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Abolitionists and Emancipators page 2


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Of Lushington, Buxton said: 'He has ever been as disinterested, as honest, as generous a supporter of our great Cause as could be.' Every idea, every plan, was arranged between them, but not one-tenth part of Lushington's work ever met the public eye.

Mr. Charles Buxton, in the memoir of his father, has left us a vivid picture of Zachary Macaulay:

Mr. Macaulay's stooping figure, his entangled utterance and neglected dress - but within there dwelt the spirit of a hero and a heart glowing with love to God and man. From the moment of his embracing the abolition cause till the day of his death, he flinched neither from toil nor privations, neither from obloquy or persecution, but sacrificed himself, with the whole of his personal hopes, to advancing the cause of humanity.

Of this group, Buxton's striking qualities of character, his integrity and single-mindedness, iron determination coupled with sound judgment, made him the unquestioned leader. He was always distinguished by balance. His moderation, indeed, got him into hot water on more than one occasion with the more ardent of his supporters. But his judgment was seldom at fault, and if it proved to be so he was the first to acknowledge it. He could be dogged to the last degree, but with all his strength he was the most patient of men and he never showed a trace of bitterness. The foundations both of his strength and his serenity were in his Christian faith, his ideally happy home life and his love of nature.

After an exhausting fight in Parliament he loved to escape to 'the peace, the divine peace, of the country.' He took great delight in his horses and dogs and had all the Buxton love of birds and of nature. He was a devoted father, and even when overwhelmed with Parliamentary work found time to write to his little boys about their ponies and what they would do in the world when they grew up. They were never afraid to come to him. His manner to them as they grew older is shown in a letter written by one of his sons, then a mere boy:

I cannot help being struck with the exquisite tenderness of heart which my father always displays; his unwillingness to debar us from pleasure, the zeal with which he will make any sacrifice or take any trouble to gratify us, is most surprising. One little example to-day will describe his whole conduct. He, being really unwell, was lying nearly asleep on the sofa and observing me upon another with my feet hanging over the side, he quietly got up, placed a chair under them, and then lay down again. His whole appearance with his worn and thoughtful face, is so much that of a man whom one would approach with some sensation of awe, that these small, though exquisite acts of tenderness are the more unexpected and consequently the more pleasing.

One of his maxims was: 'Let it be your first duty to teach the world that you are not wood and straw - some iron in you.' Of his eight children, the eldest, a boy of ten years old, died in 1820, and less than five weeks afterwards three little girls died also, of measles. Eleven years later, his second boy, Harry, died after a long illness. What these losses must have meant to a family so happy and united can be imagined. Wilberforce understood, for he and his wife had suffered like losses.

Buxton's religion was his rock, his strength and his comfort. The Rev. J. W. Cunningham refers to ' the child-like simplicity of his faith.' He and some of his friends met every night when the House was sitting to pray and read the Bible and he was very often the 'Chaplain.' He was a loyal member of the Church of England, but was entirely free from sectarianism. Through his mother, his wife, the Gurneys, William Allen and others he was all his life in very close touch with the Society of Friends and found help and comfort in their quiet meetings, besides invaluable support for the Anti-Slavery Cause. His attitude is well illustrated in a letter to his brother-in-law, Andrew Johnston, in 1839:

Yesterday I was whipt off to a meeting in the city on the subject of Bethnal Green, and had to tell the Bishop of London that I was ready to join Methodists or Baptists, or Quakers, or any honest body, in spreading Christianity in Bethnal Green; but he took it very kindly.

He was glad and thankful to work with all Christians in all good causes.

Soon after entering Parliament, Fowell Buxton took part in debates on the subject of Convict Transport, but it was not until March, 1819, that he made his first big speech in seconding Sir James Mackintosh's motion for the Reform of the Criminal Code. Buxton had studied the question thoroughly and his sterling good sense, his good language and his earnest manner made an extremely favourable impression on the House. Select Committees were set up for the Reform of the Penal Code and of Prison Discipline. He served on both Committees and the resultant reforms fully repaid him and Sir James Mackintosh for their labours.

It may be well at this stage to take a bird's-eye view of the whole question in order to see how each stage led to the next. Many of the early Abolitionists, indeed, had little or no thought of the Emancipation of the Slaves. Clarkson, who had worked with Wilberforce from the first, expressed and described his own attitude and that of Wilberforce in a letter to Buxton: 'When my dear and revered friend, Mr. Wilberforce and others first embarked on it, we directed our endeavours as a first step, to the Abolition of the Slave Trade only.... But you, who succeed us, take a wider field of labour.' Abolition in 1807, led to Emancipation in 1833. Thereafter Britain, in the strength of a clear conscience, warred ceaselessly against the Slave Trade still carried on by foreign countries. By degrees not the Slave Trade only, but Slave-owning itself, was made illegal in the possessions of the more civilised countries. Finally, in our own day, the League of Nations has taken in hand 'the abolition of Slavery in all its forms,' and put into words the great principle of Trusteeship. But that principle had been grasped by Buxton many years before. To his far-sightedness, vision and wide grasp, not only of immediate objectives but of ultimate aims, belongs a greater share of the credit for the ultimate transformation of British public opinion from the acceptance of slavery to the ideal of Trusteeship than even we, who to-day see the whole picture in perspective, are perhaps capable of realising. He grasped not only the principles but the practice of Trusteeship. He realised that newly freed slaves could not at once stand alone, but he trusted them and believed in giving them responsibility.

His advocacy of international action against the Slave Trade, on the lines which the League of Nations is only now beginning to adopt, was many years ahead of his time. So was his clear understanding of the fundamental importance to the native of the land and labour questions.

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