Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

the slaves by any general or sweeping measure; but that change left to be slowly accomplished during centuries, by the silent influence of religion on individual hearts? Why, but because its author knew that the precepts it enjoined, the changes in society it would induce, were suited not to an infant but an advanced stage of civilisation; and that the equality it declared could obtain only amidst the safeguards from violence, which an ancient and highly-cultivated state of refinement afforded.

Why, if immediate and unconditional emancipation from servitude was intended to follow the Christian religion, did it subsist unmitigated for fifteen hundred years after its introduction ? Because the mere promulgation of its precepts is by no means sufficient to warrant such change; because it is necessary not only that churches should be built, and bishops established, and nobles baptized; but savage indolence overcome, and barbaric violence restrained, and rude depravity covered: because it is necessary, before such a change is introduced, not only that the seed of religion should be scattered over the surface, but its roots struck and its fruits shed through the whole strata of society; because civil freedom and habits of order, and the desire of civilisation, must be long established before it can be either practicable or beneficial; and because these effects require the growth of many hundred years.

Let, then, the friends of speedy Negro emancipation follow the steps of Providence in the past extrication of the human race from the restraints of servitude; let them bring up the West India Negroes to the level of ancient civilisation at the period when the gospel was promulgated; let them cause the rude inhabitants to rival the age of Pericles and Cicero, of Ptolemy and Darius, of Cæsar and Alexander, and then they have brought the human mind to that stage when the Author of nature deemed it practicable to relax the fetters of private slavery. Or let them imitate the workings of the same unseen hand in modern times: let them establish, under the sun of the tropics, civilisation as deep, order as permanent, industry as universal, justice as equal, aristocratic violence as subdued, pri

vate property as secure, passions as coerced, central power as resistless as in England under the reign of Elizabeth, or in France under that of Francis I., and then they may with reason allege that the soil, being duly prepared by previous culture, the seeds of universal freedom may be sown. But let them not urge on immediate or early emancipation under circumstances which Supreme Wisdom has in all past ages deemed unfit for its introduction; let them not precipitate those changes in infants, which have been uniformly reserved for the most advanced stages of civilisation; or delude themselves with the idea, that they are preparing the pacific reign of the Gospel for the sable inhabitants of the regions of the sun, when they are only hastening the horrors of a Jacquerie, or the flames of St Domingo.

Considered in this point of view, there can be no doubt that much, perhaps most, of the misery of Ireland is owing to the too early abolition of slavery among its inhabitants, and the premature extension to its fierce and passionate population of the passion of English freedom, without the moderation of English civilisation. Ireland is not in a state to be able to bear the relaxation of its labouring classes from the bonds, or their deprivation of the benefits,of private servitude. All travellers concur in stating that they are incomparably more miserable than the serfs of Russia, or the boors of Poland. Periodical famines, unknown in the rest of the world; starvation, unparalleled in modern Europe; violence and bloodshed, unexampled even in barbarous states, have signalized the fatal gift of personal freedom, to men still actuated by the passions, and requiring the restraint, of savages. And that unhappy country affords the clearest proof, that the mere existence of the highest refinement, the most polished manners, and the best education among the higher, is no security whatever against the utmost possible suffering being produced by the premature extension of freedom to the labouring classes of society. To enable mankind to bear this gift, it is indispensable not merely that the rich should be refined and civilized, but the poor industrious, pa tient, and acquainted with artificial

wants; that an extensive and opulent middling class should for a length of time have formed the connecting link between the higher and the lower classes of society; that the firm establishment of law and justice should have taught mankind the necessity, and learnt them the means, of restraining their passions; and that the emancipation of the labouring poor from the fetters of private authority, should have been so gradual, as, like the growth of a child, or the innovations of time, to have been imperceptible.

What are the great sources of distress in Ireland; what the causes which, in the nineteenth century, under British rule, and almost in sight of the British shores, have perpetuated the reign of anarchy and misrule; have stained its emerald fields with murders, and lighted its midnight sky with conflagrations; have precipitated upon this land a squalid and suffering multitude, and left only in its fertile plains the feeling of suffering, and the passion of revenge? They are to be found in the redundance of the population, the grievances and vexations of the poor; the division of society into two great casts, the oppressor and the oppressed; the absence of any middling rank in the state; the unsettled, unequal, and partial administration of justice; the want of any legal provision for the labouring classes, their utter destitution in sickness and old age, and the total absence of all artificial wants, from the experienced impossibility of purchasing any of the comforts of life. As these features unequivocally demonstrate that the poor are unfit for the enjoyment of freedom, and that their emancipation from the restrictions of servitude would only tear society in pieces, so the most lamentable of them would be removed by the poor being the property of their landlords. We often hear of the poor in Ireland starving of hunger, or being driven by pangs of want to robbery and murder, but never of the cattle wanting their daily meal. The Irish are in that state where not only they are incapable of receiving any benefit from personal freedom, but the state of destitution which it induces, subjects them to a degree of suffering and distress, to which there is no

the

thing comparable in the situation of those who are looked after by their owners, on the principle of private interest.

All these considerations apply with tenfold force to the case of the West India negroes. They are in a situation so extremely low, when considered with reference to their capability of governing themselves, or acquiring subsistence in a state of freedom, that it may be foretold with perfect certainty, that any attempt, not merely to emancipate them, but even to instil into their minds the idea that they are to be emancipated, would lead immediately to conflagration, famine, massacre, and ruin. They are incapable of understanding what freedom is, the duties with which it is attended, the restraint which it imposes, and the labour which it induces. They have none of the artificial wants which reconcile men to the severe and unin

terrupted toil which constitutes the basis of civilized prosperity, nor of the power of voluntary restraint upon inclination and coercion of passion, which springs from the experience of the necessity of their exertion among all societies of free citizens. To them, freedom conveys the idea of the immediate cessation of all re

Na

straint, the termination of every species of labour, the undisguised indulgence of every passion. It is not surprising that it should be so. ture never intended that men in that stage of society should be free, because their emancipation from servitude leads immediately to evils, both to themselves and to society, incomparably greater than servitude itself. The inveterate habits of indolence which always characterise savage life, the vehement passions with which it is attended, the entire disregard of the future by which it is invariably distinguished, render men, in that stage of civilisation, as incapable of flourishing or even of existing as freemen, as a child of three years of age is of comprehending the Principia, or fighting

the battle of Waterloo.

How is it possible that men in the condition of African Negroes can conduct themselves as freemen? They see none but their masters, the owners of the estates on which they work, and their overseers, and they

[ocr errors]

they effects that rse that when they effects that the same deplorable sysexpect of her course become free they are to live like t is incessantly pressed forward them, and enjoy the same immunity by a numerous and well-meaning, s from personal toil. They little know but ignorant and deluded party in that the free labourer is chained by this country. necessity to severer toil than that When the fumes of the French which is wrung from them by the Revolution had spread the same vilash of the overseer; that they re- sionary ideas of liberty and equality ceivetain provision in sick- through its extensive dominions, no which have lately penetrated the veins of the British empire, the situation of the Negroes of St Domingo lation excited the immediate attention of the National Assembly. It was strongly urged, that the existence of slavery was an abomination inconsistent with the new-born principles of freedom;" that all men were by nature equal, and that it would be a lasting dis-! grace to the French Legislature, if, v after having emancipated themselves? om the fetters of slavery, they permitted them to hang upon the wretched cultivators of their distant colonies. In vain it was urged, by those

ness or age; are allowed to beg their bread through a land flowing with milk and honey; and frequently perish of want amidst the palaces of heartless opulence. They feel none of the artificial wants, which sweeten to the European labourer his unceacea sing toil; and are drawn by an irresistible attraction to the indolent habits, the dreaming existence, the listless repose, which constitute the chief enjoyments of savage life. The indulgence of such habits must be utterly destructive of the splendid but imperfectly founded fabric industry which the West Indies exhibit. If

emancipated before ages of Civilisaid Practically acquainted with the state

[graphic]

of the Negroes, that such a measure would, without benefiting the slaves, involve the whole colony in confla gration, and ultimately occasion the ruin of the very men whom it was intended to benefit. These wise observations were utterly disregarded; a society, with the title of Les Amis des Noirs, was instituted at Paris, under the auspices of Brissot and the leading Revolutionists, which carried on a correspondence with the of emancipation in the colony, and at length, overborne by clamour, and subdued by declamation, the Colonial Assembly passed several decrees tending to the gradual aboliof slavery slow end Nothing could exceed the picture of prosperity which the colony exhibited when these well-meant, but fatal innovations, began. The whites were about 40,000; the colour, 30,000 and slaves, above 30,000 32 the free men of 500,000. Above a thousand plantations, in different parts of the island, nourished its numerous inhabitants in peace and happiness; great part of the most fertile portion of the island was cultivated like a garden, and the slaves, indulgently treated, and liberally partaking of the fruits of their partakibited a scene of rural labour,

[ocr errors][merged small]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[blocks in formation]

Both exerted themselves

[graphic]

felicity and general happiness rarely ty. parties happinesost civi- with the ut

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

* Humboldt, Voyages, IX. 332.

hand the habit of power, and an inveterate contempt for the Negro race, on the other the passion of revenge, prompted to unheard-of atrocities. "The island remained a prey to the most complicated disorders, until June 1792, when the whole remainder of the European population was shut up in the Cape Town. At the first appearance of an attack, a portion of the inhabitants had made their escape by sea; but a large part remained, trusting that they would suffer nothing from a combat in which they had taken no part. No sooner, however, had the republican authorities withdrawn, than the Negro troops broke in, and finding neither resistance nor restraint, soon commenced the most hideous excesses. Twenty thousand Africans unchained, mingled with the assailants; every thing was confounded in the indiscriminate massacre; inhabitants, sailors, slaves, were butchered without mercy; the conflagration which soon arose, augmented the horrors of the scenes a heavens, the sight of its illumination in the heavens, the Negroes in all the no neighbouring mountains descended into the plain, and rushed in torrents into the devoted city. Every excess which vengeance, cupidity, brutal insolence, and unbridled passion could produce, was speedily committed; the asylums of young women were forced, their persons violated, and after wards murdered; shrieking females, weeping be trembling old striving to men, were force through the brutal throng, to gain the ships, or perishing under the ruins of the burning edifices. In less than twenty-four hours, Cape Town was destroyed, and its inhabitants massacred or disJ2om 9da brs, Ja999090003 persed. When fatigue had caused the disorder and carnage to cease, and the conflagration had ceased for of any thing farther to burn, the reblack inhabitants were or maining ganized into battalions, and the slaves, not knowing what to do amidst the general wreck, with their newly acquired freedom, surrendered them

ids 9m8l at 10 961 edral-r

† Jomini, IV. 405.

[ocr errors]

selves to obtain provisions. Ships imploring succour were dispatched to the neighbouring isles and the continent; and the remains of a flourishing colony resembled a horde cast by shipwreck on a desert shore. "This frightful catastrophe was the first signal of the abolition of slavery by the partial emancipation of the Negroes. This idea of the liberation of the Negroes had long been spread in France and the lonies; the dreams of the philanthropist had penetrated even to the workshops of the slaves. The opposition of the whites and the men of colour, speedily accelerated the evil; they mutually freed the slaves who were to be enrolled to combat each other; and enfranchisement was always the reward to which they looked forward, as the result of their revolt. This was declared universal, by a decree of the commissioners of France, on the 21st June, 1793, which announced, that all the Negroes who took up arms for the Republic, should receive their freedom. Such were the effects of this great measure, dictated by philanthropy, but carried into execution without regard to the capacity of those for whom it was intended. The fatal gift involved in one promiscuous ruin the slaves and their oppressors."

" *

Nor has the subsequent fate of this once flourishing colony been less calamitous. For ten years after wards its history was such a succession of civil wars, disasters, and confusion, that the most patient historical research can hardly trace the thread of the calamities. Their independence has been established; but with it they have relapsed into a state of degradation, combining the indolence and recklessness of savage, with the vices and the corruptions of civilized life. Hardly caring to cultivate the ground, they wander through the woods, gaining a precarious subsistence by shoot ing or ensnaring animals: from being the greatest sugar island in the Gulf of Mexico, St Domingo is reduced to the necessity of importing both sugar and subsistence; population has rapidly declined; and such

* Toulougnon, IV. 540-264.

is the universal dissolution of manners, as to threaten, if such an event were possible, at no distant period, its entire destruction. To all appearance, this beautiful island in half a century will be tenanted only by naked savages, more vicious and degraded, but not superior in civilisation or improvement to the Indians who first beheld the sails of Columbus.t

The facts are worthy of the most serious consideration, They demonstrate, that human nature is the same in the torrid as the temperate zone; in the sable breast of the African Negro, as in the serfs of France, or the boors of Russia. An individual does not become a man at six years of age; if we give to childhood the indulgences or the freedom of manhood, a life of unbridled passion, or useless indolence, may with certainty be anticipated. It is by slow degrees, and imperceptible gradations, that all the great changes of nature are effectual continents, the abode of millions, are formed by the accumulations of innumerable rills; empires which are to subsist for ages, slowly arise out of the struggles and the hardships of infant existence. Freedom, the greatest gift of nature, can neither be appreciated nor enjoyed for a very long period in the progress of civilisation; if suddenly bestowed on an enslaved population, it tears society in pieces, and subjects men to the worst of tyrannies, the tyranny of their own passions and vices. If we would consult the interests of the slaves themselves, if we would save them from the dominion of the most frightful vices, if we would preserve their race from extermination, we must admit them, by slow degrees, and imperceptible gradations, to the advantages and the destitution of freedom. Centuries must elapse before it can be introduced without the certainty of destruction to the slave population. When we see a middling class formed which connects the upper and the lower classes, the proprietor and the Negro; when we behold justice regularly, impartially, and formally administered; when we see artificial wants prevalent

+ Mackenzie's St Domingo.

« AnteriorContinuar »