OF ENGLISH POLICY
AS RIGARDING THE RIGHTS
(From Lecky, A
"By the Treaty
of Utrecht the slave-trade was, as it were, established, and became a central
object of English policy. From this date I am afraid we took the leading share,
and stained ourselves beyond other nations in the monstrous and enormous
atrocities of the slave-trade." Seeley,
The Expansion of
Of all the many forms of suffering which man has inflicted upon man, with the
exception of war, and, perhaps, of religious persecution, the slave-trade has
probably added most largely to the sum of human misery, and in the first half
of the eighteenth century it occupied the very foremost place in English
commerce. The first Englishman who took part in it appears to have been John
Hawkins, who sailed in 1562 with three ships to
African cargoes for the maintenance of the forts along that coast, cargoes
of negroes were especially exempted, for the
Parliament of the Revolution desired above all things to encourage the trade.
Nine years before a convention had been made between
The great period of the English slave-trade had, however, not yet arrived. It was only in 1713 that it began to attain its full dimensions. One of the most important and most popular parts of the Treaty of Utrecht was the contract known as the Assiento, by which the British Government secured for its subjects during thirty years an absolute monopoly of the supply of slaves to the Spanish colonies. The traffic was regulated by a long and elaborate treaty, guarding among other things against any possible scandal to the Roman Catholic religion from the presence of heretical slave-traders; and it provided that in the thirty years from 1713 to 1748 the English should bring into the Spanish West Indies no less than 144,000 negroes, or 4,800 every year, that during the first twenty-five years of the contract they might import a still greater number on paying certain moderate duties, and that they might carry the slave-trade into numerous Spanish ports from which it had hitherto been excluded. The monopoly of the trade was granted to the South Sea Company, and from this time
its maintenance, and its extension both to the Spanish dominions and to her own colonies, became a central object of English policy. A distinguished modern historian, after a careful comparison of the materials we possess, declares that in the century preceding the prohibition of the slave-trade by the American Congress, in 1776, the number of negroes imported by the English alone, into the Spanish, French, and English colonies can, on the lowest computation, have been little less than three millions, and that we must add more than a quarter of a million, who perished on the voyage and whose bodies were thrown into the Atlantic.
These figures are in themselves sufficiently eloquent. No human imagination, indeed, can conceive, no pen can adequately portray, the misery they represent. Torn from the most distant parts of Africa, speaking no common language, connected by no tie except that of common misfortune, severed from every old association and from all they loved, and, exchanging, in many cases, a life of unbounded freedom for a hopeless, abject, and crushing servitude, the wretched captives were carried across the waste of waters in ships so crowded and so unhealthy that, even under favourable circumstances, about twelve in every hundred usually died from the horrors of the passage. They had no knowledge, no rights, no protection against the caprices of irresponsible power. Difference of colour and difference of religion led their masters to look upon them simply as beasts of burden, and the supply of slaves was too abundant to allow the
motive of self-interest to be any considerate
security for their good treatment. Often, indeed, it seemed the interest of the
master rather to work them rapidly to death and then to replenish his stock.
Dean Tucker, in a pamphlet published in 1785, has devoted some remarkable pages to the English slave-trade. No man living, he says, could sincerely approve of the slave-trade as it is actually conducted, and he declares that 'the murders cormmitted in the course of it, reckoning from the beginning of it to the present hour, almost exceed the power of numbers to ascertain. Yet', he continues, 'reason and humanity recoil in vain. For the trade in human blood is still carried on not only with impunity but also with the consent, approbation, and even assistance of the British Legislature', and it is never likely to be suppressed, till it is proved that slavery is economically wasteful, and that sugar can be produced more cheaply by free labour.
Referring to the state of the slaves, he asserts that it is a notorious and incontrovertible fact 'that the English planters in general (doubtless there are exceptions) treat their slaves, or suffer them to be treated, with a greater degree of inhumanity than the planters of any other European nation.' He ascribes this 'excess of barbarity' partly to the fact that the English planters have more slaves
than those of any other nation, and therefore think
it necessary to protect themselves by a greater severity from combinations or
revolts, but partly also to the large amount of self-government the English
colonies enjoy. 'The English planters are more their own masters, their own
lawgivers in their assemblies; also the interpreters, the judges (as jurymen)
and the executioners of their laws, than those of any other nation. The very
form of the English constitution, originally calculated for the preservation of
liberty, tends in this instance to destroy it. Consequently the English
planters can indulge themselves in a greater degree of passion and revenge than
would be permitted under the absolute governments of
The horrors of the slave-trade at last began to touch the conscience of the English people, and Pitt vehemently and eloquently urged as a moral duty its abolition. For some years, at least, he was undoubtedly sincere in doing so. Wilberforce was one of his most intimate friends, and it was Pitt who recommended him to undertake the cause of abolition. When Wilberforce was struck down by serious illness in 1788, Pitt promised that if the illness ended fatally he would himself undertake the cause. He supported with all his influence the inquiry into the abuses of the trade and the Act of 1788 for mitigating the hardships of the Middle Passage. He himself introduced a motion for abolition; advocated immediate, as distinguished from gradual abolition, and spoke repeatedly in a strain of the highest eloquence on the subject.
Nothing could be more liberal, more enlightened, more philanthropic, than
the sentiments he expressed, and his speech in 1792 was perhaps the greatest he
ever delivered. But Thurlow,
This, however, was not all. From the beginning of the war, the complete
naval ascendency of
The result was that, in consequence of the British conquests and under the shelter of the British flag, the slave-trade became more active than ever. English capital flowed largely into it. It was computed that under the administration of Pitt the English slave-trade more than doubled, and that the number of negroes imported annually in English ships rose from 25,000 to 57,000.
This continued without abatement for about seven years. The cause of
abolition had lost much of its popularity, and in 1800, 1801, 1802, and in
1803, Wilberforce thought it wise to abstain from bringing it forward in
Parliament. In 1804, however, it was determined to renew the struggle, and
circumstances had become in some respects more favourable. The Irish members,
introduced into Parliament by the
sued which first seriously checked the trade, by forbidding English ships to bring slaves into the Dutch colonies.
It is probable that the real explanation of the conduct of Pitt is to be found in his desire to subordinate the
whole question to commercial and military considerations during a dangerous and
exhausting war, and also in his uniform and characteristic desire to avoid all
questions which might bring him into collision with the King, outrun public
opinion, or embarrass or imperil his political position. The fact, however,
remains that for seventeen years after the most powerful minister
At length Pitt died and Fox arrived at power, and he at once made the abolition of the slave-trade a main object of his policy. The war was still raging. The King and royal family were still hostile, and, like Pitt, Fox had opponents of abo-
lition in his Cabinet; but, unlike Pitt, he was so earnest in the cause that his followers well knew that he would risk and sacrifice power rather than not carry it. The change produced by this persuasion was immediate. A measure, introduced by the Attorney-General in his official capacity, was speedily carried, forbidding British subjects from taking any part in supplying foreign powers, whether hostile or neutral, with slaves. The employment of British vessels, seamen, and capital in the foreign slave-trade was absolutely prohibited. No foreign slave-ship was allowed to be fitted out in British ports, and the Order of Council which had been issued preventing the importation of negroes into the Dutch settlements was ratified and extended. Another Act, designed to prevent any sudden temporary increase of the British slave-trade that might arise either from the restriction of the foreign trade or from the prospect of the speedy suppression of the British trade, forbade the employment in the traffic of any British shipping not already engaged in it. A resolution, moved by Fox, was then carried through both Houses, pledging Parliament to proceed with all practicable expedition to the total abolition of the British slave-trade, and an address was presented to the King requesting him to negotiate with foreign powers for the purpose of obtaining the total abolition of the slave-trade. Fox died almost immediately after, but Lord Grenville, who succeeded him, lost no time in fulfilling the pledge, and the measure which Pitt during so many years had refrained from car-
rying, was carried in 1807, with little or no difficulty, by one of the weakest ministries of the nineteenth century.
(From Mc Carthy, A History of Our Own Times.)
"A sad and shocking narrative. The history of this generation has no such tale to tell where any race of civilised and Christian men was concerned. Had the repression been justifiable in all its details; had the fearful vengeance taken on the wretched island been absolutely necessary to its future tranquillity, it still would have been a chapter of history to read with a shudder." Mc Carthy, ibid.
Demosthenes once compared the policy of the Athenians to the manner in which
a barbarian boxes. When the barbarian receives a blow his attention is at once
turned to the part which has got the stroke, and he hastens to defend it. When
he receives another blow in another place his hand is there just too late to
stop it. But he never seems to have any idea beforehand of what he is to expect
or whither his attention ought to be directed. The immense variety of imperial,
foreign, and colonial interests that
whither the attention will next have to be turned.
Lord Russell's Government had hardly come into power before they found
themselves compelled to illustrate this truth. For some weeks there was hardly
anything talked of, we might almost say hardly anything thought of, in
after dark. On the morning of the 24th, I started
who was suspected of inciting the rebellion, and
had surrendered himself at
Such news naturally created a profound sensation in
resisted, and legal proceedings were instituted to
turn them out. The legal proceedings were still pending when the events took
place which gave occasion to so much controversy. On
teers were few to number, and were easily over-powered; the Court House was set on fire; eighteen persons, the Custos among them, were killed, and about thirty were wounded; and a sort of incoherent insurrection suddenly spread itself over the neighbourhood. The moment, however, that the soldiers sent by the Governor, at first only one hundred in number, arrived upon the scene of disturbance, the insurrection collapsed and vanished. There never was the slightest attempt made by the rioters to keep the field against the troops. The soldiers had not in a single instance to do any fighting. The only business left for them was to hunt out supposed rebels, and bring them before the military tribunals. So evanescent was the whole movement that it is to this day a matter of dispute whether there was any rebellion at all, properly so called; whether there was any organised attempt at insurrection; or whether the disturbances were not the extemporaneous work of a discontented and turbulent mob, whose rush to rescue some of their friends expanded suddenly into all effort to wreak old grievances on the nearest representatives of authority.
On October l3, the Governor proclaimed the whole of the
the island, and contains
We have mentioned the fact, that in proclaiming the
Bay. Having given himself
up in a place where martial law did not exist, where the ordinary courts were
open, and where, therefore, he would have been tried with all the forms and
safeguards of the civil law, he was purposely carried away to a place which had
been put under martial law. Here an extraordinary sort of court-martial was
sitting. It was composed of two young navy lieutenants and an ensign in
one of her Majesty's
On the morning of Monday, October 23, Gordon was hanged. He bore his fate with great heroism, and wrote just before his death a letter to his wife, which is full of pathos in its simple and dignified manliness. He died protesting his innocence of any share in disloyal conspiracy or insurrectionary purpose.
The whole of the proceedings connected with the trial of Gordon were absolutely illegal: they were illegal from first to last. It is almost impossible to conceive of any transaction more entirely unlawful. Every step in it was a separate outrage on law. The act which conveyed Mr. Gordon from the protection of civil law to the authority
of a drumhead court-martial was grossly illegal. The tribunal was constituted in curious defiance of law and precedent. It is contrary to all authority to form a court-martial by mixing together the officers of the two different services. The prisoner thus brought by unlawful means before an illegal tribunal was tried upon testimony taken in ludicrous opposition to all the rules of evidence. Such as the evidence was, however, compounded of scraps of the paltriest hearsay, and of things said when the prisoner was not present, it testified rather to the innocence than to the guilt of the prisoner. By such a court, on such evidence, Gordon was put to death.
Meanwhile the carnival of repression was going on. The insurrection, or whatever the movement was which broke out on October 11, was over long before. It never offered the slightest resistance to the soldiers. It never showed itself to them. An armed insurgent was never seen by them. Nevertheless, for weeks after, the hangings, the floggings, the burnings of houses, were kept up. Men were hanged, women were flogged merely "suspect of being suspect." Many were flogged or hanged for no particular reason but that they happened to come in the way of men who were in a humour for flogging and hanging. Women — to be sure they were only coloured women — were stripped and scourged by the saviours of society with all the delight which a savage village population of the Middle Ages might have felt in torturing witches. The report of the Royal Commissioners
stated that 439 persons were put to death, and that over six hundred, including many women, were flogged, some under circumstances of revolting cruelty. Cats made of piano-wire were in some instances used for the better effect of flagellation. Some of the scourges were shown to the Commissioners, who observe that it is "painful to think that any man should have used such an instrument for the torturing of his fellow-creatures."
When the story reached
The Report of the Commissioners was made in April, 1866. It declared in substance that the disturbances had their immediate origin in a planned resistance to authority, arising partly out of a desire to obtain the land free of rent, and partly out of the want of confidence felt by the labouring class in the tribunals by which most of the disputes affecting their interests were decided; that the disturbance spread rapidly, and that Mr. Eyre deserved praise for the skill and vigour with which he had stopped it in time beginning; but that martial law was kept in force too long;
that the punishments inflicted were excessive; that the punishment of death
was unnecessarily frequent; that the floggings were reckless, and in some
cases positively barbarous; that the burning of one thousand houses was wanton
and cruel; that although it was probable that Gordon, by his writings and
speeches, had done much to bring about excitement and discontent, and thus
rendered insurrection possible, yet there was no sufficient proof of his
complicity in the outbreak, or in any organised conspiracy against the
Government; and, indeed, that there was no wide-spread conspiracy of any kind.
Of course this finished Mr. Eyre's career as a Colonial Governor. A new
Governor, Sir J. P. Grant, was sent out to
branded with such infamy that it is almost
impossible such things could ever be done again in
1941 von Velhagen & Klasing in