Page images
PDF
EPUB

SPEECH OF MR. PITT ON THE ABOLITION OF THE SLAVE TRADE, DELIVERED IN THE HOUSE OF COM.

MONS, APRIL 2, 1792.

INTRODUCTION. NUMEROUS petitions for the abolition of the African slave trade were presented to Parliament at the session of 1787–8. On the 9th of May, 1788, Mr. Pitt, acting for Mr. Wilberforce, who was confined by illness, moved that “the subject be taken up early the next session." This was accordingly done on the 19th of May, 1789, when Mr. Wilberforce laid open the enormities of this traffic in a speech of great compass and power. So conclusive were his statements, that Mr. Pitt was prepared to carry through the measare by an immediate vote ; but yielded, at last, to a demand for the examination of witnesses in behalf of the slave merchants, remarking, however, that he could by no means submit to the ultimate procrastination of so important a business.” Every artifice was now used to protract the inquiry. The passions of the colonists were inflamed; the wealth and influence of the great commercial towns engaged in the trade, Liverpool, Bristol, &c., were arrayed against the measure ; the revolution in St. Domingo, and the insurrection in Dominica, furnished plausible arguments to alarm the timid; the speedy depopulation of the West India Islands, with the loss of seventy millions sterling of property, was urged as the inevitable result; until the nation was staggered, and many well-wishers of the cause began to waver in their opinions. Some of Mr. Pitt's warmest supporters were of this number, and especially Mr. Dan. das, with whom it was impossible for him to break, so that he felt himself no longer able to make it a ministerial question, or to insist on its being carried as a measure of the government. In the mean time, Mr. Wilberforce and his friends were not idle. Evidence of the most conclusive kind was collected from every quarter, and presented in so clear a light, as to relieve the public mind from the terrors which had been thrown around the subject, and to give a full exhibition of the unparalleled atrocities of the traffic, as then actually carried on.

Early in 1792, five hundred and seventeen petitions against the slave trade were laid before Parlia. ment; and on the 2d of April, Mr. Wilberforce made a motion, supported by an able speech, for its im mediate suppression. After a protracted debate, Mr. Dandas rose, and, declaring himself to be in favor of the ultimate extinction of the trade, pleaded for delay, insisting that the object aimed at by Mr. Wilberforce would be secured with far greater ease and certainty by a gradual than by an immediate abolition. Mr. Addington, the Speaker, followed him in the same strain. This called forth a reply from Mr. Pitt in the speech before us, being one of the ablest pieces of mingled argument and eloquence which he ever produced. He first took up the question of expediency, comparing the two schemes of gradual and immediate abolition ; and while he put down Mr. Dandas and Mr. Addington completely on every point, he showed admirable tact in so doing it, as to leave no room for mortified feeling or personal resentment. He then proceeded to his main ground, that of right. "I now come to AFRICA! Why ought the slave trade to be abolished ? Because it is incurable injustice. How much stronger, then, is the argument for inmediate than for gradual abolition!" On this topic he put forth all his strength, exposing, in tones of lofty and indignant eloquence, the complicated enormities of a system which had made the shores of Africa for centuries a scene of cruelty and bloodshed, and brought infamy on the character of Christian na. tions engaged in this guilty traffic. Mr. Wilberforce says in his Journal, “Windham, who has no love for Pitt, tells me that Fox and Grey, with whom he walked home from this debate, agreed in thinking Pitt's speech one of the most extraordinary displays of eloquence they had ever heard. For the last twenty minutes he really seemed to be inspired.”—P. 111.

Groundnar

the debate.

SPEECH, &c. Mr. SPEAKER, -At this hour of the morning though it has produced a variety of new sugges(four o'clock], I am afraid, sir, I am too much tions, has, upon the whole, contracted exhausted to enter so fully into the subject be- this question into a much narrower rowed by fore the committee as I could wish; but if my point than it was ever brought into bebodily strength is in any degree equal to the task, fore. I feel so strongly the magnitude of this question, I can not say that I quite agree with the right that I am extremely earnest to deliver my senti- honorable gentleman over the way ments, which I rise to do with more satisfaction, [Mr. Fox), for I am far from deplor- the trade muse

be suppressed. because I now look forward to the issue of this ing all that has been said by my two business with considerable hope of success. honorable friends (Mr. Dundas and Mr. Adding

The debate has this night taken a turn whic ton). I rather rejoice that they have now brought

question of time.

Preliminary

enforced?

this subject to a fair issue ; that something, at ly by them. If they can show that their propoleast, is already gained, and that the question has sition of a gradual abolition is more likely than taken altogether a new course this night. It is ours to secure the object which we have in view; true, a difference of opinion has been stated, and that by proceeding gradually we shall arrive has been urged with all the force of argument more speedily at our end, and attain it with more that could be given to it. But permit me to say certainty, than by a direct vote immediately to that this difference has been urged upon princi- abolish ; if they can show to the satisfaction both ples very far removed from those which were of myself and the committee, that our proposimaintained by the opponents of my honorable tion has more the appearance of a speedy abolifriend (Mr. Wilberforce), when he first brought tion than the reality of it, undoubtedly they will forward his motion. There are very few of in this case make a convert of me, and my honthose who have spoken this night, who have not orable friend who moved the question. They thought it their duty to declare their full and will make a convert of every man among us entire concurrence with my honorable friend in who looks to this (which I trust we all do) as a promoting the abolition of the slave trade as question not to be determined by theoretical printheir ultimate object. However we may differ ciples or enthusiastic feelings, but considers the as to the time and manner of it, we are agreed practicability of the measure, aiming simply to in the abolition itself; and my honorable friends effect his object in the shortest time, and in the have expressed their agreement in this sentiment surest possible manner. If, however, I shall be with that sensibility upon the subject, which hu- able to show that our measure proceeds more manity does most undoubtedly require. I do not, directly to its object, and secures it with more however, think they yet perceive what are the certainty, and within a less distant period; and necessary consequences of their own concession, that the slave trade will on our plan be abolishor follow up their own principles to their justed sooner than on theirs, may I not then hope conclusion.

that my right honorable friends will be as ready The point now in dispute between us is a dif- to adopt our proposition, as we should in the The present ference merely as to the period of time other case be willing to accede to theirs ? simply one

at which the abolition of the slave trade One of my right honorable friends has stated

ought to take place. I therefore con- that an act passed here for the aboli. gratulate this House, the country, and the world, tion of the slave trade would not se- Inquiry : Can that this great point is gained. That we may cure its abolition. Now, sir, I should abolition be now consider this trade as having received its be glad to know why an act of the condemnation; that its sentence is sealed ; that British Legislature, enforced by all those sancthis curse of mankind is seen by the House in its tions which we have undoubtedly the power and true light; and that the greatest stigma on our' the right to apply, is not to be effectual; at least, national character which ever yet existed is as to every material purpose? Will not the exabout to be removed; and, sir, which is still more ecutive power have the same appointment of the important, that mankind, I trust, in general, are officers and the courts of judicature, by which now likely to be delivered from the greatest prac- all the causes relating to this subject must be tical evil that has ever afflicted the human race; tried, that it has in other cases ? Will there not from the severest and most extensive calamity be the same system of law by which we now recorded in the history of the world!

maintain a monopoly of commerce ? If the same In proceeding to give my reasons for concur- i law, sir, be applied to the prohibition of the laws Ground of ring with my honorable friend (Mr. Wil the slave trade which is applied in the fore certaindiscussion. berforce) in his motion, I shall necessa- case of other contraband commerce, enough. rily advert to those topics which my honorable with all the same means of the country to back friends near me (Dundas and Addington] have it, I am at a loss to know why the actual and touched upon, and which they stated to be their total abolition is not as likely to be effected in motives for preferring a gradual, and, in some this way, as by any plan or project of my hondegree, a distant abolition of the slave trade, to orable friends, for bringing about a gradual terthe more immediate and direct measure now mination of it. But my observation is extremeproposed to you. Beginning as I do, with de- ly fortified by what fell from my honorable friend claring that, in this respect, I differ completely who spoke last. He has told you, sir, that if you from my right honorable friends near me, I do

It is hardly necessary to remark how soon Mr. not, however, mean to say that I differ as to one Pitt enters (as in these three sentences) on one of observation which has been pressed rather strong those amplifications by which he was accustomed

to enforce his thoughts, presenting them in detail " It is one characteristic of Mr. Pitt to open a dis- under different aspects upon which the mind might cussion by some striking remark of this kind-some dwell. difference between him and a preceding speaker, 3 Mr. Pitt was much accustomed to argue, as in some distinction, &c., &c.—which gives him an op- these four sentences, by exhaustion-by taking all portunity to state his ground with great clearness, the suppositions belonging to the case, and deducand to place the question on its true footing. This ing the result. The turn which he next gives to throws a light forward upon the entire course he the argument, by making Mr. Addington testify has to traverse, and conduces greatly to that lumin- against himself, is an instance of the extraordinary ous exposition of a subject for wbich he was so sagacity for which he was distinguished in sifting much celebrated.

the arguments of others.

himself.

(3.) Abolition would remove one great

will have patience with it for a few years, the disproportion of the sexes. This, however, is a Mr. Adding: slave trade must drop of itself, from disparity which existed in any mate- (2.) The distarbeidet mest the increasing dearness of the com- rial degree only in former years; it perest

modity imported, and the increasing is a disparity of which the slave trade ceased. progress, on the other hand, of internal popula. has been itself the cause, which will gradually tion. Is it true, then, that the importations are so diminish as the slave trade diminishes, and must expensive and disadvantageous already, that the entirely cease if the trade shall be abolished; internal population is even now becoming a but which, nevertheless, is made the very plea cheaper resource ? I ask, then, if you leave to the for its continuance. I believe this disproportion importer no means of importation but by smug of the sexes, taking the whole number of the isl. gling, and if, besides all the present disadvanta- ands, Creole as well as imported Africans, the ges, you load him with all the charges and haz- latter of whom occasion all the disproportion, is ards of the smuggler, by taking care that the not now by any means considerable. laws against smuggling are in this case watch- But, sir, I also showed that the great mortalfully and rigorously enforced, is there any dan- ity, which turned the balance so as ger of any considerable supply of fresh slaves to make the deaths appear more nubeing poured into the islands through this chan- merous than the births, arose too from source of mornel ? And is there any real ground of fear, be- the imported Africans, who die in ex- among the im cause a few slaves may have been smuggled in traordinary numbers in the seasoning. ported negroen or out of the islands, that a bill will be useless Mif, therefore, the importation of negroes should and ineffectual on any such ground? The ques- cease, every one of the causes of mortality which tion under these circumstances will not bear a I have now stated would cease also; nor can I dispute.

conceive any reason why the present number of I. Perhaps, however, my honorable friends laborers should not maintain itself in the West Expediency.

may take up another ground, and say, Indies, except it be from some artificial cause,

" It is true your measure would shut some fault in the islands ; such as the impolicy out further importations more immediately; but of their governors, or the cruelty of the manawe do not mean to shut them out immediately. gers and officers whom they employ. I will We think it right, on grounds of general expedi- not reiterate all that I said at that time, or go ency, that they should not be immediately shut through island by island. It is true there is a out.” Let us, therefore, now come to this ques- difference in the ceded islands; and I state them tion of the expediency of making the abolition dis- possibly to be, in some respects, an excepted tant and gradual, rather than immediate. case. But we are not now to enter into the sub

The argument of expediency, in my opinion, ject of the mortality in clearing new lands. It like every other argument in this disquisition, is, sir, undoubtedly another question ; the morwill not justify the continuance of the slave trade tality here is ten-fold; neither is it to be considfor one unnecessary hour. Supposing it to be ered as the carrying on, but as the setting on in our power, which I have shown it is, to en- foot a slave trade for the purpose of peopling the force the prohibition from this present time, the colony; a measure which I think will not now expediency of doing it is to me so clear, that if be maintained. I therefore desire gentlemen to I went on this principle alone, I should not feel tell me fairly, whether the period they look to a moment's hesitation. What is the argument is not now arrived; whether, at this hour, the Population of expediency stated on the other side ? West Indies may not be declared to have actualquestion. It is doubted whether the deaths and ly attained a state in which they can maintain births in the islands are, as yet, so nearly equal their population ? And upon the answer I must as to insure the keeping up a sufficient stock of necessarily receive, I think I could safely rest laborers. In answer to this, I took the liberty the whole of the question. of mentioning in a former year what appeared One honorable gentleman has rather ingeni. to me to be the state of population at that time. ously observed, that one or other of His opponents' My observations were taken from documents these two assertions of ours must subject set which we have reason to judge authentic, and necessarily be false : that either the aside. which carried on the face of them the conclu- population must be decreasing, which we deny, sions I then stated; they were the clear, simple, or, if the population is increasing, that the slaves and obvious result of a careful examination which must be perfectly well treated (this being the I made into this subject, and any gentleman who cause of such population), which we deny also. will take the same pains may arrive at the same That the population is rather increasing than degree of satisfaction.

otherwise, and also that the general treatment These calculations, however, applied to a pe- is by no means so good as it ought to be, are (1.) Births among riod of time that is now four or five both points which have been separately proved or quite equal to years past. The births were then, by different evidences; nor are these two points

in the general view of them, nearly so entirely incompatible. The ill treatment must equal to the deaths; and, as the state of popula- be very great, indeed, in order to diminish ma. tion was shown, by a considerable retrospect, to terially the population of any race of people. be regularly increasing, an excess of births must, That it is not so extremely great as to do this, before this time, have taken place.

I will admit. I will even admit, if you please, Another observation has been made as to the that this charge may possibly have been some

the deaths.

Dilemma

on its author.

times exaggerated; and I certainly think that And here let me add, that in proportion as it applies less and less as we come nearer to the you increase the happiness of these They have er present times.

unfortunate beings, you will undoubt- interest to betBut let us see how this contradiction of ours, edly increase in effect the quantity of their bestehendi

as it is thought, really stands, and how their labor also. Gentlemen talk of slaves. turned back the explanation of it will completely the diminution of the labor of the islands ! I

settle our minds on the point in ques. will venture to assert that, even if in consequence tion. Do the slaves diminish in numbers? It of the abolition there vere to be some decrease can be nothing but ill treatment that causes the in the number of hands, the quantity of work diminution. This ill treatment the abolition must done, supposing the condition of the slaves to and will restrain. In this case, therefore, we improve, would by no means diminish in the ought to vote for the abolition. On the other same proportion; perhaps would be far from dihand, do you choose to say that the slaves clear- minishing at all. For if you restore to this dely increase in numbers ? Then you want no graded race the true feelings of men ; if you take importations, and, in this case also, you may them out from among the order of brutes, and safely vote for the abolition. Or, if you choose place them on a level with the rest of the huto say, as the third and only other case which can man species, they will then work with that enbe put, and which perhaps is the nearest to the ergy which is natural to men, and their labor truth, that the population is nearly stationary, will be productive, in a thousand ways, above and the treatment neither so bad nor so good as what it has yet been; as the labor of a man is it might be; then surely, sir, it will not be de- always more productive than that of a mere nied that this, of all others, is, on each of the two brute. grounds, the proper period for stopping farther It generally happens that in every bad cause supplies ; for your population, which you own is information arises out of the evidence

This prored already stationary, will thus be made undoubt- of its defenders themselves, which from faste fur edly to increase from the births, and the good serves to expose in one part or other West Indians treatment of your present slaves, which I am the weakness of their defense. It is now supposing is but very moderate, will be the characteristic of such a cause, that if it be at necessarily improved also by the same measure all gone into, even by its own supporters, it is liof abolition. I say, therefore, that these propo- able to be ruined by the contradictions in which sitions, contradictory as they may be represent- those who maintain it are forever involved. ed, are in truth not at all inconsistent, but even .The committee of the Privy Council of Great come in aid of each other, and lead to a conclu

Britain sent over certain queries to the They testify, sion that is decisive. And let it be always re-West India islands, with a view of elu- does twice the membered that, in this branch of my argument, cidating the present subject ; and they have more time I have only in view the well-being of the West particularly inquired whether the ne- self Indies, and do not now ground any thing on the groes had any days or hours allotted to them in African part of the question.

which they might work for themselves. The But, sir, I may carry these observations re- assemblies in their answers, with an air of great (4.) Any remaio- specting the islands much farther. satisfaction, state the labor of the slaves to be can and ought to It is within the power of the colo- moderate, and the West India system to be well e recomended for nists, and it is then their indispensa- calculated to promote the domestic happiness of

ble duty to apply themselves to the the slaves. They add," that proprietors are not correction of those various abuses by which pop-compelled by law to allow their slaves any part ulation is restrained. The most important con- of the six working days of the week for them. sequences may be expected to attend colonial selves, but that it is the general practice to alregulations for this purpose. With the improve-low them one afternoon in every week out of ment of internal population, the condition of ev-crop-time; which, with such hours as they choose ery negro will improve also ; his liberty will to work on Sundays, is time amply sufficient for advance, or, at least, he will be approaching to their own purposes.” Now, therefore, will the a state of liberty. Nor can you increase the negroes, or I may rather say, do the negroes happiness, or extend the freedom of the negro, work for their own emolument ? I beg the comwithout adding in an equal degree to the safe- mittee's attention to this point. The Assembly ty of the islands, and of all their inhabitants. of Grenada proceeds to state—I have their own Thus, sir, in the place of slaves, who naturally words for it, “that though the negroes are al. have an interest directly opposite to that of their lowed the afternoons of only one day in every masters, and are therefore viewed by them with week, they will do as much work in that afteran eye of constant suspicion, you will create a noon, when employed for their own benefit, as in body of valuable citizens and subjects, forming a the whole day when employed in their master's part of the same community, having a common service." interest with their superiors in the security and Now, sir, I will desire you to burn all my cal. prosperity of the whole.

cnlations; to disbelieve, if you please, This a decisiva * Mr. Pitt's peculiar dexterity in reply is here every word I have said on the present imping foreir shown, in the ease with which he extricates him. state of population; nay, I will admit, condition self from this dilemma and turns it upon his oppo. for the sake of argument, that the numbers are vent in the next paragraph.

decreasing, and the productive labor at present

ernments.

insufficient for the cultivation of those countries; , soning. Writers well versed in this subject and I will then ask, whether the increase in have even advised that, in order to re- (a.) The pur the quantity of labor which is reasonably to be move the temptation which the slave degree from expected from the improved condition of the trade offers to expend large sums in sapere center slaves is not, by the admission of the islands this injudicious way, the door of im- planters. themselves, by their admission not merely of an portation should be shut. This very plan we argument but a fact, far more than sufficient to now propose, the mischief of which is represented counterbalance any decrease which can be ra- to be so great as to outweigh so many other motionally apprehended from a defective state of mentous considerations, has actually been recomtheir population? Why, sir, a negro, if he mended by some of the best authorities, as one works for himself, and not for a master, will do highly requisite to be adopted on the very prindouble work! This is their own account. If ciple of advantage to the islands ; not merely on you will believe the planters, if you will believe that principle of general and political advantage the Legislature of the islands, the productive la- on which I have already touched, but for the adbor of the colonies would, in case the negroes vantage of the very individuals who would othworked as free laborers instead of slaves, be erwise be most forward in purchasing slaves. literally doubled. Half the present laborers, on On the part of the West Indies it is urged, this supposition, would suffice for the whole cul. " the planters are in debt : they are already distivation of our islands on the present scale ! I tressed; if you stop the slave trade, they will be therefore confidently ask the House, whether, in ruined.” Mr. Long, the celebrated historian considering the whole of this question, we may of Jamaica, recommends the stopping of impornot fairly look forward to an improvement in the tations, as a receipt for enabling the plantations condition of these unhappy and degraded beings; which are embarrassed to get out of debt. I not only as an event desirable on the ground of will quote his words. Speaking of the usurious humanity and political prudence; but also as a terms on which money is often borrowed for the means of increasing, very considerably indeed, purchase of fresh slaves, he advises “the laying even without any increasing population, the pro- a duty equal to a prohibition on all negroes imductive industry of the islands ?

ported for the space of four or five years, except When gentlemen are so nicely balancing the for re-exportation." “Such a law," he propast and future means of cultivating the planta ceeds to say, "would be attended with the foltions, let me request them to put this argument lowing good consequences. It would put an into the scale ; and the more they consider it, the immediate stop to these extortions. It would more will they be satisfied that both the solidity enable the planter to retrieve his affairs by preof the principle which I have stated, and the venting him from running in debt, either by fact which I have just quoted, in the very words renting or purchasing of negroes. It would of the Colonial Legislature, will bear me out in render such recruits less necessary, by the reevery inference I have drawn. I think they will doubled care he would be obliged to take of his perceive, also, that it is the undeniable duty of present stock, the preservation of their lives and this House, on the grounds of true policy, imme- health. And, lastly, it would raise the value of diately to sanction and carry into effect that sys- negroes in the island. A North American provtem which insures these important advantages; ince, by this prohibition alone for a few years, in addition to all those other inestimable bless- from being deeply plunged in debt, has become ings which follow in their train.

independent, rich, and flourishing." On this auIf, therefore, the argument of expediency, as thority of Mr. Long I rest the question, whether Espediency de. applying to the West India islands, is the prohibition of further importations is that inande this im the test by which this question is to rash, impolitic, and completely ruinous measure,

be tried, I trust I have now establish which it is so confidently declared to be with reed this proposition, namely, that whatever tends spect to our West India plantations. most speedily and effectually to meliorate the I do not, however, mean, in thus treating this condition of the slaves, is undoubtedly, on the branch of the subject, absolutely to Indeinnification ground of expediency, leaving justice out of the exclude the question of indemnifica- not refused, but question, the main object to be pursued. tion on the supposition of possible dis- be clearly made

That the immediate abolition of the slave advantages affecting the West Indies And therefore trade will most eminently have this through the abolition of the slave trade. But pression of the effect, and that it is the only measure when gentlemen set up a claim of compensation

from which this effect can in any con- merely on those general allegations, which are siderable degree be expected, are points to which all that I have yet heard from them, I can only I shall presently come; but before I enter upon answer, let them produce their case in a distinct them, let me notice one or two farther circum- and specific form; and if upon any practicable stances.

or reasonable grounds it shall claim consideraWe are told, and by respectable and well-in- tion, it will then be time enough for Parliament Other consider. formed persons, that the purchase of to decide upon it.

new negroes has been injurious in- I now come to another circumstance of great

stead of profitable to the planters weight, connected with this part of the question. themselves; so large a proportion of these un. I mean the danger to which the islands are ex. happy wretches being found to perish in the sea- | posed from those negroes who are newly im

provement

out

slave trade.

ations leading to the same conclusion.

« PreviousContinue »