Page images


To the Editor of the British PRESS,


April 8, 1805. The advocates for the continuance of the African SlaveTrade, in the dearth of sound argument for the support of their cause, have frequently had the effrontery to make their appeal to the Holy Scriptures. The Scriptures undoubtedly record the existence of Slavery in ancient times; but surely it would be a very unfair inference from this admission, that the Scriptures, therefore, sanction that traffick in men which is carried-on by British subjects from the Coast of Africa, for the supply of labourers in the West-Indian Ilands. If such a principle of interpretation were admitted, to what absurd consequences would it not lead! The Scriptures record the fratricide of Cain, the drunkenness of Noah, and the polygamy of David; but would it be just reasoning to infer, that either murder, or sensuality and profligacy, were sanctioned by the word of God? As just, at lealt, as that deduced by the modern Man-Merchant from the fale of Joseph to the Midianites, or from the existence of bondage in the Patriarchal ages, in favour of his horrid traffick.

But let it be granted, for the sake of argument, that the Slavery mentioned in Scripture was fanctioned by Divine authority. Will this conceffion affect the question at issue, or establish the lawfulness of the African Slave-Trade? By no means. But, before I enter upon the discussion of this subject, it will be proper to premise, that the cause for which I plead has suffered materially from the ambiguity of the term Slavery. This vague and undefined term is applied to conditions of Society differing very widely in almost every effential particular. We speak of our becoming Naves, if a Minister do but fufpend the Habeas Corpus Act. The French are called Slaves, because they do not enjoy the same degree of political liberty with which Providence has blefied this Island. The domestick fervitude of Africa (which probably bears a close resemblance to Patriarchal bondage) is termed Slavery, and the subjects of it Slaves. Some other name, therefore, ought to be invented to express West-Indian bondage ; for, by means of the affociation of Ideas which is produced by this intercommunity of appellation, especially in the minds of persons who have had no opportunity of fully investigating the subject, the African Slave-trade, together with that system which it feeds and perpetuates in the West-Indies, is confounded with states of servitude so very mitigated as to excite no horror; and is thus relieved from a' great part of its fade,


The system of Slavery which prevails in our WeftIndian colonies we believe to stand alone in the history of the world. It is not only (as Mr. Pitt affirmed in 1792) the greatest practical evil which has ever afflicted the human race; but it is an evil sui generis, so radically and effentially different from every other which happens to have the same name attached to it, as scarcely to form a fair ground of analogical reasoning. But let us confider this point more attentively.

The miseries entailed on Africa by the Slave Trade are already sufficiently known to the Publick; I need not, therefore, dwell at present on that part of the fubject. Let us follow the Slaves in the middle passage. There, if

we may credit the Man-Merchant, the utmost exertions of his hu manity and beneficence are employed to promote the ease and comfort of his African passengers. But even there we

shall Thall be constrained to confess chat his tender mercies are cruel.

In the year 1791 (three years after the passing of the Slave-carrying Aet , which is admitted by the Man-Merchants themselves to have very greatly lessened the mortality on board of slave-ships), of 15,754 flaves carried froin the coast of Africa, 1,378 died during the middle paffage, the average length of which was fifty-one days; making a mortality of 84 per cent. in that time, or of 621 per cent. per annum : a rate of mortality which would unpeople the Earth in a year and seven months.

The amount of the mortality in 1792 was, however, still more enormous. Of 31,554 Naves carried from Africa, no fewer than 5,413 died on the passage, making somewhat more than 17 per cent. in fifty-one days. Had the voyage been prolonged, and the flaves continued to die in the same proportion, the whole number would have been completely swept-away in about ten months*.

I would now ask, whether it be fair, whether it be allow. able, to dignify a practice fo pregnant with misery and murder, with the name of commerce? Surely this cannot long be endured by a British Parliament. If it is to be tolerated, let us at least have some specious pretext for the indulgence : let there be, at least, one pra&ice pointed-out, either in ancient or modern story, which will bear to be compared for one moment with this abominable traffick: otherwise we ought no longer to be imposed-upon by the hardy assumption of its antiquity and univerfality.

But the horrors of the middle passage are at length terminated. The flaves are landed in the Weft. Indies; exposed like cattle in a Fair; spanned and gauged with as little ceremony as is observed by a carcafe-butcher in Smithfield; and, having been purchased by some planter, * See accounts laid on the table of the House of Lords, in 1799.


are led to his estate. What is, then, the fituation of such of them as survive the seasoning? They are the absolute property of their purchaser, vendible by him precisely in the same manner as the horse which turns his sugar-mill, and, if direct privation of life and limb be excepted, equally subject to his discretion as to the quantity of labour to be exacted, the proportion of food to be allowed, and the dir. cipline or punishment to be inflicted.

During the hours of labour, they are driven, like a team of oxen or horses, by the cart-whip; and this compulsion of labour, by the physical impulse, or present terror of the wbip, is universal with respect to such slaves as are engaged in cultivating our islands. As to civil rights, or any political exiftence, they stand on a level with the brute. Immoderate cruelty to a flave is punishable as a nuisance in the same way as immoderate cruelty to cattle; but then, it is always difficult, and generally impoffible, to obtain proof of the fact; for (let it not be forgotten) the evidence of a Nave, or of a thousand Naves, did they all testify the same thing, would not be available in the smallest degree to the conviction of one who is free. This, then, is the state of bondage to which not only the imported Africans them. selves, but their children, and their children's children, for ever and for ever, are inevitably consigned : and I defy any one to shew, not only that a single circumstance in this picture is exaggerated, but that it is not a matter of as universal notoriety in the West Indies, whatever it may be in Europe, as the existence of Navery at all. I do not mean, indeed, to affirm, that this system is not as humanely administered by some West-Indian planters, as its nature will admit. But still such is the system which they have to adminifter.

Let it be remarked, however, that there is one circuntftance in he lot of West Indian Slaves which renders it

even worse than that of brutes ; they not only feel the present pain, but they can remember the past, they can anticipate the future, they can discourse, they can contrive, they can execute, they can distinguish between right and wrong; they have had the insolence, at times, to exercise this faculty; nay, they have even dared to prefer a claim to the possession of humanity, by expressing a sense of injury and injustice, and by shewing that they can resent it. Hence it is, that, while in this country, we fee men take pleasure in raising their horses and dogs' to a participation of their own enjoyments, and to a place, as it were, in their friendship and society; the flave in the West Indies is degraded and thruft-down to the very earth, left, looking upwards, fome untoward accident should discover to him that he is a man, pofseffed of the same common nature with his master, and equally entitled with him to feel, and to repel insult, and injury, and torture.

Now, I do not hesitate to challenge all the advocates of the Slave-Trade to point-out, in ancient times, any state or condition of life, which bears the most remote resemblance to the West-Indian fyftem ; viewed in all its parts, from its commencement in Africa, to its completion in the West-Indies. Nay, so far is it from having any claim to antiquity, that I take it upon myself to aver that this system, as now conftituted, is entirely a modern invention. It took its rife in the Antilles, about 220 years ago ; and from that time it has been gradually augmenting, until by the accumulating wafte of the British capital and African blood, it has acquired its present hideous form and gigantick dimensions.

Still, however, it may be pertinacioufly argued that Maoery is Navery, and that no doubt can be entertained of the existence of such a state of society among the Ifraelites. The bondage, however, which prevailed among the Ifrael

« PreviousContinue »