Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

stench are almost insupportable ; and quite so when the badness of the weather rendeis it necessary for the Slaves to be closely confined below; and it is no uncommon event for Slaves to expire by suffocation. But when brought on deck, there is but a poor mitigation of their sufferings. Even the very mercies of the Slave Trade are cruel. Sea-sickness and mental uneasiness must often make them loath their food, and feel averse to exercise. But food and motion are necessary to present the animal in good condition at the place of sale. Eating, therefore, and dancing, as it is called, in their fetters, must be exacted by stripes; and these vile indignities are not seldom practised on men of high spirits, of quick feelings, sometimes even of literary acquirements. Mr. Park states, that out of the 130 Slaves which were the cargo-it is humiliating to our nature to use the expression-of the slave ship in which he sailed from the river Gambia to the West Ine dies, twenty-five could write the Arabic language. If we could doubt the intensity of their sufferings, we have a gage by which to measure it, in that striking fact, that in the very equipment of an African ship, there is a standing precaution against acts of suicide ; a precaution, however, that is often unavailing. And various instances were related of Slaves who had destroyed themselves, by jumping overboard ; glorying, in the very moment of their sinking, from the idea of their escaping thereby out of the power of their persecutors; or by a determined abstinence from food, in spite of all the means, lenient or forcible, that could be used to induce or force the poor creature to take it. Common distress excites compassion; horror and astonishment are produced by miseries like these. Who that witnessed the scene will ever forget the generous burst of indignation which was called forth by the first exhibition of the abominations of a slave ship to the eyes of a British Parliament? The inquiry into the nature of the trade was then commencing, and a law was immediately passed, prescribing, so long as the trade should continue, the greatest allowable proportion of Slaves to the tonnage, and endeavouring, by other regulations, to secure for the wretched beings some mitigation of their sufferings, by insuring them a sufficiency of food and water and medical attendance. But in the large amount of the sufferings of the Slaves on ship-board, trivial indeed must be the diminution which all such regulations as these can possibly effect. I the rather notice this topic, because the Court of Brazil has lately issued an edict, prescribing similar, though far less effectual, regulations; but with this most important distinction, that they are not considered merely as temporary regulations like those of the British Parliament, which were to be in force only while the inquiry was going forward, but as permanent expedients by which the Slave Trade, as the framers of the edict seem to imagine, may be rena dered consistent with the most refined humanity. Nay, the framers of this Portuguese edict, in adopting these wretched palliatives, appear to pride themselves on their Christian beneficence. Even the bodily sufferings of the Slaves can be but little alleviated ; but it is scarcely too much to assert that the anguish of the mind may be even increased from the attention being less called forth by the urgency of bodily sufferings. Is it a refinement ? The feelings of my heart assure me that it is not, when I declare, that in providing a sufficiency of space, and food, and water, for human beings, whom you are tearing from all they hold dear in their native land, and are bearing into a state of interminable slavery, and telling them to be comfortable and grateful, is less tolerable than the severest pains that human avarice, or even malice could inflict. Such, at least, will be the feeling of every generous spirit; and never were there more generous spirits than have been found to animate the bosoms of many of these despised Negroes. Your enmity they can understand, your cruelty they can endure, sometimes even despise ; but insult them not by your humanity, and allow not yourself, in the practice of these detestable and wicked barbarities, to indulge in the complacencies of humanity and virtue. Do your very best to reconcile the discordancy-Be as liberal as you will with your bodily accommodations - the anguish of husbands torn from their wives, of wives from their husbands, and of parents from their children, must still continue : the pange arising from the consideration, that they are separated for ever from their country, their relatives, their friends, and connections, still remain the same-They have the same painful recollection of the past, the same dreadful forebodings of the future ; they are still among strangers, whose appearance, language, manners, are new to them, and every surrounding object is such as naturally to inspire terror. In short, till we can legislate for the mind ; till we can regulate, by statute, the affections of the heart, or rather till we can extinguish the feelings of our nature ; till, in order to qualify these wretched beings for being treated like brutes, we can completely unman and brutalize them, the memorable declaration made in a British Parliament will still continue true, that no where upon earth can so much misery be found condensed into 60 small a space as in the hold of a slave ship.

But how, it may well be asked, if the nature and effects of the Slave Trade were proved to be such as have been here stated ; how was it possible for the British Parliament to forbear from immediately abolishing it? How was it that, after so long an inquiry, several years elapsed before the trade was actually prohibited ?

Great were the obstacles and various the considerations and NO. X. Pam.

VOL. V.

2 B

arguments which, for some years, retarded the actual execution of that sentence of condemnation, which, however, from the very first, was decisively pronounced by all the respectable part even of those who voted against the immediate abolition. Neither can it be denied, that the grand obstacle in the way of the abolitionists, from which the Slave Trade derived a support far more effectual than that which any arguments could have supplied, was, the vast amount of national wealth which, it was alleged, would be endangered, or rather lost, by its discontinuance. The Slave Trade itself had existed so long, and attained to such a magnitude, and the far more powerful West Indian interests which were most mistakenly supposed to be dependent on it, had grown to such a size, and had struck their roots so deeply and so widely, as by degrees to have extended and multiplied their holdings throughout a great part of the community: and we know but too well, that mankind are slow to admit any truths which are supposed to involve consequences injurious to their interests. The hostility of the West Indians was greatly aggravated by an attempt which had been made, with considerable success, to confound the abolition of the Trade in Slaves with the Emancipation of those already in the colonies ; though the abolitionists took all opportunities of proclaiming, that it was the Slave Trade, not Slavery, against which they were directing their efforts. ; I have remarked, that the same misapprehension pervades the recent publication of the Chamber of Commerce at Nantes; and I have been assured, that one of the ablest of your public men, whose recent loss you are now deploring, had also been misled into adopting it. · But let me again remind you, in justice alike to the Parliament and People of Great Britain, that the dreadful nature and effects of the Slave Trade were almost utterly unknown, till the result of the parliamentary inquiry had withdrawn the veil which had hitherto concealed them. Even then, it was only by degrees that the rays of truth were able to dissipate those clouds of falsehood and prejudice by which commercial avidity endeavoured to shroud in darkness the abominations which it was conscious were too shocking to endure the light. One only of these falsehoods shall be specified as a sample of the whole. The Slave Trade was justified on the ground that the Negroes were so depraved and stupid, as to be fit only to be hewers of wood and drawers of water to the rest of our species. In refutation of so vile a falsehood, let me refer to the evidence delivered before the British Parliament, and also to the testimony of various travellers, even to that of Park and Golberry themselves, though seduced by self-interest into favoring the cause of the Slave Traders. The Slave Trade was also justified on the ground that Africans were so completely wretched at home, that it was mercy to transport them, though by means somewhat harsh, to the enjoyment of West Indian servitude. Thus was insult added to injury, in the treatment of these unhappy people. If they are wretched, it is we Europeans that have made them so. I dare not deny that we have called forth and cherished among the Negroes all the worst passions of our nature, and vice will ever be productive of misery; but if we except the Moors, who are not subjects of the Slave Trade, their moral dispositions are stated by those very travellers who were themselves engaged in the Slave Trade, or who, like the two writers whom I lately mentioned, have countenanced, or at least palliated it, to be eminently amiable and hospitable. Who can read the account of the benevolence and gentleness of the Africans, of their parental and filial tenderness, of their social and domestic affection, of their extraordinary attachment to their country and homes, of the conjugal fidelity, combined with great cheerfulness and frankness, of the women, of their industry and perseverance, where they have any adequate motive to prompt them to work, of their courage, and, in some cases, of their magnanimity, two instánces of which are given, scarcely inferior to any thing recorded in Greek or Roman story, who can read these accounts, without acknowledging, that so far is it from being true, that the ferocity and savageness of the African character furnish some apology for the Slave Trade, that the guilt of carrying on that traffic is greatly aggravated by the mild and amiable qualities of its unhappy victims; who can forbear feeling the liveliest emotions of concern and shame, that the superior energies of our more highly favored quarter of the globe, have not been exerted in endeavouring to improve and civilize, rather than in oppressing and, if I may use the term, barbarizing these most amiable beings?

But it is due to all the more respectable part of the opponents of immediate abolition, to declare, that such wretched pleas as those which I have been now exposing, found from them no support or countenance. The arguments which operated against us most powerfully with them, were two; first, that the abolition of the Slave Trade, by Great Britain alone, while other nations should carry it on, and carry it on probably to a greater extent after Great Britain should have relinquished it, would be productive of no real benefit to Africa. And secondly, that though Great Britain should have prohibited the Trade in Slaves, and the importation of them into her West Indian settlements, yet, that while they should continue to be imported into the West Indian colonies of other European nations, which are intermixed with her own, it would be impossible to prevent their being smuggled into the British settle

by a the opposite prere al confident

ments. Therefore, that though Great Britain might prohibit the carrying on of the Slave Trade by her own subjects, she would by no means thereby suppress, perhaps not even diminish, the total sum of that nefarious traffic. Whatever force there might be in these arguments, it is obvious that not only they cannot be urged against a proposition for the universal abolition of the Slave Trade by all the European nations, but that they even operate powerfully in the opposite direction.

But there were also various allegations and predictions which, though loudly and confidently proclaimed by the warmer adversaries of the measure, more especially by the representatives and connections of those who were directly or indirectly interested in the commerce in Slaves, would now be unworthy of your notice, as having been utterly exploded, were it not probable that they may again be urged on your side of the water. Indeed I have lately read, with regret, similar false statements in some of your public prints.

In direct defiance of truth, it was unblushingly asserted that the greater part of the African population consisted of slaves whom, by the custom of Africa, their masters had a right to sell at pleasure ; and that these slaves, being treated with great barbarity, were happy to exchange a black master for a white one. Both these assertions are utterly false. It was undeniably established, that though, as has already been stated, a species of patriarchal vassalage does prevail in Africa, yet that masters have no right to sell their slaves, except for crimes to which the punishment of transportation is attached by the laws of Africà, in many parts after a sort of trial by jury; and so well are they treated by their masters, that the accounts which we have received of the manner in which the masters

and slaves work, and eat, and live together, constitutes a beautiful · picture of patriarchal simplicity and comfort.

Again, it was asserted, that those prisoners of war, convicts, and other classes of the population of Africa which it had long been customary to sell to the Europeans, would be massacred by their own countrymen, when the former mode of disposing of them should no longer exist. In refutation of this assertion, it appeared that frequently, more especially on the breaking out of war between the great European Nations, the Slave Trade had been suda denly stopped, but that no such consequences had ensued. On : the contrary, the factors employed in cultivation, the Slaves they already possessed ; while, as was repeatedly stated by the natives, the cessation of the Slave Trade 'put an immediate stop to the wars and depredations which had been before so prevalent. It apo peared, in short, that the supply for the Slave Market was manu. factured, if I may so express it, only for the demand, and that

« AnteriorContinuar »