« ZurückWeiter »
we have now before us is unquestionably | is permitted to exist. If we were at the one of very considerable magnitude. I beginning of a session, and there was any am still, however, ready, to give a de- solid hope that an abolition was likely to cided opinion upon the subject, and to show take place, I would yield to the argument the reasons upon which that opinion is of my hon. and learned friend: but the formed. Before I enter on the discussion bill introduced for that purpose has been of the question, it is impossible for me lost. I know not exactly, if the forms of not to premise, that whatever may be the the House would admit of the introducresult of the motion, the House and the tion of another, for the accomplishment public cannot fail to be gratified with the of the same object; or if they did, I see ability and philanthropy of my hon. no certainty of better success. When I friend, and must ever do justice to his look forward, I see little rational ground humane intentions. As to the object of of hope, particularly when I consider the the motion, it seems to be admitted, that characters and situation of some who were the principles upon which it is supported, in the minority on the late question. To are of the most desirable nature. My say, that men of the greatest power and hon. friend has admitted that the improve- influence in the country, and of unquesments he looks up to, must be of a gra- tionable abilities, could throw little weight dual nature; and he has certainly hit into the scale would indeed be ridiculous. upon the most solid and natural basis on What was actually the case? The queswhich to build his future superstructure, tion was introduced during the adminiswhen he proposes to commence his ope- trations and with the approbation of a man, rations by establishing a system of pro- who surely has neither less influence nor perty among the negroes. Independently, less personal talents than any of his prethen, of the principles abstractedly consi- decessors; and yet it has failed. If this dered, the chief questions seem to be; first, be so, when, where, how are we to prohow far, in a prudential point of view, it is cure success? The plan, too, was dewise in my hon. friend to bring forward feated, by a solemn decision of parliathe proposition he has now done, as con- ment; and, having disgraced themselves nected with, and introductory to, the in this shameful manner, what right have final abolition of the slave trade; and se- I to hope that another occasion will soon condly, what are the means by which he in- be presented for the attainment of this tends his principles to be carried into prac- desired object? What, then, does my tice? My hon. and learned friend who hon. friend propose? That the House will spoke last, seemed to consider this as a de- not totally forget all the humane sentibate upon the propriety of adopting the pro- ments they have formerly uttered upon position now made to the House, or of the occasion; but that, if not inclined to deciding for a total abolition. How fulfil all they have promised, they will at happy should I feel were that actually the least show a desire of doing something.case, and with how little hesitation should I now come to consider the nature of the I prefer a total abolition! I do not con- means by which my hon. friend proposes ceive that the giving my vote one way or to carry his proposition into execution; the other this evening, is to be considered and upon this, undoubtedly the whole difas a proof of my receding one step from ficulty rests. The right of taxation and the ground which I have always taken on of general legislation have, I conceive, the question of the entire abolition of the been improperly confounded together. slave trade. I have pledged myself to the They are, to all intents and purposes, House upon that point. Those hon. gen- practically different. This difference was tlemen who have been equally, if not constantly acknowledged in the great more strenuous than myself in this cause, question of American independence. The I presume have no intentions of abandon- Âmericans never found fault with our leing it; but sure I am, that no session gislative acts, until they involved the shall pass, while I have the honour of question of taxation. Lord Chatham, in sitting in this House, without my exer- a speech which he made in this House, tions being employed to accelerate this and I do honour to his memory for the desirable event. I, for one, am deter- sentiment, said, that he rejoiced in the mined not to contribute to the increase or resistance made by America, to every perpetuation of the stigma which must attempt to tax her, for the purposes of ever be attached to this House and to revenue; and in the very same speech he this country, while that abominable traffic added (I do not say I go all that length
with him), that he nevertheless would not permit any matter of commerce to take place, not even a hob-nail to be made in America, without the sanction of the British legislature. I mention this chiefly to show the distinction that has been made between legislative acts of the one kind and the other; but in the American dispute there was a difference taken, not only between acts of general legislation and of taxation, but between acts of taxation for purposes of internal regulation, and acts of taxation for the increase of the revenue. Acts of taxation for the regulation of the post office were quietly acquiesced in. It was only when we offered them the alternative to accept or refuse indiscriminately acts of every description passed by the British senate, that they discovered signs of serious resistance.-With respect to the West Indies, we have already renounced every right of taxation. My learned friend says, we have no right of this kind. So do I. But he says, that he is not ready to admit in what respects legislative acts of any other nature may be passed, and he has brought forward the case of Ireland as in point upon this question. The act passed fourteen years ago put that matter right as to Ireland. In no In no instance could the difference between acts of legislation and taxation be more clearly ascertained I from this source drew my arguments during the American war. In every case either of external or internal regulation, the Irish were perfectly submissive but if the bare intention of raising a tax for the purpose of revenue had gone abroad, it would inevitably have produced resistance. I must confess, at the same time, that to legislate for colonies, is at no time desirable; it ought only to be done when necessity calls for it. How far is this the case at present? I do not wish, upon this occasion, to repeat the mere letter of the law. My learned friend, and every other professional man, would certainly tell me, that a statute that relates to any transaction as passing in Jamaica, would be as binding as if it took place in Middlesex; but I am not fond of unnecessarily exercising this legislative authority over persons not actually represented, and where the local situation is almost totally unknown. But we are at present reduced to an unfortunate dilemma, and I am obliged to put this question to myself, "Whether is it better to make use of a partial remedy which may in
some respects be exceptionable, or to permit the evil in its full extent to continue?" I have been accused of throwing out the threat of independence upon the subject of the West India islands. answer to that, I most decidedly affirm, that if it were to become a question, whether these islands should be connected with this country, and in consequence of that connexion, all the stigma attending the abominable system of slavery should be ignominiously continued, or that their complete independence should take place. I should not have one doubt on the subject. I am by no means blind to the danger of such a separation. I desire it not: but if the colonies were inclined to refuse their assent to so wise and humane a proposition as has now been made for the amelioration of the state of the slaves, I should not feel myself inclined to employ either armies or navies to reduce them to subjection, but would, in the language of a gentleman, who, though not present, I cannot name, as being a member of this House, desire them to go and be happy in their own way," if happiness could be found by acting contrary to every principle of justice, policy, and humanity. If, however, it be acknowledged that the British parliament has the power of general legislation, and that it may in some cases of necessity be exercised, I ask, what case of greater necessity can be put, than a case which involves the character and honour of the British name? I have occasionally said, that a war to preserve our honour is the only justifiable war. Even this principle, were it necessary, I should not find myself at a loss to support; but if in any case a legislative act is demanded for the purposes of interest, policy, aggrandisement, or the increase of commerce, are any such objects to be compared with that of removing the national dishonour, which must ever be connected with the continuance of this trade? I shall for these reasons unquestionably vote for the introduction of this bill. Were any person to give me a reasonable ground to hope that an abolition of the slave trade would speedily take place; were it held out to me that any other step would be taken towards an amelioration of the state of the slaves in the West Indies; were I to be told that a recommendation should come from the throne to effect the desirable purpose, I might perhaps be silent upon this occasion. But let me
sion under which they labour, I expect nothing from assemblies who give countenance to such proceedings.-It was urged as an argument by my learned friend, that the question of abolition to which he so heartily gives his assent, by no means involves the dispute on the rights of legislation, but that every provision in that bill comes within the acknowledged authority of this House; but permit me to say, that the opposers of that bill constantly held out as an argument of some weight, the opinion which those immediately upon the spot in the West Indies, or immediately connected with them, might entertain upon the subject. This, therefore, is no fair ground for opposing the motion. As to the question of representation, the West Indies are not, properly speaking, represented in this House, nor is it practicable, perhaps, that they should be so; neither is Ireland; neither was America. As to their representation in the West Indies, it might be called a pure representation of property, in consequence of the number of blacks. But we ought, in this case, to consider the difference between a real and a virtual representation, and the proportion which, in this respect, the West Indies bear to any other instance known in this country. Were we even to bring to our recollection the time when so many Irish landholders resided in this country and held seats in this House, and when so much land in Ireland was under mortgage in this country yet would that bear no proportion to the power and influence of West India proprietors at the present moment. A country may, undoubtedly, be virtually represented. I do not say it is in every instance the best mode; but standing where I now do, I must acknowledge the fact; and, surely, if any country was ever virtually represented, it is the West Indies in this House. Does not every gentleman who hears me, feel, from the fate of the bill for the abolition of the slave trade, that they are both virtually and powerfully represented in this House? In short, Sir, no case can appear to me to call in a more pressing manner upon the legislative authority of the British
no longer hear of expectations from parliament than the present, unless we the acts of colonial assemblies. When I consider as nugatory all we have ever look at the infernal code of laws, under heard, either from those who promote or which the poor negroes languish; when I oppose the abolition of the slave trade. see they are not considered as men, and Good God! Mr. Speaker, if we have reflect one moment upon the penalties to come to a solemn decision upon the subwhich they are subjected, and the oppres-ject, and yet pass year after year, without taking a single measure to carry our resolutions into execution, are we not guilty of hypocrisy of the basest sort? I am constrained to vote for any measure of the kind proposed, in order to prove that there is yet some sincerity left in the House of Commons.-I hoped, Sir, that my learned friend, with the anxiety he expresses for a total abolition, would have thrown out some prospect of such an event being likely to take place; but I am sorry to say, I see none such at the present period. After what took place in 1792, and the subsequent flagrant breach of promise that has been exhibited, all assurances coming from this House must be looked upon as vain and frivolous. At the same time, I confess I even now think it would be something, were the House, during the present session to come to some solemn resolution on the subject. I have already said, that a vote on this question must necessarily be given with some degree of difficulty; but I give mine clearly and conscientiously, because such a measure, with all the obstacles attending it, is less objectionable, and less contrary to humanity and justice, than doing nothing to alleviate those miseries which are at this moment attached to slavery in the West Indies. Were an entire abolition of the trade now to be proposed at any fixed period, I should probably object to any regulations of an inferior nature; but the question of abolition is lost, and I have no option left. It is, indeed, come to this, that the British parliament have refused to abolish the abominable traffic in human flesh, and the slaves in the islands are to be left to the humanity of the West India proprietors! If it were clear that the colonial assemblies would pass those acts which humanity demands, or that an abolition of the trade would be effected by parliament, there would be no occasion for any such measure as the present; but as no such thing is likely to take place, I find myself under the necessity of voting for the motion of my hon. friend.
Sir W. Young affirmed, that negroes were happier in general and more comfortable than the poor people of this
country. They were already allowed I a piece of ground, which they cultivated as their own property. He was surprised that the hon. gentleman talked so lightly of giving to each negro as much land as would here be a qualification to vote. Had the propositions of the hon. gentleman gone to effect any local remedies by an address to the throne, in order to be recommended to the colonial assemblies, he would have heartily concurred therein. Slaves had served in the war from real attachment to their masters, and not from the motives ascribed by the hon. gentleman. He was surprised that the House could hearken to propositions that went to interfere with the internal legislation of the islands by taxing the landed property of the proprietors, and by giving the negroes their ground.
Mr. Pitt said, that what had fallen from the hon. baronet was a subject of some consolation. He contemplated with satis-gative to the present motion. faction that these unfortunate people had experienced some benefit from the discussions which had taken place on the subject: but there was still much to be done, and that could be only accomplished by a total abolition. The system was fundamentally wrong, and no amelioration of the condition of the slaves in the West Indies, could remove his objection to that system; but he had sanguine hopes that parliament would complete what it had so laudably begun. As the planters became more enlightened, they would find it their interest to soften the condition of the slaves, and he hoped that the spontaneous efforts of the planters would induce them to ameliorate their situations, exclusive of what had been imposed upon them by the executive government of the country. The total abolition of the traffic in those unfortunate people, he concluded was the only act to be expected from the British House of Commons, and without this no local act of legislation would be of any material avail. As long as new negroes were poured into the islands, every plan adopted must prove inadequate to the end proposed. No man would deny that many of the principles laid down by the hon. member, were founded in justice and humanity it was laudable to instil into their minds morality; but all instruction was fruitless, as long as new negroes were imported into the colonies. He was clearly against passing any law for taxa
tion in a British parliament, that would have in its operation a local application to every estate in the West India colonies. He cautioned the House against stirring a question of such a delicate nature; it would only excite a spirit of jealousy, and defeat its own object. The House had relinquished the power of making any alteration with respect to the property of the negroes; it had given out of its hand the power of taxation in the colonies; therefore, if the stirring of any question was more dangerous than another, it was that to which he now adverted. If parliament reserved its undoubted right to regulate every measure that relates to trade, it retained the power of abolishing the slave trade. Why, then, not adopt the measure at once, without involving it in innumerable difficulties by attempting to interfere with the local legislation of the colonies? In this view of the question, he felt himself bound to give his ne
Mr. Windham said, he was convinced that all parties sincerely wished to ameliorate the condition of the slaves in the West Indies. Every plan that went to that effect should always meet with his concurrence. He acknowledged that he was in possession of Mr. Burke's plan, and highly approved of it; as a part, therefore, of that plan, he would certainly support the present motion. If they were to proceed in this way, he did not think there would be any determined opposition from the planters; if there was, it would arise principally from a question that had been touched upon relative to the power of this country to legislate in all matters for her colonies,-a question which ought not to be agitated at all, except in cases of absolute necessity, and then only as far as the immediate exigency of the case required. He wished those who were so cautious of venturing on that discussion now, had been as much so upon other parts of the question, particularly the total abolition. He had sanguine hopes that much in the way of amelioration would be affected by the colonies themselves; and he did not despair, but by their exertions, and such plans as that now proposed, the slave trade would be abolished without any danger; and from this idea it was, that he preferred the present and similar regulations, even to an immediate abolition. He could never agree with those who said they would would have no compromise on the subject.
What had they been doing, ever since the question was first agitated, but compromising in some way or other? In consequence of the regulations that had been made, much amelioration had taken place, and that gradual system was, in his mind, the best and most certain way of finally effecting an abolition. From what they had already seen, it was fair to conclude that slavery would be abolished by the West Indians themselves, and equally so to believe, that in the same proportion as it was discontinued by them, the barbarism of the Africans would be diminished.
Mr. Este objected to the plan proposed, as tending to the rapid separation of the colonies from this country. A distinction had been attempted to be made between taxation and legislation, but in this question they could not be separated. The agitation of the question of legislating for the colonies was dangerous in the extreme. It would, in fact, be drawing the sword against the colonies, to attempt, by an act of the British legislature, to tax the islands.
Mr. W. Smith agreed with those who were for a total and immediate abolition; at the same time whilst that could not be obtained, every measure that tended to ameliorate the condition of the slaves should have his support. He thought it necessary to say something on the argument, that much might be expected from colonial legislation; to call the attention of the House to the laws of those islands; and then ask them what they had to expect in fairness from such legislators? For this purpose it became necessary for him to read the laws of the different islands for the management of their negroes. Mr. Smith then read those of the latest date in each island, and commented on their absurdity, cruelty, and injustice.
Mr. Secretary Dundas said, he did not intend to enter into the general question of the abolition of the slave trade. With regard to the question itself, he would repeat what he had stated before, that unless we had the concurrence of the colonies themselves, all that we could do in the way of internal regulation was not worth a straw. The hon. gentleman had opened his speech by desiring the House not to anticipate any of his conclusions, and, if he was rightly informed, had been so cautious as to conceal his intentions by this motion, from his own confidential friends. This caution had at least secur
ed him a patient hearing; for if he had told them, that his proposition went to the subversion of all colonial laws, property and rights could be productive of no one good purpose, and tended to produce an immediate and dangerous quarrel between this country and her colonies, he certainly would not have been suffered to bring forward any such proposition.-He agreed in the general opinion, that the question of right to legislate ought not to be agitated, except in cases of necessity; and he would venture to say, that the bill, if passed into alaw, could produce no good, but would be extremely dangerous in its consequences, by opposing to the com plaints already made in our colonies a question of doubtful legislation. He should therefore give the motion his de cided negative.
Mr. Manning contended, that the regu lations adopted by the colonial assembly of Jamaica in 1792, which were most advantageously framed for the happiness of the negroes, were, in themselves, sufficient to prevent any necessity for the measure proposed. If the hon. mover referred to that act, he would find that the greatest attention had been given to the rearing of children.
Mr. Francis, in reply, observed, that if the declarations which had been so frequently and so strongly made by those who opposed his plan, had been attended to by themselves, he should not that night have brought forward his motion. He apprehended, both from the result of a former debate, and the proba ble event of the present, that nothing ef fectual would be adopted for the relief of the men whose miserable situation was submitted to the judgment of the House. It had been urged, that the bill which he proposed to introduce went to renounce the right of taxing the colonies; but he positively denied that it could bear such a construction. He would not press a division on his motion, but hoped that gentlemen would come forward themselves, and propose measures to alleviate the distresses of the slaves.
The motion was then negatived.
Mr. Abbot's Motion for a Committee to inspect Temporary Expiring Laws.] April 12. Mr. Abbot rose and said :--In consequence of the notice which I had the honour to give yesterday, I shall now beg leave to mention a subject which appears to me of very considerable importance;