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THE PRE A MBLE.
MONDAY, MAY 7, 1838.
JAMES RIDGWAY AND SONS, 169 PICCADILLY.
Monday, 7th May, 1838.
NOTWITHSTANDING what has taken place in this Session, there is every appearance that, almost immediately, this question will be again agitated. It is one of the strongest instances of the danger in which the British legislature stands of being forced into ruinous measures by popular excitement and impulse. The arguments which are the most strenuously urged for cancelling the apprenticeship are, in truth, the most forcible reasons for continuing it during the stipulated period. It is said, that in Jamaica, at least, all the constituted authorities below the Governor, and all the occupiers of land upon the island, or a large majority of them, have violated the laws made for the protection of the negroes, and have neglected and refused to prepare those provisions for their freedom which they were bound by solemn obligation to make. Planters, juries, magistrates, and colonial legislatures, are all described as being implicated in a most wicked conspiracy to make the nominal apprenticeship of the negroes a substantial slavery, and to treat them more cruelly than ever. If this be really the case, what would be the effect of an act of parliament for an immediate and universal determination of the apprenticeship? Would this alter the disposition of the planters for the better? Would their feelings towards their negroes become suddenly more kind? Would the will to do evil be overcome? If not, What is it that would ensue? If so great be the malignancy of nearly all who stand above the negro race, where are the materials for erecting amidst these black and white masses a tribunal, from which not only the voice of Justice shall be heard, but the lictor shall go forth? If any such power can be created, will it not be a sufficiently difficult task wherewith to task its first inexperienced efforts, that it should compel the planters to observe the obligations of the law as it exists? Is there not enough of hazard in the liberation of the myriads of non-predial negroes, which must take place in three months from this time; and in that of the hundreds of thousands which is appointed two years later ? All of these negroes — for some time, at least, after they are liberated — must still labour for planters, or they must starve. May it not be less difficult to enforce the obligations of humanity towards them at present, and to make them real freemen in two years, if Justice can speak to the masters with a steady front, and in the language of unviolated law, than if she has to blush for a broken word, and to explain the violation of a law of property?
A great deal of inconclusive and vague reasoning has been employed to shew that there has, and that there has not, been a contract, or a compact, between the British state and the masters of negro apprentices.
In form, there has been no agreement of any sort but an act of parliament: and a law differs essentially from an agreement, being a command and rule of action imposed by a superior power upon those who are subject to it, and not requiring for its validity any assent of those who are to be bound by it. But laws are not less solemn than agreements. There is as much injustice in violating the equitable provisions of a law of property, as the stipulations of a contract. There is more mischief to be apprehended as the consequence, inasınuch as a party to a contract has, in most cases, a peaceable remedy; but he who is wilfully ruined by the sovereign power thinks that he has no other remedy on earth than rebellion. Laws of property frequently involve the principles of agreements, and every thing appertaining to them but the form; and there never was a case in which a law approached more nearly, not to one contract, but to an aggregation of several contracts with individuals, than the law for the emancipation of the negroes. The British state acknowledged, that, according to British law, the masters of slaves had a lucrative interest in their labour, of which they ought not to be deprived by the British legislature without compensation. To preserve and uphold this principle of legislation, the nation assented to the payment of twenty millions sterling towards the compensation; and it was further provided, that the slaves should, for a fixed period, be apprentices to those to whom, but for this law, they would be slaves. Neither the right to the money, nor the relation of master, was to be vested in any body corporate or politic; but the money was to be paid piecemeal to individuals, and authority over his apprentices was to be given to each master separately. It was not one joint contract, therefore, which was either involved or shadowed out in this act of parliament, but several contracts. It might have been quite consistent with the spirit of the act to have provided in it, that the misconduct of any master should disqualify him individually, either for receiving compensation, or for being allowed to remain a master of apprentices; but nothing could then, or can now, make it equitable, that, for the misconduct of others over whom he has no power,