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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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before, that the Slave-trade should cease in the year 1800; upon which Lord
Mornington moved, that the year 1795 should be substituted for the latter

In the course of the debate, which followed, Mr. Hubbard said, that he had
voted against the abolition, when the year 1793 was proposed; but he
thought that, if it were not to take place till 1795, sufficient time would
be allowed the planters. He would support this amendment; and he
congratulated the House on the prospect of the final triumph of truth,
humanity, and justice.

Mr. Addington preferred the year 1796 to the year 1795.

Mr. Alderman Watson considered the abolition in 1796 to be as destructive
as if it were immediate.

A division having taken place, the number of votes in favour of the
original motion were one hundred and sixty-one, and in favour of Lord
Mornington's amendment for the year 1795, one hundred and twenty-one. Sir
Edward Knatchbull, however, seeing that there was a disposition in the
House to bring the matter to a conclusion, and that a middle line would be
preferred, moved that the year 1796 should be substituted for the year
1800. Upon this the House divided again; when there appeared for the
original motion only one hundred and thirty-two, but for the amendment one
hundred and fifty-one.

The gradual abolition having been now finally agreed upon for the year
1796, a committee was named, which carried the resolution to the Lords.

On the eighth of May, the Lords were summoned to consider it. Lord
Stormont, after having spoken for some time, moved, that they should hear
evidence upon it. Lord Grenville opposed the motion on account of the
delay, which would arise from an examination of the witnesses by the House
at large: but he moved that such witnesses should be examined by a
committee of the House. Upon this a debate ensued, and afterwards a
division; when the original motion was carried by sixty-three against

On the 15th of May the Lords met again. Evidence was then ordered to be
summoned in behalf of those interested in the continuance of the trade. At
length it was introduced; but on the fifth of June, when only seven persons
had been examined, a motion was made and carried, that the farther
examinations should be postponed to the next session.


_Continuation from July 1792 to July 1793--Author travels round the kingdom
again--Motion to renew the resolution of the last year in the
Commons--Motion lost--New Motion in the Commons to abolish the foreign
Slave-trade--Motion lost--Proceedings of the Lords._

The resolution adopted by the Commons, that the trade should cease in 1796,
was a matter of great joy to many; and several, in consequence of it,
returned to the use of sugar. The committee, however, for the abolition did
not view it in the same favourable light. They considered it as a political
manoeuvre to frustrate the accomplishment of the object. But the
circumstance, which gave them the most concern, was the resolution of the
Lords to hear evidence. It was impossible now to say, when the trade would
cease. The witnesses in behalf of the merchants and planters had obtained
possession of the ground; and they might keep it, if they chose, even till
the year 1800, to throw light upon a measure which was to be adopted in
1796. The committee found too, that they had again the laborious task
before them of finding out new persons to give testimony in behalf of their
cause; for some of their former witnesses were dead, and others were out of
the kingdom; and unless they replaced these, there would be no probability
of making out that strong case in the Lords, which they had established in
the Commons. It devolved therefore upon me once more to travel for this
purpose: but as I was then in too weak a state to bear as much fatigue as
formerly, Dr. Dickson relieved me, by taking one part of the tour, namely,
that to Scotland, upon himself.

These journeys we performed with considerable success; during which the
committee elected Mr. Joseph Townsend of Baltimore, in Maryland, an
honorary and corresponding member.

Parliament having met, Mr. Wilberforce, in February 1793, moved, that the
House resolve itself into a committee of the whole House on Thursday next,
to consider of the circumstances of the Slave-trade. This motion was
opposed by Sir William Yonge, who moved, that this day six months should be
substituted for Thursday next. A debate ensued: of this, however, as well
as of several which followed, I shall give no account; as it would be
tedious to the reader to hear a repetition of the same arguments. Suffice
it to say, that the motion was lost by a majority of sixty-one to

This sudden refusal of the House of Commons to renew their own vote of the
former year gave great uneasiness to the friends of the cause. Mr.
Wilberforce, however, resolved, that the session should not pass without an
attempt to promote it in another form; and accordingly, on the fourteenth
of May, he moved for leave to bring in a bill to abolish that part of the
Slave-trade, by which the British merchants supplied foreigners with
slaves. This motion was opposed like the former; but was carried by a
majority of seven. The bill was then brought in; and it passed its first
and second reading with little opposition; but on the fifth of June,
notwithstanding the eloquence of Mr. Pitt and of Mr. Fox, and the very able
speeches of Mr. Francis, Mr. Courtenay, and others, it was lost by a
majority of thirty-one to twenty-nine.

In the interval between these motions the question experienced in the Lords
considerable opposition. The Duke of Clarence moved that the House should
not proceed in the consideration of the Slave-trade till after the Easter
recess. The Earl of Abingdon was still more hostile afterwards. He
deprecated the new philosophy. It was as full of mischief as the Box of
Pandora. The doctrine of the abolition of the Slave-trade was a species of
it; and he concluded by moving, that all further consideration of the
subject be postponed. To the epithet, then bestowed upon the abolition of
it by this nobleman, the Duke of Clarence added those of fanatics and
hypocrites! among whom he included Mr. Wilberforce by name. All the other
Lords, however, who were present, manifested such a dislike to the
sentiments of the Earl of Abingdon, that he withdrew this motion.

After this the hearing of evidence on the resolution of the House of
Commons was resumed; and seven persons were examined before the close of
the session.


_Continuation from July 1793 to July 1794--Author travels round the kingdom
again--Motion to abolish the foreign Slave-trade renewed in the
Commons--and carried--but lost in the Lords--further proceedings
there--Author, on account of his declining health, obliged to retire from
the cause._

The committee for the abolition could not view the proceedings of both
Houses of Parliament on this subject during the year 1793, without being
alarmed for the fate of their question. The only two sources of hope, which
they could discover, were in the disposition then manifested by the peers
as to the conduct of the Earl of Abingdon, and in their determination to
proceed in the hearing of evidence. The latter circumstance indeed was the
more favourable, as the resolution, upon which the witnesses were to be
examined, had not been renewed by the Commons. These considerations,
however, afforded no solid ground for the mind to rest upon. They only
broke in upon it, like faint gleams of sunshine, for a moment, and then
were gone. In this situation the committee could only console themselves by
the reflection, that they had done their duty. In looking, however, to
their future services, one thing, and only one, seemed practicable; and
this was necessary; namely, to complete the new body of evidence, which
they had endeavoured to form in the preceding year. The determination to do
this rendered another journey on my part indispensable; and I undertook it,
broken down us my constitution then was, beginning it in September 1793,
and completing it in February 1794.

Mr. Wilberforce, in this interval, had digested his plan of operations; and
accordingly, early in the session of 1794, he asked leave to renew his
former bill, to abolish that part of the trade, by means of which British
merchants supplied foreigners with slaves. This request was opposed by Sir
William Yonge; but it was granted, on a division of the House, by a
majority of sixty-three to forty votes.

When the bill was brought in, it was opposed by the same member; upon which
the House divided; and there appeared for Sir William Yonge's amendment
thirty-eight votes, but against it fifty-six.

On a motion for the recommitment of the bill, Lord Sheffield divided the
House, against whose motion there was a majority of forty-two. And, on the
third reading of it, it was opposed again; but it was at length carried.

The speakers against the bill were; Sir William Yonge, Lord Sheffield,
Colonel Tarleton, Alderman Newnham, and Mr. Payne, Este, Lechmere,
Cawthorne, Jenkinson, and Dent. Those who spoke in favour of it were; Mr.
Pitt, Fox, William Smith, Whitbread, Francis, Burdon, Vaughan, Barham, and
Serjeants Watson and Adair.

While the foreign Slave-bill was thus passing its stages in the Commons,
Dr. Horsley, bishop of Rochester, who saw no end to the examinations, while
the witnesses were to be examined at the bar of the House of Lords, moved,
that they should be taken in future before a committee above-stairs. Dr.
Porteus, bishop of London, and the Lords Guildford, Stanhope, and
Grenville, supported this motion. But the Lord Chancellor Thurlow, aided by
the Duke of Clarence, and by the Lords Mansfield, Hay, Abingdon, and
others, negatived it by a majority of twenty-eight.

At length the bill itself was ushered into the House of Lords. On reading
it a second time, it was opposed by the Duke of Clarence, Lord Abingdon,
and others. Lord Grenville and the Bishop of Rochester declined supporting
it. They alleged, as a reason, that they conceived the introduction of it
to have been improper pending the inquiry on the general subject of the
Slave-trade. This declaration brought up the Lords Stanhope and Lauderdale,
who charged them with inconsistency as professed friends of the cause. At
length the bill was lost. During these discussions the examination of the
witnesses was resumed by the Lords; but only two of them were heard in this

[Footnote A: After this the examinations wholly dropped in the House of

After this decision the question was in a desperate state; for if the
Commons would not renew their own resolution, and the Lords would not
abolish the foreign part of the Slave-trade, What hope was there, of
success? It was obvious too, that in the former House, Mr. Pitt and Mr.
Dundas voted against each other. In the latter, the Lord Chancellor Thurlow
opposed every motion in favour of the cause. The committee therefore were
reduced to this;--either they must exert themselves without hope, or they
must wait till some change should take place in their favour. As far as I
myself was concerned, all exertion was then over. The nervous system was
almost shattered to pieces. Both my memory and my hearing failed me. Sudden
dizziness seized my head. A confused singing in the ears followed me,
wherever I went. On going to bed the very stairs seemed to dance up and
down under me, so that, misplacing my foot, I sometimes fell. Talking too,
if it continued but half an hour, exhausted me, so that profuse
perspirations followed; and the same effect was produced even by an active
exertion of the mind for the like time. These disorders had been brought on
by degrees in consequence of the severe labours necessarily attached to the
promotion of the cause. For seven years I had a correspondence to maintain
with four hundred persons with my own hand. I had some book or other
annually to write in behalf of the cause. In this time I had travelled more
than thirty-five thousand miles in search of evidence, and a great part of
these journeys in the night. All this time my mind had been on the stretch.
It had been bent too to this one subject; for I had not even leisure to
attend to my own concerns. The various instances of barbarity, which had
come successively to my knowledge within this period, had vexed, harassed,
and afflicted it. The wound, which these had produced, was rendered still
deeper by those cruel disappointments before related, which arose from the
reiterated refusal of persons to give their testimony, after I had
travelled hundreds of miles in quest of them. But the severest stroke was
that inflicted by the persecution, begun and pursued by persons interested
in the continuance of the trade, of such witnesses as had been examined
against them; and whom, on account of their dependent situation in life, it
was most easy to oppress. As I had been the means of bringing these forward
on these occasions, they naturally came to me, when thus persecuted, as the
author of their miseries and their ruin. From their supplications and wants
it would have been ungenerous and ungrateful to have fled[A]. These
different circumstances, by acting together, had at length brought me into
the situation just mentioned; and I was therefore obliged, though very
reluctantly, to be borne out of the field, where I had placed the great
honour and glory of my life.

[Footnote A: The late Mr. Whitbread, to whom one day in deep affliction on
this account I related accidentally a circumstance of this kind, generously
undertook, in order to make my mind easy upon the subject, to make good all
injuries, which should in future arise to individuals from such
persecution; and he repaired these, at different times, at a considerable
expense. I feel it a duty to divulge this circumstance, out of respect to
the memory of one of the best of men, and of one, whom, if the history of
his life were written, it would appear to have been an extraordinary honour
to the country to have produced.]


_Continuation from July 1794 to July 1799--Various motions within this

I purpose, though it may seem abrupt after the division which has hitherto
been made of the contents of this volume, to throw the events of the next
five years into one chapter.

Mr. Wilberforce and the members of the committee, whose constitutions had
not suffered like my own, were still left; and they determined to persevere
in the promotion of their great object; as long as their health and their
faculties permitted them. The former, accordingly, in the month of February
1795, moved in the House of Commons for leave to bring in a bill for the
abolition of the Slave-trade. This motion was then necessary, if, according
to the resolution of that House, the Slave-trade was to cease in 1796. It
was opposed, however, by Sir William Yonge, and unfortunately lost by a
majority of seventy-eight to fifty-seven.

In the year 1796 Mr. Wilberforce renewed his efforts in the Commons. He
asked leave to bring in a bill for the abolition of the Slave-trade, but in
a limited time. The motion was opposed as before; but on a division, there
were for it ninety-three, and against it only sixty-seven.

The bill having been brought in, was opposed in its second reading; but it
was carried through it by a majority of sixty-four to thirty-one.

In a future stage it was opposed again; but it triumphed by a majority of
seventy-six to thirty-one. Mr. Eliott was then put into the chair. Several
clauses were adopted; and the first of March 1797 was fixed for the
abolition of the trade: but in the next stage of it, after a long speech
from Mr. Dundas, it was lost by a majority of seventy-four against seventy.

Mr. Francis, who had made a brilliant speech in the last debate,
considering that nothing effectual had been yet done on this great
question, and wishing that a practical beginning might be made, brought
forward soon afterwards, a motion relative to the improvement of the
condition of the slaves in the West Indies. This, after a short debate, was
negatived without a division. Mr. William Smith also moved an address to
His Majesty, that he would be pleased to give directions to lay before the
House copies of the several acts relative to regulations in behalf of the
slaves, passed by the different colonial assemblies since the year 1788.
This motion was adopted by the House. Thus passed away the session of 1796.

In the year 1797, while Mr. Wilberforce was deliberating upon the best
measure for the advancement of the cause, Mr. C. Ellis came forward with a
new motion. He began by declaring, that he agreed with the abolitionists as
to their object; but he differed with them as to the mode of attaining it.
The Slave-trade he condemned as a cruel and pernicious system; but, as it
had become an inveterate evil, he feared it could not be done away all at
once, without injury to the interests of numerous individuals, and even to
the Negros themselves. He concluded by moving an address to His Majesty,
humbly requesting, that he would give directions to the governors of the
West Indian islands, to recommend it to the colonial assemblies to adopt
such measures as might appear to them best calculated to ameliorate the
condition of the Negros, and thereby to remove gradually the Slave-trade;
and likewise to assure His Majesty of the readiness of this House to concur
in any measure to accelerate this desirable object. This motion was
seconded by Mr. Barham. It was opposed, however, by Mr. Wilberforce, Mr.
Pitt, and others; but was at length carried by a majority of ninety-nine to

In the year 1798 Mr. Wilberforce asked leave to renew his former bill, to
abolish the Slave-trade within a limited time. He was supported by Mr.
Canning, Mr. Hobhouse, Sir Robert Buxton, Mr. Bouverie, and others. Mr.
Sewell, Bryan Edwards, Henniker, and C. Ellis, took the opposite side of
the question. Mr. Ellis, however, observed, that he had no objection to
restricting the Slave-trade to plantations already begun in the colonies;
and Mr. Barham professed himself a friend to the abolition, if it could be
accomplished in a reasonable way. On a division, there appeared to be for
Mr. Wilberforce's motion eighty-three, but against it eighty-seven.

In the year 1799 Mr. Wilberforce, undismayed by these different
disappointments, renewed his motion. Colonel M. Wood, Mr. Petrie, and
others, among whom were Mr. Windham and Mr. Dundas, opposed it. Mr. Pitt,
Fox, W. Smith, Sir William Dolben, Sir R. Milbank, Mr. Hobhouse, and Mr.
Canning, supported it. Sir R. Milbank contended, that modifications of a
system fundamentally wrong ought not to be tolerated by the legislature of
a free nation. Mr. Hobhouse said, that nothing could be so nefarious as
this traffic in blood. It was unjust in its principle. It was cruel in its
practice. It admitted of no regulation whatever. The abolition of it was
called for equally by morality and sound policy. Mr. Canning exposed the
folly of Mr. Dundas, who had said, that as Parliament had in the year 1787
left the abolition to the colonial assemblies, it ought not to be taken out
of their hands. This great event, he observed, could only be accomplished
in two ways; either by these assemblies, or by the Parliament of England.
Now the members of the assembly of Jamaica had professed, that they would
never abolish the trade. Was it not therefore idle to rely upon them for
the accomplishment of it? He then took a very comprehensive view of the
arguments, which had been offered in the course of the debate, and was
severe upon the planters in the House, who, he said, had brought into
familiar use certain expressions, with no other view than to throw a veil
over their odious system. Among these was--their right to import labourers.
But never was the word "labourers" so prostituted, as when it was used for
slaves. Never was the word "right" so prostituted, not even when The Rights
of Man were talked of, as when the right to trade in man's blood was
asserted by the members of an enlightened assembly. Never was the right of
importing these labourers worse defended than when the antiquity of the
Slave-trade, and its foundation on antient acts of parliament, were brought
forward in its support. We had been cautioned not to lay our unhallowed
hands on the antient institution of the Slave-trade; nor to subvert a
fabric, raised by the wisdom of our ancestors, and consecrated by a lapse
of ages. But on what principles did we usually respect the institutions of
antiquity? We respected them when we saw some shadow of departed worth and
usefulness; or some memorial of what had been creditable to mankind. But
was this the case with the Slave-trade? Had it begun in principles of
justice or national honour, which the changes of the world alone had
impaired? had it to plead former services and glories in behalf of its
present disgrace? In looking at it we saw nothing but crimes and sufferings
from the beginning--nothing but what wounded and convulsed our
feelings--nothing but what excited indignation and horror. It had not even
to plead what could often be said in favour of the most unjustifiable wars.
Though conquest had sometimes originated in ambition, and in the worst of
motives, yet the conquerors and the conquered were sometimes blended
afterwards into one people; so that a system of common interest arose out
of former differences. But where was the analogy of the cases? Was it only
at the outset that we could trace violence and injustice on the part of the
Slave-trade? Were the oppressors and the oppressed so reconciled, that
enmities ultimately ceased?--No. Was it reasonable then to urge a
prescriptive right, not to the fruits of an antient and forgotten evil, but
to a series of new violences; to a chain of fresh enormities; to cruelties
continually repeated; and of which every instance inflicted a fresh
calamity, and constituted a separate and substantial crime?

The debate being over, the House divided; when it appeared that there were
for Mr. Wilberforce's motion seventy-four, but against it eighty-two.

The motion for the general abolition of the Slave-trade having been thus
lost again in the Commons, a new motion was made there soon after, by Mr.
Henry Thornton, on the same subject. The prosecution of this traffic on
certain parts of the coast of Africa had become so injurious to the new
settlement at Sierra Leone, that not only its commercial prospects were
impeded, but its safety endangered. Mr. Thornton therefore brought in a
bill to confine the Slave-trade within certain limits. But even this bill,
though it had for its object only to free a portion of the coast from the
ravages of this traffic, was opposed by Mr. Gascoyne, Dent, and others.
Petitions also were presented against it. At length, after two divisions,
on the first of which there were thirty-two votes to twenty-seven, and on
the second thirty-eight to twenty-two, it passed through all its stages.

When it was introduced into the Lords the petitions were renewed against
it. Delay also was interposed to its progress by the examination of
witnesses. It was not till the fifth of July that the matter was brought to
issue. The opponents of the bill at that time were, the Duke of Clarence,
Lord Westmoreland, Lord Thurlow, and the Lords Douglas and Hay, the two
latter being Earls of Morton and Kinnoul in Scotland. The supporters of it
were Lord Grenville, who introduced it; Lord Loughborough; Holland; and Dr.
Horsley, bishop of Rochester. The latter was peculiarly eloquent. He began
his speech by arraigning the injustice and impolicy of the trade:
injustice, he said, which no considerations of policy could extenuate;
impolicy, equal in degree to its injustice.

He well knew that the advocates for the Slave-trade had endeavoured to
represent the project for abolition as a branch of jacobinism; but they,
who supported it, proceeded upon no visionary motives of equality or of the
imprescriptible rights of man. They strenuously upheld the gradations of
civil society: but they did indeed affirm that these gradations were, both
ways, both as they ascended and as they descended, limited. There was an
existence of power, to which no good king would aspire; and there was an
extreme condition of subjection, to which man could not be degraded without
injustice; and this they would maintain was the condition of the African,
who was torn away into slavery.

He then explained the limits of that portion of Africa, which the bill
intended to set apart as sacred to peace and liberty. He showed that this
was but one-third of the coast; and therefore that two-thirds were yet left
for the diabolical speculations of the slave-merchants. He expressed his
surprise that such witnesses as those against the bill should have been
introduced at all. He affirmed that their oaths were falsified by their own
log-books; and that from their own accounts the very healthiest of their
vessels were little better than pestilential gaols. Mr. Robert Hume, one of
these witnesses, had made a certain voyage. He had made it in thirty-three
days. He had shipped two hundred and sixty-five slaves, and he had lost
twenty-three of them. If he had gone on losing his slaves, all of whom were
under twenty-five years of age, at this rate, it was obvious, that he would
have lost two hundred and fifty-three of them, if his passage had lasted
for a year. Now in London only seventeen would have died, of that age, out
of one thousand within the latter period.

After having exposed the other voyages of Mr. Hume in a similar manner, he
entered into a commendation of the views of the Sierra Leone company; and
then defended the character of the Africans in their own country, as
exhibited in the Travels of Mr. Mungo Park. He made a judicious
discrimination with respect to slavery, as it existed among them. He showed
that this slavery was analogous to that of the heroic and patriarchal ages;
and contrasted it with the West Indian in an able manner.

He adverted, lastly, to what had fallen from the learned counsel, who had
supported the petitions of the slave-merchants. One of them had put this
question to their lordships, "if the Slave-trade were as wicked as it had
been represented, why was there no prohibition of it in the holy
scriptures?" He then entered into a full defence of the scriptures on this
ground, which he concluded by declaring that, as St. Paul had coupled
men-stealers with murderers, he had condemned the Slave-trade in one of its
most productive modes, and generally in all its modes:--and here it was
worthy of remark, that the word used by the apostle on this occasion, and
which had been translated men-stealers, should have been rendered
slave-traders. This was obvious from the Scholiast of Aristophanes, whom he
quoted. It was clear therefore that the Slave-trade, if murder was
forbidden, had been literally forbidden also.

The learned counsel too had admonished their lordships, to beware how they
adopted the visionary projects of fanatics. He did not know in what
direction this shaft was shot; and he cared not. It did not concern him.
With the highest reverence for the religion of the land, with the firmest
conviction of its truth, and with the deepest sense of the importance of
its doctrines, he was proudly conscious, that the general shape and fashion
of his life bore nothing of the stamp of fanaticism. But he begged leave,
in his turn, to address a word of serious exhortation to their lordships.
He exhorted them to beware, how they were persuaded to bury, under the
opprobrious name of fanaticism, the regard which they owed to the great
duties of mercy and justice, for the neglect of which (if they should
neglect them) they would be answerable at that tribunal, where no
prevarication of witnesses could misinform the judge; and where no subtlety
of an advocate, miscalling the names of things, putting evil for good and
good for evil, could mislead his judgement.

At length the debate ended: when the bill was lost by a majority of
sixty-eight to sixty-one, including personal votes and proxies.

I cannot conclude this chapter without offering a few remarks. And, first,
I may observe, as the substance of the debates has not been given for the
period which it contains, that Mr. Wilberforce, upon whom too much praise
cannot be bestowed for his perseverance from year to year, amidst the
disheartening circumstances which attended his efforts, brought every new
argument to bear, which either the discovery of new light or the events of
the times produced. I may observe also, in justice to the memories of Mr.
Pitt and Mr. Fox, that there was no debate within this period, in which
they did not take a part; and in which they did not irradiate others from
the profusion of their own light: and, thirdly, that in consequence of the
efforts of the three, conjoined with those of others, the great cause of
the abolition was secretly gaining ground. Many members who were not
connected with the trade, but who had yet hitherto supported it, were on
the point of conversion. Though the question had oscillated backwards and
forwards, so that an ordinary spectator could have discovered no gleam of
hope at these times, nothing is more certain, than that the powerful
eloquence then displayed had smoothed the resistance to it; had shortened
its vibrations; and had prepared it for a state of rest.

With respect to the West Indians themselves, some of them began to see
through the mists of prejudice, which had covered them. In the year 1794,
when the bill for the abolition of the foreign Slave-trade was introduced,
Mr. Vaughan and Mr. Barham supported it. They called upon the planters in
the House to give way to humanity, where their own interests could not be
affected by their submission. This indeed may be said to have been no
mighty thing; but it was a frank confession of the injustice of the
Slave-trade, and the beginning of the change which followed, both with
respect to themselves and others.

With respect to the old friends of the cause, it is with regret I mention,
that it lost the support of Mr. Windham within this period; and this regret
is increased by the consideration, that he went off on the avowed plea of
expediency against moral rectitude; a doctrine, which, at least upon this
subject, he had reprobated for ten years. It was, however, some
consolation, as far as talents were concerned, (for there can be none for
the loss of virtuous feeling,) that Mr. Canning, a new member, should have
so ably supplied his place.

Of the gradual abolitionists, whom we have always considered as the most
dangerous enemies of the cause, Mr. Jenkinson (now Lord Hawkesbury), Mr.
Addington (now Lord Sidmouth), and Mr. Dundas (now Lord Melville),
continued their opposition during all this time. Of the first two I shall
say nothing at present; but I cannot pass over the conduct of the latter.
He was the first person, as we have seen, to propose the gradual abolition
of the Slave-trade; and he fixed the time for its cessation on the first of
January 1800. His sincerity on this occasion was doubted by Mr. Fox at the
very outset; for he immediately rose and said, that "something so
mischievous had come out, something so like a foundation had been laid for
preserving, not only for years to come, but for any thing he knew for ever,
this detestable traffic, that he felt it his duty immediately to deprecate
all such delusions upon the country." Mr. Pitt, who spoke soon afterwards,
in reply to an argument advanced by Mr. Dundas, maintained, that "at
whatever period the House should say that the Slave-trade should actually
cease, this defence would equally be set up; for it would be just as good
an argument in seventy years hence, as it was against the abolition then."
And these remarks Mr. Dundas verified in a singular manner within this
period: for in the year 1796, when his own bill, as amended in the Commons,
was to take place, he was one of the most strenuous opposers of it; and in
the year 1799, when in point of consistency it devolved upon him to propose
it to the House, in order that the trade might cease on the first of
January 1800, (which was the time of his own original choice, or a time
unfettered by parliamentary amendment,) he was the chief instrument of
throwing out Mr. Wilberforce's bill, which promised even a longer period to
its continuance: so that it is obvious, that there was no time, within his
own limits, when the abolition would have suited him, notwithstanding his
profession, "that he had always been a warm advocate for the measure."


_Continuation from July 1799 to July 1805--Various motions within this

The question had now been brought forward in almost every possible way, and
yet had been eventually lost. The total and immediate abolition had been
attempted; and then the gradual. The gradual again had been tried for the
year 1793, then for 1795, and then for 1796, at which period it was
decreed, but never allowed to be executed. An abolition of a part of the
trade, as it related to the supply of foreigners with slaves, was the next
measure proposed; and when this failed, the abolition of another part of
it, as it related to the making of a certain portion of the coast of Africa
sacred to liberty, was attempted; but this failed also. Mr. Wilberforce
therefore thought it prudent, not to press the abolition as a mere annual
measure, but to allow members time to digest the eloquence, which had been
bestowed upon it for the last five years, and to wait till some new
circumstances should favour its introduction. Accordingly he allowed the
years 1800, 1801, 1802, and 1803 to pass over without any further
parliamentary notice than the moving for certain papers; during which he
took an opportunity of assuring the House, that he had not grown cool in
the cause, but that he would agitate it in a future session.

In the year 1804, which was fixed upon for renewed exertion, the committee
for the abolition of the Slave-trade elected James Stephen, Zachary
Macaulay, Henry Brougham, esquires, and William Phillips, into their own
body. Four other members also, Robert Grant and John Thornton, esquires,
and William Manser and William Allen, were afterwards added to the list.
Among the reasons for fixing upon this year one may be assigned, namely,
that the Irish members, in consequence of the Union which had taken place
between the two countries, had then all taken their seats in the House of
Commons; and that most of them were friendly to the cause.

This being the situation of things, Mr. Wilberforce, on the thirtieth of
March, asked leave to renew his bill for the abolition of the Slave-trade
within a limited time. Mr. Fuller opposed the motion. A debate ensued.
Colonel Tarleton, Mr. Devaynes, Mr. Addington, and Mr. Manning spoke
against it. The latter, however, notwithstanding his connection with the
West Indies, said he would support it, if an indemnification were offered
to the planters, in case any actual loss should accompany the measure.

Sir William Geary questioned the propriety of immediate abolition.

Sir Robert Buxton, Mr. Pitt, Fox, and Durham, spoke in favour of the

Mr. William Smith rose, when the latter had seated himself, and
complimented him on this change of sentiment, so honourable to him,
inasmuch as he had espoused the cause of humanity against his supposed
interest as a planter. Mr. Leigh said, that he would not tolerate such a
traffic for a moment. All the feelings of nature revolted at it. Lord de
Blaquiere observed, "it was the first time the question had been proposed
to Irishmen as legislators. He believed it would be supported by most of
them. As to the people of Ireland, he could pledge himself, that they were
hostile to this barbarous traffic." An amendment having been proposed by
Mr. Manning, a division took place upon it, when leave was given to bring
in the bill, by a majority of one hundred and twenty-four to forty-nine.

On the seventh of June, when the second reading of the bill was moved, it
was opposed by Sir W. Yonge, Dr. Laurence, Mr. C. Brook, Mr. Dent, and
others. Among these Lord Castlereagh professed himself a friend to the
abolition of the trade, but he differed as to the mode. Sir J. Wrottesley
approved of the principle of the bill, but would oppose it in some of its
details. Mr. Windham allowed the justice, but differed as to the
expediency, of the measure. Mr. Deverell professed himself to have been a
friend to it; but he had then changed his mind. Sir Laurence Parsons wished
to see a plan for the gradual extinction of the trade. Lord Temple
affirmed, that the bill would seal the death-warrant of every White
inhabitant of the islands. The second reading was supported by Sir Ralph
Milbank, Mr. Pitt, Fox, William Smith, Whitbread, Francis, Barham, and by
Mr. Grenfell, and Sir John Newport. Mr. Grenfell observed, that he could
not give a silent vote, where the character of the country was concerned.
When the question of the abolition first came before the public, he was a
warm friend to it; and from that day to this he had cherished the same
feelings. He assured Mr. Wilberforce of his constant support. Sir John
Newport stated that the Irish nation took a virtuous interest in this noble
cause. He ridiculed the idea, that the trade and manufactures of the
country would suffer by the measure in contemplation; but, even if they
should suffer, he would oppose it. "Fiat justitia, ruat coelum." Upon a
division, there appeared for the second reading one hundred, and against it

On the twelfth of June, when a motion was made to go into a committee upon
the bill, it was opposed by Mr. Fuller, C. Brook, C. Ellis, Dent, Deverell,
and Manning: and it was supported by Sir Robert Buxton, Mr. Barham, and the
honourable J.S. Cocks. The latter condemned the imprudence of the planters.
Instead of profiting by the discussions, which had taken place, and making
wise provisions against the great event of the abolition, which would
sooner or later take place, they had only thought of new stratagems to
defeat it. He declared his abhorrence of the trade, which he considered to
be a national disgrace. The House divided: when there were seventy-nine for
the motion, and against it twenty.

On the twenty-seventh of June the bill was opposed in its last stage by Sir
W. Young, Mr. Dickenson, G. Rose, Addington, and Dent: and supported by Mr.
Pitt, W. Smith, Francis, and Barham; when it was carried by a majority of
sixty-nine to thirty-six. It was then taken up to the Lords; but on a
motion of Lord Hawkesbury, then a member of that House, the discussion of
it was postponed to the next year.

The session being ended, the committee for the abolition of the Slave-trade
increased its number, by the election of the right honourable Lord
Teignmouth, Dr. Dickson, and Wilson Birkbeck, as members.

In the year 1805, Mr. Wilberforce renewed his motion of the former year.
Colonel Tarleton, Sir William Yonge, Mr. Fuller, and Mr. Gascoyne opposed
it. Leave, however, was given him to introduce his bill.

On the second reading of it a serious opposition took place; and an
amendment was moved for postponing it till that day six months. The
amendment was opposed by Mr. Fox and Mr. Huddlestone. The latter could not
help lifting his voice against this monstrous traffic in the sinews and
blood of man, the toleration of which had so long been the disgrace of the
British legislature. He did not charge the enormous guilt resulting from it
upon the nation at large; for the nation had washed its hands of it by the
numerous petitions it had sent against it; and it had since been a matter
of astonishment to all Christendom, how the constitutional guardians of
British freedom should have sanctioned elsewhere the greatest system of
cruelty and oppression in the world.

He said that a curse attended this trade even in the mode of defending it.
By a certain fatality, none but the vilest arguments were brought forward,
which corrupted the very persons, who used them. Every one of these were
built on the narrow ground of interest; of pecuniary profit; of sordid
gain; in opposition to every higher consideration; to every motive that had
reference to humanity, justice, and religion; or to that great principle,
which comprehended them all. Place only before the most determined advocate
of this odious traffic the exact image of himself in the garb and harness
of a slave, dragged and whipped about like a beast: place this image also
before him, and paint it as that of one without a ray of hope to cheer him;
and you would extort from him the reluctant confession, that he would not
endure for an hour the misery, to which he condemned his fellow-man for
life. How dared he then to use this selfish plea of interest against the
voice of the generous sympathies of his nature? But even upon this narrow
ground the advocates for the traffic had been defeated. If the unhallowed
argument of expediency was worth any thing when opposed to moral rectitude,
or if it were to supersede the precepts of Christianity, where was a man to
stop, or what line was he to draw? For any thing he knew, it might be
physically true, that human blood was the best manure for the land; but who
ought to shed it on that account? True expediency, however, was, where it
ever would be found, on the side of that system, which was most merciful
and just. He asked how it happened, that sugar could be imported cheaper
from the East Indies, than from the West, notwithstanding the vast
difference of the length of the voyages, but on account of the impolicy of
slavery, or that it was made in the former case by the industry of free
men, and in the latter by the languid drudgery of slaves.

As he had had occasion to advert to the Eastern part of the world, he would
make an observation upon an argument, which had been collected from that
quarter. The condition of the Negros in the West Indies had been lately
compared with that of the Hindoos. But he would observe that the Hindoo,
miserable as his hovel was, had sources of pride and happiness, to which
not only the West Indian slave, but even his master, was a stranger. He was
to be sure a peasant; and his industry was subservient to the
gratifications of an European lord. But he was, in his own belief, vastly
superior to him. He viewed him as one of the lowest cast. He would not on
any consideration eat from the same plate. He would not suffer his son to
marry the daughter of his master, even if she could bring him all the West
Indies as her portion. He would observe too, that the Hindoo-peasant drank
his water from his native well; that, if his meal were scanty, he received
it from the hand of her, who was most dear to him; that, when he laboured,
he laboured for her and his offspring. His daily task being finished, he
reposed with his family. No retrospect of the happiness of former days,
compared with existing misery, disturbed his slumber; nor horrid dreams
occasioned him to wake in agony at the dawn of day. No barbarous sounds of
cracking whips reminded him, that with the form and image of a man his
destiny was that of the beast of the field. Let the advocates for the
bloody traffic state what they had to set off on their side of the question
against the comforts and independence of the man, with whom they compared
the slave.

The amendment was supported by Sir William Yonge, Sir William Pulteney,
Colonel Tarleton, Mr. Gascoyne, C. Brook, and Hiley Addington. On dividing
the House upon it, there appeared for it seventy-seven, but against it only

This loss of the question, after it had been carried in the last year by so
great a majority, being quite unexpected, was a matter of severe
disappointment; and might have discouraged the friends of the cause in this
infancy of their renewed efforts, if they had not discovered the reason of
its failure. After due consideration it appeared, that no fewer than nine
members, who had never been absent once in sixteen years when it was
agitated, gave way to engagements on the day of the motion, from a belief
that it was safe. It appeared also, that out of the great number of Irish
members, who supported it in the former year, only nine were in the House,
when it was lost. It appeared also that, previously to this event, a
canvass, more importunate than had been heard of on any former occasion,
had been made among the latter by those interested in the continuance of
the trade. Many of these, unacquainted with the detail of the subject, like
the English members, admitted the dismal representations, which were then
made to them. The desire of doing good on the one hand, and the fear of
doing injury on the other, perplexed them; and in this dubious state they
absented themselves at the time mentioned.

The causes of the failure having been found accidental, and capable of a
remedy, it was resolved, that an attempt should be made immediately in the
House in a new form. Accordingly Lord Henry Petty signified his intention
of bringing in a bill for the abolition of the foreign part of the
Slave-trade; but the impeachment of Lord Melville, and other weighty
matters coming on, the notice was not acted upon in that session.


_Continuation from July 1805 to July 1806--Author returns to his duty in
the committee--travels again round the Kingdom--Death of Mr. Pitt--his
character, an it related to the question--Motion for the abolition of the
foreign Slave-trade--resolution to take measures for the total abolition of
it--Address to the King to negotiate with foreign powers for their
concurrence in it--Motion to prevent any new vessel going into the
trade--these carried through both houses of parliament._

It was now almost certain, to the inexpressible joy of the committee, that
the cause, with proper vigilance, could be carried in the next session in
the House of Commons. It became them therefore to prepare to support it. In
adverting to measures for this purpose, it occurred to them, that the House
of Lords, if the question should be then carried to them from the Commons,
might insist upon hearing evidence on the general subject. But, alas, even
the body of witnesses, which had been last collected, was broken by death
or dispersion! It was therefore to be formed again. In this situation it
devolved upon me, as I had now returned to the committee after an absence
of nine years, to take another journey for this purpose.

This journey I performed with extraordinary success. In the course of it I
had also much satisfaction on another account. I found the old friends of
the cause still faithful to it. It was remarkable, however, that the youth
of the rising generation knew but little about the question. For the last
eight or nine years the committee had not circulated any books; and the
debates in the Commons during that time had not furnished them with the
means of an adequate knowledge concerning it. When, however, I conversed
with these, as I travelled along, I discovered a profound attention to what
I said; an earnest desire to know more of the subject; and a generous
warmth in favour of the injured Africans, which I foresaw could soon be
turned into enthusiasm. Hence I perceived that the cause furnished us with
endless sources of rallying; and that the ardour, which we had seen with so
much admiration in former years, could be easily renewed.

I had scarcely finished my journey, when Mr. Pitt died. This event took
place in January 1806. I shall stop therefore to make a few observations
upon his character, as it related to this cause. This I feel myself bound
in justice to do, because his sincerity towards it has been generally

The way, in which Mr. Pitt became acquainted with this question, has
already been explained. A few doubts having been removed, when it was first
started, he professed himself a friend to the abolition. The first proof,
which he gave of his friendship to it is known but to few; but it is,
nevertheless, true, that so early as in 1788, he occasioned a communication
to be made to the French government, in which he recommended an union of
the two countries for the promotion of the great measure. This proposition
seemed to be then new and strange to the court of France; and the answer
was not favourable.

From this time his efforts were reduced within the boundaries of his own

As far, however, as he had scope, he exerted them. If we look at him in his
parliamentary capacity, it must be acknowledged by all, that he took an
active, strenuous, and consistent part, and this year after year, by which
he realized his professions. In my own private communications with him,
which were frequent, he never failed to give proofs of a similar
disposition. I had always free access to him. I had no previous note or
letter to write for admission. Whatever papers I wanted, he ordered. He
exhibited also in his conversation with me on these occasions marks of a
more than ordinary interest in the welfare of the cause. Among the
subjects, which were then started, there was one, which was always near his
heart. This was the civilization of Africa. He looked upon this great work
as a debt due to that continent for the many injuries we had inflicted upon
it: and had the abolition succeeded sooner, as in the infancy of his
exertions he had hoped, I know he had a plan, suited no doubt to the
capaciousness of his own mind, for such establishments in Africa, as he
conceived would promote in due time this important end.

I believe it will be said, notwithstanding what I have advanced, that if
Mr. Pitt had exerted himself as the minister of the country in behalf of
the abolition, he could have carried it. This brings the matter to an
issue; for unquestionably the charge of insincerity, as it related to this
great question, arose from the mistaken notion, that, as his measures in
parliament were supported by great majorities, he could do as he pleased
there. But, they who hold this opinion, must be informed, that there were
great difficulties, against which he had to struggle on this subject. The
Lord Chancellor Thurlow ran counter to his wishes almost at the very
outset. Lord Liverpool and Mr. Dundas did the same. Thus, to go no further,
three of the most powerful members of the cabinet were in direct opposition
to him. The abolition then, amidst this difference of opinion, could never
become a cabinet measure; but if so, then all his parliamentary efforts in
this case wanted their usual authority, and he could only exert his
influence as a private man[A].

[Footnote A: This he did with great effect on one or two occasions. On the
motion of Mr. Cawthorne in 1791, the cause hung as it were by a thread; and
would have failed that day, to my knowledge, but for his seasonable

But a difficulty, still more insuperable, presented itself, in an
occurrence which took place in the year 1791, but which is much too
delicate to be mentioned. The explanation of it, however, would convince
the reader, that all the efforts of Mr. Pitt from that day were rendered
useless, I mean as to bringing the question, as a minister of state, to a
favourable issue.

But though Mr. Pitt did not carry this great question, he was yet one of
the greatest supporters of it. He fostered it in its infancy. If, in his
public situation, he had then set his face against it, where would have
been our hope? He upheld it also in its childhood; and though in this state
of its existence it did not gain from his protection all the strength which
it was expected it would have acquired, he yet kept it from falling, till
his successors, in whose administration a greater number of favourable
circumstances concurred to give it vigour, brought it to triumphant

Lord Grenville and Mr. Fox, having been called to the head of the executive
government on the death of Mr. Pitt, the cause was ushered into parliament
under new auspices. In a former year His Majesty had issued a proclamation,
by which British merchants were forbidden (with certain defined exceptions)
to import slaves into the colonies, which had been conquered by the British
arms in the course of the war. This circumstance afforded an opportunity of
trying the question in the House of Commons with the greatest hope of
success. Accordingly Sir A. Pigott, the attorney-general, as an officer of
the crown; brought in a bill on the thirty-first of March 1806, the first
object of which was, to give effect to the proclamation now mentioned. The
second was, to prohibit British subjects from being engaged in importing
slaves into the colonies of any foreign power, whether hostile or neutral.
And the third was, to prohibit British subjects and British capital from
being employed in carrying on a Slave-trade in foreign ships; and also to
prevent the outfit of foreign ships from British ports.

Sir A. Pigott, on the introduction of this bill, made an appropriate
speech. The bill was supported by Mr. Fox, Sir William Yonge, Mr. Brook,
and Mr. Bagwell; but opposed by Generals Tarleton and Gascoyne, Mr. Rose,
Sir Robert Peele, and Sir Charles Price. On the third reading a division
being called for, there appeared for it thirty-five, and against it only

On the seventh of May it was introduced into the Lords. The supporters of
it there were, the Duke of Gloucester, Lord Grenville, the Bishops of
London and St. Asaph, the Earl of Buckinghamshire, and the Lords Holland,
Lauderdale, Auckland, Sidmouth, and Ellenborough. The opposers were, the
Dukes of Clarence and Sussex, the Marquis of Sligo, the Earl of
Westmoreland, and the Lords Eldon and Sheffield. At length a division took
place, when there appeared to be in favour of it forty-three, and against
it eighteen.

During the discussions, to which this bill gave birth, Lord Grenville and
Mr. Fox declared in substance, in their respective Houses of Parliament,
that they felt the question of the Slave-trade to be one, which involved
the dearest interests of humanity, and the most urgent claims of policy,
justice, and religion; and that, should they succeed in effecting its
abolition, they would regard that success as entailing more true glory on
their administration, and more honour and advantage on their country, than
any other measure, in which they could be engaged. The bill having passed
(the first, which dismembered this cruel trade,) it was thought proper to
follow it up in a prudent manner; and, as there was not then time in the
advanced period of the session to bring in another for the total extinction
of it, to move a resolution, by which both Houses should record those
principles, on which the propriety of the latter measure was founded. It
was judged also expedient that Mr. Fox, as the prime minister in the House
of Commons, should introduce it there.

On the tenth of June Mr. Fox rose. He began by saying that the motion, with
which he should conclude, would tend in its consequences to effect the
total abolition of the Slave-trade; and he confessed that, since he had sat
in that House (a period of between thirty and forty years), if he had done
nothing else, but had only been instrumental in carrying through this
measure, he should think his life well spent; and should retire quite
satisfied, that he had not lived in vain.

In adverting to the principle of the trade, he noticed some strong
expressions of Mr. Burke concerning it. "To deal in human flesh and blood,"
said that great man, "or to deal, not in the labour of men, but in men
themselves, was to devour the root, instead of enjoying the fruit of human

Mr. Fox then took a view of the opinions of different members of the House
on this great question; and showed that, though many had opposed the
abolition, all but two or three, among whom were the members for Liverpool,
had confessed, that the trade ought to be done away. He then went over the
different resolutions of the House on the subject, and concluded from
thence, that they were bound to support his motion.

He combated the argument, that the abolition would ruin the West-Indian
Islands. In doing this he paid a handsome compliment to the memory of Mr.
Pitt, whose speech upon this particular point was, he said, the most
powerful and convincing of any he had ever heard. Indeed they, who had not
heard it, could have no notion of it. It was a speech, of which he would
say with the Roman author, reciting the words of the Athenian orator, "Quid
esset, si ipsum audivissetis!" It was a speech no less remarkable for
splendid eloquence, than for solid sense and convincing reason; supported
by calculations founded on facts, and conclusions drawn from premises, as
correctly as if they had been mathematical propositions; all tending to
prove that, instead of the West Indian plantations suffering an injury,
they would derive a material benefit by the abolition of the Slave-trade.
He then called upon the friends of this great man to show their respect for
his memory by their votes; and he concluded with moving, "that this House,
considering the African Slave-trade to be contrary to the principles of
justice, humanity, and policy, will, with all practicable expedition, take
effectual measures for the abolition of the said trade, in such a manner,
and at such a period, as may be deemed advisable."

Sir Ralph Milbank rose, and seconded the motion.

General Tarleton rose next. He deprecated the abolition, on account of the
effect which it would have on the trade and revenue of the country.

Mr. Francis said the merchants of Liverpool were at liberty to ask for
compensation; but he, for one, would never grant it for the loss of a
trade, which had been declared to be contrary to humanity and justice. As
an uniform friend to this great cause, he wished Mr. Fox had not introduced
a resolution, but a real bill for the abolition of the Slave-trade. He
believed that both Houses were then disposed to do it away. He wished the
golden opportunity might not be lost.

Lord Castlereagh thought it a proposition, on which no one could entertain
a doubt, that the Slave-trade was a great evil in itself; and that it was
the duty and policy of Parliament to extirpate it; but he did not think the
means offered were adequate to the end proposed. The abolition, as a
political question, was a difficult one. The year 1796 had been once fixed
upon by the House, as the period when the trade was to cease; but, when the
time arrived, the resolution was not executed. This was a proof, either
that the House did not wish for the event, or that they judged it
impracticable. It would be impossible, he said, to get other nations to
concur in the measure; and, even if they were to concur, it could not be
effected. We might restrain the subjects of the parent-state from following
the trade; but we could not those in our colonies. A hundred frauds would
be committed by those, which we could not detect. He did not mean by this,
that the evil was to go on for ever. Had a wise plan been proposed at
first, it might have been half-cured by this time. The present resolution
would do no good. It was vague, indefinite, and unintelligible. Such
resolutions were only the Slave-merchants' harvests. They would go for more
slaves than usual in the interim. He should have advised a system of duties
on fresh importations of slaves, progressively increasing to a certain
extent; and that the amount of these duties should be given to the
planters, as a bounty to encourage the Negro-population upon their estates.
Nothing could be done, unless we went hand in hand with the latter. But he
should deliver himself more fully on this subject, when any thing specific
should be brought forward in the shape of a bill.

Sir S. Romilly, the solicitor-general, differed from Lord Castlereagh; for
he thought the resolution of Mr. Fox was very simple and intelligible. If
there was a proposition vague and indefinite, it was that, advanced by the
noble lord, of a system of duties on fresh importations, rising
progressively, and this under the patronage and cooperation of the
planters. Who could measure the space between the present time and the
abolition of the trade, if that measure were to depend upon the approbation
of the colonies?

The cruelty and injustice of the Slave-trade had been established by
evidence beyond a doubt. It had been shown to be carried on by rapine,
robbery, and murder; by fomenting and encouraging wars; by false
accusations; and imaginary crimes. The unhappy victims were torn away not
only in the time of war, but of profound peace. They were then carried
across the Atlantic, in a manner too horrible to describe; and afterwards
subjected to eternal slavery. In support of the continuance of such a
traffic, he knew of nothing but assertions already disproved, and arguments
already refuted. Since the year 1796, when it was to cease by a resolution
of Parliament, no less than three hundred and sixty thousand Africans had
been torn away from their native land. What an accumulation was this to our
former guilt!

General Gascoyne made two extraordinary assertions: First, that the trade
was defensible on Scriptural ground.--"Both thy bondmen and thy bondmaids,
which thou shalt have, shall be of the heathen, that are round about thee;
of them shall you have bondmen and bondmaids. And thou shalt take them as
an heritance for thy children after thee to inherit them for a possession;
they shall be thy bondmen for ever." Secondly, that the trade had been so
advantageous to this country, that it would have been advisable even to
institute a new one, if the old had not existed.

Mr. Wilberforce replied to General Gascoyne. He then took a view of the
speech of Lord Castlereagh, which he answered point by point. In the course
of his observations he showed, that the system of duties progressively
increasing, as proposed by the noble lord, would be one of the most
effectual modes of perpetuating the Slave-trade. He exposed also the false
foundation of the hope of any reliance on the cooperation of the colonists.
The House, he said, had on the motion of Mr. Ellis in the year 1797, prayed
His Majesty to consult with the colonial legislatures to take such
measures, as might conduce to the gradual abolition of the African
Slave-trade. This address was transmitted to them by Lord Melville. It was
received in some of the islands with a declaration, "that they possibly
might, in some instances, endeavour to improve the condition of their
slaves; but they should do this, not with any view to the abolition of the
Slave-trade; for they considered that trade as their birth-right, which
could not be taken from them; and that we should deceive ourselves by
supposing, that they would agree to such a measure." He desired to add to
this the declaration of General Prevost in his public letter from Dominica.
Did he not say, when asked what steps had been taken there in consequence
of the resolution of the House in 1797, "that the act of the legislature,
entitled an act for the encouragement, protection, and better government of
slaves, appeared to him to have been considered, from the day it was passed
until this hour, as a political measure to avert the interference of the
mother-country in the management of the slaves."

Sir William Yonge censured the harsh language of Sir Samuel Romilly, who
had applied the terms rapine, robbery, and murder to those, who were
connected with the Slave-trade. He considered the resolution of Mr. Fox as
a prelude to a bill for the abolition of that traffic, and this bill as a
prelude to emancipation, which would not only be dangerous in itself, but
would change the state of property in the islands.

Lord Henry Petty, after having commented on the speeches of Sir S. Romilly
and Lord Castlereagh, proceeded to state his own opinion on the trade;
which was, that it was contrary to justice, humanity, and sound policy, all
of which he considered to be inseparable. On its commencement in Africa the
wickedness began. It produced there fraud and violence, robbery and murder.
It gave birth to false accusations, and a mockery of justice. It was the
parent of every crime, which could at once degrade and afflict the human
race. After spreading vice and misery all over this continent, it doomed
its unhappy victims to hardships and cruelties which were worse than death.
The first of these was conspicuous in their transportation. It was found
there, that cruelty begat cruelty; that the system, wicked in its
beginning, was equally so in its progress; and that it perpetuated its
miseries wherever it was carried on. Nor was it baneful only to the
objects, but to the promoters of it. The loss of British seamen in this
traffic was enormous. One fifth of all, who were employed in it, perished;
that is, they became the victims of a system, which was founded on fraud,
robbery, and murder; and which procured to the British nation nothing but
the execration of mankind. Nor had we yet done with the evils, which
attended it; for it brought in its train the worst of all moral effects,
not only as it respected the poor slaves, when transported to the colonies,
but as it respected those, who had concerns with them there. The arbitrary
power, which it conferred, afforded men of bad dispositions full scope for
the exercise of their passions; and it rendered men, constitutionally of
good dispositions, callous to the misery of others. Thus it depraved the
nature of all, who were connected with it. These considerations had made
him a friend to the abolition from the time he was capable of reasoning
upon it. They were considerations also, which determined the House in the
year 1782 to adopt a measure of the same kind as the present. Had any thing
happened to change the opinion of members since? On the contrary, they had
now the clearest evidence, that all the arguments then used against the
abolition were fallacious; being founded not upon truth, but on assertions
devoid of all truth, and derived from ignorance or prejudice.

Having made these remarks, he proved by a number of facts the folly of the
argument, that the Africans laboured under such a total degradation of
mental and moral faculties, that they were made for slavery.

He then entered into the great subject of population. He showed that in all
countries, where there were no unnatural hardships, mankind would support
themselves. He applied this reasoning to the Negro-population in the West
Indies; which he maintained could not only be kept up, but increased,
without any further importations from Africa.

He then noticed the observations of Sir W. Yonge on the words of Sir S.
Romilly; and desired him to reserve his indignation for those, who were
guilty of acts of rapine, robbery, and murder, instead of venting it on
those, who only did their duty in describing them. Never were accounts more
shocking than those lately sent to government from the West Indies. Lord
Seaforth, and the Attorney-general, could not refrain, in explaining them,
from the use of the words murder and torture. And did it become members of
that House (in order to accommodate the nerves of the friends of the
Slave-trade) to soften down their expressions, when they were speaking on
that subject; and to desist from calling that murder and torture, for which
a governor, and the attorney-general, of one of the islands could find no
better name?

After making observations relative to the cooperation of foreign powers in
this great work, he hoped that the House would not suffer itself to be
drawn, either by opposition or by ridicule, to the right or to the left;
but that it would, advance straight forward to the accomplishment of the
most magnanimous act of justice, that was ever achieved by any legislature
in the world.

Mr. Rose declared, that on the very first promulgation of this question, he
had proposed to the friends of it the very plan of his noble friend Lord
Castlereagh; namely, a system of progressive duties, and of bounties for
the promotion of the Negro-population. This he said to show that he was
friendly to the principle of the measure. He would now observe, that he did
not wholly like the present resolution. It was too indefinite. He wished
also, that something had been said on the subject of compensation. He was
fearful also, lest the abolition should lead to the dangerous change of
emancipation. The Negros, he said, could not be in a better state, or more
faithful to their masters, than they were. In three attacks made by the
enemy on Dominica, where he had a large property, arms had been put into
their hands; and every one of them had exerted himself faithfully. With
respect to the cruel acts in Barbadoes, an account of which had been sent
to government by Lord Seaforth and the Attorney-general of Barbadoes, he
had read them; and never had he read any thing on this subject with more
horror. He would agree to the strongest measures for the prevention of such
acts in future. He would even give up the colony, which should refuse to
make the wilful murder of a slave felony. But as to the other, or common,
evils complained of, he thought the remedy should be gradual; and such also
as the planters would concur in. He would nevertheless not oppose the
present resolution.

Mr. Barham considered compensation but reasonable, where losses were to
accrue from the measure, when it should be put in execution; but he
believed that the amount of it would be much less than was apprehended. He
considered emancipation, though so many fears had been expressed about it,
as forming no objection to the abolition, though he had estates in the West
Indies himself. Such a measure, if it could be accomplished successfully,
would be an honour to the country, and a blessing to the planters; but
preparation must be made for it by rendering the slaves fit for freedom,
and by creating in them an inclination to free labour. Such a change could
only be the work of time.

Sir John Newport said that the expressions of Sir S. Romilly, which had
given such offence, had been used by others; and would be used with
propriety, while the trade lasted. Some slave-dealers of Liverpool had
lately attempted to prejudice certain merchants of Ireland in their favour.
But none of their representations answered; and it was remarkable, that the
reply made to them was in these words. "We will have no share in a traffic,
consisting in rapine, blood, and murder." He then took a survey of a system
of duties progressively increasing, and showed, that it would be utterly
inefficient; and that there was no real remedy for the different evils
complained of, but in the immediate prohibition of the trade.

Mr. Canning renewed his professions of friendship to the cause. He did not
like the present resolution; yet he would vote for it. He should have been
better pleased with a bill, which would strike at once at the root of this
detestable commerce.

Mr. Manning wished the question to be deferred to the next session. He
hoped, compensation would then be brought forward as connected with it.
Nothing, however, effectual could be done without the concurrence of the

Mr. William Smith noticed, in a striking manner, the different
inconsistencies in the arguments of those, who contended for the
continuance of the trade.

Mr. Windham deprecated not only the Slave-trade, but slavery also. They
were essentially connected with each other. They were both evils, and ought
both of them to be done away. Indeed, if emancipation would follow the
abolition, he should like the latter measure the better. Rapine, robbery,
and murder were the true characteristics of this traffic. The same epithets
had not indeed been applied to slavery, because this was a condition, in
which some part of the human race had been at every period of the history
of the world. It was, however, a state, which ought not to be allowed to
exist. But, notwithstanding all these confessions, he should weigh well the
consequences of the abolition before he gave it his support. It would be on
a balance between the evils themselves and the consequences of removing
them, that he should decide for himself on this question.

Mr. Fox took a view of all the arguments, which had been advanced by the
opponents of the abolition; and having given an appropriate answer to each,
the House divided, when there appeared for the resolution one hundred and
fourteen, and against it but fifteen.

Immediately after this division Mr. Wilberforce moved an address to His
Majesty, "praying that he would be graciously pleased, to direct a
negotiation to be entered into, by which foreign powers should be invited
to cooperate with His Majesty in measures to be adopted for the abolition
of the African Slave-trade."

This address was carried without a division. It was also moved and carried,
that "these resolutions be communicated to the Lords; and that their
concurrence should be desired therein."

On the twenty-fourth of June the Lords met to consider of the resolution
and address. The Earl of Westmoreland proposed, that both counsel and
evidence should be heard against them; but his proposition was overruled.

Lord Grenville then read the resolution of the Commons. This resolution, he
said, stated first, that the Slave-trade was contrary to humanity, justice,
and sound policy. That it was contrary to humanity was obvious; for
humanity might be said to be sympathy for the distress of others, or a
desire to accomplish benevolent ends by good means. But did not the
Slave-trade convey ideas the very reverse of this definition? It deprived
men of all those Comforts, in which it pleased the Creator to make the
happiness of his creatures to consist,--of the blessings of society,--of
the charities of the dear relationships of husband, wife, father, son, and
kindred,--of the due discharge of the relative duties of these,--and of
that freedom, which in its pure and natural sense was one of the greatest
gifts of God to man.

It was impossible to read the evidence, as it related to this trade,
without acknowledging the inhumanity of it, and our own disgrace. By what
means was it kept up in Africa? By wars instigated, not by the passions of
the natives, but by our avarice. He knew it would be said in reply to this,
that the slaves, who were purchased by us, would be put to death, if we
were not to buy them. But what should we say, if it should turn out, that
we were the causes of those very cruelties, which we affected to prevent?
But, if it were not so, ought the first nation in the world to condescend
to be the executioner of savages?

Another way of keeping up the Slave-trade was by the practice of
man-stealing. The evidence was particularly clear upon this head. This
practice included violence, and often bloodshed. The inhumanity of it
therefore could not be doubted.

The unhappy victims, being thus procured, were conveyed, he said, across
the Atlantic in a manner which justified the charge of inhumanity again.
Indeed the suffering here was so great, that neither the mind could
conceive nor the tongue describe it. He had said on a former occasion, that
in their transportation there was a greater portion of misery condensed
within a smaller space, than had ever existed in the known world. He would
repeat his words; for he did not know, how he could express himself better
on the subject. And, after all these horrors, what was their destiny? It
was such, as justified the charge in the resolution again: for, after
having survived the sickness arising from the passage, they were doomed to
interminable slavery.

We had been, he said, so much accustomed to words, descriptive of the
cruelty of this traffic, that we had almost forgotten their meaning. He
wished that some person, educated as an Englishman, with suitable powers of
eloquence, but now for the first time informed of all the horrors of it,
were to address their lordships upon it, and he was sure, that they would
instantly determine that it should cease. But the continuance of it had
rendered cruelty familiar to us; and the recital of its horrors had been so
frequent, that we could now hear them stated without being affected as we
ought to be. He intreated their lordships, however, to endeavour to
conceive the hard case of the unhappy victims of it; and as he had led them
to the last stage of their miserable existence, which was in the colonies,
to contemplate it there. They were there under the arbitrary will of a
cruel task-master from morning till night. When they went to rest, would
not their dreams be frightful? When they awoke, would they not awake,

----"only to discover sights of woe,
Regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace
And rest can never dwell, hope never comes
That comes to all; but torture without end
Still urges?"----

They knew no change, except in the humour of their masters, to whom their
whole destiny was entrusted. We might perhaps flatter ourselves with
saying, that they were subject to the will of Englishmen. But Englishmen
were not better than others, when in possession of arbitrary power. The
very fairest exercise of it was a never-failing corrupter of the heart. But
suppose it were allowed, that self-interest might operate some little
against cruelty; yet where was the interest of the overseer or the driver?
But he knew it would be said, that the evils complained of in the colonies
had been mitigated. There might be instances of this; but they could never
be cured, while slavery existed. Slavery took away more than half of the
human character. Hence the practice, where it existed, of rejecting the
testimony of the slave: but, if his testimony was rejected, where could be
his redress against his oppressor?

Having shown the inhumanity, he would proceed to the second point in the
resolution, or the injustice, of the trade. We had two ideas of justice,
first, as it belonged to society by virtue of a social compact; and,
secondly, as it belonged to men, not as citizens of a community, but as
beings of one common nature. In a state of nature, man had a right to the
fruit of his own labour absolutely to himself; and one of the main
purposes, for which he entered into society, was, that he might be better
protected in the possession of his rights. In both cases therefore it was
manifestly unjust, that a man should be made to labour during the whole of
his life, and yet have no benefit from his labour. Hence the Slave-trade
and the Colonial slavery were a violation of the very principle, upon which
all law for the protection of property was founded. Whatever benefit was
derived from that trade to an individual, it was derived from dishonour and
dishonesty. He forced from the unhappy victim of it that, which the latter
did not wish to give him; and he gave to the same victim that, which he in
vain attempted to show was an equivalent to the thing he took, it being a
thing for which there was no equivalent; and which, if he had not obtained
by force, he would not have possessed at all. Nor could there be any answer
to this reasoning, unless it could be proved, that it had pleased God to
give to the inhabitants of Britain a property in the liberty and life of
the natives of Africa. But he would go further on this subject. The
injustice complained of was not confined to the bare circumstance of
robbing them of the right to their own labour. It was conspicuous
throughout the system. They, who bought them, became guilty of all the
crimes which had been committed in procuring them; and, when they possessed
them, of all the crimes which belonged to their inhuman treatment. The
injustice in the latter case amounted frequently to murder. For what was it
but murder to pursue a practice, which produced untimely death to thousands
of innocent and helpless beings? It was a duty, which their lordships owed
to their Creator, if they hoped for mercy, to do away this monstrous

With respect to the impolicy of the trade (the third point in the
resolution), he would say at once, that whatever was inhuman and unjust
must be impolitic. He had, however, no objection to argue the point upon
its own particular merits; and, first, he would observe, that a great man,
Mr. Pitt, now no more, had exerted his vast powers on many subjects to the
admiration of his hearers; but on none more successfully than on the
subject of the abolition of the Slave-trade. He proved, after making an
allowance for the price paid for the slaves in the West Indies, for the
loss of them in the seasoning, and for the expense of maintaining them
afterwards, and comparing these particulars with the amount in value of
their labour there, that the evils endured by the victims of the traffic
were no gain to the master, in whose service they took place. Indeed Mr.
Long had laid it down in his History of Jamaica, that the best way to
secure the planters from ruin would be to do that, which the resolution
recommended. It was notorious, that when any planter was in distress, and
sought to relieve himself by increasing the labour on his estate by means
of the purchase of new slaves, the measure invariably tended to his
destruction. What then was the importation of fresh Africans but a system,
tending to the general ruin of the islands?

But it had often been said, that without fresh importations the population
of the slaves could not be supported in the islands. This, however, was a
mistake. It had arisen from reckoning the deaths of the imported Africans,
of whom so many were lost in the seasoning, among the deaths of the
Creole-slaves. He did not mean to say, that under the existing degree of
misery the population would greatly increase; but he would maintain, that,
if the deaths and the births were calculated upon those, who were either
born, or who had been a long time in the islands, so as to be considered as
natives, it would be found that the population had not only been kept up,
but that it had been increased.

If it was true, that the labour of a free man was cheaper than that of a
slave; and also that the labour of a long imported slave was cheaper than
that of a fresh imported one; and again, that the chances of mortality were
much more numerous among the newly imported slaves in the West Indies, than
among those of old standing there (propositions, which he took to be
established), we should see new arguments for the impolicy of the trade.

It might be stated also, that the importation of vast bodies of men, who
had been robbed of their rights, and grievously irritated on that account,
into our colonies (where their miserable condition opened new sources of
anger and revenge), was the importation only of the seeds of insurrection
into them. And here he could not but view with astonishment the reasoning
of the West Indian planters, who held up the example of St. Domingo as a
warning against the abolition of the Slave-trade; because the continuance
of it was one of the great causes of the insurrections and subsequent
miseries in that devoted island. Let us but encourage importations in the
same rapid progression of increase every year, which took place in St.
Domingo, and we should witness the same effect in our own islands.

To expose the impolicy of the trade further, he would observe, that it was
an allowed axiom, that as the condition of man was improved, he became more
useful. The history of our own country, in very early times, exhibited
instances of internal slavery, and this to a considerable extent. But we
should find that precisely in proportion as that slavery was ameliorated,
the power and prosperity of the country flourished. This was exactly
applicable to the case in question. There could be no general amelioration
of slavery in the West Indies, while the Slave-trade lasted: but, if we
were to abolish it, we should make it the interest of every owner of slaves
to do that, which would improve their condition; and which indeed would
lead ultimately to the annihilation of slavery itself. This great event,
however, could not be accomplished at once. It could only be effected in a
course of time.

It would be endless, he said, to go into all the cases, which would
manifest the impolicy of this odious traffic. Inhuman as it was, unjust as
it was, he believed it to be equally impolitic; and if their lordships
should be of this opinion also, he hoped they would agree to that part of
the resolution, in which these truths were expressed. With respect to the
other part of it, or that they would proceed to abolish the trade, he
observed, that neither the time nor the manner of doing it were specified.
Hence if any of them should differ as to these particulars, they might yet
vote for the resolution; as they were not pledged to any thing definite in
these respects; provided they thought that the trade should be abolished at
some time or other; and he did not believe, that there was any one of them,
who would sanction its continuance for ever.

Lord Hawkesbury said, that he did not mean to discuss the question on the
ground of justice and humanity, as contradistinguished from sound policy.
If it could fairly be made out, that the African Slave-trade was contrary
to justice and humanity, it ought to be abolished. It did not, however,
follow, because a great evil subsisted, that therefore it should be
removed; for it might be comparatively a less evil, than that which would
accompany the attempt to remove it. The noble lord, who had just spoken,
had exemplified this: for though slavery was a great evil in itself, he was
of opinion, that it could not be done away but in a course of time.

A state of slavery, he said, had existed in Africa from the earliest time;
and, unless other nations would concur with England in the measure of the
abolition, we could not change it for the better.

Slavery had existed also throughout all Europe. It had now happily in a
great measure been done away. But how? Not by acts of parliament; for these
might have retarded the event; but by the progress of civilization, which
removed the evil in a gradual and rational manner.

He then went over the same ground of argument, as when a member of the
Commons in 1792. He said that the inhumanity of the abolition was visible
in this, that not one slave less would be taken from Africa; and that such,
as were taken from it, would suffer more than they did now, in the hands of
foreigners. He maintained also, as before, that the example of St. Domingo
afforded one of the strongest arguments against the abolition of the trade.
And he concluded by objecting to the resolution, inasmuch as it could do no
good; for the substance of it would be to be discussed again in a future

The Bishop of London (Dr. Porteus) began by noticing the concession of the
last speaker, namely, that, if the trade was contrary to humanity and
justice, it ought to be abolished. He expected, he said, that the noble
lord would have proved, that it was not contrary to these great principles,
before he had supported its continuance; but not a word had he said to
show, that the basis of the resolution in these respects was false. It
followed then, he thought, that as the noble lord had not disproved the
premises, he was bound to abide by the conclusion.

The ways, he said, in which the Africans were reduced to slavery in their
own country, were by wars, many of which were excited for the purpose; by
the breaking up of villages; by kidnapping; and by convictions for a
violation of their own laws. Of the latter class many were accused falsely,
and of crimes which did not exist. He then read a number of extracts from
the evidence examined before the privy council, and from the histories of
those, who, having lived in Africa, had thrown light upon this subject,
before the question was agitated. All these, he said, (and similar
instances could be multiplied,) proved the truth of the resolution, that
the African Slave-trade was contrary to the principles of humanity,
justice, and sound policy.

It was moreover, he said, contrary to the principles of the religion we
professed. It was not superfluous to say this, when it had been so
frequently asserted, that it was sanctioned both by the Jewish and the
Christian dispensations. With respect to the Jews he would observe, that
there was no such thing as perpetual slavery among them. Their slaves were
of two kinds, those of their own nation, and those from the country round
about them. The former were to be set free on the seventh year; and the
rest, of whatever nation, on the fiftieth, or on the year of Jubilee. With
respect to the Christian dispensation, it was a libel to say, that it
countenanced such a traffic. It opposed it both in its spirit and in its
principle. Nay, it opposed it positively; for it classed men-stealers, or
slave-traders, among the murderers of fathers and mothers and the most
profane criminals upon earth.

The antiquity of slavery in Africa, which the noble lord had glanced at,
afforded, he said, no argument for its continuance. Such a mode of defence
would prevent for ever the removal of any evil. It would justify the
practice of the Chinese, who exposed their infants in the streets to
perish. It would also justify piracy; for that practice existed long before
we knew any thing of the African Slave-trade.

He then combated the argument, that we did a kindness to the Africans by
taking them from their homes; and concluded, by stating to their lordships,
that, if they refused to sanction the resolution, they would establish
these principles, "that though individuals might not rob and murder, yet
that nations might--that though individuals incurred the penalties of death
by such practices, yet that bodies of men might commit them with impunity
for the purposes of lucre,--and that for such purposes they were not only
to be permitted, but encouraged."

The Lord Chancellor (Erskine) confessed, that he was not satisfied with his
own conduct on this subject. He acknowledged with deep contrition, that,
during the time he was a member of the other House, he had not once
attended, when this great question was discussed.

In the West Indies he could say personally, that the slaves were well
treated, where he had an opportunity of seeing them. But no judgement was
to be formed there with respect to the evils complained of. They must be
appreciated as they existed in the trade. Of these he had also been an
eye-witness. It was on this account that he felt contrition for not having
attended the House on this subject; for there were some cruelties in this
traffic which the human imagination could not aggravate. He had witnessed
such scenes over the whole coast of Africa: and he could say, that, if
their lordships could only have a sudden glimpse of them, they would be
struck with horror; and would be astonished, that they could ever have been
permitted to exist. What then would they say to their continuance year
after year, and from age to age?

From information, which he could not dispute, he was warranted in saying,
that on this continent husbands were fraudulently and forcibly severed from
their wives, and parents from their children; and that all the ties of
blood and affection were torn up by the roots. He had himself seen the
unhappy natives put together in heaps in the hold of a ship, where, with
every possible attention to them, their situation must have been
intolerable. He had also heard proved, in courts of justice, facts still
more dreadful than those which he had seen. One of these he would just
mention. The slaves on board a certain ship rose in a mass to liberate
themselves; and having advanced far in the pursuit of their object, it
became necessary to repel them by force. Some of them yielded; some of them
were killed in the scuffle; but many of them actually jumped into the sea
and were drowned; thus preferring death to the misery of their situation;
while others hung to the ship, repenting of their rashness, and bewailing
with frightful noises their horrid fate. Thus the whole vessel exhibited
but one hideous scene of wretchedness. They, who were subdued, and secured
in chains, were seized with the flux, which carried many of them off. These
things were proved in a trial before a British jury, which had to consider,
whether this was a loss, which fell within the policy of insurance, the
slaves being regarded as if they had been only a cargo of dead matter. He
could mention other instances, but they were much too shocking to be
described. Surely their lordships could never consider such a traffic to be
consistent with humanity or justice. It was impossible.

That the trade had long subsisted there was no doubt; but this was no
argument for its continuance. Many evils of much longer standing had been
done away; and it was always our duty to attempt to remove them. Should we
not exult in the consideration, that we, the inhabitants of a small island,
at the extremity of the globe, almost at its north pole, were become the
morning-star to enlighten the nations of the earth, and to conduct them out
of the shades of darkness into the realms of light; thus exhibiting to an
astonished and an admiring world the blessings of a free constitution? Let
us then not allow such a glorious opportunity to escape us.

It had been urged that we should suffer by the abolition of the
Slave-trade. He believed we should not suffer. He believed that our duty
and our interest were inseparable: and he had no difficulty in saying, in
the face of the world, that his own opinion was, that the interests of a
nation would be best preserved by its adherence to the principles of
humanity, justice, and religion.

The Earl of Westmoreland said, that the African Slave-trade might be
contrary to humanity and justice, and yet it might be politic; at least, it
might be inconsistent with humanity, and yet be not inconsistent with
justice: this was the case, when we executed a criminal, or engaged in war.

It was, however, not contrary to justice; for justice in this case must be
measured by the law of nations. But the purchase of slaves was not contrary
to this law. The Slave-trade was a trade with the consent of the
inhabitants of two nations, and procured by no terror, nor by any act of
violence whatever. Slavery had existed from the first ages of the world,
not only in Africa, but throughout the habitable globe; among the Persians,
Greeks, and Romans; and he could compare, with great advantage to his
argument, the wretched condition of the slaves in these ancient states with
that of those in our colonies. Slavery too had been allowed in a nation,
which was under the especial direction of Providence. The Jews were allowed
to hold the heathen in bondage. He admitted, that what the learned prelate
had said relative to the emancipation of the latter in the year of jubilee
was correct; but he denied that his quotation relative to the stealers of
men referred to the Christian religion. It was a mere allusion to that,
which was done contrary to the law of nations, which was the only measure
of justice between states.

With respect to the inhumanity of the trade, he would observe, that if
their lordships, sitting there as legislators, were to set their faces
against every thing which appeared to be inhuman, much of the security on
which their lives and property depended, might be shaken, if not totally
destroyed. The question was, not whether there was not some evil attending
the Slave-trade, but whether by the measure now before them they should
increase or diminish the quantum of human misery in the world. He believed,
for one, considering the internal state of Africa, and the impossibility of
procuring the concurrence of foreign nations in the measure, that they
would not be able to do any good by the adoption of it.

As to the impolicy of the trade, the policy of it, on the other hand, was
so great, that he trembled at the consequences of its abolition. The
property connected with this question amounted to a hundred millions. The
annual produce of the islands was eighteen millions, and it yielded a
revenue of four millions annually. How was this immense property and income
to be preserved? Some had said it would be preserved, because the Black
population in the islands could be kept up without further supplies. But
the planters denied this assertion; and they were the best judges of the

He condemned the resolution as a libel upon the wisdom of the law of the
land, and upon the conduct of their ancestors. He condemned it also,
because, if followed up, it would lead to the abolition of the trade, and
the abolition of the trade to the emancipation of the slaves in our

The Bishop of St. Asaph (Dr. Horsley) said, that, allowing the slaves in
the West Indies even to be pampered with delicacies, or to be put to rest
on a bed of roses, they could not be happy, for--a slave would be still a
slave. The question, however, was not concerning the alteration of their
condition, but whether we should abolish the practice, by which they were
put in that condition? Whether it was humane, just, and politic in us so to
place them? This question was easily answered; for he found it difficult to
form any one notion of humanity, which did not include a desire of
promoting the happiness of others; and he knew of no other justice than
that, which was founded on the principle of doing to others, as we should
wish they should do to us. And these principles of humanity and justice
were so clear, that he found it difficult to make them clearer. Perhaps no
difficulty was greater than that of arguing a self-evident proposition, and
such he took to be the character of the proposition, that the Slave-trade
was inhuman and unjust.

It had been said, that slavery had existed from the beginning of the world.
He would allow it. But had such a trade as the Slave-trade ever existed
before? Would the noble Earl, who had talked of the slavery of ancient Rome
and Greece, assert, that in the course of his whole reading, however
profound it might have been, he had found any thing resembling such a
traffic? Where did it appear in history, that ships were regularly fitted
out to fetch away tens of thousands of persons annually, against their
will, from their native land; that these were subject to personal
indignities and arbitrary punishments during their transportation; and that
a certain proportion of them, owing to suffocation and other cruel causes,
uniformly perished? He averred, that nothing like the African Slave-trade
was ever practised in any nation upon earth.

If the trade then was repugnant, as he maintained it was, to justice and
humanity, he did not see how, without aiding and abetting injustice and
inhumanity, any man could sanction it: and he thought that the noble baron
(Hawkesbury) was peculiarly bound to support the resolution; for he had
admitted that if it could be shown, that the trade was contrary to these
principles, the question would be at an end. Now this contrariety had been
made apparent, and his lordship had not even attempted to refute it.

He would say but little on the subject of revealed religion, as it related
to this question, because the reverend prelate, near him, had spoken so
fully upon it. He might observe, however, that at the end of the sixth
year, when the Hebrew slave was emancipated, he was to be furnished
liberally from the flock, the floor, and the wine-press of his master.

Lord Holland lamented the unfaithfulness of the noble baron (Hawkesbury) to
his own principles, and the inflexible opposition of the noble earl
(Westmoreland), from both which circumstances he despaired for ever of any
assistance from them to this glorious cause. The latter wished to hear
evidence on the subject, for the purpose, doubtless, of delay. He was sure,
that the noble earl did not care what the evidence would say on either
side; for his mind was made up, that the trade ought not to be abolished.

The noble earl had made a difference between humanity, justice, and sound
policy. God forbid, that we should ever admit such distinctions in this
country! But he had gone further, and said, that a thing might be inhuman,
and yet not unjust; and he put the case of the execution of a criminal in
support of it. Did he not by this position confound all notions of right
and wrong in human institutions? When a criminal was justly executed, was
not the execution justice to him who suffered, and humanity to the body of
the people at large?

The noble earl had said also, that we should do no good by the abolition,
because other nations would not concur in it. He did not know what other
nations would do; but this he knew, that we ourselves ought not to be
unjust because they should refuse to be honest. It was, however,
self-obvious, that, if we admitted no more slaves into our colonies, the
evil would be considerably diminished.

Another of his arguments did not appear to be more solid; for surely the
Slave-trade ought not to be continued, merely because the effect of the
abolition might ultimately be that of the emancipation of the slaves; an
event, which would be highly desirable in its due time.

The noble lord had also said, that the planters were against the abolition,
and that without their consent it could never be accomplished. He differed
from him in both these points: for, first, he was a considerable planter
himself, and yet he was a friend to the measure: secondly, by cutting off
all further supplies, the planters would be obliged to pay more attention
to the treatment of their slaves, and this treatment would render the trade

The noble earl had asserted also, that the population in the West Indies
could not be kept up without further importations; and this was the opinion
of the planters, who were the best judges of the subject. As a planter he
differed from his lordship again. If indeed all the waste lands were to be
brought into cultivation, the present population would be insufficient. But
the government had already determined, that the trade should not be
continued for such a purpose. We were no longer to continue pirates, or
executioners for every petty tyrant in Africa, in order that every holder
of a bit of land in our islands might cultivate the whole of his allotment;
a work, which might require centuries. Making this exception, he would
maintain, that no further importations were necessary. Few or no slaves had
been imported into Antigua for many years; and he believed, that even some
had been exported from it. As to Jamaica, although in one year fifteen
thousand died in consequence of a hurricane and famine, the excess of
deaths over the births during the twenty years preceding 1788 was only one
per cent. Deducting, however, the mortality of the newly imported slaves,
and making the calculation upon the Negros born in the island or upon those
who had been long there, he believed the births and the deaths would be
found equal. He had a right therefore to argue that the Negros, with better
treatment (which the abolition would secure), would not only maintain but
increase their population, without any aid from Africa. He would add, that
the newly imported Africans brought with them not only disorders, which
ravaged the plantations, but danger from the probability of insurrections.
He wished most heartily for the total abolition of the trade. He was
convinced, that it was both inhuman, unjust, and impolitic. This had always
been his opinion as an individual since he was capable of forming one. It
was his opinion then as a legislator. It was his opinion as a colonial
proprietor; and it was his opinion as an Englishman, wishing for the
prosperity of the British empire.

The Earl of Suffolk contended, that the population of the slaves in the
islands could be kept up by good treatment, so as to be sufficient for
their cultivation. He entered into a detail of calculations from the year
1772 downwards in support of this statement. He believed all the miseries
of St. Domingo arose from the vast importation of Africans. He had such a
deep sense of the inhumanity and injustice of the Slave-trade, that, if
ever he wished any action of his life to be recorded, it would be that of
the vote he should then give in support of the resolution.

Lord Sidmouth said, that he agreed to the substance of the resolution, but
yet he could not support it. Could he be convinced that the trade would be
injurious to the cause of humanity and justice, the question with him would
be decided; for policy could not be opposed to humanity and justice. He had
been of opinion for the last twenty years, that the interests of the
country and those of numerous individuals were so deeply blended with this
traffic, that we should be very cautious how we proceeded. With respect to
the cultivation of new lands, he would not allow a single Negro to be
imported for such a purpose; but he must have a regard to the old
plantations. When he found a sufficient increase in the Black population to
continue the cultivation already established there, then, but not till
then, he would agree to an abolition of the trade.

Earl Stanhope said he would not detain their lordships long. He could not,
however, help expressing his astonishment at what had fallen from the last
speaker; for he had evidently confessed that the Slave-trade was inhuman
and unjust, and then he had insinuated, that it was neither inhuman nor
unjust to continue it. A more paradoxical or whimsical opinion, he
believed, was never entertained, or more whimsically expressed in that
house. The noble viscount had talked of the interests of the planters: but
this was but a part of the subject; for surely the people of Africa were
not to be forgotten. He did not understand the practice of complimenting
the planters with the lives of men, women, and helpless children by
thousands for the sake of their pecuniary advantage; and they, who adopted
it, whatever they might think of the consistency of their own conduct,
offered an insult to the sacred names of humanity and justice.

The noble earl (Westmoreland) had asked what would be the practical effect
of the abolition of the Slave-trade. He would inform him. It would do away
the infamous practices, which took place in Africa; it would put an end to
the horrors of the passage; it would save many thousands of our
fellow-creatures from the miseries of eternal slavery; it would oblige the
planters to treat those better, who were already in that unnatural state;
it would increase the population of our islands; it would give a death-blow
to the diabolical calculations, whether it was cheaper to work the Negros
to death and recruit the gangs by fresh importations, or to work them
moderately and to treat them kindly. He knew of no event, which would be
attended with so many blessings.

There was but one other matter, which he would notice. The noble baron
(Hawkesbury) had asserted, that all the horrors of St. Domingo were the
consequence of the speculative opinions, which were current in a
neighbouring kingdom on the subject of liberty. They had, he said, no such
origin. They were owing to two causes; first, to the vast number of Negros
recently imported into that island; and, secondly, to a scandalous breach
of faith by the French legislature. This legislature held out the idea not
only of the abolition of the Slave-trade, but also of all slavery; but it
broke its word. It held forth the rights of man to the whole human race,
and then, in practice, it most infamously abandoned every article in these
rights; so that it became the scorn of all the enlightened and virtuous
part of mankind. These were the great causes of the miseries of St.
Domingo, and not the speculative opinions of France.

Earl Grosvenor could not but express the joy he felt at the hope, after all
his disappointments, that this wicked trade would be done away. He hoped
that His Majesty's ministers were in earnest, and that they would, early in
the next session, take this great question up with a determination to go
through with it; so that another year should not pass, before we extended
the justice and humanity of the country to the helpless and unhappy
inhabitants of Africa.

Earl Fitzwilliam said he was fearful, lest the calamities of St. Domingo
should be brought home to our own islands. We ought not, he thought, too
hastily to adopt the resolution on that account. He should therefore
support the previous question.

Lord Ellenborough said, he was sorry to differ from his noble friend (Lord
Sidmouth), and yet he could not help saying that if after twenty years,
during which this question had been discussed by both Houses of Parliament,
their Lordships' judgments were not ripe for its determination, he could
not look with any confidence to a time, when they would be ready to decide

The question then before them was short and plain. It was, whether the
African Slave-trade was inhuman, unjust, and impolitic. If the premises
were true, we could not too speedily bring it to a conclusion.

The subject had been frequently brought before him in a way, which had
enabled him to become acquainted with it; and he was the more anxious on
that account to deliver his sentiments upon it as a peer of Parliament,
without reference to any thing he had been called upon to do in the
discharge of his professional duty. When he looked at the mode in which
this traffic commenced, by the spoliation of the rights of a whole quarter
of the globe; by the misery of whole nations of helpless Africans; by
tearing them from their homes, their families, and their friends; when he
saw the unhappy victims carried away by force; thrust into a dungeon in the
hold of a ship, in which the interval of their passage from their native to
a foreign land was filled up with misery, under every degree of debasement,
and in chains; and when he saw them afterwards consigned to an eternal
slavery; he could not but contemplate the whole system with horror. It was
inhuman in its beginning, inhuman in its progress, and inhuman to the very

Nor was it more inhuman than it was unjust. The noble earl, (Westmoreland)
in adverting to this part of the question, had considered it as a question
of justice between two nations. But it was a moral question. Although the
natives of Africa might be taken by persons authorized by their own laws to
take and dispose of them, and the practice therefore might be said to be
legal as it respected them, yet no man could doubt, whatever ordinances
they might have to sanction it, that it was radically, essentially, and in
principle, unjust; and therefore there could be no excuse for us in
continuing it. On the general principle of natural justice, which was
paramount to all ordinances of men, it was quite impossible to defend this
traffic; and he agreed with the noble baron (Hawkesbury) that, having
decided that it was inhuman and unjust, we should not inquire whether it
was impolitic. Indeed, the inquiry itself would be impious; for it was the
common ordinance of God, that that, which was inhuman and unjust, should
never be for the good of man. Its impolicy therefore was included in its
injustice and its inhumanity. And he had no doubt, when the importations
were stopped, that the planters would introduce a change of system among
their slaves, which would increase their population, so as to render any
further supplies from Africa unnecessary. It had been proved indeed, that
the Negro-population in some of the islands was already in this desirable
state. Many other happy effects would follow. As to the losses which would
arise from the abolition of the Slave-trade, they, who were interested in
the continuance of it, had greatly over-rated, them. When pleading formerly
in his professional capacity for the merchants of Liverpool at their
lordships' bar, he had often delivered statements, which he had received
from them; and which he afterward discovered to be grossly incorrect. He
could say from his own knowledge, that the assertion of the noble earl
(Westmoreland), that property to the amount of a hundred millions would be
endangered, was wild and fanciful. He would not however deny, that some
loss might accompany the abolition; but there could be no difficulty in
providing for it. Such a consideration ought not to be allowed to impede
their progress in getting rid of an horrible injustice.

But it had been said, that we should do but little in the cause of humanity
by abolishing the Slave-trade; because other nations would continue it. He
did not believe they would. He knew that America was about to give it up.
He believed the states of Europe would give it up. But, supposing that they
were all to continue it, would not our honour be the greater? Would not our
virtue be the more signal? for then,

----"faithful we
Among the faithless found"----

to which he would add, that undoubtedly we should diminish the evil, as far
as the number of miserable beings was concerned, which was accustomed to be
transported to our own colonies.

Earl Spencer agreed with the noble viscount (Sidmouth) that the
amelioration of the condition of the slaves was an object, which might be
effected in the West Indies; but he was certain, that the most effectual
way of improving it would be by the total and immediate abolition of the
Slave-trade; and for that reason he would support the resolution. Had the
resolution held out emancipation to them, it would not have had his assent;
for it would have ill become the character of this country, if it had been
once promised, to have withheld it from them. It was to such deception that
the horrors of St. Domingo were to be attributed. He would not enter into
the discussion of the general subject at present. He was convinced that the
trade was what the resolution stated it to be, inhuman, unjust, and
impolitic. He wished therefore, most earnestly indeed, for its abolition.
As to the mode of effecting it, it should be such, as would be attended
with the least inconvenience to all parties. At the same time he would not
allow small inconveniences to stand in the way of the great claims of
humanity, justice, and religion.

The question was then put on the resolution, and carried by a majority of
forty-one to twenty. The same address also to His Majesty, which had been
agreed upon by the Commons, was directly afterward moved. This also was
carried, but without the necessity of a division.

The resolution and the motion having passed both Houses, one other
parliamentary measure was yet necessary to complete the proceedings of this
session. It was now almost universally believed, in consequence of what had
already taken place there, that the Slave-trade had received its
death-wound; and that it would not long survive it. It was supposed
therefore, that the slave-merchants would, in the interim, fit out not only
all the vessels they had, but even buy others, to make what might be called
their last harvest. Hence extraordinary scenes of rapine, and murder, would
be occasioned in Africa. To prevent these a new bill was necessary. This
was accordingly introduced into the Commons. It enacted, but with one
exception, that from and after the first of August 1806, no vessel should
clear out for the Slave-trade, unless it should have been previously
employed by the same owner or owners in the said trade, or should be proved
to have been contracted for previously to the tenth of June 1806, for the
purpose of being employed in that trade. It may now be sufficient to say
that this bill also passed both houses of parliament; soon after which the
session ended.


_Continuation from July 18O6 to March 18O7--Death of Mr. Fox--Bill for the
total abolition of the Slave-trade carried in the House of Lords--sent from
thence to the Commons--amended and passed there--carried back, and passed
with its amendments by the Lords--receives the royal assent--Reflections on
this great event._

It was impossible for the committee to look back to the proceedings of the
last session, as they related to the great question under their care,
without feeling a profusion of joy, as well as of gratitude to those, by
whose virtuous endeavours they had taken place. But, alas, how few of our
earthly pleasures come to us without alloy! a melancholy event succeeded.
We had the painful intelligence, in the month of October 1806, that one of
the oldest and warmest friends of the cause was then numbered with the

Of the character of Mr. Fox, as it related to this cause, I am bound to
take notice. And, first, I may observe, that he professed an attachment to
it almost as soon as it was ushered into the world. Early in the year 1788,
when he was waited upon by a deputation of the committee, his language was,
as has appeared in the first volume, "that he would support their object to
its fullest extent, being convinced that there was no remedy for the evil
but in the total abolition of the trade."

His subsequent conduct evinced the sincerity of his promises. He was
constant in his attendance in Parliament whenever the question was brought
forward; and he never failed to exert his powerful eloquence in its favour.
The countenance, indeed, which he gave it, was of the greatest importance
to its welfare; for most of his parliamentary friends, who followed his
general political sentiments, patronized it also. By the aid of these,
joined to that of the private friends of Mr. Pitt, and of other members,
who espoused it without reference to party, it was always so upheld, that
after the year 1791 no one of the defeats, which it sustained, was
disgraceful. The majority on the side of those interested in the
continuance of the trade was always so trifling, that the abolitionists
were preserved a formidable body, and their cause respectable.

I never heard whether Mr. Fox, when he came into power, made any
stipulations with His Majesty on the subject of the Slave-trade: but this I
know, that he determined upon the abolition of it, if it were practicable,
as the highest glory of his administration, and as the greatest earthly
blessing which it was in the power of the Government to bestow; and that he
took considerable pains to convince some of his colleagues in the cabinet
of the propriety of the measure.

When the resolution, which produced the debates in parliament, as detailed
in the last chapter, was under contemplation, it was thought expedient that
Mr. Fox, as the minister of state in the House of Commons, should introduce
it himself. When applied to for this purpose he cheerfully undertook the
office, thus acting in consistency with his public declaration in the year
1791, "that in whatever situation he might ever be, he would use his
warmest efforts for the promotion of this righteous cause."

Before the next measure, or the bill to prevent the sailing of any new
vessel in the trade after the first of August, was publicly disclosed, it
was suggested to him, that the session was nearly over; that he might
possibly weary both Houses by another motion on the subject; and that, if
he were to lose it, or to experience a diminution of his majorities in
either, he might injure the cause; which was then in the road to triumph.
To this objection he replied, "that he believed both Houses were disposed
to get rid of the trade; that his own life was precarious; that if he
omitted to serve the injured Africans on this occasion, he might have no
other opportunity of doing it; and that he dared not, under these
circumstances, neglect so great a duty."

This prediction relative to himself became unfortunately verified; for his
constitution, after this, began to decline, till at length his mortal
destiny, in the eyes of his medical attendants, was sealed. But even then,
when removed by pain and sickness from the discussion of political
subjects, he never forgot this cause. In his own sufferings he was not
unmindful of those of the injured Africans. "Two things," said he, on his
death-bed, "I wish earnestly to see accomplished--peace with Europe,--and
the abolition of the Slave-trade." But knowing well, that we could much
better protect ourselves against our own external enemies, than this
helpless people against their oppressors, he added, "but of the two I wish
the latter." These sentiments he occasionally repeated, so that the subject
was frequently in his thoughts in his last illness. Nay, "the very hope of
the abolition (to use the expression of Lord Howick in the House of
Commons) quivered on his lips in the last hour of it." Nor is it
improbable, if earthly scenes ever rise to view at that awful crisis, and
are perceptible, that it might have occupied his mind in the last moment of
his existence. Then indeed would joy ineffable, from a conviction of having
prepared the way for rescuing millions of human beings from misery, have
attended the spirit on its departure from the body; and then also would
this spirit, most of all purified when in the contemplation of peace,
good-will, and charity upon earth, be in the fittest state, on gliding from
its earthly cavern, to commix with the endless ocean of benevolence and

At length the session of 1807 commenced. It was judged advisable by Lord
Grenville, that the expected motion on this subject should, contrary to the
practice hitherto adopted, be agitated first in the Lords. Accordingly, on
the second of January he presented a bill, called an act for the abolition
of the Slave-trade; but he then proposed only to print it, and to let it
lie on the table, that it might be maturely considered, before it should be

On the fourth no less than four counsel were heard against the bill.

On the fifth the debate commenced. But of this I shall give no detailed
account; nor, indeed, of any of those, which followed it. The truth is,
that the subject has been exhausted. They, who spoke in favour of the
abolition, said very little that was new concerning it. They, who spoke
against it, brought forward, as usual, nothing but negative assertions and
fanciful conjectures. To give therefore, what was said by both parties at
these times, would be but useless repetition[A]. To give, on the other
hand, that which was said on one side only would appear partial. Hence I
shall offer to the reader little more than a narrative of facts upon these

[Footnote A: The different debates in both Houses on this occasion would
occupy the half of another volume. This is another circumstance, which
reconciles me to the omission. But that, which reconciles me the most is,
that they will be soon published. In these debates justice has been done to
every individual concerned in them.]

Lord Grenville opened the debate by a very luminous speech. He was
supported by the Duke of Glocester, the Bishop of Durham (Dr. Barrington),
the Earls Moira, Selkirk, and Roslyn, and the Lords Holland, King, and
Hood. The opponents of the bill were the Duke of Clarence, the Earls
Westmoreland and St. Vincent, and the Lords Sidmouth, Eldon, and

The question being called for at four o'clock in the morning, it appeared
that the personal votes and proxies in favour of Lord Grenville's motion
amounted to one hundred, and those against it to thirty-six. Thus passed
the first bill in England, which decreed, that the African Slave-trade
should cease. And here I cannot omit paying to his Highness the Duke of

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