Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

The History of the Rise, Progress and Accomplishment of the Abolition of the African Slave Trade by the British Parliament (1808), Vol. I by Thomas Clarkson

Part 5 out of 5

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.6 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

The labours of the commitee, during my absence, were as I have now
explained them; but as I was obliged, almost immediately on joining them,
to retire into the country to begin my new work, I must give an account of
their further services till I joined them again, or till the middle of
February 1788.

During sittings which were held from the middle of December 1787 to the
eighteenth of January 1788, the business of the commitee had so increased,
that it was found proper to make an addition to their number. Accordingly
James Martin and William Morton Pitt, esquires, members of parliament, and
Robert Hunter, and Joseph Snath, esquires, were chosen members of it.

The knowledge also of the institution of the society had spread to such an
extent, and the eagerness among individuals to see the publications of the
commitee had been so great, that the press was kept almost constantly going
during the time now mentioned. No fewer than three thousand lists of the
subscribers, with a circular letter prefixed to them, explaining the object
of the institution, were ordered to be printed within this period, to which
are to be added fifteen hundred of Benezet's Account of Guinea, three
thousand of the Dean of Middleham's Letters, five thousand Summary Views,
and two thousand of a new edition of the Slavery and Commerce of the Human
Species, which I had enlarged before the last of these sittings from
materials collected in my late tour.

The thanks of the commitee were voted during this period to Mr. Alexander
Falconbridge, for the assistance he had given me in my inquiries into the
nature of the Slave-trade.

As Mr. Falconbridge had but lately returned from Africa, and as facts and
circumstances, which had taken place but a little time ago, were less
liable to objections (inasmuch as they proved the present state of things)
than those which had happened in earlier times, he was prevailed upon to
write an account of what he had seen during the four voyages he had made to
that continent; and accordingly, within the period which has been
mentioned, he began his work.

The commitee, during these sittings, kept up a correspondence with those
gentlemen who were mentioned in the last chapter to have addressed them.
But, besides these, they found other voluntary correspondents in the
following persons, Capel Lofft, esquire, of Troston, and the reverend R.
Brome of Ipswich, both in the county of Suffolk. These made an earnest
tender of their services for those parts of the county in which they
resided. Similar offers were made by Mr. Hammond of Stanton, near St. Ives,
in the county of Huntingdon, by Thomas Parker, esquire, of Beverley, and by
William Grove, esquire, of Litchfield, for their respective towns and

A letter was received also within this period from the society established
at Philadelphia, accompanied with documents in proof of the good effects of
the manumission of slaves, and with specimens of writing and drawing by the
same. In this letter the society congratulated the commitee in London on
its formation, and professed its readiness to cooperate in any way in which
it could be made useful.

During these sittings, a letter was also read from Dr. Bathurst, now bishop
of Norwich, dated Oxford, December the seventeenth, in which he offered his
services in the promotion of the cause.

Another was read, which stated that Dr. Horne, president of Magdalen
College in the same university, and afterwards bishop of the same see as
the former, highly favoured it.

Another was read from Mr. Lambert, fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, in
which he signified to the commitee the great desire he had to promote the
object of their institution. He had drawn up a number of queries relative
to the state of the unhappy slaves in the islands, which he had transmitted
to a friend, who had resided in them, to answer. These answers he purposed
to forward to the commitee on their arrival.

Another was read from Dr. Hinchliffe, bishop of Peterborough, in which he
testified his hearty approbation of the institution, and of the design of
it, and his determination to support the object of it in parliament. He
gave in at the same time a plan, which he called Thoughts on the Means of
Abolishing the Slave-trade in Great Britain and in our West Indian Islands,
for the consideration of the commitee.

At the last of these sittings, the commitee thought it right to make a
report to the public relative to the state and progress of their cause; but
as this was composed from materials, which the reader has now in his
possession, it may not be necessary to produce it.

On the twenty-second and twenty-ninth of January, and on the fifth and
twelfth of February, 1788, sittings were also held. During these, the
business still increasing, John Maitland, esquire, was elected a member of
the commitee.

As the correspondents of the commitee were now numerous, and as these
solicited publications for the use of those who applied to them, as well as
of those to whom they wished to give a knowledge of the subject, the press
was kept in constant employ during this period also. Five thousand two
hundred and fifty additional Reports were ordered to be printed, and also
three thousand of Falconbridge's Account of the Slave-trade, the manuscript
of which was now finished. At this time, Mr. Newton, rector of St. Mary
Woolnoth in London, who had been in his youth to the coast of Africa, but
who had now become a serious and useful divine, felt it his duty to write
his Thoughts on the African Slave-trade. The commitee, having obtained
permission, printed three thousand copies of these also.

During these sittings, the chairman was requested to have frequent
communication with Dr. Porteus, bishop of London, as he had expressed his
desire of becoming useful to the institution.

A circular letter also, with the report before mentioned, was ordered to be
sent to the mayors of several corporate towns.

A case also occurred, which it may not be improper to notice. The treasurer
reported that he had been informed by the chairman, that the captain of the
Albion merchant ship, trading to the Bay of Honduras, had picked up at sea
from a Spanish ship, which had been wrecked, two black men, one named Henry
Martin Burrowes, a free native of Antigua, who had served in the royal
navy, and the other named Antonio Berrat, a Spanish Negro; that the said
captain detained these men on board his ship, then lying in the river
Thames, against their will; and that he would not give them up. Upon this
report, it was resolved that the cause of these unfortunate captives should
be espoused by the commitee. Mr. Sharp accordingly caused a writ of
habeas-corpus to be served upon them; soon after which he had the
satisfaction of reporting, that they had been delivered from the place of
their confinement.

During these sittings the following letters were read also:

One from Richard How, of Apsley, offering his services to the commitee.

Another from the reverend Christopher Wyvill, of Burton Hall in Yorkshire,
to the same effect.

Another from Archdeacon Plymley, (now Corbett,) in which he expressed the
deep interest he took in this cause of humanity and freedom, and the desire
he had of making himself useful as far as he could towards the support of
it; and he wished to know, as the clergy of the diocese of Litchfield and
Coventry were anxious to espouse it also, whether a petition to parliament
from them, as a part of the established church, would not be desirable at
the present season.

Another from Archdeacon Paley, containing his sentiments on a plan for the
abolition of the Slave-trade, and the manumission of slaves in our islands,
and offering his future services, and wishing success to the undertaking.

Another from Dr. Sharp, prebendary of Durham, inquiring into the probable
amount of the subscriptions which might be wanted, and for what purposes,
with a view of serving the cause.

Another from Dr. Woodward, bishop of Cloyne, in which he approved of the
institution of the commitee. He conceived the Slave-trade to be no less
disgraceful to the legislature and injurious to the true commercial
interests of the country, than it was productive of unmerited misery to die
unhappy objects of it, and repugnant both to the principles and the spirit
of the Christian religion. He wished to be placed among the asserters of
the liberty of his fellow-creatures, and he was therefore desirous of
subscribing largely, as well as of doing all he could, both in England and
Ireland, for the promotion of such a charitable work.

A communication was made, soon after the reading of the last letter,
through the medium of the Chevalier de Ternant, from the celebrated Marquis
de la Fayette of France. The marquis signified the singular pleasure he had
received on hearing of the formation of a commitee in England for the
abolition of the Slave-trade, and the earnest desire he had to promote the
object of it. With this view, he informed the commitee that he should
attempt the formation of a similar society in France. This he conceived to
be one of the most effectual measures he could devise for securing the
object in question; for he was of opinion, that if the two great nations of
France and England were to unite in this humane and Christian work, the
other European nations might be induced to follow the example.

The commitee, on receiving the two latter communications, resolved, that
the chairman should return their thanks to the Bishop of Cloyne, and the
Marquis de la Fayette, and the Chevalier de Ternant, and that he should
inform them, that they were enrolled among the honorary and corresponding
members of the Society.

The other letters read during these sittings were to convey information to
the commitee, that people in various parts of the kingdom had then felt
themselves so deeply interested in behalf of the injured Africans, that
they had determined either on public meetings, or had come to resolutions,
or had it in contemplation to petition parliament, for the abolition of the
Slave-trade. Information was signified to this effect by Thomas Walker,
esquire, for Manchester; by John Hoyland, William Hoyles, esquire, and the
reverend James Wilkinson, for Sheffield; by William Tuke, and William Burgh
esquire, for York; by the reverend Mr. Foster, for Colchester; by Joseph
Harford and Edmund Griffith, esquires, for Bristol; by William Bishop,
esquire, the mayor, for Maidstone; by the reverend R. Brome and the
reverend J. Wright, for Ipswich; by James Clark, esquire, the mayor, for
Coventry; by Mr. Jones, of Trinity College, for the University of
Cambridge; by Dr. Schomberg, of Magdalen College, for the University of
Oxford; by Henry Bullen, esquire, for Bury St. Edmunds; by Archdeacon
Travis, for Chester; by Mr. Hammond, for the county of Huntingdon; by John
Flint, esquire, (now Corbett,) for the town of Shrewsbury and county of
Salop; by the reverend Robert Lucas, for the town and also for the county
of Northampton; by Mr. Winchester, for the county of Stafford; by the
reverend William Leigh, for the county of Norfolk; by David Barclay, for
the county of Hertford; and by Thomas Babington, esquire, for the county of


_Further progress to the middle of May--Petitions begin to be sent to
parliament--The king orders the privy council to inquire into the
Slave-trade--Author called up to town--his interviews with Mr. Pitt--and
with Mr. (now Lord) Grenville--Liverpool delegates examined first--these
prejudice the council--this prejudice at length counteracted--Labours of
the commitee in the interim--Public anxious for the introduction of the
question into parliament--Message of Mr. Pitt to the commitee concerning
it--Day fixed for the motion--Substance of the debate which
followed--discussion of the general question deferred till the next

By this time the nature of the Slave-trade had, in consequence of the
labours of the commitee and of their several correspondents, become
generally known throughout the kingdom. It had excited a general attention,
and there was among people a general feeling in behalf of the wrongs of
Africa. This feeling had also, as may be collected from what has been
already mentioned, broken out into language: for not only had the traffic
become the general subject of conversation, but public meetings had taken
place, in which it had been discussed, and of which the result was, that an
application to parliament had been resolved upon in many places concerning
it. By the middle of February not fewer than thirty-five petitions had been
delivered to the commons, and it was known that others were on their way to
the same house.

This ferment in the public mind, which had shown itself in the public
prints even before the petitions had been resolved upon, had excited the
attention of government. To coincide with the wishes of the people on this
subject, appeared to those in authority to be a desirable thing. To abolish
the trade, replete as it was with misery, was desirable also: but it was so
connected with the interest of individuals, and so interwoven with the
commerce and revenue of the country, that an hasty abolition of it without
a previous inquiry appeared to them to be likely to be productive of as
much misery as good. The king, therefore, by an order of council, dated
February the eleventh, 1788, directed that a commitee of privy council
should sit as a board of trade, "to take into their consideration the
present state of the African trade, particularly as far as related to the
practice and manner of purchasing or obtaining slaves on the coast of
Africa, and the importation and sale thereof, either in the British
colonies and settlements, or in the foreign colonies and settlements in
America or the West-Indies; and also as far as related to the effects and
consequences of the trade both in Africa and in the said colonies and
settlements, and to the general commerce of this kingdom; and that they
should report to him in council the result of their inquiries, with such
observations as they might have to offer thereupon."

Of this order of council Mr. Wilberforce, who had attended to this great
subject, as far as his health would permit since I left him, had received
notice; but he was then too ill himself to take any measures concerning it.
He therefore wrote to me, and begged of me to repair to London immediately
in order to get such evidence ready, as we might think it eligible to
introduce when the council sat. At that time, as appears from the former
chapter, I had finished the additions to my Essay on the Slavery and
Commerce of the Human Species, and I had now proceeded about half way in
that of the Impolicy of it. This summons, however, I obeyed, and returned
to town on the fourteenth of February, from which day to the twenty-fourth
of May I shall now give the history of our proceedings.

My first business in London was to hold a conversation with Mr. Pitt
previously to the meeting of the council, and to try to interest him, as
the first minister of state, in our favour. For this purpose Mr.
Wilberforce had opened the way for me, and an interview took place. We were
in free conversation together for a considerable time, during which we went
through most of the branches of the subject. Mr. Pitt appeared to me to
have but little knowledge of it. He had also his doubts, which he expressed
openly, on many points. He was at a loss to conceive how private interest
should not always restrain the master of the slave from abusing him. This
matter I explained to him as well as I could; and if he was not entirely
satisfied with my interpretation of it, he was at lease induced to believe
that cruel practices were more probable than he had imagined. A second
circumstance, of the truth of which he doubted, was the mortality and usage
of seamen in this trade; and a third was the statement, by which so much
had been made of the riches of Africa, and of the genius and abilities of
her people; for he seemed at a loss to comprehend, if these things were so,
how it had happened that they should not have been more generally noticed
before. I promised to satisfy him upon these points, and an interview was
fixed for this purpose the next day.

At the time appointed I went with my books, papers, and African
productions. Mr. Pitt examined the former himself. He turned over leaf
after leaf, in which the copies of the muster-rolls were contained, with
great patience; and when he had looked over above a hundred pages
accurately, and found the name of every seaman inserted, his former abode
or service, the time of his entry, and what had become of him, either by
death, discharge or desertion, he expressed his surprise at the great pains
which had been taken in this branch of the inquiry, and confessed, with
some emotion, that his doubts were wholly removed with respect to the
destructive nature of this employ; and he said, moreover, that the facts
contained in these documents, if they had been but fairly copied, could
never be disproved. He was equally astonished at the various woods and
other productions of Africa, but most of all at the manufactures of the
natives in cotton, leather, gold, and iron, which were laid before him.
These he handled and examined over and over again. Many sublime thoughts
seemed to rush in upon him at once at the sight of these, some of which he
expressed with observations becoming a great and a dignified mind. He
thanked me for the light I had given him on many of the branches of this
great question. And I went away under a certain conviction that I had left
him much impressed in our favour.

My next visit was to Mr. (now Lord) Grenville. I called upon him at the
request of Mr. Wilberforce, who had previously written to him from Bath, as
be had promised to attend the meetings of the privy council during the
examinations which were to take place. I found in the course of our
conversation that Mr. Grenville had not then more knowledge of the subject
than Mr. Pitt; but I found him differently circumstanced in other respects,
for I perceived in him a warm feeling in behalf of the injured Africans,
and that he had no doubt of the possibility of all the barbarities which
had been alleged against this traffic. I showed him all my papers and some
of my natural productions, which he examined. I was with him the next day,
and once again afterwards, so that the subject was considered in all its
parts. The effect of this interview with him was of course different from
that upon the minister. In the former case I had removed doubts, and given
birth to an interest in favour of our cause. But I had here only increased
an interest which had already been excited. I had only enlarged the mass of
feeling, or added zeal to zeal, or confirmed resolutions and reasonings.
Disposed in this manner originally himself, and strengthened by the
documents with which I had furnished him, Mr. Grenville contracted an
enmity to the Slave-trade, which was never afterwards diminished[A].

[Footnote A: I have not mentioned the difference between these two eminent
persons, with a view of drawing any invidious comparisons, but because, as
these statements are true, such persons as have a high opinion of the late
Mr. Pitt's judgment, may see that this great man did not espouse the cause
hastily, or merely as a matter of feeling, but upon the conviction of his
own mind.]

A report having gone abroad, that the commitee of privy council would only
examine those who were interested in the continuance of the trade, I found
it necessary to call upon Mr. Pitt again, and to inform him of it, when I
received an assurance that every person, whom I chose to send to the
council in behalf of the commitee, should be heard. This gave rise to a
conversation relative to those witnesses whom we had to produce on the side
of the abolition. And here I was obliged to disclose our weakness in this
respect. I owned with sorrow that, though I had obtained specimens and
official documents in abundance to prove many important points, yet I had
found it difficult to prevail upon persons to be publicly examined on this
subject. The only persons, we could then count upon, were Mr. Ramsay, Mr.
H. Gandy, Mr. Falconbridge, Mr. Newton, and the Dean of Middleham. There
was one, however, who would be a host of himself, if we could but gain him.
I then mentioned Mr. Norris. I told Mr. Pitt the nature[A] and value of the
testimony which he had given me at Liverpool, and the great zeal he had
discovered to serve the cause. I doubted, however, if he would come to
London for this purpose, even if I wrote to him; for he was intimate with
almost all the owners of slave-vessels in Liverpool, and living among these
he would not like to incur their resentment, by taking a prominent part
against them. I therefore entreated Mr. Pitt to send him a summons of
council to attend, hoping that Mr. Norris would then be pleased to come up,
as he would be enabled to reply to his friends, that his appearance had not
been voluntary. Mr. Pitt, however, informed me, that a summons from a
commitee of privy council sitting as a board of trade was not binding upon
the subject, and therefore that I had no other means left but of writing to
him, and he desired me to do this by the first post.

[Footnote A: See his evidence Chap. xvii.]

This letter I accordingly wrote, and sent it to my friend William Rathbone,
who was to deliver it in person, and to use his own influence at the same
time; but I received for answer, that Mr. Norris was then in London. Upon
this I tried to find him out, to entreat him to consent to an examination
before the council. At length I found his address; but before I could see
him, I was told by the Bishop of London, that he had come up as a Liverpool
delegate in support of the Slave-trade. Astonished at this information, I
made the bishop acquainted with the case, and asked him how it became me to
act; for I was fearful lest, by exposing Mr. Norris, I should violate the
rights of hospitality on the one hand, and by not exposing him, that I
should not do my duty to the cause I had undertaken on the other. His
advice was, that I should see him, and ask him to explain the reasons of
his conduct. I called upon him for this purpose, but he was out. He sent
me, however, a letter soon afterwards, which was full of flattery, and in
which, after having paid high compliments to the general force of my
arguments, and the general justice and humanity of my sentiments on this
great question, which had made a deep impression upon his mind, he had
found occasion to differ from me, since we had last parted, on particular
points, and that he had therefore less reluctantly yielded to the call of
becoming a delegate,--though notwithstanding he would gladly have declined
the office if he could have done it with propriety.

At length the council began their examinations. Mr. Norris, Lieutenant
Matthews, of the navy, who had just left a slave-employ in Africa, and Mr.
James Penny, formerly a slave-captain, and then interested as a merchant in
the trade, (which three were the delegates from Liverpool) took possession
of the ground first. Mr. Miles, Mr. Weuves, and others, followed them on
the same side. The evidence which they gave, as previously concerted
between themselves, may be shortly represented thus: They denied that
kidnapping either did or could take place in Africa, or that wars were made
there, for the purpose of procuring slaves. Having done away these wicked
practices from their system, they maintained positions which were less
exceptionable, or that the natives of Africa generally became slaves in
consequence of having been made prisoners in just wars, or in consequence
of their various crimes. They then gave a melancholy picture of the
despotism and barbarity of some of the African princes, among whom the
custom of sacrificing their own subjects prevailed. But, of all others,
that which was afforded by Mr. Morris on this ground was the most
frightful. The king of Dahomey, he said, sported with the lives of his
people in the most wanton manner. He had seen at the gates of his palace,
two piles of heads like those of shot in an arsenal. Within the palace the
heads of persons newly put to death were strewed at the distance of a few
yards in the passage which led to his apartment. This custom of human
sacrifice by the king of Dahomey was not on one occasion only, but on many;
such as on the reception of messengers from neighbouring states, or of
white merchants, or on days of ceremonial. But the great carnage was once a
year, when the poll tax was paid by his subjects. A thousand persons at
least were sacrificed annually on these different occasions. The great men,
too, of the country cut off a few heads on festival-days. From all these
particulars the humanity of the Slave-trade was inferred, because it took
away the inhabitants of Africa into lands where no such barbarities were
known. But the humanity of it was insisted upon by positive circumstances
also, namely, that a great number of the slaves were prisoners of war, and
that in former times all such were put to death, whereas now they were
saved; so that there was a great accession of happiness to Africa since the
introduction of the Trade.

These statements, and those of others on the same side of the question, had
a great effect, as may easily be conceived, upon the feelings of those of
the council who were present. Some of them began immediately to be
prejudiced against us. There were others who even thought that it was
almost unnecessary to proceed in the inquiry, for that the Trade was
actually a blessing. They had little doubt that all our assertions
concerning it would be found false. The Bishop of London himself was so
impressed by these unexpected accounts, that he asked me if Falconbridge,
whose pamphlet had been previously sent by the commitee to every member of
the council, was worthy of belief, and if he would substantiate publicly
what he had thus written. But these impressions unfortunately were not
confined to those who had been present at the examinations. These could not
help communicating them to others. Hence in all the higher circles (some of
which I sometimes used to frequent) I had the mortification to hear of
nothing but the Liverpool evidence, and of our own credulity, and of the
impositions which had been practised upon us: of these reports the planters
and merchants did not fail to avail themselves. They boasted that they
would soon do away all the idle tales which had been invented against them.
They desired the public only to suspend their judgment till the privy
council report should be out, when they would see the folly and wickedness
of all our allegations. A little more evidence, and all would be over. On
the twenty-second of March, though the commitee of council had not then
held its sittings more than a month, and these only twice or thrice a week,
the following paragraph was seen in a morning paper:--"The report of the
commitee of privy council will be ready in a few days. After due
examination it appears that the major part of the complaints against this
Trade are ill-founded. Some regulations, however, are expected to take
place, which may serve in a certain degree to appease the cause of

But while they who were interested had produced this outcry against us, in
consequence of what had fallen from their own witnesses in the course of
their examinations, they had increased it considerably by the industrious
circulation of a most artful pamphlet among persons of rank and fortune at
the West end of the metropolis, which was called, Scriptural Researches on
the Licitness of the Slave-trade. This they had procured to be written by
R. Harris, who was then clerk in a slave-house in Liverpool, but had been
formerly a clergyman and a Jesuit. As they had maintained in the first
instance, as has been already shown, the humanity of the traffic, so, by
means of this pamphlet they asserted its consistency with revealed
religion. That such a book should have made converts in such an age is
surprising; and yet many, who ought to have known better, were carried away
by it; and we had now absolutely to contend, and almost to degrade
ourselves by doing so, against the double argument of the humanity and the
holiness of the trade.

By these means, but particularly by the former, the current of opinion in
particular circles ran against us for the first month, and so strong, that
it was impossible for me to stem it at once: but as some of the council
recovered from their panic, and their good sense became less biassed by
their feelings, and they were in a state to hear reason, their prejudices
began to subside. It began now to be understood among them, that almost all
the witnesses were concerned in the continuance of the Trade. It began to
be known also, (for Mr. Pitt and the Bishop of London took care that it
should be circulated,) that Mr. Morris had but a short time before
furnished me at Liverpool with, information, all of which he had
concealed[A] from the council, but all of which made for the abolition of
it. Mr. Devaynes also, a respectable member of parliament, who had been in
Africa, and who had been appealed to by Mr. Norris, when examined before
the privy council, in behalf of his extraordinary facts, was unable, when
summoned, to confirm them to the desired extent. From this evidence the
council collected, that human sacrifices were not made on the arrival of
White traders, as had been asserted; that there was no poll-tax in Dahomey
at all; and that Mr. Norris must have been mistaken on these points, for he
must have been there at the time of the ceremony of watering the graves,
when about sixty persons suffered. This latter custom moreover appeared to
have been a religious superstition of the country, such as at Otaheite, or
in Britain in the time of the Druids, and to have had nothing to do with
the Slave-trade[B]. With respect to prisoners of war, Mr. Devaynes allowed
that the old, the lame, and the wounded, were often put to death on the
spot; but this was to save the trouble of bringing them away. The young and
the healthy were driven off for sale; but if they were not sold when
offered, they were not killed, but reserved for another market, or became
house-slaves to the conquerors, Mr. Devaynes also maintained, contrary to
the allegations of the others, that a great number of persons were
kidnapped in order to be sold to the ships, and that the government, where
this happened, was not strong enough to prevent it. But besides these
draw-backs from the weight of the testimony which had been given, it began
to be perceived by some of the lords of the council, that the cruel
superstitions which, had been described, obtained only in one or two
countries in Africa, and these of insignificant extent; whereas at the
time, when their minds were carried away as it were by their feelings, they
had supposed them to attach to the whole of that vast continent. They
perceived also, that there were circumstances related in the evidence by
the delegates themselves, by means of which, if they were true, the
inhumanity of the trade might be established, and this to their own
disgrace. They had all confessed that such slaves as the White traders
refused to buy were put to death; and yet that these, traders, knowing that
this would be the case, had the barbarity uniformly to reject those whom it
did not suit them to purchase. Mr. Matthews had rejected one of this
description himself, whom he saw afterwards destroyed. Mr. Penny had known
the refuse thrown down Melimba rock. Mr. Norris himself, when certain
prisoners of war were offered to him for sale, declined buying them because
they appeared unhealthy; and though the king then told him that he would
put them to death, he could not be prevailed upon to take them, but left
them to their hard fate; and he had the boldness to state afterwards, that
it was his belief that many of them actually suffered.

[Footnote A: This was also the case with another witness, Mr. Weaves. He
had given me accounts, before any stir was made about the Slave-trade,
relative to it, all of which he kept back when he was examined there.]

[Footnote B: Being a religious custom, it would still have gone on, though
the Stave-trade had been abolished: nor could the merchants at any time
have bought off a single victim.]

These considerations had the effect of diminishing the prejudices of some
of the council on this great question: and when this was perceived to be
the case, it was the opinion of Mr. Pitt, Mr. Grenville, and the Bishop of
London, that we should send three or four of our own evidences for
examination, who might help to restore matters to an equilibrium.
Accordingly Mr. Falconbridge, and some others, all of whom were to speak to
the African part of the subject, were introduced. These produced a certain
weight in the opposite scale. But soon after these had been examined, Dr.
Andrew Spaarman, professor of physic, and inspector of the museum of the
royal academy at Stockholm, and his companion, C.B. Wadstrom, chief
director of the assay-office there, arrived in England. These gentlemen had
been lately sent to Africa by the late king of Sweden, to make discoveries
in botany, mineralogy, and other departments of science. For this purpose
the Swedish ambassador at Paris had procured them permission from the
French government to visit the countries bordering on the Senegal, and had
ensured them protection there. They had been conveyed to the place of their
destination, where they had remained from August 1787 to the end of January
1788; but meeting with obstacles which they had not foreseen, they had left
it, and had returned to Havre de Grace, from whence they had just arrived
in London, in their way home. It so happened, that by means of George
Harrison, one of our commitee, I fell in unexpectedly with these gentlemen.
I had not long been with them before I perceived the great treasure I had
found. They gave me many beautiful specimens of African produce. They
showed me their journals, which they had regularly kept from day to day. In
these I had the pleasure of seeing a number of circumstances minuted down,
all relating to the Slave-trade, and even drawings on the same subject. I
obtained a more accurate and satisfactory knowledge of the manners and
customs of the Africans from these, than from all the persons put together
whom I had yet seen. I was anxious, therefore, to take them before the
commitee of council, to which they were pleased to consent; and as Dr.
Spaarman was to leave London in a few days, I procured him an introduction
first. His evidence went to show, that the natives of Africa lived in a
fruitful and luxuriant country, which supplied all their wants, and that
they would be a happy people if it were not for the existence of the
Slave-trade. He instanced wars which he knew to have been made by the Moors
upon the Negros (for they were entered upon wholly at the instigation of
the White traders) for the purpose of getting slaves, and he had the pain
of seeing the unhappy captives brought in on such occasions, and some of
them in a wounded state. Among them were many women and children, and the
women were in great affliction. He saw also the king of Barbesin send out
his parties on expeditions of a similar kind, and he saw them return with
slaves. The king had been made intoxicated on purpose, by the French
agents, or he would never have consented to the measure. He stated also,
that in consequence of the temptations held out by slave-vessels coming
upon the coast, the natives seized one another in the night, when they
found opportunity; and even invited others to their houses, whom they
treacherously detained, and sold at these times; so that every enormity was
practised in Africa, in consequence of the existence of the Trade. These
specific instances made a proper impression upon the lords of the council
in their turn: for Dr. Spaarman was a man of high character; he possessed
the confidence of his sovereign; he had no interest whatever in giving his
evidence on this subject, either on one or the other side; his means of
information too had been large; he had also recorded the facts which had
come before him, and he had his journal, written in the French language, to
produce. The tide therefore, which had run so strongly against us, began
now to turn a little in our favour.

While these examinations were going on, petitions continued to be sent to
the house of commons, from various parts of the kingdom. No less than one
hundred and three were presented in this session, The city of London,
though she was drawn the other way by the cries of commercial interest,
made a sacrifice to humanity and justice. The two Universities applauded
her conduct by their own example. Large manufacturing towns and whole
counties expressed their sentiments and wishes in a similar manner. The
Established Church in separate dioceses, and the Quakers and other
Dissenters, as separate religious bodies, joined in one voice upon this

The commitee in the interim were not unmindful of the great work they had
undertaken, and they continued to forward it in its different departments.
They kept up a communication by letter with most of the worthy persons who
have been mentioned to have written to them, but particularly with Brissot
and Claviere, from whom they had the satisfaction of learning, that a
society had at length been established at Paris for the Abolition of the
Slave-Trade in France. The learned Marquis de Condorcet had become the
president of it. The virtuous Duc de la Rochefoucauld, and the Marquis de
la Fayette, had sanctioned it by enrolling their names as the two first
members. Petion, who was placed afterwards among the mayors of Paris,
followed. Women also were not thought unworthy of being honorary and
assistant members of this humane institution; and among these were found
the amiable Marchioness of la Fayette, Madame de Poivre, widow of the late
intendant of the Isle of France, and Madame Necker, wife of the first
minister of state.

The new correspondents, who voluntarily offered their services to the
commitee during the first part of the period now under consideration, were,
S. Whitcomb, esq., of Gloucester; the reverend D. Watson, of Middleton
Tyas, Yorkshire; John Murlin, esq., of High Wycomb; Charles Collins, esq.,
of Swansea; Henry Tudor, esq., of Sheffield; the reverend John Hare, of
Lincoln; Samuel Tooker, esq., of Moorgate, near Rotherham; the reverend G.
Walker, and Francis Wakefield, esq., of Nottingham; the reverend Mr.
Hepworth, of Burton-upon-Trent; the reverend H. Dannett, of St. John's,
Liverpool; the reverend Dr. Oglander, of New College, Oxford; the reverend
H. Coulthurst, of Sidney College, Cambridge; R. Selfe, esq., of
Cirencester; Morris Birkbeck, of Hanford, Dorsetshire; William Jepson, of
Lancaster; B. Kaye, of Leeds; John Patison, esq., of Paisley; J.E. Dolben,
esq., of Northamptonshire; the reverend Mr. Smith, of Wendover; John
Wilkinson, esquire, of Woodford; Samuel Milford, esquire, of Exeter; Peter
Lunel, esquire, treasurer of the commitee at Bristol; James Pemberton, of
Philadelphia; and the President of the Society at New York.

The letters from new correspondents during the latter part of this period
were the following:

One from Alexander Alison, esquire, of Edinburgh, in which he expressed it
to be his duty to attempt to awaken the inhabitants of Scotland to a
knowledge of the monstrous evil of the Slave-trade, and to form a commitee
there to act in union with that of London, in carrying the great object of
their institution into effect.

Another from Elhanan Winchester, offering the commitee one hundred of his
sermons, which he had preached against the Slave-trade, in Fairfax county
in Virginia, so early as in the year 1774.

Another from Dr. Frossard, of Lyons, in which he offered his services for
the South of France, and desired different publications to be sent him,
that he might be better qualified to take a part in the promotion of the

Another from professor Bruns, of Helmstadt in Germany, in which he desired
to know the particulars relative to the institution of the commitee, as
many thousands upon the continent were then beginning to feel for the
sufferings of the oppressed African race.

Another from the reverend James Manning, of Exeter, in which he stated
himself to be authorised by the dissenting ministers of Devon and Cornwall,
to express their high approbation of the conduct of the commitee, and to
offer their services in the promotion of this great work of humanity and

Another from William Senhouse, esquire, of the island of Barbadoes. In this
he gave the particulars of two estates, one of them his own and the other
belonging to a nobleman, upon each of which the slaves, in consequence of
humane treatment, had increased by natural population only. Another effect
of this humane treatment had been, that these slaves were among the most
orderly and tractable in that island. From these and other instances he
argued, that if the planters would, all of them, take proper care of their
slaves, their humanity would be repaid in a few years by a valuable
increase in their property, and they would never want supplies from a
traffic, which had been so justly condemned.

Two others, the one from Travers Hartley, and the other from Alexander
Jaffray, esquires, both of Dublin, were read. These gentlemen sent certain
resolutions, which had been agreed upon by the chamber of commerce and by
the guild of merchants there relative to the abolition of the Slave-trade.
They rejoiced in the name of those, whom they represented, that Ireland had
been unspotted by a traffic, which they held in such deep abhorrence, and
promised, if it should be abolished in England, to take the most active
measures to prevent it from finding an asylum in the ports of that kingdom.

The letters of William Senhouse, and of Travers Hartley, and of Alexander
Jaffray, esquires, were ordered to be presented to the commitee of privy
council and copies of them to be left there.

The business of the commitee having almost daily increased within this
period, Dr. Baker, and Bennet Langton esquire, who were the two first to
assist me in my early labours, and who have been mentioned among the
forerunners and coadjutors of the cause, were elected members of it. Dr.
Kippis also was added to the list.

The honorary and corresponding members elected within the same period, were
the Dean of Middleham, T.W. Coke esquire, member of parliament, of Holkham
in Norfolk, and the reverend William Leigh, who has been before mentioned,
of Little Plumstead in the same county. The latter had published several
valuable letters in the public papers under the signature of Africanus.
These had excited great notice, and done much good. The worthy author had
now collected them into a publication, and had offered the profits of it to
the commitee. Hence this mark of their respect was conferred upon him.

The commitee ordered a new edition of three thousand of the Dean of
Middleham's Letters to be printed. Having approved of a manuscript written
by James Field Stanfield, a mariner, containing observations upon a voyage
which he had lately made to the coast of Africa for slaves, they ordered
three thousand of these to be printed also. By this time the subject having
been much talked of, and many doubts and difficulties having been thrown in
the way of the abolition by persons interested in the continuance of the
trade, Mr. Ramsay, who has been often so honourably mentioned, put down
upon paper all the objections which were then handed about, and also those
answers to each, which he was qualified from his superior knowledge of the
subject to suggest. This he did, that the members of the legislature might
see the more intricate parts of the question unravelled, and that they
might not be imposed upon by the spurious arguments which were then in
circulation concerning it. Observing also the poisonous effect which The
Scriptural Researches on the Licitness of the Slave-trade had produced upon
the minds of many, he wrote an answer on scriptural grounds to that
pamphlet. These works were sent to the press, and three thousand copies of
each of them were ordered to be struck off.

The commitee, in their arrangement of the distribution of their books,
ordered Newton's Thoughts, and Ramsay's Objections and Answers, to be sent
to each member of both houses of parliament.

They appointed also three sub-commitees for different purposes: one to draw
up such facts and arguments respecting the Slave-trade, with a view of
being translated into other languages, as should give foreigners a suitable
knowledge of the subject; another to prepare an answer to certain false
reports which had been spread relative to the object of their institution,
and to procure an insertion of it in the daily papers; and a third to draw
up rules for the government of the Society.

By the latter end of the month of March, there was an anxious expectation
in the public, notwithstanding the privy council had taken up the subject,
that some notice should be taken in the lower house of parliament of the
numerous petitions which had been presented there. There was the same
expectation in many of the members of it themselves. Lord Penrhyn, one of
the representatives for Liverpool, and a planter also, had anticipated this
notice, by moving for such papers relative to ships employed, goods
exported, produce imported, and duties upon the same, as would show the
vast value of the trade, which it was in contemplation to abolish. But at
this time Mr. Wilberforce was ill, and unable to gratify the expectations
which had been thus apparent. The commitee, therefore, who partook of the
anxiety of the public, knew not what to do. They saw that two-thirds of the
session had already passed. They saw no hope of Mr. Wilberforce's recovery
for some time. Rumours too were afloat, that other members, of whose plans
they knew nothing, and who might even make emancipation their object, would
introduce the business into the house. Thus situated, they waited as
patiently as they could till the eighth of April[A], when they resolved to
write to Mr. Wilberforce, to explain to him their fears and wishes, and to
submit it to his consideration, whether, if he were unable himself, he
would appoint some one, in whom he could confide, to make some motion in
parliament on the subject.

[Footnote A: Brissot attended in person at this commitee in his way to
America, which it was then an object with him to visit.]

But the public expectation became now daily more visible. The inhabitants
of Manchester, many of whom had signed the petition for that place, became
impatient, and they appointed Thomas Walker and Thomas Cooper, esquires, as
their delegates, to proceed to London to communicate with the commitee on
this subject, to assist them, in their deliberations upon it, and to give
their attendance while it was under discussion by the legislature.

At the time of the arrival of the delegates, who were received as such by
the commitee, a letter came from Bath, in which it was stated that Mr.
Wilberforce's health was in such a precarious state, that his physicians
dared not allow him to read any letter, which related to the subject of the

The commitee were now again at a loss how to act, when they were relieved
from this doubtful situation by a message from Mr. Pitt, who desired a
conference with their chairman. Mr. Sharp accordingly went, and on his
return made the following report: "He had a full opportunity," he said, "of
explaining to Mr. Pitt that the desire of the commitee went to the entire
abolition of the Slave-trade. Mr. Pitt assured him that his heart was with
the commitee as to this object, and that he considered himself pledged to
Mr. Wilberforce, that the cause should not sustain any injury from his
indisposition; but at the same time observed, that the subject was of great
political importance, and it was requisite to proceed in it with temper and
prudence. He did not apprehend, as the examinations before the privy
council would yet take up some time, that the subject could be fully
investigated in the present session of parliament; but said he would
consider whether the forms of the house would admit of any measures, that
would be obligatory on them to take it up early in the ensuing session."

In about a week after this conference, Mr. Morton Pitt was deputed by the
minister to write to the commitee, to say that he had found precedents for
such a motion as he conceived to be proper, and that he would submit it to
the House of Commons in a few days.

At the next meeting, which was on the sixth of May, and at which major
Cartwright and the Manchester delegates assisted, Mr. Morton Pitt attended
as a member of the commitee, and said that the minister had fixed his
motion for the ninth. It was then resolved, that deputations should be sent
to some of the leading members of parliament, to request their support of
the approaching motion. I was included in one of these, and in that which
was to wait upon Mr. Fox. We were received by him in a friendly manner. On
putting the question to him, which related to the object of our mission,
Mr. Fox paused for a little while, as if in the act of deliberation; when
he assured us unequivocally, and in language which could not be
misunderstood, that he would support the object of the commitee to its
fullest extent, being convinced that there was no remedy for the evil, but
in the total abolition of the trade.

At length, the ninth, or the day fixed upon, arrived, when this important
subject was to be mentioned in the House of Commons for the first time[A],
with a view to the public discussion of it. It is impossible for me to give
within the narrow limits of this work all that was then said upon it; and
yet as the debate, which ensued, was the first which took place upon it, I
should feel inexcusable if I were not to take some notice of it.

[Footnote A: David Hartley made a motion some years before in the same
house, as has been shown in a former part of this work, but this was only
to establish a proposition, That the Slave-trade was contrary to the Laws
of God and the Rights of Man.]

Mr. Pitt rose. He said he intended to move a resolution relative to a
subject, which was of more importance than any which had ever been agitated
in that house. This honour he should not have had, but for a circumstance,
which he could not but deeply regret, the severe indisposition of his
friend Mr. Wilberforce, in whose hands every measure, which belonged to
justice, humanity, and the national interest, was peculiarly well placed.
The subject in question was no less than that of the Slave-trade. It was
obvious from the great number of petitions, which had been presented
concerning it, how much it had engaged the public attention, and
consequently how much it deserved the serious notice of that house, and how
much it became their duty to take some measure concerning it. But whatever
was done on such a subject, every one would agree, ought to be done with
the maturest deliberation. Two opinions had prevailed without doors, as
appeared from the language of the different petitions. It had been pretty
generally thought that the African Slave-trade ought to be abolished. There
were others, however, who thought that it only stood in need of
regulations. But all had agreed that it ought not to remain as it stood at
present. But that measure, which it might be the most proper to take, could
only be discovered by a cool, patient, and diligent examination of the
subject in all its circumstances, relations, and consequences. This had
induced him to form an opinion, that the present was not the proper time
for discussing it; for the session was now far advanced, and there was also
a want of proper materials for the full information of the house. It would,
he thought, be better discussed, when it might produce some useful debate,
and when that inquiry, which had been instituted by His Majesty's
ministers, (he meant the examination by a commitee of privy council,)
should be brought to such a state of maturity, as to make it fit that the
result of it should be laid before the house. That inquiry, he trusted,
would facilitate their investigation, and enable them the better to proceed
to a decision, which should be equally founded on principles of humanity,
justice, and sound policy. As there was not a probability of reaching so
desirable an end in the present state of the business, he meant to move a
resolution to pledge the house to the discussion of the question early in
the next session. If by that time his honourable friend should be
recovered, which he hoped would be the case, then he (Mr. Wilberforce)
would take the lead in it; but should it unfortunately happen otherwise,
then he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) pledged himself to bring forward
some proposition concerning it. The house, however, would observe, that he
had studiously avoided giving any opinion of his own on this great subject.
He thought it wiser to defer this till the time of the discussion should
arrive. He concluded with moving, after having read the names of the places
from whence the different petitions had come, "That this house will, early
in the next session of parliament, proceed to take into consideration the
circumstances of the Slave-trade complained of in the said petitions, and
what may be fit to be done thereupon."

Mr. Fox began by observing, that he had long taken an interest in this
great subject, which he had also minutely examined, and that it was his
intention to have brought something forward himself in parliament
respecting it: but when he heard that Mr. Wilberforce had resolved to take
it up, he was unaffectedly rejoiced, not only knowing the purity of his
principles and character, but because, from a variety of considerations as
to the situations in which different men stood in the house, there was
something that made him honestly think it was better that the business
should be in the hands of that gentleman, than in his own. Having premised
this, he said that, as so many petitions, and these signed by such numbers
of persons of the most respectable character, had been presented, he was
sorry that it had been found impossible that the subject of them could be
taken, up this year, and more particularly as he was not able to see, as
the Chancellor of the Exchequer had done, that there were circumstances,
which might happen by the next year, which would make it more advisable and
advantageous to take it up then, than it would have been to enter upon it
in the present session. For certainly there could be no information laid
before the house, through the medium of the Lords of the Council, which
could not more advantageously have been obtained by themselves, had they
instituted a similar inquiry. It was their duty to advise the King, and not
to ask his advice. This the constitution had laid down as one of its most
essential principles; and though in the present instance he saw no cause
for blame, because he was persuaded His Majesty's ministers had not acted
with any ill intention, it was still a principle never to be departed from,
because it never could be departed from without establishing a precedent
which might lead to very serious abuses. He, lamented that the Privy
Council, who had received no petitions from the people on the subject,
should have instituted an inquiry, and that the House of Commons, the table
of which had been loaded with petitions from various parts of the kingdom,
should not have instituted any inquiry at all. He hoped these petitions
would have a fair discussion in that house, independently, of any
information that could be given to it by His Majesty's ministers. He urged
again the superior advantages of an inquiry into such a subject, carried on
within those walls, over any inquiry carried on by the Lords of the
Council. In inquiries carried on in that house, they had the benefit of
every circumstance of publicity; which was a most material benefit indeed,
and that which of all others made the manner of conducting the
parliamentary proceedings of Great Britain the envy and the admiration of
the world. An inquiry there was better than an inquiry in any other place,
however respectable the persons before and by whom it was carried on.
There, all that could be said for the abolition or against it might be
said. In that house, every relative fact would have been produced, no
information would have been withheld, no circumstance would have been
omitted, which was necessary for elucidation; nothing would have been kept
back. He was sorry therefore that the consideration of the question, but
more particularly where so much human suffering was concerned, should be
put off to another session, when it was obvious that no advantage could be
gained by the delay.

He then adverted to the secrecy, which the Chancellor of the Exchequer had
observed relative to his own opinion on this important subject. Why did he
refuse to give it? Had Mr. Wilberforce been present, the house would have
had a great advantage in this respect, because doubtless he would have
stated in what view he saw the subject, and in a general way described the
nature of the project he meant to propose. But now they were kept in the
dark as to the nature of any plan, till the next session. The Chancellor of
the Exchequer had indeed said, that it had been a very general opinion that
the African Slave-trade should be abolished. He had said again, that others
had not gone so far, but had given, it as their opinion, that it required
to be revised and regulated. But why did he not give his own sentiments
boldly to the world on this great question? As for himself, he (Mr. Fox)
had no scruple to declare at the outset, that the Slave-trade ought not to
be regulated, but destroyed. To this opinion his mind was made up; and he
was persuaded that, the more the subject was considered, the more his
opinion would gain ground; and it would be admitted, that to consider it in
any other manner, or on any other principles than those of humanity and
justice, would be idle and absurd. If there were any such men, and he did
not know but that there were those, who, led away by local and interested
considerations, thought the Slave-trade might still continue under certain
modifications, these were the dupes of error, and mistook what they thought
their interest, for what he would undertake to convince them was their
loss. Let such men only hear the case further, and they would find the
result to be, that a cold-hearted policy was folly, when it opposed the
great principles of humanity and justice.

He concluded by saying that he would not oppose the resolution, if other
members thought it best to postpone the consideration of the subject; but
he should have been better pleased, if it had been discussed sooner; and he
certainly reserved to himself the right of voting for any question upon it
that should be brought forward by any other member in the course of the
present session.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer said, that nothing he had heard had
satisfied him of the propriety of departing from the rule he had laid down
for himself, of not offering, but of studiously avoiding to offer, any
opinion upon the subject till the time should arrive when it could be fully
argued. He thought that no discussion, which could take place that session,
could lead to any useful measure, and therefore he had wished not to argue
it till the whole of it could be argued. A day would come, when every
member would have an opportunity of stating his opinion; and he wished it
might be discussed with a proper spirit on all sides, on fair and liberal
principles, and without any shackles from local and interested

With regard to the inquiries instituted before the commitee of privy
council, he was sure, as soon as it became obvious that the subject must
undergo a discussion, it was the duty of His Majesty's ministers to set
those inquiries on foot, which should best enable them to judge in what
manner they could meet or offer any proposition respecting the Slave-trade.
And although such previous examinations by no means went to deprive that
house of its undoubted right to institute those inquiries, or to preclude
them, they would be found greatly to facilitate them. But, exclusive of
this consideration, it would have been utterly impossible to have come to
any discussion of the subject, that could have been brought to a conclusion
in the course of the present session. Did the inquiry then before the privy
council prove a loss of time? So far from it, that, upon the whole, time
had been gained by it. He had moved the resolution, therefore, to pledge
the house to bring on the discussion early in the next session, when they
would have a full opportunity of considering every part of the subject:
first, Whether the whole of the trade ought be abolished; and, if so, how
and when. If it should be thought that the trade should only be put under
certain regulations, what those regulations ought to be, and when they
should take place. These were questions which must be considered; and
therefore he had made his resolution as wide as possible, that there might
be room for all necessary considerations to be taken in. He repeated his
declaration, that he would reserve his sentiments till the day of
discussion should arrive; and again declared, that he earnestly wished to
avoid an anticipation of the debate upon the subject. But if such debate
was likely to take place, he would withdraw his motion, and offer it
another day.

A few words then passed between Mr. Pitt and Mr. Fox in reply to each
other; after which Lord Penrhyn rose. He said there were two classes of
men, the African merchants, and the planters, both whose characters had
been grossly calumniated. These wished that an inquiry might be instituted,
and this immediately, conscious that the more their conduct was examined
the less they would be found to merit the opprobrium with which they had
been loaded. The charges against the Slave-trade were either true or false.
If they were true, it ought to be abolished; but if upon inquiry they were
found to be without foundation, justice ought to be done to the reputation
of those who were concerned in it. He then said a few words, by which he
signified, that, after all, it might not be an improper measure to make
regulations in the trade.

Mr. Burke said, the noble lord, who was a man of honour himself, had
reasoned from his own conduct, and, being conscious of his own integrity,
was naturally led to imagine that other men were equally just and
honourable. Undoubtedly the merchants and planters had a right to call for
an investigation of their conduct, and their doing so did them great
credit. The Slave-trade also ought equally to be inquired into. Neither did
he deny that it was right His Majesty's ministers should inquire into its
merits for themselves. They had done their duty; but that house, who had
the petitions of the people on their table, had neglected it, by having so
long deferred an inquiry of their own. If that house wished to preserve
their functions, their understandings, their honour, and their dignity, he
advised them to beware of commitees of privy council. If they suffered
their business to be done by such means, they were abdicating their trust
and character, and making way for an entire abolition of their functions,
which they were parting with one after another. Thus,

"Star after star goes out, and all is night."

If they neglected the petitions of their constituents, they must fall, and
the privy council be instituted in their stead. What would be the
consequence? His Majesty's ministers, instead of consulting them, and
giving them the opportunity of exercising their functions of deliberation
and legislation, would modify the measures of government elsewhere, and
bring down the edicts of the privy council to them to register. Mr. Burke
said, he was one of those who wished for the abolition of the Slave-trade.
He thought it ought to be abolished, on principles of humanity and justice.
If, however, opposition of interests should render its total abolition
impossible, it ought to be regulated, and that immediately. They need not
send to the West Indies to know the opinions of the planters on the
subject. They were to consider first of all, and abstractedly from all
political, personal, and local considerations, that the Slave-trade was
directly contrary to the principles of humanity and justice, and to the
spirit of the British constitution; and that the state of slavery, which
followed it, however mitigated, was a state so improper, so degrading, and
so ruinous to the feelings and capacities of human nature, that it ought
not to be suffered to exist. He deprecated delay in this business, as well
for the sake of the planters as of the slaves.

Mr. Gascoyne, the other member for Liverpool, said he had no objection that
the discussion should stand over to the next session of parliament,
provided it could not come on in the present, because he was persuaded it
would ultimately be found that his constituents, who were more immediately
concerned in the trade, and who had been so shamefully calumniated, were
men of respectable character. He hoped the privy council would print their
Report when they had brought their inquiries to a conclusion, and that they
would lay it before the house and the public, in order to enable all
concerned to form a judgment of what was proper to be done relative to the
subject, next session. With respect, however, to the total abolition of the
Slave-trade, he must confess that such a measure was both unnecessary,
visionary, and impracticable; but he wished some alterations or
modifications to be adopted. He hoped that, when the house came to go into
the general question, they would not forget the trade, commerce, and
navigation, of the country.

Mr. Rolle said, he had received instructions from his constituents to
inquire if the grievances, which had been alleged to result from the
Slave-trade, were well founded, and, if it should appear that they were, to
assist in applying a remedy. He was glad the discussion had been put off
till next session, as it would give all of them an opportunity of
considering the subject with more mature deliberation.

Mr. Martin desired to say a few words only. He put the case, that,
supposing the slaves were treated ever so humanely, when they were carried
to the West Indies, what compensation could be made them for being torn
from their nearest relations, and from every thing that was dear to them in
life? He hoped no political advantage, no national expediency, would be
allowed to weigh in the scale against the eternal rules of moral rectitude.
As for himself, he had no hesitation to declare, in this early stage of the
business, that he should think himself a wicked wretch if he did not do
every thing in his power to put a stop to the Slave-trade.

Sir William Dolben said, that he did not then wish to enter into the
discussion of the general question of the abolition of the Slave-trade,
which the Chancellor of the Exchequer was so desirous of postponing; but he
wished to say a few words on what he conceived to be a most crying evil,
and which might be immediately remedied, without infringing upon the limits
of that question. He did not allude to the sufferings of the poor Africans
in their own country, nor afterwards in the West India islands, but to that
intermediate state of tenfold misery which they underwent in their
transportation. When put on board the ships, the poor unhappy wretches were
chained to each other, hand and foot, and stowed so close, that they were
not allowed above a foot and a half for each individual in breadth. Thus
crammed together like herrings in a barrel, they contracted putrid and
fatal disorders; so that they who came to inspect, them in a morning had
occasionally to pick dead slaves out of their rows, and to unchain their
carcases from the bodies of their wretched fellow-sufferers, to whom they
had been fastened. Nor was it merely to the slaves that the baneful effects
of the contagion thus created were confined. This contagion affected the
ships' crews, and numbers of the seamen employed in the horrid traffic
perished. This evil, he said, called aloud for a remedy, and that remedy
ought to be applied soon; otherwise no less than ten thousand lives might
be lost between this and the next session. He wished therefore this
grievance to be taken into consideration, independently of the general
question; and that some regulations, such as restraining the captains from
taking above a certain number of slaves on board, according to the size of
their vessels, and obliging them to let in fresh air, and provide better
accommodation for the slaves during their passage, should be adopted.

Mr. Young wished the consideration of the whole subject to stand over to
the next session.

Sir James Johnstone, though a planter, professed himself a friend to the
abolition of the Slave-trade. He said it was highly necessary that the
house should do something respecting it; but whatever was to be done should
be done soon, as delay might be productive of bad consequences in the

Mr. L. Smith stood up a zealous advocate for the abolition of the
Slave-trade. He said that even Lord Penrhyn and Mr. Gascoyne, the members
for Liverpool, had admitted the evil of it to a certain extent; for
regulations or modifications, in which they seemed to acquiesce, were
unnecessary where abuses did not really exist.

Mr. Grigby thought it his duty to declare, that no privy council report, or
other mode of examination, could influence him. A traffic in the persons of
men was so odious, that it ought everywhere, as soon as ever it was
discovered, to be abolished.

Mr. Bastard was anxious that the house should proceed to the discussion of
the subject in the present session. The whole country, he said, had
petitioned; and was it any satisfaction to the country to be told, that the
commitee of privy council were inquiring? Who knew any thing of what was
doing by the commitee of privy council, or what progress they were making?
The inquiry ought to have been instituted in that house, and in the face of
the public, that every body concerned might know what was going on. The
numerous petitions of the people ought immediately to be attended to. He
reprobated delay on this occasion; and as the honourable baronet, Sir
William Dolben, had stated facts which were shocking to humanity, he hoped
he would move that a commitee might be appointed to inquire into their
existence, that a remedy might be applied, if possible, before the sailing
of the next ships for Africa.

Mr. Whitbread professed himself a strenuous advocate for the total and
immediate abolition of the Slave-trade. It was contrary to nature, and to
every principle of justice, humanity, and religion.

Mr. Pelham stated, that he had very maturely considered the subject of the
Slave-trade; and had he not known that the business was in the hands of an
honourable member, (whose absence from the house, and the cause of it, no
man lamented more sincerely than he did,) he should have ventured to
propose something concerning it himself. If it should be thought that the
Trade ought not to be entirely done away, the sooner it was regulated the
better. He had a plan for this purpose, which appeared to him to be likely
to produce some salutary effects. He wished to know if any such thing would
be permitted to be proposed in the course of the present session.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer said he should be happy, if he thought the
circumstances of the house were such as to enable them to proceed to an
immediate discussion of the question; but as that did not appear, from the
reasons he had before stated, to be the case, he could only assure the
honourable gentleman, that the same motives which had induced him to
propose an inquiry into the subject early in the next session of
parliament, would make him desirous of receiving any other light which
could be thrown upon it.

The question having been then put, the resolution was agreed to
unanimously. Thus ended the first debate that ever took place in the
commons, on this important subject. This debate, though many of the persons
concerned in it abstained cautiously from entering into the merits of the
general question, became interesting, in consequence of circumstances
attending it. Several rose up at once to give relief, as it were, to their
feelings by utterance; but by so doing they were prevented, many of them,
from being heard. They who were heard spoke with peculiar energy, as if
warmed in an extraordinary manner by the subject. There was an apparent
enthusiasm in behalf of the injured Africans. It was supposed by some, that
there was a moment, in which, if the Chancellor of the Exchequer had moved
for an immediate abolition of the Trade, he would have carried it that
night; and both he and others, who professed an attachment to the cause,
were censured for not having taken a due advantage of the disposition which
was so apparent. But independently of the inconsistency of doing this on
the part of the ministry, while the privy council were in the midst of
their inquiries, and of the improbability that the other branches of the
legislature would have concurred in so hasty a measure; What good would
have accrued to the cause, if the abolition had been then carried? Those
concerned in the cruel system would never have rested quietly under the
stigma under which they then laboured. They would have urged, that they had
been condemned unheard. The merchants would have said, that they had had no
notice of such an event, that they might prepare a way for their vessels in
other trades. The planters would have said, that they had had no time
allowed them to provide such supplies from Africa as might enable them to
keep up their respective stocks. They would, both of them, have called
aloud for immediate indemnification. They would have decried the policy of
the measure of the abolition;--and where had it been proved? They would
have demanded a reverse of it; and might they not, in cooler moments, have
succeeded? Whereas, by entering into a patient discussion of the merits of
the question; by bringing evidence upon it; by reasoning upon that evidence
night after night, and year after year, land thus by disputing the ground
inch as it were by inch, the Abolition of the Slave-trade stands upon a
rock, upon which it never can be shaken. Many of those who were concerned
in the cruel system have now given up their prejudices, because they became
convinced in the contest. A stigma too has been fixed upon it, which can
never be erased: and in a large record, in which the cruelty and injustice
of it have been recognised in indelible characters, its impolicy also has
been eternally enrolled.


_Continuation to the middle of July--Anxiety of Sir William Dolben to
lessen the horrors of the Middle Passage till the great question should be
discussed--brings in a bill for that purpose--debate upon it--Evidence
examined against it--its inconsistency and falsehoods--further debate upon
it--Bill passed, and carried to the Lords--vexatious delays and opposition
there--carried backwards and forwards to both houses--at length finally
passed--Proceedings of the commitee in the interim--effects of them.--End
of the first volume_.

It was supposed, after the debate, of which the substance has been just
given, that there would have been no further discussion of the subject till
the next year: but Sir William Dolben became more and more affected by
those considerations which be had offered to the house on the ninth of May.
The trade, he found, was still to go on. The horrors of the transportation,
or Middle Passage, as it was called, which he conceived to be the worst in
the long catalogue of evils belonging to the system, would of course
accompany it. The partial discussion of these, he believed, would be no
infringement of the late resolution of the house. He was desirous,
therefore, of doing something in the course of the present session, by
which the miseries of the trade might be diminished as much as possible,
while it lasted, or till the legislature could take up the whole of the
question. This desire he mentioned to several of his friends; and as these
approved of his design, he made it known on the twenty-first of May in the
House of Commons.

He began by observing, that he would take up but little of their time. He
rose to move for leave to bring in a bill for the relief of those unhappy
persons, the natives of Africa, from the hardships to which they were
usually exposed in their passage from the coast of Africa to the Colonies.
He did not mean, by any regulations he might introduce for this purpose, to
countenance or sanction the Slave-trade, which, however modified, would be
always wicked and unjustifiable. Nor did he mean, by introducing these, to
go into the general question which the house had prohibited. The bill which
he had in contemplation, went only to limit the number of persons to be put
on board to the tonnage of the vessel which was to carry them, in order to
prevent them from being crowded too closely together; to secure to them
good and sufficient provisions; and to take cognizance of other matters,
which related to their health and accommodation; and this only till
parliament could enter into the general merits of the question. This humane
interference he thought no member would object to. Indeed, those for
Liverpool had both of them admitted, on the ninth of May, that regulations
were desirable; and he had since conversed with them, and was happy to
learn that they would not oppose him on this occasion.

Mr. Whitbread highly approved of the object of the worthy Baronet, which
was to diminish the sufferings of an unoffending people. Whatever could be
done to relieve them in their hard situation, till parliament could take up
the whole of their case, ought to be done by men living in a civilized
country, and professing the Christian religion: he therefore begged leave
to second the motion, which had been made.

General Norton was sorry that he had not risen up sooner. He wished to have
seconded this humane motion himself. It had his most cordial approbation.

Mr. Burgess complimented the worthy Baronet on the honour he had done
himself on this occasion, and congratulated the house on the good, which
they were likely to do by acceding, as he was sure they would, to his

Mr. Joliffe rose, and said that the motion in question should have his
strenuous support.

Mr. Gascoyne stated, that having understood from the honourable Baronet
that he meant only to remedy the evils, which were stated to exist in
transporting the inhabitants of Africa to the West Indies, he had told him
that he would not object to the introduction of such a bill. Should it
however interfere with the general question, the discussion of which had
been prohibited, he would then oppose it. He must also reserve another case
for his opposition; and this would be, if the evils of which it took
cognizance should appear not to have been well founded. He had written to
his constituents to be made acquainted with this circumstance, and he must
be guided by them on the subject.

Mr. Martin was surprised how any person could give an opposition to such a
bill. Whatever were the merits of the great question, all would allow that,
if human beings were to be transported across the ocean, they should be
carried over it with as little suffering as possible to themselves.

Mr. Hamilton deprecated the subdivision of this great and important
question, which the house had reserved for another session. Every endeavour
to meddle with one part of it, before the whole of it could be taken into
consideration, looked rather as if it came from an enemy than from a
friend. He was fearful that such a bill as this would sanction a traffic,
which should never be viewed but in a hostile light, or as repugnant to the
feelings of our nature, and to the voice of our religion.

Lord Frederic Campbell was convinced that the postponing of all
consideration of the subject till the next session was a wise measure. He
was sure that neither the house nor the public were in a temper
sufficiently cool to discuss it property. There was a general warmth of
feeling, or an enthusiasm about it, which ran away with the understandings
of men, and disqualified them from judging soberly concerning it. He
wished, therefore, that the present motion might be deferred.

Mr. William Smith said, that if the motion of the honourable Baronet had
trespassed upon the great question reserved for consideration, he would
have opposed it himself; but he conceived the subject, which it
comprehended, might with propriety be separately considered; and if it were
likely that a hundred, but much more a thousand, lives would be saved by
this bill, it was the duty of that house to adopt it without delay.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer, though he meant still to conceal his
opinion as to the general merits of the question, could not be silent here.
He was of opinion that he could very consistently give this motion his
support. There was a possibility (and a bare possibility was a sufficient
ground with him) that in consequence of the resolution lately come to by
the house, and the temper then manifested in it, those persons who were
concerned in the Slave-trade might put the natives of Africa in a worse
situation, during their transportation to the colonies, even than they were
in before, by cramming additional numbers on board their vessels, in order
to convey as many as possible to the West Indies before parliament
ultimately decided on the subject. The possibility, therefore, that such a
consequence might grow out of their late resolution during the intervening
months between the end of the present and the commencement of the next
session, was a good and sufficient parliamentary ground for them to provide
immediate means to prevent the existence of such an evil. He considered
this as an act of indispensable duty, and on that ground the bill should
have his support.

Soon after this the question was put, and leave was given for the
introduction of the bill.

An account of these proceedings of the house having been sent to the
merchants of Liverpool, they held a meeting, and came to resolutions on the
subject. They determined to oppose the bill in every stage in which it
should be brought forward, and, what was extraordinary, even the principle
of it. Accordingly, between the twenty-first of May and the second of June,
on which latter day the bill, having been previously read a second time,
was to be committed, petitions from interested persons had been brought
against it, and consent had been obtained, that both counsel and evidence
should be heard.

The order of the day having been read on the second of June for the house
to resolve itself into a commitee of the whole house, a discussion took
place relative to the manner in which the business was to be conducted.
This being over, the counsel began their observations; and, as soon as they
had finished, evidence was called to the bar in behalf of the petitions
which had been delivered.

From the second of June to the seventeenth the house continued to hear the
evidence at intervals, but the members for Liverpool took every opportunity
of occasioning delay. They had recourse twice to counting out the house;
and at another time, though complaint had been made of their attempts to
procrastinate, they opposed the resuming of their own evidence with the
same view,--and this merely for the frivolous reason, that, though there
was then a suitable opportunity, notice had not been previously given. But
in this proceeding, other members feeling indignant at their conduct, they
were overruled.

The witnesses brought by the Liverpool merchants against this humane bill
were the same as they had before sent for examination to the privy council,
namely, Mr. Norris, Lieutenant Matthews, and others. On the other side of
the question it was not deemed expedient to bring any. It was soon
perceived that it would be possible to refute the former out of their own
mouths, and to do this seemed more eligible than to proceed in the other
way. Mr. Pitt, however, took care to send Captain Parrey, of the royal
navy, to Liverpool, that he might take the tonnage and internal dimensions
of several slave-vessels, which were then there, supposing that these, when
known, would enable the house to detect any misrepresentations, which the
delegates from that town might be disposed to make upon this subject.

It was the object of the witnesses, when examined, to prove two things:
first, that regulations were unnecessary, because the present mode of the
transportation was sufficiently convenient for the objects of it, and was
well adapted to preserve their comfort and their health. They had
sufficient room, sufficient air, and sufficient provisions. When upon deck,
they made merry and amused themselves with dancing. As to the mortality, or
the loss of them by death in the course of their passage, it was trifling.
In short, the voyage from Africa to the West Indies "was one of the
happiest periods of a Negro's life."

Secondly, that if the merchants were hindered from taking less than two
full-sized, or three smaller Africans, to a ton, then the restriction would
operate not as the regulation but as the utter ruin of the trade. Hence the
present bill, under the specious mask of a temporary interference, sought
nothing less than its abolition.

These assertions having been severally made, by the former of which it was
insinuated that the African, unhappy in his own country, found in the
middle passage, under the care of the merchants, little less than an
Elysian retreat, it was now proper to institute a severe inquiry into the
truth of them. Mr. Pitt, Sir Charles Middleton, Mr. William Smith, and Mr.
Beaufoy, took a conspicuous part on this occasion, but particularly the two
latter, to whom much praise was due for the constant attention they
bestowed upon this subject. Question after question was put by these to the
witnesses; and from their own mouths they dragged out, by means of a
cross-examination as severe as could be well instituted, the following
melancholy account:

Every slave, whatever his size might be, was found to have only five feet
and six inches in length, and sixteen inches in breadth, to lie in. The
floor was covered with bodies stowed or packed according to this allowance.
But between the floor and the deck or ceiling were often platforms or broad
shelves in the mid-way, which were covered with bodies also. The height
from the floor to the ceiling, within which space the bodies on the floor
and those on the platforms lay, seldom exceeded five feet eight inches, and
in some cases it did not exceed four feet.

The men were chained two and two together by their hands and feet, and were
chained also by means of ring-bolts, which were fastened to the deck. They
were confined in this manner at least all the time they remained upon the
Coast, which was from six weeks to six months as it might happen.

Their allowance consisted of one pint of water a day to each person, and
they were fed twice a day with yams and horse-beans.

After meals they jumped up in their irons for exercise. This was so
necessary for their health, that they were whipped if they refused to do
it. And this jumping had been termed dancing.

They were usually fifteen and sixteen hours below deck out of the
twenty-four. In rainy weather they could not be brought up for two or three
days together. If the ship was full, their situation was then distressing.
They sometimes drew their breath with anxious and laborious efforts, and
some died of suffocation.

With respect to their health in these voyages, the mortality, where the
African constitution was the strongest, or on the windward coast, was only
about five in a hundred. In thirty-five voyages, an account of which was
produced, about six in a hundred was the average number lost. But this loss
was still greater at Calabar and Bonny, which were the greatest markets for
slaves. This loss, too, did not include those who died, either while the
vessels were lying upon the Coast, or after their arrival in the West
Indies, of the disorders which they had contracted upon the voyage. Three
and four in a hundred had been known to die in this latter case.

But besides these facts, which were forced out of the witnesses by means of
the cross-examination which took place, they were detected in various

They had asserted that the ships in this trade were peculiarly constructed,
or differently from others, in order that they might carry a great number
of persons with convenience; whereas Captain Parrey asserted that out of
the twenty-six, which he had seen, ten only had been built expressly for
this employ.

They had stated the average height between decks at about five feet and
four inches. But Captain Parrey showed, that out of the nine he measured,
the height in four of the smallest was only four feet eight inches, and the
average height in all of them was but five feet two.

They had asserted that vessels under two hundred tons had no platforms. But
by his account the four just mentioned were of this tonnage, and yet all of
them had platforms either wholly or in part.

On other points they were found both to contradict themselves and one
another. They had asserted, as before mentioned, that if they were
restricted to less than two full-grown slaves to a ton, the trade would be
ruined. But in examining into the particulars of nineteen vessels, which
they produced themselves, five of them only had cargoes equal to the
proportion which they stated to be necessary to the existence of the trade.
The other fourteen carried a less number of slaves (and they might have
taken more on board if they had pleased): so that the average number in the
nineteen was but one man and four-fifths to a ton, or ten in a hundred
below their lowest standard[A]. One again said, that no inconvenience arose
in consequence of the narrow space allowed to each individual in these
voyages. Another said, that smaller vessels were more healthy than larger,
because, among other reasons, they had a less proportion of slaves as to
number on board.

[Footnote A: The falsehood of their statements in this respect was proved
again afterwards by facts. For, after the regulation had taken place, they
lost fewer slaves and made greater profits.]

They were found also guilty of a wilful concealment of such facts, as they
knew, if communicated, would have invalidated their own testimony. I was
instrumental in detecting them on one of these occasions myself. When Mr.
Dalzell was examined, he was not wholly unknown to me. My Liverpool
muster-rolls told me that he had lost fifteen seamen out of forty in his
last voyage. This was a sufficient ground to go upon; for generally, where
the mortality of the seamen has been great, it may be laid down that the
mortality of the slaves has been considerable also. I waited patiently till
his evidence was nearly closed, but he had then made no unfavourable
statements to the house. I desired, therefore, that a question might be put
to him, and in such a manner, that he might know that they, who put it, had
got a clew to his secrets. He became immediately embarrassed. His voice
faltered. He confessed with trembling, that he had lost a third of his
sailors in his last voyage. Pressed hard immediately by other questions, he
then acknowledged that he had lost one hundred and twenty or a third of his
slaves also. But would he say that these were all he had lost in that
voyage? No: twelve others had perished by an accident, for they were
drowned. But were no others lost besides the one hundred and twenty and the
twelve? None, he said, upon the voyage, but between twenty and thirty
before he left the Coast. Thus this champion of the merchants, this
advocate for the health and happiness of the slaves in the middle passage,
lost nearly a hundred and sixty of the unhappy persons committed to his
superior care, in a single voyage!

The evidence, on which I have now commented, having been delivered, the
counsel summed up on the seventeenth of June, when the commitee proceeded
to fill up the blanks in the bill. Mr. Pitt moved that the operation of it
be retrospective, and that it commence from the tenth instant. This was
violently opposed by Lord Penrhyn, Mr. Gascoyne, and Mr. Brickdale, but was
at length acceded to.

Sir William Dolben then proposed to apportion five men to every three tons
in every ship under one hundred and fifty tons burthen, which had the space
of five feet between the decks, and three men to two tons in every vessel
beyond one hundred and fifty tons burthen, which had equal accommodation in
point of height between the decks. This occasioned a very warm dispute,
which was not settled for some time, and which gave rise to some beautiful
and interesting speeches on the subject.

Mr. William Smith pointed out in the clearest manner many of the
contradictions, which I have just stated in commenting upon the evidence.
Indeed he had been a principal means of detecting them. He proved how
little worthy of belief the witnesses had shown themselves, and how
necessary they had made the present bill by their own confession. The
worthy Baronet, indeed, had been too indulgent to the merchants, in the
proportion he had fixed of the number of persons to be carried to the
tonnage of their vessels. He then took a feeling view of what would be the
wretched state of the poor Africans on board, even if the bill passed as it
now stood; and conjured the house, if they would not allow them more room,
at least not to infringe upon that, which had been proposed.

Lord Belgrave (now Grosvenor) animadverted with great ability upon the
cruelties of the trade, which he said had been fully proved at the bar. He
took notice of the extraordinary opposition which had been made to the bill
then before them, and which he believed every gentleman, who had a proper
feeling of humanity, would condemn. If the present mode of carrying on the
trade received the countenance of that house, the poor unfortunate African
would have occasion doubly to curse his fate. He would not only curse the
womb that brought him forth, but the British nation also, whose diabolical
avarice had made his cup of misery still more bitter. He hoped that the
members for Liverpool would urge no further opposition to the bill, but
that they would join with the house in an effort to enlarge the empire of
humanity; and that, while they were stretching out the strong arm of
justice to punish the degraders of British honour and humanity in the East,
they would with equal spirit exert their powers to dispense the blessings
of their protection to those unhappy Africans, who were to serve them in
the West.

Mr. Beaufoy entered minutely into an examination of the information, which
had been, given by the witnesses, and which afforded unanswerable arguments
for the passing of the bill. He showed the narrow space, which they
themselves had been made to allow for the package of a human body, and the
ingenious measures they were obliged to resort to for stowing this living
cargo within the limits of the ship. He adverted next to the case of Mr.
Dalzell; and showed how one dismal fact after another, each making against
their own testimony, was extorted from him. He then went to the trifling
mortality said to be experienced in these voyages, upon which subject he
spoke in the following words: "Though the witnesses are some of them
interested in the trade, and all of them parties against the bill, their
confession is, that of the Negros of the windward coast, who are men of the
strongest constitution which Africa affords, no less on an average than
five in each hundred perish in the voyage,--a voyage, it must be
remembered, but of six weeks. In a twelvemonth, then, what must be the
proportion of the dead? No less than forty-three in a hundred, which is
seventeen times the usual rate of mortality; for all the estimates of life
suppose no more than a fortieth of the people, or two and a half in the
hundred, to die within the space of a year. Such then is the comparison. In
the ordinary course of nature the number of persons, (including those in
age and infancy, the weakest periods of existence,) who perish in the space
of a twelvemonth, is at the rate of but two and a half in a hundred; but in
an African voyage, notwithstanding the old are excluded and few infants
admitted, so that those who are shipped are in the firmest period of life,
the list of deaths presents an annual mortality of forty-three in a
hundred. It presents this mortality even in vessels from the windward coast
of Africa; but in those which sail to Bonny, Benin, and the Calebars, from
whence the greatest proportion of the slaves are brought, this mortality is
increased by a variety of causes, (of which the greater length of the
voyage is one,) and is said to be twice as large, which supposes that in
every hundred the deaths annually amount to no less than eighty-six. Yet
even the former comparatively low mortality, of which the counsel speaks
with so much satisfaction, as a proof of the kind and compassionate
treatment of the slaves, even this indolent and lethargic destruction gives
to the march of death seventeen times its usual speed. It is a destruction,
which, if general but for ten years, would depopulate the world, blast the
purposes of its creation, and extinguish the human race."

After having gone with great ability through the other branches of the
subject, he concluded in the following manner: "Thus I have considered the
various objections which have been stated to the bill, and am ashamed to
reflect that it could be necessary to speak so long in defence of such a
cause: for what, after all, is asked by the proposed regulations? On the
part of the Africans, the whole of their purport is, that they, whom you
allow to be robbed of all things but life, may not unnecessarily and
wantonly be deprived of life also. To the honour, to the wisdom, to the
feelings of the house I now make my appeal, perfectly confident that you
will not tolerate, as senators, a traffic, which, as men, you shudder to
contemplate, and that you will not take upon yourselves the responsibility
of this waste of existence. To the memory of former parliaments the horrors
of this traffic will be an eternal reproach; yet former parliaments have
not known, as you on the clearest evidence now know, the dreadful nature of
this trade. Should you reject this bill, no exertions of yours to rescue
from oppression the suffering inhabitants of your Eastern empire; no
records of the prosperous state to which, after along and unsuccessful war,
you have restored your native land; no proofs, however splendid, that,
under your guidance, Great Britain has recovered her rank, and is again the
arbitress of nations, will save your names from the stigma of everlasting
dishonour. The broad mantle of this one infamy will cover with substantial
blackness the radiance of your glory, and change to feelings of abhorrence
the present admiration of the world.--But pardon the supposition of so
impossible an event. I believe that justice and mercy may be considered as
the attributes of your character, and that you will not tarnish their
lustre on this occasion."

The Chancellor of the Exchequer rose next; and after having made some
important observations on the evidence (which took up much time), he
declared himself most unequivocally in favour of the motion made by the
honourable baronet. He was convinced that the regulation proposed would not
tend to the Abolition of the trade; but if it even went so far, he had no
hesitation openly and boldly to declare, that if it could not be carried on
in a manner different from that stated by the members for Liverpool, he
would retract what he had said on a former day against going into the
general question; and, waiving every other discussion than what had that
day taken place, he would give his vote for the utter annihilation of it at
once. It was a trade, which it was shocking to humanity to hear detailed.
If it were to be carried on as proposed by the petitioners, it would,
besides its own intrinsic baseness, be contrary to every humane and
Christian principle, and to every sentiment that ought to inspire the
breast of man, and would reflect the greatest dishonour on the British
senate and the British nation. He therefore hoped that the house, being now
in possession of such information as never hitherto had been brought before
them, would in some measure endeavour to extricate themselves from that
guilt, and from that remorse, which every one of them ought to feel for
having suffered such monstrous cruelties to be practised upon an helpless
and unoffending part of the human race.

Mr. Martin complimented Mr. Pitt in terms of the warmest panegyric on his
noble sentiments, declaring that they reflected the greatest honour upon
him both as an Englishman and as a man.

Soon after this the house divided upon the motion of Sir William Dolben.
Fifty-six appeared to be in favour of it, and only five against it. The
latter consisted of the two members for Liverpool and three other
interested persons. This was the first division which ever took place on
this important subject. The other blanks were then filled up, and the bill
was passed without further delay.

The next day, or on the eighteenth of June, it was carried up to the House
of Lords. The slave-merchants of London, Liverpool, and Bristol,
immediately presented petitions against it, as they had done in the lower
house. They prayed that counsel might open their case; and though they had
been driven from the commons, on account of their evidence, with disgrace,
they had the effrontery to ask that they might call witnesses here also.

Counsel and evidence having been respectively heard, the bill was ordered
to be committed the next day. The Lords attended according to summons. But
on a motion by Dr. Warren, the bishop of Bangor, who stated that the Lord
Chancellor Thurlow was much indisposed, and that he wished to be present
when the question was discussed, the commitee was postponed.

It was generally thought that the reason for this postponement, and
particularly as it was recommended by a prelate, was, that the Chancellor
might have an opportunity of forwarding this humane bill. But it was found
to be quite otherwise. It appeared that the motive was, that he might give
to it, by his official appearance as the chief servant of the crown in that
house, all the opposition in his power. For when the day arrived, which had
been appointed for the discussion, and when the Lords Bathurst and
Hawkesbury (now Liverpool) had expressed their opinions, which were
different, relative to the time when the bill should take place, he rose
up, and pronounced a bitter and vehement oration against it. He said, among
other things, that it was full of inconsistency and nonsense from the
beginning to the end. The French had lately offered large premiums for the
encouragement of this trade. They were a politic people, and the
presumption was, that we were doing politically wrong by abandoning it. The
bill ought not to have been brought forward in this session. The
introduction of it was a direct violation of the faith of the other house.
It was unjust, when an assurance had been given that the question should
not be agitated till next year, that this sudden fit of philanthropy, which
was but a few days old, should be allowed to disturb the public mind, and
to become the occasion of bringing men to the metropolis with tears in
their eyes and horror in their countenances, to deprecate the ruin of their
property, which they had embarked on the faith of parliament.

The extraordinary part, which the Lord Chancellor Thurlow took upon this
occasion, was ascribed at the time by many, who moved in the higher
circles, to a shyness or misunderstanding, which had taken place between
him and Mr. Pitt on other matters; when, believing this bill to have been a
favourite measure with the latter, he determined to oppose it. But,
whatever were his motives (and let us hope that he could never have been
actuated by so malignant a spirit as that of sacrificing the happiness of
forty thousand persons for the next year to spite the gratification of an
individual), his opposition had a mischievous effect, on account of the
high situation in which he stood. For he not only influenced some of the
Lords themselves, but, by taking the cause of the slave-merchants so
conspicuously under his wing, he gave them boldness to look up again under
the stigma of their iniquitous calling, and courage even to resume vigorous
operations after their disgraceful defeat. Hence arose those obstacles,
which will be found to have been thrown in the way of the passing of the
bill from this period.

Among the Lords, who are to be particularly noticed as having taken the
same side as the Lord Chancellor in this debate, were the Duke of Chandos
and the Earl of Sandwich. The former foresaw nothing but insurrections of
the slaves in our islands, and the massacre of their masters there, in
consequence of the agitation of this question. The latter expected nothing
less than the ruin of our marine. He begged the house to consider how, by
doing that which might bring about the Abolition of this traffic, they
might lessen the number of British sailors; how, by throwing it into the
hands of France, they might increase those of a rival nation; and how, in
consequence, the flag of the latter might ride triumphant on the ocean, The
Slave-trade was undoubtedly a nursery for our seamen. All objections
against it in this respect were ill-founded. It was as healthy as the
Newfoundland and many other trades.

The debate having closed, during which nothing more was done than filling
up the blanks with the time when the bill was to begin to operate, the
commitee was adjourned. But the bill after this dragged on so heavily, that
it would be tedious to detail the proceedings upon it from day to day. I
shall, therefore, satisfy myself with the following observations concerning
them. The commitee sat not less than five different times, which consumed
the space of eight days, before a final decision took place. During this
time, so much was it an object to throw in obstacles which might occupy the
little remaining time of the session, that other petitions were presented
against the bill, and leave was asked, on new pretences contained in these,
that counsel might be heard again. Letters also were read from Jamaica,
about the mutinous disposition of the slaves there, in consequence of the
stir which had been made about the Abolition, and also from merchants in
France, by which large offers were made to the British merchants to furnish
them with slaves. Several regulations also were proposed in this interval,
some of which were negatived by majorities of only one or two voices. Of
the regulations, which were carried, the most remarkable were those
proposed by Lord Hawkesbury (now Liverpool); namely, that no insurance
should be made on the slaves except against accidents by fire and water;
that persons should not be appointed as officers of vessels transporting
them, who had not been a certain number of such voyages before; that a
regular surgeon only should be capable of being employed in them; and that
both the captain and surgeon should have bounties, if in the course of the
transportation they had lost only two in a hundred slaves. The Duke of
Chandos again, and Lord Sydney, were the most conspicuous among the
opposers of this humane bill; and the Duke of Richmond, the Marquis
Townshend, the Earl of Carlisle, the Bishop of London, and Earl Stanhope,
among the most strenuous supporters of it. At length it passed, by a
majority of nineteen to eleven votes.

On the fourth of July, when the bill had been returned to the Commons, it
was moved that the amendments made in it by the Lords should be read; but
as it had become a money-bill in consequence of the bounties to be granted,
and as new regulations were to be incorporated in it, it was thought proper
that it should be wholly done away. Accordingly Sir William Dolben moved,
that the further consideration of it should be put off till that day three
months. This having been agreed upon, he then moved for leave to bring in a
new bill. This was accordingly introduced, and an additional clause was
inserted in it, relative to bounties, by Mr. Pitt. But on the second
reading, that no obstacle might be omitted which could legally be thrown in
the way of its progress, petitions were presented against it both by the
Liverpool merchants and the agent for the island of Jamaica, under the
pretence that it was a new bill. Their petitions, however, were rejected,
and it was committed, and passed through its regular stages and sent up to
the Lords.

On its arrival there on the fifth of July, petitions from London and
Liverpool still followed it. The prayer of these was against the general
tendency of it, but it was solicited also that counsel might be heard in a
particular case. The solicitation was complied with; after which the bill
was read a second time, and ordered to be committed.

On the seventh, when it was taken next into consideration, two other
petitions were presented against it. But here so many objections were made
to the clauses of it as they then stood; and such new matter suggested,
that the Duke of Richmond, who was a strenuous supporter of it, thought it
best to move that the commitee, then sitting, should be deferred till that
day seven-night, in order to give time for another more perfect to
originate in the lower house.

This motion having been acceded to, Sir William Dolben introduced a new one
for the third time into the Commons. This included the suggestions which
had been made in the Lords. It included also a regulation, on the motion of
Mr. Sheridan, that no surgeon should be employed as such in the
slave-vessels, except he had a testimonial that he had passed a proper
examination at Surgeons'-Hall. The amendments were all then agreed to, and
the bill was passed through its several stages.

On the tenth of July, being now fully amended, it came for a third time
before the Lords; but it was no sooner brought forward than it met with the
same opposition as it had experienced before. Two new petitions appeared
against it, one from a certain class of persons in Liverpool, and another
from Miles Peter Andrews, esquire, stating that, if it passed into a law,
it would injure the sale of his gunpowder, and that he had rendered great
services to the government during the last war by his provision of that
article. But here the Lord Chancellor Thurlow reserved himself for an
effort, which, by occasioning only a day's delay, would in that particular
period of the session have totally prevented the passing of the bill. He
suggested certain amendments for consideration and discussion, which, if
they had been agreed upon, must have been carried again to the lower house
and sanctioned there before the bill could have been complete. But it
appeared afterwards, that there would have been no time for the latter
proceeding. Earl Stanhope, therefore, pressed this circumstance peculiarly
upon the Lords who were present. He observed, that the King was to dismiss
the parliament next day, and therefore they must adopt the bill as it
stood, or reject it altogether. There was no alternative, and no time was
to be lost. Accordingly he moved for an immediate division on the first of
the amendments proposed by Lord Thurlow. This having taken place, it was
negatived. The other amendments shared the same fate; and thus, at length,
passed through the upper house, as through an ordeal as it were of fire,
the first bill that ever put fetters upon that barbarous and destructive
monster, The Slave-trade.

The next day, or on Friday, July the eleventh, the King gave his assent to
it, and, as Lord Stanhope had previously asserted in the House of Lords,
concluded the session.

While the legislature was occupied in the consideration of this bill, the
Lords of the Council continued their examinations, that they might collect
as much light as possible previously to the general agitation of the
question in the next session of parliament. Among others I underwent an
examination. I gave my testimony first relative to many of the natural
productions of Africa, of which I produced the specimens. These were such
as I had collected in the course of my journey to Bristol and Liverpool,
and elsewhere. I explained, secondly, the loss and usage of seamen in the
Slave-trade. To substantiate certain points, which belonged to this branch
of the subject, I left several depositions and articles of agreement for
the examination of the council. With respect to others, as it would take a
long time to give all the data upon which calculations had been made and
the manner of making them, I was desired to draw up a statement of
particulars, and to send it to the council at a future time. I left also
depositions with them relative to certain instances of the mode of
procuring and treating slaves.

The commitee also for effecting the abolition of the Slave-trade continued
their attention, during this period, towards the promotion of the different
objects, which came within the range of the institution.

They added the reverend Dr. Coombe, in consequence of the great increase of
their business, to the list of their members.

They voted thanks to Mr. Hughes, vicar of Ware in Hertfordshire, for his
excellent Answer to Harm's Scriptural Researches on the Licitness of the
Slave-trade, and they enrolled him among their honorary and corresponding
members. Also thanks to William Roscoe, esquire, for his Answer to the
same. Mr. Roscoe had not affixed his name to this pamphlet any more than to
his poem of The Wrongs of Africa. But he made himself known to the commitee
as the author of both. Also thanks to William Smith and Henry Beaufoy,
esquires, for having so successfully exposed the evidence offered by the
slave-merchants against the bill of Sir William Dolben, and for having
drawn out of it so many facts, all making for their great object, the
abolition of the Slave-trade.

As the great question was to be discussed in the approaching sessions, it
was moved in the commitee to consider of the propriety of sending persons
to Africa and the West Indies, who should obtain information relative to
the different branches of the system as they existed in each of these
countries, in order that they might be able to give their testimony, from
their own experience, before one or both of the houses of parliament, as it
might be judged proper. This proposition was discussed at two or three
several meetings. It was however finally rejected, and principally on the
following grounds: First, It was obvious, that persons sent out upon such
an errand would be exposed to such dangers from various causes, that it was
not improbable that both they and their testimony might be lost. Secondly,
Such persons would be obliged to have recourse to falsehoods, that is, to
conceal or misrepresent the objects of their destination, that they might
get their intelligence with safety; which falsehoods the commitee could not
countenance. To which it was added, that few persons would go to these
places, except they were handsomely rewarded for their trouble; but this
reward would lessen the value of their evidence, as it would afford a
handle to the planters and slave-merchants to say that they had been

Another circumstance, which came before the commitee, was the following:
Many arguments were afloat at this time relative to the great impolicy of
abolishing the Slave-trade, the principal of which was, that, if the
English abandoned it, other foreign nations would take it up; and thus,
while they gave up certain national profits themselves, the great cause of
humanity would not be benefited, nor would any moral good be done by the
measure. Now there was a presumption that, by means of the society
instituted in Paris, the French nation might be awakened to this great
subject, and that the French government might in consequence, as well as
upon other considerations, be induced to favour the general feeling upon
this occasion. But there was no reason to conclude, either that any other
maritime people, who had been engaged in the Slave-trade, would relinquish
it, or that any other, who had not yet been engaged in it, would not begin
it when our countrymen should give it up. The consideration of these
circumstances occupied the attention of the commitee; and as Dr. Spaarman,
who was said to have been examined by the privy council, was returning
home, it was thought advisable to consider whether it would not be proper
for the commitee to select certain of their own books on the subject of the
Slave-trade, and send them by him, accompanied by a letter, to the King of
Sweden, in which they should entreat his consideration of this powerful
argument which now stood in the way of the cause of humanity, with a view
that, as one of the princes of Europe, he might contribute to obviate it,
by preventing his own subjects, in case of the dereliction of this commerce
by ourselves, from embarking in it. The matter having been fully
considered, it was resolved that the proposed measure would be proper, and
it was accordingly adopted. By a letter received afterwards from Dr.
Spaarman, it appeared that both the letter and the books had been
delivered, and received graciously; and that he was authorised to say,
that, unfortunately, in consequence of those, hereditary possessions which
had devolved upon his majesty, he was obliged to confess that he was the
sovereign of an island, which had, been principally peopled by African
slaves, but that he had been frequently mindful of their hard case. With
respect to the Slave-trade, he never heard of an instance, in which the
merchants of his own native realm had embarked in it; and as they had
hitherto preserved their character pure in this respect, he would do all he
could, that it should not be sullied in the eyes of the generous English
nation, by taking up, in the case which had been pointed out to him, such
an odious concern.

By this time I had finished my Essay on the Impolicy of the Slave-trade,
which I composed from materials collected chiefly during my journey to
Bristol, Liverpool, and Lancaster. These materials I had admitted with
great caution and circumspection; indeed I admitted none, for which I could
not bring official and other authentic documents, or living evidences if
necessary, whose testimony could not reasonably be denied; and, when I gave
them to the world, I did it under the impression that I ought to give them
as scrupulously, as if I were to be called upon to substantiate them upon
oath. It was of peculiar moment that this book should make its appearance
at this time. First, Because it would give the Lords of the Council, who
were then sitting, an opportunity of seeing many important facts, and of
inquiring into their authenticity; and it might suggest to them also some
new points, or such as had not fallen within the limits of the arrangement
they had agreed upon for their examinations on this subject; and Secondly,
Because, as the members of the House of Commons were to take the question
into consideration early in the next sessions, it would give them also new
light and information upon it before this period. Accordingly the commitee
ordered two thousand copies of it to be struck off, for these and other
objects; and though the contents of it were most diligently sifted by the
different opponents of the cause, they never even made an attempt to answer
it. It continued, on the other hand, during the inquiry of the legislature,
to afford the basis or grounds upon which to examine evidences on the
political part of the subject; and evidences thus examined continued in
their turn to establish it.

Among the other books ordered to be printed by the commitee within the
period now under our consideration, were a new edition of two thousand of
the Dean of Middleham's Letter, and another of three thousand of
Falconbridge's Account of the Slave-trade.

The commitee continued to keep up, during the same period, a communication
with many of their old correspondents, whose names have been already
mentioned. But they received also letters from others, who had not hitherto
addressed them; namely, from Ellington Wright of Erith, Dr. Franklin of
Philadelphia, Eustace Kentish esquire, high sheriff for the county of
Huntingdon, Governor Bouchier, the reverend Charles Symmons of
Haverfordwest; and from John York and William Downes esquires, high
sheriffs for the counties of York and Hereford.

A letter also was read in this interval from Mr. Evans, a dissenting
clergyman, of Bristol, stating that the elders of several Baptist churches,
forming the western Baptist association, who had met at Portsmouth Common,
had resolved to recommend it to the ministers and members of the same, to
unite with the commitee in the promotion of the great object of their

Another from Mr. Andrew Irvin, of the Island of Grenada, in which he
confirmed the wretched situation of many of the slaves there, and in which
he gave the outlines of a plan for bettering their condition, as well as
that of those in the other islands.

Another from I.L. Wynne, esquire, of Jamaica. In this he gave an
afflicting account of the suffering and unprotected state of the slaves
there, which it was high time to rectify. He congratulated the commitee on
their institution, which he thought would tend to promote so desirable an
end; but desired them not to stop short of the total abolition of the
Slave-trade, as no other measure would prove effectual against the evils of
which he complained. This trade, he said, was utterly unnecessary, as his
own plantation, on which his slaves had increased rapidly by population,
and others which he knew to be similarly circumstanced, would abundantly
testify. He concluded by promising to give the commitee, such information
from time to time as might be useful on this important subject.

The session of parliament having closed, the commitee thought it right to
make a report to the public, in which they gave an account of the great
progress of their cause since the last, of the state in which they then
were, and of the unjustifiable conduct of their opponents, who
industriously misrepresented their views, but particularly by attributing
to them the design of abolishing slavery; and they concluded by exhorting
their friends not to relax their endeavours, on account of favourable
appearances, but to persevere, as if nothing had been done, under the
pleasing hope of an honourable triumph.

And now having given the substance of the labours of the commitee from its
formation to the present time, I cannot conclude this volume without giving
to the worthy members of it that tribute of affectionate and grateful
praise, which is due to them for their exertions in having forwarded the
great cause which was intrusted to their care. And this I can do with more
propriety, because, having been so frequently absent from them when they
were engaged in the pursuit of this their duty, I cannot be liable to the
suspicion, that in bestowing commendation upon them I am bestowing it upon
myself. From about the end of May 1787 to the middle of July 1788 they had
held no less than fifty-one commitees. These generally occupied them from
about six in the evening till about eleven at night. In the intervals
between the commitees they were often occupied, having each of them some
object committed to his charge. It is remarkable, too, that though they
were all except one engaged in business or trade, and though they had the
same calls as other men for innocent recreation, and the same interruptions
of their health, there were individuals, who were not absent more than five
or six times within this period. In the course of the thirteen months,
during which they had exercised this public trust, they had printed, and
afterwards distributed, not at random, but judiciously, and through
respectable channels, (besides twenty-six thousand five hundred and
twenty-six reports, accounts of debates in parliament, and other small
papers,) no less than fifty-one thousand four hundred and thirty-two
pamphlets, or books.

Nor was the effect produced within this short period otherwise than
commensurate with the efforts used. In May 1787, the only public notice
taken of this great cause was by this commitee of twelve individuals, of
whom all were little known to the world except Mr. Granville Sharp. But in
July 1788, it had attracted the notice of several distinguished individuals
in France and Germany, and in our own country it had come within the
notice, of the government, and a branch of it had undergone a parliamentary
discussion and restraint. It had arrested also the attention of the nation,
and it had produced a kind of holy flame, or enthusiasm, and this to a
degree and to an extent never before witnessed. Of the purity of this flame
no better proof can be offered, than that even bishops deigned to address
an obscure commitee, consisting principally of Quakers, and that churchmen
and dissenters forgot their difference of religious opinions, and joined
their hands, all over the kingdom, in its support.


Printed by Richard Taylor and Co. Shoe Lane.

Book of the day: