necessity of time to be consumed in such a preparation, that we could be justified in the retention of the Negroes in slavery for a single hour; and he trusted that the eyes of all men, both here and in the colonies, would be open to this view of the subject as their clear and indispensable duty."
Having led the reader to the first necessary step to be taken in favour of our slaves in the British Colonies,—namely, the procuring for them a new and better code of laws; and having since led him to the last or final one,—namely, the procuring for them the rights of which they have been unjustly deprived: I shall now confine myself entirely to this latter branch of the subject, being assured, that it has a claim to all the attention that can be bestowed upon it; and I trust that I shall be able to show, by appealing to historical facts, that however awful and tremendous the work of emancipation may seem, it is yet practicable; that it is practicable also without danger; and moreover, that it is practicable with the probability of advantage to all the parties concerned.
In appealing however to facts for this purpose, we must expect no light from antiquity to guide us on our way; for history gives us no account of persons in those times similarly situated with the slaves in the British colonies at the present day. There were no particular nations in those times, like the Africans, expressly set apart for slavery by the rest of the world, so as to have a stigma put upon them on that account, nor did a difference of the colour of the skin constitute always, as it now does, a most marked distinction between the master and the slave, so as to increase this stigma and to perpetuate antipathies between them. Nor did the slaves of antiquity, except perhaps once in Sparta, form the whole labouring population of the land; nor did they work incessantly, like the Africans, under the whip; nor were they generally so behind their masters in cultivated intellect. Neither does ancient history give us in the cases of manumission, which it records, any parallel, from which we might argue in the case before us. The ancient manumissions were those of individuals only, generally of but one at a time, and only now and then; whereas the emancipation, which we contemplate in the colonies, will comprehend whole bodies of men, nay, whole populations, at a given time. We must go therefore in quest of examples to modern times, or rather to the history of the colonial slavery itself; and if we should find any there, which appear to bear at all upon the case in question, we must be thankful for them, and, though they should not be entirely to our mind, we must not turn them away, but keep them, and reason from them as far as their analogies will warrant.
In examining a period comprehending the last forty years, I find no less than six or seven instances of the emancipation of African slaves in bodies. The first of these cases occurred at the close of the first American war. A number of slaves had run away from their North American masters and joined the British army. When peace came, the British Government did not know what to do with them. Their services were no longer wanted. To leave them behind to fall again into the power of their masters would have been great cruelty as well as injustice; and as to taking them to England, what could have been done with them there? It was at length determined to give them their liberty, and to disband them in Nova Scotia, and to settle them there upon grants of land as British subjects and as free men. The Nova Scotians on learning their destination were alarmed. They could not bear the thought of having such a number of black persons among them, and particularly as these understood the use of arms. The Government, however, persevering in its original intention, they were conveyed to Halifax, and distributed from thence into the country. Their number, comprehending men, women, and children, were two thousand and upwards. To gain their livelihood, some of them worked upon little portions of land of their own; others worked as carpenters; others became fishermen; and others worked for hire in other ways. In process of time they raised places of worship of their own, and had ministers of their own from their own body. They led a harmless life, and gained the character of an industrious and honest people from their white neighbours. A few years afterwards the land in Nova Scotia being found too poor to answer, and the climate too cold for their constitutions, a number of them, to the amount of between thirteen and fourteen hundred, volunteered to form a new colony, which was then first thought of, at Sierra Leone. Accordingly, having been conveyed there, they realized the object in view; and they are to be found there, they or their descendants, most of them in independent and some of them in affluent circumstances, at the present day.
A second case may be taken from what occurred at the close of the second, or last American war. It may be remembered that a large British naval force, having on board a powerful land force, sailed in the year 1814, to make a descent on the coast of the southern States of America. The British army, when landed, marched to Washington, and burnt most of its public buildings. It was engaged also at different times with the American army in the field. During these expeditions, some hundreds of slaves in these parts joined the British standard by invitation. When the campaign was over, the same difficulty occurred about disposing of these as in the former case. It was determined at length to ship them to Trinidad as free labourers. But here, that is, at Trinidad, an objection was started against receiving them, but on a different ground from that which had been started in the similar case in Nova Scotia. The planters of Trinidad were sure that no free Negroes would ever work, and therefore that the slaves in question would, if made free and settled among them, support themselves by plunder. Sir Ralph Woodford, however, the governor of the island, resisted the outcry of these prejudices. He received them into the island, and settled them where he supposed the experiment would be most safely made. The result has shown his discernment. These very men, formerly slaves in the Southern States of America and afterwards emancipated in a body at Trinidad, are now earning their own livelihood, and with so much industry and good conduct that the calumnies originally spread against them have entirely died away.
A third case may comprehend those Negroes, who lately formed what we call our West Indian black regiments. Some of these had been originally purchased in Africa, not as slaves but recruits, and others in Jamaica and elsewhere. They had all served as soldiers in the West Indies. At length certain of these regiments were transported to Sierra Leone and disbanded there, and the individuals composing them received their discharge as free men. This happened in the spring of 1819. Many hundreds of them were set at liberty at once upon this occasion. Some of these were afterwards marched into the interior, where they founded Waterloo, Hastings, and other villages. Others were shipped to the Isles de Loss, where they made settlements in like manner. Many, in both cases, took with them their wives, which they had brought from the West Indies, and others selected wives from the natives on the spot. They were all settled upon grants given them by the Government. It appears from accounts received from Sir Charles M'Carthy, the governor of Sierra Leone, that they have conducted themselves to his satisfaction, and that they will prove a valuable addition to that colony.
A fourth case may comprehend what we call the captured Negroes in the colony now mentioned. These are totally distinct from those either in the first or in the last of the cases which have been mentioned. It is well known that these were taken out of slave-ships captured at different times from the commencement of the abolition of the slave trade to the present moment, and that on being landed they were made free. After having been recruited in their health they were marched in bodies into the interior, where they were taught to form villages and to cultivate land for themselves. They were made free as they were landed from the vessels, from fifty to two or three hundred at a time. They occupy at present twelve towns, in which they have both their churches and their schools. Regents Town having been one of the first established, containing about thirteen hundred souls, stands foremost in improvement, and has become a pattern for industry and good example. The people there have now fallen entirely into the habits of English society. They are decently and respectably dressed. They attend divine worship regularly. They exhibit an orderly and moral conduct. In their town little shops are now beginning to make their appearance; and their lands show the marks of extraordinary cultivation. Many of them, after having supplied their own wants for the year, have a surplus produce in hand for the purchase of superfluities or comforts.
Here then are four cases of slaves, either Africans or descendants of Africans, emancipated in considerable bodies at a time. I have kept them by themselves, became they are of a different complexion from those, which I intend should follow. I shall now reason upon them. Let me premise, however, that I shall consider the three first of the cases as one, so that the same reasoning will do for all. They are alike indeed in their main features; and we must consider this as sufficient; for to attend minutely to every shade of difference, which may occur in every case, would be to bewilder the reader, and to swell the size of my work unnecessarily, or without conferring an adequate benefit to the controversy on either side.
It will be said then (for my reasoning will consist principally in answering objections on the present occasion) that the three first cases are not strictly analogous to that of our West Indian slaves, whose emancipation we are seeking. It will be contended, that the slaves in our West Indian colonies have been constantly in an abject and degraded state. Their faculties are benumbed. They have contracted all the vices of slavery. They are become habitually thieves and liars. Their bosoms burn with revenge against the whites. How then can persons in such a state be fit to receive their freedom? The slaves, on the other hand, who are comprehended in the three cases above mentioned, found in the British army a school as it were, which fitted them by degrees for making a good use of their liberty. While they were there, they were never out of the reach of discipline, and yet were daily left to themselves to act as free men. They obtained also in this preparatory school some knowledge of the customs of civilized life. They were in the habit also of mixing familiarly with the white soldiers. Hence, it will be said, they were in a state much more favourable for undergoing a change in their condition than the West Indian slaves before mentioned. I admit all this. I admit the difference between the two situations, and also the preference which I myself should give to the one above the other on account of its desirable tendencies. But I never stated, that our West Indian slaves were to be emancipated suddenly, but by degrees. I always, on the other hand, took it for granted, that they were to have their preparatory school also. Nor must it be forgotten, as a comparison has been instituted, that if there was less danger in emancipating the other slaves, because they had received something like a preparatory education for the change, there was far more in another point of view, because they were all acquainted with the use of arms. This is a consideration of great importance; but particularly when we consider the prejudices of the blacks against the whites; for would our West Indian planters be as much at their ease, as they now are, if their slaves had acquired a knowledge of the use of arms, or would they think them on this account more or less fit for emancipation?
It will be said again, that the fourth case, consisting of the Sierra Leone captured Negroes, is not strictly analogous to the one in point. These had probably been slaves but for a short time,—say a few months, including the time which elapsed between their reduction to slavery and their embarkation from Africa, and between this their embarkation and their capture upon the ocean. They had scarcely been slaves when they were returned to the rank of free men. Little or no change therefore could have been effected in so short an interim in their disposition and their character; and, as they were never carried to the West Indies, so they never could have contracted the bad habits, or the degradation or vices, of the slavery there. It will be contended therefore, that they were better, or less hazardous, subjects for emancipation, than the slaves in our colonies. I admit this objection, and I give it its full weight. I admit it to be less hazardous to emancipate a new than an old slave. And yet the case of the Sierra Leone captured Negroes is a very strong one. They were all Africans. They were all slaves. They must have contracted as mortal a hatred of the whites from their sufferings on board ship by fetters, whips, and suffocation in the hold, as the West Indian from those severities which are attached to their bondage upon shore. Under these circumstances then we find them made free; but observe, not after any preparatory discipline, but almost suddenly, and not singly, but in bodies at a time. We find them also settled or made to live under the unnatural government of the whites; and, what is more extraordinary, we find their present number, as compared with that of the whites in the same colony, nearly as one hundred and fifty to one; notwithstanding which superiority fresh emancipations are constantly taking place, as fresh cargoes of the captured arrive in port.
It will be said, lastly, that all the four cases put together prove nothing. They can give us nothing like a positive assurance, that the Negro slaves in our colonies would pass through the ordeal of emancipation without danger to their masters or the community at large. Certainly not. Nor if these instances had been far more numerous than they are, could they, in this world of accidents, have given us a moral certainty of this. They afford us however a hope, that emancipation is practicable without danger: for will any one pretend to say, that we should have had as much reason for entertaining such a hope, if no such instances had occurred; or that we should not have had reason to despair, if four such experiments had been made, and if they had all failed? They afford us again ground for believing, that there is a peculiar softness, and plasticity, and pliability in the African character. This softness may be collected almost every where from the Travels of Mr. Mungo Park, and has been noticed by other writers, who have contrasted it with the unbending ferocity of the North American Indians and other tribes. But if this be a feature in the African character, we may account for the uniformity of the conduct of those Africans, who were liberated on the several occasions above mentioned, or for their yielding so uniformly to the impressions, which had been given them by their superiors, after they had been made free; and, if this be so, why should not our colonial slaves, if emancipated, conduct themselves in the same manner? Besides, I am not sure whether the good conduct of the liberated in these cases was not to be attributed in part to a sense of interest, when they came to know, that their condition was to be improved. Self-interest is a leading principle with all who are born into the world; and why is the Negro slave in our colonies to be shut out from this common feeling of our nature?—why is he to rise against his master, when he is informed that his condition is to be bettered? Did not the planters, as I have before related, declare in the House of Commons in the year 1816, that their Negroes had then imbibed the idea that they were to be made free, and that they were extremely restless on that account? But what was the cause of all this restlessness? Why, undoubtedly the thought of their emancipation was so interesting, or rather a matter of such exceedingly great joy to them, that they could not help thinking and talking of it. And would not this be the case with our Negroes at this moment, if such a prospect were to be set before them? But if they would be overjoyed at this prospect, is it likely they would cut the throats of those, who should attempt to realize it? would they not, on the other hand, be disposed to conduct themselves equally well as the other African slaves before mentioned, when they came to know, that they were immediately to be prepared for the reception of this great blessing, the first guarantee of which would be an immediate and living experience of better laws and better treatment?
The fifth case may comprehend the slaves of St. Domingo as they were made free at different intervals in the course of the French Revolution.
To do justice to this case, I must give a history of the different circumstances connected with it. It may be remembered, then, that when the French Revolution, which decreed equality of rights to all citizens, had taken place, the free People of Colour of St. Domingo, many of whom were persons of large property and liberal education, petitioned the National Assembly, that they might enjoy the same political privileges as the Whites there. At length the subject of the petition was discussed, but not till the 8th of March 1790, when the Assembly agreed upon a decree concerning it. The decree, however, was worded so ambiguously, that the two parties in St. Domingo, the Whites and the People of Colour, interpreted it each of them in its own favour. This difference of interpretation gave rise to animosities between them, and these animosities were augmented by political party-spirit, according as they were royalists or partizans of the French Revolution, so that disturbances took place and blood was shed.
In the year 1791, the People of Colour petitioned the Assembly again, but principally for an explanation of the decree in question. On the 15th of May, the subject was taken into consideration, and the result was another decree in explicit terms, which determined, that the People of Colour in all the French islands were entitled to all the rights of citizenship, provided they were born of free parents on both sides. The news of this decree had no sooner arrived at the Cape, than it produced an indignation almost amounting to phrensy among the Whites. They directly trampled under foot the national cockade, and with difficulty were prevented from seizing all the French merchant ships in the roads. After this the two parties armed against each other. Even camps began to be formed. Horrible massacres and conflagrations followed, the reports of which, when brought to the mother-country, were so terrible, that the Assembly abolished the decree in favour of the Free People of Colour in the same year.
In the year 1792, the news of the rescinding of the decree as now stated, produced, when it reached St. Domingo, as much irritation among the People of Colour, as the news of the passing of it had done among the Whites, and hostilities were renewed between them, so that new battles, massacres, and burnings, took place. Suffice it to say, that as soon as these events became known in France, the Conventional Assembly, which had then succeeded the Legislative, took them into consideration. Seeing, however, nothing but difficulties and no hope of reconciliation on either side, they knew not what other course to take than to do justice, whatever the consequences might be. They resolved, accordingly, in the month of April, that the decree of 1791, which had been both made and reversed by the preceding Assembly in the same year, should stand good. They restored therefore the People of Colour to the privileges which had been before voted to them, and appointed Santhonax, Polverel, and another, to repair in person to St. Domingo, with a large body of troops, and to act there as commissioners, and, among other things, to enforce the decree and to keep the peace.
In the year 1793, the same divisions and the same bad blood continuing, notwithstanding the arrival of the commissioners, a very trivial matter, viz. a quarrel between a Mulatto and a White man (an officer in the French marine), gave rise to new disasters. This quarrel took place on the 20th of June. On the same day the seamen left their ships in the roads, and came on shore, and made common cause of the affair with the white inhabitants of the town. On the other side were opposed the Mulattos and other People of Colour, and these were afterwards joined by some insurgent Blacks. The battle lasted nearly two days. During this time the arsenal was taken and plundered, and some thousands were killed in the streets, and more than half the town was burnt. The commissioners, who were spectators of this horrible scene, and who had done all they could to restore peace, escaped unhurt, but they were left upon a heap of ruins, and with but little more power than the authority which their commission gave them. They had only about a thousand troops left in the place. They determined, therefore, under these circumstances, to call in the Negro Slaves in the neighbourhood to their assistance. They issued a proclamation in consequence, by which they promised to give freedom to all the Blacks who were willing to range themselves under the banners of the Republic. This was the first proclamation made by public authority for emancipating slaves in St. Domingo. It is usually called the Proclamation of Santhonax, though both commissioners had a hand in it; and sometimes, in allusion to the place where it was issued (the Cape), the Proclamation of the North. The result of it was, that a considerable number of slaves came in and were enfranchised.
Soon after this transaction Polverel left his colleague Santhonax at the Cape, and went in his capacity of commissioner to Port au Prince, the capital of the West. Here he found every thing quiet, and cultivation in a flourishing state. From Port au Prince he visited Les Cayes, the capital of the South. He had not, however, been long there, before he found that the minds of the slaves began to be in an unsettled state. They had become acquainted with what had taken place in the north, not only with the riots at the Cape, but the proclamation of Santhonax. Now this proclamation, though it sanctioned freedom only for a particular or temporary purpose, did not exclude it from any particular quarter. The terms therefore appeared to be open to all who would accept them. Polverel therefore, seeing the impression which it had begun to make upon the minds of the slaves in these parts, was convinced that emancipation could be neither stopped nor retarded, and that it was absolutely necessary for the personal safety of the white planters, that it should be extended to the whole island. He was so convinced of the necessity of this, that he drew up a proclamation without further delay to that effect, and put it into circulation. He dated it from Les Cayes. He exhorted the planters to patronize it. He advised them, if they wished to avoid the most serious calamities, to concur themselves in the proposition of giving freedom to their slaves. He then caused a register to be opened at the Government house to receive the signatures of all those who should approve of his advice. It was remarkable that all the proprietors in these parts inscribed their names in the book. He then caused a similar register to be opened at Port au Prince for the West. Here the same disposition was found to prevail. All the planters, except one, gave in their signatures. They had become pretty generally convinced by this time, that their own personal safety was connected with the measure. It may be proper to observe here, that the proclamation last mentioned, which preceded these registries, though it was the act of Polverel alone, was sanctioned afterwards by Santhonax. It is, however, usually called the Proclamation of Polverel or of Les Cayes. It came out in September 1793. We may now add, that in the month of February 1794, the Conventional Assembly of France, though probably ignorant of what the commissioners had now done, passed a decree for the abolition of slavery throughout the whole of the French colonies. Thus the Government of the mother-country, without knowing it, confirmed freedom to those upon whom it had been bestowed by the commissioners. This decree put therefore the finishing stroke to the whole. It completed the emancipation of the whole slave population of St. Domingo.
Having now given a concise history of the abolition of slavery in St. Domingo, I shall inquire how those who were liberated on these several occasions conducted themselves after this change in their situation. It is of great importance to us to know, whether they used their freedom properly, or whether they abused it.
With respect to those emancipated by Santhonax in the North, we have nothing to communicate. They were made free for military purposes only; and we have no clue whereby we can find out what became of them afterwards.
With respect to those who were emancipated next in the South, and those directly afterwards in the West, by the proclamation of Polverel, we are enabled to give a very pleasing account. Fortunately for our views, Colonel Malenfant, who was resident in the island at the time, has made us acquainted with their general conduct and character. His account, though short, is quite sufficient for our purpose. Indeed it is highly satisfactory. "After this public act of emancipation," says he, (by Polverel,) "the Negroes remained quiet both in the South and in the West, and they continued to work upon all the plantations. There were estates, indeed, which had neither owners nor managers resident upon them, for some of these had been put into prison by Montbrun; and others, fearing the same fate, had fled to the quarter which had just been given up to the English. Yet upon these estates, though abandoned, the Negroes continued their labours, where there were any, even inferior, agents to guide them; and on those estates, where no white men were left to direct them, they betook themselves to the planting of provisions; but upon all the plantations where the Whites resided, the Blacks continued to labour as quietly as before." A little further on in the work, ridiculing the notion entertained in France, that the Negroes would not work without compulsion, he takes occasion to allude to other Negroes, who had been liberated by the same proclamation, but who were more immediately under his own eye and cognizance. "If," says he, "you will take care not to speak to them of their return to slavery, but talk to them about their liberty, you may with this latter word chain them down to their labour. How did Toussaint succeed? How did I succeed also before his time in the plain of the Cul de Sac, and on the Plantation Gouraud, more than eight months after liberty had been granted (by Polverel) to the slaves? Let those who knew me at that time, and even the Blacks themselves, be asked. They will all reply, that not a single Negro upon that plantation, consisting of more than four hundred and fifty labourers, refused to work; and yet this plantation was thought to be under the worst discipline, and the slaves the most idle, of any in the plain. I, myself, inspired the same activity into three other plantations, of which I had the management."
The above account is far beyond any thing that could have been expected. Indeed, it is most gratifying. We find that the liberated Negroes, both in the South and the West, continued to work upon their old plantations, and for their old masters; that there was also a spirit of industry among them, and that they gave no uneasiness to their employers; for they are described as continuing to work as quietly as before. Such was the conduct of the Negroes for the first nine months after their liberation, or up to the middle of 1794. Let us pursue the subject, and see how they conducted themselves after this period.
During the year 1795 and part of 1796 I learn nothing about them, neither good, nor bad, nor indifferent, though I have ransacked the French historians for this purpose. Had there, however, been any thing in the way of outrage, I should have heard of it; and let me take this opportunity of setting my readers right, if, for want of knowing the dates of occurrences, they should have connected certain outrages, which assuredly took place in St. Domingo, with the emancipation of the slaves. The great massacres and conflagrations, which have made so frightful a picture in the history of this unhappy island, had been all effected before the proclamations of Santhonax and Polverel. They had all taken place in the days of slavery, or before the year 1794, that is, before the great conventional decree of the mother country was known. They had been occasioned, too, not originally by the slaves themselves, but by quarrels between the white and coloured planters, and between the royalists and the revolutionists, who, for the purpose of reeking their vengeance upon each other, called in the aid of their respective slaves; and as to the insurgent Negroes of the North, who filled that part of the colony so often with terror and dismay, they were originally put in motion, according to Malenfant, under the auspices of the royalists themselves, to strengthen their own cause, and to put down the partizans of the French revolution. When Jean Francois and Biassou commenced the insurrection, there were many white royalists with them, and the Negroes were made to wear the white cockade. I repeat, then, that during the years 1795 and 1796, I can find nothing in the History of St. Domingo, wherewith to reproach the emancipated Negroes in the way of outrage. There is every reason, on the other hand, to believe, that they conducted themselves, during this period, in as orderly a manner as before.
I come now to the latter part of the year 1796; and here happily a clue is furnished me, by which I have an opportunity of pursuing my inquiry with pleasure. We shall find, that from this time there was no want of industry in those who had been emancipated, nor want of obedience in them as hired servants: they maintained, on the other hand, a respectable character. Let us appeal first to Malenfant. "The colony," says he, "was flourishing under Toussaint. The Whites lived happily and in peace upon their estates, and the Negroes continued to work for them." Now Toussaint came into power, being general-in-chief of the armies of St. Domingo, a little before the end of the year 1796, and remained in power till the year 1802, or till the invasion of the island by the French expedition of Buonaparte under Leclerc. Malenfant means therefore to state, that from the latter end of 1796 to 1802, a period of six years, the planters or farmers kept possession of their estates; that they lived upon them, and that they lived upon them peaceably, that is, without interruption or disturbance from any one; and, finally, that the Negroes, though they had been all set free, continued to be their labourers. Can there be any account more favourable to our views than this, after so sudden an emancipation.
I may appeal next to General Lacroix, who published his "Memoirs for a History of St. Domingo," at Paris, in 1819. He informs us, that when Santhonax, who had been recalled to France by the Government there, returned to the colony in 1796, "he was astonished at the state in which he found it on his return." This, says Lacroix, "was owing to Toussaint, who, while he had succeeded in establishing perfect order and discipline among the black troops, had succeeded also in making the black labourers return to the plantations, there to resume the drudgery of cultivation."
But the same author tells us, that in the next year (1797) the most wonderful progress had been made in agriculture. He uses these remarkable words: "The colony," says he, "marched, as by enchantment, towards its ancient splendour; cultivation prospered; every day produced perceptible proofs of its progress. The city of the Cape and the plantations of the North rose up again visibly to the eye." Now I am far from wishing to attribute all this wonderful improvement, this daily visible progress in agriculture, to the mere act of the emancipation of the slaves in St. Domingo. I know that many other circumstances which I could specify, if I had room, contributed towards its growth; but I must be allowed to maintain, that unless the Negroes, who were then free, had done their part as labourers, both by working regularly and industriously, and by obeying the directions of their superintendants or masters, the colony could never have gone on, as relates to cultivation, with the rapidity described.
The next witness to whom I shall appeal, is the estimable General Vincent, who lives now at Paris, though at an advanced age. Vincent was a colonel, and afterwards a general of brigade of artillery in St. Domingo. He was stationed there during the time both of Santhonax and Toussaint. He was also a proprietor of estates in the island. He was the man who planned the renovation of its agriculture after the abolition of slavery, and one of the great instruments in bringing it to the perfection mentioned by Lacroix. In the year 1801, he was called upon by Toussaint to repair to Paris, to lay before the Directory the new constitution, which had been agreed upon in St. Domingo. He obeyed the summons. It happened, that he arrived in France just at the moment of the peace of Amiens; here he found, to his inexpressible surprise and grief, that Buonaparte was preparing an immense armament, to be commanded by Leclerc, for the purpose of restoring slavery in St. Domingo. He lost no time in seeing the First Consul, and he had the courage to say at this interview what, perhaps, no other man in France would have dared to say at this particular moment. He remonstrated against the expedition; he told him to his face, that though the army destined for this purpose was composed of the brilliant conquerors of Europe, it could do nothing in the Antilles. It would most assuredly be destroyed by the climate of St. Domingo, even though it should be doubtful, whether it would not be destroyed by the Blacks. He stated, as another argument against the expedition, that it was totally unnecessary, and therefore criminal; for that every thing was going on well in St. Domingo. The proprietors were in peaceable possession of their estates; cultivation was making a rapid progress; the Blacks were industrious, and beyond example happy. He conjured him, therefore, in the name of humanity, not to reverse this beautiful state of things. But alas! his efforts were ineffectual. The die had been cast: and the only reward, which he received from Buonaparte for his manly and faithful representations, was banishment to the Isle of Elba.
Having carried my examination into the conduct of the Negroes after their liberation to 1802, or to the invasion of the island by Leclerc, I must now leave a blank for nearly two years, or till the year 1804. It cannot be expected during a war, in which every man was called to arms to defend his own personal liberty, and that of every individual of his family, that we should see plantations cultivated as quietly as before, or even cultivated at all. But this was not the fault of the emancipated Negroes, but of their former masters. It was owing to the prejudices of the latter, that this frightful invasion took place; prejudices, indeed, common to all planters, where slavery obtains, from the very nature of their situation, and upon which I have made my observations in a former place. Accustomed to the use of arbitrary power, they could no longer brook the loss of their whips. Accustomed again to look down upon the Negroes as an inferior race of beings, or as the reptiles of the earth, they could not bear, peaceably as these had conducted themselves, to come into that familiar contact with them, as free labourers, which the change of their situation required. They considered them, too, as property lost, but which was to be recovered. In an evil hour, they prevailed upon Buonaparte, by false representations and promises of pecuniary support, to restore things to their former state. The hellish expedition at length arrived upon the shores of St. Domingo:—a scene of blood and torture followed, such as history had never before disclosed, and compared with which, though planned and executed by Whites, all the barbarities said to have been perpetrated by the insurgent Blacks of the North, amount comparatively to nothing. In fine, the French were driven from the island. Till that time, the planters retained their property, and then it was, but not till then, that they lost their all; it cannot, therefore, be expected, as I have said before, that I should have any thing to say in favour of the industry or good order of the emancipated Negroes, during such a convulsive period.
In the year 1804, Dessalines was proclaimed emperor of this fine territory. Here I resume the thread of my history, (though it will be but for a moment,) in order that I may follow it to its end. In process of time, the black troops, containing the Negroes in question, were disbanded, except such as were retained for the peace-establishment of the army. They, who were disbanded, returned to cultivation. As they were free when they became soldiers, so they continued to be free when they became labourers again. From that time to this, there has been no want of subordination or industry among them. They or their descendants are the persons, by whom the plains and valleys of St. Domingo are still cultivated, and they are reported to follow their occupations still, and with as fair a character as other free labourers in any other quarter of the globe.
We have now seen, that the emancipated Negroes never abused their liberty, from the year 1793 (the era of their general emancipation) to the present day, a period of thirty years. An important question then seems to force itself upon us, "What were the measures taken after so frightful an event, as that of emancipation, to secure the tranquillity and order which has been described, or to rescue the planters and the colony from ruin?" I am bound to answer this, if I can, were it only to gratify the curiosity of my readers; but more particularly when I consider, that if emancipation should ever be in contemplation in our own colonies, it will be desirable to have all the light possible upon that subject, and particularly of precedent or example. It appears then, that the two commissioners, Santhonax and Polverel, aware of the mischief which might attend their decrees, were obliged to take the best measures they could devise to prevent it. One of their first steps was to draw up a short code of rules to be observed upon the plantations. These rules were printed and made public. They were also ordered to be read aloud to all the Negroes upon every estate, for which purpose the latter were to be assembled at a particular hour once a week. The preamble to these regulations insisted upon the necessity of working, without which everything would go to ruin. Among the articles, the two the most worthy of our notice were, that the labourers were to be obliged to hire themselves to their masters for not less than a year, at the end of which (September), but not before, they might quit their service, and engage with others; and that they were to receive a third part of the produce of the estate, as a recompense for their labour. These two were fundamental articles. As to the minor, they were not alike upon every estate. This code of the commissioners subsisted for about three years.
Toussaint, when he came into power, reconsidered this subject, and adopted a code of rules of his own. His first object was to prevent oppression on the part of the master or employer, and yet to secure obedience on the part of the labourer. Conceiving that there could be no liberty where any one man had the power of punishing another at his discretion, he took away from every master the use of the whip, and of the chain, and of every other instrument of correction, either by himself or his own order: he took away, in fact, all power of arbitrary punishment. Every master offending against this regulation was to be summoned, on complaint by the labourer, before a magistrate or intendant of police, who was to examine into the case, and to act accordingly. Conceiving, on the other hand, that a just subordination ought to be kept up, and that, wherever delinquency occurred, punishment ought to follow, he ordained, that all labourers offending against the plantation laws, or not performing their contracts, should be brought before the same magistrate or intendant of police, who should examine them touching such delinquency, and decide as in the former case: thus he administered justice without respect of persons. It must be noticed, that all punishments were to be executed by a civil officer, a sort of public executioner, that they might be considered as punishments by the state. Thus he kept up discipline on the plantations, without lessening authority on the one hand, and without invading the liberty of individuals on the other.
Among his plantation offences was idleness on the part of the labourer. A man was not to receive wages from his master, and to do nothing. He was obliged to perform a reasonable quantity of work, or be punished. Another offence was absence without leave, which was considered as desertion.
Toussaint differed from the commissioners, as to the length of time for which labourers should engage themselves to masters. He thought it unwise to allow the former, in the infancy of their liberty, to get notions of change and rambling at the end of every year. He ordained, therefore, that they should be attached to the plantations, and made, though free labourers, a sort of adscripti glebae for five years.
He differed again from the commissioners, as to the quantum of compensation for their labour. He thought one-third of the produce too much, seeing that the planter had another third to pay to the Government. He ordered, therefore, one-fourth to the labourer, but this was in the case only, where the labourer clothed and maintained himself: where he did not do this, he was entitled to a fourth only nominally, for out of this his master was to make a deduction for board and clothing.
The above is all I have been able to collect of the code of Toussaint, which, under his auspices, had the surprising effect of preserving tranquillity and order, and of keeping up a spirit of industry on the plantations of St. Domingo, at a time when only idleness and anarchy were to have been expected. It was in force when Leclerc arrived with his invading army, and it continued in force when the French army were beaten and Negro-liberty confirmed. From Toussaint it passed to Dessalines, and from Dessalines to Christophe and Petion, and from the two latter to Boyer; and it is the code therefore which regulates, and I believe with but very little variation, the relative situation of master and servant in husbandry at this present hour.
But it is time that I should now wind up the case before us. And, first, will any one say that this case is not analogous to that which we have in contemplation? Let us remember that the number of slaves liberated by the French decrees in St. Domingo was very little short of 500,000 persons, and that this was nearly equal to the number of all the slaves then in the British West Indian Islands when put together. But if there be a want of analogy, the difference lies on my side of the question. I maintain, that emancipation in St. Domingo was attended with far more hazard to persons and property, and with far greater difficulties, than it could possibly be, if attempted in our own islands. Can we forget that by the decree of Polverel, sanctioned afterwards by the Convention, all the slaves were made free at once, or in a single day? No notice was given of the event, and of course no preparation could be made for it. They were released suddenly from all their former obligations and restraints. They were let loose upon the Whites, their masters, with all the vices of slavery upon them. What was to have been expected but the dissolution of all civilized society, with the reign of barbarism and terror? Now all I ask for with respect to the slaves in our own islands is, that they should be emancipated by degrees, or that they should be made to pass through a certain course of discipline, as through a preparatory school, to fit them for the right use of their freedom. Again, can we forget the unfavourable circumstances, in which the slaves of St. Domingo were placed, for a year or two before their liberation, in another point of view? The island at this juncture was a prey to political discord, civil war, and foreign invasion, at the same time. Their masters were politically at variance with each other, as they were white or coloured persons, or republicans or royalists. They were quarrelling and fighting with each other, and shedding each other's blood. The English, who were in possession of the strong maritime posts, were alarming the country by their incursions: they, the slaves, had been trained up to the same political animosities. They had been made to take the side of their respective masters, and to pass through scenes of violence and bloodshed. Now, whenever emancipation is to be proposed in our own colonies, I anticipate neither political parties, nor civil wars, nor foreign invasion, but a time of tranquillity and peace. Who then will be bold enough to say, after these remarks, that there could be any thing like the danger and difficulties in emancipating the slaves there, which existed when the slaves of St. Domingo were made free? But some objector may say, after all, "There is one point in which your analogy is deficient. While Toussaint was in power, the Government of St. Domingo was a black one, and the Blacks would be more willing to submit to the authority of a black (their own) Government, than of a white one. Hence there Were less disorders after emancipation in St. Domingo, than would have probably occurred, had it been tried in our own islands." But to such an objector I should reply, that he knows nothing of the history of St. Domingo. The Government of that island was French, or white, from the very infancy of emancipation to the arrival of the expedition of Leclerc. The slaves were made free under the government of Santhonax and Polverel. When these retired, other white commissioners succeeded them. When Toussaint came into power, he was not supreme; Generals Hedouille, Vincent, and others, had a share in the government. Toussaint himself received his commission from the French Directory, and acted under it. He caused it every where to be made known, but particularly among his officers and troops, that he retained the island for the French Government, and that France was the mother-country.