He also says, addressing an audience:—
'Why, Sirs, British lords hold their lands, British bishops hold their revenues, Victoria holds her sceptre, by the grace of cotton, as surely as by the grace of God.'
Senator Wigfall says:—
'If we stop the supply of cotton for one week, England would be starving. Queen Victoria's crown would not stand on her head one week, if the supply of cotton was stopped; nor would her head stand on her shoulders.'
Mr. Stephens, who is the Vice-President of the Southern Confederacy, says:—
'There will be revolution in Europe, there will be starvation there; our cotton is the element that will do it.'
Now, I am not stating the mere result of any discovery of my own, but it would be impossible to read the papers of the South, or the speeches made in the South, before, and at the time of, and after the secession, without seeing that the universal opinion there was, that the stoppage of the supply of cotton would be our instantaneous ruin, and that if they could only lay hold of it, keep it back in the country, or burn it, so that it never could be used, that then the people of Lancashire, merchants, manufacturers, and operatives in mills—everybody dependent upon this vast industry—would immediately arise and protest against the English Government abstaining for one moment from the recognition of the South, from war with the North, and from a resolution to do the utmost that we could to create a slave-holding independent republic in the South.
And these very men who have been wishing to drag us into a war that would have covered us with everlasting infamy, have sent their envoys to this country, Mr. Yancey, Mr. Mann (I do not know whether or not the same Mr. Mann to whom I have been referring), and Mr. Mason, the author of the Fugitive Slave Law. These men have been in this country,—one of them I believe is here now,—envoys sent to offer friendship to the Queen of England, to be received at her Court, and to make friends with the great men in London. They come,—I have seen them under the gallery of the House of Commons; I have seen Members of the House shaking hands with them and congratulating them, if there has been some military success on their side, and receiving them as if they were here from the most honourable Government, and with the most honourable mission. Why, the thing which they have broken off from the United States to maintain, is felony by your law. They are not only slave owners, slave buyers and sellers, but that which out of Pandemonium itself was never before conceived,—they are slave breeders for the slave market; and these men have come to your country, and are to be met with at elegant tables in London, and are in fast friendship with some of your public men, and are constantly found in some of your newspaper offices; and they are here to ask Englishmen—Englishmen with a history of freedom—to join hands with their atrocious conspiracy.
I regret more than I have words to express this painful fact, that of all the countries in Europe this country is the only one which has men in it who are willing to take active steps in favour of this intended slave government. We supply the ships; we supply the arms, the munitions of war; we give aid and comfort to this foulest of all crimes. Englishmen only do it. I believe you have not seen a single statement in the newspapers that any French, or Belgian, or Dutch, or Russian ship has been engaged in, or seized whilst attempting to violate the blockade and to carry arms to the South. They are English Liberal newspapers only which support this stupendous iniquity. They are English statesmen only, who profess to be liberal, who have said a word to favour the authors of this now—enacting revolution in America.
The other day, not a week since, a member of the present Government,—he is not a statesman—he is the son of a great statesman, and occupies the position of Secretary for Ireland,—he dared to say to an English audience that he wished the Republic to be divided, and that the South should become an independent State. If that island which—I suppose in punishment for some of its offences—has been committed to his care,—if that island were to attempt to secede, not to set up a slave kingdom, but a kingdom more free than it has ever yet been, the Government of which he is a member would sack its cities and drench its soil with blood before they would allow such a kingdom to be established.
But the working men of England, and I will say it too for the great body of the middle classes of England, have not been wrong upon this great question. As for you,—men labouring from morn till night that you may honourably and honestly maintain your families, and the independence of your households,—you are too slowly emerging from a condition of things far from independent—far from free—for you to have sympathy with this fearful crime which I have been describing. You come, as it were, from bonds yourselves, and you can sympathize with them who are still in bondage.
See that meeting that was held in Manchester a month ago, in the Free Trade Hall, of five or six thousand men. See the address which they there carried unanimously to the President of the United States. See that meeting held the other night in Exeter Hall, in London; that vast room, the greatest room, I suppose, in the Metropolis, filled so much that its overflowings filled another large room in the same building, and when that was full, the further overflowings filled the street; and in both rooms, and in the street, speeches were made on this great question. But what is said by the writers in this infamous Southern press in this country with regard to that meeting? Who was there? 'A gentleman who had written a novel, and two or three Dissenting ministers,' I shall not attempt any defence of those gentlemen. What they do, they do openly, in the face of day; and if they utter sentiments on this question, it is from a public platform, with thousands of their countrymen gazing into their faces. These men who slander them write behind a mask,—and, what is more, they dare not tell in the open day that which they write in the columns of their journal. But if it be true that there is nothing in the writer of a successful novel, or in two or three pious and noble-minded Dissenting ministers, to collect a great audience, what does it prove if there was a great audience? It only proves that they were not collected by the reputation of any orator who was expected to address them, but by their cordial and ardent sympathy for the great cause which was pleaded before them.
Everybody now that I meet says to me, 'Public opinion seems to have undergone a considerable change.' The fact is, people do not know very much about America. They are learning more every day. They have been greatly misled by what are called 'the best public instructors.' Jefferson, who was one of the greatest men that the United States have produced, said that newspapers should be divided into four compartments: in one of them they should print the true; in the next, the probable; in the third, the possible; and in the fourth, the lies. With regard to some of these newspapers, I incline to think, as far as their leading columns go, that an equal division of space would be found very inconvenient, and that the last-named compartment, when dealing with American questions, would have to be at least four times as large as the first.
Coming back to the question of this war; I admit, of course—everybody must admit—that we are not responsible for it, for its commencement, or for the manner in which it is conducted; nor can we be responsible for its result. But there is one thing which we are responsible for, and that is for our sympathies, for the manner in which we regard it, and for the tone in which we discuss it. What shall we say, then, with regard to it? On which side shall we stand? I do not believe it is possible to be strictly, coldly neutral. The question at issue is too great, the contest is too grand in the eye of the world. It is impossible for any man, who can have an opinion worth anything on any question, not to have some kind of an opinion on the question of this war. I am not ashamed of my opinion, or of the sympathy which I feel, and have over and over again expressed, on the side of the free North. I cannot understand how any man witnessing what is enacting on the American continent can indulge in small cavils against the free people of the North, and close his eye entirely to the enormity of the purposes of the South. I cannot understand how any Englishman, who in past years has been accustomed to say that 'there was one foul blot upon the fair fame of the American Republic,' can now express any sympathy for those who would perpetuate and extend that blot. And, more, if we profess to be, though it be with imperfect and faltering steps, the followers of Him who declared it to be His Divine mission 'to heal the broken- hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised,' must we not reject with indignation and scorn the proffered alliance and friendship with a power based on human bondage, and which contemplates the overthrow and the extinction of the dearest rights of the most helpless of mankind?
If we are the friends of freedom, personal and political,—and we all profess to be so, and most of us, more or less, are striving after it more completely for our own country,—how can we withhold our sympathy from a Government and a people amongst whom white men have always been free, and who are now offering an equal freedom to the black? I advise you not to believe in the 'destruction' of the American nation. If facts should happen by any chance to force you to believe it, do not commit the crime of wishing it. I do not blame men who draw different conclusions from mine from the facts, and who believe that the restoration of the Union is impossible. As the facts lie before our senses, so must we form a judgment on them. But I blame those men that wish for such a catastrophe. For myself, I have never despaired, and I will not despair. In the language of one of our old poets, who wrote, I think, more than three hundred years ago, I will not despair,—
'For I have seen a ship in haven fall, After the storm had broke both mast and shroud.'
From the very outburst of this great convulsion, I have had but one hope and one faith, and it is this—that the result of this stupendous strife may be to make freedom the heritage for ever of a whole continent, and that the grandeur and the prosperity of the American Union may never be impaired.
* * * * *
THE STRUGGLE IN AMERICA. ST. JAMES'S HALL, MARCH 26, 1863.
[The meeting at which this speech was delivered was convened by the Trades' Unions of London to enable the working men to express their sentiments on the war in the United States. Mr. Bright was Chairman of the meeting.]
When the Committee did me the honour to ask me to attend this meeting to-night and to take the Chair, I felt that I was not at liberty to refuse, for I considered that there was something remarkable in the character of this meeting; and I need not tell you that the cause which we are assembled to discuss is one which excites my warmest sympathies. This meeting is remarkable, inasmuch as it is not what is commonly called a public meeting, but it is a meeting, as you have seen from the announcements and advertisements by which it has been called—it is a meeting of members of Trades' Unions and Trades' Societies in London. The members of these Societies have not usually stepped out from their ordinary business to take part in meetings of this kind on public questions.
The subject which we have met to discuss is one of surpassing interest— which excites at this moment, and has excited for two years past, the attention and the astonishment of the civilized world. We see a country which for many years—during the lifetime of the oldest amongst us—has been the most peaceful, and prosperous, and the most free amongst the great nations of the earth—we see it plunged at once into the midst of a sanguinary revolution, whose proportions are so gigantic as to dwarf all other revolutionary records and events of which we have any knowledge. But I do not wonder at this revolution. No man can read the history of the United States from the time when they ceased to be dependent colonies of England, without discovering that at the birth of that great Republic there was sown the seed, if not of its dissolution, at least of its extreme peril; and the infant giant in its cradle may be said to have been rocked under the shadow of the cypress, which is the symbol of mortality and of the tomb.
Colonial weakness, when face to face with British strength, made it impossible to put an end to slavery, or to establish a republic free from slavery. To meet England, it was necessary to be united, and to be united it was necessary to tolerate slavery; and from that hour to this— at least, to a period within the last two or three years—the love of the Union and the patriotism of the American people have induced them constantly to make concessions to slavery, because they knew that when they ceased to make concessions they ran the peril of that disruption which has now arrived; and they dreaded the destruction of their country even more than they hated the evil of slavery. But these concessions failed, as I believe concessions to evil always do fail. These concessions failed to secure safety in that Union. There were principles at war which were wholly irreconcilable. The South, as you know, has been engaged for fifty years in building fresh ramparts by which it may defend its institutions. The North has been growing yearly greater in freedom; and though the conflict might be postponed, it was obviously inevitable.
In our day, then, that which the statesmen of America have hoped permanently to postpone has arrived. The great trial is now going on in the sight of the world, and the verdict upon this great question must at last be rendered. But how much is at stake? Some men of this country, some writers, treat it as if, after all, it was no great matter that had caused this contest in the United States. I say that a whole continent is at stake. It is not a question of boundary; it is not a question of tariff; it is not a question of supremacy of party, or even of the condition of four millions of negroes. It is more than that. It is a question of a whole continent, with its teeming millions, and what shall be their present and their future fate. It is for these millions freedom or slavery, education or ignorance, light or darkness, Christian morality ever widening and all-blessing in its influence, or an overshadowing and all-blasting guilt.
There are men, good men, who say that we in England, who are opposed to war, should take no public part in this great question. Only yesterday I received from a friend of mine, whose fidelity I honour, a letter, in which he asked me whether I thought, with the views which he supposed I entertain on the question of war, it was fitting that I should appear at such a meeting as this. It is not our war; we did not make it. We deeply lament it. It is not in our power to bring it to a close; but I know not that we are called upon to shut our eyes and to close our hearts to the great issues which are depending upon it. Now we are met here, let us ask each other some questions. Has England any opinion with regard to this American question? Has England any sympathy, on one side or the other, with either party in this great struggle? But, to come nearer, I would ask whether this meeting has any opinion upon it, and whether our sympathies have been stirred in relation to it? It is true, to this meeting not many rich, not many noble, have been called. It is a meeting composed of artisans and working men of the city of London,—men whose labour, in combination with capital and directing skill, has built this great city, and has made England great. I address myself to these men. I ask them—I ask you—have you any special interest in this contest?
Privilege thinks it has a great interest in it, and every morning, with blatant voice, it comes into your streets and curses the American Republic. Privilege has beheld an afflicting spectacle for many years past. It has beheld thirty millions of men, happy and prosperous, without emperor, without king, without the surroundings of a court, without nobles, except such as are made by eminence in intellect and virtue, without State bishops and State priests,—
'Sole venders of the lore which works salvation,'—
without great armies and great navies, without great debt and without great taxes. Privilege has shuddered at what might happen to old Europe if this grand experiment should succeed. But you, the workers,—you, striving after a better time,—you, struggling upwards towards the light, with slow and painful steps,—you have no cause to look with jealousy upon a country which, amongst all the great nations of the globe, is that one where labour has met with the highest honour, and where it has reaped its greatest reward. Are you aware of the fact, that in fifteen years, which is but as yesterday when it is past, two and a half millions of your countrymen have found a home in the United States,—that a population equal nearly, if not quite, to the population of this great city—itself equal to no mean kingdom—has emigrated from these shores? In the United States there has been, as you know, an open door for every man,—and millions have entered into it, and have found rest.
Now, take the two sections of the country which are engaged in this fearful struggle. In the one, labour is honoured more than elsewhere in the world; there, more than in any other country, men rise to competence and independence; a career is open; the pursuit of happiness is not hopelessly thwarted by the law. In the other section of that country, labour is not only not honoured, but it is degraded. The labourer is made a chattel. He is no more his own than the horse that drags a carriage through the next street; nor is his wife, nor is his child, nor is anything that is his, his own. And if you have not heard the astounding statement, it may be as well for a moment to refer to it,— that it is not black men only who should be slaves. Only to-day I read from one of the Southern papers a statement that—
'Slavery in the Jewish times was not the slavery of negroes; and therefore, if you confine slavery to negroes, you lose your sheet anchor, which is the Bible-argument in favour of slavery.'
I think nothing can be more fitting for the discussion of the members of the Trade Societies of London. You in your Trade Societies help each other when you are sick, or if you meet with accidents. You do many kind acts amongst each other. You have other business also; you have to maintain what you believe to be the just rights of industry and of your separate trades; and sometimes, as you know, you do things which many people do not approve, and which, probably, when you come to think more coolly of them, you may even doubt the wisdom of yourselves. That is only saying that you are not immaculate, and that your wisdom, like the wisdom of other classes, is not absolutely perfect. But they have in the Southern States a specific for all the differences between capital and labour. They say,—
'Make the labourer capital; the free system in Europe is a rotten system; let us get rid of that, and make all the labourers as much capital and as much the property of the capitalist and employer as the capitalist's cattle and horses are property, and then the whole system will move with that perfect ease and harmony which the world admires so much in the Southern States of America.'
I believe there never was a question submitted to the public opinion of the world which it was more becoming the working men and members of Trades' Unions and Trade Societies of every kind in this country fully to consider, than this great question.
But there may be some in this room, and there are some who say to me, 'But what is to become of our trade, what is to become of the capitalist and the labourer of Lancashire?' I am not sure that much of the capital of Lancashire will not be ruined. I am not sure that very large numbers of its population will not have to remove to seek other employment, either in this or some other country. I am not one of those who underrate this great calamity. On the contrary, I have scarcely met with any man,—not more than half a dozen,—since this distress in our county began, who has been willing to measure the magnitude of this calamity according to the scale with which I have viewed it.
But let us examine this question. The distress of Lancashire comes from a failure of the supply of cotton. The failure of the supply of cotton comes from the war in the United States. The war in the United States has originated in the effort of the slaveholders of that country to break up what they themselves admit to be the freest and best government that ever existed, for the sole purpose of making perpetual the institution of slavery. But if the South began the war, and created all the mischief, does it look reasonable that we should pat them on the back, and be their friends? If they have destroyed cotton, or withheld it, shall we therefore take them to our bosoms?
I have a letter written by an agent in the city of Nashville, who had been accustomed to buy cotton there before the war, and who returned there immediately after that city came into the possession of the Northern forces. He began his trade, and cotton came in. Not Union planters only, but Secession planters, began to bring in the produce of their plantations, and he had a fair chance of re-establishing his business; but the moment this was discovered by the commanders of the Southern forces at some distance from the city, they issued the most peremptory orders that every boat-load of cotton on the rivers, every waggon-load upon the roads, and every car-load upon the railroads, that was leaving any plantations for the purposes of sale, should be immediately destroyed. The result was, that the cotton trade was at once again put an end to, and I believe only to a very small extent has it been reopened, even to this hour.
Then take the State of New Orleans, which, as you know, has been now for many months in the possession of the Northern forces. The Northern commanders there had issued announcements that any cotton sent down to New Orleans for exportation, even though it came from the most resolved friends of secession in the district, should still be safe. It might be purchased to ship to Europe, and the proceeds of that cotton might be returned, and the trade be re-opened. But you have not found cotton come down to New Orleans, although its coming there under those terms would be of no particular advantage to the North. It has been withheld with this single object, to create in the manufacturing districts of France and England a state of suffering that might at last become unbearable, and thus might compel the Governments of those countries, in spite of all that international law may teach, in spite of all that morality may enjoin upon them, to take sides with the South, and go to war with the North for the sake of liberating whatever cotton there is now in the plantations of the Secession States.
At this moment, such of you as read the City articles of the daily papers will see that a loan has been contracted for in the City, to the amount of three millions sterling, on behalf of the Southern Confederacy. It is not brought into the market by any firm with an English name; but I am sorry to be obliged to believe that many Englishmen have taken portions of that loan. Now the one great object of that loan is this, to pay in this country for vessels which are being built—Alabamas—from which it is hoped that so much irritation will arise in the minds of the people of the Northern States, that England may be dragged into war to take sides with the South and with slavery. The South was naturally hostile to England, because England was hostile to slavery. Now the great hope of the insurrection has been from the beginning, that Englishmen would not have fortitude to bear the calamities which it has brought upon us; but by some trick or by some accident we might be brought into a war with the North, and thereby give strength to the South.
I should hope that this question is now so plain that most Englishmen must understand it; and least of all do I expect that the six millions of men in the United Kingdom who are not enfranchised can have any doubt upon it. Their instincts are always right in the main, and if they get the facts and information, I can rely on their influence being thrown into the right scale. I wish I could state what would be as satisfactory to myself with regard to some others. There may be men outside, there are men sitting amongst your legislators, who will build and equip corsair ships to prey upon the commerce of a friendly power,—who will disregard the laws and the honour of their country,—who will trample on the Proclamation of their sovereign,—and who, for the sake of the glittering profit which sometimes waits on crime, are content to cover themselves with everlasting infamy. There may be men, too—rich men—in this city of London, who will buy in the slaveowners' loan, and who, for the chance of more gain than honest dealing will afford them, will help a conspiracy whose fundamental institution, whose corner-stone, is declared to be felony, and infamous by the statutes of their country.
I speak not to these men—I leave them to their conscience in that hour which comes to all of us, when conscience speaks and the soul is no longer deaf to her voice. I speak rather to you, the working men of London, the representatives, as you are here to-night, of the feelings and the interests of the millions who cannot hear my voice. I wish you to be true to yourselves. Dynasties may fall, aristocracies may perish, privilege will vanish into the dim past; but you, your children, and your children's children, will remain, and from you the English people will be continued to succeeding generations.
You wish the freedom of your country. You wish it for yourselves. You strive for it in many ways. Do not then give the hand of fellowship to the worst foes of freedom that the world has ever seen, and do not, I beseech you, bring down a curse upon your cause which no after-penitence can ever lift from it. You will not do this. I have faith in you. Impartial history will tell that, when your statesmen were hostile or coldly neutral, when many of your rich men were corrupt, when your press—which ought to have instructed and defended—was mainly written to betray, the fate of a continent and of its vast population being in peril, you clung to freedom with an unfaltering trust that God in His infinite mercy will yet make it the heritage of all His children.
* * * * *
LONDON, JUNE 16, 1863. [On June 16, 1863, a public meeting was held at the London Tavern, at the instance of the Union and Emancipation Society, in order to hear an address from Mr. M. D. Conway, of Eastern Virginia. Mr. Bright was in the Chair.]
If we look back a little over two years—two years and a half—when the question of secession was first raised in a practical shape, I think we shall be able to remember that, when the news first arrived in England, there was but one opinion with regard to it—that every man condemned the folly and the wickedness of the South, and protested against their plea that they had any grievance which justified them in revolt—and every man hoped that some mode might be discovered by which the terrible calamity of war might be avoided.
For a time, many thought that there would be no war. Whilst the reins were slipping from the hands—the too feeble hands—of Mr. Buchanan into the grasp of President Lincoln, there was a moment when men thought that we were about to see the wonderful example of a great question, which in all other countries would have involved a war, settled perhaps by moderation—some moderation on one side, and some concession on the other; and so long as men believed that there would be no war, so long everybody condemned the South. We were afraid of a war in America, because we knew that one of the great industries of our country depended upon the continuous reception of its raw material from the Southern States. But it was a folly—it was a gross absurdity—for any man to believe, with the history of the world before him, that the people, of the Northern States, twenty millions, with their free Government, would for one moment sit down satisfied with the dismemberment of their country, and make no answer to the war which had been commenced by the South.
I speak not in justification of war. I am only treating this question upon principles which are almost universally acknowledged throughout the world, and by an overwhelming majority even of those men who accept the Christian religion; and it is only upon those principles, so almost universally acknowledged, and acknowledged as much in this country as anywhere else—it is only just that we should judge the United States upon those principles upon which we in this country would be likely to act.
But the North did not yield to the dismemberment of their country, and they did not allow a conspiracy of Southern politicians and slaveholders to seize their forts and arsenals without preparing for resistance. Then, when the people of England found that the North were about to resist, and that war was inevitable, they turned their eyes from the South, which was the beginner of the war, and looked to the North, saying that, if the North would not resist, there could be no war, and that we should get our cotton, and trade would go on as before; and therefore, from that hour to this, not a few persons in this country, who at first condemned the South, have been incessant in their condemnation of the North.
Now, I believe this is a fair statement of the feeling which prevailed when the first news of secession arrived, and of the change of opinion which took place in a few weeks, when it was found that, by the resolution of the North to maintain the integrity of their country, war, and civil war, was unavoidable. The trade interests of the country affected our opinion; and I fear did then prevent, and have since prevented, our doing justice to the people of the North.
Now I am going to transport you, in mind, to Lancashire, and the interests of Lancashire, which, after all, are the interests of the whole United Kingdom, and clearly of not a few in this metropolis. What was the condition of our greatest manufacturing industry before the war, and before secession had been practically attempted? It was this: that almost ninety per cent. of all our cotton came from the Southern States of the American Union, and was, at least nine-tenths of it, the produce of the uncompensated labour of the negro.
Everybody knew that we were carrying on a prodigious industry upon a most insecure foundation; and it was the commonest thing in the world for men who were discussing the present and the future of the cotton trade, whether in Parliament or out of it, to point to the existence of slavery in the United States of America as the one dangerous thing in connection with that great trade; and it was one of the reasons which stimulated me on several occasions to urge upon the Government of this country to improve the Government of India, and to give us a chance of receiving a considerable portion of our supply from India, so that we might not be left in absolute want when the calamity occurred, which all thoughtful men knew must some day come, in the United States.
Now, I maintain that with a supply of cotton mainly derived from the Southern States, and raised by slave labour, two things are indisputable: first, that the supply must always be insufficient; and second, that it must always be insecure. Perhaps many of you are not aware that in the United States—I am speaking of the Slave States, and the cotton-growing States—the quantity of land which is cultivated for cotton is a mere garden, a mere plot, in comparison with the whole of the cotton region. I speak from the authority of a report lately presented to the Boston Chamber of Commerce, containing much important information on this question; and I believe that the whole acreage, or the whole breadth of the land on which cotton is grown in America, does not exceed ten thousand square miles—that is, a space one hundred miles long and one hundred miles broad, or the size of two of our largest counties in England; but the land of the ten chief cotton-producing States is sixty times as much as that, being, I believe, about twelve times the size of England and Wales.
It cannot be, therefore, because there has not been land enough that we have not in former years had cotton enough; it cannot be that there has not been a demand for the produce of the land, for the demand has constantly outstripped the supply; it has not been because the price has not been sufficient, for, as is well known, the price has been much higher of late years, and the profit to the planter much greater; and yet, notwithstanding the land and the demand, and the price and the profit, the supply of cotton has not been sufficient for the wants of the spinners and the manufacturers of the world, and for the wants of civilization.
The particular facts with regard to this I need not, perhaps, enter into; but I find, if I compare the prices of cotton in Liverpool from 1856 to 1860 with the prices from 1841 to 1845, that every pound of cotton brought from America and sold in Liverpool fetched in the last five years more than twenty per cent in excess of what it did in the former five years, notwithstanding that we were every year in greater difficulties through finding our supply of cotton insufficient.
But what was the reason that we did not get enough? It was because there was not labour enough in the Southern States. You see every day in the newspapers that there are four millions of slaves, but of those four millions of slaves some are growing tobacco, some rice, and some sugar; a very large number are employed in domestic servitude, and a large number in factories, mechanical operations, and business in towns; and there remain only about one million negroes, or only one-quarter of the whole number, who are regularly engaged in the cultivation of cotton.
Now, you will see that the production of cotton and its continued increase must depend upon the constantly increasing productiveness of the labour of those one million negroes, and on the natural increase of population from them. Well, the increase of the population of the slaves in the United States is rather less than two and a-half per cent, per annum, and the increase on the million will be about twenty-five thousand a-year; and the increased production of cotton from that increased amount of labour consisting of twenty-five thousand more negroes every year will probably never exceed—I believe it has not reached—one hundred and fifty thousand bales per annum. The exact facts with regard to this are these: that in the ten years from 1841 to 1850 the average crop was 2,173,000 bales, and in the ten years from 1851 to 1860 it was 3,252,000, being an increase of 1,079,000 bales in the ten years, or only about 100,000 bales of increase per annum.
I have shown that the increase of production must depend upon the increase of labour, because every other element is in abundance—soil, climate, and so forth. (A Voice: 'How about sugar?') A Gentleman asks about sugar. If in any particular year there was an extravagant profit upon cotton, there might be, and there probably would be, some abstraction of labour from the cultivation of tobacco, and rice, and sugar, in order to apply it to cotton, and a larger temporary increase, of growth might take place; but I have given you the facts with regard to the last twenty years, and I think you will see that my statement is correct. Now, can this be remedied under slavery? I will show you how it cannot. And first of all, everybody who is acquainted with American affairs knows that there is not very much migration of the population of the Northern States into the Southern States to engage in the ordinary occupations of agricultural labour. Labour is not honourable and is not honoured in the South; and therefore free labourers from the North are not likely to go South. Again, of all the emigration from this country— amounting as it did, in the fifteen years from 1846 to 1860, to two millions five hundred thousand persons, being equal to the whole of the population of this great city—a mere trifle went South and settled there to pursue the occupation of agriculture; they remained in the North, where labour is honourable and honoured.
Whence, then, could the planters of the South receive their increasing labour? Only from the slave-ship and the coast of Africa. But, fortunately for the world, the United States Government has never yet become so prostrate under the heel of the slave-owner as to consent to the reopening of the slave-trade. Therefore the Southern planter was in this unfortunate position: he could not tempt, perhaps he did not want, free labourers from the North; he could not tempt, perhaps he did not want, free labourers from Europe; and if he did want, he was not permitted to fetch slave labour from Africa. Well, that being so, we arrive at this conclusion—that whilst the cultivation of cotton was performed by slave labour, you were shut up for your hope of increased growth to the small increase that was possible with the increase of two and a half per cent per annum in the population of the slaves, about one million in number, that have been regularly employed in the cultivation of cotton.
Then, if the growth was thus insufficient—and I as one connected with the trade can speak very clearly upon that point—I ask you whether the production and the supply were not necessarily insecure by reason of the institution of slavery? It was perilous within the Union. In this country we made one mistake in our forecast of this question: we did not believe that the South would commit suicide; we thought it possible that the slaves might revolt. They might revolt, but their subjugation was inevitable, because the whole power of the Union was pledged to the maintenance of order in every part of its dominions.
But if there be men who think that the cotton trade would be safer if the South were an independent State, with slavery established there in permanence, they greatly mistake; because, whatever was the danger of revolt in the Southern States whilst the Union was complete, the possibility of revolt and the possibility of success would surely be greatly increased if the North were separate from the South, and the negro had only his Southern master, and not the Northern power, to contend against.
But I believe there is little danger of revolt, and no possibility of success. When the revolt took place in the island of St. Domingo, the blacks were far superior in numbers to the whites. In the Southern States it is not so. Ignorant, degraded, without organization, without arms, and scarcely with any faint hope of freedom for ever, except the enthusiastic hope which they have when they believe that God will some day stretch out His arm for their deliverance—I say that under these circumstances, to my mind, there was no reasonable expectation of revolt, and that they had no expectation whatever of success in any attempt to gain their liberty by force of arms.
But now we are in a different position. Slavery itself has chosen its own issue, and has chosen its own field. Slavery—and when I say slavery, I mean the slave power—has not trusted to the future; but it has rushed into the battle-field to settle this great question; and having chosen war, it is from day to day sinking to inevitable ruin under it. Now, if we are agreed—and I am keeping you still to Lancashire and to its interests for a moment longer—that this vast industry with all its interests of capital and labour has been standing on a menacing volcano, is it not possible that hereafter it may be placed upon a rock which nothing—can disturb?
Imagine—what of course some people will say I have no right to imagine— imagine the war over, the Union restored and slavery abolished—does any man suppose that there would afterwards be in the South one single negro fewer than there are at present? On the contrary, I believe there would be more. I believe there is many a negro in the Northern States, and even in Canada, who, if the lash, and the chain, and the branding- iron, and the despotism against which even he dared not complain, were abolished for ever, would turn his face to the sunny lands of the South, and would find himself happier and more useful there than he can be in a more Northern clime.
More than this, there would be a migration from the North to the South. You do not suppose that those beautiful States, those regions than which earth offers nothing to man more fertile and more lovely, are shunned by the enterprising population of the North because they like the rigours of a Northern winter and the greater changeableness, of the Northern seasons? Once abolish slavery in the South, and the whole of the country will be open to the enterprise and to the industry of all. And more than that, when you find that, only the other day, not fewer than four thousand emigrants, most of them from the United Kingdom, landed in one day in the city of New York, do you suppose that all those men would go north and west at once? Would not some of them turn their faces southwards, and seek the clime of the sun, which is so grateful to all men; where they would find a soil more fertile, rivers more abundant, and everything that Nature offers more profusely given, but from which they are now shut out by the accursed power which slavery exerts? With freedom you would have a gradual filling up of the wildernesses of the Southern States; you would have there, not population only, but capital, and industry, and roads, and schools, and everything which tends to produce growth, and wealth, and prosperity.
I maintain—and I believe my opinion will be supported by all those men who are most conversant with American affairs—that, with slavery abolished, with freedom firmly established in the South, you would find in ten years to come a rapid increase in the growth of cotton; and not only would its growth be rapid, but its permanent increase would be secured.
I said that I was interested in this great question of cotton. I come from the midst of the great cotton industry of Lancashire; much the largest portion of anything I have in the world depends upon it; not a little of it is now utterly valueless, during the continuance of this war. My neighbours, by thousands and scores of thousands, are suffering, more or less, as I am suffering; and many of them, as you know—more than a quarter of a million of them—have been driven from a subsistence gained by their honourable labour to the extremest poverty, and to a dependence upon the charity of their fellow-countrymen. My interest is the interest of all the population.
My interest is against a mere enthusiasm, a mere sentiment, a mere visionary fancy of freedom as against slavery. I am speaking now as a matter of business. I am glad when matters of business go straight with matters of high sentiment and morality, and from this platform I declare my solemn conviction that there is no greater enemy to Lancashire, to its capital and to its labour, than the man who wishes the cotton agriculture of the Southern States to be continued under the conditions of slave labour.
One word more upon another branch of the question, and I have done. I would turn for a moment from commerce to politics. I believe that our true commercial interests in this country are very much in harmony with what I think ought to be our true political sympathies. There is no people in the world, I think, that more fully and entirely accepts the theory that one nation acts very much upon the character and upon the career of another, than England; for our newspapers and our statesmen, our writers and our speakers of every class, are constantly telling us of the wonderful influence which English constitutional government and English freedom have on the position and career of every nation in Europe. I am not about to deny that some such influence, and occasionally, I believe, a beneficent influence, is thus exerted; but if we exert any influence upon Europe—and we pride ourselves upon it— perhaps it will not be a humiliation to admit that we feel some influence exerted upon us by the great American Republic. American freedom acts upon England, and there is nothing that is better known, at the west end of this great city—from which I have just come—than the influence that has been, and nothing more feared than the influence that may be, exerted by the United States upon this country.
We all of us know that there has been a great effect produced in England by the career of the United States. An emigration of three or four millions of persons from the United Kingdom, during the last forty years, has bound us to them by thousands of family ties, and therefore it follows that whatever there is that is good, and whatever there is that is free in America, which we have not, we know something about, and gradually may begin to wish for, and some day may insist upon having.
And when I speak of 'us,' I mean the people of this country. When I am asserting the fact that the people of England have a great interest in the well-being of the American Republic, I mean the people of England. I do not speak of the wearers of crowns or of coronets, but of the twenty millions of people in this country who live on their labour, and who, having no votes, are not counted in our political census, but without whom there could be no British nation at all. I say that these have an interest, almost as great and direct as though they were living in Massachusetts or New York, in the tremendous struggle for freedom which is now shaking the whole North American Continent.
During the last two years there has been much said, and much written, and some things done in this country, which are calculated to gain us the hate of both sections of the American Union. I believe that a course of policy might have been taken by the English press, and by the English Government, and by what are called the influential classes in England, that would have bound them to our hearts and us to their hearts. I speak of the twenty millions of the Free North. I believe we might have been so thoroughly united with that people, that all remembrance of the war of the Revolution and of the war of 1812 would have been obliterated, and we should have been in heart and spirit for all time forth but one nation.
I can only hope that, as time passes, and our people become better informed, they will be more just, and that ill feeling of every kind will pass away; that in future all who love freedom here will hold converse with all who love freedom there, and that the two nations, separated as they are by the ocean, come as they are, notwithstanding, of one stock, may be in future time united in soul, and may work together for the advancement of the liberties and the happiness of mankind.
* * * * *
MR. ROEBUCK'S MOTION FOR RECOGNITION OF THE SOUTHERN CONFEDERACY.
HOUSE OF COMMONS, JUNE 30, 1863.
I will not attempt to follow the noble Lord in the laboured attack which he has made upon the Treasury Bench, for these two reasons:—that he did not appear to me very much to understand what it was he was condemning them for; and, again, I am not in the habit of defending Gentlemen who sit on that bench. I will address myself to the question before the House, which I think the House generally feels to be very important, although I am quite satisfied that they do not feel it to be a practical one. Neither do I think that the House will be disposed to take any course in support of the hon. Gentleman who introduced the resolution now before us.
We sometimes are engaged in discussions, and have great difficulty to know what we are about; but the hon. Gentleman left us in no kind of doubt when he sat down. He proposed a resolution, in words which, under certain circumstances and addressed to certain parties, might end in offensive or injurious consequences. Taken in connection with his character, and with the speech he has made tonight, and with the speech he has recently made elsewhere on this subject, I may say that he would have come to about the same conclusion if he had proposed to address the Crown inviting the Queen to declare war against the United States of America. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, who is known not to be very zealous in the particular line of opinion that I have adopted, addressed the hon. Gentleman in the smoothest language possible, but still he was obliged to charge him with the tone of bitter hostility which marked his speech.
On a recent occasion the hon. Member addressed some members of his constituency—I do not mean in his last speech, I mean in the speech in August last year—in which he entered upon a course of prophecy which, like most prophecies in our day, does not happen to come true. But he said then what he said to-night, that the American people and Government were overbearing. He did not tell his constituents that the Government of the United States had, almost during the whole of his lifetime, been conducted by his friends of the South. He said that, if they were divided, they would not be able to bully the whole world; and he made use of these expressions: 'The North will never be our friends; of the South you can make friends,—they are Englishmen,—they are not the scum and refuse of the world.'
Mr. Roebuck: 'Allow me to correct that statement. What I said I now state to the House, that the men of the South were Englishmen, but that the army of the North was composed of the scum of Europe.'
Mr. Bright: I take, of course, that explanation of the hon. and learned Gentleman, with this explanation from me, that there is not, so far as I can find, any mention near that paragraph, and I think there is not in the speech a single word, about the army.
Mr. Roebuck: 'I assure you I said that.'
Mr. Bright: Then I take it for granted that the hon. and learned Gentleman said that, or that if he said what I have read he greatly regrets it.
Mr. Roebuck: 'No, I did not say it.'
Mr. Bright: The hon. and learned Gentleman in his resolution speaks of other powers. But he has unceremoniously got rid of all the powers but France, and he comes here to-night with a story of an interview with a man whom he describes as the great ruler of France—tells us of a conversation with him—asks us to accept the lead of the Emperor of the French on, I will undertake to say, one of the greatest questions that ever was submitted to the British Parliament. But it is not long since the hon. and learned Gentleman held very different language. I recollect in this House, only about two years ago, that the hon. and learned Gentleman said: 'I hope I may be permitted to express in respectful terms my opinion, even though it should affect so great a potentate as the Emperor of the French. I have no faith in the Emperor of the French.' On another occasion the hon. and learned Gentleman said,—not, I believe, in this House,—'I am still of opinion that we have nothing but animosity and bad faith to look for from the French Emperor.' And he went on to say that still, though he had been laughed at, he adopted the patriotic character of 'Tear-'em,' and was still at his post.
And when the hon. and learned Gentleman came back, I think from his expedition to Cherbourg, does the House recollect the language he used on that occasion—language which, if it expressed the sentiments which he felt, at least I think he might have been content to have withheld? If I am not mistaken, referring to the salutation between the Emperor of the French and the Queen of these kingdoms, he said, 'When I saw his perjured lips touch that hallowed cheek.' And now, Sir, the hon. and learned Gentleman has been to Paris, introduced there by the hon. Member for Sunderland, and he has sought to become as it were in the palace of the French Emperor a co-conspirator with him to drag this country into a policy which I maintain is as hostile to its interests as it would be degrading to its honour.
But then the high contracting parties, I suspect, are not agreed, because I will say this in justice to the French Emperor, that there has never come from him in public, nor from any one of his Ministers, nor is there anything to be found in what they have written, that is tinctured in the smallest degree with that bitter hostility which the hon. and learned Gentleman has constantly exhibited to the United States of America and their people. France, if not wise in this matter, is at least not unfriendly. The hon. and learned Member, in my opinion—indeed I am sure—is not friendly, and I believe he is not wise.
But now, on this subject, without speaking disrespectfully of the great potentate who has taken the hon. and learned Gentleman into his confidence, I must say that the Emperor runs the risk of being far too much represented in this House. We have now two—I will not call them envoys extraordinary, but most extraordinary. And, if report speaks true, even they are not all. The hon. Member for King's County (Mr. Hennessy)—I do not see him in his place—came back the other day from Paris, and there were whispers that he had seen the great ruler of France, and that he could tell everybody in the most confidential manner that the Emperor was ready to make a spring at Russia for the sake of delivering Poland, and that he only waited for a word from the Prime Minister of England.
I do not understand the policy of the Emperor if these new Ministers of his tell the truth. For, Sir, if one Gentleman says that he is about to make war with Russia, and another that he is about to make war with America, I am disposed to look at what he is already doing. I find that he is holding Rome against the opinion of all Italy. He is conquering Mexico by painful steps, every footstep marked by devastation and blood. He is warring, in some desultory manner, in China, and for aught I know he may be about to do it in Japan. I say that, if he is to engage, at the same time, in dismembering the greatest Eastern Empire and the great Western Republic, he has a greater ambition than Louis XIV, a greater daring than the first of his name; and that, if he endeavours to grasp these great transactions, his dynasty may fall and be buried in the ruins of his own ambition.
I can say only one sentence upon the question to which the noble Lord has directed so much attention. I understand that we have not heard all the story from Paris, and further, that it is not at all remarkable, seeing that the secret has been confided to two persons, that we have not heard it correctly. I saw my hon. Friend, the Member for Sunderland, near me, and his face underwent remarkable contortions during the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman, and I felt perfectly satisfied that he did not agree with what his colleague was saying. I am told there is in existence a little memorandum which contains an account of what was said and done at that interview in Paris; and before the discussion closes we shall no doubt have that memorandum produced, and from it know how far these two gentlemen are agreed.
I now come to the proposition which the hon. and learned Gentleman has submitted to the House, and which he has already submitted to a meeting of his constituents at Sheffield. At that meeting, on the 27th of May, the hon. and learned Gentleman used these words: 'What I have to consider is, what are the interests of England: what is for her interests I believe to be for the interests of the world.' Now, leaving out of consideration the latter part of that statement, if the hon. and learned Gentleman will keep to the first part of it, then what we have now to consider in this question is, what is for the interest of England. But the hon. and learned Gentleman has put it to-night in almost as offensive a way as he did before at Sheffield, and has said that the United States would not bully the world if they were divided and subdivided; for he went so far as to contemplate division into more than two independent sections. I say that the whole of his ease rests upon a miserable jealousy of the United States, or on what I may term a base fear. It is a fear which appears to me just as groundless as any of those panics by which the hon. and learned Gentleman has attempted to frighten the country.
There never was a State in the world which was less capable of aggression with regard to Europe than the United States of America. I speak of its government, of its confederation, of the peculiarities of its organization; for the House will agree with me, that nothing is more peculiar than the fact of the great power which the separate States, both of the North and South, exercise upon the policy and course of the country. I will undertake to say, that, unless in a question of overwhelming magnitude, which would be able to unite any people, it would be utterly hopeless to expect that all the States of the American Union would join together to support the central Government in any plan of aggression on England or any other country of Europe.
Besides, nothing can be more certain than this, that the Government which is now in power, and the party which have elected Mr. Lincoln to office, is a moral and peaceable party, which has been above all things anxious to cultivate the best possible state of feeling with regard to England. The hon. and learned Gentleman, of all men, ought not to entertain this fear of United States aggression, for he is always boasting of his readiness to come into the field himself. I grant that it would be a great necessity indeed which would justify a conscription in calling out the hon. and learned Gentleman, but I say he ought to consider well before he spreads these alarms among the people. For the sake of this miserable jealousy, and that he may help to break up a friendly nation, he would depart from the usages of nations, and create an everlasting breach between the people of England and the people of the United States of America. He would do more; and, notwithstanding what he has said tonight, I may put this as my strongest argument against his case—he would throw the weight of England into the scale in favour of the cause of slavery.
I want to show the hon. and learned Gentleman that England is not interested in the course he proposes we should take; and when I speak of interests, I mean the commercial interests, the political interests, and the moral interests of the country. And first, with regard to the supply of cotton, in which the noble Lord the Member for Stamford takes such a prodigious interest. I must explain to the noble Lord that I know a little about cotton. I happen to have been engaged in that business,— not all my life, for the noble Lord has seen me here for twenty years,— but my interests have been in it; and at this moment the firm of which I am a member have no less than six mills, which have been at a stand for nearly a year, owing to the impossibility of working under the present conditions of the supply of cotton. I live among a people who live by this trade; and there is no man in England who has a more direct interest in it than I have. Before the war, the supply of cotton was little and costly, and every year it was becoming more costly, for the supply did not keep pace with the demand.
The point that I am about to argue is this: I believe that the war which is now raging in America is more likely to abolish slavery than not, and more likely to abolish it than any other thing that can be proposed in the world. I regret very much that the pride and passion of men are such as to justify me in making this statement. The supply of cotton under slavery must always be insecure. The House felt so in past years; for at my recommendation they appointed a committee, and but for the folly of a foolish Minister they would have appointed a special commission to India at my request. Is there any gentleman in this House who will not agree with me in this,—that it would be far better for our great Lancashire industry that our supply of cotton should be grown by free labour than by slave labour?
Before the war, the whole number of negroes engaged in the production of cotton was about one million,—that is, about a fourth of the whole of the negroes in the Slave States. The annual increase in the number of negroes growing cotton was about twenty-five thousand,—only two and a- half per cent. It was impossible for the Southern States to keep up their growth of sugar, rice, tobacco, and their ordinary slave productions, and at the same time to increase the growth of cotton more than at a rate corresponding with the annual increase of negroes. Therefore you will find that the quantity of cotton grown, taking ten years together, increased only at the rate of about one hundred thousand bales a-year. But that was nothing like the quantity which we required. That supply could not be increased, because the South did not cultivate more than probably one and a-half per cent of the land which was capable of cultivation for cotton.
The great bulk of the land in the Southern States is uncultivated. Ten thousand square miles are appropriated to the cultivation of cotton; but there are six hundred thousand square miles, or sixty times as much land, which is capable of being cultivated for cotton. It was, however, impossible that the land should be so cultivated, because, although you had climate and sun, you had no labour. The institution of slavery forbade free-labour men in the North to come to the South; and every emigrant that landed in New York from Europe knew that the Slave States were no States for him, and therefore he went North or West. The laws of the United States, the sentiments of Europe and of the world, being against any opening of the slave-trade, the planters of the South were shut up, and the annual increase in the supply of cotton could increase only in the same proportion as the annual increase in the number of their negroes.
There is only one other point with regard to that matter which is worth mentioning. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Sheffield will understand it, although on some points he seems to be peculiarly dark. If a planter in the Southern States wanted to grow one thousand bales of cotton a-year, he would require about two hundred negroes. Taking them at five hundred dollars, or one hundred pounds each, which is not more than half the price of a first-class hand, the cost of the two hundred would be twenty thousand pounds. To grow one thousand bales of cotton a- year you require not only to possess an estate, machinery, tools, and other things necessary to carry on the cotton-growing business, but you must find a capital of twenty thousand pounds to buy the actual labourers by whom the plantation is to be worked; and therefore, as every gentleman will see at once, this great trade, to a large extent, was shut up in the hands of men who were required to be richer than would be necessary if slavery did not exist.
Thus the plantation business to a large extent became a monopoly, and therefore even on that account the production of cotton was constantly limited and controlled. I was speaking to a gentleman the other day from Mississippi. I believe no man in America or in England is more acquainted with the facts of this case. He has been for many years a Senator from the State of Mississippi. He told me that every one of these facts were true, and said, 'I have no doubt whatever that in ten years after freedom in the South, or after freedom in conjunction with the North, the production of cotton will be doubled, and cotton will be forwarded to the consumers of the world at a much less price than we have had it for many years past.'
I shall turn for a moment to the political interest, to which the hon. and learned Gentleman paid much more attention than to the commercial. The more I consider the course of this war, the more I come to the conclusion that it is improbable in future that the United States will be broken into separate republics. I do not come to the conclusion that the North will conquer the South. But I think the conclusion to which I am more disposed to come now than at any time since the breaking out of the war is this,—that, if a separation should occur for a time, still the interest, the sympathies, the sentiments, the necessities of the whole continent, and its ambition also, which, as hon. Gentlemen have mentioned, seems to some people to be a necessity, render it highly probable that the continent would still be united under one central Government. I may be quite mistaken. I do not express that opinion with any more confidence than hon. Gentlemen have expressed theirs in favour of a permanent dissolution; but now is not this possible,—that the Union may be again formed on the basis of the South? There are persons who think that possible. I hope it is not, but we cannot say that it is absolutely impossible.
Is it not possible that the Northern Government may be baffled in their military operations? Is it not possible that, by their own incapacity, they may be humiliated before their own people? And is it not even possible that the party which you please to call the Peace party in the North, but which is in no sense a peace party, should unite with the South, and that the Union should be reconstituted on the basis of Southern opinions and of the Southern social system? Is it not possible, for example, that the Southern people, and those in their favour, should appeal to the Irish population of America against the negroes, between whom there has been little sympathy and little respect; and is it not possible they should appeal to the commercial classes of the North—and the rich commercial classes in all countries, who, from the uncertainty of their possessions and the fluctuation of their interests, are rendered always timid and very often corrupt—is it not possible, I say, that they might prefer the union of their whole country upon the basis of the South, rather than that union which many Members of this House look upon with so much apprehension?
If that should ever take place—but I believe, with my hon. Friend below me (Mr. Forster), in the moral government of the world, and therefore I cannot believe that it will take place; but if it were to take place, with their great armies, and with their great navy, and their almost unlimited power, they might seek to drive England out of Canada, France out of Mexico, and whatever nations are interested in them out of the islands of the West Indies; and you might then have a great State built upon slavery and war, instead of that free State to which I look, built up upon an educated people, upon general freedom, and upon morality in government.
Now there is one more point to which the hon. and learned Gentleman will forgive me if I allude—he does not appear to me to think it of great importance—and that is, the morality of this question. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the hon. Gentleman who spoke from the bench behind—and I think the noble Lord, if I am not mistaken—referred to the carnage which is occasioned by this lamentable strife. Well, carnage, I presume, is the accompaniment of all war. Two years ago the press of London ridiculed very much the battles of the United States, in which nobody was killed and few were hurt. There was a time when I stood up in this House, and pointed out the dreadful horrors of war. There was a war waged by this country in the Crimea; and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, with an uneasy conscience, is constantly striving to defend that struggle. That war—for it lasted about the same time that the American war has lasted—at least destroyed as many lives as are estimated to have been destroyed in the United States.
My hon. Friend the Member for Montrose, who, I think, is not in the House, made a speech in Scotland some time last year, in which he gave the numbers which were lost by Russia in that war. An hon. Friend near me observes, that some people do not reckon the Russians for anything. I say, if you will add the Russians to the English, and the two to the French, and the three to the Sardinians, and the four to the Turks, that more lives were lost in the invasion of the Crimea, in the two years that it lasted, than have been lost hitherto in the American war. That is no defence of the carnage of the American war; but let hon. Gentlemen bear in mind that, when I protested against the carnage in the Crimea— for an object which few could comprehend and nobody can fairly explain— I was told that I was actuated by a morbid sentimentality. Well, if I am converted, if I view the mortality in war with less horror than I did then, it must be attributed to the arguments of hon. Gentlemen opposite and on the Treasury bench; but the fact is, I view this carnage just as I viewed that, with only this difference, that while our soldiers perished three thousand miles from home in a worthless and indefensible cause, these men were on their own soil, and every man of them knew for what he enlisted and for what purpose he was to fight.
Now, I will ask the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and those who are of opinion with him on this question of slaughter in the American war—a slaughter which I hope there is no hon. Member here, and no person out of this House, that does not in his calm moments look upon with grief and horror—to consider what was the state of things before the war. It was this: that every year in the Slave States of America there were one hundred and fifty thousand children born into the world—born with the badge and the doom of slavery—born to the liability by law, and by custom, and by the devilish cupidity of man—to the lash and to the chain and to the branding-iron, and to be taken from their families and carried they know not where.
I want to know whether you feel as I feel upon this question. When I can get down to my home from this House, I find half a dozen little children playing upon my hearth. How many Members are there who can say with me, that the most innocent, the most pure, the most holy joy which in their past years they have felt, or in their future years they have hoped for, has not arisen from contact and association with our precious children? Well, then, if that be so—if, when the hand of Death takes one of those flowers from our dwelling, our heart is overwhelmed with sorrow and our household is covered with gloom; what would it be if our children were brought up to this infernal system—one hundred and fifty thousand of them every year brought into the world in these Slave States, amongst these 'gentlemen,' amongst this 'chivalry,' amongst these men that we can make our friends?
Do you forget the thousand-fold griefs and the countless agonies which belonged to the silent conflict of slavery before the war began? It is all very well for the hon. and learned Gentleman to tell me, to tell this House—he will not tell the country with any satisfaction to it— that slavery, after all, is not so bad a thing. The brother of my hon. Friend the Member for South Durham told me that in North Carolina he himself saw a woman whose every child, ten in number, had been sold when they grew up to the age at which they would fetch a price to their master.
I have not heard a word to-night of another matter—the Proclamation of the President of the United States. The hon. and learned Gentleman spoke somewhere in the country, and he had not the magnanimity to abstain from a statement which I was going to say he must have known had no real foundation. I can make all allowance for the passion—and I was going to say the malice—but I will say the ill-will of the hon. and learned Gentleman; but I make no allowance for his ignorance. I make no allowance for that, because if he is ignorant it is his own fault, for God has given him an intellect which ought to keep him from ignorance on a question of this magnitude. I now take that Proclamation. What do you propose to do? You propose by your resolution to help the South, if possible, to gain and sustain its independence. Nobody doubts that. The hon. and learned Gentleman will not deny it. But what becomes of the Proclamation? I should like to ask any lawyer in what light we stand as regards that Proclamation? To us there is only one country in what was called the United States; there is only one President, there is only one general Legislature, there is only one law; and if that Proclamation be lawful anywhere, we are not in a condition to deny its legality, because at present we know no President Davis, nor do we know the men who are about him. We have our Consuls in the South, but recognizing only one Legislature, one President, one law. So far as we are concerned, that Proclamation is a legal and effective document.
I want to know, to ask you, the House of Commons, whether you have turned back to your own proceedings in 1834, and traced the praises which have been lavished upon you for thirty years by the great and good men of other countries,—and whether, after what you did at that time, you believe that you will meet the views of the thoughtful, moral, and religious people of England, when you propose to remit to slavery three millions of negroes in the Southern States, who in our views, and regarding the Proclamation of the only President of the United States as a legal document, are certainly and to all intents and purposes free? ['Oh!'] The hon. and learned Gentleman may say 'Oh!' and shake his head lightly, and be scornful at this. He has managed to get rid of all those feelings under which all men, black and white, like to be free. He has talked of the cant and hypocrisy of these men. Was Wilberforce, was Clarkson, was Buxton,—I might run over the whole list,—were these men hypocrites, and had they nothing about them but cant?
I could state something about the family of my hon. Friend below me (Mr. Forster), which I almost fear to state in his presence; but his revered father—a man unsurpassed in character, not equalled by many in intellect, and approached by few in service—laid down his life in a Slave State in America, while carrying to the governors and legislatures of every Slave State the protest of himself and his sect against the enormity of that odious system.
In conclusion, Sir, I have only this to say,—that I wish to take a generous view of this question,—a view, I say, generous with regard to the people with whom we are in amity, whose Minister we receive here, and who receive our Minister in Washington. We see that the Government of the United States has for two years past been contending for its life, and we know that it is contending necessarily for human freedom. That Government affords the remarkable example—offered for the first time in the history of the world—of a great Government coming forward as the organized defender of law, freedom, and equality.
Surely hon. Gentlemen opposite cannot be so ill-informed as to say that the revolt of the Southern States is in favour of freedom and equality. In Europe often, and in some parts of America, when there has been insurrection, it has generally been of the suffering against the oppressor, and rarely has it been found, and not more commonly in our history than in the history of any other country, that the Government has stepped forward as the organized defender of freedom—of the wide and general freedom of those under its rule. With such a Government, in such a contest, with such a foe, the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Sheffield, who professes to be more an Englishman than most Englishmen, asks us to throw into the scale against it the weight of the hostility of England.
I have not said a word with regard to what may happen to England if we go into war with the United States. It will be a war upon the ocean,— every ship that belongs to the two nations will, as far as possible, be swept from the seas. But when the troubles in America are over,—be they ended by the restoration of the Union, or by separation,—that great and free people, the most instructed in the world,—there is not an American to be found in the New England States who cannot read and write, and there are not three men in one hundred in the whole Northern States who cannot read and write,—and those who cannot read and write are those who have recently come from Europe,—I say the most instructed people in the world, and the most wealthy,—if you take the distribution of wealth among the whole people,—will have a wound in their hearts by your act which a century may not heal; and the posterity of some of those who now hear my voice may look back with amazement, and I will say with lamentation, at the course which was taken by the hon. and learned Gentleman, and by such hon. Members as may choose to follow his leading. ['No! No!'] I suppose the hon. Gentlemen who cry 'No!' will admit that we sometimes suffer from the errors of our ancestors. There are few persons who will not admit that, if their fathers had been wiser, their children would have been happier.
We know the cause of this revolt, its purposes, and its aims. Those who made it have not left us in darkness respecting their intentions, but what they are to accomplish is still hidden from our sight; and I will abstain now, as I have always abstained with regard to it, from predicting what is to come. I know what I hope for,—and what I shall rejoice in,—but I know nothing of future facts that will enable me to express a confident opinion. Whether it will give freedom to the race which white men have trampled in the dust, and whether the issue will purify a nation steeped in crimes committed against that race, is known only to the Supreme. In His hands are alike the breath of man and the life of States. I am willing to commit to Him the issue of this dreaded contest; but I implore of Him, and I beseech this House, that my country may lift nor hand nor voice in aid of the most stupendous act of guilt that history has recorded in the annals of mankind.
* * * * *
LONDON, JUNE 29, 1867.
[The following speech was made at a public breakfast given to William Lloyd Garrison, in St. James's Hall, at which Mr. Bright occupied the Chair.]
The position in which I am placed this morning is one very unusual for me, and one that I find somewhat difficult; but I consider it a signal distinction to be permitted to take a prominent part in the proceedings of this day, which are intended to commemorate one of the greatest of the great triumphs of freedom, and to do honour to a most eminent instrument in the achievement of that freedom. There may be, perhaps, those who ask what is this triumph of which I speak. To put it briefly, and, indeed, only to put one part of it, I may say that it is a triumph which has had the effect of raising 4,000,000 of human beings from the very lowest depth of social and political degradation to that lofty height which men have attained when they possess equality of rights in the first country on the globe. More than this, it is a triumph which has pronounced the irreversible doom of slavery in all countries and for all time. Another question suggests itself—how has this great triumph been accomplished? The answer suggests itself in another question—How is it that any great thing is accomplished? By love of justice, by constant devotion to a great cause, and by an unfaltering faith that what is right will in the end succeed.
When I look at this hall, filled with such an assembly—when I partake of the sympathy which runs from heart to heart at this moment in welcome to our guest of to-day—I cannot but contrast his present position with that which, not so far back but that many of us can remember, he occupied in his own country. It is not forty years ago, I believe about the year 1829, when the guest whom we honour this morning was spending his solitary days in a prison in the slave-owning city of Baltimore. I will not say that he was languishing in prison, for that I do not believe; he was sustained by a hope that did not yield to the persecution of those who thus maltreated him; and to show that the effect of that imprisonment was of no avail to suppress or extinguish his ardour, within two years after that he had the courage, the audacity—I dare say many of his countrymen used even a stronger phrase than that—he had the courage to commence the publication, in the city of Boston, of a newspaper devoted mainly to the question of the abolition of slavery. The first number of that paper, issued on the 1st of January, 1831, contained an address to the public, one passage of which I have often read with the greatest interest, and it is a key to the future life of Mr. Garrison. He had been complained of for having used hard language—which is a very common complaint indeed—and he said in his first number:—
'I am aware that many object to the severity of my language, but is there not cause for such severity? I will be as harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice. I am in earnest, I will not equivocate, I will not excuse, I will not retract a single inch, and I will be heard.'
And that, after all, expresses to a great extent the future course of his life. But what was at that time the temper of the people amongst whom he lived—of the people who are glorying now, as they well may glory, in the abolition of slavery throughout their country? At that time it was very little better in the North than it was in the South. I think it was in the year 1835 that riots of the most serious character took place in some of the Northern cities: during that time Mr. Garrison's life was in imminent peril; and he has never ascertained to this day how it was that he was left alive on the earth to carry out his great work. Turning to the South, a State that has lately suffered from the ravages of armies, the State of Georgia, by its legislature of House, Senate, and Governor, if my memory does not deceive me, passed a bill, offering 10,000 dollars reward—[Mr. Garrison here said '5,000']— well, they seemed to think there were people who would do it cheap— offering 5,000 dollars, and zeal, doubtless, would make up the difference, for the capture of Mr. Garrison, or for adequate proof of his death. Now, these were menaces and perils such as we have not in our time been accustomed to in this country in any of our political movements, and we shall take a very poor measure indeed of the conduct of the leaders of the Emancipation party in the United States if we estimate them by that of any of those who have been concerned in political movements amongst us. But, notwithstanding all drawbacks, the cause was gathering strength, and Mr. Garrison found himself by-and-by surrounded by a small but increasing band of men and women who were devoted to this cause, as he himself was. We have in this country a very noble woman, who taught the English people much upon this question about thirty years ago: I allude to Harriet Martineau. I recollect well the impression with which I read a most powerful and touching paper which she had written, and which was published in the number of the Westminster Review for December, 1838. It was entitled 'The Martyr Age of the United States.' The paper introduced to the English public the great names which were appearing on the scene in connection with this cause in America. There was, of course I need hardly say, our eminent guest of to-day; there was Arthur Tappan, and Lewis Tappan, and James G. Birney of Alabama, a planter and slave-owner, who liberated his slaves and came North, and became, I believe, the first Presidential candidate upon Abolition principles in the United States. There were besides them, Dr. Channing, John Quincy Adams, a statesman and President of the United States, and father of the eminent man who is now Minister from that people amongst us. Then there was Wendell Phillips, admitted to be by all who know him perhaps the most powerful orator who speaks the English language. I might refer to others, to Charles Sumner, the scholar and statesman, and Horace Greeley, the first of journalists in the United States, if not the first of journalists in the world. But, besides these, there were of noble women not a few. There was Lydia Maria Child; there were the two sisters, Sarah and Angelina Grimke, ladies who came from South Carolina, who liberated their slaves, and devoted all they had to the service of this just cause; and Maria Weston Chapman, of whom Miss Martineau speaks in terms which, though I do not exactly recollect them, yet I know describe her as noble-minded, beautiful, and good. It may be that there are some of her family who are now within the sound of my voice. If it be so, all I have to say is, that I hope they will feel, in addition to all they have felt heretofore as to the character of their mother, that we who are here can appreciate her services, and the services of all who were united with her as co- operators in this great and worthy cause. But there was another whose name must not be forgotten, a man whose name must live for ever in history, Elijah P. Lovejoy, who in the free State of Illinois laid down his life for the cause. When I read that article by Harriet Martineau, and the description of those men and women there given, I was led, I know not how, to think of a very striking passage which I am sure must be familiar to most here, because it is to be found in the Epistle to the Hebrews. After the writer of that Epistle has described the great men and fathers of the nation, he says:—'Time would fail me to tell of Gideon, of Barak, of Samson, of Jephtha, of David, of Samuel, and the Prophets, who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.' I ask if this grand passage of the inspired writer may not be applied to that heroic band who have made America the perpetual home of freedom?
Thus, in spite of all that persecutions could do, opinion grew in the North in favour of freedom; but in the South, alas! in favour of that most devilish delusion that slavery was a Divine institution. The moment that idea took possession of the South, war was inevitable. Neither fact, nor argument, nor counsel, nor philosophy, nor religion, could by any possibility affect the discussion of the question when once the Church leaders of the South had taught their people that slavery was a Divine institution; for then they took their stand on other and different, and what they in their blindness thought higher grounds, and they said, 'Evil! be thou my good;' and so they exchanged light for darkness, and freedom for bondage, and good for evil, and, if you like, heaven for hell. Of course, unless there was some stupendous miracle, greater than any that is on record even in the inspired writings, it was impossible that war should not spring out of that state of things; and the political slaveholders, that 'dreadful brotherhood, in whom all turbulent passions were let loose,' the moment they found that the presidential election of 1860 was adverse to the cause of slavery, took up arms to sustain their cherished and endangered system. Then came the outbreak which had been so often foretold, so often menaced; and the ground reeled under the nation during four years of agony, until at last, after the smoke of the battle-field had cleared away, the horrid shape which had cast its shadow over a whole continent had vanished, and was gone for ever. An ancient and renowned poet has said—