Page images

whose cowardice and treachery such pictures have been drawn, as the various feats of valour recorded in the history of the Welsh, place them above those wretched Britons who resisled their Saxon enemies only with groans.

We may be assured, then, that there is nothing in the physical or moral constitution of the negro, which renders him an exception to the general character of the species, and prevents him from improving in all the estimable qualities of our nature, when placed in circumstances tolerably favourable to his advancement. Nay, under all possible disadvantages, we find evident proofs of the progress he is capable of making, whether insulatul by the deserts of Africa from all communication with other nations, or surrounded by the slave factories of the Europeans, or groaning under the cruelties of the West India system. That this progress will be acceleraled, in proportion as those grand impediments are removed ; that while Africa is civilised by the establishment of a legitimate commerce between ils fertile and populous regions, and the more polished nations of the world, the negroes already in the West Indies will rapidly improve in all the best faculties of the mind, as soon as the effects of the abolition shall begin to appear in the ameliorated treatment they experience from their masters, is a proposition which follows obviously from the remarks now premised. To trace all the probable steps by which this great measure must ultimately change the situation of the West Indian labourers, would carry us beyond the bounds of this article. It may be sufficient to suggest a few of the most remarkable gradations which will probably conduce to this necessary reform in the colonial system. And here we shall find direct arguments, from analogy, sufficient to guide us, if our readers are disposed to admit the legitimacy of reasoning from the history of other races of mankind, to the probable history of the Americans.

In the first place, it will not be long before a milder system of treatment increases the productive powers of the negro's labour. That the first two or three seasons may be less properous for the planter, in consequence of the change, has been sometimes admilied by the advocates of the abolition. Indeed, changes of every kind have a tendency, at the beginning, lo produce slight derangements in all political systems; and it is one of the miserable consequences of human impolicy, that the correction of the greatest evils in society generally increases, for the moment, the bad effects of the original error. But the connexion is so constant and so clear between industry and freedom, and consequently between inereased exertions of voluntary labour, and the milder treatment which approaches the slave to the condition of liberty, that we may reasonably expect to see the temporary derangement last for a very trilling period. "The history of all Europe demonstrates the immense effects which the milder treatment of the labouring orders naturally produces upon the value of their industry. To take only a very late example :-It is well known that the proprietors of Hungary, almost immediately after the reform of Maria Theresa, began to feel the salutary consequences of the limitations of the corvées due from their peasants. When, insicad of possessing full power to appropriate the whole of the serf's labour, the lord could only take two days in each week, he found those two days worth much more than all the seven had been before, although, at the very same time, he lost the right of retaining the peasant on his ground against his will. If such mitigations had been favourable to the master, still more advantageous must they be to the slave. And can any improvement bear more directly upon the condition of the lower orders,

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

particularly upon their civilisation, than an augmentation of their wealth and of their importance to the superior classes ? Such will probably be the first great effect of the abolition, long before time shall have been given for any positive and definite change in the system. It is not unlikely that the number of holidays will next be increased, or the hours of work in the day diminished; that the negro will by degrees be left more and more to his own care, and will begin to feel himself more dependent on the produce of his industry. The less that laws interfere in this delicate matter, so much the belter for the master, and still more for the slave. The mutual interests of the parties will be the best of laws; the most just in its enactments, the most unerring in its operation, and indeed the only one capable of being accurately executed. When something like industry has taken root in the plantations, it may be time to introduce, in the same silent, gradual, and voluntary manner, the grand improvement of task-work. This has already been attempted with the happiest effect in several of the colonies; in Brazil; in some parts of the Spanish Main ; in the Bahamas, and elsewhere. (See our Review of M. Kinnon's Tour, No. VIII.) It has been introduced also in Surinam ; though, from the peculiar circumstances of the Dutch planters, and perhaps from its premature adoption, it has not there produced such salutary changes as in the other settlements. Indeed, while the bad effects of the old system flourish in full vigour, preventing the general improvement of the slaves in their habits of voluntary exertion, it is only in certain kinds of work that tasks can be distributed. It is reserved for the new mode of treatment to render the universal introduction of task-work not only an easy, but a necessary improvement, by approximating the slaves to the condition of free labourers. And when these changes shall have been effected slowly, and with the consent of all proprietors, not taken by vote, but freely given by each individual; will not the lower orders in the West Indies be exactly in the state of the adscripti glebæ under the milder feodal governments of the Old World ? It is but one step to make them coloni partiarii, or serf tenants, paying a proportion of their crops to the lord of the land, as in fact they are already in some parts of Spanish and Portuguese America, where ihe richest ores and pearls are obtained, by means of this very contract between the master and bis slave: nor does it much signify in what form the last change of all shall then be effected by the total emancipation of the negro. He will, by this natural gradation, have become civilised to a certain extent, and fully capable of enjoying the station of a free man, for which all are filled by nature. In the course of time, we may hope to see the same relaxation of prejudice against him on the part of the whites, which has made the European baron cease to look down upon his serf as an inferior animal. The mixture even of the races is a thing by no means impossible, and will remove the only pretext that can remain for supposing the West Indian society as new-modelled by the abolition, to be in the smallest degree different from the society in Europe, after the successors of the Romans ceased to procure slaves in commerce.

These observations we now leave to the consideration of such readers as may take the trouble of comparing them both with the facts formerly stated upon the general question of the African traffic, and with the well-known history of the civilised communities to which they have themselves the happiness of belonging. We are fully persuaded ihat such a comparison need be followed but for a few steps, in order to demonstrate that the foregoing doductions are matters of fact, rather than of speculative theory; and

that the only postulate required, lo render the feeble sketch here exhibited a correct portrait, is that leading measure which the enlightened legislature of Great Britain stands pledged in a manner to adopt, -the total and immediate abolition of the slave trade,


In looking back to the statement which we made nearly two years ago, at the commencement of the controversy (see the No. for October, 1815+), it is extremely gratifying to perceive, that the argument and the facts there urged in desence of the superintendence of the mother country generally, and more especially in behalf of the Registry, stand unmoved by all that has taken place, whether in England or in the Colonies. They are, on the contrary, exceedingly strengthened by what has since passed, and by many things which have come to light during the controversy.

The first great argument used by the Planters, was the incompetence of the British Parliament to legislate for the internal affairs of the Colonies —which they said might safely be left to the local governments, who would do all that sound policy could sanction, or justice require. It may now be gathered from what took place in Parliament at the close of the session 1816, and from what has since been done in Jamaica, that the West Indians have materially lowered their pretensions to exclusive legislation. They seem only to require a priority of law-making; a sort of option to pass ihe acts themselves, or suffer them to be passed in England. For it was distinctly stated in the debate, that the Registry Bill should be given up for that session, in order to see whether the Colonies would adopt the plan of registration themselves : and with a distinct understanding that, if nothing were done, the measure should be revived next session. Instructions were sent by the Crown to all the Islands, urging the adoption of the plan, as the only alternative to having it forced upon them by Acl of Parliament. And the West Indians felt, by a kind of instinct, that the sense of the public at home was as strongly against them as ever. The consequence has been, a partial acquiescence, suflicient to justify the friends of the question in allowing the last session to pass without renewing its discussion : and we should not be surprised to find the whole of the Islands pass bills similar lo that recently carried in Jamaica.

If this shall happen, all that will remain on the part of the Abolitionists will be, to watch over the execution of those acts ; to see that they do not become a dead lelter, like so many other colonial laws, made to silence complaints at home, and never intended to be effectual. Now, one way of accomplishing, or at least furthering this object, is the establishment of a

Medical and Miscellaneous Observations relative to the West India Islands. By Jolin Williamson, M. D.--Vol. xxviii, p. 340. August, 1817.

+ See, Vol. xxv. p. 315., a convincing article, in which the right of interposition on the part of the mother country is fully proved, and the fallacious arguments opposed to it successfully refuted.

Duplicate Registry for all the Colonies, in London, and a statutory provision, that no money lent upon mortgage of colonial property shall be recoverable in the courts of this country ; nor any money lent upon such mortgage by British subjects in the mother country, shall be recoverable in the West Indian courls, unless the slaves belonging to the mortgaged estates are registered in the Records of the London office. The creditors of West Indian estates almost all reside in England ; and, without supplies from hence, the business of planting could not be carried on. The proposed enactment would prevent apy money from being advanced to estates deficient in registration. To prevent frauds by the mortgager upon his creditor, it would only be necessary so to frame the provisions of the law, that the mortgagee could not proceed against the estate in equity, except in so far as the slaves were duly registered; or sue upon the specialty at law, except for a sum proportioned to the number of registered slaves. It would further be requisite, to prevent omissions in the registration subsequent to the date of the mortgage, without throwing upon the mortgagee the burden of seeing the title to the slaves kept up, that any omission should operate as a foreclosure.

To a provision of this kind, the objection of internal legislation is inapplicable. Parliament has not yet been told by the Planters, that it has no right to make laws binding upon British subjects within the realm. But we conceive it to be equally clear, that if any of the Colonies shall make a Registry law, with defects likely to prevent its efficacy within the settlement, Parliament ought to interpose, and supply the deficiency by a general enactment, extending to all the Islands, and declaratory of the universal law, by which it is now understood that the title to a slave really and effectually depends upon his being duly registered. To make such a statute, undoubtedly, is an act of internal legislation ; but as, both on this and other branches of the question, such an interference seems to be absolutely necessary, where the Insular assemblies refuse to perform their duty, we shall shortly remind the reader, of a few among the many acts of internal legislation of which Parliament has been guilty. The groundlessness of the clamour raised by the West Indians upon this topic, wilt thus be made apparent.

Doubts having arisen, whether money lent in England upon West Indian securities at the colonial rate of interest, was not illegally lent, as being within the usury laws, the statute 14 Geo. III. c. 79. was passed, lo render all such ns valid ; that is to say, to enable the lender lo recover in the courts of the Colonies, and to prevent the borrower from availing himself, in those couris, of the defence that the transaction was illegal. A condition was annexed, requiring the registration of the securities in the colonial registers; that is to say, giving validity to every such transaction, provided it were recorded in a particular manner within the colony in which it terminated. This was manifestly as much an interference with the legislation of the Islands, as it would be to enact, that no lender should recover in the colonial courts, unless certain previous requisites were complied with-it signifies not of what kind, or whether the system of registry had been established before the passing of the act or not; the interference consisting, not in the nature of the thing required, but in permitting or requiring any thing in the proceedings of a colonial court.

There is certainly no point of greater delicacy in the whole subject of

West Indian claims, than the law of debtor and creditor; and if to any act of interference we should naturally expect to see a resistance on the part of the Planters, it would be to a law giving their creditors new remedies for recovery of debts already contracted. Yet the 5 Geo. II. c. 7, was precisely such an act. It did that, with respect to all real property in the Colonies, which the landholders in the mother country have so strenously and so successfully resisted in their own case ; it made all real estates assets for the payment of all debts whatever, whether by simple contract or specialty ; it made them liable to the same process to which personal estates are subject; and it included slaves, making them equally liable to the remedies of the creditor, as if they were personal chattels to be severed from the plantation. In 1797, long after the arguments against Internal Legislation had been familiarly urged, not only with respect to Taxation, but also with respect to the Slave questions, another act was passed, excepting negroes from the provisions of the former statute ; and this act (37 Geo. III. c. 122) was brought into the British Parliament by the West Indian body themselves; they, at least, affected to be ils authors, as well-wishers to whatever could meliorate the condition of the slaves.

In 1741, it being found that the penalties of the statule 6 Geo. I. (the præmunire act) against joint stock schemes, could not be enforced in the colonies, because that statute refers to the courts of Great Britain and Ireland only; an act was passed, 14 Geo. II. c. 37, extending the whole provision of the former touching those speculations, to all the colonies in America and the West Indies, and enabling the colonial courts to proceed against all persons charged with such oflences. This was a law made in England, for subjecting to the most severe penalities known to our jurisprudence, short of capital punishment, all persons who, in the plantations, should traffic in certain speculations formerly permitted.

In 1773, at the very time when the disputes respecting internal legislation ran highest belween England and the Colonies, the stat. 13 Geo. III.c. 14, was passed, to encourage aliens to lend money on the security of West lodia estates. This act enables alien creditors, whether friends or enemies, to bring actions al law, or lo pursue equitable remedies in the courts of law and equity within the Islands; and it enters into a considerable detail of judicial proceedings, for the purposes of facilitating the relief of the parties in those courts. As if to mark more strongly how completely this was an act of interference on the part of the Parliament, with the internal affairs of the Islands—how completely this was a local act passed by the Legislature of the mother country —the clause now usually added to local acts is found at the end of it, declaring that it shall be deemed and taken to be a public act, and taken notice of judicially, without being specially pleaded.

Now, in all these cases, some of them before, others since the American Revolution, it might have been contended by the Planters, that the subjecimatter of the enactment was local and colonial. They might have urged, in cach instance, the very same reasons which they now bring forward. In some of the cases, they had even a better show of argument—for it could hardly be denied that the powers of the local governments extended to the vijeci in view; and there could be no doubt of their willingness to exert them. Ycl not a complaint was heard, nor an effort made to set up the West Indian against the British Parliament. No one dreamt of saying, tho rights of fraudulent debtors are sacred, and can only be restrained by then

« PreviousContinue »