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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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Glocester the tribute of respect, which is due to him, for having opposed
the example of his royal relations on this subject in behalf of an helpless
and oppressed people. The sentiments too, which he delivered on this
occasion, ought not to be forgotten. "This trade," said he, "is contrary to
the principles of the British constitution. It is, besides, a cruel and
criminal traffic in the blood of my fellow-creatures. It is a foul stain on
the national character. It is an offence to the Almighty. On every ground
therefore on which a decision can be made; on the ground of policy, of
liberty, of humanity, of justice, but, above all, on the ground of
religion, I shall vote for its immediate extinction."

On the tenth of February the bill was carried to the House of Commons. On
the twentieth, counsel were heard against it; after which, by agreement,
the second reading of it took place. On the twenty-third the question being
put for the commitment of it, Lord Viscount Howick (now Earl Grey) began an
eloquent speech. After he had proceeded in it some way, he begged leave to
enter his protest against certain principles of relative justice, which had
been laid down. "The merchants and planters," said he, "have an undoubted
right, in common with other subjects of the realm, to demand justice at our
hands. But that, which they denominate justice, does not correspond with
the legitimate character of that virtue; for they call upon us to violate
the rights of others, and to transgress our own moral duties. That, which
they distinguish as justice, involves in itself the greatest injury to
others. It is not in fact justice, which they demand, but--favour--and
favour to themselves at the expense of the most grievous oppression of
their fellow-creatures."

He then argued the question upon the ground of policy. He showed by a
number of official documents, how little this trade had contributed to the
wealth of the nation, being but a fifty-fourth part of its export trade;
and he contended that as four-sevenths of it had been cut off by His
Majesty's proclamation, and the passing of the foreign Slave-bill in a
former year, no detriment of any consequence would arise from the present

He entered into an account of the loss of seamen, and of the causes of the
mortality, in this trade.

He went largely into the subject of the Negro-population in the islands
from official documents, giving an account of it up to the latest date. He
pointed out the former causes of its diminution, and stated how the
remedies for these would follow.

He showed how, even if the quantity of colonial produce should be
diminished for a time, this disadvantage would, in a variety of instances,
be more than counterbalanced by advantages, which would not only be great
in themselves, but permanent.

He then entered into a refutation of the various objections which had been
made to the abolition, in an eloquent and perspicuous manner; and concluded
by appealing to the great authorities of Mr. Pitt and Mr. Fox in behalf of
the proposed measure. "These precious ornaments, he said, of their age and
country had examined the subject with all the force of their capacious
minds. On this question they had dismissed all animosity--all difference of
opinion--and had proceeded in union;--and he believed, that the best
tribute of respect we could show, or the most splendid monument we could
raise, to their memories, Would be by the adoption of the glorious measure
of the abolition of the Slave-trade."

Lord Howick was supported by Mr. Roscoe, who was then one of the members
for Liverpool; by Mr. Lushington, Mr. Fawkes, Lord Mahon, Lord Milton, Sir
John Doyle, Sir Samuel Romilly, Mr. Wilberforce, and Earl Percy, the latter
of whom wished that a clause might be put into the bill, by which all the
children of slaves, born after January 1810, should be made free. General
Gascoyne and Mr. Hibbert opposed the bill. Mr. Manning hoped that
compensation would be made to the planters in case of loss. Mr. Bathurst
and Mr. Hiley Addington preferred a plan for gradual abolition to the
present mode. These having spoken, it appeared on a division that there
were for the question two hundred and eighty-three, and against it only

Of this majority I cannot but remark, that it was probably the largest that
was ever announced on any occasion, where the House was called upon to
divide. I must observe also, that there was such an enthusiasm among the
members at this time, that there appeared to be the same kind and degree of
feeling, as manifested itself within the same walls in the year 1788, when
the question was first started. This enthusiasm too, which was of a moral
nature, was so powerful, that it seemed even to extend to a conversion of
the heart: for several of the old opponents of this righteous cause went
away, unable to vote against it; while others of them staid in their
places, and voted in its favour.

On the twenty-seventh of February Lord Howick moved, that the House resolve
itself into a committee on the bill for the abolition of the Slave-trade.
Sir C. Pole, Mr. Hughan, Brown, Bathurst, Windham, and Fuller opposed the
motion; and Sir R. Milbank, and Mr. Wynne, Barham, Courtenay, Montague,
Jacob, Whitbread, and Herbert (of Kerry), supported it. At length the
committee was allowed to sit _pro forma_, and Mr. Hobhouse was put into the
chair. The bill then went through it, and, the House being resumed, the
report was received and read.

On the sixth of March, when the committee sat again, Sir C. Pole moved,
that the year 1812 be substituted for the year 1807, as the time when the
trade should be abolished. This amendment produced a long debate, which was
carried on by Sir C. Pole, Mr. Fuller, Hiley Addington, Rose, Gascoyne, and
Bathurst on one side; and by Mr. Ward, Sir P. Francis, General Vyse, Sir T.
Turton, Mr. Whitbread, Lord Henry Petty, Mr. Canning, Stanhope, Perceval,
and Wilberforce on the other. At length, on a division, there appeared to
be one hundred and twenty-five against the amendment, and for it only
seventeen. The chairman then read the bill, and it was agreed that he
should report it with the amendments on Monday. The bill enacted, that no
vessel should clear out for slaves from any port within the British
dominions after the first of May 1807, and that no slave should be landed
in the colonies after the first of March 1808.

On the sixteenth of March, on the motion of Lord Henry Petty, the question
was put, that the bill be read a third time. Mr. Hibbert, Captain Herbert,
Mr. T.W. Plomer, Mr. Windham, and Lord Castlereagh spoke against the
motion. Sir P. Francis, Mr. Lyttleton, Mr. H. Thornton, and Mr. Barham,
Sheridan, and Wilberforce supported it. After this the bill was passed
without a division[A].

[Footnote A: S. Lushington, esq. M.P. for Yarmouth, gave his voluntary
attendance and assistance to the Committee, during all these motions, and
J. Bowdler, esquire, was elected a member of it.]

On Wednesday, the eighteenth, Lord Howick, accompanied by Mr. Wilberforce
and others, carried the bill to the Lords. Lord Grenville, on receiving it,
moved that it should be printed, and that, if this process could be
finished by Monday, it should be taken into consideration on that day. The
reason of this extraordinary haste was, that His Majesty, displeased with
the introduction of the Roman-catholic officers' bill into the Commons, had
signified his intention to the members of the existing administration, that
they were to be displaced.

The uneasiness, which, a few days before, had sprung up among the friends
of the abolition, on the report that this event was probable, began now to
show itself throughout the kingdom. Letters were written from various
parts, manifesting the greatest fear and anxiety on account of the state of
the bill, and desiring answers of consolation. Nor was this state of the
mind otherwise than what might have been expected upon such an occasion;
for the bill was yet to be printed--Being an amended one, it was to be
argued again in the Lords--It was then to receive the royal assent--All
these operations implied time; and it was reported that the new ministry[A]
was formed; among whom were several, who had shown a hostile disposition to
the cause.

[Footnote A: The only circumstance, which afforded comfort at this time,
was that the honourable Spencer Perceval and Mr. Canning were included in
it, who were warm patrons of this great measure.]

On Monday, the twenty-third, the House of Lords met. Such extraordinary
diligence had been used in printing the bill, that it was then ready. Lord
Grenville immediately brought it forward. The Earl of Westmoreland and the
Marquis of Sligo opposed it. The Duke of Norfolk and the Bishop of Llandaff
(Dr. Watson) supported it. The latter said, that this great act of justice
would be recorded in heaven. The amendments were severally adopted without
a division. But here an omission of three words was discovered, namely,
"country, territory, or place," which, if not rectified, might defeat the
purposes of the bill. An amendment was immediately proposed and carried.
Thus the bill received the last sanction of the Peers. Lord Grenville then
congratulated the House on the completion, on its part, of the most
glorious measure, that had ever been adopted by any legislative body in the

The amendment, now mentioned, occasioned the bill to be sent back to the
Commons. On the twenty-fourth, on the motion of Lord Howick, it was
immediately taken into consideration there, and agreed to; and it was
carried back to the Lords, as approved of, on the same day.

But though the bill had now passed both houses, there was an awful fear
throughout the kingdom, lest it should not receive the royal assent before
the ministry was dissolved. This event took place the next day; for on
Wednesday the twenty-fifth, at half past eleven in the morning; His
Majesty's message was delivered to the different members of it, that they
were then to wait upon him to deliver up the seals of their offices. It
then appeared that a commission for the royal assent to this bill among
others had been obtained. This commission was instantly opened by the Lord
Chancellor (Erskine), who was accompanied by the Lords Holland and
Auckland; and as the clock struck twelve, just when the sun was in its
meridian splendour to witness this august Act, this establishment of a
Magna Charta for Africa in Britain, and to sanction it by its most vivid
and glorious beams, it was completed. The ceremony being over, the seals of
the respective offices were delivered up; so that the execution of this
commission was the last act of the administration of Lord Grenville; an
administration, which, on account of its virtuous exertions in behalf of
the oppressed African race, will pass to posterity, living through
successive generations, in the love and gratitude of the most virtuous of

Thus ended one of the most glorious contests, after a continuance for
twenty years, of any ever carried on in any age or country. A contest, not
of brutal violence, but of reason. A contest between those, who felt deeply
for the happiness and the honour of their fellow-creatures, and those, who,
through vicious custom and the impulse of avarice, had trampled under-foot
the sacred rights of their nature, and had even attempted to efface all
title to the divine image from their minds.

Of the immense advantages of this contest I know not how to speak. Indeed,
the very agitation of the question, which it involved, has been highly
important. Never was the heart of man so expanded. Never were its generous
sympathies so generally and so perseveringly excited. These sympathies,
thus called into existence, have been useful in the preservation of a
national virtue. For any thing we know, they may have contributed greatly
to form a counteracting balance against the malignant spirit, generated by
our almost incessant wars during this period, so as to have preserved us
from barbarism.

It has been useful also in the discrimination of moral character. In
private life it has enabled us to distinguish the virtuous from the more
vicious part of the community[A]. It has shown the general philanthropist.
It has unmasked the vicious in spite of his pretension to virtue. It has
afforded us the same knowledge in public life. It has separated the moral
statesman from the wicked politician. It has shown us who, in the
legislative and executive offices of our country are fit to save, and who
to destroy, a nation.

[Footnote A: I have had occasion to know many thousand persons in the
course of my travels on this subject; and I can truly say, that the part,
which these took on this great question, was always a true criterion of
their moral character. Some indeed opposed the abolition, who seemed to be
so respectable, that it was difficult to account for their conduct; but it
invariably turned out in a course of time, either that they had been
influenced by interested motives, or that they were not men of steady moral
principle. In the year 1792, when the national enthusiasm was so great, the
good were as distinguishable from the bad, according to their disposition
to this great cause, as if the divine Being had marked them; or, as a
friend of mine the other day observed, as we may suppose the sheep to be
from the goats on the day of judgment.]

It has furnished us also with important lessons. It has proved what a
creature man is! how devoted he is to his own interest! to what a length of
atrocity he can go, unless fortified by religious principle! But as if this
part of the prospect would be too afflicting, it has proved to us, on the
other hand, what a glorious instrument he may become in the hands of his
Maker; and that a little virtue, when properly leavened, is made capable of
counteracting the effects of a mass of vice!

With respect to the end obtained by this contest, or the great measure of
the abolition of the Slave-trade as it has now passed, I know not how to
appreciate its importance. To our own country, indeed, it is invaluable. We
have lived, in consequence of it, to see the day, when it has been recorded
as a principle in our legislation, that commerce itself shall have its
moral boundaries. We have lived to see the day, when we are likely to be
delivered from the contagion of the most barbarous opinions. They, who
supported this wicked traffic, virtually denied, that man was a moral
being. They substituted the law of force for the law of reason. But the
great Act now under our consideration, has banished the impious doctrine,
and restored the rational creature to his moral rights. Nor is it a matter
of less pleasing consideration, that, at this awful crisis, when the
constitutions of kingdoms are on the point of dissolution, the stain of the
blood of Africa is no longer upon us, or that we have been freed (alas, if
it be not too late!) from a load of guilt, which has long hung like a
mill-stone about our necks, ready to sink us to perdition.

In tracing the measure still further, or as it will affect other lands, we
become only the more sensible of its importance: for can we pass over to
Africa; can we pass over to the numerous islands, the receptacles of
miserable beings from thence; and can we call to mind the scenes of misery,
which have been passing in each of these regions of the earth, without
acknowledging, that one of the greatest sources of suffering to the human
race has, as far as our own power extends, been done away? Can we pass over
to these regions again, and contemplate the multitude of crimes, which the
agency necessary for keeping up the barbarous system produced, without
acknowledging, that a source of the most monstrous and extensive wickedness
has been removed also? But here, indeed, it becomes us peculiarly to
rejoice; for though nature shrinks from pain, and compassion is engendered
in us when we see it become the portion of others, yet what is physical
suffering compared with moral guilt? The misery of the oppressed is, in the
first place, not contagious like the crime of the oppressor. Nor is the
mischief, which it generates, either so frightful or so pernicious. The
body, though under affliction, may retain its shape; and, if it even
perish, what is the loss of it but of worthless dust? But when the moral
springs of the mind are poisoned, we lose the most excellent part of the
constitution of our nature, and the divine image is no longer perceptible
in us. Nor are the two evils of similar duration. By a decree of
Providence, for which we cannot be too thankful, we are made mortal. Hence
the torments of the oppressor are but temporary; whereas the immortal part
of us, when once corrupted, may carry its pollutions with it into another

But independently of the quantity of physical suffering and the innumerable
avenues to vice in more than a quarter of the globe, which this great
measure will cut off, there are yet blessings, which we have reason to
consider as likely to flow from it. Among these we cannot overlook the
great probability, that Africa, now freed from the vicious and barbarous
effects of this traffic, may be in a better state to comprehend and receive
the sublime truths of the Christian religion. Nor can we overlook the
probability, that, a new system of treatment necessarily springing up in
our islands, the same bright sun of consolation may visit her children
there. But here a new hope rises to our view. Who knows but that
emancipation, like a beautiful plant, may, in its due season, rise out of
the ashes of the abolition of the Slave-trade, and that, when its own
intrinsic value shall be known, the seed of it may be planted in other
lands? And looking at the subject in this point of view, we cannot but be
struck with the wonderful concurrence of events as previously necessary for
this purpose, namely, that two nations, England and America, the mother and
the child, should, in the same month of the same year, have abolished this
impious traffic; nations, which at this moment have more than a million of
subjects within their jurisdiction to partake of the blessing; and one of
which, on account of her local situation and increasing power, is likely in
time to give, if not law, at least a tone to the manners and customs of the
great continent, on which she is situated.

Reader! Thou art now acquainted with the history of this contest! Rejoice
in the manner of its termination! And, if thou feelest grateful for the
event, retire within thy closet, and pour out thy thanksgivings to the
Almighty for this his unspeakable act of mercy to thy oppressed




CHAP. 1. INTRODUCTION--Estimate of the evil of the Slave-trade--and of the
blessing of the Abolition of it--Usefulness of the contemplation of this

CHAP. 2. Those, who favoured the cause of the Africans previously to 1787,
were so many necessary forerunners in it--Cardinal Ximenes--and others

CHAP. 3. Forerunners continued to 1787--divided now into four
classes--First consists of persons in England of various descriptions,
Godwyn, Baxter, and others

CHAP. 4. Second, of the Quakers in England, George Fox, and his religious

CHAP. 5. Third, of the Quakers in America--Union of these with individuals
of other religious denominations in the same cause

CHAP. 6. Facility of junction between the members of these three different

CHAP. 7. Fourth consists of Dr. Peckard--then of the Author--Author wishes
to embark in the cause--falls in with several of the members of these

CHAP. 8. Fourth class continued--Langton--Baker--and others--Author now
embarks in the cause as a business of his life

CHAP. 9. Fourth class continued--Sheldon--Mackworth--and others--Author
seeks for further information on the subject--and visits Members of

CHAP. 10. Fourth class continued--Author enlarges his knowledge--Meeting at
Mr. Wilberforce's--Remarkable junction of all the four classes, and a
Committee formed out of them, in May 1787, for the Abolition of the

CHAP. 11. History of the preceding classes, and of their junction, shown by
means of a map

CHAP. 12. Author endeavours to do away the charge of ostentation in
consequence of becoming so conspicuous in this work

CHAP. 13. Proceedings of the Committee--Emancipation declared to be no part
of its object--Wrongs of Africa by Mr. Roscoe

CHAP. 14. Author visits Bristol to collect information--Ill usage of seamen
in the Slave-trade--Articles of African produce--Massacre at Calebar

CHAP. 15. Mode of procuring and paying seamen in that trade--their
mortality in it--Construction and admeasurement of Slave-ships--Difficulty
of procuring evidence--Cases of Gardiner and Arnold

CHAP. 16. Author meets with Alexander Falconbridge--visits ill-treated and
disabled seamen--takes a mate out of one of the Slave-vessels--and puts
another in prison for murder

CHAP. 17. Visits Liverpool--Specimens of African
produce--Dock-duties--Iron-instruments used in the traffic--His
introduction to Mr. Norris

CHAP. 18. Manner of procuring and paying seamen at Liverpool in the
Slave-trade--their treatment and mortality--Murder of Peter
Green--Dangerous situation of the Author in consequence of his inquiries

CHAP. 19. Author proceeds to Manchester--delivers a discourse there on the
subject of the Slave-trade--revisits Bristol--New and difficult
situation--suddenly crosses the Severn at night--returns to London

CHAP. 20. Labours of the Committee during the Author's journey--Mr. Sharp
elected chairman--Seal engraved--Letters from different correspondents to
the Committee

CHAP. 21. Further labours of the Committee to February 1788--List of new

CHAP. 22. Progress of the cause to the middle of May--Petitions to
Parliament--Author's interviews with Mr. Pitt and Mr. Grenville--Privy
council inquire into the subject--examine Liverpool-delegates--Proceedings
of the Committee for the abolition--Motion and debate in the House of
Commons--Discussion of the general question postponed to the next session

CHAP. 23. Progress to the middle of July--Bill to diminish the horrors of
the Middle Passage--Evidence examined against it--Debates--Bill passed
through both Houses--Proceedings of the Committee, and effects of them.


CHAP. 1. Continuation from June 1758 to July 1739--Author travels in search
of fresh evidence--Privy council resume their examinations--prepare their
report--Proceedings of the Committee for the abolition--and of the Planters
and others--Privy council report laid on the table of the House of
Commons--Debate upon it--Twelve propositions--Opponents refuse to argue
from the report--Examine new evidence of their own in the House of
Commons--Renewal of the Middle Passage-Bill--Death and character of Ramsay

CHAP. 2. Continuation from July 1789 to July 1790--Author travels to Paris
to promote the abolition in France--His proceedings there--returns to
England--Examination of opponents' evidence resumed in the Commons--Author
travels in quest of new evidence on the side of the abolition--This, after
great opposition, introduced--Renewal of the Middle Passage-Bill--Section
of the Slave-ship--Cowper's Negro's Complaint--Wedgwood's Cameos.

CHAP. 3. Continuation from July 1790 to July 1791--Author travels
again--Examinations on the side of the abolition resumed in the
Commons--List of those examined--Cruel circumstances of the times--Motion
for the abolition of the trade--Debates--Motion lost--Resolutions of the
Committee--Sierra Leone Company established

CHAP. 4. Continuation from July 1791 to July 1792--Author travels
again--People begin to leave off sugar--Petition Parliament--Motion renewed
in the Commons--Debates--Abolition resolved upon, but not to commence till
1796--The Lords determine upon hearing evidence on the resolution--This
evidence introduced--Further hearing of it postponed to the next session

CHAP. 5. Continuation from July 1792 to July 1793--Author travels
again--Motion to renew the Resolution of the last year in the
Commons--Motion lost--New motion to abolish the foreign Slave-trade--Motion
lost--Proceedings of the Lords

CHAP. 6. Continuation from July 1793 to July 1794--Author travels
again--Motion to abolish the foreign Slave-trade renewed and carried--but
lost in the Lords--Further proceedings there--Author, on account of
declining health, obliged to retire from the cause

CHAP. 7. Continuation from July 1794 to July 1799--Various motions within
this period

CHAP. 8. Continuation from July 1799 to July 18O5--Various motions within
this period

CHAP. 9. Continuation from July 1805 to July 1806--Author, restored, joins
the Committee again--Death of Mr. Pitt--Foreign Slave-trade
abolished--Resolution to take measures for the total abolition of the
trade--Address to the King to negotiate with foreign powers for their
concurrence in it--Motion to prevent new vessels going into the trade--all
these carried through both Houses of Parliament

CHAP. 10. Continuation from July 1806 to July 1807--Death of Mr. Fox--Bill
for the total abolition carried in the Lords--Sent from thence to the
Commons--amended, and passed there, and sent back to the Lords--receives
the royal assent--Reflections on this great event

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