« PreviousContinue »
And is justice no obligation? Is mercy no obligation? Or are all obligations voidable except those which bind us to participate in the guilt and the infamy of your accursed dominion ? Faith! And is no faith to be kept with human nature? Are we to sit down contented with recommending the improvements which we have full power to enforce, while to every request the West Indian answers, like the merciless Jew in Shakspeare,
“ I cannot find it. 'Tis not in the bond.”
No. The engagement cannot bind us. The compact is cancelled by its own iniquity. Our absolution is pronounced by the understandings of all who can reason, by the hearts of all who can feel, by the mandate of heaven, by the cry of blood from the earth. Our past encouragement of this system does indeed lay us under an obligation -a solemn obligation, not to assist the cruelty of our accomplice, but to redress the wrongs of our victim.
But what if it can be shown that all these dangers are chimerical;—that the pecuniary interest of the colonies will not suffer from the abolition of slavery? What if it should appear that the economist has nothing to offer in defence of institutions which the moralist must for ever condemn? Can it be that this shame and guilt have been gratuitously incurred, and that we have sacrificed immense advantages in order to maintain what no bribe should have induced us to tolerate? Yet thus it is ; and thus, by the eternal connexion of effects and causes, it must for ever be. The principles of human nature render it impossible that a permanent fabric of prosperity should be erected on a foundation of injustice and cruelty. Industry is the common offspring of liberty and knowledge. The lash of the driver may indeed compel the negro to make a certain number of movements; but neither that nor any other instrument of cruelty can compel him, with his languid body, his gloomy temper, and his degraded intellect, to maintain a competition against the active, cheerful, and intelligent workman, who knows that his comforts will be proportioned to his exertions. The unnatural situation in which the slave is placed renders it his interest to produce as little and to consume as much as possible. Diligence and idleness, parsimony and profusion, alike leave him where they found him. He has no motive, but the fear of punishment, to augment the wealth of which he is never to partake. Hence his labour is, of all kinds of labour, the least productive.
This reasoning is fully confirmed by the present state of the West Indian colonies. After all the encouragement that we have bestowed, after all the privations to which we have submitted for their sake, what is their present condition? A
triple length of navigation, and an enormous protecting duty, are found scarcely sufficient to secure to them a monopoly of the sugar
trade against the free labourers of Hindostan. They are at the present moment complaining of distress, and clamouring for relief. We have opened their trade ;-we have fettered our own ;-we have sacrificed the interests of the East Indian cultivator and of the British manufacturer to their prosperity : and in vain. All this is inadequate to save them from the effects of their internal abuses. Their ruin is rapidly approaching; a ruin which nothing but the emancipation of their slaves can possibly avert.
It is true that the negroes are in a great measure unable to enjoy the blessings, and unfit to exercise the rights of freemen. It is true, to an illustration which a West Indian overseer will easily comprehend, that their minds, like their bodies, have become crippled in the irons and callous under the scourge.
But these circumstances, while they enhance the difficulty, prove the necessity of manumission. They are the worst part of a state of things in which all is bad. Slavery is indeed altogether evil; evil unmingled, unmitigated, unredeemed ; evil without any affinity to virtue, evil without any tendency to happiness. To all that alleviates the other miseries of life, to the tenderness of affection, to the majesty of law, it imparts its own deadly nature. But the withering influence which it exercises on the hearts and faculties of its victims is its foulest disgrace and its strongest security. It resembles the tree in the Italian romance, which showered poison from its boughs in such torrents that no one durst approach to sever its trunk. It is perpetuated by its pestilential nature.
Its suppression must therefore, we fear, be gradual. Measures must be taken to improve the negroes, as the first step to their liberation. Worse than useless would be the benevolence of those, who, like the two daring brothers in
Comus,” would drive away the hateful wizard before they have taken off the charm from the senses of the fascinated prisoner.
mistook. Ye should have snatched his wand,
In stony fetters fixed, and motionless.” By what means the slave may be most completely and most speedily rendered capable of exercising the privilegies of a citizen, we will not now inquire ; but this we will confidently say, that unless effacious measures be speedily adopted for the attainment of that great object, it is easy to foresee that a violent and bloody close will terminate this violent and bloody system. Jamaica may yet produce a Spartacus. But the
planters have less danger to apprehend from their debased slaves than from their formidable neighbours. Amidst those islands where all the bounties of nature have so long been counteracted by the tyranny of man ;-amidst those islands from which European rapacity swept away the whole race of original cultivators, and which it has since repeopled with equally miserable but more enduring victims ;-amidst those islands which have exhibited at once the worst evils of polished and of savage society,--the strength of civilization without wisdom or mercy,--the ignorance of barbarism without energy or freedom ;-amidst those islands a black republic has arisen, -free, --warlike,-enlightened. The greatest prince and conqueror of modern times attempted to reduce Hayti to subjection. He made the attempt when an interval of peace had laid the ocean open to the arms which had subjugated the monarchs of the earth. The largest and finest army that ever crossed the Atlantic was arrayed against the emancipated slaves. The best soldiers of France, the heroes of Arcola and Marengo, were employed against an undisciplined multitude, whose backs were still red from the whip, whose limbs were still stiff from the chain. Perfidy was exercised in aid of force. The Haytians were surprised by an unexpected invasion, beguiled by false professions, disunited by intrigues. Their ablest leader was seized by treachery, and sent to perish in an European dungeon. Enormous bribes were offered to the black leaders, All the horrors of savage, and all the tactics of disciplined warfare were united. No mercy was shown to old men, or women, or sucking children. The blood-hound completed the work of the bayonet; and the nightly pit covered the still palpitating relics of the daily massacre. It was in vain. Wasted away by famine, by pestilence, and by the sword, that mighty army perished in the enterprise ; and the independence of Hayti was established for ever.
Can Negro slavery long continue to exist in the immediate vicinity of the liberated queen of the Antilles ? Is there nothing in our colonial institutions which might furnish a pretext for aggression ? _A black merchant, nay a black ambassador, proceeding from Port-au-Prince to Venezuela or Mexico, might easily be compelled by stress of weather to land in Jamaica. The law commands, that in such a case he shall be sold for a slave. Will this be tamely borne ? Or will the Haytians long continue to endure their exclusion from all commercial intercourse with our colonies? Is it impossible that some able and aspiring leader may feel inclined, even without any particular provocation, to engage in so easy, and so glorious an enterprise as the extinction of slavery in the surrounding islands? The
present military establishment of Hayti consists of fifteen thousand excellent troops. The number might easily be doubled. Twenty-four hours would bring ten thousand black soldiers to Jamaica. Twenty-four hours more would raise upon the white inhabitants an hundred thousand infuriated slaves. This is no chimerical supposition. It is an event neither impossible nor improbable.
To what an alternative will England then be reduced! Will she submit to see possessions, however worthless, torn from her by force; to see institutions which had existed under her protection, however atrocious they might be, subverted by foreign arms? Will she, on the other hand, engage in a war against an enemy so desperate, at a distance so vast, in a climate so deadly? We know not. But thus much at least we will say, that in such a contest we should deprecate and deplore her success. Rather let her perish, rather let her commercial opulence and her martial glory be as though they had never been, than that her history should be signalized by the triumphs of guilt, by trophies erected over the vanquished rights and broken hearts of mankind! Who would attempt to restrain the fertilizing inundation, because some ancient, perhaps some useful land-marks might be swept away by its waves ? Who would execrate the light of the sun because some of those stars on which we love to gaze must disappear at his approach ; or because the mists which he draws up from the foul and pestilential marshes on which he dawns, may tinge his rays with the hue of blood ? The fire of London has always been considered as a blessing, because it extinguished the seeds of the plague more completely than any care of the police or any medical skill had ever been able to do. The political world, in the same manner, often derives great advantage from those fierce and destroying visitations, which lay in the dust for ever the dark and infected haunts where a great moral malady has fixed itself in irremediable malignity.
Still we most earnestly desire that a change, which, we are sure, is desirable, which, we think, is inevitable, should be produced by the mildest means. The present state of things in the colonies menaces England with serious calamities, and the West Indian proprietors with total ruin. These evils can be averted only by a series of measures calculated to improve both the moral and the political condition of the slave.
Nothing can be expected from the local legislatures. They have been caressed, -threatened,-implored-warned-without effect. Justice, mercy, shame, interest, fear, have had no influence upon them. They are sunk in that stupid and desperate indifference to all moral and prudential considerations, which the long possession of unlimited power never fails to generate. They have done nothing.-They will do nothing.
We have no hope but in the good sense and generosity of the British people. Their attention has not till of late been strongly called to the subject. They have already spoken in a voice which has made the cruel and the sordid tremble, and has extorted a feeble response from cold hearts in high places. Never may that voice be silenced, till the legislature shall pronounce a definitive sentence on this monstrous system of unprofitable atrocity.
ARISE AND COME WI' ME.
A SCOTISH SONG.
~ ARISE and come wi' me, my love,
My sail is spread, and see,
To breast the billows free.
And Saba sweet to see,
So busk and come wi' me.”
" I wad nae gie yon heathy hill
Where wild bees sing so soon-
Where birdies lilt in June,-
This small brook streaming free,
Upon the sunny sea.”