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ART. 1.-Thoughts on the Necessity of ameliorating the Condition of the Negro Slaves (in the British Colonies, and elsewhere) with a view ultimately to their Emancipation.
E know of no subject, where humanity and justice, as well
as public and private interest, would be more intimately concerned or united than in that, which should recommend a mitigation of the slavery, with a view afterwards to the emancipation of the Negroes, wherever such may be held in bondage. This subject was taken up for consideration, so early as when the Abolition of the slave trade was first practically thought of, and by the very persons who first publicly embarked in that cause in England; but it was at length abandoned by them, not on the ground that Slavery was less cruel, or wicked, or impolitic, than the slave trade, but for other reasons. In the first place there were not at that time so many obstacles in the way of the Abolition, as of the Emancipation of the Negroes. In the second place Abolition could be effected immediately, and with but comparatively little loss, and no danger. Emancipation, on the other hand, appeared to be rather a work of time. It was beset too with many difficulties, which required deep consideration, and which, if not treated with great caution and prudence, threatened the most alarming results. In the third place it was supposed, that, by effecting the abolition of the slave trade, the axe would be laid to the root of the whole evil; so that by cutting off the more vital part of it, the other would gradually die away: for what was more reasonable than to suppose, that, when masters could no longer obtain Slaves from Africa or elsewhere, they would be compelled individually, by a sort of inevitable necessity, or a fear of consequences, or by a sense of their own interest, to take better care of those whom they might then have in their possession? What was more reasonable to suppose, than that the different legislatures themselves, moved also by the same necessity, would immediately interfere, without even the loss of a day, and so alter and amend the laws relative to the treatment of Slaves, as to enforce that as a public duty, which it would be thus the private interest of individuals to perform? Was it not also reasonable to suppose that a system of better treatment, thus begun by individuals, and enforced directly afterwards by law, would produce more
VOL. II. NO. III,
willing as well as more able and valuable labourers than before; and that this effect, when once visible, would again lead both masters and legislators on the score of interest to treat their slaves still more like men; nay, at length to give them even privileges; and thus to elevate their condition by degrees, till at length it would be no difficult task, and no mighty transition, to pass them to that most advantageous situation to both parties, the rank of Free Men?
These were the three effects, which the simple measure of the abolition of the slave trade was expected to produce by those, who first espoused it; by Mr. Granville Sharp, and those who formed the London committee; and by Mr. Pitt, Mr. Fox, Mr. Burke, Mr. Wilberforce, and others of illustrious name, who brought the subject before Parliament. The question then is, how have these fond expectations been realized? or how many and which of these desirable effects have been produced? We may answer perhaps with truth, that in our own Islands, where the law of the abolition is not so easily evaded, or where there is less chance of obtaining new slaves, than in some other parts, there has been already, that is, since the abolition of the slave trade, a somewhat better individual treatment of the slaves than before. A certain care has been taken of them. The plough has been introduced to ease their labour. Indulgences have been given to pregnant women both before and after their delivery; premiums have been offered for the rearing of infants to a certain age; religious instruction has been allowed to many. But when we mention these instances of improvement, we must be careful to distinguish what we mean ;—we do not intend to say, that there were no instances of humane treatment of the slaves before the abolition of the slave trade. We know, on the other hand, that there were; we know that there were planters, who, much to their honour, introduced the plough upon their estates, and who granted similar indulgences, premiums, and permissions to those now mentioned, previously to this great event. All then that we mean to say is this, that, independently of the common progress of humanity and liberal opinion, the circumstance of not being able to get new slaves as formerly, has had its influence upon some of our planters; that it has made some of them think more; that it has put some of them more upon their guard; and that there are therefore, upon the whole, more instances of good treatment of slaves by individuals in our Islands (though far from being as numerous as they ought to be) than at any former period.
But, alas! though the abolition of the slave trade may have produced a somewhat better individual treatment of the slaves, and this also to a somewhat greater extent than formerly, not one of the other effects, so anxiously looked for, has been realized. The condition of the slaves has not yet been improved by law. It is a
remarkable, and indeed almost an incredible fact, that no one effort has been made by the legislative bodies in our Islands with the real intention of meeting the new, the great, and the extraordinary event of the abolition of the slave trade. While indeed this measure was under discussion by the British Parliament, an attempt was made in several of our Islands to alter the old laws with a view, as it was then pretended, of providing better for the wants and personal protection of the slaves; but it was afterwards discovered, that the promoters of this alteration never meant to carry it into effect. It. was intended, by making a show of these laws, to deceive the people of England, and thus to prevent them from following up the great question of the abolition. Mr. Clappeson, one of the evidences examined by the House of Commons, was in Jamaica, when the Assembly passed their famous consolidated laws, and he told the House, that "he had often heard from people there, that it was passed because of the stir in England about the slave trade;" and he added, "that slaves continued to be as ill treated there since the passing of that act as before." Mr. Cook, another of the evidences examined, was long resident in the same island, and, "though he lived there also since the passing of the act, he knew of no legal protection, which slaves had against injuries from their masters." Mr. Dalrymple was examined to the same point for Grenada. He was there in 1788, when the Act for that island was passed also, called "An Act for the better Protection and promoting the Increase and Population of Slaves." He told the House, that, "while he resided there, the proposal in the British Parliament for the abolition of the slave trade was a matter of general discussion, and that he believed, that this was a principal reason for passing it. He was of opinion, however, that this Act would prove ineffectual, because, as Negro evidence was not to be admitted, those, who chose to abuse their slaves, might still do it with impunity; and people, who lived on terms of intimacy, would dislike the idea of becoming spies and informers against each other." We have the same account of the ameliorating Act of Dominica. "This Act," says Governor Prevost, "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 the slaves." We are informed also on the same authority, that the clauses of this Act, which had given a promise of better days, "had been wholly neglected." In short, the Acts passed in our different Islands for the pretended purpose of bettering the condition of the slaves have been all of them most shamefully neglected; and they remain only a dead letter; or they are as much a nullity, as if they had never existed, at the present day.
And as our planters have done nothing yet effectively by law for ameliorating
ameliorating the condition of their slaves, so they have done nothing or worse than nothing in the case of their emancipation. In the year 1815 Mr. Wilberforce gave notice in the House of Commons of his intention to introduce there a bill for the registration of slaves in the British colonies. In the following year a very serious insurrection broke out among some slaves in Barbadoes. Now, though this insurrection originated, as there was then reason to believe, in local or peculiar circumstances, or in circumstances which had often produced insurrections before, the planters chose to attribute it to the Registry Bill now mentioned. They gave out also, that the slaves in Jamaica and in the other islands had imbibed a notion, that this Bill was to lead to their emancipation; that, while this notion existed, their minds would be in an unsettled state; and therefore that it was necessary that it should be done away. Accordingly on the 19th day of June 1816, they moved and procured an address from the Commons to the Prince Regent, the substance of which was (as relates to this particular) that "His Royal Highness would be pleased to order all the governors of the West India islands to proclaim, in the most public manner, his Royal Highness's concern and surprise at the false and mischievous opinion, which appeared to have prevailed in some of the British colonies, that either His Royal Highness or the British Parliament had sent out orders for the emancipation of the Negroes; and to direct the most effectual methods to be adopted for discountenancing these unfounded and dangerous impressions." Here then we have a proof that in the month of June 1816 the planters had no notion of altering the condition of their Negroes. It is also evident, that they have entertained no such notion since; for emancipation implies a preparation of the persons who are to be the subjects of so great a change. It implies a previous alteration of treatment for the better, and a previous alteration of customs and even of circumstances, no one of which can however be really and truly effected without a previous change of the laws. In fact, a progressively better treatment by law must have been settled as a preparatory and absolutely necessary work, had emancipation been intended. But as we have never heard of the introduction of any new laws to this effect, or with a view of producing this effect in any of our colonies, we have an evidence, almost as clear as the sun at noonday, that our planters have no notion of altering the condition of their Negroes, though fifteen years have elapsed since the abolition of the slave trade.
But if it be true that the abolition of the slave trade has not produced all the effects, which the abolitionists anticipated or intended, it would appear to be their duty, unless insurmountable obstacles present themselves, to resume their labours: for though
there may be upon the whole, as we have admitted, a somewhat better individual treatment of the slaves by their masters, arising out of an increased prudence in some, which has been occasioned by stopping the importations, yet it is true, that not only many of the former continue to be ill-treated by the latter, but that all may be so ill-treated, if the latter be so disposed. They may be ill-fed, hard-worked, ill-used, and wantonly and barbarously punished. They may be tortured, nay even deliberately and intentionally killed without the means of redress, or the punishment of the ag gressor, so long as the evidence of a Negro is not valid against a white man. If a white master only take care, that no other white man sees him commit an atrocity of the kind mentioned, he is safe from the cognizance of the law. He may commit such atrocity in the sight of a thousand black spectators, and no harm will happen to him from it. In fact, the slaves in our Islands have no more real protection or redress from law, than when the Abolitionists first took up the question of the slave trade. It is evident therefore, that the latter have still one-half of their work to perform, and that it is their duty to perform it. If they were ever influenced by any good motives, whether of humanity, justice, or religion, to undertake the cause of the Negroes, they must even now be influenced by the same motives to continue it. If any of those disorders still exist, which it was their intention to cure, they cannot (if these are curable) retire from the course and say-there is now no further need of our interference.
The first step then to be taken by the Abolitionists is to attempt to introduce an entire new code of laws into our colonies. The treatment of the Negroes there must no longer be made to depend upon the presumed effects of the abolition of the slave trade. Indeed there were persons well acquainted with Colonial concerns, who called the abolition but a half measure at the time when it was first publicly talked of. They were sure, that it would never of itself answer the end proposed. Mr. Steele also confessed in his letter to Dr. Dickson* (of both of whom more by and by), that the abolition of the slave trade would be useless, unless at the same time the infamous laws, which he had pointed out, were repealed. Neither must the treatment of the Negroes be made to depend upon what may be called contingent humanity. We now leave in this country neither the horse, nor the ass, nor oxen, nor sheep, to the contingent humanity even of British bosoms;-and shall we leave those, whom we have proved to be men, to the contingent humanity of a slave colony, where the eye is familiarized with cruel sights, and where we have seen a constant exposure to op
See Dickson's Mitigation of Slavery, p. 17.