Thoughts On The Necessity Of Improving The Condition Of The Slaves
by Thomas Clarkson
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A sixth class of slaves emancipated in bodies may comprehend those, who began to be liberated about eighteen months ago in the newly-erected State of Columbia. General Bolivar began the great work himself by enfranchising his own slaves, to the number of between seven and eight hundred. But he was not satisfied with this; for believing, as he did, that to hold persons in slavery at all, was not only morally wrong, but utterly inconsistent with the character of men fighting for their own liberty, he brought the subject before the Congress of Venezuela. The Congress there, after having duly considered it, drew up resolutions accordingly, which it recommended to the first general Congress of Columbia, when it should be assembled. This last congress, which met at the time expected, passed a decree for emancipation on the 19th of July 1821. All slaves, who had assisted, in a military capacity, in achieving the independence of the republic, were at once declared free. All the children of slaves, born after the said 19th of July, were to be free in succession as they attained the eighteenth year of their age. A fund was established at the same time by a general tax upon property, to pay the owners of such young slaves the expense of bringing them up to their eighteenth year, and for putting them afterwards to trades and useful professions; and the same fund was made applicable to the purchase of the freedom of adults in each district every year, during the three national festivals in December, as far as the district-funds would permit. Care, however, was to be taken to select those of the best character. It may be proper to observe, that emancipation, as above explained, has been proceeding regularly, from the 19th of July 1821, according to the terms of the decree, and also according to the ancient Spanish code, which still exists, and which is made to go hand in hand with it. They who attain their eighteenth year are not allowed to go at large after their liberation, but are put under the charge of special juntas for a useful education. The adults may have land, if they desire it, or they may go where they please. The State has lately purchased freedom for many of the latter, who had a liking to the army. Their freedom is secured to them whether they remain soldiers or are discharged. It is particularly agreeable to me to be able to say that all, who have been hitherto emancipated, have conducted themselves since that time with propriety. It appears by a letter from Columbia, dated 17th February 1822, about seven months after emancipation had commenced, addressed to James Stephen, Esq. of London, and since made public, "that the slaves were all then peaceably at work throughout the republic, as well as the newly enfranchised and those originally free." And it appears from the account of a gentleman of high consideration just arrived from Columbia, in London, that up to the time of his departure, they who had been emancipated "were steady and industrious, and that they had conducted themselves well without a single exception." But as this is an experiment which it will yet take sixteen years to complete, it can only be called to our aid, as far as the result of it is known. It is, however, an experiment to which, as far as it has been made, we may appeal with satisfaction: for when we consider that eighteen months have elapsed, and that many[13] thousands have been freed since the passing of the decree and the date of the last accounts from Columbia, the decree cannot but be considered to have had a sufficient trial.

The seventh class may comprehend the slaves of the Honourable Joshua Steele, whose emancipation was attempted in Barbadoes between the years 1783 and 1790.

It appears that Mr. Steele lived several years in London. He was Vice-president of the London Society of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce, and a person of talent and erudition. He was the proprietor of three estates in Barbadoes. His agent there used to send him accounts annually of his concerns; but these were latterly so ruinous, not only in a pecuniary point of view, but as they related to what Mr. Steele called the destruction of his Negroes, that he resolved, though then at the advanced age of eighty, to go there, and to look into his affairs himself. Accordingly he embarked, and arrived there early in the year 1780.

Mr. Steele had not been long in Barbadoes, before he saw enough to convince him that there was something radically wrong in the management of the slaves there, and he was anxious to try, as well for the sake of humanity as of his own interest, to effect a change in it. But how was he to accomplish this[14]? "He considered within himself how difficult it would be, nay, impossible, for a single proprietor to attempt so great a novelty as to bring about an alteration of manners and customs protected by iniquitous laws, and to which the gentlemen of the country were reconciled as to the best possible for amending the indocile and intractable ignorance of Negro slaves." It struck him however, among the expedients which occurred, that he might be able to form a Society, similar to the one in London, for the purpose of improving the arts, manufactures, and commerce of Barbadoes; and if so, he "indulged a hope that by means of it conferences might be introduced on patriotic subjects, in the course of which new ideas and new opinions might soften the national bigotry, so far as to admit some discourses on the possibility of amendment in the mode of governing slaves." Following up this idea, he brought it at length to bear. A Society was formed, in consequence, of gentlemen of the island in 1781. The subjects under its discussion became popular. It printed its first minutes in 1782, which were very favourably received, and it seemed to bid fair after this to answer the benevolent views of its founder.

During this time, a space of two years, Mr. Steele had been gaining a practical knowledge of the West Indian husbandry, and also a practical knowledge of the temper, disposition, habits, and customs of the slaves. He had also read much and thought much. It may be inferred from his writings, that three questions especially had employed his mind. 1. Whether he could not do away all arbitrary punishments and yet keep up discipline among the slaves? 2. Whether he could not carry on the plantation-work through the stimulus of reward? 3. Whether he could not change slavery into a condition of a milder name and character, so that the slaves should be led by degrees to the threshold of liberty, from whence they might step next, without hazard, into the rank of free men, if circumstances should permit and encourage such a procedure. Mr. Steele thought, after mature consideration, that he could accomplish all these objects, and he resolved to make the experiments gradually upon his own estates.

At the end of the year 1783 he put the first of these questions to trial. "I took," says he, "the whips and all power of arbitrary punishment from all the overseers and their white servants, which occasioned my chief overseer to resign, and I soon dismissed all his deputies, who could not bear the loss of their whips; but at the same time, that a proper subordination and obedience to lawful orders and duty should be preserved, I created a magistracy out of the Negroes themselves, and appointed a court or jury of the elder Negroes or head-men for trial and punishment of all casual offences, (and these courts were always to be held in my presence, or in that of my new superintendant,) which court very soon grew respectable. Seven of these men being of the rank of drivers in their different departments, were also constituted rulers, as magistrates over all the gang, and were charged to see at all times that nothing should go wrong in the plantations; but that on all necessary occasions they should assemble and consult together how any such wrong should be immediately rectified; and I made it known to all the gangs, that the authority of these rulers should supply the absence or vacancy of an overseer in all cases; they making daily or occasional reports of all occurrences to the proprietor or his delegate for his approbation or his orders."

It appears that Mr. Steele was satisfied with this his first step, and he took no other for some time. At length, in about another year, he ventured upon the second. He "tried whether he could not obtain the labour of his Negroes by voluntary means instead of the old method by violence." On a certain day he offered a pecuniary reward for holing canes, which is the most laborious operation in West Indian husbandry. "He offered two-pence half-penny (currency), or about three-halfpence (sterling), per day, with the usual allowance to holers of a dram with molasses, to any twenty-five of his Negroes, both men and women, who would undertake to hole for canes an acre per day, at about 96-1/2 holes for each Negro to the acre. The whole gang were ready to undertake it; but only fifty of the volunteers were accepted, and many among them were those who on much lighter occasions had usually pleaded infirmity and inability: but the ground having been moist, they holed twelve acres within six days with great ease, having had an hour, more or less, every evening to spare, and the like experiment was repeated with the like success. More experiments with such premiums on weeding and deep hoeing were made by task-work per acre, and all succeeded in like manner, their premiums being all punctually paid them in proportion to their performance. But afterwards some of the same people being put without premium to weed on a loose cultivated soil in the common manner, eighteen Negroes did not do as much in a given time as six had performed of the like sort of work a few days before with the premium of two-pence half-penny." The next year Mr. Steele made similar experiments. Success attended him again; and from this time task-work, or the voluntary system, became the general practice of the estate. Mr. Steele did not proceed to put the third question to trial till the year 1789. The Society of Arts, which he had instituted in 1781, had greatly disappointed him. Some of the members, looking back to the discussions which had taken place on the subject of Slavery, began to think that they had gone too far as slaveholders in their admissions. They began to insinuate, "that they had been taken in, under the specious appearance of promoting the arts, manufactures, and commerce of Barbadoes, to promote dangerous designs against its established laws and customs." Discussions therefore of this sort became too unpopular to be continued. It was therefore not till Mr. Steele found, that he had no hope of assistance from this Society, and that he was obliged to depend solely upon himself, that he put in force the remainder of his general plan. He had already (in 1783), as we stated some time ago, abolished arbitrary punishment and instituted a Negro-magistracy; and since that time (in 1785) he had adopted the system of working by the piece. But the remaining part of his plan went the length of altering the condition of the slaves themselves; and it is of this alteration, a most important one (in 1789), that I am now to speak.

Mr. Steele took the hint for the particular mode of improving the condition of his slaves, which I am going to describe, from the practice of our Anglo-Saxon ancestors in the days of Villainage, which, he says, was "the most wise and excellent mode of civilizing savage slaves." There were in those days three classes of villains. The first or lowest consisted of villains in gross, who were alienable at pleasure. The second of villains regardent, who were adscripti glebae, or attached as freehold property to the soil. And the third or last of copyhold bondmen, who had tenements of land, for which they were bound to pay in services. The villains first mentioned, or those of the lowest class, had all these gradations to pass through, from the first into the second, and from the second into the third, before they could become free men. This was the model, from which Mr. Steele resolved to borrow, when he formed his plan for changing the condition of his slaves. Me did not, however, adopt it throughout, but he chose out of it what he thought would be most suitable to his purpose, and left the rest. We may now see what the plan was, when put together, from the following account.

In the year 1789 he erected his plantations into manors. It appears that the Governor of Barbadoes had the power by charter, with the consent of the majority of the council, of dividing the island into manors, lordships, and precincts, and of making freeholders; and though this had not yet been done, Mr. Steele hoped, as a member of council, to have influence sufficient to get his own practice legalized in time. Presuming upon this, he registered in the manor-book all his adult male slaves as copyholders. He then gave to these separate tenements of lands, which they were to occupy, and upon which they were to raise whatever they might think most advantageous to their support. These tenements consisted of half an acre of plantable and productive land to each adult, a quantity supposed to be sufficient with industry to furnish him and his family with provision and clothing. The tenements were made descendible to the heirs of the occupiers or copyholders, that is, to their children on the plantations; for no part of the succession was to go out of the plantations to the issue of any foreign wife, and, in case of no such heir, they were to fall in to the lord to be re-granted according to his discretion. It was also inscribed that any one of the copyholders, who would not perform his services to the manor (the refractory and others), was to forfeit his tenement and his privileged rank, and to go back to villain in gross and to be subject to corporal punishment as before. "Thus," says Mr. Steele, "we run no risk whatever in making the experiment by giving such copyhold-tenements to all our well-deserving Negroes, and to all in general, when they appear to be worthy of that favour."

Matters having been adjusted so far, Mr. Steele introduced the practice of rent and wages. He put an annual rent upon each tenement, which he valued at so many days' labour. He set a rent also upon personal service, as due by the copyholder to his master in his former quality of slave, seeing that his master or predecessor had purchased a property in him, and this be valued in the same manner. He then added the two rents together, making so many days' work altogether, and estimated them in the current money of the time. Having done this, he fixed a daily wages or pay to be received by the copyholders for the work which they were to do. They were to work 260 days in the year for him, and to have 48 besides Sundays for themselves. He reduced these days' work also to current money. These wages he fixed at such a rate, that "they should be more than equivalent to the rent of their copyholds and the rent of their personal services when put together, in order to hold out to them an evident and profitable incentive to their industry." It appears that the rent of the tenement, half an acre, was fixed at the rate of 9 l. currency, or between forty and fifty shillings sterling per acre, and the wages for a man belonging to the first gang at 7-1/2d. currency or 6d. sterling per day. As to the rent for the personal services, it is not mentioned.

With respect to labour and things connected with it, Mr. Steele entered the following among the local laws in the court-roll of the tenants and tenements. The copyholders were not to work for other masters without the leave of the lord. They were to work ten hours per day. If they worked over and above that time, they were to be paid for every hour a tenth part of their daily wages, and they were also to forfeit a tenth for every hour they were absent or deficient in the work of the day. All sorts of work, however, were to be reduced, as far as it could be done by observation and estimation, to equitable task-work. Hoes were to be furnished to the copyholders in the first instance; but they were to renew them, when worn out, at their own expense. The other tools were to be lent them, but to be returned to the storekeeper at night, or to be paid for in default of so doing. Mr. Steele was to continue the hospital and medical attendance at his own expense as before.

Mr. Steele, having now rent to receive and wages to pay, was obliged to settle a new mode of accounting between the plantation and the labourers. "He brought, therefore, all the minor crops of the plantation, such as corn, grain of all sorts, yams, eddoes, besides rum and molasses, into a regular cash account by weight and measure, which he charged to the copyhold-storekeeper at market prices of the current time, and the storekeeper paid them at the same prices to such of the copyholders as called for them in part of wages, in whose option it was to take either cash or goods, according to their earnings, to answer all their wants. Rice, salt, salt fish, barrelled pork, Cork butter, flour, bread, biscuit, candles, tobacco and pipes, and all species of clothing, were provided and furnished from the store at the lowest market prices. An account of what was paid for daily subsistence, and of what stood in their arrears to answer the rents of their lands, the fines and forfeitures for delinquencies, their head-levy and all other casual demands, was accurately kept in columns with great simplicity, and in books, which checked each other."

Such was the plan of Mr. Steele, and I have the pleasure of being able to announce, that the result of it was highly satisfactory to himself. In the year 1788, when only the first and second part of it had been reduced to practice, he spoke of it thus:—"A plantation," says he, "of between seven and eight hundred acres has been governed by fixed laws and a Negro-court for about five years with great success. In this plantation no overseer or white servant is allowed to lift his hand against a Negro, nor can he arbitrarily order a punishment. Fixed laws and a court or jury of their peers keep all in order without the ill effect of sudden and intemperate passions." And in the year 1790, about a year after the last part of his plan had been put to trial, he says in a letter to Dr. Dickson, "My copyholders have succeeded beyond my expectation." This was his last letter to that gentleman, for he died in the beginning of the next year. Mr. Steele went over to Barbadoes, as I have said before, in the year 1780, and he was then in the eightieth year of his age. He began his humane and glorious work in 1783, and he finished it in 1789. It took him, therefore, six years to bring his Negroes to the state of vassalage described, or to that state from whence he was sure that they might be transferred without danger in no distant time, to the rank of freemen, if it should be thought desirable. He lived one year afterwards to witness the success of his labours. He had accomplished, therefore, all he wished, and he died in the year 1791, in the ninety-first year of his age.

It may be proper now, and indeed useful to the cause which I advocate, to stop for a moment, just to observe the similarity of sentiment of two great men, quite unknown to each other; one of whom (Mr. Steele) was concerned in preparing Negro-slaves for freedom, and the other (Toussaint) in devising the best mode of managing them after they had been suddenly made free.

It appears, first, that they were both agreed in this point, viz. that the first step to be taken in either case, was the total abolition of arbitrary punishment.

It appears, secondly, that they were nevertheless both agreed again as to the necessity of punishing delinquents, but that they adopted different ways of bringing them to justice. Toussaint referred them to magistrates, but Mr. Steele to a Negro-court. I should prefer the latter expedient; first, because a Negro-court may be always at hand, whereas magistrates may live at a distance from the plantations, and not be always at home. Secondly, because the holding of a Negro-court would give consequence to those Negroes who should compose it, not only in their own eyes but in the eyes of others; and every thing, that might elevate the Black character, would be useful to those who were on the road to emancipation; and, lastly, because there must be some thing satisfactory and consoling to the accused to be tried by their peers.

It appears, thirdly, that both of them were agreed again in the principle of making the Negroes, in either case, adscripti glebae; or attached to the soil, though they might differ as to the length of time of such ascription.

And it appears, lastly, that they were agreed in another, and this the only remaining point, viz. on the necessity of holding out a stimulus to either, so as to excite in them a very superior spirit of industry to any they had known before. They resorted, however to different means to effect this. Toussaint gave the labourers one fourth of the produce of the land; deducting board and clothing. Mr. Steele, on the other hand, gave them daily wages. I do not know which to prefer; but the plan of Mr. Steele is most consonant to the English practice.

But to return. It is possible that some objector may rise up here as before, and say that even the case, which I have now detailed, is not, strictly speaking, analogous to that which we have in contemplation, and may argue thus:—"The case of Mr. Steele is not a complete precedent, because his slaves were never fully emancipated. He had brought them only to the threshold of liberty, but no further. They were only copyholders, but not free men." To this I reply, first, That Mr. Steele accomplished all that he ever aimed at. I have his own words for saying, that so long as the present iniquitous slave-laws, and the distinction of colour, should exist, it would be imprudent to go further. I reply again, That the partisans of emancipation would be happy indeed, if they could see the day when our West Indian slaves should arrive at the rank and condition of the copyholders of Mr. Steele. They wish for no other freedom than that which is compatible with the joint interest of the master and the slave. At the same time they must maintain, that the copyholders of Mr. Steele had been brought so near to the condition of free men, that a removal from one into the other, after a certain time, seemed more like a thing of course than a matter to be attended either with difficulty or danger: for unquestionably their moral character must have been improved. If they had ceased for seven years to feel themselves degraded by arbitrary punishment, they must have acquired some little independence of mind. If they had been paid for their labour, they must have acquired something like a spirit of industry. If they had been made to pay rent for their cottage and land, and to maintain themselves, they must have been made to look beforehand, to think for themselves and families from day to day, and to provide against the future, all which operations of the mind are the characteristics only of free men. The case, therefore, of Mr. Steele is most important and precious: for it shows us, first, that the emancipation, which we seek, is a thing which may be effected. The plan of Mr. Steele was put in force in a British Island, and that, which was done in one British Island, may under similar circumstances be done again in the same, as well as in another. It shows us, again, how this emancipation may be brought about. The process is so clearly detailed, that any one may follow it. It is also a case for encouragement, inasmuch as it was attended with success.

I have now considered no less than six cases of slaves emancipated in bodies, and a seventh of slaves, who were led up to the very threshold of freedom, comprehending altogether not less than between five and six hundred thousand persons; and I have considered also all the objections that could be reasonably advanced against them. The result is a belief on my part, that emancipation is not only practicable, but that it is practicable without danger. The slaves, whose cases I have been considering, were resident in different parts of the world. There must have been, amongst such a vast number, persons of all characters. Some were liberated, who had been accustomed to the use of arms. Others at a time when the land in which they sojourned was afflicted with civil and foreign wars; others again suddenly, and with all the vicious habits of slavery upon them. And yet, under all these disadvantageous circumstances, I find them all, without exception, yielding themselves to the will of their superiors, so as to be brought by them with as much ease and certainty into the form intended for them, as clay in the hands of the potter is fashioned to his own model. But, if this be so, I think I should be chargeable with a want of common sense, were I to doubt for a moment, that emancipation was not practicable; and I am not sure that I should not be exposed to the same charge, were I to doubt, that emancipation was practicable without danger. For I have not been able to discover (and it is most remarkable) a single failure in any of the cases which have been produced. I have not been able to discover throughout this vast mass of emancipated persons a single instance of bad behaviour on their parts, not even of a refusal to work, or of disobedience to orders. Much less have I seen frightful commotions, or massacres, or a return of evil for evil, or revenge for past injuries, even when they had it amply in their power. In fact, the Negro character is malleable at the European will. There is, as I have observed before, a singular pliability in the constitutional temper of the Negroes, and they have besides a quick sense of their own interest, which influences their conduct. I am convinced, that West India masters can do what they will with their slaves; and that they may lead them through any changes they please, and with perfect safety to themselves, if they will only make them (the slaves) understand that they are to be benefited thereby.

Having now established, I hope, two of my points, first, that emancipation is practicable, and, secondly, that it is practicable without danger, I proceed to show the probability that it would be attended with profit to those planters who should be permitted to adopt it. I return, therefore, to the case of Mr. Steele. I give him the prior hearing on this new occasion, because I am sure that my readers will be anxious to learn something more about him; or to know what became of his plans, or how far such humane endeavours were attended with success. I shall begin by quoting the following expressions of Mr. Steele. "I have employed and amused myself," says he, "by introducing an entire new mode of governing my own slaves, for their happiness, and also for my own profit." It appears, then, that Mr. Steele's new method of management was profitable. Let us now try to make out from his own account, of what these profits consisted.

Mr. Steele informs us, that his superintendant had obliged him to hire all his holing at 3 l. currency, or 2 l. 2s. 10d. sterling per acre. He was very much displeased at these repeated charges; and then it was, that he put his second question to trial, as I have before related, viz. whether he could not obtain the labour of his Negroes by voluntary means, instead of by the old method by violence. He made, therefore, an attempt to introduce task-work, or labour with an expected premium for extraordinary efforts, upon his estates. He gave his Negroes therefore a small pecuniary reward over and above the usual allowances, and the consequence was, as he himself says, that "the poorest, feeblest, and by character the most indolent Negroes of the whole gang, cheerfully performed the holing of his land, generally said to be the most laborious work, for less than a fourth part of the stated price paid to the undertakers for holing." This experiment I have detailed in another place. After this he continued the practice of task-work or premium. He describes the operation of such a system upon the minds of his Negroes in the following words: "According to the vulgar mode of governing Negro-slaves, they feel only the desponding fear of punishment for doing less than they ought, without being sensible that the settled allowance of food and clothing is given, and should be accepted, as a reward for doing well, while in task-work the expectation of winning the reward, and the fear of losing it, have a double operation to exert their endeavours." Mr. Steele was also benefited again in another point of view by the new practice which he had introduced. "He was clearly convinced, that saving time, by doing in one day as much as would otherwise require three days, was worth more than double the premium, the timely effects on vegetation being critical." He found also to his satisfaction, that "during all the operations under the premium there were no disorders, no crowding to the sick-house, as before."

I have now to make my remarks upon this account. It shows us clearly how Mr. Steele made a part of his profits. These profits consisted first of a saving of expense in his husbandry, which saving was not made by others. He had his land holed at one-fourth of the usual rate. Let us apply this to all the other operations of husbandry, such as weeding, deep hoeing, &c. in a large farm of nearly eight hundred acres, like his, and we shall see how considerable the savings would be in one year. His Negroes again did not counterfeit sickness as before, in order to be excused from labour, but rather wished to labour in order to obtain the reward. There was therefore no crowding to the hospitals. This constituted a second source of saving; for they who were in the hospitals were maintained by Mr. Steele without earning any thing, while they who were working in the field left to their master in their work, when they went home at night, a value equal at least to that which they had received from him for their day's labour. But there was another saving of equal importance, which Mr. Steele calls a saving of time, but which he might with more propriety have called a saving of season. This saving of season, he says, was worth more than double the premium; and so it might easily have been. There are soils, every farmer knows, which are so constituted, that if you miss your day, you miss your season; and, if you miss your season, you lose probably half your crop. The saving, therefore, of the season, by having a whole crop instead of half an one, was a third source of saving of money. Now let us put all these savings together, and they will constitute a great saving or profit; for as these savings were made by Mr. Steele in consequence of his new plan, and were therefore not made by others, they constituted an extraordinary profit to him; or they added to the profit, whatever it might have been, which he used to receive from the estate before his new plan was put in execution.

But I discover other ways in which Mr. Steele was benefited, as I advance in the perusal of his writings. It was impossible to overlook the following passage: "Now," says he (alluding to his new system), "every species of provisions raised on the plantations, or bought from the merchants, is charged at the market-price to the copyhold-store, and discharged by what has been paid on the several accounts of every individual bond-slave; whereas for all those species heretofore, I never saw in any plantation-book of my estates any account of what became of them, or how they were disposed of, nor of their value, other than in these concise words, they were given in allowance to the Negroes and stock. Every year, for six years past, this great plantation has bought several hundred bushels of corn, and was scanty in all ground-provisions, our produce always falling short. This year, 1790, since the establishment of copyholders, though several less acres were planted last year in Guinea corn than usual, yet we have been able to sell several hundred bushels at a high price, and we have still a great stock in hand. I can place this saving to no other account, than that there is now an exact account kept by all produce being paid as cash to the bond-slaves; and also as all our watchmen are obliged to pay for all losses that happen on their watch, they have found it their interest to look well to their charge; and consequently that we have had much less stolen from us than before this new government took place."

Here then we have seen another considerable source of saving to Mr. Steele, viz. that he was not obliged to purchase any corn for his slaves as formerly. My readers will be able to judge better of this saving, when I inform them of what has been the wretched policy of many of our planters in this department of their concerns. Look over their farming memoranda, and you will see sugar, sugar, sugar, in every page; but you may turn over leaf after leaf, before you will find the words provision ground for their slaves. By means of this wretched policy, slaves have often suffered most grievously. Some of them have been half-starved. Starvation, too, has brought on disorders which have ultimately terminated in their death. Hence their masters have suffered losses, besides the expense incurred in buying what they ought to have raised upon their own estates, and this perhaps at a dear market: and in this wretched predicament Mr. Steele appears to have been himself when he first went to the estate. His slaves, he tells us, had been reduced in number by bad management. Even for six years afterwards he had been obliged to buy several hundred bushels of corn; but in the year 1790 he had sold several hundred bushels at a high price, and had still a great stock on hand. And to what was all this owing? Not to an exact account kept at the store (for some may have so misunderstood Mr. Steele); for how could an exact account kept there, have occasioned an increase in the produce of the earth? but, as Mr. Steele himself says, to the establishment of his copyholders, or to the alteration of the condition of his slaves. His slaves did not only three times more work than before, in consequence of the superior industry he had excited among them, but, by so doing, they were enabled to put the corn into the earth three times more quickly than before, or they were so much forwarder in their other work, that they were enabled to sow it at the critical moment, or so as to save the season, and thus secure a full crop, or a larger crop on a less number of acres, than was before raised upon a greater. The copyholders, therefore, were the persons who increased the produce of the earth; but the exact account kept at the store prevented the produce from being misapplied as formerly. It could no longer be put down in the general expression of "given in allowances to the Negroes and the stock;" but it was put down to the copyholder, and to him only, who received it. Thus Mr. Steele saved the purchase of a great part of the provisions for his slaves. He had formerly a great deal to buy for them, but now nothing. On the other hand, he had to sell; but, as his slaves were made, according to the new system, to maintain themselves, he had now the whole produce of his estate to dispose of. The circumstance therefore of having nothing to buy, but every thing to sell, constituted another source of his profits.

What the other particular profits of Mr. Steele were I can no where find, neither can I find what were his particular expenses; so as to be enabled to strike the balance in his favour. Happily, however, Mr. Steele has done this for us himself, though he has not furnished us with the items on either side.—He says that "from the year 1773 to 1779 (he arrived in Barbadoes in 1780), his stock had been so much reduced by ill management and wasteful economy, that the annual average neat clearance was little more than one and a quarter per cent. on the purchase. In a second period of four years, in consequence of the exertion of an honest and able manager, (though with a further reduction of the stock, and including the loss from the great hurricane,) the annual average income was brought to clear a little above two per cent.; but in a third period of three years from 1784 to 1786 inclusive, since the new mode of governing the Negroes, (besides increasing the stock, and laying out large sums annually in adding necessary works, and in repairs of the damages by the great hurricane,) the estate has cleared very nearly four and a quarter per cent.; that is, its annual average clearance in each of these three periods, was in this proportion; for every 100 l. annually cleared in the first period the annual average clearance in the second period was 158 l. 10s., and in the third period was 345 l. 6s. 8d." This is the statement given by Mr. Steele, and a most important one it is; for if we compare what the estate had cleared in the first, with what it had cleared in the last of these periods, and have recourse to figures, we shall find that Mr. Steele had more than tripled the income of it, in consequence of his new management, during his residence in Barbadoes. And this is in fact what he says himself in words at full length, in his answer to the 17th question proposed to him by the committee of the Privy-council on the affairs of the slave trade. "In a plantation," says he, "of 200 slaves in June 1780, consisting of 90 men, 82 women, 56 boys, and 60 girls, though under the exertions of an able and honest manager, there were only 15 births, and no less than 57 deaths, in three years and three months. An alteration was made in the mode of governing the slaves. The whips were taken from all the white servants. All arbitrary punishments were abolished, and all offences were tried and sentence passed by a Negro court. In four years and three months after this change of government, there were 44 births, and only 41 deaths, of which ten deaths were of superannuated men and women, some above 80 years old. But in the same interval the annual neat clearance of the estate was above three times more than it had been for ten years before!!!"

Dr. Dickson, the editor of Mr. Steele, mentions these profits also, and in the same terms, and connects them with an eulogium on Mr. Steele, which is worthy of our attention. "Mr. Steele," says he, "saw that the Negroes, like all other human beings, were to be stimulated to permanent exertion only by a sense of their own interests in providing for their own wants and those of their offspring. He therefore tried rewards, which immediately roused the most indolent to exertion. His experiments ended in regular wages, which the industry he had excited among his whole gang enabled him to pay. Here was a natural, efficient, and profitable reciprocity of interests. His people became contented; his mind was freed from that perpetual vexation and that load of anxiety, which are inseparable from the vulgar system, and in little more than four years the annual neat clearance of his property was more than tripled." Again, in another part of the work, "Mr. Steele's plan may no doubt receive some improvements, which his great age obliged him to decline"—"but it is perfect, as far as it goes. To advance above 300 field-negroes, who had never before moved without the whip, to a state nearly resembling that of contented, honest and industrious servants, and, after paying for their labour, to triple in a few years the annual neat clearance of the estate,—these, I say, were great achievements for an aged man in an untried field of improvement, pre-occupied by inveterate vulgar prejudice. He has indeed accomplished all that was really doubtful or difficult in the undertaking, and perhaps all that is at present desirable either for owner or slave; for he has ascertained as a fact, what was before only known to the learned as a theory, and to practical men as a paradox, that the paying of slaves for their labour does actually produce a very great profit to their owners."

I have now proved (as far as the plan[15] of Mr. Steele is concerned) my third proposition, or the probability that emancipation would promote the interests of those who should adopt it; but as I know of no other estate similarly circumstanced with that of Mr. Steele, that is, where emancipation has been tried, and where a detailed result of it has been made known, I cannot confirm it by other similar examples. I must have recourse therefore to some new species of proof. Now it is an old maxim, as old as the days of Pliny and Columella, and confirmed by Dr. Adam Smith, and all the modern writers on political economy, that the labour of free men is cheaper than the labour of slaves. If therefore I should be able to show that this maxim would be true, if applied to all the operations and demands of West Indian agriculture, I should be able to establish my proposition on a new ground: for it requires no great acuteness to infer, that, if it be cheaper to employ free men than slaves in the cultivation of our islands, emancipation would be a profitable undertaking there.

I shall show, then, that the old maxim just mentioned is true, when applied to the case in our own islands, first, by establishing the fact, that free men, people of colour, in the East Indies, are employed in precisely the same concerns (the cultivation of the cane and the making of sugar) as the slaves in the West, and that they are employed at a cheaper rate. The testimony of Henry Botham, Esq. will be quite sufficient for this point. That gentleman resided for some time in the East Indies, where he became acquainted with the business of a sugar estate. In the year 1770 he quitted the East for the West. His object was to settle in the latter part of the world, if it should be found desirable so to do. For this purpose he visited all the West Indian islands, both English and French, in about two years. He became during this time a planter, though he did not continue long in this situation; and he superintended also Messrs. Bosanquets' and J. Fatio's sugar-plantation in their partners' absence. Finding at length the unprofitable way in which the West Indian planters conducted their concerns, he returned to the East Indies in 1776, and established sugar-works at Bencoolen on his own account. Being in London in the year 1789, when a committee of privy council was sitting to examine into the question of the slave trade, he delivered a paper to the board on the mode of cultivating a sugar plantation in the East Indies; and this paper being thought of great importance, he was summoned afterwards in 1791 by a committee of the House of Commons to be examined personally upon it.

It is very remarkable that the very first sentence in this paper announced the fact at once, that "sugar, better and cheaper than that in the West Indian islands, was produced by free men."

Mr. Botham then explained the simple process of making sugar in the East. "A proprietor, generally a Dutchman, used to let his estate, say 300 acres or more, with proper buildings upon it, to a Chinese, who lived upon it and superintended it, and who re-let it to free men in parcels of 50 or 60 acres on condition that they should plant it in canes for so much for every pecul, 133 lbs., of sugar produced. This superintendant hired people from the adjacent villages to take off his crop. One lot of task-men with their carts and buffaloes cut the canes, carried them to the mill, and ground them. A second set boiled them, and a third clayed and basketed them for market at so much per pecul. Thus the renter knew with certainty what every pecul would cost him, and he incurred no unnecessary expense; for, when the crop was over, the task-men returned home. By dividing the labour in this manner, it was better and cheaper done."

Mr. Botham detailed next the improved method of making sugar in Batavia, which we have not room to insert here. We may just state, however, that the persons concerned in it never made spirits on the sugar estates. The molasses and skimmings were sent for, sale to Batavia, where one distillery might buy the produce of a hundred estates. Here, again, was a vast saving, says Mr. Botham, "there was not, as in the West Indies, a distillery for each estate."

He then proceeded to make a comparison between the agricultural system of the two countries. "The cane was cultivated to the utmost perfection in Batavia, whereas the culture of it in the West Indies was but in its infancy. The hoe was scarcely used in the East, whereas it was almost the sole implement in the West. The plough was used instead of it in the East, as far as it could be done. Young canes there were kept also often ploughed as a weeding, and the hoe was kept to weed round the plant when very young; but of this there was little need, if the land had been sufficiently ploughed. When the cane was ready to be earthed up, it was done by a sort of shovel made for the purpose. Two persons with this instrument would earth up more canes in a day than ten Negroes with hoes. The cane-roots were also ploughed up in the East, whereas they were dug up with the severest exertion in the West. Many alterations," says Mr. Botham, "are to be made, and expenses and human labour lessened in the West. Having experienced the difference of labourers for profit and labourers from force, I can assert, that the savings by the former are very considerable."

He then pointed out other defects in the West Indian management, and their remedies. "I am of opinion," says he, "that the West Indian planter should for his own interest give more labour to beast and less to man. A larger portion of his estate ought to be in pasture. When practicable, canes should be carried to the mill, and cane tops and grass to the stock, in waggons. The custom of making a hard-worked Negro get a bundle of grass twice a day should be abolished, and in short a total change take place in the miserable management in our West Indian Islands. By these means following as near as possible the East Indian mode, and consolidating the distilleries, I do suppose our sugar-islands might be better worked than they now are by two-thirds or indeed one-half of the present force. Let it be considered how much labour is lost by the persons overseeing the forced labourer, which is saved when he works for his own profit. I have stated with the strictest veracity a plain matter of fact, that sugar estates can be worked cheaper by free men than by slaves[16]."

I shall now show, that the old maxim, which has been mentioned, is true, when applied to the case of our West Indian islands, by establishing a fact of a very different kind, viz. that the slaves in the West Indies do much more work in a given time when they work for themselves, than when they work for their masters. But how, it will be said, do you prove, by establishing this fact, that it would be cheaper for our planters to employ free men than slaves? I answer thus: I maintain that, while the slaves are working for themselves, they are to be considered, indeed that they are, bona fide, free labourers. In the first place, they never have a driver with them on any of these occasions; and, in the second place, having all their earnings to themselves, they have that stimulus within them to excite industry, which is only known to free men. What is it, I ask, which gives birth to industry in any part of the world, seeing that labour is not agreeable to man, but the stimulus arising from the hope of gain? What makes an English labourer do more work in the day than a slave, but the stimulus arising from the knowledge, that what he earns is for himself and not for another? What, again, makes an English labourer do much more work by the piece than by the day, but the stimulus arising from the knowledge that he may gain more by the former than by the latter mode of work? Just so is the West Indian slave situated, when he is working for himself, that is, when he knows that what he earns is for his own use. He has then all the stimulus of a free man, and he is, therefore, during such work (though unhappily no longer) really, and in effect, and to all intents and purposes, as much a free labourer as any person in any part of the globe. But if he be a free man, while he is working for himself, and if in that capacity he does twice or thrice more work than when he works for his master, it follows, that it would be cheaper for his master to employ him as a free labourer, or that the labour of free men in the West Indies would be cheaper than the labour of slaves.

That West Indian slaves, when they work for themselves, do much more in a given time than when they work for their masters, is a fact so notorious in the West Indies, that no one who has been there would deny it. Look at Long's History of Jamaica, The Privy Council Report, Gaisford's Essay on the good Effects of the Abolition of the Slave Trade, and other books. Let us hear also what Dr. Dickson, the editor of Mr. Steele, and who resided so many years in Barbadoes, says on this subject, for what he says is so admirably expressed that I cannot help quoting it. "The planters," says he, "do not take the right way to make human beings put forth their strength. They apply main force where they should apply moral motives, and punishments alone where rewards should be judiciously intermixed. They first beslave their poor people with their cursed whip, and then stand and wonder at the tremour of their nerves, and the laxity of their muscles. And yet, strange to tell, those very men affirm, and affirm truly, that a slave will do more work for himself in an afternoon than he can be made to do for his owner in a whole day or more!" And did not the whole Assembly of Grenada, as we collect from the famous speech of Mr. Pitt on the Slave Trade in 1791, affirm the same thing? "He (Mr. Pitt) would show," he said, "the futility of the argument of his honourable friend. He (his honourable friend) had himself admitted, that it was in the power of the colonies to correct the various abuses by which the Negro population was restrained. But they could not do this without improving the condition of their slaves, without making them approximate towards the rank of citizens, without giving them some little interest in their labour, which would occasion them to work with the energy of men. But now the Assembly of Grenada had themselves stated, that, though the Negroes were allowed the afternoon of only one day in every week, they would do as much work in that afternoon when employed for their own benefit, as in the whole day when employed in their masters' service. Now after this confession the House might burn all his calculations relative to the Negro population; for if this population had not quite reached the desirable state which he had pointed out, this confession had proved that further supplies were not wanted. A Negro, if he worked for himself, could do double work. By an improvement then in the mode of labour, the work in the islands could be doubled. But if so, what would become of the argument of his honourable friend? for then only half the number of the present labourers were necessary."

But the fact, that the slaves in the West Indies do much more work for themselves in a given time than when they work for their masters, may be established almost arithmetically, if we will take the trouble of calculating from authentic documents which present themselves on the subject. It is surprising, when we look into the evidence examined by the House of Commons on the subject of the Slave Trade, to find how little a West Indian slave really does, when he works for his master; and this is confessed equally by the witnesses on both sides of the question. One of them (Mr. Francklyn) says, that a labouring man could not get his bread in Europe if he worked no harder than a Negro. Another (Mr. Tobin), that no Negro works like a day-labourer in England. Another (Sir John Dalling), that the general work of Negroes is not to be called labour. A fourth (Dr. Jackson), that an English labourer does three times as much work as a Negro in the West Indies. Now how are these expressions to be reconciled with the common notions in England of Negro labour? for "to work like a Negro" is a common phrase, which is understood to convey the meaning, that the labour of the Negroes is the most severe and intolerable that is known. One of the witnesses, however, just mentioned explains the matter. "The hardship," says he, "of Negro field-labour is more in the mode than in the quantity done. The slave, seeing no end of his labour, stands over the work, and only throws the hoe to avoid the lash. He appears to work without actually working." The truth is, that a Negro, having no interest in his work while working for his master, will work only while the whip is upon him. I can no where make out the clear net annual earnings of a field Negro on a sugar plantation to come up to 8 l. sterling. Now what does he earn in the course of a year when he is working for himself? I dare not repeat what some of the witnesses for the planters stated to the House of Commons, when representing the enviable condition of the slaves in the West Indies; for this would be to make him earn more for himself in one day than for his master in a week. Let us take then the lowest sum mentioned in the Book of Evidence. This is stated to be 14d. sterling per week; and 14d. sterling per week would make 3 l. sterling per year. But how many days in the week does he work when he makes such annual earnings? The most time, which any of the witnesses gives to a field slave for his own private concerns, is every Sunday, and also every Saturday afternoon in the week, besides three holidays in the year. But this is far from being the general account. Many of them say that he has only Sunday to himself; and others, that even Sunday is occasionally trespassed upon by his master. It appears, also, that even where the afternoon is given him, it is only out of crop-time. Now let us take into the account the time lost by slaves in going backwards and forwards to their provision-grounds; for though some of these are described as being only a stone's throw from their huts, others are described as being one, and two, and three, and even four miles off; and let us take into the account also, that Sunday is, by the confession of all, the Negro market day, on which alone they can dispose of their own produce, and that the market itself may be from one to ten or fifteen miles from their homes, and that they who go there cannot be working in their gardens at the same time, and we shall find that there cannot be on an average more than a clear three quarters of a day in the week, which they can call their own, and in which they can work for themselves. But call it a whole day, if you please, and you will find that the slave does for himself in this one day more than a third of what he does for his master in six, or that he works more than three times harder when he works for himself than when he works for his master.

I have now shown, first by the evidence of Mr. Botham, and secondly by the fact of Negroes earning more in a given time when they work in their own gardens, than when they work in their master's service, that the old maxim "of its being cheaper to employ free men than slaves," is true, when applied to the operations and demands of West Indian agriculture. But if it be cheaper to employ free men than slaves in the West Indies, then they, who should emancipate their Negroes there, would promote their interest by so doing. "But hold!" says an objector, "we allow that their successors would be benefited, but not the emancipators themselves. These would have a great sacrifice to make. Their slaves are worth so much money at this moment; but they would lose all this value, if they were to set them free." I reply, and indeed I have all along affirmed, that it is not proposed to emancipate the slaves at once, but to prepare them for emancipation in a course of years. Mr. Steele did not make his slaves entirely free. They were copyhold-bond slaves. They were still his freehold property: and they would, if he had lived, have continued so for many years. They therefore, who should emancipate, would lose nothing of the value of their slaves, so long as they brought them only to the door of liberty, but did not allow them to pass through it. But suppose they were to allow them to pass through it and thus admit them to freedom, they would lose nothing by so doing; for they would not admit them to freedom till after a certain period of years, during which I contend that the value of every individual slave would have been reimbursed to them from the increased income of their estates. Mr. Steele, as we have seen, more than tripled the value of his income during his experiment: I believe that he more than quadrupled it; for he says, that he more than tripled it besides increasing his stock, and laying out large sums annually in adding necessary works, and in repairs of the damage by the great hurricane. Suppose then a West India estate to yield at this moment a nett income of 500 l. per annum, this income would be increased, according to Mr. Steele's experience, to somewhere about 1700 l. per annum. Would not, then, the surplus beyond the original 500 l., viz. 1200 l. per annum, be sufficient to reimburse the proprietor in a few years for the value of every slave which he had when he began his plan of emancipation? But he would be reimbursed again, that is, (twice over on the whole for every individual slave,) from a new source, viz. the improved value of his land. It is a fact well known in the United States, that a certain quantity of land, or farm, in full cultivation by free men, will fetch twice more money than the same quantity of land, similarly circumstanced, in full cultivation by slaves. Let us suppose now that the slaves at present on any West Indian plantation are worth about as much as the land with the buildings upon it, to which they are attached, and that the land with the buildings upon it would rise to double its former value when cultivated by free men, it follows that the land and buildings alone would be worth as much then, that is, when worked by free labourers, as the land, buildings, and slaves together are worth at the present time.

I have now, I think, pretty well canvassed the subject, and I shall therefore hasten to a conclusion. And first, I ask the West Indians, whether they think that they will be allowed to carry on their present cruel system, the arbitrary use of the whip and the chain, and the brutal debasement of their fellow-creatures, for ever. I say, No; I entertain better hopes of the humanity and justice of the British people. I am sure that they will interfere, and that when they once take up the cause, they will never abandon it till they have obtained their object. And what is it, after all, that I have been proposing in the course of the preceding pages? two things only, viz. that the laws relating to the slaves may be revised by the British parliament, so that they, may be made (as it was always intended) to accord with, and not to be repugnant to, the principles of the British constitution, and that, when such a revision shall have taken place, the slaves may be put into a state of preparation for emancipation; and for such an emancipation only as may be compatible with the joint interests of the master and the slave. Is there any thing unreasonable in this proposition? Is it unreasonable to desire that those laws should be repealed, which are contrary to the laws of God, or that the Africans and their descendants, who have the shape, image, intellect, feelings, and affections of men, should be treated as human beings?

The measure then, which I have been proposing, is not unreasonable. I trust it would not be injurious to the interests of the West Indians themselves. These are at present, it is said, in great distress; and so they have been for years; and so they will still be (and moreover they will be getting worse and worse) so long as they continue slavery. How can such a wicked, such an ill-framed system succeed? Has not the Almighty in his moral government of the world stamped a character upon human actions, and given such a turn to their operations, that the balance should be ultimately in favour of virtue? Has he not taken from those, who act wickedly, the power of discerning the right path? or has he not so confounded their faculties, that they are for ever frustrating their own schemes? It is only to know the practice of our planters to be assured, that it will bring on difficulty after difficulty, and loss after loss, till it will end in ruin. If a man were to sit down and to try to invent a ruinous system of agriculture, could he devise one more to his mind than that which they have been in the habit of using? Let us look at some of the more striking parts of this system. The first that stares us in the face, is the unnatural and destructive practice of forced labour. Here we see men working without any rational stimulus to elicit their exertions, and therefore they must be followed by drivers with whips in their hands. Well might it be said by Mr. Botham to the Committees of Privy-council and House of Commons, "Let it be considered, how much labour is lost by the persons overseeing the forced labourer, which is saved when he works for his own profit;" and, notwithstanding all the vigilance and whipping of these drivers, I have proved that the slaves do more for themselves in an afternoon, than in a whole day when they work for their masters. It was doubtless the conviction that forced labour was unprofitable, as well as that there would be less of human suffering, which made Mr. Steele take away the whips from his drivers, as the very first step necessary in his improved system, or as the sine qua non without which such a system could not properly be begun; and did not this very measure alter the face of his affairs in point of profit in three years after it had been put into operation? And here it must be observed, that, if ever emancipation should be begun by our planters, this must be (however they may dislike to part with arbitrary power) as much a first step with them as it was with Mr. Steele. Forced labour stands at the head of the catalogue of those nuisances belonging to slavery, which oppose the planter's gain. It must be removed before any thing else can be done. See what mischiefs it leads to, independently of its want of profit. It is impossible that forced labour can be kept up from day to day without injury to the constitution of the slaves; and if their health is injured, the property of their masters must be injured also. Forced labour, again, sends many of them to the sick-houses. Here is, at any rate, a loss of their working time. But it drives them also occasionally to run away, and sometimes to destroy themselves. Here again is a loss of their working time and of property into the bargain. Forced labour, then, is one of those striking parts in the West Indian husbandry, in which we see a constant source of loss to those who adopt it; and may we not speak, and yet with truth, as unfavourably of some of the other striking parts in the same system? What shall we say, first, to that injurious disproportion of the articles of croppage with the wants of the estates, which makes little or no provision of food for the labourers (the very first to be cared for), but leaves these to be fed by articles to be bought three thousand miles off in another country, let the markets there be ever so high, or the prices ever so unfavourable, at the time? What shall we say, again, to that obstinate and ruinous attachment to old customs, in consequence of which even acknowledged improvements are almost forbidden to be received? How generally has the introduction of the plough been opposed in the West Indies, though both the historians of Jamaica have recommended the use of it, and though it has been proved that one plough with two sets of horses to relieve each other, would turn up as much land in a day, as one hundred Negroes could with their hoes! Is not the hoe also continued in earthing up the canes there, when Mr. Botham proved, more than thirty years ago, that two men would do more with the East Indian shovel at that sort of work in a day, than ten Negroes with the former instrument? So much for unprofitable instruments of husbandry; a few words now on unprofitable modes of employment. It seems, first, little less than infatuation, to make Negroes carry baskets of dung upon their heads, basket after basket, to the field. I do not mention this so much as an intolerable hardship upon those who have to perform it, as an improvident waste of strength and time. Why are not horses, or mules, or oxen, and carts or other vehicles of convenience, used oftener on such occasions? I may notice also that cruel and most disadvantageous mode of employment of making Negroes collect grass for the cattle, by picking it by the hand blade by blade. Are no artificial grasses to be found in our islands, and is the existence of the scythe unknown there? But it is of no use to dwell longer upon this subject. The whole system is a ruinous one from the beginning to the end. And from whence does such a system arise? It has its origin in slavery alone. It is practised no where but in the land of ignorance and slavery. Slavery indeed, or rather the despotism which supports slavery, has no compassion, and it is one of its characteristics never to think of sparing the sinews of the wretched creature called a slave. Hence it is slow to adopt helps, with which a beneficent Providence has furnished us, by giving to man an inventive faculty for easing his burthens, or by submitting the beasts of the field to his dominion and his use, and it flies to expedients which are contrary to nature and reason. How then can such a system ever answer? Were an English farmer to have recourse to such a system, he would not be able to pay his rent for a single year. If the planters then are in distress, it is their own fault. They may, however, thank the abolitionists that they are not worse off than they are at present. The abolition of the slave trade, by cutting off the purchase of new slaves, has cut off one cause of their ruin[17]; and it is only the abolition of slavery which can yet save them. Had the planters, when the slave trade was abolished, taken immediate measures to meet the change; had they then revised their laws and substituted better; had they then put their slaves into a state of preparation for emancipation, in what a different, that is, desirable situation would they have been at this moment! In fact, nothing can save them, but the abolition of slavery on a wise and prudent plan. They can no more expect, without it, to meet the present low prices of colonial produce, than the British farmer can meet the present low prices of grain, unless he can have an abatement of rent, tithe, and taxation, and unless his present poor rates can be diminished also. Take away, however, from the planters the use and practice of slavery, and the hour of their regeneration would be begun. Can we doubt, that Providence would then bless their endeavours, and that salvation from their difficulties would be their portion in the end?

It has appeared, I hope, by this time, that what I have been proposing is not unreasonable, and that, so far from being injurious to the interests of the planters, it would be highly advantageous to them. I shall now show, that I do not ask for the introduction of a more humane system into our Colonies at a time when it would be improper to grant it; or that no fair objection can be raised against the present moment, as the fit era from whence the measures in contemplation should commence. There was, indeed, a time when the planters might have offered something like an excuse for the severity of their conduct towards their slaves, on the plea that the greater part of them then in the colonies were African-born or strangers, and that cargoes were constantly pouring in, one after the other, consisting of the same sort of beings; or of stubborn ferocious people, never accustomed to work, whose spirits it was necessary to break, and whose necks to force down to the yoke; and that this could only be effected by the whip, the chain, the iron collar, and other instruments of the kind. But now no such plea can be offered. It is now sixteen years since the slave trade was abolished by England, and it is therefore to be presumed, that no new slaves have been imported into the British colonies within that period. The slaves, therefore, who are there at this day, must consist either of Africans, whose spirits must have been long ago broken, or of Creoles born in the cradle and brought up in the trammels of slavery. What argument then can be produced for the continuation of a barbarous discipline there? And we are very glad to find that two gentlemen, both of whom we have had occasion to quote before, bear us out in this remark. Mr. Steele, speaking of some of the old cruel laws of Barbadoes, applies them to the case before us in these words:—"As, according to Ligon's account, there were not above two-thirds of the island in plantations in the year 1650, we must suppose that in the year 1688 the great number of African-born slaves brought into the plantations in chains, and compelled to labour by the terrors of corporal punishment, might have made it appear necessary to enact a temporary law so harsh as the statute No. 82; but when the great majority of the Negroes were become vernacular, born in the island, naturalized by language, and familiarised by custom, did not policy as well as humanity require: them to be put under milder conditions, such as were granted to the slaves of our Saxon ancestors?" Colonel Malenfant speaks the same sentiments. In defending his plan, which he offered to the French Government for St. Domingo in 1814, against the vulgar prejudice, that "where you employ Negroes you must of necessity use slavery," he delivers himself thus:—"[18]If all the Negroes on a plantation had not been more than six months out of Africa, or if they had the same ideas concerning an independent manner of life as the Indians or the savages of Guiana, I should consider my plan to be impracticable. I should then say that coercion would be necessary: but ninety-nine out of every hundred Negroes in St. Domingo are aware that they cannot obtain necessaries without work. They know that it is their duty to work, and they are even desirous of working; but the remembrance of their cruel sufferings in the time of slavery renders them suspicious." We may conclude, then, that if a cruel discipline was not necessary in the years 1790 and 1794, to which these gentlemen allude, when there must have been some thousands of newly imported Africans both in St. Domingo and in the English colonies, it cannot be necessary now, when there have been no importations into the latter for fifteen years. There can be no excuse, then, for the English planters for not altering their system, and this immediately. It is, on the other hand, a great reproach to them, considering the quality and character of their slaves, that they should not of themselves have come forward on the subject before this time.

Seeing then that nothing has been done where it ought, it is the duty of the abolitionists to resume their labours. If through the medium of the abolition of the slave trade they have not accomplished, as they expected, the whole of their object, they have no alternative but to resort to other measures, or to attempt by constitutional means, under that Legislature which has already sanctioned their efforts, the mitigation of the cruel treatment of the Negroes, with the ultimate view of extinguishing, in due time and in a suitable manner, the slavery itself. Nor ought any time to be lost in making such an attempt; for it is a melancholy fact, that there is scarcely any increase of the slave population in our islands at the present moment. What other proof need we require of the severity of the slavery there, and of the necessity of its mitigation? Severe punishments, want of sufficient food, labour extracted by the whip, and a system of prostitution, conspire, almost as much as ever, to make inroads upon the constitutions of the slaves, and to prevent their increase. And let it be remembered here, that any former defect of this kind was supplied by importations; but that importations are now unlawful. Unless, therefore, the abolitionists interfere, and that soon, our West Indian planters may come to Parliament and say, "We have now tried your experiment. It has not answered. You must therefore give us leave to go again to the coast of Africa for slaves." There is also another consideration worthy of the attention of the abolitionists, viz. that a public attempt made in England to procure the abolition of slavery would very much promote their original object, the cause of the abolition of the slave trade; for foreign courts have greatly doubted our sincerity as to the latter measure, and have therefore been very backward in giving us their assistance in it. If England, say they, abolished the slave trade from moral motives, how happens it that she continues slavery? But if this public attempt were to succeed, then the abolitionists would see their wishes in a direct train for completion: for if slavery were to fall in the British islands, this event would occasion death in a given time, and without striking any further blow, to the execrable trade in every part of the world; because those foreigners, who should continue slavery, no longer able to compete in the markets with those who should employ free men, must abandon the slave trade altogether.

But here perhaps the planters will say, "What right have the people of England to interfere with our property, which would be the case if they were to attempt to abolish slavery?" The people of England might reply, that they have as good a right as you, the planters, have to interfere with that most precious of all property, the liberty of your slaves, seeing that you hold them by no right that is not opposed to nature, reason, justice, and religion. The people of England have no desire to interfere with your property, but with your oppression. It is probable that your property would be improved by the change. But, to examine this right more minutely, I contend, first, that they have always a right to interfere in behalf of humanity and justice wherever their appeals can be heard. I contend, secondly, that they have a more immediate right to interfere in the present case, because the oppressed persons in question, living in the British dominions and under the British Government, are their fellow subjects. I contend again, that they have this right upon the ground that they are giving you, the West Indians, a monopoly for their sugar, by buying it from you exclusively at a much dearer rate than they can get it from other quarters. Surely they have a right to say to you, as customers for your produce, Change your system and we will continue to deal with you; but if you will not change it, we will buy our sugar elsewhere, or we will not buy sugar at all. The East Indian market is open to us, and we prefer sugar that is not stained with blood. Nay, we will petition Parliament to take off the surplus duty with which East Indian sugar is loaded on your account. What superior claims have you either upon Parliament or upon us, that you should have the preference? As to the East Indians, they are as much the subjects of the British empire as yourselves. As to the East India Company, they support all their establishments, both civil and military, at their own expense. They come to our Treasury for nothing; while you, with naval stations, and an extraordinary military force kept up for no other purpose than to keep in awe an injured population, and with heavy bounties on the exportation of your sugar, put us to such an expense as makes us doubt whether your trade is worth having on its present terms. They, the East India Company, again, have been a blessing to the Natives with whom they have been concerned. They distribute an equal system of law and justice to all without respect of persons. They dispell the clouds of ignorance, superstition, and idolatry, and carry with them civilization and liberty wherever they go. You, on the other hand, have no code of justice but for yourselves. You deny it to those who cannot help themselves. You hinder liberty by your cruel restrictions on manumission; and dreading the inlet of light, you study to perpetuate ignorance and barbarism. Which then of the two competitors has the claim to preference by an English Parliament and an English people? It may probably soon become a question with the latter, whether they will consent to pay a million annually more for West India sugar than for other of like quality, or, which is the same thing, whether they will allow themselves to be taxed annually to the amount of a million sterling to support West Indian slavery.

I shall now conclude by saying, that I leave it; and that I recommend it, to others to add to the light which I have endeavoured to furnish on this subject, by collecting new facts relative to Emancipation and the result of it in other parts of the world, as well as relative to the superiority of free over servile labour, in order that the West Indians may be convinced, if possible, that they would be benefited by the change of system which I propose. They must already know, both by past and present experience, that the ways of unrighteousness are not profitable. Let them not doubt, when the Almighty has decreed the balance in favour of virtuous actions, that their efforts under the new system will work together for their good, so that their temporal redemption may be at hand.


Printed by Richard Taylor, Shoe-Lane, London.


[1] See Dickson's Mitigation of Slavery, p. 18.

[2] See Dickson's Mitigation of Slavery, p. 339.

[3] Mitigation of Slavery, p. 50.

[4] See Dickson's Mitigation of Slavery, p. 102.

[5] A part of the black regiments were bought in Africa as recruits, and were not transported in slave-ships, and, never under West India masters: but it was only a small part compared with the whole number in the three cases.

[6] Memoire historique et politique des Colonies, et particulierement de celle de St. Domingue, &c. Paris, August 1814. 8vo. p. 58.

[7] Pp. 125, 126.

[8] There were occasionally marauding parties from the mountains, who pillaged in the plains; but these were the old insurgent, and not the emancipated Negroes.

[9] P. 78.

[10] Memoires, p. 311.

[11] Ibid. p. 324.

[12] The French were not the authors of tearing to pieces the Negroes alive by bloodhounds, or of suffocating them by hundreds at a time in the holds of ships, or of drowning them (whole cargoes) by scuttling and sinking the vessels;—but the planters.

[13] All the slave-population was to be emancipated in 18 years; and this consisted at the time of passing the decree of from 250,000 to 300,000 souls.

[14] See Dr. Dickson's Mitigation of Slavery, London 1814, from whence every thing relating to this subject is taken. Dr. Dickson had been for many years secretary to Governor Hay, in Barbadoes, where he had an opportunity of studying the Slave agriculture as a system. Being in London afterwards when the Slave Trade controversy was going on in Parliament, he distinguished himself by silencing the different writers who defended the West Indian slavery. There it was that Mr. Steele addressed himself to him by letter, and sent him those invaluable papers, which the Doctor afterwards published under the modest title of "Mitigation of Slavery by Steele and Dickson." No one was better qualified than Dr. Dickson to become the Editor of Mr. Steele.

[15] It is much to be feared that this beautiful order of things was broken up after Mr. Steele's death by his successors, either through their own prejudices, or their unwillingness or inability to stand against the scoffs and prejudices of others. It may be happy, however, for thousands now in slavery, that Mr. Steele lived to accomplish his plan. The constituent parts and result of it being known, a fine example is shown to those who may be desirous of trying emancipation.

[16] Mr. Botham's account is confirmed incontrovertibly by the fact, that sugar made in the East Indies can be brought to England (though it has three times the distance to come, and of course three times the freight to pay), and yet be afforded to the consumer at as cheap a rate as any that can be brought thither from the West.

[17] Dickson's Mitigation of Slavery, p. 213, where it is proved that bought slaves never refund their purchase-money to their owners.

[18] P. 125.


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