« ZurückWeiter »
Ar the close of the last session of Parliament, Mr. Wilberforce introduced into the House of Commons, "A Bill for more effectually preventing the unlawful Importation of Slaves, and the holding free persons in slavery in the British colonies." In the debate which took place upon the occasion, he was supported by Sir John Newport, Mr. F. Douglas, Sir S. Romilly, and Mr. W. Smith. Objections were started by Mr. A. Browne and by Mr. Marryatt, and some observations were made by Mr. Protheroe and Mr. Barham. Lord Castlereagh is reported to have said, that "it was extremely desirable to know the extent of the evil which was meant to be cured; he thought it highly proper to ascertain whether any illicit traffic was continued or not. If the measure was necessary for the complete abolition of the slave trade, his majesty's ministers were pledged to support it. There was reason to hope that all the European powers would ere long abolish that trade, The colonies would probably, if a little time were allowed them, see the propriety of adopting, of thenselves, this or any measure which might be necessary to
give effect to that abolition. He wished the abolition to be complete and effectual, and wished eventual success to this or any other measure that might be found necessary for that end.".
Mr. Wilberforce consented that his bill should lie over until another session. At the approaching meeting of Parliament, it will consequently be brought forward, and probably at an early day. Some previous candid discussion concerning its merits cannot therefore be ill-timed.
Considered merely as one in addition to the many penal laws in our statute book, we must expect that the abuses against which it is directed be shewn to exist; that they are of a magnitude to demand legislative interference; and that, existing in such magnitude, they cannot be more conveniently remedied by other means than by the mea sure proposed.
If these preliminaries be indispensable in the ordinary vindication of a penal statute, they become more imperatively so in relation to one which would innovate, as this would unquestionably do, upon the general course of our legislation; for waiving all that may be said concerning abstract right, and certain doubtful precedents, it cannot be denied, that during a long period, Great Britain has conceded to the local colonial legislatures the business of municipal regulation and internal police, and stands expressly pledged by the act of 18 Geo. III. cap. 12., “not to impose any duty, tax, or assessment whatever, payable in any of his majesty's colonies, provinces, and plantations in North America, or,the West Indies, except only such duties as it may be expedient to impose for the regulation of commerce."
By reference to the proceedings of the House of Assembly of Jamaica, upon the 31st of October last, which
are before the public,' it will be seen that our largest West India colony claims constitutional rights for its “local legislature, consisting of the king as lord of Jamaica, the council appointed by his majesty, and the representatives of the people, freely elected and met in general assembly;" and declares that by the bill in question, and "by its enactments, penalties, forfeitures, and assessments, not only the constitutional right of internal legislation is infringed, but the pledge, in respect of taxation, given to the colonies by the statute of the 18th Geo. III. cap. 12., is violated." We shall find that others of our islands speak the same language, and assert the same right.
Although the Imperial Parliament may acknowledge no concession of its supremacy, beyond that which it has already made in regard of taxation, every prudent man would deprecate the unnecessary introduction of a question which separated from this country the United States of America.
It is neither decorous nor wise to be influenced in the consideration of this question by the weakness of our West India colonies, and their incompetency to resist us, as North America did, by force of arms. It is not decorous, because government, if it would be respected, must be great-minded, impartial, and consistent; it is not wise, because the loyal attachment of these colonies is valuable; it has contributed greatly to their means of defence, whenever they have been objects of contention betwixt our navy and those of rival powers. In looking forwards we may not only contemplate a recurrence of those struggles, but also a probability that the possession of these colonies may be coveted by the United States of America, as a means
Vide Appendix, A.
Edin. Review, No. 50, p. 344.
of increasing that naval strength and fame, in the acquisition of which they are emulously treading our steps. The improvidence of exciting betwixt these parties a new feeling of mutual attachinent, by imposing on the colonies that very act of power which America successfully resisted, needs not any illustration.
If Lord Castlereagh should be called upon in the House of Commons to support this bill, " as necessary to give effect to the abolition of the slave trade," it will be natural that he should, in the first place, ask-Is the existence of a contraband trade in slaves, for the purpose of importation into our West India colonies, and in such degree as to be generally contemplated by those colonies as a resource of population, clearly made out?
It will not be an easy task to maintain the affirmative; the cases which have hitherto been brought forward with that view fall very short of establishing upon satisfactory evidence any colonial participation. The West India gentlemen in this country roundly assert that no such criminal fact has been hitherto brought home to the colonies," and they probably know that they shall be borne out in this assertion by the result of investigations which are now making, or are already made, in the West Indies. If the bill be not well supported by facts, if it stumble at the threshold, how can it be entitled to the support of his majesty's government, or of Parliament, as necessary to ef fect an entire abolition of the slave trade?
But some of its supporters have ingeniously anticipated and endeavoured to get rid of this difficulty. In a clever pamphlet, published as a special report of the African Institution, which prepared the public for the introduction of this
2 Reasons for establishing a Registry of Slaves in the British Colonies,
bill, the doctrine is maintained, that should any solitary instance have existed of that guilt which has been charged generally against the colonists, however obscure and trivial that instance, however limited in its immediate operation -nay more, should facts be wanting, and the mere possibility of the commission of the crime be but granted, the case for the bill is made out, and ample ground provided for this formidable superstructure, since, aware of such obscure fact, or of such possibility, the planters in our colonies would generally place their reliance upon this criminal means of supply, "conscious that they have a potential resource in the clandestine importation whenever their future necessities may require it."
But this will surely be deemed a conclusion not less at variance with reason than with candour. The crime in question is no other than felony; and when the reporters would impress their readers with a just apprehension of the enormities which may be committed in this contraband traffic, they tell us, that "the British slave-trader cannot now be a man whom prejudice, early habit, and reputable example, may have seduced into crimes repugnant to his general principles and feelings. The poor Africans who may now be carried into slavery by British hands must be committed to men not only hardened by the habits of oppression, but reckless of public shame, contemptuous of all authority, human or divine, and addicted to the most desperate hazards for the sake of lawless gain. It is by felons, in a word, by the same description of characters that break into our houses at midnight, or rob us on the highway, that -Africans, smuggled by British subjects, must now be 'being a Report of a Committee of the African Institution; published by order of that Society, 1815. Reasons, &c. p. 31.