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

Part 4 out of 6

their great work, elected Sir William Dolben, baronet, Henry Thornton,
Lewis Alexander Grant, and Matthew Montagu, esquires, who were members of
parliament, and Truman Harford, Josiah Wedgwood, jun. esquire, and John
Clarkson, esquire, of the royal navy, as members of their own body; and
they elected the Reverend Archdeacon Plymloy (now Corbett) an honorary and
corresponding member, in consequence of the great services which he had
rendered their cause in the shires of Hereford and Salop, and the adjacent
counties of Wales.

The several committees, established in the country, on receiving the
resolutions and report as before mentioned, testified their sympathy in
letters of condolence to that of London on the late melancholy occasion;
and expressed their determination to support it as long as any vestiges of
this barbarous traffic should remain.

At length the session ended; and though, in the course of it, the
afflicting loss of the general question had occurred, there was yet an
attempt made by the abolitionists in parliament, which met with a better
fate. The Sierra Leone company received the sanction of the legislature.
The object of this institution was to colonize a small portion of the coast
of Africa. They, who were to settle there, were to have no concern in the
Slave-trade, but to discourage it as much as possible. They were to
endeavour to establish a new species of commerce, and to promote
cultivation in its neighbourhood by free labour. The persons more generally
fixed upon for colonists, were such Negros, with their wives and families,
as chose to abandon their habitations in Nova Scotia. These had followed
the British arms in America; and had been settled there, as a reward for
their services, by the British government. My brother, just mentioned to
have been chosen a member of the committee, and who had essentially served
the great cause of the abolition on many occasions, undertook a visit to
Nova Scotia, to see if those in question were willing to undergo the
change; and in that case to provide transports, and conduct them to Sierra
Leone. This object he accomplished. He embarked more than eleven hundred
persons in fifteen vessels, of all which he took the command. On landing
them he became the first Governor of the new Colony. Having laid the
foundation of it, he returned to England; when a successor was appointed.
From that time many unexpected circumstances, but particularly devastations
by the French in the beginning of the war, took place, which, contributed
to ruin the trading company, which was attached to it. It is pleasing,
however, to reflect, that though the object of the institution, as far as
mercantile profit was concerned, thus failed, the other objects belonging
to it were promoted. Schools, places of worship, agriculture, and the
habits of civilized life, were established. Sierra Leone, therefore, now
presents itself as the medium of civilization for Africa. And, in this
latter point of view, it is worth all the treasure which has been lost in
supporting it: for the Slave-trade, which was the great obstacle to this
civilization, being now happily abolished, there is a metropolis,
consisting of some hundreds of persons, from which may issue the seeds of
reformation to this injured continent; and which, when sown, may be
expected to grow into fruit without interruption. New schools may be
transplanted from thence into the interior. Teachers, and travellers on
discovery, may be sent from thence in various directions; who may return to
it occasionally as to their homes. The natives too, able now to travel in
safety, may resort to it from various parts. They may see the improvements
which are going on from time to time. They may send their children to it
for education. And thus it may become the medium[A] of a great intercourse
between England and Africa, to the benefit of each other.

[Footnote A: To promote this desirable end an association took place last
year, called The African Institution, under the patronage of the Duke of
Gloucester, as president, and of the friends to the African cause,
particularly of such as were in parliament, and as belonged to the
committee for the abolition of the Slave-trade.]


_Continuation from July 1791 to July 1792--Author travels round the kingdom
again--Object of his journey--People begin to leave off the use of
sugar--to form committees--and to send petitions to Parliament--Motion made
in the House of Commons for the immediate abolition of the trade--Debates
upon it--Abolition resolved upon, but not to commence till 1796--Resolution
taken to the Lords--Latter determine upon hearing evidence--Evidence at
length introduced--Further hearing of it postponed to the next session._

The defeat which we had just sustained, was a matter of great triumph to
our opponents. When they considered the majority in the House of Commons in
their favour, they viewed the resolutions of the committee, which have been
detailed, as the last spiteful effort of a vanquished and dying animal, and
they supposed that they had consigned the question to eternal sleep. The
committee, however, were too deeply attached to the cause, vanquished as
they were, to desert it; and they knew also too well the barometer of
public feeling, and the occasion of its fluctuations, to despair. In the
year 1787 the members of the House of Commons, as well as the people, were
enthusiastic in behalf of the abolition of the trade. In the year 1788 the
fair enthusiasm of the former began to fade. In 1789 it died. In 1790
prejudice started up as a noxious weed in its place. In 1791 this prejudice
arrived at its growth. But to what were these changes owing?--To delay;
during which the mind, having been gradually led to the question as a
commercial, had been gradually taken from it as a moral object. But it was
possible to restore the mind to its proper place. Add to which, that the
nation had never deserted the cause during this whole period.

It is much to the honour of the English people, that they should have
continued to feel for the existence of an evil which was so far removed
from their sight. But at this moment their feelings began to be
insupportable. Many of them resolved, as soon as parliament had rejected
the bill, to abstain from the use of West Indian produce. In this state of
things a pamphlet, written by William Bell Crafton, of Tewksbury, and
called "A Sketch of the Evidence, with a Recommendation on the Subject to
the Serious Attention of People in general," made its appearance; and
another followed it, written by William Fox, of London, "On the Propriety
of abstaining from West India Sugar and Rum." These pamphlets took the same
ground. They inculcated abstinence from these articles as a moral duty;
they inculcated it as a peaceable and constitutional measure; and they laid
before the reader a truth, which was sufficiently obvious, that if each
would abstain, the people would have a complete remedy for this enormous
evil in their own power.

While these things were going on, it devolved upon me to arrange all the
evidence on the part of the abolition under proper heads, and to abridge it
into one volume. It was intended that a copy of this should be sent into
different towns of the kingdom, that all might know, if possible, the
horrors (as far as the evidence contained them) of this execrable trade;
and as it was possible that these copies might lie in the places where they
were sent, without a due attention to their contents, I resolved, with the
approbation of the committee, to take a journey, and for no other purpose
than personally to recommend that they might be read.

The books, having been printed, were dispatched before me. Of this tour I
shall give the reader no other account than that of the progress of the
remedy, which the people were then taking into their own hands. And first I
may observe, that there was no town, through which I passed, in which there
was not some one individual who had left off the use of sugar. In the
smaller towns there were from ten to fifty by estimation, and in the larger
from two to five hundred, who had made this sacrifice to virtue. These were
of all ranks and parties. Rich and poor, churchmen and dissenters, had
adopted the measure. Even grocers had left off trading in the article, in
some places. In gentlemen's families, where the master had set the example,
the servants had often voluntarily followed it; and even children, who were
capable of understanding the history of the sufferings of the Africans,
excluded, with the most virtuous resolution, the sweets, to which they had
been accustomed, from their lips. By the best computation I was able to
make from notes taken down in my journey, no fewer than three hundred
thousand persons had abandoned the use of sugar.

Having travelled over Wales, and two thirds of England, I found it would be
impossible to visit Scotland on the same errand. I had already, by moving
upwards and downwards in parallel lines, and by intersecting these in the
same manner, passed over six thousand miles. By the best calculation I
could make, I had yet two thousand to perform. By means of almost incessant
journeyings night and day, I had suffered much in my health. My strength
was failing daily. I wrote therefore to the committee on this subject; and
they communicated immediately with Dr. Dickson, who, on being applied to,
visited Scotland in my stead. He consulted first with the committee at
Edinburgh relative to the circulation of the Abridgement of the Evidence.
He then pursued his journey, and, in conjunction with the unwearied efforts
of Mr. Campbel Haliburton, rendered essential service to the cause for this
part of the kingdom.

On my return to London I found that the committee had taken into their own
body T.F. Forster, B.M. Forster, and James West, esquires, as members; and
that they had elected Hercules Ross, esquire, an honorary and corresponding
member, in consequence of the handsome manner in which he had come forward
as an evidence, and of the peculiar benefit which had resulted from his
testimony to the cause.

The effects of the two journeys by Dr. Dickson and myself were soon
visible. The people could not bear the facts, which had been disclosed to
them by the Abridgement of the Evidence. They were not satisfied, many of
them, with the mere abstinence from sugar; but began to form committees to
correspond with that of London. The first of these appeared at Newcastle
upon Tyne, so early as the month of October. It consisted of the Reverend
William Turner as chairman, and of Robert Ormston, William Batson, Henry
Taylor, Ralph Bainbridge, George Brown, Hadwen Bragg, David Sutton, Anthony
Clapham, George Richardson, and Edward Prowit. It received a valuable
addition afterwards by the admission of many others. The second was
established at Nottingham. The Reverend Jeremiah Bigsby became the
president, and the Rev. G. Walker and J. Smith, and Mess. Dennison, Evans,
Watson, Hart, Storer, Bott, Hawkesley, Pennington, Wright, Frith, Hall, and
Wakefield, the committee. The third was formed at Glasgow, under the
patronage of David Dale, Scott Moncrieff, Robert Graham, Professor Millar,
and others. Other committees started up in their turn. At length public
meetings began to take place, and after this petitions to be sent to
parliament; and these so generally, that there was not a day for three
months, Sundays excepted, in which five or six were not resolved upon in
some places or other in the kingdom.

Of the enthusiasm of the nation at this time none can form an opinion but
they who witnessed it. There never was perhaps a season when so much
virtuous feeling pervaded all ranks. Great pains were taken by interested
persons in many places to prevent public meetings. But no efforts could
avail. The current ran with such strength and rapidity, that it was
impossible to stem it. In the city of London a remarkable instance
occurred. The livery had been long waiting for the common council to begin
a petition. But the lord mayor and several of the aldermen stifled it. The
former, indignant at this conduct, insisted upon a common hall. A day was
appointed; and, though the notice given of it was short, the assemblage was
greater than had ever been remembered on any former occasion. Scarcely a
liveryman was absent, unless sick, or previously engaged. The petition,
when introduced, was opposed by those who had prevented it in the common
council. But their voices were drowned amidst groans and hissings. It was
shortly after carried; and it had not been signed more than half an hour,
before it was within the walls of the House of Commons. The reason of this
extraordinary dispatch was, that it had been kept back by intrigue so late,
that the very hour, in which it was delivered to the House, was that in
which Mr. Wilberforce was to make his new motion.

And as no petitions were ever more respectable than those presented on this
occasion, as far as they breathed the voice of the people, and as far as
they were founded on a knowledge of the object which they solicited, so
none were ever more numerous, as far as we have any record of such
transactions. Not fewer than three hundred and ten were presented from
England; one hundred and eighty-seven from Scotland; and twenty from Wales.
Two other petitions also for the abolition came from England, but they were
too late for delivery. On the other side of the question, one was presented
from the town of Reading for regulation, in opposition to that for
abolition from the same place. There were also four against abolition. The
first of these was from certain persons at Derby in opposition to the other
from that town. The second was from Stephen Fuller, esquire, as agent for
Jamaica. The third from J. Dawson, esquire, a slave-merchant at Liverpool.
And the fourth from the merchants, planters, mortgagees, annuitants, and
others concerned in the West Indian colonies. Taking in all these
statements, the account stood thus. For regulation there was one; against
all abolition there were four; and for the total abolition of the trade
five hundred and nineteen.

On the second of April Mr. Wilberforce moved the order of the day; which
having been agreed to, Sir William Dolben was put into the chair.

He then began by soliciting the candid attention of the West Indians to
what he was going to deliver to the House. However others might have
censured them indiscriminately, he had always himself made a distinction
between them and their system. It was the latter only, which he reprobated.
If aristocracy had been thought a worse form of government than monarchy,
because the people had many tyrants instead of one, how objectionable must
be that form of it, which existed in our colonies! Arbitrary power could be
bought there by any one, who could buy a slave. The fierceness of it was
doubtless restrained by an elevation of mind in many, as arising from a
consciousness of superior rank and consequence: but, alas! it was too often
exercised there by the base and vulgar. The more liberal too of the
planters were not resident upon their estates. Hence a promiscuous censure
of them would be unjust, though their system would undoubtedly be odious.

As for the cure of this monstrous evil, he had shown, last year, that
internal regulations would not produce it. These could have no effect,
while the evidence of slaves was inadmissible. What would be the situation
of the bulk of the people of this country, if only gentlemen of five
hundred a-year were admitted as evidences in our courts of law? Neither was
the cure of it in the emancipation of the slaves. He did not deny that he
wished them this latter blessing. But, alas, in their present degraded
state, they were unfit for it! Liberty was the child of reason and order.
It was indeed a plant of celestial growth, but the soil must be prepared
for its reception. He, who would see it flourish and bring forth its proper
fruit, must not think it sufficient to let it shoot in unrestrained
licentiousness. But if this inestimable blessing was ever to be imparted to
them, the cause must be removed, which obstructed its introduction. In
short, no effectual remedy could be found but in the abolition of the

He then took a copious view of the advantages, which would arise both to
the master and to the slave, if this traffic were done away; and having
recapitulated and answered the different objections to such a measure, he
went to that part of the subject, in which he described himself to be most

He had shown, he said, last year, that Africa was exposed to all the
horrors of war; and that most of these wars had their origin in the
Slave-trade. It was then said, in reply, that the natural barbarity of the
natives was alone sufficient to render their country a scene of carnage.
This was triumphantly instanced in the king of Dahomey. But his honourable
friend Lord Muncaster, then in the House, had proved in his interesting
publication, which had appeared since, called Historical Sketches of the
Slave-trade and of its Effects in Africa, addressed to the People of Great
Britain, that the very cruelties of this king, on which so much stress had
been laid, were committed by him in a war, which had been undertaken
expressly to punish an adjacent people for having stolen some of his
subjects and sold them for slaves.

He had shown also last year, that kings were induced to seize and sell
their subjects, and individuals each other, in consequence of the existence
of the Slave-trade.

He had shown also, that the administration of justice was perverted, so as
to become a fertile source of supply to this inhuman traffic; that every
crime was punished by slavery; that false accusations were made, to procure
convicts; and that even the judges had a profit on the convictions.

He had shown again, that many acts of violence were perpetrated by the
Europeans themselves. But he would now relate others, which had happened
since. The captain of an English vessel, lying in the river Cameroons, sent
his boat with three sailors and a slave to get water. A Black trader seized
the latter, and took him away. He alleged in his defence, that the captain
owed him goods to a greater amount than the value of the slave; and that he
would not pay him.

This being told on board, the captain, and a part of his crew, who were
compelled to blacken their naked bodies that they might appear like the
natives, went on shore at midnight, armed with muskets and cutlasses. They
fired on the trader's dwelling, and killed three of his children on the
spot. The trader, being badly wounded, died while they were dragging him to
the boat; and his wife, being wounded also, died in half an hour after she
was on board the ship. Resistance having been made to these violent
proceedings, some of the sailors were wounded, and one was killed. Some
weeks after this affray, a chieftain of the name of Quarmo went on board
the same vessel to borrow some cutlasses and muskets. He was going, he
said, into the country to make war; and the captain should have half of his
booty. So well understood were the practices of the trade, that his request
was granted. Quarmo, however, and his associates, finding things favourable
to their design, suddenly seized the captain, threw him overboard, hauled
him into their canoe, and dragged him to the shore; where another party of
the natives, lying in ambush, seized such of the crew as were absent from
the ship. But how did these savages behave, when they had these different
persons in their power? Did they not instantly retaliate by murdering them
all? No--they only obliged the captain to give an order on the vessel to
pay his debts. This fact came out only two months ago in a trial in the
court of common pleas--not in a trial for piracy and murder--but in the
trial of a civil suit, instituted by some of the poor sailors, to whom the
owners refused their wages, because the natives, on account of the
villanous conduct of their captain, had kept them from their vessel by
detaining them as prisoners on shore. This instance, he said, proved the
dreadful nature of the Slave-trade, its cruelty, its perfidy, and its
effect on the Africans as well as on the Europeans, who carried it on. The
cool manner, in which the transaction was conducted on both sides, showed
that these practices were not novel. It showed also the manner of doing
business in the trade. It must be remembered too, that these transactions
were carrying on at the very time when the inquiry concerning this trade
was going forward in Parliament, and whilst the witnesses of his opponents
were strenuously denying not only the actual, but the possible, existence
of any such depredations.

But another instance happened only in August last. Six British ships, the
Thomas, Captain Phillips; the Wasp, Captain Hutchinson; the Recovery,
Captain Kimber, of Bristol; and the Martha, Captain Houston; the Betsey,
Captain Doyle; and the Amachree, (he believed,) Captain Lee, of Liverpool;
were anchored off the town of Calabar. This place was the scene of a
dreadful massacre about twenty years before. The captains of these vessels,
thinking that the natives asked too much for their slaves, held a
consultation, how they should proceed; and agreed to fire upon the town
unless their own terms were complied with. On a certain evening they
notified their determination to the traders; and told them, that, if they
continued obstinate, they would put it into execution the next morning. In
this they kept their word. They brought sixty-six guns to bear upon the
town; and fired on it for three hours. Not a shot was returned. A canoe
then went off to offer terms of accommodation. The parties however not
agreeing, the firing recommenced; more damage was done; and the natives
were forced into submission. There were no certain accounts of their loss.
Report said that fifty were killed; but some were seen lying badly wounded,
and others in the agonies of death, by those who went afterwards on shore.

He would now say a few words relative to the Middle Passage, principally to
show, that regulation could not effect a cure of the evil there. Mr. Isaac
Wilson had stated in his evidence, that the ship, in which he sailed, only
three years ago, was of three hundred and seventy tons; and that she
carried six hundred and two slaves. Of these she lost one hundred and
fifty-five. There were three or four other vessels in company with her, and
which belonged to the same owners. One of these carried four hundred and
fifty, and buried two hundred; another carried four hundred and sixty-six,
and buried seventy-three; another five hundred and forty-six, and buried
one hundred and fifty-eight; and from the four together, after the landing
of their cargoes, two hundred and twenty died. He fell in with another
vessel, which had lost three hundred and sixty-two; but the number, which
had been bought, was not specified. Now if to these actual deaths, during
and immediately after the voyage, we were to add the subsequent loss in the
seasoning, and to consider that this would be greater than ordinary in
cargoes which were landed in such a sickly state, we should find a
mortality, which, if it were only general for a few months, would entirely
depopulate the globe.

But he would advert to what Mr. Wilson said, when examined, as a surgeon,
as to the causes of these losses, and particularly on board his own ship,
where he had the means of ascertaining them. The substance of his reply was
this--That most of the slaves laboured under a fixed melancholy, which now
and then broke out into lamentations and plaintive songs, expressive of the
loss of their relations, friends, and country. So powerfully did this
sorrow operate, that many of them attempted in various ways to destroy
themselves, and three actually effected it. Others obstinately refused to
take sustenance; and when the whip and other violent means were used to
compel them to eat, they looked up in the face of the officer, who
unwillingly executed this painful task, and said with a smile, in their own
language, "Presently we shall be no more." This, their unhappy state of
mind, produced a general languor and debility, which were increased in many
instances by an unconquerable aversion to food, arising partly from
sickness, and partly, to use the language of the slave-captains, from
sulkiness. These causes naturally produced the flux. The contagion spread;
several were carried off daily; and the disorder, aided by so many powerful
auxiliaries, resisted the power of medicine. And it was worth while to
remark, that these grievous sufferings were not owing either to want of
care on the part of the owners, or to any negligence or harshness of the
captain; for Mr. Wilson declared, that his ship was as well fitted out, and
the crew and slaves as well treated, as any body could reasonably expect.

He would now go to another ship. That, in which Mr. Claxton sailed as a
surgeon, afforded a repetition of all the horrid circumstances which had
been described. Suicide was attempted, and effected; and the same barbarous
expedients were adopted to compel the slaves to continue an existence,
which they considered as too painful to be endured. The mortality also was
as great. And yet here again the captain was in no wise to blame. But this
vessel had sailed since the regulating act. Nay, even in the last year the
deaths on shipboard would be found to have been between ten and eleven per
cent. on the whole number exported. In truth, the House could not reach the
cause of this mortality by all their regulations. Until they could cure a
broken heart--until they could legislate for the affections, and bind by
their statutes the passions and feelings of the mind, their labour would be
in vain.

Such were the evils of the Passage. But evils were conspicuous every where,
in this trade. Never was there indeed a system so replete with wickedness
and cruelty. To whatever part of it we turned our eyes, whether to Africa,
the Middle Passage, or the West Indies, we could find no comfort, no
satisfaction, no relief. It was the gracious ordinance of Providence, both
in the natural and moral world, that good should often arise out of evil.
Hurricanes cleared the air; and the propagation of truth was promoted by
persecution. Pride, vanity, and profusion contributed often, in their
remoter consequences, to the happiness of mankind. In common, what was in
itself evil and vicious was permitted to carry along with it some
circumstances of palliation. The Arab was hospitable; the robber brave. We
did not necessarily find cruelty associated with fraud, or meanness with
injustice. But here the case was far otherwise. It was the prerogative of
this detested traffic to separate from evil its concomitant good, and to
reconcile discordant mischiefs. It robbed war of its generosity; it
deprived peace of its security: we saw in it the vices of polished society,
without its knowledge or its comforts; and the evils of barbarism without
its simplicity. No age, no sex, no rank, no condition was exempt from the
fatal influence of this wide-wasting calamity. Thus it attained to the
fullest measure of pure, unmixed, unsophisticated wickedness; and, scorning
all competition and comparison, it stood without a rival in the secure,
undisputed, possession of its detestable preeminence.

But, after all this, wonderful to relate, this execrable traffic had been
defended on the ground of benevolence! It had been said, that the slaves
were captives and convicts, who, if we were not to carry them away, would
be sacrificed, and many of them at the funerals of people of rank,
according to the savage custom of Africa. He had shown, however, that our
supplies of slaves were obtained from other quarters than these. But he
would wave this consideration for the present. Had it not been acknowledged
by his opponents, that the custom of ransoming slaves prevailed in Africa?
With respect to human sacrifices, he did not deny, that there might have
been some instances of these; but they had not been proved to be more
frequent than amongst other barbarous nations; and, where they existed,
being acts of religion, they would not be dispensed with for the sake of
commercial gain. In fact, they had nothing to do with the Slave-trade; only
perhaps, if it were abolished, they might, by means of the civilization
which would follow, be done away.

But, exclusively of these sacrifices, it had been asserted, that it was
kindness to the inhabitants to take them away from their own country. But
what said the historians of Africa, long before the question of the
abolition was started? "Axim," says Bosman, "is cultivated, and abounds
with numerous large and beautiful villages: its inhabitants are
industriously employed in trade, fishing, or agriculture."--"The
inhabitants of Adom always expose large quantities of corn to sale, besides
what they want for their own use."--"The people of Acron husband their
grounds and time so well, that every year produces a plentiful harvest."
Speaking of the Fetu country, he says, "Frequently, when walking through
it, I have seen it abound with fine well built and populous towns,
agreeably enriched with vast quantities of corn and cattle, palm-wine and
oil. The inhabitants all apply themselves without distinction to
agriculture; some sow corn; others press oil, and draw wine from the

Smith, who was sent out by the royal African company in 1726, assures us,
"that the discerning natives account it their greatest unhappiness, that
they were ever visited by the Europeans. They say that we Christians
introduced the traffic of slaves; and that before our coming they lived in
peace. But, say they, it is observable, wherever Christianity comes, there
come swords and guns and powder and ball with it."

"The Europeans," says Bruce, "are far from desiring to act as peace-makers
among them. It would be too contrary to their interests; for the only
object of their wars is to carry off slaves; and, as these form the
principal part of their traffic, they would be apprehensive of drying up
the source of it, were they to encourage the people to live well together."

"The neighbourhood of the Damel and Tin keep them perpetually at war, the
benefit of which accrues to the Company, who buy all the prisoners made on
either side; and the more there are to sell, the greater is their profit;
for the only end of their armaments is to make captives, to sell them to
the White traders."

Artus, of Dantzic, says that in his time, "those liable to pay fines were
banished till the fine was paid; when they returned to their houses and

Bosman affirms "that formerly all crimes in Africa were compensated by fine
or restitution, and, where restitution was impracticable, by corporal

Moore says, "Since this trade has been used, all punishments have been
changed into slavery. There being an advantage in such condemnation, they
strain the crimes very hard, in order to get the benefit of selling the
criminal. Not only murder, theft, and adultery, are punished by selling the
criminal for a slave, but every trifling crime is punished in the same

Loyer affirms that "the King of Sain, on the least pretence, sells his
subjects for European goods. He is so tyrannically severe, that he makes a
whole village responsible for the fault of one inhabitant; and on the least
offence sells them all for slaves."

Such, he said, were the testimonies, not of persons whom he had summoned;
not of friends of the abolition: but of men who were themselves, many of
them, engaged in the Slave-trade. Other testimonies might be added; but
these were sufficient to refute the assertions of his opponents, and to
show the kind services we had done to Africa by the introduction of this

He would just touch upon the argument, so often repeated, that other
nations would carry on the Slave-trade, if we abandoned it. But how did we
know this? Had not Denmark given a noble example to the contrary? She had
consented to abolish the trade in ten years; and had she not done this,
even though we, after an investigation for nearly five years, had ourselves
hung back? But what might not be expected, if we were to take up the cause
in earnest; if we were to proclaim to all nations the injustice of the
trade, and to solicit their concurrence in the abolition of it! He hoped
the representatives of the nation would not be less just than the people.
The latter had stepped forward, and expressed their sense more generally by
petitions, than in any instance in which they had ever before interfered.
To see this great cause thus triumphing over distinctions and prejudices
was a noble spectacle. Whatever might be said of our political divisions,
such a sight had taught us, that there were subjects still beyond the reach
of party; that there was a point of elevation, where we ascended above the
jarring of the discordant elements, which ruffled and agitated the vale
below. In our ordinary atmosphere clouds and vapours obscured the air, and
we were the sport of a thousand conflicting winds and adverse currents; but
here we moved in a higher region, where all was pure and clear, and free
from perturbation and discomposure.

"As some tall cliff, that lifts its awful form,
Swells from the vale, and midway leaves the storm;
Though round its breast the rolling clouds are spread,
Eternal sunshine settles on its head."

Here then, on this august eminence, he hoped we should build the Temple of
Benevolence; that we should lay its foundation deep in Truth and Justice;
and that we should inscribe upon its gates, "Peace and Goodwill to Men."
Here we should offer the first-fruits of our benevolence, and endeavour to
compensate, if possible, for the injuries we had brought upon our

He would only now observe, that his conviction of the indispensable
necessity of immediately abolishing this trade remained as strong as ever.
Let those who talked of allowing three or four years to the continuance of
it, reflect on the disgraceful scenes which had passed last year. As for
himself, he would wash his hands of the blood which would be spilled in
this horrid interval. He could not, however, but believe, that the hour was
come, when we should put a final period to the existence of this cruel
traffic. Should he unhappily be mistaken, he would never desert the cause;
but to the last moment of his life he would exert his utmost powers in its
support. He would now move, "That it is the opinion of this committee, that
the trade carried on by British subjects for the purpose of obtaining
slaves on the coast of Africa, ought to be abolished."

Mr. Baillie was in hopes that the friends of the abolition would have been
contented with the innocent blood which had been already shed. The great
island of St. Domingo had been torn to pieces by insurrections. The most
dreadful barbarities had been perpetrated there. In the year 1789 the
imports into it exceeded five millions sterling. The exports from it in the
same year amounted to six millions; and the trade employed three hundred
thousand tons of shipping, and thirty thousand seamen. This fine island,
thus advantageously situated, had been lost in consequence of the agitation
of the question or the Slave-trade. Surely so much mischief ought to have
satisfied those who supported it; but they required the total destruction
of all the West Indian colonies, belonging to Great Britain, to complete
the ruin.

The honourable gentleman, who had just spoken, had dwelt, upon the
enormities of the Slave-trade. He was far from denying, that many acts of
inhumanity might accompany it; but as human nature was much the same every
where, it would be unreasonable to expect among African traders, or the
inhabitants of our islands, a degree of perfection in morals, which was not
to be found in Great Britain itself. Would any man estimate the character
of the English nation by what was to be read in the records of the Old
Bailey? He himself, however, had lived sixteen years in the West Indies,
and he could bear testimony to the general good usage of the slaves.

Before the agitation of this impolitic question the slaves were contented
with their situation. There was a mutual confidence between them and their
masters: and this continued to be the case till the new doctrines were
broached. But now depots of arms were necessary on every estate; and the
scene was totally reversed. Nor was their religious then inferior to their
civil state. When the English took possession of Grenada, where his
property lay, they found them baptized and instructed in the principles of
the Roman Catholic faith. The priests of that persuasion had indeed been
indefatigable in their vocation; so that imported Africans generally
obtained within twelve months a tolerable idea of their religious duties.
He had seen the slaves there go through the public mass in a manner, and
with a fervency, which would have done credit to more civilized societies.
But the case was now altered; for, except where the Moravians had been,
there was no trace in our islands of an attention to their religious

It had been said, that their punishments were severe. There might be
instances of cruelty; but these were not general. Many of them were
undoubtedly ill disposed; though not more, according to their number, on a
plantation, than in a regiment, or in a ship's crew. Had we never heard of
seamen being flogged from ship to ship, or of soldiers dying in the very
act of punishment? Had we not also heard, even in this country of boasted
liberty, of seamen being seized, and carried away, when returning from
distant voyages, after an absence of many years; and this without even
being allowed to see their wives and families? As to distressed objects, he
maintained, that there was more wretchedness and poverty in St. Giles's,
than in all the West Indian islands belonging to Great Britain.

He would now speak of the African and West Indian trades. The imports and
exports of these amounted to upwards of ten millions annually; and they
gave employment to three hundred thousand tons of shipping, and to about
twenty-five thousand seamen. These trades had been sanctioned by our
ancestors in parliament. The acts for this purpose might be classed under
three heads. First, they were such as declared the colonies and the trade
thereof advantageous to Great Britain, and therefore entitled to her
protection. Secondly, such as authorised, protected, and encouraged the
trade to Africa, as advantageous in itself, and necessary to the welfare
and existence of the sugar colonies: and, Thirdly, such as promoted and
secured loans of money to the proprietors of the said colonies, either from
British subjects or from foreigners. These acts[A], he apprehended, ought
to satisfy every person of the legality and usefulness of these trades.
They were enacted in reigns distinguished for the production of great and
enlightened characters. We heard then of no wild and destructive doctrines
like the present. These were reserved for this age of novelty and
innovation. But he must remind the House, that the inhabitants of our
islands had as good a right to the protection of their property, as the
inhabitants of Great Britain. Nor could it be diminished in any shape
without full compensation. The proprietors of lands in the ceded islands,
which were purchased of government under specific conditions of settlement,
ought to be indemnified. They also (of whom he was one) who had purchased
the territory granted by the crown to General Monkton in the Island of St.
Vincent, ought to be indemnified also. The sale of this had gone on
briskly, till it was known, that a plan was in agitation for the abolition
of the Slave-trade. Since that period the original purchasers had done
little or nothing, and they had many hundred acres on hand, which would be
of no value, if the present question was carried. In fact, they had a right
to compensation. The planters generally spent their estates in this
country. They generally educated their children in it. They had never been
found seditious or rebellious; and they demanded of the Parliament of Great
Britain that protection, which, upon the principles of good faith, it was
in duty bound to afford them in common with the rest of his majesty's loyal

[Footnote A: Here he quoted them specifically.]

Mr. Vaughan stated that, being a West Indian by birth and connected with
the islands, he could speak from his own knowledge. In the early part of
his life he was strongly in favour of the abolition of the Slave-trade. He
had been educated by Dr. Priestley and the father of Mrs. Barbauld; who
were both of them friends to that question. Their sentiments he had
imbibed: but, although bred at the feet of Gamaliel, he resolved to judge
for himself, and he left England for Jamaica.

He found the situation of the slaves much better than he had imagined.
Setting aside liberty, they were as well off as the poor in Europe. They
had little want of clothes or fuel: they had a house and garden found them;
were never imprisoned for debts; nor deterred from marrying through fear of
being unable to support a family; their orphans and widows were taken care
of, as they themselves were when old and disabled; they had medical
attendance without expense; they had private property, which no master ever
took front them; and they were resigned to their situation, and looked for
nothing beyond it. Perhaps persons might have been prejudiced by living in
the towns, to which slaves were often sent for punishment; and where there
were many small proprietors; or by seeing no Negro otherwise than as
belonging to the labouring poor; but they appeared to him to want nothing
but liberty; and it was only occasionally that they were abused.

There were two prejudices with respect to the colonies, which he would
notice. The first was, that cruel usage occasioned the inequality of births
and deaths among the slaves. But did cruelty cause the excess of deaths
above births in the city of London? No--this excess had other causes. So it
had among the slaves. Of these more males were imported than females: they
were dissolute too in their morals; they had also diseases peculiar to
themselves. But in those islands where they nearly kept up their numbers,
there was this difficulty, that the equality was preserved by the increase
on one estate compensating for the decrease on another. These estates,
however, would not interchange their numbers; whereas, where freedom
prevailed, the free labourers circulated from one employer to another, and
appeared wherever they were wanted.

The second was, that all chastisement of the slaves was cruelty. But this
was not true. Their owners generally withdrew them from public justice; so
that they, who would have been publicly executed elsewhere, were often kept
alive by their masters, and were found punished again and again for
repeating their faults. Distributive justice occasioned many punishments;
as one slave was to be protected against every other slave: and, when one
pilfered from another, then the master interfered. These punishments were
to be distinguished from such as arose from enforcing labour, or from the
cruelty of their owners. Indeed he had gone over the islands, and he had
seen but little ill usage. He had seen none on the estate where he resided.
The whip, the stocks, and confinement, were all the modes of punishment he
had observed in other places. Some slaves belonging to his father were
peculiarly well off. They saved money, and spent it in their own way.

But, notwithstanding all he had said, he allowed that there was room for
improvement; and particularly for instilling into the slaves the principles
of religion. Where this should be realized, there would be less punishment,
more work, more marriages, more issue, and more attachment to masters.
Other improvements would be the establishment of medical societies; the
introduction of task-work; and grants of premiums and honorary distinctions
both to fathers and mothers, according to the number of children which they
should rear. Besides this, Negro evidence should be allowed in the courts
of law, it being left to the discretion of the court or jury to take or
reject it, according to the nature of the case. Cruel masters also should
be kept in order in various ways. They should be liable to have their
slaves taken from them, and put in trust. Every instrument of punishment
should be banished, except the whip. The number of lashes should be
limited; and the punishment should not be repeated till after intervals.
These and other improvements should be immediately adopted by the planters.
The character of the exemplary among them was hurt by being confounded with
that of lower and baser men. He concluded by stating, that the owners of
slaves were entitled to compensation, if, by means of the abolition, they
should not be able to find labourers for the cultivation of their lands[A].

[Footnote A: Mr. Vaughan declared in a future stage of the debate, that he
wished to see a prudent termination both of the Slave-trade and of slavery;
and that, though he was the eldest son of his father, he never would, on
any consideration, become the owner of a slave.]

Mr. Henry Thornton conceived, that the two last speakers had not spoken to
the point. The first had described the happy state of the slaves in the
West Indies. The latter had made similar representations; but yet had
allowed, that much improvement might be made in their condition. But this
had nothing to do with the question then before them. The manner of
procuring slaves in Africa was the great evil to be remedied. Africa was to
be stripped of its inhabitants to supply a population for the West Indies.
There was a Dutch proverb, which said, "My son, get money, honestly if you
can--but get money:" or, in other words, "Get slaves, honestly if you
can--but get slaves." This was the real grievance; and the two honourable
gentlemen, by confining their observations to the West Indies, had entirely
overlooked it.

Though this evil had been fully proved, he could not avoid stating to the
House some new facts, which had come to his knowledge as a director of the
Sierra Leone Company, and which would still further establish it. The
consideration, that they had taken place since the discussion of the last
year on this subject, obliged him to relate them.

Mr. Falconbridge, agent to the Company, sitting one evening in Sierra
Leone, heard a shout, and immediately afterwards the report of a gun.
Fearing an attack, he armed forty of the settlers, and rushed with them to
the place from whence the noise came. He found a poor wretch, who had been
crossing from a neighbouring village, in the possession of a party of
kidnappers, who were tying his hands. Mr. Falconbridge, however, dared not
rescue him, lest, in the defenceless state of his own town, retaliation
might be made upon him.

At another time a young woman, living half a mile off, was sold, without
any criminal charge, to one of the slave-ships. She was well acquainted
with the agent's wife, and had been with her only the day before. Her cries
were heard; but it was impossible to relieve her.

At another time a young lad, one of the free settlers who went from
England, was caught by a neighbouring chief, as he was straggling alone
from home, and sold for a slave. The pretext was, that some one in the town
of Sierra Leone had committed an offence. Hence the first person belonging
to it, who could be seized, was to be punished. Happily the free settlers
saw him in his chains; and they recovered him, before he was conveyed to
the ship.

To mark still more forcibly the scenes of misery, to which the Slave-trade
gave birth, he would mention a case stated to him in a letter by King
Naimbanna. It had happened to this respectable person, in no less than
three instances, to have some branches of his family kidnapped, and carried
off to the West Indies. At one time three young men, Corpro, Banna, and
Marbrour, were decoyed on board a Danish slave-ship, under pretence of
buying something, and were taken away. At another time another relation
piloted a vessel down the river. He begged to be put on shore, when he came
opposite to his own town; but he was pressed to pilot her to the river's
mouth. The captain then pleaded the impracticability of putting him on
shore; carried him to Jamaica; and sold him for a slave. Fortunately,
however, by means of a letter, which was conveyed there, the man, by the
assistance of the governor, was sent back to Sierra Leone. At another time
another relation was also kidnapped. But he had not the good fortune, like
the former, to return.

He would mention one other instance. A son had sold his own father, for
whom he obtained a considerable price: for, as the father was rich in
domestic slaves, it was not doubted that he would offer largely for his
ransom. The old man accordingly gave twenty-two of these in exchange for
himself. The rest, however, being from that time filled with apprehensions
of being on some ground or other sold to the slave-ships, fled to the
mountains of Sierra Leone, where they now dragged on a miserable existence.
The son himself was sold, in his turn, soon after. In short, the whole of
that unhappy peninsula, as he learnt from eye-witnesses, had been desolated
by the trade in slaves. Towns were seen standing without inhabitants all
over the coast; in several of which the agent of the Company had been.
There was nothing but distrust among the inhabitants. Every one, if he
stirred from home, felt himself obliged to be armed.

Such was the nature of the Slave-trade. It had unfortunately obtained the
name of a trade; and many had been deceived by the appellation. But it was
war, and not trade. It was a mass of crimes, and not commerce. It was that
which prevented the introduction of a trade in Africa; for it was only by
clearing and cultivating the lands, that the climate could be made healthy
for settlements; but this wicked traffic, by dispersing the inhabitants,
and causing the lands to remain uncultivated, made the coast unhealthy to
Europeans. He had found, in attempting to establish a colony there, that it
was an obstacle, which opposed itself to him in innumerable ways; it
created more embarrassments than all the natural impediments of the
country; and it was more hard to contend with, than any difficulties of
climate, soil, or natural disposition of the people.

We would say a few words relative to the numerous petitions, which were
then on the table of the House. They had shown, in an extraordinary manner,
the opinion of the people. He did not wish to turn this into a
constitutional question; but he would observe, that it was of the utmost
consequence to the maintenance of the constitution of this country, that
the reputation of Parliament should be maintained. But nothing could
prejudice its character so much, as a vote, which should lead the people to
believe, that the legislative body was the more corrupt part of it, and
that it was slow to adopt moral principles.

It had been often insinuated that Parliament, by interfering in this trade,
departed from its proper functions. No idea could be more absurd: for, was
it not its duty to correct abuses? and what abuses were greater than
robbery and murder? He was indeed anxious for the abolition. He desired it,
as a commercial man, on account of the commercial character of the country.
He desired it for the reputation of Parliament, on which so materially
depended the preservation of our happy constitution: but most of all he
prayed for it for the sake of those eternal principles of justice, which it
was the duty of nations, as well as of individuals, to support.

Colonel Tarleton repeated his arguments of the last year. In addition to
these he inveighed bitterly against the abolitionists, as a junto of
sectaries, sophists, enthusiasts, and fanatics. He condemned the abolition
as useless, unless other nations would take it up. He brought to the
recollection of the House the barbarous scenes which had taken place in St.
Domingo, all of which, he said, had originated in the discussion of this
question. He described the alarms, in which the inhabitants of our own
islands were kept, lest similar scenes should occur from the same cause. He
ridiculed the petitions on the table. Itinerant clergymen, mendicant
physicians, and others, had extorted signatures from the sick, the
indigent, and the traveller. School-boys were invited to sign them, under
the promise of a holiday. He had letters to produce, which would prove all
these things, though he was not authorized to give up the names of those
who had written them.

Mr. Montagu said, that, in the last session, he had simply entered his
protest against the trade; but now he could be no longer silent; and as
there were many, who had conceived regulation to be more desirable than
abolition, he would confine himself to that subject.

Regulation, as it related to the manner of procuring slaves, was utterly
impossible: for how could we know the case of each individual, whom we
forced away into bondage? Could we establish tribunals all along the coast,
and in every ship, to find it out? What judges could we get for such an
office? But, if this could not be done upon the coast, how could we
ascertain the justness of the captivity of by far the greatest number, who
were brought from immense distances inland?

He would not dwell upon the proof of the inefficiency of regulations, as to
the Middle Passage. His honourable friend Mr. Wilberforce had shown, that,
however the mortality might have been lessened in some ships by the
regulations of Sir William Dolben, yet, wherever a contagious disorder
broke out, the greatest part of the cargo was swept away. But what
regulations by the British Parliament could prevent these contagions, or
remove them suddenly, when they appeared?

Neither would regulations be effectual, as they related to the protection
of the slaves in the West Indies. It might perhaps be enacted, as Mr.
Vaughan had suggested, that their punishments should be moderate; and that
the number of lashes should be limited. But the colonial legislatures had
already done as much, as the magic of words alone could do, upon this
subject: yet the evidence upon the table clearly proved, that the only
protection of slaves was in the clemency of their masters. Any barbarity
might be exercised with impunity, provided no White person were to see it,
though it happened in the sight of a thousand slaves. Besides, by splitting
the offence, and inflicting the punishment at intervals, the law could be
evaded, although the fact was within the reach of the evidence of a White
man. Of this evasion, Captain Cook, of the eighty-ninth regiment, had given
a shocking instance: and Chief Justice Ottley had candidly confessed, that
"he could devise no method of bringing a master, so offending, to justice,
while the evidence of the slave continued inadmissible." But perhaps
councils of protection, and guardians of the slaves, might be appointed.
This again was an expedient, which sounded well; but which would be
nugatory and absurd. What person would risk the comfort of his life by the
exercise of so invidious an interference? But supposing that one or two
individuals could be found, who would sacrifice all their time, and the
friendship of their associates, for the good of the slaves; what could they
effect? Could they be in all places at once? But even if acts of barbarity
should be related to them, how were they to come at the proof of them?

It appeared then that no regulations could be effectual until the slaves
were admitted to give their evidence: but to admit them to this privilege
in their present state would be to endanger the safety and property of
their masters. Mr. Vaughan had, however, recommended this measure with
limitations, but it would produce nothing but discontent; for how were the
slaves to be persuaded, that it was fit they should be admitted to speak
the truth, and then be disbelieved and disregarded? What a fermentation
would such a conduct naturally excite in men dismissed with injuries
unredressed, though abundantly proved, in their apprehension, by their
testimony! In fact, no regulations would do. There was no cure for these
evils, but in the abolition of the Slave-trade. He called upon the planters
to concur with his honourable friend Mr. Wilberforce in this great measure.
He wished them to consider the progress, which the opinion of the injustice
of this trade was making in the nation at large, as manifested by the
petitions; which had almost obstructed the proceedings of the House by
their perpetual introduction. It was impossible for them to stifle this
great question. As for himself, he would renew his profession of last year,
that he would never cease, but with life, to promote so glorious an end.

Mr. Whitbread said, that even if he could conceive, that the trade was, as
some had asserted it to be, founded on principles of humanity; that the
Africans were rescued from death in their own country; that, upon being
carried to the West Indies, they were put under kind masters; that their
labour there was easy; that at evening they returned cheerful to their
homes; that in sickness they were attended with care; and that their old
age was rendered comfortable; even then he would vote for the abolition of
the Slave-trade; inasmuch as he was convinced, that that, which was
fundamentally wrong, no practice could justify.

No eloquence could persuade him, that the Africans were torn from their
country and their dearest connections, merely that they might lead a
happier life; or that they could be placed under the uncontrolled dominion
of others without suffering. Arbitrary power would spoil the hearts of the
best. Hence would arise tyranny on the one side, and a sense of injury on
the other. Hence the passions would be let loose, and a state of perpetual
enmity would follow.

He needed only to go to the accounts of those who defended the system of
slavery, to show that it was cruel. He was forcibly struck last year by an
expression of an honourable member, an advocate for the trade, who, when
he came to speak of the slaves, on selling off the stock of a plantation,
said, that they fetched less than the common price, because they were
damaged.--Damaged!--What! were they goods and chattels? What an idea was
this to hold out of our fellow-creatures. We might imagine how slaves were
treated, if they could be spoken of in such a manner. Perhaps these unhappy
people had lingered out the best part of their lives in the service of
their master. Able then to do but little, they were sold for little! and
the remaining substance of their sinews was to be pressed out by another,
yet more hardened than the former, and who had made a calculation of their
vitals accordingly.

As another proof, he would mention a passage in a pamphlet, in which the
author, describing the happy situation of the slaves, observed, that a good
Negro never wanted a character. A bad one could always be detected by his
weals and scars. What was this but to say, that there were instruments in
use, which left indelible marks behind them; and who would say, that these
were used justly?

An honourable gentleman, Mr. Vaughan, had said, that setting aside slavery,
the slaves were better off than the poor in this country. But what was it
that we wished to abolish? Was it not the Slave-trade, which would destroy
in time the cruel distinction he had mentioned? The same honourable
gentleman had also expressed his admiration of their resignation; but might
it not be that resignation, which was the consequence of despair?

Colonel Tarleton had insinuated, that the petitions on the table had been
obtained in an objectionable manner. He had the honour to present one from
his constituents; which he would venture to say had originated with
themselves; and that there did not exist more respectable names in the
kingdom, than those of the persons who had signed it. He had also asserted,
that there was a strong similitude in their tenour and substance, as if
they had been manufactured by the same persons. This was by no means to be
wondered at. There was surely but one plain tale to tell; and it was not
surprising, that it had been clothed in nearly the same expressions. There
was but one boon to ask, and that was--the abolition of this wicked trade.

It had been said by another, (Mr. Baillie) that the horrible insurrections
in St. Domingo arose from the discussion of the question of the
Slave-trade. He denied the assertion; and maintained that they were the
effect of the trade itself. There was a point of endurance, beyond which
human nature could not go; at which the mind of man rose by its native
elasticity with a spring and violence proportioned to the degree to which
it had been depressed. The calamities in St. Domingo proceeded from the
Slave-trade alone; and, if it were continued, similar evils were to be
apprehended in our own islands. The cruelties, which the slaves had
perpetrated in that unfortunate colony, they had learnt from their masters.
Had not an African eyes? Had he not ears? Had he not organs, senses, and
passions? If you pricked him, would he not feel the puncture and bleed? If
you poisoned him, would he not die? and, if you wronged him, would he not
revenge? But he had said sufficient; for he feared he could not better the

Mr. Milbank would only just observe, that the policy of the measure of the
abolition was as great, as its justice was undeniable. Where slavery
existed, every thing was out of its natural place. All improvement was at
an end. There must also, from the nature of the human heart, be oppression.
He warned the planters against the danger of fresh importations, and
invited their concurrence in the measure.

Mr. Dundas (now Lord Melville) declared, that he had always been a warm
friend to the abolition of the Slave-trade, though he differed with Mr.
Wilberforce as to the mode of effecting it.

The abolitionists, and those on the opposite side of the question, had,
both of them, gone into extremes. The former were for the immediate and
abrupt annihilation of the trade. The latter considered it as essentially
necessary to the existence of the West Indian islands, and therefore laid
it down, that it was to be continued for ever. Such was the vast distance
between the parties. He would now address himself to each.

He would say first, that he agreed with his honourable friend Mr.
Wilberforce in very material points. He believed the trade was not founded
in policy; that the continuation of it was not essential to the
preservation of our trade with the West Indian islands; and that the slaves
were not only to be maintained, but increased there, by natural population.
He agreed, too, as to the propriety of the abolition. But when his
honourable friend talked of direct and abrupt abolition, he would submit it
to him, whether he did not run counter to the prejudices of those who were
most deeply interested in the question; and whether, if he could obtain his
object without wounding these, it would not be better to do it? Did he not
also forget the sacred attention, which Parliament had ever shown to the
private interests and patrimonial rights of individuals?

Whatever idea men might then have of the African trade, certain it was that
they, who had connected themselves with it, had done it under the sanction
of Parliament. It might also be well worth while to consider (though the
conduct of other nations ought not to deter us from doing our duty) whether
British subjects in the West Indies might not be supplied with slaves under
neutral flags. Now he believed it was possible to avoid these objections,
and at the same time to act in harmony with the prejudices which had been
mentioned. This might be done by regulations, by which we should effect the
end much more speedily than by the way proposed. By regulations, he meant
such as would increase the breed of the slaves in the West Indies; such as
would ensure a moral education to their children; and such as would even in
time extinguish hereditary slavery. The extinction, however, of this was
not to be effected by allowing the son of an African slave to obtain his
freedom on the death of his parent. Such a son should be considered as born
free. He should then be educated at the expense of the person importing his
parents; and, when arrived at such a degree of strength as might qualify
him to labour, he should work for a term of years for the payment of the
expense of his education and maintenance. It was impossible to emancipate
the existing slaves at once; nor would such an emancipation be of any
immediate benefit to themselves: but this observation would not apply to
their descendants, if trained and educated in the manner he had proposed.

He would now address himself to those who adopted the opposite extreme: and
he thought he should not assume too much, when he said, that if both
slavery and the Slave-trade could be abolished with safety to their
property, it deeply concerned their interests to do it. Such a measure,
also, would only be consistent with the principles of the British
Constitution. It was surely strange that we, who were ourselves free,
should carry on a Slave-trade with Africa; and that we should never think
of introducing cultivation into the West Indies by free labourers.

That such a measure would tend to their interest he had no doubt. Did not
all of them agree with Mr. Long, that the great danger in the West Indies
arose from the importation of the African slaves there? Mr. Long had
asserted, that all the insurrections there arose from these. If this
statement were true, how directly it bore upon the present question! But we
were told also, by the same author, that the Slave-trade gave rise to
robbery, murder, and all kinds of depredations on the coast of Africa. Had
this been answered? No: except indeed it had been said, that the slaves
were such as had been condemned for crimes. Well then: the imported
Africans consisted of all the convicts, rogues, thieves, and vagabonds in
Africa. But would the West Indians choose to depend on fresh supplies of
these for the cultivation of their lands, and the security of their
islands, when it was also found that every insurrection had arisen from
them? it was plain the safety of the islands was concerned in this
question. There would be danger so long as the trade lasted. The Planters
were, by these importations, creating the engines of their own destruction.
Surely they would act more to their own interest, if they would concur in
extinguishing the trade, than by standing up for its continuance.

He would now ask them, what right they had to suppose that Africa would for
ever remain in a state of barbarism. If once an enlightened prince were to
rise up there, his first act would be to annihilate the Slave-trade. If the
light of heaven were ever to descend upon that continent, it would directly
occasion its downfall. It was their interest then to contrive a mode of
supplying labour, without trusting to precarious importations from that
quarter. They might rest assured that the trade could not continue. He did
not allude to the voice of the people in the petitions then lying on the
table of the House; but he knew certainly, that an idea not only of the
injustice but of the impolicy of this trade had been long entertained by
men of the most enlightened understandings in this country. Was it then a
prudent thing for them to rest on this commerce for the further improvement
of their property?

There was a species of slavery, prevailing only a few years ago, in the
collieries in certain boroughs of Scotland. Emancipation there was thought
a duty by Parliament: But what an opposition there was to the measure!
Nothing but ruin would be the consequence of it! After several years
struggle the bill was carried. Within a year after, the ruin so much talked
of vanished in smoke, and there was an end of the business. It had also
been contended that Sir William Dolben's bill would be the ruin of
Liverpool: and yet one of its representatives had allowed, that this bill
had been of benefit to the owners of the slave-vessels there. Was he then
asking too much of the West Indians, to request a candid consideration of
the real ground of their alarms? He would conclude by stating, that he
meant to propose a middle way of proceeding. If there was a number of
members in the House, who thought with him, that this trade ought to be
ultimately abolished, but yet by moderate measures, which should neither
invade the property nor the prejudices of individuals; he wished them to
unite, and they might then reduce the question to its proper limits.

Mr. Addington (the speaker) professed himself to be one of those moderate
persons called upon by Mr. Dundas. He wished to see some middle measure
suggested. The fear of doing injury to the property of others, had hitherto
prevented him from giving an opinion against a system, the continuance of
which he could not countenance.

He utterly abhorred the Slave-trade. A noble and learned lord, who had now
retired from the bench, said on a certain occasion, that he pitied the
loyalty of that man, who imagined that any epithet could aggravate the
crime of treason. So he himself knew of no language which could aggravate
the crime of the Slave-trade. It was sufficient for every purpose of
crimination, to assert, that man thereby was bought and sold, or that he
was made subject to the despotism of man. But though he thus acknowledged
the justice due to a whole continent on the one side, he confessed there
were opposing claims of justice on the other. The case of the West Indians
deserved a tender consideration also.

He doubted, if we were to relinquish the Slave-trade alone, whether it
might not be carried on still more barbarously than at present; and
whether, if we were to stop it altogether, the islands could keep up their
present stocks. It had been asserted that they could. But he thought that
the stopping of the importations could not be depended upon for this
purpose, so much as a plan for providing them with more females.

With the mode suggested by his right honourable friend, Mr. Dundas, he was
pleased, though he did not wholly agree to it. He could not grant liberty
to the children born in the islands. He thought also, that the trade ought
to be permitted for ten or twelve years longer, under such arrangements as
should introduce a kind of management among the slaves there, favourable to
their interests, and of course to their future happiness. One species of
regulation which he should propose, would be greater encouragement to the
importation of females than of males, by means of a bounty on the former
till their numbers should be found equal. Rewards also might be given to
those slaves who should raise a certain number of children; and to those
who should devise means of lightening negro-labour. If the plan of his
honourable friend should comprehend these regulations, he would heartily
concur in it. He wished to see the Slave-trade abolished. Indeed it did not
deserve the name of a trade. It was not a trade, and ought not to be
allowed. He was satisfied, that in a few years it would cease to be the
reproach of this nation and the torment of Africa. But under regulations
like these, it would cease without any material injury to the interests of

Mr. Fox said, that after what had fallen from the two last speakers he
could remain no longer silent. Something so mischievous had come out, and
something so like a foundation had been laid for preserving, not only for
years to come, but for ever, this detestable traffic, that he should feel
himself wanting in his duty, if he were not to deprecate all such
deceptions and delusions upon the country.

The honourable gentlemen had called themselves moderate men: but upon this
subject he neither felt, nor desired to feel, any thing like a sentiment of
moderation. Their speeches had reminded him of a passage in Middleton's
Life of Cicero. The translation of it was defective, though it would
equally suit his purpose. He says, "To enter into a man's house, and kill
him, his wife, and family, in the night, is certainly a most heinous crime,
and deserving of death; but to break open his house, to murder him, his
wife, and all his children, in the night, may be still very right, provided
it be done with moderation." Now, was there any thing more absurd in this
passage, than to say, that the Slave-trade might be carried on with
moderation; for, if you could not rob or murder a single man with
moderation, with what moderation could you pillage and wound a whole
nation? In fact, the question of the abolition was simply a question of
justice. It was only, whether we should authorize by law, respecting
Africa, the commission of crimes, for which, in this country, we should
forfeit our lives; notwithstanding which, it was to be treated, in the
opinion of these honourable gentlemen, with moderation.

Mr. Addington had proposed to cure the disproportion of the sexes in the
islands, by a bounty on the importation of females; or, in other words, by
offering a premium to any crew of ruffians, who would tear them from their
native country. He would let loose a banditti against the most weak and
defenceless of the sex. He would occasion these to kill fathers, husbands,
and brothers, to get possession of their relatives, the females, who, after
this carnage, were to be reserved for--slavery. He should like to see the
man, who would pen such a moderate clause for a British Parliament.

Mr. Dundas had proposed to abolish the Slave-trade, by bettering the state
of the slaves in the islands, and particularly that of their offspring. His
plan, with respect to the latter, was not a little curious. They were to
become free, when born; and then they were to be educated at the expense of
those to whom their fathers belonged. But it was clear, that they could not
be educated for nothing. In order, therefore, to repay this expense, they
were to be slaves for ten or fifteen years. In short, they were to have an
education, which was to qualify them to become freemen; and, after they had
been so educated, they were to become slaves. But as this free education
might possibly unfit them for submitting to slavery; so, after they had
been made to bow under the yoke for ten or fifteen years, they might then,
perhaps, be equally unfit to become free; and therefore, might be retained
as slaves for a few years longer, if not for their whole lives. He never
heard of a scheme so moderate, and yet so absurd and visionary.

The same honourable gentleman had observed, that the conduct of other
nations should not hinder us from doing our duty; but yet neutrals would
furnish our islands with slaves. What was the inference from this moderate
assertion, but that we might as well supply them ourselves? He hoped, if we
were yet to be supplied, it would never be by Englishmen. We ought no
longer to be concerned in such a crime.

An adversary, Mr. Baillie, had said, that it would not be fair to take the
character of this country from the records of the Old Bailey. He did not at
all wonder, when the subject of the Slave-trade was mentioned, that the Old
Bailey naturally occurred to his recollection. The facts which had been
described in the evidence, were associated in all our minds with the ideas
of criminal justice. But Mr. Baillie had forgot the essential difference
between the two cases. When we learnt from these records, that crimes were
committed in this country, we learnt also, that they were punished with
transportation and death. But the crimes committed in the Slave-trade were
passed over with impunity. Nay, the perpetrators were even sent out again
to commit others.

As to the mode of obtaining slaves, it had been suggested as the least
disreputable, that they became so in consequence of condemnation as
criminals. But he would judge of the probability of this mode by the
reasonableness of it. No less than eighty thousand Africans were exported
annually by the different nations of Europe from their own country. Was it
possible to believe, that this number could have been legally convicted of
crimes, for which they had justly forfeited their liberty? The supposition
was ridiculous. The truth was, that every enormity was practised to obtain
the persons of these unhappy people. He referred those present to the case
in the evidence of the African trader, who had kidnapped and sold a girl,
and who was afterwards kidnapped and sold himself. He desired them to
reason upon the conversation which had taken place between the trader and
the captain of the ship on this occasion. He desired them also to reason
upon the instance mentioned this evening, which had happened in the river
Cameroons, and they would infer all the rapine, all the desolation, and all
the bloodshed, which had been placed to the account of this execrable

An attempt had been made to impress the House with the horrible scenes
which had taken place in St. Domingo, as an argument against the abolition
of the Slave-trade; but could any more weighty argument be produced in its
favour? What were the causes of the insurrections there? They were two. The
first was the indecision of the National Assembly, who wished to compromise
between that which was right and that which was wrong on this subject. And
the second was the oppression of the People of Colour, and of the Slaves.
In the first of the causes we saw something like the moderation of Mr.
Dundas and Mr. Addington. One day this Assembly talked of liberty, and
favoured the Blacks. Another day they suspended their measures, and
favoured the Whites. They wished to steer a middle course; but decision had
been mercy. Decision even against the Planters would have been a thousand
times better than indecision and half measures. In the mean time, the
People of Colour took the great work of justice into their own hands.
Unable, however, to complete this of themselves, they called in the aid of
the Slaves. Here began the second cause; for the Slaves, feeling their own
power, began to retaliate on the Whites. And here it may be observed, that,
in all revolutions, the clemency or cruelty of the victors will always be
in proportion to their former privileges, or their oppression. That the
Slaves then should have been guilty of great excesses was not to be
wondered at; for where did they learn their cruelty? They learnt it from
those who had tyrannized over them. The oppression, which they themselves
had suffered, was fresh in their memories, and this had driven them to
exercise their vengeance so furiously. If we wished to prevent similar
scenes in our own islands, we must reject all moderate measures, and at
once abolish the Slave-trade. By doing this, we should procure a better
treatment for the Slaves there; and when this happy change of system should
have taken place, we might depend on them for the defence of the islands as
much as on the Whites themselves.

Upon the whole, he would give his opinion of this traffic in a few words.
He believed it to be impolitic--he knew it to be inhuman--he was certain it
was unjust--he though it so inhuman and unjust, that, if the colonies could
not be cultivated without it, they ought not to be cultivated at all. It
would be much better for us to be without them, than not abolish the
Slave-trade. He hoped therefore that members would this night act the part
which would do them honour. He declared, that, whether he should vote in a
large minority or a small one, he would never give up the cause. Whether in
the House of Parliament or out of it, in whatever situation he might ever
be, as long as he had a voice to speak, this question should never be at
rest. Believing the trade to be of the nature of crimes and pollutions,
which stained the honour of the country, he would never relax his efforts.
It was his duty to prevent man from preying upon man; and if he and his
friends should die before they had attained their glorious object, he hoped
there would never be wanting men alive to their duty, who would continue to
labour till the evil should be wholly done away. If the situation of the
Africans was as happy as servitude could make them, he could not consent to
the enormous crime of selling man to man; nor permit a practice to
continue, which put an entire bar to the civilization of one quarter of the
globe. He was sure that the nation would not much longer allow the
continuance of enormities which shocked human nature. The West Indians had
no right to demand that crimes should be permitted by this country for
their advantage; and, if they were wise, they would lend their cordial
assistance to such measures, as would bring about, in the shortest possible
time, the abolition of this execrable trade.

Mr. Dundas rose again, but it was only to move an amendment, namely, that
the word "gradually" should be inserted before the words "to be abolished"
in Mr. Wilberforce's motion.

Mr. Jenkinson (now Lord Hawkesbury) said, that the opinions of those who
were averse to the abolition had been unfairly stated. They had been
described as founded on policy, in opposition to humanity. If it could be
made out that humanity would be aided by the abolition, he would be the
last person to oppose it. The question was not, he apprehended, whether the
trade was founded in injustice and oppression. He admitted it was: nor was
it, whether it was in itself abstractedly an evil: he admitted this also:
but whether, under all the circumstances of the case, any considerable
advantage would arise to a number of our fellow-creatures from the
abolition of the trade in the manner in which it had been proposed.

He was ready to admit, that the Africans at home were made miserable by the
Slave-trade, and that, if it were universally abolished, great benefit
would arise to them. No one, however, would assert, that these miseries
arose from the trade as carried on by Great Britain only. Other countries
occasioned as much of the evil as we did; and if the abolition of it by us
should prove only the transferring of it to those countries, very little
benefit would result from the measure.

What then was the probability of our example being followed by foreign
powers? Five years had now elapsed since the question was first started,
and what had any of them done? The Portuguese continued the trade. The
Spaniards still gave a bounty to encourage it. He believed there were
agents from Holland in this country, who were then negotiating with persons
concerned in it in order to secure its continuance. The abolition also had
been proposed in the National Assembly of France, and had been rejected
there. From these circumstances he had a right to infer, that if we gave up
the trade, we should only transfer it to those countries: but this transfer
would be entirely against the Africans. The mortality on board English
ships, previously to the regulating bill, was four and an eighth per cent.
Since that time it had been reduced to little more than three per cent.[A]
In French ships it was near ten, and in Dutch ships from five to seven, per
cent. In Portuguese it was less than either in French or Dutch, but more
than in English ships since the regulating bill. Thus the deaths of the
Africans would be more than doubled, if we were to abolish the trade.

[Footnote A: Mr. Wilberforce stated it on the same evening to be between
ten and eleven per cent. for the last year. The number then exported from
Africa to our islands was rather more than 22,000, of whom more than 2,300

Perhaps it might be replied, that, the importations being stopped in our
own islands, fewer Africans would experience this misery, because fewer
would be taken from their own country on this account. But he had a right
to infer, that as the planters purchased slaves at present, they would
still think it their interest to have them. The question then was, whether
they could get them by smuggling. Now it appeared by the evidence, that
many hundred slaves had been stolen from time to time from Jamaica, and
carried into Cuba. But if persons could smuggle slaves out of our colonies,
they could smuggle slaves into them; but particularly when the planters
might think it to their interest to assist them.

With respect to the slaves there, instances had been related of their
oppression, which shocked the feelings of all who heard them: But was it
fair to infer from these their general ill usage? Suppose a person were to
make a collection of the different abuses, which had happened for a series
of years under our own happy constitution, and use these as an argument of
its worthlessness; should we not say to him, that in the most perfect
system which the human intellect could form, some defects would exist; and
that it was unfair to draw inferences from such partial facts? In the same
manner he would argue relative to the alleged treatment of the slaves.
Evidence had been produced upon this point on both sides. He should not be
afraid to oppose the authorities of Lord Rodney, and others, against any,
however respectable, in favour of the abolition. But this was not
necessary. There was another species of facts, which would answer the same
end. Previously to the year 1730 the decrease of the slaves in our islands
was very considerable. From 1730 to 1755 the deaths were reduced to only
two and a half per cent. above the births: from 1755 to 1768 to only one
and three fourths; and from 1768 to 1788 to only one per cent. This then,
on the first view of the subject, would show, that whatever might have been
the situation of slaves formerly, it had been gradually improved. But if,
in addition to this, we considered the peculiar disadvantages under which
they laboured; the small proportion of females to males; and the
hurricanes, and famines, which had swept away thousands, we should find it
physically impossible, that they could have increased as related, if they
had been treated as cruelly as the friends of the abolition had described.

This species of facts would enable him also to draw still more important
conclusions; namely, that as the slaves in the West Indies had gradually
increased, they would continue to increase; that very few years would pass,
not only before the births were equal to the deaths, but before they were
more numerous than the deaths; and that if this was likely to happen in the
present state of things, how much more would it happen, if by certain
regulations the increase of the slaves should be encouraged?

The only question then was, whether it was more advantageous to breed or to
import. He thought he should prove the former; and if so, then this
increase was inevitable, and the importations would necessarily cease.

In the first place, the gradual increase of the slaves of late years
clearly proved, that such increase had been encouraged. But their price had
been doubled in the last twenty years. The planter therefore must feel it
his interest to desist from purchasing, if possible. But again, the
greatest mortality was among the newly imported slaves. The diseases they
contracted on the passage, and their deaths in the seasoning, all made for
the same doctrine. Add to this, that slaves bred in the islands were more
expert at colonial labour, more reconciled to their situation, and better
disposed towards their masters, than those who were brought from Africa.

But it had been said, that the births and deaths in the islands were now
equal; and, that therefore no further supply was wanted. He denied the
propriety of this inference. The slaves were subject to peculiar diseases.
They were exposed also to hurricanes and consequent famines. That the day,
however, would come, when the stock there would be sufficient, no person
who attended to the former part of his argument could doubt. That they had
gradually increased, were gradually, increasing, and would, by certain
regulations, increase more and more, must be equally obvious. But these
were all considerations for continuing the traffic a little longer.

He then desired the House to reflect upon the state of St. Domingo. Had not
its calamities been imputed by its own deputies to the advocates for the
abolition? Were ever any scenes of horror equal to those which had passed
there? And should we, when principles of the same sort were lurking in our
own islands, expose our fellow-subjects to the same miseries, who, if
guilty of promoting this trade, had, at least, been encouraged in it by

That the Slave-trade was an evil, he admitted. That the state of slavery
itself was likewise an evil, he admitted; and if the question was, not
whether we should abolish, but whether we should establish these, he would
be the first to oppose himself to their existence; but there were many
evils, which we should have thought it our duty to prevent, yet which, when
they had once arisen, it was more dangerous to oppose than to submit to.
The duty of a statesman was, to consider abstractedly what was right or
wrong, but to weigh the consequences which were likely to result from the
abolition of an evil, against those, which were likely to result from its
continuance. Agreeing then most perfectly with the abolitionists in their
end, he differed from them only in the means of accomplishing it. He was
desirous of doing that gradually, which he conceived they were doing
rashly. He had therefore drawn up two propositions. The first was, That an
address be presented to His Majesty, that he would recommend to the
colonial assemblies to grant premiums to such planters, and overseers, as
should distinguish themselves by promoting the annual increase of the
slaves by birth; and likewise freedom to every female slave, who had reared
five children to the age of seven years. The second was, That a bounty of
five pounds per head be given to the master of every slave-ship, who should
import in any cargo a greater number of females than males, not exceeding
the age of twenty-five years. To bring forward these propositions, he would
now move that the chairman leave the chair.

Mr. Este wished the debate to be adjourned. He allowed there ware many
enormities in the trade, which called for regulation. There were two
propositions before the House: the one for the immediate, and the other for
the gradual, abolition of the trade. He thought that members should be
allowed time to compare their respective merits. At present his own opinion
was, that gradual abolition would answer the end proposed in the least
exceptionable manner.

Mr. Pitt rejoiced that the debate had taken a turn, which contracted the
question into such narrow limits. The matter then in dispute was merely as
to the time at which the abolition should take place. He therefore
congratulated the House, the country, and the world, that this great point
had been gained; that we might now consider this trade as having received
its condemnation; that this curse of mankind was seen in its true light;
and that the greatest stigma on our national character, which ever yet
existed, was about to be removed! Mankind, he trusted, were now likely to
be delivered from the greatest practical evil that ever afflicted the human
race--from the most severe and extensive calamity recorded in the history
of the world.

His honourable friend (Mr. Jenkinson) had insinuated, that any act for the
abolition would be evaded. But if we were to enforce this act with all the
powers of the country, how could it fail to be effectual? But his
honourable friend had himself satisfied him upon this point. He had
acknowledged, that the trade would drop of itself, on account of the
increasing dearness of the commodity imported. He would ask then, if we
were to leave to the importer no means of importation but by smuggling; and
if, besides all the present disadvantages, we were to load him with all the
charges and hazards of the smuggler, would there be any danger of any
considerable supply of fresh slaves being poured into the islands through
this channel? The question under these circumstances, he pronounced, would
not bear a dispute.

His honourable friend had also maintained, that it would be inexpedient to
stop the importations immediately, because the deaths and births in the
islands were as yet not equal. But he (Mr. Pitt) had proved last year, from
the most authentic documents, that an increase of the births above the
deaths had already taken place. This then was the time for beginning the
abolition. But he would now observe, that five years had elapsed since
these documents were framed; and therefore the presumption was, that the
Black population was increasing at an extraordinary rate. He had not, to be
sure, in his consideration of the subject, entered into the dreadful
mortality arising from the clearing of new lands. Importations for this
purpose were to be considered, not as carrying on the trade, but as setting
on foot a Slave-trade, a measure which he believed no one present would
then support. He therefore asked his honourable friend, whether the period
he had looked to was now arrived? whether the West Indies, at this hour,
were not in a state, in which they could maintain their population?

It had been argued, that one or other of these two assertions was false;
that either the population of the slaves must be decreasing, (which the
abolitionists denied,) or, if it was increasing, the slaves must have been
well treated. That their population was rather increasing than otherwise,
and also that their general treatment was by no means so good as it ought
to have been, were both points which had been proved by different
witnesses. Neither were they incompatible with each other. But he would see
whether the explanation of this seeming contradiction would not refute the
argument of expediency, as advanced by his honourable friend. Did the
slaves decrease in numbers?--Yes. Then ill usage must have been the cause
of it; but if so, the abolition was immediately necessary to restrain it.
Did they, on the other hand, increase?--Yes. But if so, no further
importations were wanted: Was their population (to take a middle course)
nearly stationary, and their treatment neither so good nor so bad as it
might be?--Yes. But if so, this was the proper period for stopping further
supplies; for both the population and the treatment would be improved by
such a measure.

But he would show again the futility of the argument of his honourable
friend. He himself had admitted, that it was in the power of the colonists
to correct the various abuses, by which the Negro population was
restrained. But they could not do this without improving the condition of
their slaves; without making them approximate towards the rank of citizens;
without giving them some little interest in their labour, which would
occasion them to work with the energy of men. But now the Assembly of
Grenada had themselves stated, "that though the Negros were allowed the
afternoons of only one day in every week, they would do as much work in
that afternoon, when employed for their own benefit, as in the whole day,
when employed in their masters' service." Now after this confession, the
House might burn all his calculations relative to the Negro population;
for, if it had not yet quite reached the desirable state which he had
pointed out, this confession had proved, that further supplies were not
wanted. A Negro, if he worked for himself, could do double work. By an
improvement then in the mode of labour, the work in the islands could be
doubled. But if so, what would become of the argument of his honourable
friend? for then only half the number of the present labourers were

He would now try this argument of expediency by other considerations. The
best informed writers on the subject had told us, that the purchase of new
Negros was injurious to the planters. But if this statement was just, would
not the abolition be beneficial to them? That it would, was the opinion of
Mr. Long, their own historian. "If the Slave-trade," says he, "was
prohibited for four or five years, it would enable them, to retrieve their
affairs by preventing them from running into debt, either by renting or
purchasing Negros." To this acknowledgment he would add a fact from the
evidence, which was, that a North American province, by such a prohibition
alone for a few years, from being deeply plunged in debt, had become
independent, rich, and flourishing.

The next consideration was the danger, to which the islands were exposed
from the newly imported slaves. Mr. Long, with a view of preventing
insurrections, had advised, that a duty, equal to a prohibition, might be
laid on the importation of Coromantine slaves. After noticing one
insurrection, which happened through their means, he speaks of another in
the following year, in which thirty-three Coromantines, "most of whom had
been newly imported, murdered and wounded no less than nineteen Whites in
the space of an hour." To the authority of Mr. Long he would add the
recorded opinion of a Committee of the House of Assembly of Jamaica, which
was appointed to inquire into the best means of preventing future
insurrections. The Committee reported, that "the rebellion had originated,
like most others, with the Coromantines," and they proposed that a bill
should be brought in for laying a higher duty on the importation of these
particular Negros, which should operate as a prohibition. But the danger
was not confined to the introduction of Coromantines. Mr. Long accounts for
the frequent insurrections in Jamaica from the greatness of its general
importations. "In two years and a half," says he, "twenty-seven thousand
Negros have been imported--No wonder that we have rebellions!" Surely then,
when his honourable friend spoke of the calamities of St. Domingo, and of
similar dangers impending over our own islands, it ill became him to be the
person to cry out for further importations! It ill became him to charges
upon the abolitionists the crime of stirring up insurrections, who only
recommended what the Legislature of Jamaica itself had laid down in a time
of danger with an avowed view to prevent them. It was indeed a great
satisfaction to himself, that among the many arguments for prohibiting the
Slave-trade, the security of our West Indian possessions against internal
commotions, as well as foreign enemies, was among the most prominent and
forcible. And here he would ask his honourable friend, whether in this part
of the argument he did not see reason for immediate abolition. Why should
we any longer persist in introducing those latent principles of
conflagration, which, if they should once burst forth, might annihilate the
industry of a hundred years? which might throw the planters back a whole
century in their profits, in their cultivation, and in their progress
towards the emancipation of their slaves? It was our duty to vote, that the
abolition of the Slave-trade should be immediate, and not to leave it to he
knew not what future time or contingency.

Having now done with the argument of expediency, he would consider the
proposition of his right honourable friend Mr. Dundas; that, on account of
some patrimonial rights of the West Indians, the prohibition of the
Slave-trade would be an invasion of their legal inheritance. He would first
observe, that, if this argument was worth any thing, it applied just as
much to gradual as to immediate abolition. He had no doubt, that, at
whatever period we should say the trade should cease, it would be equally
set up; for it would certainly be just as good an argument against the
measure in seventy years hence, as it was against it now. It implied also,
that Parliament had no right to stop the importations: but had this
detestable traffic received such a sanction, as placed it more out of the
jurisdiction of the legislature for ever after, than any other branch of
our trade? In what a situation did the proposition of his honourable friend
place the legislature of Great Britain! It was scarcely possible to lay a
duty on any one article, which might not in some way affect the property of
individuals. But if the laws respecting the Slave-trade implied a contract
for its perpetual continuance, the House could never regulate any other of
the branches of our national commerce.

But any contract for the promotion of this trade must, in his opinion, have
been void from the beginning: for if it was an outrage upon justice, and
only another name for fraud, robbery, and murder, What pledge could devolve
upon the legislature to incur the obligation of becoming principals in the
commission of such enormities by sanctioning their continuance?

But he would appeal to the acts themselves. That of 23 George II. c. 31,
was the one upon which the greatest stress was laid. How would the House be
surprised to hear, that the very outrages committed in the prosecution of
this trade had been forbidden by that act! "No master of a ship trading to
Africa," says the act, "shall by fraud, force, or violence, or by any
indirect practice whatever, take on board or carry away from that coast any
Negro, or native of that country, or commit any violence on the natives, to
the prejudice of the said trade; and every person so offending, shall for
every such offence forfeit one hundred pounds." But the whole trade had
been demonstrated to be a system of fraud, force, and violence; and
therefore the contract was daily violated, under which the Parliament
allowed it to continue.

But why had the trade ever been permitted at all? The preamble of the act
would show: "Whereas the trade to and from Africa is very advantageous to
Great Britain, and necessary for supplying the Plantations and Colonies
thereunto belonging with a sufficient number of Negros at reasonable rates,
and for that purpose the said trade should be carried on"--Here then we
might see what the Parliament had in view, when it passed this act. But no
one of the occasions, on which it grounded its proceedings, now existed. He
would plead, then, the act itself as an argument for the abolition. If it
had been proved that, instead of being very advantageous to Great Britain,
it was the most destructive to her interests--that it was the ruin of her
seamen--that it stopped the extension of her manufactures;--if it had been
proved, in the second place, that it was not now necessary for the supply
of our Plantations with Negros;--if it had been further established, that
it was from the beginning contrary to the first principles of justice, and
consequently that a pledge for its continuance, had one been attempted to
be given, must have been absolutely void--where in this act of parliament
was the contract to be found, by which Britain was bound, as she was said
to be, never to listen to her own true interests and to the cries of the
natives of Africa? Was it not clear, that all argument, founded on the
supposed pledge of Parliament, made against those who employed it?

But if we were not bound by existing laws to the support of this trade, we
were doubly criminal in pursuing it: for why ought it to be abolished at
all? Because it was incurable injustice. Africa was the ground, on which he
chiefly rested; and there it was, that his two honourable friends, one of
whom had proposed gradual abolition, and the other regulation, did not
carry their principles to their full extent. Both had confessed the trade
to be a moral evil. How much stronger then was the argument for immediate
than for gradual abolition! If on the ground of a moral evil it was to be
abolished at last, why ought it not now? Why was injustice to be suffered
to remain for a single hour? He knew of no evil, which ever had existed,
nor could he imagine any to exist, worse than the tearing of eighty
thousand persons annually from their native land, by a combination of the
most civilized nations, in the most enlightened quarter of the globe; but
more especially by that nation, which called herself the most free and the
most happy of them all.

He would now notice the objection, that other nations would not give up the
Slave-trade, if we were to renounce it. But if the trade were stained but
by a thousandth part of the criminality, which he and others, after a
thorough investigation of the subject, charged upon it, the House ought
immediately to vote its abolition. This miserable argument, if persevered
in, would be an eternal bar to the annihilation of the evil. How was it
ever to be eradicated, if every nation was thus prudentially to wait till
the concurrence of all the world should be obtained? But it applied a
thousand times more strongly in a contrary way. How much more justly would
other nations say, "Great Britain, free as she is, just and honourable as
she is, not only has not abolished, but has refused to abolish, the
Slave-trade. She has investigated it well. Her senate has deliberated upon
it. It is plain, then, that she sees no guilt in it." With this argument we
should furnish the other nations of Europe, if we were again to refuse to
put an end to this cruel traffic: and we should have from henceforth not
only to answer for our own, but for their crimes also. Already we had
suffered one year to pass away; and now, when the question was renewed, not
only had this wretched argument been revived, but a proposition had been
made for the gradual abolition of the trade. He knew indeed the difficulty
of reforming long established abuses: but in the present case, by proposing
some other period than the present, by prescribing some condition, by
waiting for some contingency, perhaps till we obtained the general
concurrence of Europe, (a concurrence which he believed never yet took
place at the commencement of any one improvement in policy or morals,) he
feared that this most enormous evil would never be redressed. Was it not
folly to wait for the stream to run down before we crossed the bed of its
channel? Alas! we might wait for ever. The river would still flow on. We
should be no nearer the object, which we had in view, so long as the step,
which could alone bring us to it, was not taken.

He would now proceed to the civilization of Africa; and as his eye had just
glanced upon a West Indian law in the evidence upon the table, he would
begin with an argument, which the sight of it had suggested to him. This
argument had been ably answered in the course of the evening; but he would
view it in yet another light. It had been said, that the savage disposition
of the Africans rendered the prospect of their civilization almost
hopeless. This argument was indeed of long standing; but, last year, it had
been supported upon a new ground. Captain Frazer had stated in his
evidence, that a boy had been put to death at Cabenda, because there were
those who refused to purchase him as a slave. This single story was deemed
by him, and had been considered by others, as a sufficient proof of the
barbarity of the Africans, and of the inutility of abolishing the
Slave-trade. But they, who had used this fact, had suppressed several
circumstances relating to it. It appeared, on questioning Captain Frazer
afterward, that this boy had previously run away from his master three
several times; that the master had to pay his value, according to the
custom of the country, every time he was brought back; and that partly from
anger at the boy for running away so frequently, and partly to prevent a
repetition of the same expense, he determined to destroy him. Such was the
explanation of the signal instance, which was to fix barbarity on all
Africa, as it came out in the cross-examination of Captain Frazer. That
this African master was unenlightened and barbarous, he freely admitted:
but what would an enlightened and civilized West Indian have done in a
similar case? He would quote the law, passed in the West Indies in 1722,
which he had just cast his eye upon in the book of evidence, by which law
this very same crime of running away was by the legislature of an island,
by the grave and deliberate sentence of an enlightened legislature,
punished with death; and this, not in the case only of the third offence,
but even in the very first instance. It was enacted, "That, if any Negro or
other slave should withdraw himself from his master for the term of six
months; or any slave, who was absent, should not return within that time,
every such person should suffer death." There was also another West Indian
law, by which every Negro was armed against his fellow-negro, for he was
authorized to kill every runaway slave; and he had even a reward held out
to him for so doing. Let the House now contrast the two cases. Let them ask
themselves which of the two exhibited the greater barbarity; and whether
they could possibly vote for the continuance of the Slave-trade, upon the
principle, that the Africans had shown themselves to be a race of
incorrigible barbarians?

Something like an opposite argument, but with a like view, had been
maintained by others on this subject. It had been said, in justification of
the trade, that the Africans had derived some little civilization from
their intercourse with us. Yes: we had given them just enough of the forms
of justice to enable them to add the pretext of legal trials to their other
modes of perpetrating the most atrocious crimes. We had given them just
enough of European improvements, to enable them the more effectually to
turn Africa into a ravaged wilderness. Alas! alas! we had carried on a
trade with them from this civilized and enlightened country, which, instead
of diffusing knowledge, had been a check to every laudable pursuit. We had
carried a poison into their country, which spread its contagious effects
from one end of it to the other, and which penetrated to its very centre,
corrupting every part to which it reached. We had there subverted the whole
order of nature; we had aggravated every natural barbarity, and furnished
to every man motives for committing, under the name of trade, acts of
perpetual hostility and perfidy against his neighbour. Thus had the
perversion of British commerce carried misery instead of happiness to one
whole quarter of the globe. False to the very principles of trade,
misguided in our policy, unmindful of our duty, what almost irreparable
mischief had we done to that continent! How should we hope to obtain
forgiveness from Heaven, if we refused to use those means, which the mercy
of Providence had still reserved to us for wiping away the guilt and shame,
with which we were now covered? If we refused even this degree of
compensation, how aggravated would be our guilt! Should we delay, then, to
repair these incalculable injuries? We ought to count the days, nay the
very hours, which intervened to delay the accomplishment of such a work.

On this great subject, the civilization of Africa, which, he confessed, was
near his heart, he would yet add a few observations. And first he would
say, that the present deplorable state of that country, especially when we
reflected that her chief calamities were to be ascribed to us, called for
our generous aid, rather than justified any despair, on our part, of her
recovery, and still less a repetition of our injuries. On what ground of
theory or history did we act, when we supposed that she was never to be
reclaimed? There was a time, which it might be now fit to call to
remembrance, when human sacrifices, and even, this very practice of the
Slave-trade, existed in our own island. Slaves, as we may read in Henry's
History of Great Britain, were formerly an established article of our
exports. "Great numbers," he says, "were exported, like cattle, from the
British coast, and were to be seen exposed for sale in the Roman
market."--"Adultery, witchcraft, and debt," says the same historian, "were
probably some of the chief sources of supplying the Roman market with
British slaves--prisoners taken in war were added to the number--there
might be also among them some unfortunate gamesters, who, after having lost
all their goods, at length, staked themselves, their wives, and their
children." Now every one of these sources of slavery had been stated to be
at this hour a source of slavery in Africa. If these practices, therefore,
were to be admitted as proofs of the natural incapacity of its inhabitants,
why might they not have been applied to ancient Britain? Why might not then
some Roman senator, pointing to British barbarians, have predicted with
equal boldness, that these were a people, who were destined never to be
free; who were without the understanding necessary for the attainment of
useful arts; depressed by the hand of Nature below the level of the human
species; and created to form a supply of slaves for the rest of the world?
But happily, since that time, notwithstanding what would then have been the
justness of these predictions, we had emerged from barbarism. We were now
raised to a situation, which exhibited a striking contrast to every
circumstance, by which a Roman might have characterized us, and by which we
now characterized Africa. There was indeed one thing wanting to complete
the contrast, and to clear us altogether from the imputation of acting even
to this hour as barbarians; for we continued to this hour a barbarous
traffic in slaves. We continued it even yet, in spite of all our great
pretensions. We were once as obscure among the nations of the earth, as
savage in our manners, as debased in our morals, as degraded in our
understandings, as these unhappy Africans. But in the lapse of a long
series of years, by a progression slow, and for a time almost
imperceptible, we had become rich in a variety of acquirements. We were
favoured above measure in the gifts of Providence, we were unrivalled in
commerce, preeminent in arts, foremost in the pursuits of philosophy and
science, and established in all the blessings of civil society: we were in
the possession of peace, of liberty, and of happiness: we were under the
guidance of a mild and a beneficent religion; and we were protected by
impartial laws, and the purest administration of justice: we were living
under a system of government, which our own happy experience led us to
pronounce the best and wisest, and which had become the admiration of the
world. From all these blessings we must for ever have been excluded, had
there been any truth in those principles, which some had not hesitated to
lay down as applicable to the case of Africa; and we should have been at
this moment little superior, either in morals, knowledge, or refinement, to
the rude inhabitants of that continent.

If then we felt that this perpetual confinement in the fetters of brutal
ignorance would have been the greatest calamity which could have befallen
us; if we viewed with gratitude the contrast between our present and our
former situation; if we shuddered to think of the misery, which would still
have overwhelmed us, had our country continued to the present times,
through some cruel policy, to be the mart for slaves to the more civilized
nations of the world;--God forbid, that we should any longer subject Africa
to the same dreadful scourge, and exclude the sight of knowledge from her
coasts, which had reached every other quarter of the globe!

He trusted we should no longer continue this commerce; and that we should
no longer consider ourselves as conferring too great a boon on the natives
of Africa in restoring them to the rank of human beings. He trusted we
should not think ourselves too liberal, if, by abolishing the Slave-trade,
we gave them the same common chance of civilization with other parts of the
world. If we listened to the voice of reason and duty this night, some of
us might live to see a reverse of that picture, from which we now turned
our eyes with shame. We might live to behold the natives engaged in the
calm occupations of industry, and in the pursuit of a just commerce. We
might behold the beams of science and philosophy breaking in upon their
land, which at some happy period in still later times might blaze with full
lustre; and joining their influence to that of pure religion, might
illuminate and invigorate the most distant extremities of that immense
continent. Then might we hope, that even Africa (though last of all the
quarters of the globe) should enjoy at length, in the evening of her days,
those blessings, which had descended so plentifully upon us in a much
earlier period of the world. Then also would Europe, participating in her
improvement and prosperity, receive an ample recompense for the tardy
kindness (if kindness it could be called) of no longer hindering her from
extricating herself out of the darkness, which, in other more fortunate
regions, had been so much more speedily dispelled.

--Nos primus equis Oriens afflavit anhelis;
Illic sera rubens accendit lumina Vesper.

Then might be applied to Africa those words, originally used indeed with a
different view:

Hic demum exactis ---- ----
Devenere locos laetos, et amoena vireta
Fortunatorum nemorum, sedesque beatas;
Largior hic campos aether et lumine vestit

It was in this view--it was as an atonement for our long and cruel
injustice towards Africa, that the measure proposed by his honourable
friend Mr. Wilberforce most forcibly recommended itself to his mind. The
great and happy change to be expected in the state of her inhabitants was,
of all the various benefits of the abolition, in his estimation the most
extensive and important. He should vote against the adjournment; and he
should also oppose every proposition, which tended either to prevent, or
even to postpone for an hour, the total abolition of the Slave-trade.

Mr. Pitt having concluded his speech (at about six in the morning), Sir
William Dolben, the chairman, proposed the following questions. The first
was on the motion of Mr. Jenkinson, "that the chairman do now leave the
chair." This was lost by a majority of two hundred and thirty-four to
eighty-seven. The second was on the motion of Mr. Dundas, "that the
abolition should be gradual;" when the votes for gradual exceeded those for
immediate by one hundred and ninety-three to one hundred and twenty-five.
He then put the amended question, that "it was the opinion of the
committee, that the trade ought to be gradually abolished." The committee
having divided again, the votes for a gradual abolition were two hundred
and thirty, and those against any abolition were eighty-five.

After this debate, the committee for the abolition of the Slave-trade held
a meeting. They voted their thanks to Mr. Wilberforce for his motion, and
to Mr. Pitt, Mr. Fox, and those other members of the House, who had
supported it. They resolved also, that the House of Commons, having
determined that the Slave-trade ought to be gradually abolished, had by
that decision manifested their opinion, that it was cruel and unjust. They
resolved also, that a gradual abolition of it was not an adequate remedy
for its injustice and cruelty; neither could it be deemed a compliance with
the general wishes of the people, as expressed in their numerous and urgent
petitions to Parliament. And they resolved lastly, that the interval, in
which the Slave-trade should be permitted to continue, afforded a prospect
of redoubled cruelties and ravages on the coast of Africa; and that it
imposed therefore an additional obligation on every friend to the cause to
use all constitutional means to obtain its immediate abolition.

At a subsequent meeting they voted their thanks to the right honourable
Lord Muncaster, for the able support he had given to the great object of
their institution by his Historical Sketches of the Slave-trade, and of its
Effects in Africa, addressed to the People of Great Britain; and they
elected the Reverend Richard Gifford and the Reverend Thomas Gisborne
honorary and corresponding members; the first on account of his excellent
sermon before mentioned and other services, and the latter on account of
his truly Christian and seasonable pamphlet, entitled Remarks on the late
Decision of the House of Commons respecting the Abolition of the

On the twenty-third of April, the House of Commons resolved itself into a
committee of the whole House, to consider the subject again; and Mr.
Beaufoy was put into the chair.

Mr. Dundas, upon whom the task of introducing a bill for the gradual
abolition of the Slave-trade now devolved, rose to offer the outlines of a
plan for that purpose. He intended, he said, immediately to abolish that
part of the trade, by which we supplied foreigners with slaves. The other
part of it was to be continued seven years from the first of January next.
He grounded the necessity of its continuance till this time upon the
documents of the Negro-population in the different islands. In many of
these, slaves were imported, but they were re-exported nearly in equal
numbers. Now all these he considered to be in a state to go on without
future supplies from Africa. Jamaica and the ceded islands retained almost
all the slaves imported into them. This he considered as a proof that these
had not attained the same desirable state; and it was therefore necessary,
that the trade should be continued longer on this account.

It was his intention, however, to provide proper punishments, while it
lasted, for abuses both in Africa and the Middle Passage. He would take
care, as far as he could, that none but young slaves should be brought from
the Coast of Africa. He would encourage establishments there for a new
species of traffic. Foreign nations should be invited to concur in the
abolition. He should propose a praedial rather than a personal service for
the West Indies, and institutions, by which the slaves there should be
instructed in religious duties. He concluded by reading several
resolutions, which he would leave to the future consideration of the House.

Mr. Pitt then rose. He deprecated the resolutions altogether. He denied
also the inferences, which Mr. Dundas had drawn from the West-Indian
documents relative to the Negro-population. He had looked over his own
calculations from the same documents again and again, and he would submit
them, with all their data, if it should be necessary, to the House.

Mr. Wilberforce and Mr. Fox held the same language. They contended also,
that Mr. Dundas had now proved, a thousand times more strongly than ever,
the necessity of immediate abolition. All the resolutions he had read were
operative against his own reasoning. The latter observed, that the
Slave-traders were in future only to be allowed to steal innocent children
from their disconsolate parents.

After a few observations by Lord Sheffield, Mr. Drake, Colonel Tarleton,
and Mr. Rolle, the House adjourned.

On the twenty-fifth of April it resumed the consideration of the subject.
Mr. Dundas then went over his former resolutions, and concluded by moving,
"that it should not be lawful to import any African Negros into any British
colonies, in ships owned or navigated by British subjects, at any time
after the first of January 1800."

Lord Mornington (now Marquis Wellesley) rose to propose an amendment. He
congratulated his countrymen, that the Slave-trade had received its
death-wound. This traffic was founded in injustice; and between right and
wrong there could be no compromise. Africa was not to be sacrificed to the
apparent good of the West-Indies. He would not repeat those enormities out
of the evidence, which had made such a deep impression upon the House. It
had been resolved, that the trade should be abolished. The question then
was, how long they were to persevere in the crime of its continuance. One
had said, that they might be unjust for ten years longer; another, only
till the beginning of the next century. But this diversity of opinion had
proceeded from an erroneous statement of Mr. Dundas against the clear and
irrefragable calculations of Mr. Pitt. The former had argued, that, because
Jamaica and the ceded islands had retained almost all the slaves which had
been imported into them, they were therefore not yet in a situation to
support their population without further supplies from Africa. But the
truth was, that the slaves, so retained, were kept, not to maintain the
population there, but to clear new land. Now the House had determined, that
the trade was not to be continued for this purpose. The population,
therefore, in the islands was sufficient to continue the ordinary
cultivation of them.

He deprecated the idea, that the Slave-trade had been so sanctioned by the
acts of former parliaments, that the present could make no alteration in
it. Had not the House altered the import of foreign sugar into our islands?
a measure, which at the time affected the property of many. Had they not
prohibited the exports of provisions from America to the same quarter?
Again, as to compacts, had the Africans ever been parties to these? It was
rather curious also, when King James the Second gave a charter to the
slave-traders, that he should have given them a right to all the south of
Africa, and authority over every person born therein! But, by doing this,
it was clear, that he gave them a right which he never possessed himself.
After many other observations, he concluded by moving, "that the year 1793
be substituted in the place of the year 1800."

In the course of the debate, which followed, Mr. Burdon stated his
conviction of the necessity of immediate abolition; but he would support
the amendment, as the shortest of the terms proposed.

Mr. Robert Thornton would support it also, as the only choice left him. He
dared not accede to a motion, by which we were to continue for seven years
to imbrue our hands in innocent blood.

Mr. Ryder would not support the trade for one moment, if he could avoid it.
He could not hold a balance with gold in one scale, and blood in the other.

Mr. William Smith exposed the wickedness of restricting the trade to
certain ages. The original motion, he said, would only operate as a
transfer of cruelty from the aged and the guilty to the young and the
innocent. He entreated the House to consider, whether, if it related to
their own children, any one of them would vote for it.

Mr. Windham had hitherto felt a reluctance to speaking, not from the
abstruseness, but from the simplicity, of the subject; but he could not
longer be silent, when he observed those arguments of policy creeping again
out of their lurking-places, which had fled before eloquence and truth. The
House had clearly given up the policy of the question. They had been
determined by the justice of it. Why were they then to be troubled again
with arguments of this nature? These, if admitted, would go to the
subversion of all public as well as private morality. Nations were as much
bound as individuals to a system of morals, though a breach in the former
could not be so easily punished. In private life morality took pretty good
care of itself. It was a kind of retail article, in which the returns were
speedy. If a man broke open his neighbour's house, he would feel the
consequences. There was an ally of virtue, who rendered it the interest of
individuals to be moral, and he was called the executioner. But as such
punishment did not always await us in our national concerns, we should
substitute honour as the guardian of our national conduct. He hoped the
West-Indians would consider the character of the mother-country, and the
obligations to national as well as individual justice. He hoped also they
would consider the sufferings, which they occasioned both in Africa, in the
passage, and in the West-Indies. In the passage indeed no one was capable
of describing them. The section of the slave-ship, however, made up the
deficiency of language, and did away all necessity of argument, on this
subject. Disease there had to struggle with the new affliction of chains
and punishment. At one view were the irksomeness of a gaol, and the
miseries of an hospital; so that the holds of these vessels put him in mind
of the regions of the damned. The trade, he said, ought immediately to be
abolished. On a comparison of the probable consequences of the abolition of
it, he saw on one side only doubtful contingencies, but on the other shame
and disgrace.

Sir James Johnstone contended for the immediate abolition of the trade. He
had introduced the plough into his own plantation in the West Indies, and
he found the land produced more sugar than when cultivated in the ordinary
way by slaves. Even for the sake of the planters, he hoped the abolition
would not be long delayed.

Mr. Dundas replied: after which a division took place. The number of votes
in favour of the original motion were one hundred and fifty-eight, and for
the amendment one hundred and nine.

On the 27th of April the House resumed the subject. Mr. Dundas moved, as


Back to Full Books