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On the Slave Trade.
He began with observing, that he did not mean to appeal to the passions of the house, but to their cool and impartial reason. He did not mean to accuse any one, but to take shame to himself. in common indeed with the whole parliament of Great Britain, for having suffered so odious a trade to be carried on under their authority. He deprecated every kind of reflection against the various descriptions of persons who were most immediately involved in this wretched transaction. It was necessary for him to state in the outset, that he did not conceive the witnesses who were examined, and particularly interested witnesses, to be judges of the argument. In the matters of fact that were related by them, he admitted their competency; but confident assertions, not of facts, but of supposed consequences of facts, went for nothing in his estimation. Mr. Wilberforce divided his subject into three parts; the nature of the trade as it affected Africa itself, the appearance it assumed in the transportation of the slaves, and the considerations that were suggested by their actual state in the West Indies. With respect to the first, it was found by experience to be just such as every man who used his reason would infallibly have concluded it to be. What must be the natural consequence of a slave trade with Africa, with a country vast in its extent, not utterly barbarous, but civilized in a very small degree? Was it not plain, that she must suffer from it ; that her savage manners must be rendered still more ferocious, and that a slave trade carried on round her coasts must extend violence and desola.
tion to her very centre ? Such were precisely the circum. stances proved by the evidence before the privy council, particularly by those who had been most conversant with the subject, Mr. Wadstrom, captain Hill, and doctor Sparman. From them it appeared, that the kings of Africa were never induced to engage in war by public principles, by national glory, and least of all, by the love of their people. They had conversed with these princes, and had learned from their own mouths, that to procure slaves was the object of their hostilities. Indeed there was scarcely a single person examined before the privy council, who did not prove that the slave trade was the source of the tragedies continually acted upon that extensive continent. Some have endeavoured to palliate this circumstance; but there was not one that did not more or less admit it to be true. By one it was called the concurrent cause, by the majority it was acknowledged to be the principal motives of the African wars.
Mr. Wilberforce proceeded to describe the mode in which the slaves were transported from Africa to the West Indies. This he confessed was the most wretched part of the whole subject. So much misery condensed in so little room, was more than the human imagination had ever before conceived. He would not accuse the Liverpool traders; he verily believed, that if the wretchedness of any one of the many hundred ne. groes stowed in each ship could be brought before the view, and remain in the sight of the African merchants, there was not one among them whose heart would be strong enough to bear it. He called upon his hearers to imagine six or seven hundred of these victims chained two and two, surrounded with every object that was nauseous and disgusting, diseased, and strug: gling with all the varieties of wretchedness. How could they bear to think of such a scene as this? Meanwhile he would beg leave to quote the evidence of Mr. Norris, delivered in a manner that fully demonstrated that inVOL. II.
terest could draw a film over the eyes, so thick, that total blindness could do no more. i Their apartments, said this evidence, “ are fitted up as much for their advantage as circumstances will admit. They have several meals a day, some of their own country provisions, with the best sauces of African cookery, and by way of variety, another meal of pulse, &c. according to European taste.
After breakfast they had water to wash them. selves, while their apartments are perfumed with frankincense and lime juice. Before dinner they are amused after the manner of their country ; the song and the dance are promoted, and games of chance are furnished. The men play and sing, while the women and girls make fanciful ornaments with beads, with which they are plentifully supplied.” Such was the sort of strain in which the Liverpool delegates gave their evidence before the privy council. What would the house think, when by the concurring testimony of other witnesses the true history was laid open ? The slaves, who were sometimes described as rejoicing in their captivity, were so wrung with misery, at leaving their country, that it was the constant practice to set sail in the night, lest they should be sensible of their departure. Their accommodations, it seemed were convenient. The right ancle of one, indeed, was connected with the left ancle of another by a small iron fetter, and if they were turbulent, by another on the wrists. The pulse which Mr. Norris mentioned were horse beans, and the legislature of Jamaica had stated the scantiness both of water and provision as a subject that called for the interference of parliament. Mr. Norris talked of frankincense and lime-juice, while the surgeons described the slaves as so closely stowed, that there was not room to tread among them; and while it was proved in evidence by Sir George Yonge, that, even in a ship that wanted two hundred of her complement, the stench was intolerable. The song and the dance, said Mr. Norris, are promoted. It would have been more fair, perhaps, if he had explained the word
promoted. The truth was, that for the sake of exercise these miserable wretches, loaded with chains and oppressed with disease, were forced to dance by the terror of the lash, and sometimes by the actual use of it.
“1," said one of the evidences, was employed to dance the men, while another person danced the women." Such was the meaning of the word promoted ; and it might also be observed, with respect to food, that instruments, were sometimes carried out in order to force them to eat ; which was the same sort of proof how much they enjoyed themselves in this instance also. With respect to their singing, it consisted of songs of lamentation on their departure, which while they sung they were always in tears; so that one of the captains, more humane probably than the rest, threatened a woman with a flogging, because the mournfulness of her song was too painful for his feelings. That he might not trust however, too much to any sort of description, Mr. Wilberforce called the attention of the house to one species of evidence which was infallible. Death was a witness that could not deceive them, and the proportion of deaths would not only confirm, but, if possible, even aggravate our suspicion of the misery of the transit. It would be found, upon an average of all the ships upon which evidence had been given, that, exclusively of such as perished before they sailed, not less than twelve and a half per cent, died on the passage.
Besides these the Jamaica re. port stated, that four and a half per cent, expired upon shore before the day of sale, which was only a week or two from the time of their landing; one third more died in the seasoning, and this in a climate exactly similar to their own, and where, as some of the witnesses pretended, they were healthy and happy. The diseases however that they contracted on ship-board, the astringents and washes that were employed to hide their wounds, and make them up for sale, were a principal cause of this mortality. The negroes, it should be remembered, were not purchased at first except in
perfect health, and the sum of the different casualties taken together, produced a mortality of about fifty per cent.
Mr. Wilberforce added, that as soon as he had advanced thus far in his investigation, he felt the wickedness of the slave trade, to be so enormous, so dreadful, and so irremediable, that he could stop at no alternative short of its abolition. A trade founded in iniquity, and carried on with such circumstances of horror, must be abolished, let the policy be what it might; and he had from this time determined, whatever were the consequences, that he would never rest till he had effected that abolition. His mind had indeed been harrassed with the objections of the West Indian planters, who had asserted that the ruin of their property must be the consequence of this regulation. He could not however help distrusting their arguments. He could not believe that the Almighty Being, who forbade the practice of rapine and bloodshed, had made rapine and bloodshed necessary to any part of his universe. He felt a confidence in this persuasion, and took the resolution to act
Light indeed soon broke in upon him; the suspicion of his mind was every day confirmed by increasing information, and the evidence he had now to offer upon this point was decisive and complete. The principle upon which he founded the necessity of the abolition was not policy, but justice ; but, though justice were the principle of the measure, yet he trusted he should distinctly prove it to be reconcileable with our truest political interest.
In the first place he asserted, that the number of negroes in the West Indies might be kept up without the introduction of recruits from Africa ; and to prove this he enumerated the various sources of the present mortality. The first was the disproportion of the sexes, an evil, which, when the slave trade was abolished, must in the course of nature cure itself. The second was the disorders contracted in the transportation, and the con