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SECTION 1.—The fatal Effects of an illicit Importation of
Slaves into the British Colonies.
If there remained in this country any difference of opinion on the subject of the slave trade, in one point at least we should be unanimous. The abolition, to produce any salutary effects, must be a reformation in practice, as well as in law.
Let it be supposed, that negroes from Africa are clandestinely brought into our sugar islands, and there held in slavery, and it will be plain, that, to the extent of this practice at least, the abolition laws are worse than useless.
The same crimes are committed, the same miseries are inflicted in Africa, and a still greater destruction of human life must take place on the passage, not only from the circuity which may be necessary to elude detection and seizure, but from the absence of those legislative regulations which mitigated the letharious horrors of the voyage, while the commerce was permitted by law. The smuggler, having to risk the forfeiture of his ship as well as cargo, in a prohibited trade, will take care that the tonnage is as scantily proportioned as possible to the number of the captives on board. He has now the temptation of reducing by that means, not only the expense, but the legal perils of the adventure, in their proportions to his possible gains.
There is also less chance than before of his being restrained in such barbarous practices, either by huinanity or prudence. The British slave trador cannot now be a man whom prejudice, early habit, and reputable example, may have seduced into crimes repugnant to his general principles and feelings, and who may therefore be expected to soften as much as possible, in their execution, the cruel methods of confinement and coercion which are essential to the trade ; neither can we expect from him that cautious and calculating regard to self-interest, which may sometimes have supplied, in such points of conduct, the want of humanity, in a prudent and experienced trader.
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, in a word, by felons, 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 dragged from their native shores, and carried across the Atlantic.
That one of the consequences will be increased severity of treatment, especially in respect of the close and crowded confinement on board, does not rest upon conjecture. It is fully attested by experience. The contraband slave traders of America notoriously crowd their ships beyond any example to be found in the same commerce while it was allowed by their laws.
Several shocking instances of this inhumanity have come under the cognizance of our prize courts. The same dreadful distinctions also have marked the cases of ships under Portuguese and Spanish colors, which have been proved, or reasonably presumed, to belong to British or American smugglers.
These, however, are not the only, nor the worst, evils which would flow from a contraband importation into our colonies. It would be fatal to one of the dearest hopes of abolitionists, the melioration of the treatment of those unfortunite fellow-creatures, our W. Indian slaves.
As it is impossible suddenly to break their fetters, without danger of calamitous consequences, not only to their masters but themselves, we must suffer them to remain, for some considerable period, in their present state of bondage. The most extreme and abject slavery that ever degraded and cursed mankind, must yet continue to be the reproach of the freest and happiest empire that ever the sun beheld.
But who is there so dead to the impulse of human sympathy, who so regardless of the claims of justice and mercy, who so unconscious of his duties as an Englishman, a Christian, and a Man, as not to deplore that cruel necessity, and to desire to give to its duration the narrowest limit that humanity itself will allow?
Here there neither is, nor ever has been, any controversy in Parliament since the subject was first brought to its notice. All have professed to regard colonial slavery as an evil which we were bound to terminate, as a reproach which we were called on to wipe off, though the nature of the case would not permit us to do so in any but a slowly progressive coursé.
The advocates of a gradual abolition, and the few who retused to prescribe any term to the slave trade, professed themselves to be as earnest in their desire to reform, by all safe means, and ultimately to abolish the slavery of our colonies, as Mr. Wilberforce himself. The only questions were, whether an immediate abolition of the African slave trade was the best mean to that desirable end; and whether a temporary continuance of the trade was not even necessary to prepare the means of mitigating the labor, preserving the numbers, and ultimately in:proying into freedom the state of the colonial negroes.
The speeches of eminent statesmen, the writings of the colonial party, the votes and addresses of Parliament, and the official correspondence of ministers with the colonjal governors, might all be appealed to in proof that such has always been the vnanimity of sentiment on this very interesting head.
What are the mcans then that can be devised for the attainment of a reformation so dear to the wishes, and so necessary to the honor, of our country?
They can only be of two general kinds; compulsory or persuasive. Regarding the end as one which Parliament is bound, in some way, to attain, it must either be accomplished by direct legislation, accompanied with coercive sanctions, or hy such parliamentary measures as may incline those who have the power of meliorating the lot of the slaves, to engage willingly in that beneficent work,
The mode of direct legislation, by Act of Parliament, would be obviously attended with great difficulties, and was therefore by all parties declined, or at least postponed. It was the unanimous opinion that the indirect course was the best, as far as the work was to be prosecuted by any parliamentary means. But on a subordinate question, the difference of opinion was great. It was thought by the party which opposed the Abolition of the slave trade, that without that great measure, and without any statute directly acting on the colonial system of slavery, the necessary reformation might be attained, and the slave trade itself even effectually suppressed, by influencing the assemblies to reform their own laws, and to pass acts for improving the moral and civil state of their slaves. For this purpose it was thought enough to communicate the sense of Parliament by means of addresses to the Crown, and to obtain in consequence, official recommendations from the Crown to the Assemblies.
On the other side, the advocates for an immediate Abolition maintained, that while the slave trade subsisted, the colonial assemblies would never seriously and effectually evgage in the desired work of reformation.