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Far, far away, and never look behind,
And then I said, oh! gentle maid,
I'm bound to thee by a golden chain,
ON WEST INDIAN SLAVERY.
We espouse no party. Zadig himself did not listen to the memorable controversy about Zoroaster and his griffins, with more composure and impartiality than we hope to display on most of the subjects which interest politicians. We are neutrals, -neutrals after San Miguel's own heart, -desirous only to mitigate the evils which we cannot avert. If we ever descend into the field of battle, it will be with the feelings not of combatants but of Sisters of Charity. It will be our object, not to fight under the banners of either army, but to render the offices of humanity and courtesy to both.
On the question, however, which we are about to discuss, we think that we may, without inconsistency, take a decided part, It is a question which does not promote the objects, or rest upon the support, of any faction. It is a question which has united men of all sects and parties, which has combined Tories with Reformers, and Prelates with Field-preachers. Above all, it is a question which involves the interests of the most miserable and degraded race that ever existed in a civilized community. On all these grounds we shall, without hesitation, lend our strongest support to those principles of humanity and justice, which alone can constitute the substantial prosperity of states, and the durable glory of statesmen.
Sixteen years have elapsed since the abolition of the slavetrade. During that period, the friends of humanity and freedom have anxiously looked for some alteration in the system of colonial bondage. It might have been supposed that the improvements which could not be expected from the mercy of the planter, would be at length produced by his cupidity; and that the cessation of the traffic in human flesh and blood, as it increased the
value, would also increase the comforts of the slave.
It might at least have been imagined that the planters would, for the future, abstain from all practices which might tend to diminish the numbers of those whom they could no longer replace by fresh importations. It is surely time to inquire whether those expectations have been fulfilled, or whether the abuses of our colonial system have become too deeply seated to be eradicated even by the avarice which created them.
What then is the present state of the Negroes in our West Indian islands?
They are compelled to labour without remuneration. Their master has the sole power of determining the nature, the degree, and the duration of their labour; and the amount of the pittance which is to prolong their wretched and hopeless existence.
They can acquire no property of any description. Whatever their own labour may produce, whatever the bounty of others may bestow, belongs to their master.
They may be sold at the pleasure of their owner, or at the suit of his creditors. The colonial codes consider them merely as the personal property of the planter; who is, in consequence, always permitted, and often commanded, to separate them from all with whom they are connected by the ties of blood or of friendship. As often as a blank is drawn in the precarious lottery of the West Indian sugar trade, this horrible transfer takes place. The nearest relatives, the dearest friends, are for ever torn asunder; and the law itself interferes, to turn into the bitterness of death the last consolation which the charities of human nature afford to the last extreme of human misery.
The slave can appeal to no court of law. He can bring no action. He can undertake no prosecution. He can bear no testimony against a white offender. The law takes no cognizance of any crime perpetrated by a free person, unless it can be proved by the evidence of free witnesses. And in these colonies, be it remembered, the free inhabitants form so small a proportion of the population that such evidence can rarely be procured.
The person of the slave is almost wholly in the power of his master. He works under the lash. He is driven forward like a horse, scourged if he come too late, scourged if he fall behind the line of his fellows. There is no exemption for the women, too often alternately the sport of an unmanly cruelty and an unrefined desire. Age, weakness, sickness, pregnancy, are excuses which the overseer accepts or rejects at pleasure. The law universally recognizes the power of the proprietor to punish his bondsmen with the cart-whip or the stocks. From extreme outrage, from mutilation, and murder, it does indeed accord to these human chattels a nominal protection. But of what avail is this privilege? Neither the injured negro, nor any of his companions in servitude, can appear in a court of justice. A white prosecutor and white witnesses must be procured. Let us suppose all these difficulties surmounted; others more formidable still remain. Tyranny, when driven from the outworks with which the law surrounds her, takes refuge within the more impregnable rampart of depraved feelings and manners. The criminal is to be tried before men who, as the colleagues of his inordinate power, are not disposed to look with severity on its abuse, and who are generally prepossessed in his favour, by community of interest or of guilt.
The strength of this defensive league of oppression is best illustrated by examples. It is not long since the grand jury of one of the islands presented the governor as a nuisance. And this intolerable insult was offered to the representative of the King, to a most estimable man, (who has uniformly been mentioned with respect by persons of all opinions in England,) solely because he interfered in behalf of some oppressed female slaves. The case of Hodge, of Tortola, is sufficiently remarkable to deserve a concise recapitulation. That man put a slave to death with circumstances of hideous and ineffable cruelty. He continued after this event to mingle in society, without calling forth, as it appears, any strong expression of public detestation. A private quarrel induced some person to bring the case forward. It was proved by overwhelming evidence that he had committed a murder as wanton and barbarous, we will venture to say, as any recorded in the annals of criminal jurisprudence. To acquit him was impossible. The jury recommended him to mercy. The governor refused to listen to the recommendation. In England, it would have been difficult to protect such a monster against the rage of the people during his passage from the bar to the prison. But so deeply did the colonists resent the execution of one of their own body for so venial a trespass, that it became necessary to proclaim martial law, in order to prevent a tumult and a
We will advert to one other case. A wretch named Huggins, in the public market-place of Nevis, ordered several negroes to be flogged with a barbarity which ruined the health of all, and was supposed to have occasioned the death of one of them. A pregnant woman was among the number; and, that nothing might be wanting to this horrid outrage against human nature, the horrible office was performed by the brother of one of the sufferers. The law of the island assigns a limit to the number of lashes which a master may inflict at one time. This limit Huggins had far exceeded. He was brought to trial. The crime had been committed in open day—in the most public place of the colony. It could not be, and it was not, denied. The defence was rested upon the principle, that the law had been
passed solely to silence the clamours of the fanatics in England, that it was never meant to be obeyed, and that it would be unjust and impolitic to punish the violation of it. Huggins was acquitted ; and, probably, while we are writing this narrative of his former exploits, he may be employed in flogging another slave to death.
But we will not multiply anecdotes of this painful description. We might, God knows, fill volumes with narratives of West Indian cruelty and injustice. It is sufficient to observe, that, where the greatest crimes so often elude justice, it must be easy to inflict with impunity every petty suffering and privation.
The condition of servitude in our colonies is perpetual. The master cannot be compelled to relinquish his slave upon receiving either the original purchase-money, or the present market-price. Even where he is willing to bestow liberty he is not always able. The disgraceful codes of the islands abound with provisions intended to obstruct emancipation. In Barbadoes and St. Kitt's, immense fines, amounting in fact to a prohibitory duty, have been imposed on manumission. In other islands fines are established, smaller indeed in amount, but still most pernicious in their effect. In the Bermudas no slave can ever receive his liberty.
Lastly, every inhabitant of our West Indian islands, in whose complexion the slightest negro tint can be discovered, is presumed to be a slave, unless he can produce evidence of his freedom. The law considers servitude as the natural portion of the African, and liberty as the exception. To that exception he must make out his claim. And, in this arduous task of proving a negative, the law throws every possible difficulty in his path. He cannot adduce the testimony of a slave. In some colonies he cannot even adduce that of a freeman of colour. He may have been manumitted. He may have been born free. He may have passed all his life in England. No person claims him. No
person pretends to know or to believe that he is a slave. The West Indian code, with characteristic wisdom and liberality, lays the whole burden of the proof on the unhappy being whose dearest interests are staked on the result. And unless he can demonstrate that which must often be, in its own nature, unsusceptible of demonstration, he is put up to public auction,
and sold into perpetual and hereditary bondage.
People of England ! these are the West Indian institutions. And these institutions, replete with misery and guilt, these institutions, condemned by the whole spirit of the religion which you profess, and of the laws in which you glory—these institutions you encourage by your whole commercial policy ;-these institutions
fleets and armies. Over those colonies you have a just and an irresistible authority. Most dearly have you purchased the right, most fully do you possess the
you defend with
power, to controul them. To enrich them your gold has been scattered like dust; to defend them your blood has been poured forth like water. Even now you are sacrificing to their cupidity every other interest in the empire. Even now your arms alone protect the master from the vengeance of the slave, and avert that day of deliverance and retribution, which otherwise would soon bury the accursed agents beneath the ruins of the accursed system.
“ Beware of provoking the Colonists,” is the cry of the timid and the ignorant.“ Remember the American war. Remember all our defeats and humiliations. Remember the capitulation of Saratoga, and the treaty of Versailles. What will you do if they resist?"—What indeed !-Woe to England when Nevis shall
pour forth its two hundred invincible warriors to annihilate the legions of Waterloo ! Woe to England, above all, when Jamaica shall arise in her wrath! That island, when all its white inhabitants capable of bearing arms are called into the field, will probably furnish not much less than three thousand heroes, to defend her independence against a nation which cannot conveniently send against her much more than thirty thousand disciplined soldiers. Some second Washington will doubtless arise to defend the privileges of the cart-whip. Hodge is indeed no
The cruelty of England has snatched from the slave-islands their brightest ornament. sentment of the colonists could not save, nor, alas! will their sorrow restore him. But Huggins, we believe, still survives. He will doubtless, like Cincinnatus, obey the call of his country, quit his plantation, exchange the scourge for the sword, and tear the laurels from the head of Wellington. But, seriously, who can refrain from laughter at the thought of this resistancethis combat between Tom Thumb and the queen of the giants ? Is it not the fact, that the whole white population of the West Indies would fly like sheep before two British regiments? Is it not the fact that, without our assistance, they would be unable to defend themselves from their domestic enemies ? Could they sleep in security without the protection of those bayonets which they have madly affected to defy? And these men have dared to mutter about resistance, and to dispute the legislative supremacy of the British Parliament over their assemblies. How long will the mother country, in all the plenitude of her parental authority, bear to be defied, disobeyed, and buffetted, by the spoiled and pampered child whom she could beggar in an instant.
“ But,” cry the West Indians, “ though your policy may not alienate, it may ruin us. Will you be so unjust as to withdraw your support from establishments which you founded, and which you so long encouraged ?– Will you interfere with rights which every obligation of public faith binds you to respect ?" Rights! And have no men rights but yourselves? Obligations!