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Negro Emancipation


Negro Emancipation - Mr. Buxton's Motion on Slavery - Mr. Canning's Resolutions - Change in Public Opinion on Slavery - Condition of the West Indian Slaves - Influence of the Missionaries - Mr. Brougham's Motion - Mr. Stanley's Plan of Negro Emancipation - Compensation to the Slave-owners - Apprenticeship - The Emancipation Act passed - Liberty proclaimed 1st of August, 1834 - Provisions of the Measure- Division of the Twenty Millions - Working of the Apprenticeship System - Complete Emancipation in 1838 - Economic and Social Effects of Emancipation - Results of Free and Slave Labour, a Contrast - Lord Eldon and the New Poor Law - Renewal of the Irish Coercion Act - Lord Althorp and Mr. Sheil - Trades Unions - Strikes - Excitement about the Conviction of Six Dorchester Labourers - Strike of 3,000 Men at Leeds - Meeting at Copenhagen Fields - Strike of 13,000 Tailors in London - Charges against the Trades Unions - Condemned by Lord Brougham - Murder of a Manufacturer at Chester - Strike of 10,000 London Builders - Debate on Mr. O'Connell's Motion on the Repeal of the Union - Speech of Mr. Spring Rice - Ovation of the Duke of Wellington and Lord Eldon at Oxford - Disappointment of the Tories- Dissensions in the Cabinet - Charge against Baron Smith - The Vote of Censure against him Rescinded - The Corn Laws - Retirement of Lord Grey: his Career and Character - Dispute between O'Connell and the Chief Secretary - Lord Melbourne Premier- Dissenting Grievances - Their Exclusion from the Ministry - The Bill for their Admission rejected - Old Bailey Jurisdiction.
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The active mind, strong will, and philanthropic spirit of Mr. Stanley found an important field for their exercise in the colonial office. He applied his energies to the abolition of negro slavery in the West Indies, and was happily more successful in that work than in his attempt to tranquillise Ireland. The time had arrived when the labours on behalf of the negro race, of Clarkson, Wilberforce, Mackintosh, Brougham, Buxton, Lushington, and William Smith were to be followed with success, by the abolition of slavery in our West Indian colonies. The Society of Friends, as became that philanthropic body, led the van in the movement which commenced in 1823, when Mr. Wilberforce presented a petition from them in the house of commons. Soon after Mr. Buxton brought forward a resolution, condemning slavery as repugnant to Christianity and to the British constitution, when Mr. Canning moved counter-resolutions as an amendment, recommending reforms in the system, which, it was alleged, might be safely left to the West Indian assemblies; and if they refused to do their duty, the imperial parliament might then interfere. These resolutions were carried, although any one acquainted with the history of the West Indies might have known that they would be perfectly futile. No amelioration of the system could be rationally expected from the reckless adventurers and mercenary agents by whom many West Indian plantations were managed. The infamous cruelty of which the missionary Smith had been the victim showed that, while the colonial laws allowed the most horrible atrocities, there existed among the planters a spirit of brutality which did not shrink from their perpetration. Time was when such barbarities might have escaped with impunity; when in our own country it was maintained in high places, and even by the legislature, that slavery was defended by an impregnable fortress, that property in human fl^sh was not only expedient for the good of the commonwealth, and beneficial for the negro, but also a sacred institution, founded on the authority of the Bible. But, thanks to the indefatigable labours of the friends of the negro race, such abominable dogmas had been long reprobated by public opinion, and at the period now referred to no man ventured to promulgate such heresies in England. The moral sense of the nation had condemned slavery in every form. The missionaries had, in the midst of tremendous difficulties and cruel persecutions, enlightened the West Indian slaves with regard to their rights as men and their privileges as Christians; and while they inculcated patience and meek submission even to unjust laws, they animated their crushed hearts with the hope that the blessings of liberty would soon be enjoyed by them, and that humanity and justice would speedily triumph over the ruthless tyranny under which they groaned.

Ten years passed away from the adoption of Mr. Canning's resolution, and little or nothing was effectually done to mitigate the system, notwithstanding various subsequent recommendations of the British government. The consolidated slave law for the crown colonies contained in an order in council issued in 1830, was proposed for the chartered colonies as a model for their adoption; but it contained no provision for the education or religious instruction of the slaves. All the chartered colonies, except two, Grenada and Tobago, had legalised Sunday markets, and they allowed no other time to the negroes for marketing or cultivating their provision grounds. The evidence of slaves had been made admissible; but in most of the colonies the right was so restricted as to make it entirely useless. Except in the crown colonies, the marriage of slaves was subject to all sorts of vexatious impediments. The provision against the separation of families was found everywhere imperative. The right of acquiring property was so limited as to prove a mockery and a delusion. The order in council gave the slaves the right of redeeming themselves and their families, even against the will of their owners; but all the chartered colonies peremptorily refused any such right of self-liberation. In nearly all the colonies the master had a right by law to inflict thirty-nine lashes at one time, on any slave of any age, or of either sex, for any offence whatever, or for no offence. He could also imprison his victims in the stocks of the workhouse as long as he pleased. There was no return of punishments inflicted, and no proper record. An order in council had forbidden the flogging of females; but in all the chartered colonies the infamous practice had been continued, in defiance of the supreme government. The administration of justice - if the term be applicable to a system whose very essence was iniquity - was left to pursue its own course, without any effort for its purification. In July, 1830, Mr. Brougham brought forward his motion, that the house should resolve, at the earliest possible period in next session, to take into consideration # the state of the West Indian colonies, in order to the mitigation and final abolition of slavery, and more especially in order to the amendment of the administration of justice. But the national mind was then so pre-occupied with home subjects of agitation that the house was but thinly attended, and the motion was lost by a large majority. The reform agitation absorbed public interest for the two following years, so that nothing was done to mitigate the hard lot of the suffering negro till the question was taken up by Mr. Stanley, in 1833, in compliance with the repeated and earnest entreaties of the friends of emancipation. The abolitionists, of course, had always insisted upon immediate, unconditional emancipation - the restoration of the negro to all the rights of manhood conferred upon him by the Creator, and of which he had been deprived. But the ministerial plan contained two provisions altogether at variance with their views; a term of apprenticeship, which, in the first draft of the measure, was to last twelve years, and compensation to the owners - a proposition which, though advanced with hesitation, ultimately assumed the enormous amount of twenty millions sterling. On the principle of compensation there was a general agreement, because it was the state that had created the slave property, had legalised it, and imposed upon the present owners all their liabilities. It was therefore thought to be unjust to ruin them by what would be regarded as a breach of faith on the part of the legislature. The same excuse could not be made for the system of protracted apprenticeship, which would be a continuance of slavery under another name. If the price were to be paid for emancipation, the value should be received at once. This was the feeling of lord Howick, who was then under secretary for the colonies, and who resigned his office rather than be a party to the apprenticeship scheme, which he vigorously opposed in the house as did also Mr Buxton and Mr. O'Connell. But the principle was carried against them by aa overwhelming majority. Among the most prominent and efficient advocates of the negroes during the debates were Mr. Buckingham, Dr. Lushington, admiral Flemming, and Mr. T. B. Macaulay. The opposition to the government resolution was not violent; it was led by Sir Robert Peel, whose most strenuous supporters were Sir Richard Vyvian, Mr. Godson, Mr. W. E. Gladstone, and Mr. Hume. In the house of lords the resolutions were accepted without a division, being supported by the earl of Ripon, lord Suffield, earl Grey, and the lord chancellor Brougham. The speakers on the other side were the duke of Wellington, the earl of Hare wood, lord Ellenborough, and lord Wynford.

In the bill which was founded on the resolutions, the term of apprenticeship was limited to six years fur the plantation negroes, and four for all others. The bill passed the house of lords with slight opposition; and on the 28th of August, 1833, it received the royal assent. It does not appear that William IV. urged any plea of conscience against signing this act of emancipation, although in his early days he had been, in common with all the royal family, except the duke of Gloucester, opposed to the abolition of the slave trade. The act was to take effect on the 1st day of August, 1834, on which day slavery was to cease throughout the British colonies. All slaves who at that date should appear to be six years old and upwards were to be registered as "apprentice labourers" to those who had been their owners. All slaves who happened to be brought into the United Kingdom, and all apprentice labourers who might be brought into it with the consent of their owners, were to be absolutely free. The apprentices were divided into three classes. The first class consisted of "predial apprentice labourers," usually employed in agriculture, or the manufacture of Colonial produce, on lands belonging to their owners, and these were declared to be attached to the soil. The second class, consisting of the same kind of labourers, who worked on lands not belonging to their owners, were not attached to the soil. The third class consisted of "non-predial apprenticed labourers," and embraced mechanics, artisans, domestic servants, and all slaves not included in the other two classes. The apprenticeship of the first was to terminate on the 1st of August, 1840; and of the "non-predial" on the same d >y in 1838. The apprentices were not obliged to labour for their employers more than forty-five hours in any one week. Voluntary discharges were permitted; but, in that case, a provision was made for the support of old and infirm apprentices. An apprentice could free himself before the expiration of the term, against the will of his master, by getting himself appraised, and paying the price. No apprentices were to be removed from the colony to which they belonged, nor from one plantation to another in the same colony, except on a certificate from a justice of the peace that the removal would not injure their health or welfare, or separate the members of the same family. Under these conditions the apprentices were transferable with the estates to which they were attached. Their masters were bound to furnish them with food, clothing, lodging, and other necessaries, according to the existing laws of the several colonies, and to allow them sufficient provision ground, and time for cultivating it, where that mode of maintenance was adopted. All children under six years of age, when the act came into operation, and all that should be born during the apprenticeship, were declared free; but if any children were found destitute, they could be apprenticed, and subjected to the same regulations as the others. The act allowed governors of colonies to appoint stipendiary magistrates, with salaries not exceeding 300 a-year, to carry the provisions of the law into effect. Corporal punishment was not absolutely abolished, but it could be inflicted only by the special justices, who were authorised to punish the apprentices by whipping, beating, imprisonment, or addition to the hours of labour. The corporal punishment of females was absolutely forbidden under all circumstances. The quantity of punishment was restricted, and the hours of additional labour imposed were not to exceed fifteen in the week.

The sum of twenty millions was divided into nineteen shares, one for each of the colonies, proportioned to the number of its registered slaves, taken in connection with the market price of slaves in that colony, on an average of eight years, ending with 1830. But no money was payable in any colony until it should have been declared by an order in council that satisfactory provision had been made by law in such colony for giving effect to the emancipation act. Two of them were so perverse as to decline for several years to qualify for the reception of the money; but others acted in a different spirit. Believing that the system of apprenticeship was impolitic, they declined to take advantage of it, and manumit'ed their slaves at once; Antigua was the first to adopt this wise course. Its slaves were all promptly emancipated, and their conduct fully justified the policy; for on Christmas Day, 1834, for the first time during thirty years, martial law was not proclaimed in that island. Thus, the effect of liberty was peace, quietness, and confidence. Bermuda followed this good example, as did also the smaller inlands, and afterwards the large island of Barbadoes; and their emancipation was hailed by the negroes with religious services, followed by festive gatherings. Jamaica, and some other islands, endeavoured thwart the operation of the new law, as far as possible, and took every advantage in making the apprentices miserable, and wreaking upon them their spite and malice. They met with harsher treatment than ever, being in many instances either savagely ill-used or inhumanly neglected. Considering their provocations, it was generally admitted that they behaved on the whole very well, enduring with patience and resignation the afflictions which they knew must come to an end in a few years. The total number of slaves converted into apprentices on the 1st of August, 1834, was 800,000. The apprenticeship did not last beyond the shorter time prescribed, and on the 1st of August, 1838, there was not a slave in existence under the British crown, save only in the island of Mauritius, which was soon required by instructions from the home government to carry the act into effect.

There were the gloomiest possible predictions that the act would not work satisfactorily; that the colonies would be ruined; that the negroes would abandon their occupations, and take to the bush; that the estates would lapse into a wilderness; and that we might bid adieu to West Indian sugar. There is no need to dispute the fact that the inhabitants of a tropical country are inclined to be very indolent, and that they will not work much while they can obtain the necessaries of life without working. They naturally prefer to " bask in the sun, and stem the tepid wave; " but it is, nevertheless, the fact, that with all the grumbling of the planters, and the loud complaints, especially from Jamaica, of impending bankruptcy and ruin, the islands, on the whole, were never in so flourishing a state as they have been since the abolition of slavery. It appears from a sugar return of 1858, that in the last two complete years of slavery, viz., 1832 and 1833, the exports of sugar from the West Indies to Great Britain were 8,471,741 cwt., while the exports for the two years of 1856 and 1857 were 8,736,654 cwt. These returns are limited to Great Britain alone, no account being taken of the then recent and promising trade with Australia and the United States. Exclusive of Jamaica and the Mauritius, the remaining fifteen islands of the West Indies produced during 1855,1856, and 1857, 7,427,618 cwt.; while the same islands produced during the last three years of slavery 7,405,849 cwt. of sugar. There is one fact which shows the sound commercial state of the West Indies, namely, that in 1857, the year of the severe commercial crisis, the colonial bank received bills amounting to 1,300,000, and less than 8,000 were returned. There was no failure during that year in the West Indian trade; and coffee, cotton, wool, sugar, rum, and cocoa were all exported in increased quantities. The exports of Great Britain alone, as shown by the trade and navigation accounts for 1858 to the West Indies, really averaged more than half a million over the preceding ten years. These official statistics go to prove that the West Indies are rapidly advancing in wealth and prosperity since the year of the emancipation. The general character and habits of the people are likewise improved. At that time from two to three hundred villages had grown up by the exertions of the negroes in the island of Jamaica alone, and upwards of 100,000 acres of land had been purchased in that island by the coloured inhabitants. In the legislative assembly of Jamaica, which counts some fifty members, are some ten or a dozen gentlemen of colour. Negroes have found their way into the police force, among the officers of the penitentiary and of the courts of justice, among the barristers, and among the magistracy. Education is gradually making way, and crime of an atrocious character is very rare in these islands. There can be but one opinion regarding the results of emancipation entertained by any man who will dispassionately investigate the condition of the coloured populations in the West Indies; and that opinion will redound, in the highest degree, to the sagacity as well as the generosity of those who then advocated the deliverance of the slave,. England, by freeing her slaves, performed a politic as well as a very just act. Men may now find practically exemplified what was frequently scouted in the heat of the debates on emancipation, that however wildly theoretical or absurdly philanthropical the position might then appear, the past thirty years have demonstrated that when a nation has courage to be just it need have no fear in the long run of its commercial prosperity.

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