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

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flattering the prospect at first, soon produced a load of debt, and
inextricable embarrassments. He might even appeal to the statements of the
West Indians themselves, who allowed that more than twenty millions were
owing to the people of this country, to show that no system could involve
them so deeply as that, on which they had hitherto gone. But he would refer
them to the accounts of Mr. Irving, as contained in the evidence. Waving
then the consideration of this part of the subject, the opinion in question
must have arisen from a notion, that the stock of slaves, now in the
islands, could not be kept up by propagation; but that it was necessary,
from time to time, to recruit them with imported Africans. In direct
refutation of this position he should prove, First, that in the condition
and treatment of the Negros, there were causes, sufficient to afford us
reason to expect a considerable decrease, but particularly that their
increase had not been a serious object of attention; Secondly, that this
decrease was in fact, notwithstanding, very trifling; or rather, he
believed, he might declare it had now actually ceased; and, Thirdly, he
should urge many direct and collateral facts and arguments, constituting on
the whole an irresistible proof, that even a rapid increase might
henceforth be expected.

He wished to treat the West Indians with all possible candour; but he was
obliged to confess, in arguing upon these points, that whatever splendid
instances there might be of kindness towards their slaves, there were some
evils of almost universal operation, were necessarily connected with the
system of slavery. Above all, the state of degradation, to which they were
reduced, deserved to be noticed; as it produced an utter inattention to
them as moral agents. They were kept at work under the whip like cattle.
They were left totally ignorant of morality and religion. There was no
regular marriage among them. Hence promiscuous intercourse, early
prostitution, and excessive drinking, were material causes of their
decrease. With respect to the instruction of the slaves in the principles
of religion, the happiest effects had resulted, particularly in Antigua,
where, under the Moravians and Methodists, they had so far profited, that
the planters themselves confessed their value, as property, had been raised
one-third by their increased habits of regularity and industry.

Whatever might have been said to the contrary, it was plainly to be
inferred from the evidence, that the slaves were not protected by law.
Colonial statutes had indeed been passed; but they were a dead letter;
since, however ill they were treated, they were not considered as having a
right to redress. An instance of astonishing cruelty by a Jew had been
mentioned by Mr. Ross. It was but justice to say, that the man was held in
detestation for it; but yet no one had ever thought of calling him to a
legal account. Mr. Ross conceived a master had a right to punish his slave
in whatever manner he might think proper. The same was declared by
numberless other witnesses. Some instances, indeed, had lately occurred of
convictions. A master had wantonly cut the mouth of a child, of six months
old, almost from ear to ear. But did not the verdict of the jury show, that
the doctrine of calling masters to an account was entirely novel; as it
only pronounced him "Guilty, subject to the opinion of the court, if
immoderate correction of a slave by his master be a crime indictable!" The
court determined in the affirmative; and what was the punishment of this
barbarous act?--A fine of forty shillings currency, equivalent to about
twenty-five shillings sterling.

The slaves were but ill off in point of medical care. Sometimes four or
five, and even eight or nine thousand of them, were under the care of one
medical man; which, dispersed on different and distant estates, was a
greater number than he could possibly attend to.

It was also in evidence, that they were in general under-fed. They were
supported partly by the produce of their own provision-ground, and partly
by an allowance of flour and grain from their masters. In one of the
islands, where provision-ground did not answer one year in three, the
allowance to a working Negro was but from five to nine pints of grain per
week: in Dominica, where it never failed, from six to seven quarts: in
Nevis and St. Christophers, where there was no provision-ground, it was but
eleven pints. Add to this, that it might be still less, as the
circumstances of their masters might become embarrassed; and in this case
both an abridgment of their food, and an increase of their labour, would

But the great cause of the decrease of the slaves was in the non-residence
of the planters. Sir George Yonge, and many others, had said, they had seen
the slaves treated in a manner, which their owners would have resented, if
they had known it. Mr. Orde spoke in the strongest terms of the misconduct
of managers. The fact was, that these in general sought to establish their
characters by producing large crops at a small immediate expense; too
little considering how far the slaves might suffer from ill-treatment and
excessive labour. The pursuit of such a system was a criterion for judging
of their characters, as both Mr. Long and Mr. Ottley had confessed.

But he must contend, in addition to this, that the object of keeping up the
stock of slaves by breeding had never been seriously attended to. For this
he might appeal both to his own witnesses, and to those of his opponents;
but he would only notice one fact. It was remarkable that, when owners and
managers were asked about the produce of their estates, they were quite at
home as to the answer; but when they were asked about the proportion of
their male and female slaves, and their infants, they knew little about the
matter. Even medical men were adepts in the art of planting; but when they
were asked the latter questions, as connected with breeding and rearing,
they seemed quite amazed; and could give no information upon the subject of

Persons, however, of great respectability had been called as witnesses, who
had not seen the treatment of the Negros as he had now described it. He
knew what was due to their characters; but yet he must enter a general
protest against their testimony. "I have often," says Mr. Ross, "attended
both governors and admirals upon tours in the island of Jamaica. But it was
not likely that these should see much distress upon these occasions. The
White People and drivers would take care not to harrow up the feelings of
strangers of distinction by the exercise of the whip, or the infliction of
punishments, at that particular time; and, even if there were any
disgusting objects, it was natural to suppose that they would then remove
them." But in truth these gentlemen had given proofs, that they were under
the influence of prejudice. Some of them had declared the abolition would
ruin the West Indies. But this, it was obvious, must depend upon the
practicability of keeping up the stock without African supplies; and yet,
when they were questioned upon this point, they knew nothing about it.
Hence they had formed a conclusion without premises. Their evidence, too,
extended through a long series of years. They had never seen one instance
of ill-treatment in the time; and yet, in the same breath, they talked of
the amended situation of the slaves; and that they were now far better off
than formerly. One of them, to whom his country owed much, stated that a
master had been sentenced to death for the murder of his own slave; but his
recollection must have failed him; for the murder of a slave was not then a
capital crime. A respectable governor also had delivered an opinion to the
same effect; but, had he looked into the statute-book of the island, he
would have found his error.

It had been said that the slaves were in a better state than the peasantry
of this country. But when the question was put to Mr. Ross, did he not
answer, "that he would not insult the latter by a comparison?"

It had been said again, that the Negros were happier as slaves, than they
would be if they were to be made free. But how was this reconcileable with
facts? If a Negro under extraordinary circumstances had saved money enough,
did he not always purchase his release from this situation of superior
happiness by the sacrifice of his last shilling? Was it not also notorious,
that the greatest reward, which a master thought he could bestow upon his
slave for long and faithful services, was his freedom?

It had been said again, that Negros, when made free, never returned to
their own country. But was not the reason obvious? If they could even reach
their own homes in safety, their kindred and connections might be dead. But
would they subject themselves to be kidnapped again; to be hurried once
more on board a slave-ship; and again to endure and survive the horrors of
the passage? Yet the love of their native country had been proved beyond a
doubt. Many of the witnesses had heard them talk of it in terms of the
strongest affection. Acts of suicide too were frequent in the islands,
under the notion that these afforded them the readiest means of getting
home. Conformably with this, Captain Wilson had maintained, that the
funerals, which in Africa were accompanied with lamentations and cries of
sorrow, were attended, in the West Indies, with every mark of joy.

He had now, he said, made good his first proposition, That in the condition
of the slaves there were causes, which should lead us to expect, that there
would be a considerable decrease among them. This decrease in the island of
Jamaica was but trifling, or, rather, it had ceased some years ago; and if
there was a decrease, it was only on the imported slaves. It appeared from
the privy council report, that from 1698 to 1730 the decrease was three and
a half per cent.; from 1730 to 1755 it was two and a half per cent.; from
1755 to 1768 it was lessened to one and three quarters; and from 1768 to
1788 it was not more than one per cent.: this last decrease was not greater
than could be accounted for from hurricanes and consequent famines, and
from the number of imported Africans who perished in the seasoning. The
latter was a cause of mortality, which, it was evident, would cease with
the importations. This conclusion was confirmed in part by Dr. Anderson,
who, in his testimony to the Assembly of Jamaica, affirmed, that there was
a considerable increase on the properties of the island, and particularly
in the parish in which he resided.

He would now proceed to establish his second proposition, That from
henceforth a very considerable increase might be expected. This he might
support by a close reasoning upon the preceding facts. But the testimony of
his opponents furnished him with sufficient evidence. He could show, that
wherever the slaves were treated better than ordinary, there was uniformly
an increase in their number. Look at the estates of Mr. Willock, Mr.
Ottley, Sir Ralph Payne, and others. In short, he should weary the
committee, if he were to enumerate the instances of plantations, which were
stated in the evidence to have kept up their numbers only from a little
variation in their treatment. A remedy also had been lately found for a
disorder, by which vast numbers of infants had been formerly swept away.
Mr. Long also had laid it down, that whenever the slaves should bear a
certain proportion to the produce, they might be expected to keep up their
numbers; but this proportion they now exceeded. The Assembly of Jamaica had
given it also as their opinion, "that when once the sexes should become
nearly equal in point of number, there was no reason to suppose, that the
increase of the Negros by generation would fall short of the natural
increase of the labouring poor in Great Britain." But the inequality, here
spoken of, could only exist in the case of the African Negros, of whom more
males were imported than females; and this inequality would be done away
soon after the trade should cease.

But the increase of the Negros, where their treatment was better than
ordinary, was confirmed in the evidence by instances in various parts of
the world. From one end of the continent of America to the other their
increase had been undeniably established; and this to a prodigious extent,
though they had to contend with the severe cold of the winter, and in some
parts with noxious exhalations in the summer. This was the case also in the
settlement of Bencoolen in the East Indies. It appeared from the evidence
of Mr. Botham, that a number of Negros, who had been imported there in the
same disproportion of the sexes as in West India cargoes, and who lived
under the same disadvantages, as in the Islands, of promiscuous intercourse
and general prostitution, began, after they had been settled a short time,
annually to increase.

But to return to the West Indies.--A slave-ship had been many years ago
wrecked near St. Vincent's. The slaves on board, who escaped to the island,
were without necessaries; and, besides, were obliged to maintain a war with
the native Caribbs: yet they soon multiplied to an astonishing number; and,
according to Mr. Ottley, they were now on the increase. From Sir John
Dalrymple's evidence it appeared, that the domestic slaves in Jamaica, who
were less worked than those in the field, increased; and from Mr. Long,
that the free Blacks and Mulattoes there increased also.

But there was an instance which militated against these facts (and the only
one in the evidence) which he would now examine. Sir Archibald Campbell had
heard, that the Maroons in Jamaica in the year 1739 amounted to three
thousand men fit to carry arms. This supposed their whole number to have
been about twelve thousand. But in the year 1782, after a real muster by
himself, he found, to his great astonishment, that the fighting men did not
then amount to three hundred. Now the fact was, that Sir Archibald
Campbell's first position was founded upon rumour only; and was not true.
For according to Mr. Long, the Maroons were actually numbered in 1749; when
they amounted to about six hundred and sixty in all, having only a hundred
and fifty men fit to carry arms. Hence, if when mustered by Sir Archibald
Campbell he found three hundred fighting men, they must from 1749 to 1782
have actually doubled their population.

Was it possible, after these instances, to suppose that the Negros could
not keep up their numbers, if their natural increase were made a subject of
attention? The reverse was proved by sound reasoning. It had been confirmed
by unquestionable facts. It had been shown, that they had increased In
every situation, where there was the slightest circumstance in their
favour. Where there had been any decrease, it was stated to be trifling;
though no attention appeared to have been paid to the subject. This
decrease had been gradually lessening; and, whenever a single cause of it
had been removed (many still remaining), it had altogether ceased. Surely
these circumstances formed a body of proof, which was irresistible.

He would now speak of the consequences of the abolition of the Slave-trade
in other points of view; and first, as to its effects upon our marine. An
abstract of the Bristol and Liverpool muster-rolls had been just laid
before the House. It appeared from this, that in three hundred and fifty
slave-vessels, having on board twelve thousand two hundred and sixty-three
persons, two thousand six hundred and forty-three were lost in twelve
months; whereas in four hundred and sixty-two West Indiamen, having on
board seven thousand six hundred and forty persons, one hundred and
eighteen only were lost in seven months. This rather exceeded the losses
stated by Mr. Clarkson. For their barbarous usage on board these ships, and
for their sickly and abject state in the West Indies, he would appeal to
Governor Parry's letter; to the evidence of Mr. Ross; to the assertion of
Mr. B. Edwards, an opponent; and to the testimony of Captains Sir George
Yonge and Thompson, of the Royal Navy. He would appeal also to what Captain
Hall, of the Navy, had given in evidence. This gentleman, after the action
of the twelfth of April, impressed thirty hands from a slave-vessel, whom
he selected with the utmost care from a crew of seventy; and he was
reprimanded by his admiral, though they could scarcely get men to bring
home the prizes, for introducing such wretches to communicate disorders to
the fleet. Captain Smith of the Navy had also declared, that when employed
to board Guineamen to impress sailors, although he had examined near twenty
vessels, he never was able to get more than two men, who were fit for
service; and these turned out such inhuman fellows, although good seamen,
that he was obliged to dismiss them from the ship.

But he hoped the committee would attend to the latter part of the assertion
of Captain Smith. Yes:--this trade, while it injured the constitutions of
our sailors, debased their morals. Of this, indeed, there was a barbarous
illustration in the evidence. A slaveship had struck on some shoals, called
the Morant Keys, a few leagues from the east end of Jamaica. The crew
landed in their boats, with arms and provisions, leaving the slaves on
board in their irons. This happened in the night. When morning came, it was
discovered that the Negros had broken their shackles, and were busy in
making rafts; upon which afterwards they placed the women and children. The
men attended upon the latter, swimming by their side, whilst they drifted
to the island where the crew were. But what was the sequel? From an
apprehension that the Negros would consume the water and provision, which
had been landed, the crew resolved to destroy them as they approached the
shore. They killed between three and four hundred. Out of the whole cargo
only thirty-three were saved, who, on being brought to Kingston, were sold.
It would, however, be to no purpose, he said, to relieve the Slave-trade
from this act of barbarity. The story of the Morant Keys was paralleled by
that of Captain Collingwood; and were you to got rid of these, another, and
another, would still present itself, to prove the barbarous effects of this
trade on the moral character.

But of the miseries of the trade there was no end. Whilst he had been
reading out of the evidence the story of the Morant Keys, his eye had but
glanced on the opposite page, and it met another circumstance of horror.
This related to what were called the refuse-slaves. Many people in Kingston
were accustomed to speculate in the purchase of those, who were left after
the first day's sale. They then carried them out into the country, and
retailed them. Mr. Ross declared, that he had seen these landed in a very
wretched state, sometimes in the agonies of death, and sold as low as for a
dollar, and that he had known several expire in the piazzas of the
vendue-master. The bare description superseded the necessity of any remark.
Yet these were the familiar incidents of the Slave-trade.

But he would go back to the seamen. He would mention another cause of
mortality, by which many of them lost their lives. In looking over Lloyd's
list, no less than six vessels were cut off by the irritated natives in one
year, and the crews massacred. Such instances were not unfrequent. In
short, the history of this commerce was written throughout in characters of

He would next consider the effects of the abolition on those places where
it was chiefly carried on. But would the committee believe, after all the
noise which had been made on this subject, that the Slave-trade composed
but a thirtieth part of the export trade of Liverpool, and that of the
trade of Bristol it constituted a still less proportion? For the effects of
the abolition on the general commerce of the kingdom, he would refer them
to Mr. Irving; from whose evidence it would appear, that the medium value
of the British manufactures, exported to Africa, amounted only to between
four and five hundred thousand pounds annually. This was but a trifling
sum. Surely the superior capital, ingenuity, application, and integrity, of
the British manufacturer would command new markets for the produce of his
industry, to an equal amount, when this should be no more. One branch,
however, of our manufactures, he confessed, would suffer from the
abolition; and that was the manufacture of gunpowder; of which the nature
of our connection with Africa drew from us as much as we exported to all
the rest of the world besides.

He hastened, however, to another part of the argument. Some had said, "We
wish to put an end to the Slave-trade, but we do not approve of your mode.
Allow more time. Do not displease the legislatures of the West India
islands. It is by them that those laws must be passed, and enforced, which
will secure your object." Now he was directly at issue with these
gentlemen. He could show, that the abolition was the only certain mode of
amending the treatment of the slaves, so as to secure their increase; and
that the mode which had been offered to him, was at once inefficacious and
unsafe. In the first place, how could any laws, made by these legislatures,
be effectual, whilst the evidence of Negros was in no case admitted against
White men? What was the answer from Grenada? Did it not state, "that they
who were capable of cruelty, would in general be artful enough to prevent
any but slaves from being witnesses of the fact?" Hence it had arisen, that
when positive laws had been made, in some of the islands, for the
protection of the slaves, they had been found almost a dead letter.
Besides, by what law would you enter into every man's domestic concerns,
and regulate the interior economy of his house and plantation? This would
be something more than a general excise. Who would endure such a law? And
yet on all these and innumerable other minutiae must depend the protection
of the slaves, their comforts, and the probability of their increase. It
was universally allowed, that the Code Noir had been utterly neglected in
the French islands, though there was an officer appointed by the crown to
see it enforced. The provisions of the Directorio had been but of little
more avail in the Portuguese settlements, or the institution of a Protector
of the Indians, in those of the Spaniards. But what degree of protection
the slaves would enjoy might be inferred from the admission of a gentleman,
by whom this very plan of regulation had been recommended, and who was
himself no ordinary person, but a man of discernment and legal resources.
He had proposed a limitation of the number of lashes to be given by the
master or overseer for one offence. But, after all, he candidly confessed,
that his proposal was not likely to be useful, while the evidence of slaves
continued inadmissible against their masters. But he could even bring
testimony to the inefficacy of such regulations. A wretch in Barbadoes had
chained a Negro girl to the floor, and flogged her till she was nearly
expiring. Captain Cook and Major Fitch, hearing her cries, broke open the
door and found her. The wretch retreated from their resentment, but cried
out exultingly, "that he had only given her thirty-nine lashes (the number
limited by law) at any one time; and that he had only inflicted this number
three times since the beginning of the night," adding, "that he would
prosecute them for breaking open his door; and that he would flog her to
death for all any one, if he pleased; and that he would give her the fourth
thirty-nine before morning."

But this plan of regulation was not only inefficacious, but unsafe. He
entered his protest against the fatal consequences, which might result from
it. The Negros were creatures like ourselves; but they were uninformed, and
their moral character was debased. Hence they were unfit for civil rights.
To use these properly they must be gradually restored to that level, from
which they had been so unjustly degraded. To allow them an appeal to the
laws, would be to awaken in them a sense of the dignity of their nature.
The first return of life, after a swoon, was commonly a convulsion,
dangerous at once to the party himself and to all around him. You should
first prepare them for the situation, and not bring the situation to them.
To be under the protection of the law was in fact to be a freeman; and to
unite slavery and freedom in one condition was impracticable. The
abolition, on the other hand, was exactly such an agent as the case
required. All hopes of supplies from the Coast being cut off, breeding
would henceforth become a serious object of attention; and the care of
this, as including better clothing and feeding, and milder discipline,
would extend to innumerable particulars, which an act of assembly could
neither specify nor enforce. The horrible system, too, which many had gone
upon, of working out their slaves in a few years, and recruiting their
gangs with imported Africans, would receive its death-blow from the
abolition of the trade. The opposite would force itself on the most
unfeeling heart. Ruin would stare a man in the face, if he were not to
conform to it. The non-resident owners would then express themselves in the
terms of Sir Philip Gibbs, "that he should consider it as the fault of his
manager, if he were not to keep up the number of his slaves." This
reasoning concerning the different tendencies of the two systems was
self-evident. But facts were not wanting to confirm it. Mr. Long had
remarked, that all the insurrections and suicides in Jamaica had been found
among the imported slaves, who, not having lost the consciousness of civil
rights, which they had enjoyed in their own country, could not brook the
indignities to which they were subjected in the West Indies. An instance in
point was afforded also by what had lately taken place in the island of
Dominica. The disturbance there had been chiefly occasioned by some runaway
slaves from the French islands. But what an illustration was it of his own
doctrine to say, that the slaves of several persons, who had been treated,
with kindness, were not among the number of the insurgents on that

But when persons coolly talked of putting an end to the Slave-trade through
the medium of the West India legislatures, and of gradual abolition, by
means of regulations, they surely forgot the miseries which this horrid
traffic occasioned in Africa during every moment of its continuance. This
consideration was conclusive with him, when called upon to decide whether
the Slave-trade should be tolerated for a while, or immediately abolished.
The divine law against murder was absolute and unqualified. Whilst we were
ignorant of all these things, our sanction of them might, in some measure,
be pardoned. But now, when our eyes were opened, could we tolerate them for
a moment, unless we were ready at once to determine, that gain should be
our God, and, like the heathens of old, were prepared to offer up human
victims at the shrine of our idolatry?

This consideration precluded also the giving heed for an instant to another
plea, namely, that if we were to abolish the trade it would be
proportionably taken up by other nations. But, whatever other nations did,
it became Great Britain, in every point of view, to take a forward part.
One half of this guilty commerce had been carried on by her subjects. As we
had been great in our crime, we should be early in our repentance. If
Providence had showered his blessings upon us in unparalleled abundance, we
should show ourselves grateful for them by rendering them subservient to
the purposes for which they were intended. There would be a day of
retribution, wherein we should have to give an account of all those
talents, faculties, and opportunities, with which we had been intrusted.
Let it not then appear, that our superior power had been employed to
oppress our fellow-creatures, and our superior light to darken the creation
of God. He could not but look forward with delight to the happy prospects
which opened themselves to his view in Africa from the abolition of the
Slave-trade; when a commerce, justly deserving that name, should be
established with her; not like that, falsely so called, which now
subsisted, and which all who were interested for the honour of the
commercial character (though there were no superior principle) should
hasten to disavow. Had this trade indeed been ever so profitable, his
decision would have been in no degree affected by that consideration.
"Here's the smell of blood on the hand still, and all the perfumes of
Arabia cannot sweeten it."

He doubted, whether it was not almost an act of degrading condescension to
stoop to discuss the question in the view of commercial interest. On this
ground, however, he was no less strong than on every other. Africa abounded
with productions of value, which she would gladly exchange for our
manufactures, when these were not otherwise to be obtained: and to what an
extent her demand might then grow exceeded almost the powers of
computation. One instance already existed of a native king, who being
debarred by his religion the use of spirituous liquors, and therefore not
feeling the irresistible temptation to acts of rapine which they afforded
to his countrymen, had abolished the Slave-trade throughout all his
dominions, and was encouraging an honest industry.

For his own part, he declared that, interested as he might be supposed to
be in the final event of the question, he was comparatively indifferent as
to the present decision of the House upon it. Whatever they might do, the
people of Great Britain, he was confident, would abolish the Slave-trade
when, as would then soon happen, its injustice and cruelty should be fairly
laid before them. It was a nest of serpents, which would never have existed
so long, but for the darkness in which they lay hid. The light of day would
now be let in on them, and they would vanish from the sight. For himself,
he declared he was engaged in a work, which he would never abandon. The
consciousness of the justice of his cause would carry him forward, though
he were alone; but he could not but derive encouragement from considering
with whom he was associated. Let us not, he said, despair. It is a blessed
cause; and success, ere long, will crown our exertions. Already we have
gained one victory. We have obtained for these poor creatures the
recognition of their human nature[A], which, for a while, was most
shamefully denied them. This is the first fruits of our efforts.

[Footnote A: This point was actually obtained by the evidence before the
House of Commons; for, after this, we heard no more of them as an inferior

Let us persevere, and our triumph will be complete. Never, never, will we
desist, till we have wiped away this scandal from the Christian name; till
we have released ourselves from the load of guilt under which we at present
labour; and till we have extinguished every trace of this bloody traffic,
which our posterity, looking back to the history of these enlightened
times, will scarcely believe had been suffered to exist so long, a disgrace
and a dishonour to our country.

He then moved, that the chairman be instructed to move for leave to bring
in a bill to prevent the further importation of slaves into the British
colonies in the West Indies.

Colonel Tarleton immediately rose up, and began by giving an historical
account of the trade from the reign of Elizabeth to the present time. He
then proceeded to the sanction, which parliament had always given it. Hence
it could not then be withdrawn without a breach of faith. Hence, also, the
private property embarked in it was sacred, nor could it be invaded, unless
an adequate compensation were given in return.

They, who had attempted the abolition of the trade, were led away by a
mistaken humanity. The Africans themselves had no objection to its

With respect to the Middle Passage, he believed the mortality there to be
on an average only five in the hundred; whereas in regiments, sent out to
the West Indies, the average loss in the year was about ten and a half per

The Slave-trade was absolutely necessary, if we meant to carry on our West
India commerce; for many attempts had been made to cultivate the lands in
the different islands by White labourers; but they had always failed.

It had also the merit of keeping up a number of seamen in readiness for the
state. Lord Rodney had stated this as one of its advantages on the breaking
out of a war. Liverpool alone could supply nine hundred and ninety-three
seamen annually.

He would now advert to the connections dependent upon the African trade. It
was the duty of the House to protect the planters, whose lives had been,
and were then, exposed to imminent dangers, and whose property had
undergone an unmerited depreciation. To what could this depreciation, and
to what could the late insurrection at Dominica, be imputed, which had been
saved from horrid carnage and midnight-butchery only by the adventitious
arrival of two British regiments? They could only be attributed to the long
delayed question of the abolition of the Slave-trade; and if this question
were to go much longer unsettled, Jamaica would be endangered also.

To members of landed property he would observe, that the abolition would
lessen the commerce of the country, and increase the national debt and the
number of their taxes. The minister, he hoped, who patronized this wild
scheme, had some new pecuniary resource in store to supply the deficiencies
it would occasion.

To the mercantile members he would speak thus: "A few ministerial men in
the house had been gifted with religious inspiration, and this had been
communicated to other eminent personages in it: these enlightened
philanthropists had discovered, that it was necessary, for the sake of
humanity and for the honour of the nation, that the merchants concerned in
the African trade should be persecuted, notwithstanding the sanction of
their trade by parliament, and notwithstanding that such persecution must
aggrandize the rivals of Great Britain." Now how did this language sound?
It might have done in the twelfth century, when all was bigotry and
superstition. But let not a mistaken humanity, in these enlightened times,
furnish a colourable pretext for any injurious attack on property or

These things being considered, he should certainly oppose the measure in
contemplation. It would annihilate a trade, whose exports amounted to eight
hundred thousand pounds annually, and which employed a hundred and sixty
vessels and more than five thousand seamen. It would destroy also the West
India trade, which was of the annual value of six millions; and which
employed one hundred and sixty thousand tons of shipping, and seamen in
proportion. These were objects of too much importance to the country to be
hazarded on an unnecessary speculation.

Mr. Grosvenor then rose. He complimented the humanity of Mr. Wilberforce,
though he differed from him on the subject of his motion. He himself had
read only the privy council report; and he wished for no other evidence.
The question had then been delayed two years. Had the abolition been so
clear a point as it was said to be, it could not have needed either so much
evidence or time.

He had heard a good deal about kidnapping and other barbarous practices. He
was sorry for them. But these were the natural consequences of the laws of
Africa; and it became us as wise men to turn them to our own advantage. The
Slave-trade was certainly not an amiable trade. Neither was that of a
butcher; but yet it was a very necessary one.

There was great reason to doubt the propriety of the present motion. He had
twenty reasons for disapproving it. The first was, that the thing was
impossible. He needed not therefore to give the rest. Parliament, indeed,
might relinquish the trade. But to whom? To foreigners, who would continue
it, and without the humane regulations, which were applied to it by his

He would give advice to the house on this subject in the words, which the
late Alderman Beckford used on a different occasion: "Meddle not with
troubled waters: they will be found to be bitter waters, and the waters of
affliction." He again admitted, that the Slave-trade was not an amiable
trade; but he would not gratify his humanity at the expense of the
interests of his country; and he thought we should not too curiously
inquire into the unpleasant circumstances, which attended it.

Mr. James Martin succeeded Mr. Grosvenor. He said, he had been long aware,
how much self-interest could pervert the judgment; but he was not apprized
of the full power of it, till the Slave-trade became a subject of
discussion. He had always conceived, that the custom of trafficking in
human beings had been incautiously begun, and without any reflection upon
it; for he never could believe that any man, under the influence of moral
principles, could suffer himself knowingly to carry on a trade replete with
fraud, cruelty, and destruction; with destruction, indeed, of the worst
kind, because it subjected the sufferers to a lingering death. But he found
now, that even such a trade as this could be sanctioned.

It was well observed in the petition from the University of Cambridge
against the Slave-trade, "that a firm belief in the Providence of a
benevolent Creator assured them that no system, founded on the oppression
of one part of mankind, could be beneficial to another." He felt much
concern, that in an assembly of the representatives of a country, boasting
itself zealous not only for the preservation of its own liberties, but for
the general rights of mankind, it should be necessary to say a single word
upon such a subject; but the deceitfulness of the human heart was such, as
to change the appearances of truth, when it stood in opposition to
self-interest. And he had to lament that even among those, whose public
duty it was to cling to the universal and eternal principles of truth,
justice, and humanity, there were found some, who could defend that which
was unjust, fraudulent, and cruel.

The doctrines he had heard that evening, ought to have been reserved for
times the most flagrantly profligate and abandoned. He never expected then
to learn, that the everlasting laws of righteousness were to give way to
imaginary, political, and commercial expediency; and that thousands of our
fellow-creatures were to be reduced to wretchedness, that individuals might
enjoy opulence, or government a revenue.

He hoped that the house for the sake of its own character would explode
these doctrines with all the marks of odium they deserved; and that all
parties would join in giving a death-blow to this execrable trade. The
royal family would, he expected, from their known benevolence, patronize
the measure. Both Houses of Parliament were now engaged in the prosecution
of a gentleman accused of cruelty and oppression in the East. But what were
these cruelties, even if they could be brought home to him, when compared
in number and degree to those, which were every day and every hour
committed in the abominable traffic, which was now under their discussion!
He considered therefore both Houses of Parliament as pledged upon this
occasion. Of the support of the bishops he could have no doubt; because
they were to render Christianity amiable, both by their doctrine and their
example. Some of the inferior clergy had already manifested a laudable zeal
in behalf of the injured Africans. The University of Cambridge had
presented a petition to that house worthy of itself. The Sister-university
had, by one of her representatives, given sanction to the measure.
Dissenters of various denominations, but particularly the Quakers, (who to
their immortal honour had taken the lead in it,) had vied with those of the
established church in this amiable contest. The first counties, and some of
the largest trading towns, in the kingdom had espoused the cause. In short,
there had never been more unanimity in the country, than in this righteous

With such support, and with so good a cause, it would be impossible to
fail. Let but every man stand forth, who had at any time boasted of himself
as an Englishman, and success would follow. But if he were to be unhappily
mistaken as to the result, we must give up the name of Englishmen. Indeed,
if we retained it, we should be the greatest hypocrites in the world; for
we boasted of nothing more than of our own liberty; we manifested the
warmest indignation at the smallest personal insult; we professed liberal
sentiments towards other nations: but to do these things, and to continue
such a traffic, would be to deserve the hateful character before mentioned.
While we could hardly bear the sight of any thing resembling slavery, even
as a punishment, among ourselves, how could we consistently entail an
eternal slavery upon others?

It had been frequently, but most disgracefully said, that "we should not be
too eager in setting the example. Let the French begin it." Such a
sentiment was a direct libel upon the ancient, noble, and generous
character of this nation. We ought, on the other hand, under the blessings
we enjoyed, and under the high sense we entertained of our own dignity as a
people, to be proudly fearful, lest other nations should anticipate our
design, and obtain the palm before us. It became us to lead. And if others
should not follow us, it would belong to them to glory in the shame of
trampling under foot the laws of reason, humanity, and religion.

This motion, he said, came strongly recommended to them. The honourable
member, who introduced it, was justly esteemed for his character. He was
the representative too of a noble county, which had been always ready to
take the lead in every public measure for the good of the community, or for
the general benefit of mankind; of a county too, which had had the honour
of producing a Saville. Had his illustrious predecessor been alive, he
would have shown the same zeal on the same occasion. The preservation of
the unalienable rights of all his fellow-creatures was one of the chief
characteristics of that excellent citizen. Let every member in that house
imitate him in the purity of their conduct and in the universal rectitude
of their measures, and they would pay the same tender regard to the rights
of other countries as to those of their own; and, for his part, he should
never believe those persons to be sincere, who were loud in their
professions of love of liberty, if he saw that love confined to the narrow
circle of one community, which ought to be extended to the natural rights
of every inhabitant of the globe.

But we should be better able to bring ourselves up to this standard of
rectitude, if we were to put ourselves into the situation of those, whom we
oppressed. This was the rule of our religion. What should we think of
those, who should say, that it was their interest to injure us? But he
hoped we should not deceive ourselves so grossly as to imagine, that it was
our real interest to oppress any one. The advantages to be obtained by
tyranny were imaginary, and deceitful to the tyrant; and the evils they
caused to the oppressed were grievous, and often insupportable.

Before he sat down, he would apologize, if he had expressed himself too
warmly on this subject. He did not mean to offend any one. There were
persons connected with the trade, some of whom he pitied on account of the
difficulty of their situation. But he should think most contemptibly of
himself as a man, if he could talk on this traffic without emotion. It
would be a sign to him of his own moral degradation. He regretted his
inability to do justice to such a cause; but if, in having attempted to
forward it, he had shown the weakness of his powers, he must console
himself with the consideration, that he felt more solid comfort in having
acted up to sound public principles, than he could have done from the
exertion of the most splendid talents against the conviction of his

Mr. Burdon rose, and said he was embarrassed to know how to act. Mr.
Wilberforce had in a great measure met his ideas. Indeed he considered
himself as much in his hands; but he wished to go gradually to the
abolition of the trade. He wished to give time to the planters to recruit
their stocks. He feared the immediate abolition might occasion a monopoly
among such of them as were rich, to the detriment of the less affluent. We
ought, like a judicious physician, to follow nature, and to promote a
gradual recovery.

Mr. Francis rose next. After complimenting Mr. Wilberforce, he stated that
personal considerations might appear to incline him to go against the side
which he was about to take, namely, that of strenuously supporting his
motion. Having himself an interest in the West Indies, he thought that what
he should submit to the house would have the double effect of evidence and
argument; and he stated most unequivocally his opinion, that the abolition
of the Slave-trade would tend materially to the benefit of the West Indies.

The arguments urged by the honourable mover were supported by the facts,
which he had adduced from the evidence, more strongly than any arguments
had been supported in any speech be had ever heard. He wished, however,
that more of these facts had been introduced into the debate; for they were
apt to have a greater effect upon the mind than mere reasonings, however
just and powerful. Many had affirmed that the Slave-trade was politic and
expedient; but it was worthy of remark, that no man had ventured to deny
that it was criminal. Criminal, however, be declared it to be in the
highest degree; and he believed it was equally impolitic. Both its
inexpediency and injustice had been established by the honourable mover. He
dwelt much on the unhappy situation of the Negros in the West Indies, who
were without the protection of government or of efficient laws, and subject
to the mere caprice of men, who were at once the parties, the judges, and
the executioners.

He instanced an overseer, who, having thrown a Negro into a copper of
boiling cane-juice for a trifling offence, was punished merely by the loss
of his place, and by being obliged to pay the value of the slave. He stated
another instance of a girl of fourteen, who was dreadfully whipped for
coming too late to her work. She fell down motionless after it; and was
then dragged along the ground, by the legs, to an hospital; where she died.
The murderer, though tried, was acquitted by a jury of his peers, upon the
idea, that it was impossible a master could destroy his own property. This
was a notorious fact. It was published in the Jamaica Gazette; and it had
even happened since the question of the abolition had been started.

The only argument used against such cruelties, was the master's interest in
the slave. But he urged the common cruelty to horses, in which their
drivers had an actual interest with the drivers of men in the colonies, as
a proof that this was no security. He had never heard an instance of a
master being punished for the murder of his slave. The propagation of the
slaves was so far from being encouraged, that it was purposely checked,
because it was thought more profitable and less troublesome to buy a full
grown Negro, than to rear a child. He repeated that his interest might have
inclined him to the other side of the question; but he did not choose to
compromise between his interest and his duty; for, if he abandoned his
duty, he should not be happy in this world; nor should he deserve happiness
in the next.

Mr. Pitt rose, but he said it was only to move, seeing that justice could
not be done to the subject this evening, that the further consideration of
the question might be adjourned to the next.

Mr. Cawthorne and Colonel Tarleton both opposed this motion, and Colonel
Phipps and Lord Carhampton supported it.

Mr. Fox said, the opposition to the adjournment was uncandid and
unbecoming. They who opposed it well knew that the trade could not bear
discussion. Let it be discussed; and, although there were symptoms of
predetermination in some, the abolition of it must be carried. He would not
believe that there could be found in the House of Commons men of such hard
hearts and inaccessible understandings, as to vote an assent to its
continuance, and then go home to their families, satisfied with their vote,
after they had been once made acquainted with the subject.

Mr. Pitt agreed with Mr. Fox, that from a full discussion of the subject
there was every reason to augur, that the abolition would be adopted. Under
the imputations, with which this trade was loaded, gentlemen should
remember, they could not do justice to their own characters, unless they
stood up, and gave their reasons for opposing the abolition of it. It was
unusual also to force any question of such importance to so hasty a
decision. For his own part, it was his duty, from the situation in which he
stood, to state fully his own sentiments on the question; and, however
exhausted both he and the house might be, he was resolved it should not
pass without discussion, as long as he had strength to utter a word upon
it. Every principle, that could bind a man of honour and conscience, would
impel him to give the most powerful support he could to the motion for the

The motion of Mr. Pitt was assented to, and the house was adjourned

On the next day the subject was resumed. Sir William Yonge rose, and said,
that, though he differed from the honourable mover, he had much admired his
speech of the last evening. Indeed the recollection of it made him only the
more sensible of the weakness of his own powers; and yet, having what he
supposed to be irrefragable arguments in his possession, he felt emboldened
to proceed.

And, first, before he could vote for the abolition, he wished to be
convinced, that, whilst Britain were to lose, Africa would gain. As for
himself, he hated a traffic in men, and joyfully anticipated its
termination at no distant period under a wise system of regulation: but he
considered the present measure as crude and indolent; and as precluding
better and wiser measures, which were already in train. A British
Parliament should attain not only the best ends, but by the wisest means.

Great Britain might abandon her share of this trade, but she could not
abolish it. Parliament was not an assembly of delegates from the powers of
Europe, but of a single nation. It could not therefore suppress the trade;
but would eventually aggravate those miseries incident to it, which every
enlightened man must acknowledge, and every good man must deplore. He
wished the traffic for ever closed. But other nations were only waiting for
our decision, to seize the part we should leave them. The new projects of
these would be intemperate; and, in the zeal of rivalship, the present
evils of comparatively sober dealing would be aggravated beyond all
estimate in this new and heated auction of bidders for life and limb. We
might indeed by regulation give an example of new principles of policy and
of justice; but if we were to withdraw suddenly from this commerce, like
Pontius Pilate, we should wash our hands indeed, but we should not be
innocent as to the consequences.

On the first agitation of this business, Mr. Wilberforce had spoken
confidently of other nations following our example. But had not the
National Assembly of France referred the Slave-trade to a select committee,
and had not that committee rejected the measure of its abolition? By the
evidence it appeared, that the French and Spaniards were then giving
bounties to the Slave-trade; that Denmark was desirous of following it;
that America was encouraging it; and that the Dutch had recognized its
necessity, and recommended its recovery. Things were bad enough indeed as
they were, but he was sure this rivalship would make them worse.

He did not admit the disorders imputed to the trade in all their extent.
Pillage and kidnapping could not be general, on account of the populousness
of the country; though too frequent instances of it had been proved. Crimes
might be falsely imputed. This he admitted; but only partially. Witchcraft,
he believed, was the secret of poisoning, and therefore deserved the
severest punishment. That there should be a number of convictions for
adultery, where polygamy was a custom, was not to be wondered at. But he
feared, if a sale of these criminals were to be done away, massacre would
be the substitute.

An honourable member had asked on a former day, "Is it an excuse for
robbery, to say that another would have committed it?" But the Slave-trade
did not necessarily imply robbery. Not long since Great Britain sold her
convicts, indirectly at least, to slavery. But he was no advocate for the
trade. He wished it had never been begun; and that it might soon terminate.
But the means were not adequate to the end proposed.

Mr. Burke had said on a former occasion, "that in adopting the measure we
must prepare to pay the price of our virtue." He was ready to pay his share
of that price. But the effect of the purchase must be first ascertained. If
they did not estimate this, it was not benevolence, but dissipation.
Effects were to be duly appreciated; and though statesmen might rest every
thing on a plausible manifesto of cause, the humbler moralist, meditating
peace and goodwill towards men, would venture to call such statesmen
responsible for consequences.

In regard to the colonies, a sudden abolition would be oppression. The
legislatures there should be led, and not forced, upon this occasion. He
was persuaded they would act wisely to attain the end pointed out to them.
They would see, that a natural increase of their Negros might be effected
by an improved system of legislation; and that in the result the
Slave-trade would be no longer necessary.

A sudden abolition, also, would occasion dissatisfaction there. Supplies
were necessary for some time to come. The Negros did not yet generally
increase by birth. The gradation of ages was not yet duly filled. These and
many defects might be remedied, but not suddenly.

It would cause also distress there. The planters, not having their expected
supplies, could not discharge their debts. Hence their slaves would be
seized and sold. Nor was there any provision in this case against the
separation of families, except as to the mother and infant child. These
separations were one of the chief outrages complained of in Africa. Why
then should we promote them in the West Indies? The confinement on board a
slave-ship had been also bitterly complained of; but, under distraint for
the debt of a master, the poor slave might linger in a gaol twice or thrice
the time of the Middle Passage.

He again stated his abhorrence of the Slave-trade; but as a resource,
though he hoped but a temporary one, it was of such consequence to the
existence of the country, that it could not suddenly be withdrawn. The
value of the imports and exports between Great Britain and the West Indies,
including the excise and customs, was between seven and eight millions
annually; and the tonnage of the ships employed, about an eighth of the
whole tonnage of these kingdoms.

He complained that in the evidence the West India planters had been by no
means spared. Cruel stories had been hastily and lightly told against them.
Invidious comparisons had been made to their detriment. But it was well
known, that one of our best comic writers, when he wished to show
benevolence in its fairest colours, had personified it in the character of
the West Indian. He wished the slave might become as secure as the
apprentice in this country: but it was necessary that the alarms concerning
the abolition of the Slave-trade should, in the mean time, be quieted; and
he trusted that the good sense and true benevolence of the House would
reject the present motion.

Mr. Matthew Montagu rose, and said a few words in support of the motion;
and after condemning the trade in the strongest manner, he declared, that
as long as he had life, he would use every faculty of his body and mind in
endeavouring to promote its abolition.

Lord John Russell succeeded Mr. Montagu. He said, that although slavery was
repugnant to his feelings, he must vote against the abolition, as visionary
and delusive. It was a feeble attempt without the power to serve the cause
of humanity. Other nations would take up the trade. Whenever a bill of wise
regulation should be brought forward, no man would be more ready than
himself to lend his support. In this way the rights of humanity might be
asserted without injury to others. He hoped he should not incur censure by
his vote; for, let his understanding be what it might, he did not know that
he had, notwithstanding the assertions of Mr. Fox, an inaccessible heart.

Mr. Stanley (agent for the islands) rose next. He felt himself called upon,
he said, to refute the many calumnies, which had for years been propagated
against the planters, (even through the medium of the pulpit, which should
have been employed to better purposes,) and which had at length produced
the mischievous measure, which was now under the discussion of the House. A
cry had been sounded forth, and from one end of the kingdom to the other;
as if there had never been a slave from Adam to the present time. But it
appeared to him to have been the intention of Providence, from the very
beginning, that one set of men should be slaves to another. This truth was
as old as it was universal. It was recognized in every history, under every
government, and in every religion. Nor did the Christian religion itself,
if the comments of Dr. Halifax, bishop of Gloucester, on a passage in St.
Paul's epistle to the Corinthians were true, show more repugnance to
slavery than any other.

He denied that the slaves were procured in the manner which had been
described. It was the custom of all savages to kill their prisoners; and
the Africans ought to be thankful that they had been carried safe into the
British colonies.

As to the tales of misery in the Middle Passage, they were gross
falsehoods; and as to their treatment in the West Indies, he knew
personally that it was, in general, indulgent and humane.

With regard to promoting their increase by any better mode of treatment, he
wished gentlemen would point it out to him. As a planter he would thank
them for it. It was absurd to suppose that he and others were blind to
their own interest. It was well known that one Creole slave was worth two
Africans: and their interest therefore must suggest to them that the
propagation of slaves was preferable to the purchase of imported Negros, of
whom one half very frequently died in the seasoning.

He then argued the impossibility of beasts doing the work of the
plantations. He endeavoured to prove that the number of these, adequate to
this purpose, could not be supplied with food; and after having made many
other observations, which, on account of the lowness of his voice, could
not be heard, he concluded by objecting to the motion.

Mr. William Smith rose. He wondered how the last speaker could have had the
boldness to draw arguments from scripture in support of the Slave-trade.
Such arguments could be intended only to impose on those, who never took
the trouble of thinking for themselves. Could it be thought for a moment,
that the good sense of the House could be misled by a few perverted or
misapplied passages, in direct opposition to the whole tenor and spirit of
Christianity; to the theory, he might say, of almost every religion, which
had ever appeared in the world? Whatever might have been advanced, every
body must feel, that the Slave-trade could not exist an hour, if that
excellent maxim, "to do to others as we would wish that others should do to
us," had its proper influence on the conduct of men.

Nor was Mr. Stanley more happy in his argument of the antiquity and
universality of slavery. Because a practice had existed, did it necessarily
follow that it was just? By this argument every crime might be defended
from the time of Cain. The slaves of antiquity, however, were in a
situation far preferable to that of the Negros in the West Indies. A
passage in Macrobius, which exemplified this in the strongest manner, was
now brought to his recollection. "Our ancestors," says Macrobius,
"denominated the master father of the family, and the slave domestic, with
the intention of removing all odium from the condition of the master, and
all contempt from that of the servant." Could this language be applied to
the present state of West India slavery?

It had been complained of by those who supported the trade, that they
laboured under great disadvantages by being obliged to contend against the
most splendid abilities which the House could boast. But he believed they
laboured under one, which was worse, and for which no talents could
compensate; he meant the impossibility of maintaining their ground fairly
on any of those principles, which every man within those walls had been
accustomed, from his infancy, to venerate as sacred. He and his friends too
laboured under some disadvantages. They had been charged with fanaticism.
But what had Mr. Long said, when he addressed himself to those planters,
who were desirous of attempting improvements on their estates? He advised
them "not to be diverted by partial views, vulgar prejudices, or the
ridicule which might spring from weak minds, from a benevolent attention to
the public good." But neither by these nor by other charges were he or his
friends to be diverted from the prosecution of their purpose. They were
convinced of the rectitude and high importance of their object; and were
determined never to desist from pursuing it, till it should be attained.

But they had to struggle with difficulties far more serious. The West
Indian interest, which opposed them, was a collected body; of great power,
affluence, connections, and respectability.

Artifice had also been employed. Abolition and emancipation had been so
often confounded, and by those who knew better, that it must have been
purposely done, to throw an odium on the measure which was now before them.

The abolitionists had been also accused as the authors of the late
insurrection in Dominica. A revolt had certainly taken place in that
island. But revolts there had occurred frequently before. Mr. Stanley
himself, in attempting to fix this charge upon them, had related
circumstances, which amounted to their entire exculpation. He had said,
that all was quiet there till the disturbances in the French islands; when
some Negros from the latter had found their way to Dominica, and had
excited the insurrection in question. He had also said, that the Negros in
our own islands hated the idea of the abolition; for they thought, as no
new labourers were to come in, they should be subjected to increased
hardships. But if they and their masters hated this same measure, how was
this coincidence of sentiment to give birth to insurrection?

Other fallacies also had been industriously propagated. Of the African
trade it had been said, that the exports amounted to a million annually;
whereas, from the report on the table, it had on an average amounted to
little more than half a million; and this included the articles for the
purchase of African produce, which were of the value of a hundred and forty
thousand pounds.

The East Indian trade, also, had been said to depend on the West Indian and
the African. In the first place, it had but very little connection with the
former at all. Its connection with the latter was principally on account of
the saltpetre, which it furnished for making gunpowder. Out of nearly three
millions of pounds in weight of the latter article, which had been exported
in a year from this country, one half had been sent to Africa alone; for
the purposes, doubtless, of maintaining peace, and encouraging civilization
among its various tribes! Four or five thousand persons were said also to
depend for their bread in manufacturing guns for the African trade; and
these, it was pretended, could not make guns of another sort.--But where
lay the difficulty?--One of the witnesses had unravelled it. He had seen
the Negros maimed by the bursting of these guns. They killed more from the
butt than from the muzzle. Another had stated, that on the sea-coast the
natives were afraid to fire a trade-gun.

In the West Indian commerce two hundred and forty thousand tons of shipping
were stated to be employed. But here deception intruded itself again. This
statement included every vessel, great and small, which went from the
British West Indies to America, and to the foreign islands; and, what was
yet more unfair, all the repeated voyages of each throughout the year. The
shipping, which could only fairly be brought into this account, did but
just exceed half that which had been mentioned.

In a similar manner had the islands themselves been overrated. Their value
had been computed, for the information of the privy council, at thirty-six
millions; but the planters had estimated them at seventy. The truth,
however, might possibly lie between these extremes. He by no means wished
to depreciate their importance; but he did not like that such palpable
misrepresentations should go unnoticed.

An honourable member (Colonel Tarleton) had disclaimed every attempt to
interest the feelings of those present, but had desired to call them to
reason and accounts. He also desired (though it was a question of feeling,
if any one ever was,) to draw the attention of the committee to reason and
accounts--to the voice of reason instead of that of prejudice, and to
accounts in the place of idle apprehensions. The result, he doubted not,
would be a full persuasion, that policy and justice were inseparable upon
this, as upon every other occasion.

The same gentleman had enlarged on the injustice of depriving the Liverpool
merchants of a business, on which were founded their honour and their
fortunes. On what part of it they founded their honour he could not
conjecture, except from those passages in the evidence, where it appeared,
that their agents in Africa had systematically practised every fraud and
villainy, which the meanest and most unprincipled cunning could suggest, to
impose on the ignorance of those with whom they traded.

The same gentleman had also lamented, that the evidence had not been taken
upon oath. He himself lamented it too. Numberless facts had been related by
eye-witnesses, called in support of the abolition, so dreadfully atrocious,
that they appeared incredible; and seemed rather, to use the expression of
Ossian, like "the histories of the days of other times." These procured for
the trade a species of acquittal, which it could not have obtained, had the
committee been authorised to administer an oath. He apprehended also, in
this case, that some other persons would have been rather more guarded in
their testimony. Captain Knox would not then perhaps have told the
committee, that six hundred slaves could have had comfortable room at night
in his vessel of about one hundred and forty tons; when there could have
been no more than five feet six inches in length, and fifteen inches in
breadth, to about two thirds of his number.

The same gentleman had also dwelt upon the Slave-trade as a nursery for
seamen. But it had appeared by the muster-rolls of the slave-vessels, then
actually on the table of the House, that more than a fifth of them died in
the service, exclusive of those who perished when discharged in the West
Indies; and yet he had been instructed by his constituents to maintain this
false position. His reasoning, too, was very curious; for, though numbers
might die, yet as one half, who entered, were landsmen, seamen were
continually forming. Not to dwell on the expensive cruelty of forming these
seamen by the yearly destruction of so many hundreds, this very statement
was flatly contradicted by the evidence. The muster-rolls from Bristol
stated the proportion of landmen in the trade there at one twelfth, and the
proper officers of Liverpool itself at but a sixteenth, of the whole
employed. In the face again of the most glaring facts, others had
maintained that the mortality in these vessels did not exceed that of other
trades in the tropical climates. But the same documents, which proved that
twenty-three per cent, were destroyed in this wasting traffic, proved that
in West India ships only about one and a half per cent. were lost,
including every casualty.--But the very men, under whose management this
dreadful mortality had been constantly occurring, had coolly said, that
much of it might be avoided by proper regulations. How criminal then were
they, who, knowing this, had neither publicly proposed, nor in their
practice adopted, a remedy!

The average loss of the slaves on board, which had been calculated by Mr.
Wilberforce at twelve and a half per cent., had been denied. He believed
this calculation, taking in all the circumstances connected with it, to be
true; but that for years not less than one tenth had so perished, he would
challenge those concerned in the traffic to disprove. Much evidence had
been produced on the subject; but the voyages had been generally selected.
There was only one, who had disclosed the whole account. This was Mr.
Anderson of London, whose engagements in this trade had been very
inconsiderable. His loss had only amounted to three per cent.; but,
unfortunately for the Slave-traders of Liverpool, his vessel had not taken
above three fourths of that number in proportion to the tonnage which they
had stated to be necessary to the very existence of their trade.

An honourable member (Mr. Grosvenor) had attributed the protraction of this
business to those who had introduced it. But from whom did the motion for
further evidence (when that of the privy council was refused) originate,
but from the enemies of the abolition? The same gentleman had said, it was
impossible to abolish the trade; but where was the impossibility of
forbidding the further importation of slaves into our own colonies? and
beyond this the motion did not extend.

The latter argument had also been advanced by Sir William Yonge and others.
But allowing it its full force, would there be no honour in the dereliction
of such a commerce? Would it be nothing publicly to recognise great and
just principles? Would our example be nothing?--Yes: every country would
learn, from our experiment, that American colonies could be cultivated
without the necessity of continual supplies equally expensive and

But we might do more than merely lay down principles or propose examples.
We might, in fact, diminish the evil itself immediately by no
inconsiderable part,--by the whole of our own supply: and here he could not
at all agree with the honourable baronet, in what seemed to him a
commercial paradox, that the taking away from an open trade by far the
largest customer, and the lessening of the consumption of the article,
would increase both the competition and the demand, and of course all those
mischiefs, which it was their intention to avert.

That the civilization of the Africans was promoted, as had been asserted,
by their intercourse with the Europeans, was void of foundation, as had
appeared from the evidence. In manners and dishonesty they had indeed
assimilated with those who frequented their coasts. But the greatest
industry and the least corruption of morals were in the interior, where
they were out of the way of this civilizing connection.

To relieve Africa from famine, was another of the benign reasons which had
been assigned for continuing the trade. That famines had occurred there, he
did not doubt; but that they should annually occur, and with such
arithmetical exactness as to suit the demands of the Slave-trade, was a
circumstance most extraordinary; so wonderful indeed, that, could it once
be proved, he should consider it as a far better argument in favour of the
divine approbation of that trade, than any which had ever yet been

As to the effect of the abolition on the West Indies, it would give weight
to every humane regulation which had been made; by substituting a certain
and obvious interest, in the place of one depending upon chances and
calculation. An honourable member (Mr. Stanley) had spoken of the
impossibility of cultivating the estates there without further importations
of Negros; and yet, of all the authorities he had brought to prove his
case, there was scarcely one which might not be pressed to serve more or
less effectually against him. Almost every planter he had named had found
his Negros increase under the good treatment he had professed to give them;
and it was an axiom, throughout the whole evidence, that wherever they were
well used importations were not necessary. It had been said indeed by some
adverse witnesses, that in Jamaica all possible means had been used to keep
up the stock by breeding; but how preposterous was this, when it was
allowed that the morals of the slaves had been totally neglected, and that
the planters preferred buying a larger proportion of males than females!

The misfortune was, that prejudice and not reason was the enemy to be
subdued. The prejudices of the West Indians on these points were numerous
and inveterate. Mr. Long himself had characterized them on this account, in
terms which he should have felt diffident in using. But Mr. Long had shown
his own prejudices also. For he justified the chaining of the Negros on
board the slave-vessels, on account of "their bloody, cruel, and malicious
dispositions." But hear his commendation of some of the Aborigines of
Jamaica, "who had miserably perished in caves, whither they had retired to
escape the tyranny of the Spaniards. These," says he, "left a glorious
monument of their having disdained to survive the loss of their liberty and
their country." And yet this same historian could not perceive that this
natural love of liberty might operate as strongly and as laudably in the
African Negro, as in the Indian of Jamaica.

He was concerned to acknowledge that these prejudices were yet further
strengthened by resentment against those who had taken an active part in
the abolition of the Slave-trade. But it was never the object of these to
throw a stigma on the whole body of the West Indians; but to prove the
miserable effects of the trade. This it was their duty to do; and if, in
doing this, disgraceful circumstances had come out, it was not their fault;
and it must never be forgotten that they were true.

That the slaves were exposed to great misery in the islands, was true as
well from inference as from facts: for what might not be expected from the
use of arbitrary power, where the three characters of party, judge, and
executioner were united! The slaves too were more capable on account of
their passions, than the beasts of the field, of exciting the passions of
their tyrants. To what a length the ill treatment of them might be carried,
might be learnt from the instance which General Tottenham mentioned to have
seen in the year 1780 in the streets of Bridge Town, Barbadoes: "A youth
about nineteen (to use his own words in the evidence), entirely naked, with
an iron collar about his neck, having five long projecting spikes. His body
both before and behind, was covered with wounds. His belly and thighs were
almost cut to pieces, with running ulcers all over them; and a finger might
have been laid in some of the weals. He could not sit down, because his
hinder part was mortified; and it was impossible for him to lie down, on
account of the prongs of his collar." He supplicated the General for
relief. The latter asked, who had punished him so dreadfully? The youth
answered, his master had done it. And because he could not work, this same
master, in the same spirit of perversion, which extorts from scripture a
justification of the Slave-trade, had fulfilled the apostolic maxim, that
he should have nothing to eat. The use he meant to make of this instance
was to show the unprotected state of the slaves. What must it be, where
such an instance could pass not only unpunished, but almost unregarded! If,
in the streets of London, but a dog were to be seen lacerated like this
miserable man, how would the cruelty of the wretch be execrated, who had
thus even abused a brute!

The judicial punishments also inflicted upon the Negro showed the low
estimation, in which, in consequence of the strength of old customs and
deep-rooted prejudices, they were held. Mr. Edwards, in his speech to the
Assembly at Jamaica, stated the following case, as one which had happened
in one of the rebellions there. Some slaves surrounded the dwelling-house
of their mistress. She was in bed with a lovely infant. They deliberated
upon the means of putting her to death in torment. But in the end one of
them reserved her for his mistress; and they killed her infant with an axe
before her face. "Now," says Mr. Edwards, (addressing himself to his
audience,) "you will think that no torments were too great for such
horrible excesses. Nevertheless I am of a different opinion. I think that
death, unaccompanied with cruelty, should be the utmost exertion of human
authority over our unhappy fellow-creatures." Torments, however, were
always inflicted in these cases. The punishment was gibbeting alive, and
exposing the delinquents to perish by the gradual effects of hunger,
thirst, and a parching sun; in which situation they were known to suffer
for nine days, with a fortitude scarcely credible, never uttering a single
groan. But horrible as the excesses might have been, which occasioned these
punishments, it muse be remembered, that they were committed by ignorant
savages, who had been dragged from all they held most dear; whose patience
had been exhausted by a cruel and loathsome confinement during their
transportation; and whose resentment had been wound up to the highest pitch
of fury by the lash of the driver.

But he would now mention another instance, by way of contrast, out of the
evidence. A child on board a slave-ship, of about ten months old, took sulk
and would not eat. The captain flogged it with a cat; swearing that he
would make it eat, or kill it. From this and other ill-treatment the
child's legs swelled. He then ordered some water to be made hot to abate
the swelling. But even his tender mercies were cruel; for the cook, on
putting his hand into the water, said it was too hot. Upon this the captain
swore at him, and ordered the feet to be put in. This was done. The nails
and skin came off. Oiled cloths were then put round them. The child was at
length tied to a heavy log. Two or three days afterwards, the captain
caught it up again; and repeated that he would make it eat, or kill it. He
immediately flogged it again, and in a quarter of an hour it died. But,
after the child was dead, whom should the barbarian select to throw it
overboard, but the wretched mother? In vain she started from the office. He
beat her, till he made her take up the child and carry it to the side of
the vessel. She then dropped it into the sea, turning her head the other
way that she might not see it. Now it would naturally be asked, Was not
this captain also gibbered alive? Alas! although the execrable, barbarity
of the European exceeded that of the Africans before mentioned, almost as
much as his opportunities of instruction had been greater than theirs, no
notice whatsoever was taken of this horrible action; and a thousand similar
cruelties had been committed in this abominable trade with equal impunity:
but he would say no more. He should vote for the abolition, not only as it
would do away all the evils complained of in Africa and the Middle Passage;
but as it would be the most effectual means of ameliorating the condition
of those unhappy persons, who were still to continue slaves in the British

Mr. Courtenay rose. He said, he could not but consider the assertion of Sir
William Yonge as a mistake, that the Slave-trade, if abandoned by us, would
fall into the hands of France. It ought to be recollected, with what
approbation the motion for abolishing it, made by the late Mirabeau, had
been received; although the situation of the French colonies might then
have presented obstacles to carrying the measure into immediate execution.
He had no doubt, if parliament were to begin, so wise and enlightened a
body as the National Assembly would follow the example. But even if France
were not to relinquish the trade, how could we, if justice required its
abolition, hesitate as to our part of it?

The trade, it had been said, was conducted upon the principles of humanity.
Yes: we rescued the Africans from what we were pleased to call their
wretched situation in their own country, and then we took credit for our
humanity; because, after having killed one half of them in the seasoning,
we substituted what we were again pleased to call a better treatment than
that which they would have experienced at home.

It had been stated that the principle of war among savages was a general
massacre. This was not true. They frequently adopted the captives into
their own families; and, so far from massacring the women and children,
they often gave them the protection which the weakness of their age and sex

There could be no doubt, that the practice of kidnapping prevailed in
Africa. As to witchcraft, it had been made a crime in the reign of James
the First in this country, for the purpose of informations; and how much
more likely were informations to take place in Africa, under the
encouragement afforded by the Slave-trade! This trade, it had been said,
was sanctioned by twenty-six acts of parliament. He did not doubt but
fifty-six might be found, by which parliament had sanctioned witchcraft; of
the existence of which we had now no belief whatever.

It had been said by Mr. Stanley, that the pulpit had been used as an
instrument of attack on the Slave-trade. He was happy to learn it had been
so well employed; and he hoped the Bishops would rise up in the House of
Lords, with the virtuous indignation which became them, to abolish a
traffic so contrary to humanity, justice, and religion.

He entreated every member to recollect, that on his vote that night
depended the happiness of millions; and that it was then in his power to
promote a measure, of which the benefits would be felt over one whole
quarter of the globe; that the seeds of civilization might, by the present
bill, be sown all over Africa; and the first principles of humanity be
established in regions, where they had hitherto been excluded by the
existence of this execrable trade.

Lord Carysfort rose, and said, that the great cause of the abolition had
flourished by the manner in which it had been opposed. No one argument of
solid weight has been adduced against it. It had been shown, but never
disproved, that the colonial laws were inadequate to the protection of the
slaves; that the punishments of the latter were most unmerciful; that they
were deprived of the right of self-defence against any White man; and, in
short, that the system was totally repugnant to the principles of the
British constitution.

Colonel Phipps followed Lord Carysfort. He denied that this was a question
in which the rights of humanity and the laws of nature were concerned. The
Africans became slaves in consequence of the constitution of their own
governments. These were founded in absolute despotism. Every subject was an
actual slave. The inhabitants were slaves to the great men; and the great
men were slaves to the Prince. Prisoners of war, too, were by law subject
to slavery. Such being the case, he saw no more cruelty in disposing of
them to our merchants, than to those of any other nation. Criminals also in
cases of adultery and witchcraft became slaves by the same laws.

It had been said, that there were no regulations in the West Indies for the
protection of slaves. There were several; though he was ready to admit,
that more were necessary; and he would go in this respect as far as
humanity might require. He had passed ten months in Jamaica, where he had
never seen any such acts of cruelty as had been talked of. Those which he
had seen were not exercised by the Whites, but by the Blacks. The dreadful
stories, which had been told, ought no more to fix a general stigma upon
the planters, than the story of Mrs. Brownrigg to stamp this polished
metropolis with the general brand of murder. There was once a haberdasher's
wife (Mrs. Nairne) who locked up her apprentice girl, and starved her to
death; but did ever any body think of abolishing haberdashery on this
account? He was persuaded the Negros in the West Indies were cheerful and
happy. They were fond of ornaments; but it was not the characteristic of
miserable persons to show a taste for finery. Such a taste, on the
contrary, implied a cheerful and contented mind. He was sorry to differ
from his friend Mr. Wilberforce, but he must oppose his motion.

Mr. Pitt rose, and said, that from the first hour of his having had the
honour to sit in parliament down to the present, among all the questions,
whether political or personal, in which it had been his fortune to take a
share, there had never been one in which his heart was so deeply interested
as in the present; both on account of the serious principles it involved,
and the consequences connected with it.

The present was not a mere question of feeling. The argument, which ought
in his opinion to determine the committee, was, that the Slave-trade was
unjust. It was therefore such a trade as it was impossible for him to
support, unless it could be first proved to him, that there were no laws of
morality binding upon nations; and that it was not the duty of a
legislature to restrain its subjects from invading the happiness of other
countries, and from violating the fundamental principles of justice.

Several had stated the impracticability of the measure before them. They
wished to see the trade abolished; but there was some necessity for
continuing it, which they conceived to exist. Nay, almost every one, he
believed, appeared to wish, that the further importation of slaves might
cease; provided it could be made out, that the population of the West
Indies could be maintained without it. He proposed therefore to consider
the latter point; for, as the impracticability of keeping up the population
there appeared to operate as the chief objection, he trusted that, by
showing it to be ill founded, he should clear away all other obstacles
whatever; so that, having no ground either of justice or necessity to stand
upon, there could be no excuse left to the committee for resisting the
present motion.

He might reasonably, however, hope that they would not reckon any small or
temporary disadvantage, which might arise from the abolition, to be a
sufficient reason against it. It was surely not any slight degree of
expediency, nor any small balance of profit, nor any light shades of
probability on the one side, rather than on the other, which would
determine them on this question. He asked pardon even for the supposition.
The Slave-trade was an evil of such magnitude, that there must be a common
wish in the committee at once to put an end to it, if there were no great
and serious obstacles. It was a trade, by which multitudes of unoffending
nations were deprived of the blessings of civilization, and had their peace
and happiness invaded. It ought therefore to be no common expediency, it
ought to be nothing less than the utter ruin of our islands, which it
became those to plead, who took upon them to defend the continuance of it.

He could not help thinking that the West India gentlemen had manifested an
over great degree of sensibility as to the point in question; and that
their alarms had been unreasonably excited upon it. He had examined the
subject carefully for himself; and he would now detail those reasons, which
had induced him firmly to believe, not only that no permanent mischief
would follow from the abolition; but not even any such temporary
inconvenience, as could be stated to be a reason for preventing the House
from agreeing to the motion before them; on the contrary, that the
abolition itself would lay the foundation for the more solid improvement of
all the various interests of those colonies.

In doing this he should apply his observations chiefly to Jamaica, which
contained more than half the slaves in the British West Indies; and if he
should succeed in proving that no material detriment could arise to the
population there, this would afford so strong a presumption with respect to
the other islands, that the House could no longer hesitate, whether they
should, or should not, put a stop to this most horrid trade.

In the twenty years ending in 1788, the annual loss of slaves in Jamaica
(that is, the excess of deaths above the births,) appeared to be one in the
hundred. In a preceding period the loss was greater; and, in a period
before that, greater still; there having been a continual gradation in the
decrease through the whole time. It might fairly be concluded, therefore,
that (the average loss of the last period being one per cent.) the loss in
the former part of it would be somewhat more, and in the latter part
somewhat less, than one per cent.; insomuch that it might be fairly
questioned, whether, by this time, the births and deaths in Jamaica might
not be stated as nearly equal. It was to be added, that a peculiar
calamity, which swept away fifteen thousand slaves, had occasioned a part
of the mortality in the last-mentioned period. The probable loss,
therefore, now to be expected was very inconsiderable indeed.

There was, however, one circumstance to be added, which the West India
gentlemen, in stating this matter, had entirely overlooked; and which was
so material, as clearly to reduce the probable diminution in the population
of Jamaica down to nothing. In all the calculations he had referred to of
the comparative number of births and deaths, all the Negros in the island
were included. The newly imported, who died in the seasoning, made a part.
But these swelled, most materially, the number of the deaths. Now as these
extraordinary deaths would cease, as soon as the importations ceased, a
deduction of them ought to be made from his present calculation.

But the number of those, who thus died in the seasoning, would make up of
itself nearly the whole of that one per cent., which had been stated. He
particularly pressed an attention to this circumstance; for the complaint
of being likely to want hands in Jamaica, arose from the mistake of
including the present unnatural deaths, caused by the seasoning, among the
natural and perpetual causes of mortality. These deaths, being erroneously
taken into the calculations, gave the planters an idea, that the numbers
could not be kept up. These deaths, which were caused merely by the
Slave-trade, furnished the very ground, therefore, on which the continuance
of that trade had been thought necessary.

The evidence as to this point was clear; for it would be found in that
dreadful catalogue of deaths, arising from the seasoning and the passage,
which the House had been condemned to look into, that one half died. An
annual mortality of two thousand slaves in Jamaica might be therefore
charged to the importation; which, compared with the whole number on the
island, hardly fell short of the whole one per cent. decrease.

Joining this with all the other considerations, he would then ask, Could
the decrease of the slaves in Jamaica be such--could the colonies be so
destitute of means--could the planters, when by their own accounts they
were establishing daily new regulations for the benefit of the
slaves--could they, under all these circumstances, be permitted to plead
that total impossibility of keeping up their number, which they had rested
on, as being indeed the only possible pretext for allowing fresh
importations from Africa? He appealed therefore to the sober judgment of
all, whether the situation of Jamaica was such, as to justify a hesitation
in agreeing to the present motion.

It might be observed also, that, when the importations should stop, that
disproportion between the sexes, which was one of the obstacles to
population, would gradually diminish; and a natural order of things be
established. Through the want of this natural order a thousand grievances
were created, which it was impossible to define; and which it was in vain
to think that, under such circumstances, we could cure. But the abolition
of itself would work this desirable effect. The West Indians would then
feel a near and urgent interest to enter into a thousand little details,
which it was impossible for him to describe, but which would have the
greatest influence on population. A foundation would thus be laid for the
general welfare of the islands; a new system would rise up, the reverse of
the old; and eventually both their general wealth and happiness would

He had now proved far more than he was bound to do; for, if he could only
show that the abolition would not be ruinous, it would be enough. He could
give up, therefore, three arguments out of four, through the whole of what
he had said, and yet have enough left for his position. As to the Creoles,
they would undoubtedly increase. They differed in this entirely from the
imported slaves, who were both a burthen and a curse to themselves and
others. The measure now proposed would operate like a charm; and, besides
stopping all the miseries in Africa and the passage, would produce even
more benefit in the West Indies than legal regulations could effect.

He would now just touch upon the question of emancipation. A rash
emancipation of the slaves would be mischievous. In that unhappy situation,
to which our baneful conduct had brought ourselves and them, it would be no
justice on either side to give them liberty. They were as yet incapable of
it; but their situation might be gradually amended. They might be relieved
from every thing harsh and severe; raised from their present degraded
state; and put under the protection of the law. Till then, to talk of
emancipation was insanity. But it was the system of fresh importations,
which interfered with these principles of improvement; and it was only the
abolition which could establish them. This suggestion had its foundation in
human nature. Wherever the incentive of honour, credit, and fair profit
appeared, energy would spring up; and when these labourers should have the
natural springs of human action afforded them, they would then rise to the
natural level of human industry.

From Jamaica he would now go to the other islands. In Barbadoes the slaves
had rather increased. In St. Kitts the decrease for fourteen years had been
but three fourths per cent.; but here many of the observations would apply,
which he had used in the case of Jamaica. In Antigua many had died by a
particular calamity. But for this, the decrease would have been trifling.
In Nevis and Montserrat there was little or no disproportion of the sexes;
so that it might well be hoped, that the numbers would be kept up in these
islands. In Dominica some controversy had arisen about the calculation; but
Governor Orde had stated an increase of births above the deaths. From
Grenada and St. Vincents no accurate accounts had been delivered in answer
to the queries sent them; but they were probably not in circumstances less
favourable than in the other islands.

On a full review then, of the state of the Negro population in the West
Indies, was there any serious ground of alarm from the abolition of the
Slave-trade? Where was the impracticability, on which alone so many had
rested their objections? Must we not blush at pretending, that it would
distress our consciences to accede to this measure, as far as the question
of the Negro population was concerned?

Intolerable were the mischiefs of this trade, both in its origin and
through every stage of its progress. To say that slaves could be furnished
us by fair and commercial means was ridiculous. The trade sometimes ceased,
as during the late war. The demand was more or less according to
circumstances. But how was it possible, that to a demand so exceedingly
fluctuating the supply should always exactly accommodate itself? Alas! we
made human beings the subject of commerce; we talked of them as such; and
yet we would not allow them the common principle of commerce, that the
supply must accommodate itself to the consumption. It was not from wars,
then, that the slaves were chiefly procured. They were obtained in
proportion as they were wanted. If a demand for slaves arose, a supply was
forced in one way or other; and it was in vain, overpowered as we then were
with positive evidence, as well as the reasonableness of the supposition,
to deny that by the Slave-trade we occasioned all the enormities which had
been alleged against it.

Sir William Yonge had said, that, if we were not to take the Africans from
their country, they would be destroyed. But he had not yet read, that all
uncivilized nations destroyed their captives. We assumed therefore what was
false. The very selling of them implied this: for, if they would sell their
captives for profit, why should they not employ them so as to receive a
profit also? Nay, many of them, while there was no demand from the
slave-merchants, were often actually so employed. The trade, too, had been
suspended during the war; and it was never said, or thought, that any such
consequence had then followed.

The honourable baronet had also said in justification of the Slave-trade,
that witchcraft commonly implied poison, and was therefore a punishable
crime; but did he recollect that not only the individual accused, but that
his whole family, were sold as slaves? The truth was, we stopped the
natural progress of civilization in Africa. We cut her off from the
opportunity of improvement. We kept her down in a state of darkness,
bondage, ignorance and bloodshed. Was not this an awful consideration for
this country? Look at the map of Africa, and see how little useful
intercourse had been established on that vast continent! While other
countries were assisting and enlightening each other, Africa alone had none
of these benefits. We had obtained as yet only so much knowledge of her
productions, as to show that there was a capacity for trade, which we
checked. Indeed, if the mischiefs there were out of the question, the
circumstance of the Middle Passage alone would, in his mind, be reason
enough for the abolition. Such a scene as that of the slave-ships passing
over with their wretched cargoes to the West Indies, if it could be spread
before the eyes of the House, would be sufficient of itself to make them
vote in favour of it; but when it could be added, that the interest even of
the West Indies themselves rested on the accomplishment of this great
event, he could not conceive an act of more imperious duty, than that,
which was imposed upon the House, of agreeing to the present motion.

Sir Archibald Edmonstone rose, and asked, whether the present motion went
so far, as to pledge those who voted for it, to a total and immediate

Mr. Alderman Watson rose next. He defended the Slave-trade as highly
beneficial to the country, being one material branch of its commerce. But
he could not think of the African trade without connecting it with the West
Indian. The one hung upon the other. A third important branch also depended
upon it; which was the Newfoundland fishery: the latter could not go on, if
it were not for the vast quantity of inferior fish bought up for the Negros
in the West Indies; and which was quite unfit for any other market. If
therefore we destroyed the African, we destroyed the other trades. Mr.
Turgot, he said, had recommended in the National Assembly of France the
gradual abolition of the Slave-trade. He would therefore recommend it to
the House to adopt the same measure, and to soften the rigours of slavery
by wholesome regulations; but an immediate abolition he could not

Mr. Fox at length rose. He observed that some expressions, which he had
used on the preceding day, had been complained of as too harsh and severe.
He had since considered them; but he could not prevail upon himself to
retract them; because, if any gentleman, after reading the evidence on the
table, and attending to the debate, could avow himself an abetter of this
shameful traffic in human flesh, it could only be either from some hardness
of heart, or some difficulty of understanding, which he really knew not how
to account for.

Some had considered this question as a question of political, whereas it
was a question of personal, freedom. Political freedom was undoubtedly a
great blessing; but, when it came to be compared with personal, it sank to
nothing. To confound the two, served therefore to render all arguments on
either perplexing and unintelligible. Personal freedom was the first right
of every human being. It was a right, of which he who deprived a
fellow-creature was absolutely criminal in so depriving him, and which he
who withheld was no less criminal in withholding. He could not therefore
retract his words with respect to any, who (whatever respect he might
otherwise have for them) should, by their vote of that night, deprive their
fellow-creatures of so great a blessing. Nay, he would go further. He would
say, that if the House, knowing what the trade was by the evidence, did not
by their vote mark to all mankind their abhorrence of a practice so savage,
so enormous, so repugnant to all laws human and divine, they would consign
their character to eternal infamy.

That the pretence of danger to our West Indian islands from the abolition
of the Slave-trade was totally unfounded, Mr. Wilberforce had abundantly
proved: but if there were they, who had not been satisfied with that proof,
was it possible to resist the arguments of Mr. Pitt on the same subject? It
had been shown, on a comparison of the births and deaths in Jamaica, that
there was not now any decrease of the slaves. But if there had been, it
would have made no difference to him in his vote; for, had the mortality
been ever so great there, he should have ascribed it to the system of
importing Negros, instead of that of encouraging their natural increase.
Was it not evident, that the planters thought it more convenient to buy
them fit for work, than to breed them? Why, then, was this horrid trade to
be kept up?--To give the planters, truly, the liberty of misusing their
slaves, so as to check population; for it was from ill-usage only that, in
a climate so natural to them, their numbers could diminish. The very
ground, therefore, on which the planters rested the necessity of fresh
importations, namely, the destruction of lives in the West Indies, was
itself the strongest argument that could be given, and furnished the most
imperious call upon parliament for the abolition of the trade.

Against this trade innumerable were the charges. An honourable member, Mr.
Smith, had done well to introduce those tragical stories, which had made
such an impression upon the House. No one of these had been yet
controverted. It had indeed been said, that the cruelty of the African
captain to the child was too bad to be true; and we had been desired to
look at the cross-examination of the witness, as if we should find traces
of the falsehood of his testimony there. But his cross-examination was
peculiarly honourable to his character; for after he had been pressed, in
the closest manner, by some able members of the House, the only
inconsistency they could fix upon him was, whether the fact had happened on
the same day of the same month of the year 1764 or the year 1765.

But it was idle to talk of the incredibility of such instances. It was not
denied, that absolute power was exercised by the slave-captains; and if
this was granted, all the cruelties charged upon them would naturally
follow. Never did he hear of charges so black and horrible as those
contained in the evidence on the table. They unfolded such a scene of
cruelty, that if the House, with all their present knowledge of the
circumstances, should dare to vote for its continuance, they must have
nerves, of which he had no conception. We might find instances indeed, in
history, of men violating the feelings of nature on extraordinary
occasions. Fathers had sacrificed their sons and daughters, and husbands
their wives; but to imitate their characters we ought to have not only
nerves as strong as the two Brutuses, but to take care that we had a cause
as good; or that we had motives for such a dereliction of our feelings as
patriotic as those, which historians had annexed to these when they handed
them to the notice of the world.

But what was our motive in the case before us?--to continue a trade which
was a wholesale sacrifice of a whole order and race of our
fellow-creatures; which carried them away by force from their native
country, in order to subject them to the mere will and caprice, the tyranny
and oppression, of other human beings, for their whole natural lives, them
and their posterity for ever!! O most monstrous wickedness! O unparalleled
barbarity! And, what was more aggravating, this most complicated scene of
robbery and murder which mankind had ever witnessed, had been honoured by
the name of--trade.

That a number of human beings should be at all times ready to be furnished
as fair articles of commerce, just as our occasions might require, was
absurd. The argument of Mr. Pitt on this head was unanswerable. Our demand
was fluctuating: it entirely ceased at some times: at others it was great
and pressing. How was it possible, on every sudden call, to furnish a
sufficient return in slaves, without resorting to those execrable means of
obtaining them, which were stated in the evidence? These were of three
sorts, and he would now examine them.

Captives in war, it was urged, were consigned either to death or slavery.
This, however, he believed to be false in point of fact. But suppose it
were true; Did it not become us, with whom it was a custom, founded in the
wisest policy, to pay the captives a peculiar respect and civility, to
inculcate the same principles in Africa? But we were so far from doing
this, that we encouraged wars for the sake of taking, not men's goods and
possessions, but men themselves; and it was not the war which was the cause
of the Slave-trade, but the Slave-trade which was the cause of the war. If
was the practice of the slave-merchants to try to intoxicate the African
kings in order to turn them to their purpose. A particular instance
occurred in the evidence of a prince, who, when sober, resisted their
wishes; but in the moment of inebriety he gave the word for war, attacked
the next village, and sold the inhabitants to the merchants.

The second mode was kidnapping. He referred the House to various instances
of this in the evidence: but there was one in particular, from which we
might immediately infer the frequency of the practice. A Black trader had
kidnapped a girl and sold her; but he was presently afterwards kidnapped
and sold himself; and, when he asked the captain who bought him, "What! do
you buy me, who am a great trader?" the only answer was, "Yes, I will buy
you, or her, or any body else, provided any one will sell you;" and
accordingly both the trader and the girl were carried to the West Indies
and sold for slaves.

The third mode of obtaining slaves was by crimes committed or imputed. One
of these was adultery. But was Africa the place, where Englishmen, above
all others, were to go to find out and punish adulterers? Did it become us
to cast the first stone? It was a most extraordinary pilgrimage for a most
extraordinary purpose! And yet upon this plea we justified our right of
carrying off its inhabitants. The offence alleged next was witchcraft. What
a reproach it was to lend ourselves to this superstition!--Yes: we stood
by; we heard the trial; we knew the crime to be impossible; and that the
accused must be innocent: but we waited in patient silence for his
condemnation; and then we lent our friendly aid to the police of the
country, by buying the wretched convict, with all his family; whom, for the
benefit of Africa, we carried away also into perpetual slavery.

With respect to the situation of the slaves in their transportation, he
knew not how to give the House a more correct idea of the horrors of it,
than by referring them to the printed section of the slave-ship; where the
eye might see what the tongue must fall short in describing. On this dismal
part of the subject he would not dwell. He would only observe, that the
acts of barbarity, related of the slave-captains in these voyages, were so
extravagant, that they had been attributed in some instances to insanity.
But was not this the insanity of arbitrary power? Who ever read the facts
recorded of Nero without suspecting he was mad? Who would not be apt to
impute insanity to Caligula--or Domitian--or Caracalla--or Commodus--or
Heliogabalus? Here were six Roman emperors, not connected in blood, nor by
descent, who, each of them, possessing arbitrary power, had been so
distinguished for cruelty, that nothing short of insanity could be imputed
to them. Was not the insanity of the masters of slave-ships to be accounted
for on the same principles?

Of the slaves in the West Indies it had been said, that they were taken
from a worse state to a better. An honourable member, Mr. W. Smith, had
quoted some instances out of the evidence to the contrary. He also would
quote one or two others. A slave under hard usage had run away. To prevent
a repetition of the offence his owner sent for his surgeon, and desired him
to cut off the man's leg. The surgeon refused. The owner, to render it a
matter of duty in the surgeon, broke it. "Now," says he, "you must cut it
off; or the man will die." We might console ourselves, perhaps, that this
happened in a French island; but he would select another instance, which
had happened in one of our own. Mr. Ross heard the shrieks of a female
issuing from an outhouse; and so piercing, that he determined to see what
was going on. On looking in he perceived a young female tied up to a beam
by her wrists; entirely naked; and in the act of involuntary writhing and
swinging; while the author of her torture was standing below her with a
lighted torch in his hand, which he applied to all the parts of her body as
it approached him. What crime this miserable woman had perpetrated he knew
not; but the human mind could not conceive a crime warranting such a

He was glad to see that these tales affected the House. Would they then
sanction enormities, the bare recital of which made them shudder? Let them
remember that humanity did not consist in a squeamish ear. It did not
consist in shrinking and starting at such tales as these; but in a
disposition of the heart to remedy the evils they unfolded. Humanity
belonged rather to the mind than to the nerves. But, if so, it should
prompt men to charitable exertion. Such exertion was necessary in the
present case. It was necessary for the credit of our jurisprudence at home,
and our character abroad. For what would any man think of our justice, who
should see another hanged for a crime, which would be innocence itself, if
compared with those enormities, which were allowed in Africa and the West
Indies under the sanction of the British parliament?

It had been said, however, in justification of the trade, that the Africans
were less happy at home than in the Islands. But what right had we to be
judges of their condition? They would tell us a very different tale, if
they were asked. But it was ridiculous to say, that we bettered their
condition, when we dragged them from every thing dear in life to the most
abject state of slavery.

One argument had been used, which for a subject so grave was the most
ridiculous he had ever heard. Mr. Alderman Watson had declared the
Slave-trade to be necessary on account of its connection with our
fisheries. But what was this but an acknowledgment of the manner, in which
these miserable beings were treated? The trade was to be kept up, with all
its enormities, in order that there might be persons to consume the refuse
fish from Newfoundland, which was too bad for any body else to eat.

It had been said that England ought not to abolish the Slave-trade, unless
other nations would also give it up. But what kind of morality was this?
The trade was defensible upon no other principle than that of a highwayman.
Great Britain could not keep it upon these terms. Mere gain was not a
motive for a great country to rest on, as a justification of any measure.
Honour was its superior; and justice was superior to honour.

With regard to the emancipation of those in slavery, he coincided with Mr.
Wilberforce and Mr. Pitt; and upon this principle, that it might be as
dangerous to give freedom at once to a man used to slavery, as, in the case
of a man who had never seen day-light, to expose him all at once to the
full glare of a meridian sun.

With respect to the intellect and sensibility of the Africans, it was pride
only, which suggested a difference between them and ourselves. There was a
remarkable instance to the point in the evidence, and which he would quote.
In one of the slave-ships was a person of consequence; a man, once high in
a military station, and with a mind not insensible to the eminence of his
rank. He had been taken captive and sold; and was then in the hold,
confined promiscuously with the rest. Happening in the night to fall
asleep, he dreamed that he was in his own country; high in honour and
command; caressed by his family and friends; waited on by his domestics;
and surrounded with all his former comforts in life. But awaking suddenly,
and finding where he was, he was heard to burst into the loudest groans and
lamentations on the miserable contrast of his present state; mixed with the
meanest of his subjects; and subjected to the insolence of wretches a
thousand times lower than himself in every kind of endowment. He appealed
to the House, whether this was not as moving a picture of the miserable
effects of the Slave-trade, as could be well imagined. There was one way,
by which they might judge of it. Let them make the case their own. This was
the Christian rule of judging; and, having mentioned Christianity, he was
sorry to find that any should suppose, that it had given countenance to
such a system of oppression. So far was this from being the case, that he
thought it one of the most splendid triumphs of this religion, that it had
caused slavery to be so generally abolished on its appearance in the world.
It had done this by teaching us, among other beautiful precepts, that, in
the sight of their Maker, all mankind were equal. Its influence appeared to
have been more powerful in this respect than that of all the ancient
systems of philosophy; though even in these, in point of theory, we might
trace great liberality and consideration for human rights. Where could be
found finer sentiments of liberty than in Demosthenes and Cicero? Where
bolder assertions of the rights of mankind, than in Tacitus and Thucydides?
But, alas! these were the holders of slaves! It was not so with those who
had been converted to Christianity. He knew, however, that what he had been
ascribing to Christianity had been imputed by others to the advances which
philosophy had made. Each of the two parties took the merit to itself. The
philosopher gave it to philosophy, and the divine to religion. He should
not then dispute with either of them; but, as both coveted the praise, why
should they not emulate each other by promoting this improvement in the
condition of the human race?

He would now conclude by declaring, that the whole country, indeed the
whole civilized world, must rejoice that such a bill as the present had
been moved for, not merely as a matter of humanity, but as an act of
justice; for he would put humanity out of the case. Could it be called
humanity to forbear from committing murder? Exactly upon this ground did
the present motion stand; being strictly a question of national justice. He
thanked Mr. Wilberforce for having pledged himself so strongly to pursue
his object till it was accomplished; and, as for himself, he declared,
that, in whatever situation he might ever be, he would use his warmest
efforts for the promotion of this righteous cause.

Mr. Stanley (the member for Lancashire) rose, and declared that, when he
came into the house, he intended to vote against the abolition; but that
the impression made both on his feelings and on his understanding was such,
that he could not persist in his resolution. He was now convinced that the
entire abolition of the Slave-trade was called for equally by sound policy
and justice. He thought it right and fair to avow manfully this change in
his opinion. The abolition, he was sure, could not long fail of being
carried. The arguments for it were irresistible.

The honourable Mr. Ryder said, that he came to the house, not exactly in
the same circumstances as Mr. Stanley, but very undecided on the subject.
He was, however, so strongly convinced by the arguments he had heard, that
he was become equally earnest for the abolition.

Mr. Smith (member for Pontefract) said, that he should not trouble the
House at so late an hour, further than to enter his protest, in the most
solemn manner, against this trade, which he considered as most disgraceful
to the country, and contrary to all the principles of justice and religion.

Mr. Sumner declared himself against the total, immediate, and unqualified
abolition, which he thought would wound at least the prejudices of the West
Indians, and might do mischief; but a gradual abolition should have his
hearty support.

Major Scott declared there was no member in the house, who would give a
more independent vote upon this question than himself. He had no concern
either in the African or West Indian trades; but in the present state of
the finances of the country, he thought it would be a dangerous experiment
to risk any one branch of our foreign commerce. As far as regulation would
go, he would join in the measure.

Mr. Burke said he would use but few words. He declared that he had for a
long time had his mind drawn towards this great subject. He had even
prepared a bill for the regulation of the trade, conceiving at that time
that the immediate abolition of it was a thing hardly to be hoped for; but
when he found that Mr. Wilberforce had seriously undertaken the work, and
that his motion was for the abolition, which he approved much more than his
own, he had burnt his papers; and made an offering of them in honour of his
nobler proposition, much in the same manner as we read, that the curious
books were offered up and burnt at the approach of the Gospel. He highly
applauded the confessions of Mr. Stanley and Mr. Ryder. It would be a
glorious tale for them to tell their constituents, that it was impossible
for them, however prejudiced, if sent to hear discussion in that house, to
avoid surrendering up their hearts and judgments at the shrine of reason.

Mr. Drake said, that he would oppose the abolition to the utmost. We had by
a want of prudent conduct lost America. The house should be aware of being
carried away by the meteors with which they had been dazzled. The leaders,
it was true, were for the abolition; but the minor orators, the dwarfs, the
pigmies, he trusted, would that night carry the question against them. The
property of the West Indians was at stake; and, though men might be
generous with their own property, they should not be so with the property
of others.

Lord Sheffield reprobated the overbearing language, which had been used by
some gentlemen towards others, who differed in opinion from them on a
subject of so much difficulty as the present. He protested against a
debate, in which he could trace nothing like reason; but, on the contrary,
downright phrensy, raised perhaps by the most extraordinary eloquence. The
abolition, as proposed, was impracticable. He denied the right of the
legislature to pass a law for it. He warned the Chancellor of the Exchequer
to beware of the day, on which the bill should pass, as the worst he had
ever seen.

Mr. Milnes declared, that he adopted all those expressions against the
Slave-trade, which had been thought so harsh; and that the opinion of the
noble lord had been turned in consequence of having become one of the
members for Bristol. He quoted a passage from Lord Sheffield's pamphlet;
and insisted that the separation of families in the West Indies, there
complained of by himself, ought to have compelled him to take the contrary
side of the question.

Mr. Wilberforce made a short reply to some arguments in the course of the
debate; after which, at half past three in the morning, the House divided.
There appeared for Mr. Wilberforce's motion eighty-eight, and against it
one hundred and sixty-three; so that it was lost by a majority of
seventy-five votes.

By this unfavourable division the great contest, in which we had been so
long engaged, was decided. We were obliged to give way to superior numbers.
Our fall, however, grievous as it was, was rendered more tolerable by the
circumstance of having been prepared to expect it. It was rendered more
tolerable also by other considerations; for we had the pleasure of knowing,
that we had several of the most distinguished characters in the kingdom,
and almost all the splendid talents of the House of Commons[A], in our
favour. We knew too, that the question had not been carried against us
either by evidence or by argument; but that we were the victims of the
accidents and circumstances of the times. And as these considerations
comforted us, when we looked forward to future operations on this great
question, so we found great consolation as to the past, in believing, that,
unless human constitutions were stronger then they really were, we could
not have done more than we had done towards the furtherance of the cause.

[Footnote A: It is a pity that no perfect list was ever made of this or of
any other division in the House of Commons on this subject. I can give,
however, the names of the following members, as having voted for Mr.
Wilberforce's motion at this time.

Mr. Pitt, Hon. R. Fitzpatrick,
Mr. Fox, Sir William Dolben,
Mr. Burke, Sir Henry Houghton,
Mr. Grey, Sir Edward Lyttleton,
Mr. Windham, Sir William Scott,
Mr. Sheridan, Mr. Samuel Thornton,
Mr. Whitbread, Mr. Henry Thornton,
Mr. Courtenay, Mr. Robert Thornton,
Mr. Francis, Mr. Duncombe,
Mr. Wilberforce, Mr. Martin,
Mr. Ryder, Mr. Milnes,
Mr. William Smith, Mr. Steele,
Mr. John Smyth, Mr. Coke,
Mr. Robert Smith, Mr. Elliott,
Mr. Powys, Mr. Montagu,
Lord Apsley, Mr. Bastard,
Lord Bayham, Mr. Stanley,
Lord Arden, Mr. Plumer,
Lord Carysfort, Mr. Beaufoy,
Lord Muncaster, Mr. I.H. Browne,
Lord Barnard, Mr. G.N. Edwards,
Lord North, Mr. W.M. Pitt,
Lord Euston, Mr. Bankes.
General Burgoyne]

The committee for the abolition held a meeting soon after this our defeat.
It was the most impressive I ever attended. The looks of all bespoke the
feelings of their hearts. Little was said previously to the opening of the
business; and, after it was opened, it was conducted with a kind of solemn
dignity, which became the occasion. The committee, in the course of its
deliberations, came to the following resolutions:

That the thanks of this committee be respectfully given to the illustrious
minority of the House of Commons, who lately stood forth the assertors of
British justice and humanity, and the enemies of a traffic in the blood of

That our acknowledgements are particularly due to William Wilberforce,
esquire, for his unwearied exertions to remove this opprobrium of our
national character; and to the right honourable William Pitt, and the right
honourable Charles James Fox, for their virtuous and dignified cooperation
in the same cause.

That the solemn declarations of these gentlemen, and of Matthew Montagu and
William Smith, esquires, that they will not relinquish, but with life,
their struggle for the abolition of the Slave-trade, are not only highly
honourable to themselves as Britons, as Statesmen, and as Christians, but
must eventually, as the light of evidence shall be more and more diffused,
be seconded by the good wishes of every man not immediately interested in
the continuance of that detestable commerce.

And, lastly, that anticipating the opposition they should have to sustain
from persons trained to a familiarity with the rapine and desolation
necessarily attendant on the Slave-trade, and sensible also of the
prejudices which implicitly arise from long-established usages, this
committee consider the late decision in the House of Commons as a delay,
rather than a defeat. In addressing a free and enlightened nation on a
subject, in which its justice, its humanity, and its wisdom are involved,
they cannot despair of final success; and they do hereby, under an
increasing conviction of the excellence of their cause, and inconformity to
the distinguished examples before them, renew their firm protestation, that
they will never desist from appealing to their countrymen, till the
commercial intercourse with Africa shall cease to be polluted with the
blood of its inhabitants.

These resolutions were published, and they were followed by a suitable

The committee, in order to strengthen themselves for the prosecution of

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