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the British landholder. Men in these circumstances, it is obvious, have no permanent interest in the soil. Their object is, to make the most they can in the short est time; and therefore they will not be deterred by considerations of humanity for the slaves from extracting, during their temporary possession, by means of the uncontrolled power they possess over those wretched beings, the utmost benefit which the estate is capable of yielding.
interest may be supposed to require treatment, in certain circumstances, wholly different from that which would be dictated by the principles of humanity.
Such being my view of the situation in which master and slave stand to each other, I confess I look with the greatest distrust, with the slenderest possible hope, to any real and solid advantage to be derived from the resolutions moved by the right hon. gentleman, and which refer the matter to the colonial assemblies. Let the House remember, that we have done the same thing twice before; the effect produced by it has been very small indeed; and I greatly fear that we shall only meet with further disappointment if we again resort to the same expedient. Those legislatures may pretend to meet fully the wishes of parliament, and yet may do nothing effectual; and, after five years more have elapsed without any progress having been made, we shall be again called upon, either by events which have happened in the West Indies, or by our own consciences at home, to look into the question in good earnest, when it will brook no further delays; and then we shall have the painful reflection, that if we had acted boldly in the first instance, five years of misery would have been saved to these unhappy beings.
But even if the owners acted with the best intentions--and many of them I believe do they are absent, and know nothing of what is actually going on upon their estates. It is an individual who has no real interest in the estate, who is placed as their agent on the spot to superintend the whole concern. Some owners of estates may be very honest, honourable, humane men, who would not work their slaves too much; but what security have we that this will be the case with all, or that many may not even think it their interest to act otherwise? Indeed, I am persuaded that it is not so plainly the pecuniary interest of the slave-owner in all cases to be humane, as some have imagined. The West-India purchaser of an es tate may consider himself engaged in a gambling concern, and may hope in a few years to scourge a handsome profit out of the unhappy beings committed to How comes it to pass, I would ask, his charge; and he may even flatter him- that no steps have yet been taken toself, that he will clear a greater profit in wards the amelioration of the condition this way than he would have done had he of the slaves? For how many years has pursued a different course. His object is it, for example, been proposed to attach to get a great return in a short time; and the slave to the soil? The question, I although, in a long series of years it might know, has been discussed; but why has be against his interest to over-work his no progress been made in consequence slaves, yet, his object being a rapid return of that discussion? It has been said, for his capital, he cannot wait the slow that there are many difficulties to encounprogress of improvement in order to at- ter. Doubtless there are. It would be tain it. It is very well known, and the hard upon the slave, it is argued, to be simile is far from being a new one, that kept upon a barren soil, an exhausted some post-masters use their horses ex- plantation; but it seems to have been foractly upon this principle. They might gotten, that the very exhaustion of the keep their horses longer alive, by making soil, unfitting it for sugar culture, is in them do less work and by giving them the negro's favour. But how comes it, better treatment; but they prefer making that in the West Indies the richest soils them do more work, though it may wear in the world thus undergo exhaustion, them down sooner, upon a mere calcula-while in other countries the poorest soils tion of profit and loss. Far be it from me to charge such a sordid calculation as this upon the West-India planters; but what I say is, that the identity of their interests and those of humanity ought not to be so much relied upon: you cannot trust to the former alone in the treatment of the slave, because I have shewn, that views of
are subject to no such process, and do not, under ordinary cultivation, deteriorate, but improve? Is it not that a just curse seems, in the dispensation of Providence, to attend the cruel and bloodthirsty method of culture by slaves?else why would not culture keep the land in the West Indies in the same heart in
which the land in the East Indies or in Europe is kept?
in our duty to that part of our fellowsubjects, if we do not immediately announce our intention of taking up that part of the subject. Difficulties, doubtless, will be to be encountered-difficulties there are in every change-but are they insurmountable? I trust that no man will be stopped by them, who does not wish to be impeded.
Sir, we hear of the risk of insurrection; we have heard of it in every stage of the discussion: from the first moment this question was brought under the consider
But are we to say, that the slaves shall not be attached to the soil, merely because some possible inconveniences may, in supposable cases, be pointed out as the result? Certainly not. If the argument urged on the score of the poverty of the soil in certain situations were valid, the same might have been said of England, when villenage in gross was converted into villenage regardant; and copyholders would then have had no existence: there would have been no such thing as a free-ation of the House, to the present instant, man in the land, because, forsooth, a gust the cry has never been out of the mouths of wind might have blown a part of Nor- of those who oppose all change. But yet folk into the sea, and then it might have our discussions, although declared to be been said, how can subsistence be drawn so injurious in theory, have never produced from the sands of Norfolk: we must re- the slightest practical injury. Even the tain the power of transferring the villein insurrection in Barbadoes, it might easily to richer lands elsewhere. If this sort of be shown, had no connection, as was alargument had been allowed to weigh in leged, with the discussions on the Reformer times, we should have been all of gistry bill, but sprung from causes perus at the present moment villeins in gross. fectly distinct. I have never heard it said that there is one single plantation in the West Indies so barren that provisions will not grow upon it sufficient for the maintenance of the slaves belonging to it. But I would make a broader and more general answer to the objection, and I would say, that we are bound to act upon the mass of cases, and that one exception is no argument against the general principle.
I cannot close these observations, which I have deemed it incumbent upon me to make to the House, without stating my decided opinion, that we ought not to resist the amendment of the right hon. secretary; because it is at least a step in advance towards emancipation, although I confess I entertain but few hopcs of its leading to any sound practical result. It may, however, be ultimately a ground for a stronger expression of the opinion of the House; and I sincerely trust, my hon. friend will in no long time propose to the House some more specific resolution with respect to the freedom of children born after a certain period. Holding that liberty to the slaves in the West Indies must come sooner or later; and being convinced, that, if they are not now ripe for actual emancipation, at least we are arrived at the time when it will be safe to legislate with a view to that consummation; it seems to me to be now the imperative duty of the legislature to pass some act with respect to the freedom of unborn children. We shall be wanting VOL. IX.
This is a sufficient answer to all such chimerical apprehensions. Parliament has certainly not shown any desire to interfere between master and slave; but if steps are not taken by the master to convert his present tenure into one of a more restricted nature, parliament is bound to interfere, by the right which it holds of legislating for all his majesty's subjects. This right, sacred and unalienable, is inherent in the British legislature, and has never been abandoned, excepting as it regards taxation.
Sir, I beg pardon of the House for having troubled it by going at greater length into the subject than I at first intended, but I thought there was a chance of some mistake arising as to the grounds on which we accede to the resolutions now proposed by the right hon. gentleman; and I wish more particularly to guard against being understood as ex pressing any great hopes of benefit from the present measure, which is little more than a repetition of the former addresses of Parliament to the Crown, and the former references of the Crown to the colonial assemblies, followed by an entire disappointment of every expectation that had been indulged. With these recollections deeply impressed upon my mind, let it not be supposed that I can indulge a sanguine hope of any beneficial practical results from these resolutions.
Mr. Bernal said :-I had thought, Sir, at the commencement of this debate, that to all appearance, we were advancing to.
wards the point of conciliation, and that every subject of irritation would this night have been avoided. But, I would ask, whether the topics my hon. and learned friend below me has advanced, are calculated to lead to the results which I believe he has sincerely at heart? The hon. member for Bristol (Mr. Bright), acted not, I think, with that discretion which he usually displays, in bringing forward, and creating a discussion with respect to the contents of certain pamphlets which he read in part to the House; but I must say, that the hon. and learned member should not, on such account, have opened the attack which he has just made, and that he should have abstained from indulging in such declamation. I would appeal to the House, whether the hon. and learned member (although he has truly pointed out the manifest distinction which exists between the situations of the owner of an estate in the West Indies, and the landed proprietor in England) has not invidiously made an attack upon the West-India proprietors in general; and particularly when he instituted that comparison between the masters of slaves and the owners of post-horses. I would ask my hon. and learned friend, if he can, upon reflection, consider that this was a sally of declamation he ought to have indulged in, if he sincerely wished to prevent irritation?
My hon. and learned friend has asked, what has been done in the way of amelioration or improvement, since the abolition of the slave trade? I am unwilling, at this late hour of the night, to trouble the House by going through a long detail of facts, running over a period of so many years; but I would tell him, that I know much, very much, has been done since the abolition, and particularly in the island of Jamaica. I would ask him, whether he does not remember, that the Consolidated Slave Code, containing upwards of an hundred clauses, underwent, in 1817, a complete revision in the legis. lature of Jamaica? If my hon. and learned friend should answer, "I know of no laws having been enacted," I can only reply by directly asserting what I have been informed and believe to be the fact, though that assertion may, of course, again be met by replication. If the hon. and learned gentleman should say, that the West-India colonies have not made any new laws, such a statement, I am assured by those who are well informed
on the subject, may be met by a complete denial. My hon. and learned friend, not perhaps in the most fair or candid manner, has referred to some advertisements relating to run-away negroes in the Jamaica Gazettes, and which he has read as it were to excite the attention of the House. Was it, I ask, worthy of the serious cause he advocates? was it worthy of his reputation and talents, upon a question of this vital importance, to aim at directing the attention of the House to these points, and to call down the ridicule, the contempt, the disgust of hon. members, by stating, from these public news-papers, that a young negro girl was branded upon the top of her right shoulder, and other circumstances of the like nature; and from thence to maintain, that negroes were sold in the market like so many horned cattle. My hon. and learned friend has been pleased to comment upon the control to which the negro population is subjected. But, is it our fault as West-India proprietors? Have not the successive governments of the mother country sanctioned it? I would ask my hon. and learned friend, whether he thinks it just or candid to call in the aid of ridicule, by introducing topics which can have no other effect than to cast an unmerited share of odium upon the unfortunate West-India planters, and to excite strong feelings of irritation. Amongst a black and coloured slave po. pulation, consisting of nearly 340,000 beings (as I believe may now be the case in Jamaica), there always must be found a number of run-away slaves. The fact cannot be for a moment doubted.
Without detaining the House at any length, I would beg to call its attention, and also that of my hon. and learned friend, to a well-digested Report made in 1816, and drawn up with great labour and talent, by a committee of the House of Assembly of Jamaica. By consulting that excellent Report, it will be found that very few impediments, if any, are thrown in the way of the negro's obtain ing justice, who asserts his right or title to freedom, should the same be contested; and it will appear, by a few minutes' inspection of this Report, that the laws do not leave the negro so destitute of protection as may be commonly supposed. A negro asserting his right to freedom, in the island of Jamaica, may bring an action in a court of justice to try and enforce such right; and should he
fail therein, he may institute other proceedings for such purpose. Appeals are also allowed to the negroes, under the laws of Jamaica; and until the appeal be heard and determined, the negro has a right to enjoy his liberty. In this able Report will be found the evidence of the attorney-general of Jamaica, who deposed to the fact that many actions of trespass have been entertained on the part of negroes or coloured persons, for the purpose of asserting their right of freedom, and who by these means recovered, against those opposing such claims, damages to the amount of 250l. in some cases. In almost every case where an action of trespass has been brought, or a writ de homine replegiando has been sued out, the plaintiffs claiming their rights, have obtained redress.
My hon. and learned friend has also asked, " Why will not the House of Assembly of Jamaica pass a law to attach the negro to the soil?" At this advanced time of the night, it would be unwise for me to enter into a detail of the whole of the reasons which I have understood have actuated that Assembly in not proceeding to frame such an enactment. But my hon. and learned friend, I must say, has made the most unfair comparison between the system of culture pursued with respect to the soil of a northern climate like England, and that followed upon the plantations in a tropical country like the West Indies. The vegetable provisions of the negro, which have been alluded to, are raised ́upon a soil far different from that on which the sugar cane is grown. They are cultivated upon two distinct soils; and I would remind my hon. and learned friend, if he has looked at the Report to which I have before alluded, that it is particularly mentioned therein, that a fair proportion of estates in Jamaica are coffee plantations. The hon. and learned gentleman does not seem to be aware, in considering the question of attaching the negro to the soil, that the frequent hurricanes which occur in the West Indies, in time, often wash or force away the soil, and particularly upon coffee properties, and that in such cases the plantations are oftentimes afterwards, not worth keeping up. The unfortunate beings then left on the estates, if legally and absolutely attached to the soil, would be compelled to remain, at the risk of starvation. When, therefore, my hon. and learned friend asks
why this is not done-why the negro is not absolutely attached to the soil-I reply, that if I had time, and it were not for the danger of exhausting the patience of the House, I could give him most full and satisfactory reasons to prove that the Assembly of Jamaica have been justified in pausing before they adopted such a plan.
I am very willing to allow to my hon. and learned friend, that there are certainly evils of serious magnitude inherent in the state of slavery in the West Indies; but I would firmly contend (and I think every reasonable man who has thought on the subject, must be willing to allow), that as the West-India colonists have not been placed in the situation in which they now stand, without the direct and solemn authority of the legislature of the mother country, and the most express encouragement on the part of the British government; it is only their due, it would only be an act of mere and positive justice towards them, if the legislature should now think proper to take their property into its own hands, and to submit it to a system of management essentially different from that which it has hitherto received; that the legislature of Great Britain should, at the same time, grant to the West-India planters the most liberal, the most full, and the most satisfactory compensation. Whatever weight the argument of the hon. member for Weymouth may have had with the House, I still contend, that the slave is the property of his master; and, I say again, that the legislature of this country is bound to give to the planter, the fullest and most adequate remuneration for any deprivation of, or change in, his right of property, and the most complete indemnity against any dangers which may result from its interference therewith.
Mr. Baring said:-Having, Sir, been alluded to by my hon. friend who opened the debate, I cannot avoid stating to the House how strongly I feel the necessity of something being done, and something considerable, on the present question. I feel that it is one of the greatest possible importance and delicacy; but I fear that hon. gentlemen around me, whose feelings I respect, have been led away by the ardour and fervency of those feelings to exaggerate the real facts, and to underrate the many difficulties and dangers which must accompany any alteration in the present system. I am anxious to state
my own ideas as to the extent of these difficulties; and, undoubtedly, if there really exist such a state of things, a case of that extreme atrocity which has been represented to the public, every possible risk ought to be encountered to get the better of the system which produced it. I confess it does not surprise me, that those who believe in the existence of these barbarities should wish that no time should be lost in remedying such an evil. My own opinion, however, is, that, as far as the physical sufferings of the negro go, they have been much over-stated; and I may even cite my own observations on the subject to prove the fact. I am not myself a West-India proprietor, but I have seen cultivation carried on by slaves in some of the American States, in Georgia and Carolina; and I must say, that, from all I saw there, and from every information I have received from our own colonies, I do not believe, on looking about the world and considering the general lot of mankind, that, if I was called upon to say what part of the globe most particularly excited my sympathy and commiseration, I should fix upon the negroes of the West Indies, as far as regards their food and clothing, and the whole of their
I must say, that when my hon. and learned friend, in a speech of much energy and eloquence, sets aside the testimony of all those colonial governors (which was detailed to the House by the hon. member for Sandwich), and takes up the opinions, published in the form of pamphlets, of honest but enthusiastic men, who are much more likely to be misled as to facts than those public functionaries in their official reports, I confess I cannot fully approve of such a mode of arguing the question. I should say, in opposition to these feelings, and to those of my hon. friend the member for Bramber, that unless he himself had been in the colonies, and had been an eye-witness to the scenes he has described, I would rather take the reports of those governors, men of education, having no interest in the colonies, than the opinions of these individuals, who are not very likely to be sparing in their descriptions of the cruelties and atrocities committed in the West Indies, well knowing that such glowing and exaggerated accounts, where solitary instances of oppression, instead of being the exception, are converted into the rule,
would not be unacceptable to those to whom they communicated their statements. My own opinion is, that the condition of the slaves is undoubtedly, in many respects, superior to that of most of the European peasantry. They are well clothed, well fed, and, I believe, generally treated with justice and kindness.
But the circumstance which weighs the heaviest on my mind, is the moral condition of the slaves, and the almost impossibility of their deriving, in their present situation, any religious or moral instruction from those who are placed over them, and who cannot boast of the best morals themselves. There is something altogether so painful in their situation in this respect, that I am induced to wish that something could be done to ameliorate their moral condition; nor can I see any danger which could possibly arise from a prudent plan of religious instruction, by which they might be raised in the scale of being.
As to the objection taken by my hon. and learned friend to the statement with reference to the insurrection at Barbadoes, I believe it to have been correctly stated, that the insurrection was owing to the report spread in the colony of what was doing at home, and to the consequences which the negroes anticipated from it. It was, I think, the statement of the governor, sir James Leith, that the insurrection was owing entirely to that circumstance. Indeed, it is impossible to consider the state in which men in that country exist, without supposing an extreme liability to excitement among them. The same excitement might, and probably would, be produced at home by similar means. Supposing a question were argued in the House of Commons on the subject of a division of the property of the rich among the poorer people of this country, and there were among us men enthusiastic enough to maintain the justice of this division, and to argue how impious it was that one portion of the population should live upon coarse food, and drink nothing but water, while another portion should feast on venison and champaigne, and indulge in all the luxuries and delicacies of life;-supposing, I say, these opinions were to spread (and I really think a great deal of good argument might be stated in their favour upon the score of christianity), and discussions on some future occasions were