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THE WEST INDIES.
(Edinburgh Review, January 1825.)
Or the numerous excellent works in which this important subject has lately been discussed, that of Mr. Stephen is the most comprehensive, and, in many respects, the most valuable. We are not aware that any opponent has appeared, sufficiently intrepid to deny his statements, or to dispute their results. The decent and cautious advocates of slavery carefully avoid all alasson to a publication which they feel to be unanswerable; and the boldest content themselves with misrepresenting and reviling what they cannot even pretend to confute. In truth, it is not too much to assert that, on the part of the slave-drivers and their supporters, this controversy has, for the most part, been conducted with a disingenuousness and a bitterness to which literary history furnishes no parallel. Most of the honourable and intelligent men whose names give respectability to the Colonial party, have in prudence or in disgust, stood aloof from the contest. II their absence, the warfare has been carried on by a race of scribblers, who, like the mercenary Mohawks, so often ou auxiliaries in Transatlantic campaigns, unite the indifferenc of the hireling to the ferocity of the cannibal; who take air from an ambush, and who desire victory only that they may have the pleasure of scalping and torturing the vanquished.
The friends of humanity and freedom have often boasted,
1 The Slavery of the British West India Colonies delineated, as it exists Doth in Law and Practice, and compared with the Slavery of other Countries, Ancient and Modern. By JAMES STEPHEN, Esq. Vol. I., being a Delinsation of the State in point of Law. London, Butterworth, 1824.
with honest pride, that the wise and good of hostile sects and factions seemed, when slavery or the slave-trade were in question, to forget their mutual antipathies: - that the introduction of this subject was to such men what the proclamation of a Crusade was to the warriors of the dark agesa signal to suspend all their petty disputes, and to array themselves under the same holy banner, against the same accursed enemy. In this respect the slave-drivers are now even with us. They, too, may boast that, if our cause has received support from honest men of all religious and polit ical parties, theirs has tended, in as great a degree, to combine and conciliate every form of violence and illiberality. Tories and Radicals, prebendaries and field-preachers, are to be found in their ranks. The only requisites for one who aspires to enlist, are a front of brass and a tongue of
"Omnigenumque Deûm monstra, et latrator Anubis,
But it is neither on facts nor on arguments that slavery seems now to depend for protection. It neither doubles, nor stands at bay. It has neither the ingenuity of the hare, nor the intrepidity of the lion. It defends itself, like the hunted polecat, by the loathsomeness with which it taints the atmosphere around it; and hopes to escape, by disgusting those whom it can neither weary nor subdue. We could say much on this subject. But the sum is, that "the worm will do his kind". - and we have a more important task to perform. It is our intention to analyse, very concisely, the valuable work of Mr. Stephen,1 and afterwards to offer to our readers some remarks which the perusal of it has suggested.
Mr. Stephen begins, by inquiring into the origin and authority of the Colonial Slave-laws. It has been commonly supposed in England, that there exists some known local law in the Colonies, distinct from the law of England, by which the bondage of the Negro has been introduced and defined. There is, however, no such law. The Colonists could, at no time, venture to present an act for such a purpose to an
1 Mr. Stephen's work cannot, of course, embrace any changes which Lay have taken place in West Indian Legislation during the last eightees months or two years. Some partial modifications of the former code may aave taken place luring that time in three or four of the colonies, bu these do not affect the general results.
English sovereign. The Spanish conquerors and the roving pirates of the Antilles had established that state: and the English settlers considered themselves as succeeding to the rights of the original despoilers of America. Those rights, as they at that time existed, may be summed up in one short and terrible maxim, that the slave is the absolute property of the master. It is desirable that this should be known; because, although a few restraining statutes have of late. years been passed, this odious principle is still the basis of all West Indian legislation. It is pre-supposed in all meliorating acts. It is the rule, and the restraints are exceptions. In the benefits which every other English subject derives from the common law, the Negro has no share. His master may lawfully treat him as he pleases, except in points regulated by express enactment.
Mr. Stephen proceeds to analyze the legal nature of the relation between the master and the slave. Throughout the West Indies, slavery is a constrained service, a service without wages. In some of the colonies, indeed, there are acts which regulate the time of labour, and the amount of the subsistence which shall be given in return. But, from causes to which we shall hereafter advert, these acts are nugatory. In other islands, even these ostensible reforms have not taken place and the owner may legally give his slaves as much to do, and as little to eat, as he thinks fit.
In all the islands, the master may legally imprison his slave. In all the islands he may legally flog him; and in some of the islands he may legally flog him at his discretion. The best of the meliorating acts promise little, and perform less. By some of them it is enacted, that the slave shall not be flogged, till recovered from the effects of his last flogging by others, that he shall not receive more than a certain number of lashes in one day. These laws, useless as they are, have a meaning. But there are others which add insult to cruelty. In some of the Colonial Codes, there are facetious provisions that the slave shall not receive more than a certain number of lashes at one time, or for one fault. What is the legal definition of a time? Or who are the legal judges of a fault? If the master should chuse to say that it is a fault in his slave to have woolly hair, whom does the law authorize to contradict him?
It is just to say, that the murder of a slave is now a cap
ital crime. But the West Indian rules of evidence, to which we shall hereafter call the attention of our readers, render the execution of the laws on this subject almost impossible. The most atrocious kinds of mutilation, even those which in England are punished with death, when committed upon the person of a slave, subject the offender only to a fine, or to a short imprisonment. In Dominica, for instance, "to maim, deface, mutilate, or cruelly torture a slave, is a crime which is to be expiated by a fine not exceeding one hundred pounds currency, or by imprisonment not exceeding the term of three months. By the law of Jamaica, a master who perpetrates any outrage short of murder on the person of a slave, is subject to a fine not exceeding one hundred pounds currency, or to imprisonment not exceeding the term of 12 months. In very atrocious cases, the court may direct the enfranchisement of the slave. But this, though a benefit, as far as it goes, to the Negro, is a very slight aggravation of the punishment of the master. At most, it is only an addition of a few pounds to the fine, And as the possession of a slave who has been maimed in such a manner as to render him helpless, is rather burdensome than profitable, it would, in many cases, be really an advantage to the criminal.
If these terrible prerogatives were confined to the master alone, the condition of the slave would be sufficiently wretched. Yet it would not be without alleviations. The proprietor might sometimes be restrained by a sense of his pecuniary interest, if not by higher considerations, from those extreme outrages, against which the law affords so scanty a protection. At all events, during his absence, his Negroes would enjoy an interval of security. Unhappily, the Colonial Codes permit all the representatives and agents of the master, black and white, bond and free, to exercise most of his despotic powers.
We have seen that the slave has no legal property in his own body. It is almost unnecessary to say, that he has no property in any thing else,—that all his acquisitions belong, like himself, to his master. He is, in fact, a chattel. We should rather say, that to serve the purpose of rapacity and tyranny, he is alternately considered as real and as personal property. He may be sold or bequeathed at the pleasure of his master. He may be put up to auction by process of law
for the benefit of the creditors or legatees of his master. In either of these ways he may be, in a moment, torn for ever from his home, his associates, his own children. He is, in addition to this, legally a subject of mortgages, demises, leases, settlements in tail, in remainder, and in reversion. The practice of raising money on this species of property, is favoured by the laws of all the Colonies, and has been equally fatal to the owner and to the slave. It is fatal to the owner, because it enables him to risk capital not his own, in the precarious lottery of the West Indian sugar trade. It is fatal to the slave, because, in the first place, while it leaves to the master all his power to oppress, it deprives him of his power to manumit; and secondly, because it leads the master to keep possession of his Negroes, and to compel them to labour, when he has no prospect of holding them long, and is therefore naturally inclined to make as much by them, and to spend as little upon them as possible, a fact amply proved by the miserable state in which the gang is generally found, when transferred from the ruined planter to the half ruined mortgagee.
Such is the legal condition of the Negro, considered with reference to his master. We shall proceed to examine into the nature of the relation in which he stands towards free persons in general.
He is not competent to be a party to any civil action, either as plaintiff or defendant; nor can he be received as informant or prosecutor against any person of free condition. He is protected only as a horse is protected in this country. His owner may bring an action against any person who may have occasioned the loss of his services. But it is plain that the slave may sustain many civil injuries, to which this circuitous mode of obtaining redress is not applicable; and even when it is applicable, the damages are awarded, not to the injured party, but to his master. The protection which indictments and criminal informations afford, is also of very parrow extent. Many crimes which, when committed against a white man, are considered as most atrocious, may be com mitted by any white man against a slave with perfect impunity. To rob a slave, for instance, is, in most of the islands, not even a misdemeanour. In this case, the grand principle of Colonial law is suspended. The property of a slave, it seems, is considered as belonging to his owner for the pur