« ZurückWeiter »
correspond with the justice and humanity of our cause, and let us at least prove that we shall not be wanting to vindicate the honour of our character and the consistency of our proceedings.
The House divided on General Tarleton's motion, " That the other orders of the day be now read.” Tellers.
67. Noes Sir W. Young So it passed in the negative, after which Mr. Wilberforce's motion for leave to bring in a bill for the abolition of the slave trade, at a time to be limited, was agreed to.
Mr. Rob. Smith} 93.
On the order of the day for taking into consideration the report of the committee on the bill for the abolition of the slave trade, at a time to be limited, the bill was again strongly opposed by Sir William Young, General Smith, Mr. Rose, Mr. Secretary Dundas, and General Tarleton; and as strongly supported by Mr. Francis, Mr. Fox, Mr. Montagu, and Mr. Pitt. In reply to what fell from Mr. Dundas,
Mr. Fox rose and said: – As the right honourable gentleman seemed in some part of his speech particularly to allude to me, I am desirous to take this opportunity shortly to give my opinion on the subject of the debate, which at all events I should have felt to be necessary in the course of the evening. I am glad that the right honourable gentleman has found himself sufficiently recovered to attend on this occasion, and more especially that he has been able to enter into so full a discussion of the question. When, Sir, we consider his abilities, his opportunities of acquiring information on the subject, and the great attention which he has paid to it, we inay flatter ourselves that we have now heard the whole force of the argument against us. When I say against us, I am aware that I do not use the most parliamentary way of speaking; but I must confess, that I have been so long engaged on one side of the question, that I have now formed a strong predetermined opinion. I do not affirm that I am not to be shaken by reasoning, but so intimately interwoven is my conviction, that I cannot easily be persuaded, that any reasoning can be found to induce me to alter it. There were many parts of the speech of the right honourable gentleman, which must be considered as highly favourable to the cause of those who are friends to the abolition. The
whole of his argument is a complete answer to those advocates on the other side, who contend, that the question ought to be left at rest, that the discussion is highly improper, under the peculiar circumstances of the present time, and that it ought not at all to be agitated. I am happy to find that the right honourable gentleman and myself agree in our premises, however we may differ with respect to our conclusion. He admits that the trade is not only inconsistent with humanity and justice, (and I should suppose, when I had got that I had not much to ask,) but with policy and prudence in time of war. It appears, then, that we only differ as to the mode of abolition.
The right honourable gentleman states a powerful objection to our mode, if it be well founded; namely, that it is impracticable. Let us examine it, as contrasted with that mode of abolition which he has himself proposed, and see to which of the two this objection of impracticability may most justly be applied. First, the right honourable gentleman states that our mode cannot be carried into effect without the consent of the planters, which we cannot expect to have. I have no hesitation to state, that if to the accomplishment of the abolition of the slave trade, we attach, as a necessary condition, the consent of the planters, we do not see the question in a fair and manly light. What ground of hope have we, even from their professions, that they will ever be induced to give their consent to such a measure? And if we advert to what has been their conduct in every former instance, we cannot have the smallest prospect that such an event is ever likely to take place. On a former occasion, I trust I may make the allusion without any irregularity, [Mr. Fox here alluded to the line of argument adopted by Mr. Dundas, when he proposed his plan of gradual abolition,] I remember great pains to have been taken to hold two different languages to the different parties in this question, to persuade the planters that if they did not accede to terms of gradual abolition, an immediate abolition would be effected; and the enemies of the trade, that if they did not accept of their object upon the same terms, there would be no abolition at all. This attempt to persuade both parties completely failed. It did not succeed with me, because I was persuaded that the abolition might be effected in a different manner; and I have not understood that it has gained one proselyte among the West Indians. The right honourable gentleman says, that whatever laws may be passed, the traffic in slaves will not be extirpated, and that the whole of the navy of England cannot prevent illicit intercourse. I am fiully aware of the truth of this position, and
of the inefficacy of laws to suppress any commerce which holds out the tempting prospect of high profit; but this refutes the reasoning of those who condemned the severity of penalties imposed by the present bill; as it is evident that the rigour of the penalty ought to be in proportion to the difficulty of suppressing the offence. In this respect, therefore, the right honourable gentleman made the fullest defence of those penalties, which have been so much reprobated. On the penalties themselves he did not dwell much; in fact, he did not seem to take them at all into his consideration. When he asked, “ Will it not be practicable to smuggle, notwithstanding the operation of the law ?” ought not another question to have suggested itself, “ Is it not also possible, that those concerned in smuggling may be detected?” May it not be expected, that the law will at least have some effect in securing the object in view; that in some instances the vigilance of its operation will arrest the criminal; and that in others, the contemplation of its penalties will prevent the offence? But another objection is, that these laws cannot be executed without the co-operation of the West Indians themselves. Are there not already laws in force, prohibiting any intercourse between the West Indians and North America, for the purpose of procuring provisions? Has there been found any deficiency with respect to the observance of those laws? And yet provisions may be purchased more easily than slaves.
Allusions have been made to an expression brought forward by me on a former evening, and repeated this night by an honourable friend of mine, (Mr. Francis.) From the construction put upon that expression, I conceive that it has been misunderstood. My honourable friend did not say, “ the West Indies are of little consequence, let them go;". he merely answered a speculation that the consequence of the abolition of the slave trade would be the loss of our West India possessions; a speculation which, by the bye, is very uncertain. To the assertion on the one side, he only opposed an assertion of his own, that even if the speculation of the loss of those islands should be true, we should be as well without them: and then came in the case of America. On that subject, I confess that I hold a different opinion. I consider the loss of America as a grievous misfortune to the British empire. I always should be inclined to coincide with those prudent men, who are not disposed to risk any great stake on the chance of speculation; and if even, in the contest between Great Britain and her colonies, I had been of the opinion of the Dean of Gloucester, that the independence of America was desirable, I should not have ventured to have
acted on that opinion. But in this case, if the West India planters should present the alternative, “ either we will separate from Great Britain, or continue the slave trade," I should have no hesitation. I would say, “ Separate, go to America, or if you think proper, go to France.” When I threaten them ihus, I mean to convey, that the separation would be infinitely more inconvenient to them than to Great Britain, and that they are but little prepared for such a step.
The right honourable gentleman entered into a detail of 'the amount of the importations, but was afterwards obliged to admit, that not much stress was to be laid on a calculation of that sort. He entered also into a speculation with respect to the rivalship of America in point of manufactures. The probability of what this country may suffer from such a rivalship, I consider to be very remote. The extent of land to be cultivated in America, compared even with the increasing rate of population, must retard such an event for a great number of years. But when I venture to put the case of the loss of the West Indies, I talk so from a certainty that there is no danger of such a separation, and from a firm conviction that it cannot be the result of the present bill. As to the point of right, I affirm that, from the nature of the connection, no right can be more unquestionable than for the legislature of Great Britain to interfere in regulating the external commerce of her colonies. The right honourable gentleman says, that if you cut them off from one branch of trade, you become yourselves bound to supply the deficiency. In point of fact, the argument is not founded, for you have already interdicted them from many branches of commerce, which you do not supply. But what is the extent of his argument, as applied to the present case? To say that you are bound to supply the West India planters with slaves with your own hands and your own capital, till such a time as those gentlemen are convinced that no fresh supplies are necessary, is to suppose that you have formed something like the worst of all contracts. It is to suppose that you have sold yourselves to the Devil to the end of time, and are engaged to do his service, without the possibility of redemption. When the right honourable gentleman talks of the danger to be apprehended from slaves newly imported from a country, where neither from religion, morality, nor philosophy, they have acquired any laudable sentiment or good disposition, where neither precept nor example has concurred to form them to amiable manners and habits of virtue, what is the obvious inference? If there is one country in the world so peculiarly unfortunate, so totally depraved, is not this wretched picture of our nature owing to the existence
of that abominable traffic, which thus tends to eradicate from the character any thing good, amiable, or even human? Can there exist any obligation to be the conductors of such a trade? We cannot have made such a contract. have, it is one of those few contracts, which ought to be violated.
The right honourable gentleman, in taking notice of the particular clauses of the bill, lamented that there should be one, enacting, that those slaves, who are already in the islands, should be taken from one island to another, and thus separated from their acquaintance, and the connections they may have formed. If such are his feelings with respect to a removal from Barbadoes to Jamaica, if he conceives the attachment which binds them to the place they have once inhabited to be so strong, with what sentiments must he contemplate that separation which they, in the first instance, experience from their native soil — that separation which breaks asunder all the bands of nature, which tears them from every object of sympathetic fondness, from every scene of early endearment? With respect to the other clause, which enacts, that those negroes who shall be attempted to be brought over for the purpose of illegal commerce, shall be sold, and the money applied to particular purposes, I certainly shall regret its operation, and I sincerely wish that any other mode of disposing of them could possibly be suggested. It is urged against us, “ You say, that they are unjustly torn from their friends and their country: why, then, do you not take the means to restore them?” If it were possible to secure this object, I should grudge no expence with which it might be attended. But one of the evils of this robbery is, that it leaves no means of restitution. Should we attempt again to convey those wretches to the coast of Africa, they might only be left to perish by famine, or might be exposed to a repetition of the same sufferings which we now deprecate; and this circumstance in itself I can only consider as a fresh stigma which attaches to this abominable traffic, and a more convincing proof of its foul atrocity.
As to the practicability of the different plans, so far as they are connected with the question of the co-operation of the colonies; if the plan of abolition can be carried into effect with the consent and co-operation of the colonies, my plan is fully as easy and practicable as that of the right honourable gentleman: but if it must be enforced without their consent, his plan is more difficult in execution, and less certain in its operation than mine. Evasion becomes easy, in proportion as distinction is difficult. Would it be harder to punish a man for importing negroes, or for only importing them