« EelmineJätka »
But, my Lords, while I thus express my entire concurrence in the sentiments of these Petitions, and of the various others which I have presented upon this subject, I cannot conceal from myself that there is a very material difference between the subject of their complaint and of the complaint which I made at our last meeting respecting the continuance not of Slavery but the Slave Trade, which I cannot delay for a single hour bringing before Parliament. The grievance set forth in the Petitions, is, that the Emancipation Act according to some did not go far enough and fast enough to its purpose—that while some hold it to have stopped short, in not at once and effectually wiping out the foul stain of slavery, others complain of our expectations having been frustrated in the working of the measure by the planters and the local authorities--that enough has not been done, nor with sufficient celerity to relieve the unhappy Slave of his burden-nevertheless all admit that whatever has been effected has been done in the right direction. The objections made are upon the degree, not upon the nature of the proceedings. It is that too little relief has been given to the Slave—that too late a day has been assigned for his final liberation—that he still suffers more than he ought : it is not that we have made Slavery more universal, more burthensome, or more bitter. But what would have been said by the English people-in what accents would they have appealed to this House—if instead of finding that the goal we aimed at was not reached—that the chains we had hoped to see loosened still galled the limbsthat the burthen we had desired to lighten still pressed the Slave to the earth-it had been found that the curse and the crime of human bondage had extended to regions which it never before had blighted—that the burthen was become heavier and more unbearable
—that the fetters galled the victim's limbs more cruelly than ever-what I ask, would then have been the language of your petitioners ? What the sensation spread through the country? What the cry of rage, echoing from every corner of its extent, to charge us with mingled hypocrisy and cruelty, should we allow an hour to pass without rooting out the monstrous evil? I will venture to assert that there would have burst universally from the whole people an indignant outcry to sweep away in a moment every vestige of slavery, under whatever name it might lurk, and whatever disguise it might assume; and the Negro at once would have been a free man. Now this is the very charge which I am here to make, and prepared to support with proof, against the course pursued with a view to extinguish the Slave Trade. That accursed traffic, long since condemned by the unanimous voice of all the rational world, flourishes under the very expedients adopted to crush it; and increases in consequence of those very measures resorted to for its extinction. Yes, my Lords, it is my painful duty to shew what, without suffering severely, it is not possible to contemplate, far less to recite, but what I cannot lay my head once more on my pillow without denouncing, that at this hour, from the very nature of the means used to extirpate it, this infernal traffic becomes armed with new horrors, and continues to tear out, year after year, the very bowels of the great African Continent—that scene of the greatest sufferings which have ever scourged humanity—the worst of all the crimes ever perpetrated by man!
When the act for abolishing the British Slave Trade passed in 1807, and when the Americans performed the same act of justice by abolishing their traffic in 1806, the earliest moment, it must to their honour be observed, that the Federal Constitution allowed this step to be taken; and when, at a later period, treaties were made, with a view to extinguish the traffic carried on by France, Spain, and Portugal, the plan was in an evil hour adopted which up to the present time has been in operation. The right of search and seizure was confined to certain vessels in the service of the State, and there was held out as an inducement to quicken the activity of their officers and crews, a promise of head-money,—that is, of so much to be paid for each slave on board the captured ship, over and above the proceeds of its sale upon condemnation. The prize was to be brought in and proceeded against ; the slaves were to be liberated; the ship, with her tackle and cargo, to be sold, and the price distributed; but beside this, the sum of five pounds for each slave taken on board was to be distributed among the captors. It must be admitted that the intention was excellent; it must further be allowed, that at first sight the inducement held out seemed likely to work well, by exciting the zeal and rousing the courage of the crews against those desperate miscreants who defiled and desecrated the great high-way of nations with their complicated occupation of piracy and murder. I grant it is far easier to judge after the event. Nevertheless, a little reflection might have sufficed to show that there was a vice essentially inherent in the scheme, and that by allotting the chief part of the premium for the capture of Slaves, and not of Slaveships, an inducement was held out, not to prevent the principal part of the crime, the shipping of the Negroes, from being committed, but rather to suffer this in order that the head-money might be gained when the vessel should be captured with that on board which we must still insult all lawful commerce by calling the cargothat is, the wretched victims of avarice and cruelty, who had been torn from their country, and carried to the loathsome hold. The tendency of this is quite undeniable; and equally so is its complete inconsistency with the whole purpose in view, and indeed the grounds upon which the plan itself is formed; for it assumes that the head-money will prove an inducement to the cruisers, and quicken their activity; it assumes therefore, that they will act so as to obtain the premium: and yet the object in view is to prevent any slaves from being embarked, and consequently any thing being done which can entitle the cruiser to any headmoney at all. The cruiser is told to put down the Slave Trade, and the reward held out is proportioned to the height which that trade is suffered to reach before it is put down. The plan assumes that he requires this stimulus to make him prevent the offence; and the stimulus is applied only after the offence has been in great part committed. The tendency, then, of this most preposterous arrangement cannot be questioned for a moment; but now see how it really works.
The Slave vessel is fitted out and sails from her port, with all the accommodations that distinguish such criminal adventures, and with the accustomed equipment of chains and fetters, to torture and restrain the Slaves--the investment of trinkets wherewith civilized men decoy savages to make war on one another, and to sell those nearest to them in blood-with the stock of muskets too, prepared by Christians for the trade, and sold at sixteen pence a-piece, but not made to fire above once or twice without bursting in the hand of the poor Negro, whom they have tempted to plunder his neighbour or to sell his child. If taken on her way to the African coast, she bears internal evidence, amply sufficient, to convict her of a Slave trading destination. I will not say that the cruisers having visited and inspected her, would suffer her to pass
onward. I will not impute to gallant and honourable men a breach of duty, by asserting, that knowing a ship to have a guilty purpose, and aware that they had the power of proving this, they would voluntarily permit her to accomplish it. I will not even suggest that vessels are less closely watched on their route towards the coast than on their return from it. But I may at least affirm, without any fear of being contradicted, that the policy which holds out a reward, not to the cruiser who stops such a ship and interrupts her on the way to the scene of her crimes, but to the cruiser who seizes her on her way back when full of Slaves, gives and professes to give the cruiser an interest in letting her reach Africa, take in her cargo of Slaves, and sail for America. Moreover, I may also affirm with perfect safety, that this policy is grounded upon the assumption that the cruiser will be influenced by the hope of the reward, in performing the service, else of what earthly use can it be to offer it? and consequently I am entitled to conclude, that the offering this reward, assumes that the cruiser cares for the reward, and will let the Slaver pass on unless she is laden with Slaves. If this does not always happen, it is very certainly no fault of the policy which is framed upon such a preposterous principle. But I am not about to argue that any such consequences actually take place. It may or it may not be so in the result; but the tendency of the system is plain. The fact I stop not to examine. I have other facts to state about which no doubt exists at all. The statements of my excellent friend, Mr. Laird, who, with his worthy coadjutor, Mr. Oldfield, has recently returned from Africa, are before the world, and there has been no attempt made to contradict them. Those gallant men are the survivors of an expedition full of hardships and perils, to which, among many others,