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Arr. I. An Appeal to the Religion, Justice, and Hu
manity of the Inhabitants of the British Empire, in behalf of the Negro Slaves in the West Indies. By Wm. Wilberforce, Esq. M. P. 8vo. pp. 82. Hatchard and Son.
1823. Art. II. A Counter Appeal, in answer to "An Appeal”
from William Wilberforce, Esq. M. P. designed to prove that the Emancipation of the Negroes in the West Indies, by a Legislative Enactment, without the Consent of the Planters, would be a Flagrant Breach of National Honour, Hostile to the Principles of Religion, Justice, and Humanity, and highly injurious to the Planter and to the Slave. By Sir Henry William Murtin, Bart. 8vo. pp. 60.
Rivingtons. 1823. The propriety of civilizing,' instructing and converting our West Indian Slaves, the propriety of improving their condition, increasing their comforts, and preparing them by degrees for emancipation, are points upon which Christian Philanthropists cannot disagree. The best means of effecting all or any of these works, the time and care which they may be expected to demand, and the success with which they will probably be crowned are subjects of considerable difficulty and doubt. Yet were the controversy confined within these its proper limits, we should not despair of its speedy and useful termination. A system of colonial government might be devised, which should not sacrifice the interests either of the Planter or the Slave. Experience would gradually acquaint us with its faults, and suggest the improvements of which all new systems stand in need. And without any domestic struggle, or any colonial insurrection, the West Indies might be brought into as happy and was prosperous a condition as the remaining portion of the British Empire. Unhappily there is no disposition to proceed in this orderly
Oo VOL.-XIX. JUNE, 1823.
manner. Instead of confining the discussion to the present state and future prospects of the Negroes, our orators love to declaim upon what is past never to return. Instead of taking a candid view of the difficulties and the proceedings of the planters, it is the fashion to condemn them unheard, and not listen to a single syllable in mitigation of punishment. The worst acts of the worst times are raked together with a diligence which might have been better employed, and carried one and all to the account of the present generation. Our language is ransacked for its strongest terms of contumely and commiseration, and while the latter are applied to the wretched sufferers from slavery, the former are employed in describing the disgraceful conduct of their masters.
Nor is this the mere result of individual prepossessions. Exaggeration and invective are not confined to the orators from whom they may be always expected. They are adopted on the present occasion' by more sober emancipationists. They are a constituent part of their plans for Negroe improvement. They furnish argument as well as eloquence to the party by whom they are adopted. The burden of Mr. Wilberforce's Appeal, and Mr. Buxton's Speech, is--do not trust the Colonial Legislators do not expect mercy or justice from Planters—legislate for the slaves in England, or their condition never will be mended. This is the grand panacoa, and it sets out with assuming that the negroes are îndescribably wretched, and their tyrants incurably cruel. As long as there is a chance of accomplishing a reformation on the spot, every body perceives that it ought to be tried. Parliamentary interference ean only be justified by necessity; by a complete proof that the Colonial authorities are unwilling or unable to act. Consequently Mr. Wilberforce, Mr. Buxton and Mr. Brougham must accuse and convict the Planters or abandon their favourite measure. They do not come into court without bias or partiality. They desire to carry a particular scheme, and unless they can persuade us to believe some disputable assertions their desire will never be accomplished.
Tbose persons therefore who wish to form a correct opinion respecting the debates and pamphlets of the day, must remember that the real question is,--where and by whom shall the Negroes be protected and improved? The undertaking ought to commence with the executive government, and be steadly pursued through a series of years. It is the duty of his Majesty's Ministers to stimulate the local authorities, to ascertain and point out the errors of existing laws, and to suggest the requisite alterations and additions. It is their duty more especially to foster and superintend the religious instruction of all orders of the West Indian population. And when their measures require the interposition of Parliament, it should be temperately and cautiously used. Bat to say that every thing must be done upon this side of the water, to threaten the Planters with unconditional emancipation, to pretend that their estates can be reformed without their consent and against their will, is the desperate and dangerous scheme of visionary men. We abstain from any remarks upon the eventual liberation to which the advocates of this scheme advert, because we believe that they are the best friends of Negro Freedom who for the present say least about it. And in justice to its less judicious supporters we are bound to confess that their propositions, upon this subject, are moderate if not practicable. Agreeing with them however in the end to be pursued, we most decidedly object to their method of parsuing it. Their immediate object is to take the internal government of the West Indies into the direct and exclusive care of the House of Commons, and never have we seen grosser misrepresentations and blunders, than the facts and arguments by which that system is recommended to the public.
Mr. Wilberforce's Appeal commences with pronouncing " the Negro Slavery of the British Colonies a system of the grossest injustice, of the most heathenish irreligion and immorality, of the most unprecedented degradation, and unrelenting cruelty.” In support of this sweeping assertion, he refers, first, to the diminution of nambers as a proof that the slaves are ill used : but he does not ventare to affirm the truth of this demonstrative fact in stronger language than, “ unless I am much misinformed." The contempt in which slaves are held is another favourite topic; and under this head his evidence is a hundred years old.
“It were well if the consequences of these impressions were only to be discovered among the inferior ranks of the privileged class, or only to be found in the opinions and conduct of individuals. But in the earlier laws of our colonies they are expressed in the language of insult, and in characters of blood. And too many of these laws still remain unrepealed, to permit the belief that the same odious spirit of legislation no longer exists, or to relieve the injured objects of them from their degrading influence. The slaves were systematically depressed below the level of human beings *. And though I confess, that it is of less concern to a
•* An act of Barbadoes, (8th Aug. 1088,) prescribing the mode of trial for slaves, recites, that “they being brutish slaves, deserve not, for the baseness of their condition, to be tried by the legal trial of :welve men of their peers, &c." Another clause of the same act, speaks of the “barbarous, wild, and savage
slave under what laws he lives than what is the character of his master, yet if the laws had extended to them favour and protection instead of degradation, this would have tended to raise them in the social scale, and operating insensibly on the public mind, might, by degrees, have softened the extreme rigour of their bondage. Such, however, had been the contrary effects of an opposite process, on the estimation of the Negro race, before the ever-tobe honoured Granville Sharpe, and his followers, had begun to vindicate their claim to the character and privileges of human nature, that a writer of the highest authority on all West India subjects, Mr. Long, in his celebrated History of Jamaica, though pointing out some of the particulars of their ill treatment, scrupled not to state it as his opinion, that in the gradations of being, Negroes were little elevated above the oran outang, that type of man.' Nor was this an unguarded or hastily thrown out assertion. He institutes a laborious comparison of the Negro race with that species of baboon; and declares, that 'ludicrous as the opinion may seem, he does not think that an oran outang husband would be any dishonor to a Hottentot female.' When we find such sentiments as these to have been unblushingly avowed by an author of the highest estimation among the West India colonists, we are prepared for what we find to have been, and, I grieve to say, still continues to be, the practical effects of these opinions.” P.11,
He then adverts to several real evils, which we shall be glad to see redressed—the sale of slaves for the debts of their masters, the inadmissibility of their evidence against white men, the system of driving them when at work with a cart whip, and the rare occurrence of the marriage ceremony. These are customs which it is impossible to defend. But at the same time, it is very easy to exaggerate their nature and effects. The question at issue between Mr. Wilberforce and the Planters, is not whether the condition of the slaves be capable of improvement, not whether this or that particular practice should be continued or discontinued—but whether things are stationary, or better or worse. If the abolition of the slave trade has hitherto done no good, and this, strange to say, is the opinion of Mr. Wilberforce, he may plausibly contend that the Planters are incurable, and that nothing can be expected at their hands. But is it a good proof of this fact to shew, that certain cruelties were committed long ago, and to add, that he has no doubt they are repeated stiil ? We have a long account, p. 55-8. of the murder of a negro
natures of the same Negroes and other slaves, being such as renders them wholly unqualified to be governed by the laws, practices, and customs of other nations." Other instances of a like spirit might be cited in the acts of other colonies.',
slave, in the year 1804, which is intended to shew that the abolition has not made the whites more considerate or more just. And when an improvement has actually taken place in the laws, and therefore cannot be dissembled or denied, are assured upon the authority of Sir George Prevost, that it was not intended to be acted upon !!
“I must not be supposed ignorant that of late years various colonial laws have been passed, professedly with a view to the promoting of religion among the slaves : but they are all, I fear, worse than nullities. In truth, the solicitude which they express for the personal protection, and still more for the moral interests, of the slaves, contrasted with the apparaut forgetfulness of those interests which so generally follows in the same community, might bave appeared inexplicable, but for the frank declaration of the Governor of one of the West Indian islands, which stood among the foremost in passing one of these boasted laws for aineliorating the condition of the slaves. That law contained clauses which, with all due solemnity, and with penalties for the non-observ. ance of its injunctions, prescribed the religious instruction of the slaves : and the promoting of the marriage institution among them; and in order 'to secure as far as possible the good'treatment of the slaves, and to ascertain the cause of their decrease, if any,' it required certificates of the slaves' increase and decrease to be annually delivered on oath, under a penalty of 50l. currency. His Majesty's government, some time after, very meritoriously wishing for information as to the state of the slaves, applied to the governor, for some of the intelligence which this act was to provide. To this, application the Governor, the late Sir George Prevost, replied as follows : “ The act of the legislature, entitled "An act for the en. couragement, protection, and better government of slaves,' appears to have been considered, from the day it was passed until this hour, as a political measure to avert the interference of the mother country in the management of slaves. The same account of the motives which the legislatures of other West Indian islands were induced to pass acts for ameliorating the condition of the slaves, was given by several of the witnesses who were examined in the committee of the House of Commons in 1790 and 1791.
“ In all that I state concerning the religious interests of the slaves, as well as in every other instance, I must be understood to speak only of the general practice. There are, I know, resident in this country, individual owners of slaves, and some, as I believe, even in the colonies, who have been sincerely desirous that their slaves should enjoy the blessings of Christianity: though often, I lament to say, where they have desired it, their pious endeavours have been of little or no avail. So hard is it, especially for absent proprietors, to stem the tide of popular feeling and practice, which sets strongly in every colony against the religious instruction of slaves. $o hard also, I must add, is it to reconcile the necessary