Back to the Christian History Society of America
Tell a Friend about the CHSA!    

  Important Links

•  Christian History Institute

•  Christian Heritage Center



One Nation Under God

Slave Trade Abolition Fails
       from The Debate on a Motion for the Abolition of the Slave-Trade (1791)

Compiler's Note: Christian philanthropist and member of Parliament, William Wilberforce, after much encouragement from his supporters in Parliament and an inspired presentation of reason for his motion, brilliantly based on every evidence and proof of wicked beastly examples that the slave trade was unchristian, inhuman, demonic, having no popular support and totally wrong by any measurement known to God, sat down and listened to the opposition speak as follows.

title pageFacsimile of title page from the debate.

Colonel Tarelton declared, that "gratitude towards those constituents, who had sent him so honorably to that House, as well as a thorough conviction of the justice of their cause, impelled him to vindicate their character and property, although, perhaps, from experience, or inability, he might not be able to accomplish what he so ardently desired. The ingenuity, the amplification, and the pathetic eloquence, of the Hon. Gentleman, Wilberforce having worked no conviction on his mind, he should proceed to arrange the arguments he had to offer, against the Abolition of the Slave Trade. So many branches of the commerce of this country were connected and interwoven with the question, that it would be necessary to make any statements, form several calculations, and read various extracts, to elucidate the subject. Throughout the whole of what he had to say, he should aim more at perspicuity than embellishment, and labor rather to convince the understanding than bewilder the imagination."

Before he entered upon any part of the subject, he though it necessary, for the sake of clearness, and to prove to Gentlemen, that he did not mean to evade or blink any strong part of the question, to enumerate the different heads upon which he was about to speak. He said, he should state the beginning of the Trade, the sanction given to it be Government, the manner of conducting the Trade on the Coast of Africa, the transit to the West Indies, the employment and treatment of the Negroes in the West Indies, the amount of the property engaged in the trade, the value of the West India Islands to this country, the eagerness other nations have discovered to enlarge their Slave-Trade, and the importance of the Trade as a nursery for seamen. He then went into an historical account, from the reign of Queen Elizabeth down to the present time, quoting his authority, and dwelling some time on this part of the subject.

Colonel Tarleton next came to the sanction of Parliament was had always countenanced the Trade, and could not, without a breach of faith, be withdrawn; and here he recollected what had fallen from a Right Hon. Gentleman on a former occasion, and which he thought applicable to those concerned in the African Trade; it was, that upon no occasion, short of absolute necessity, ought private property to be seized by public acts, without granting a compensation. The Colonel contended, that the Africans themselves had no objections to the Trade; and many people who were prejudiced against it, had been led away by mistaken humanity, and often by misrepresentation. With regard to the number of deaths, which happened on the passage, he had access to examine, and could distinctly state, to the Committee, that they never had exceeded in the Liverpool ships, on an average, five out of a hundred, whereas, in regiments sent out to the West Indies or America, the average was about ten and half in the hundred.

Many attempts had been made to cultivate the lands in the different Islands, by white laborers; but it was found, that from the difference of climate, and other causes, population had decreased, and that those who took the greatest pains to accomplish this, found that, in ten years time, they could not have any proportion of Whites capable of purposes of cultivation at all. He therefore agreed in the necessity of the Slave-Trade, if we meant to carry on the West India Commerce and Cultivation; and he quoted the opinions of Gov. Parry, Adm. Hotham, Com. Gardiner, Sir. Arch. Campbell, and a long list of respectable names, in support of the position which he had laid down. Next, he gave the opinion of that gallant officer, Lord Rodney, respecting the great advantage that accrued to the Navy, upon the breaking out of a war, by having so numerous a body of mariners, inured to the climate, when we wish to send a fleet to the West Indies; a circumstance worthy of attention. And from Liverpool alone, he said, the Navy might be supplied with 993 seamen annually, from the best calculation that could be made; an object that certainly ought not to escape the notice of a wise Government.

Col. Tarleton then proceeded nearly as follows: Having received the indulgence of the House during various statements, which, perhaps, had nothing of novelty in them, but which were indispensably necessary, and which he had endeavored to render as concise as possible, he would not much longer trespass on it's patience. It could not, however, he trusted, be deemed superfluous if he mentioned some circumstances to the House which he might have omitted, or which he had not sufficiently enforced to attract it's attention. He could with Gentlemen to advert to the property and connections dependent on the African Trade; as much dependent on the African Trade, to use the language of a nervous and elegant writer, as a "bird is on its wing, for food, and when wounded there, it starves!" He could wish to impress Gentlemen strongly with the recollection of the sanction the African Trade had obtained from Parliament. He could wish to remind them of the length of time the question of Abolition had been pending in that House. He could wish to give as much assistance as lay in his power, which he acknowledged to be extremely feeble, to accelerate that adjudication which had been so often, and so earnestly, entreated by the numerous merchants and manufacturers of this country, whose interest had been materially injured by procrastination: and he trusted he could not make a futile appeal to that House, when he called upon it's justice to extend an immediate vote of protection to the West India Planters, whose lives had been, and were, exposed to imminent and hourly danger, and whose property had undergone a sever and unmerited depreciation, notwithstanding the existing laws of this country, for the inquisitorial powers vested by the constitution in this House. To what could Gentlemen ascribe that depreciation? To what could they impute the late insurrection at Dominica? Which Island the Governor lately pledged himself to hold in subjection, without the assistance of the military, but which was lately saved, from horrid carnage and midnight butchery, by the adventitious presence of two British regiments? To what, he repeated, could Gentlemen impute this insurrection, but to the question of Abolition? And, after a tedious investigation on that question for near four years, he could not discover the slightest reason to justify delay, except Gentlemen could not prevail upon themselves to decide, before an insurrection had absolutely taken place at Jamaica, when the sorrow, he had almost said the penitence, of the Mover and abettors of the Abolition, and the interference of that House, would be equally unavailing.

To gentlemen of great landed property, it was unnecessary for him to point out the tendency and probable effect of the proposed Abolition. If he possessed all the eloquence and ingenuity in that House, with those powerful auxiliaries, he should not be able to convince them, that the Abolition would lessen the national debt, increase the commerce of the country, or take one fraction from the oppressive taxes they now endured: but, he believed they would give him credit, inexperienced as he was in that House, when he plainly advanced, that it would have a directly contrary effect; when he asserted, that the authors and abettors of the Abolition endanger their honor, their property, and their happiness; and when he inferred, that the Minister, not being taken by surprise, must be supposed to have some capital resource in store, either from some novel calculation that the land tax would bear an additional burden, or from some inexhaustible source of unclaimed property, which had hitherto escaped the vigilance of his predecessors in office, and would compensate to the public for such a diminution of the Trade, and consequent defalcation of the revenue of the country.

To the mercantile part of the House, he must likewise use language, which, he was sorry to say, seemed consonant to the feelings of the authors and abettors of the Abolition. "Gentlemen, your success in trade, has of late years been so prodigious, that it seems necessary to suspend your activity, by cutting off one of the principal branches of your trade, for the sake of humanity and the honor of the nation. You are to have no farther respect for, or future confidence in, Acts of Parliament. The sanction of the Legislature is nothing. A few of the Ministerial side of this House have been gifted with religious inspiration, and the revelation has been extended to certain imminent Personages on this side of the House; and these enlighted Philanthropists have discovered, that it seems necessary, for the sake of humanity, and the honor of the nation, that all British merchants concerned in the African Trade should have their designs harassed, their property injured, and their reputation traduced; notwithstanding such persecution must, undoubtedly, softer, encourage, and aggrandize the surrounding nations of Europe, who rival Great Britain in her commerce, and in her navigation." As the superstition and bigotry, in the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth centuries, which, during those dark, ignorant, and barbarous ages, threw down every barrier erected by reason by justice-in the name of God, let not a mistaken humanity, in these enlightened times, furnish a colorable pretext for any injurious attack on property or reputation.

But if all the authorities which he had adduced, were doubtful-if his premises were fallacious-if some of the circumstances of cruelty were proved, which the Abolitionists have only asserted, and which, fortunately for this country, and happily for human nature, were unfounded, he thought himself guilty of a rash and impolitic measure in voting for the Abolition, if he took only a cursory glance at the finances of England, and her relative situation with Europe. He could not bring himself to think this is a convenient time, the country in an eligible situation, or the Minister serious in his inclination to make an experiment which presents a certain prospect of loss, and no probability of advantage. An Abolition would instantly annihilate a trade, which annually employs upwards of 5,500 sailors, upwards of 160 ships, and whose exports amount to 800,000 sterling. And the same experiment would undoubtedly, bring the West India trade to decay, whose exports and imports amount to upwards of 6,000,000 sterling, and which gives employment to upwards of 160,000 tons of additional shipping, and sailors in proportion-all objects of too great magnitude to be hazarded on an unnecessary speculation, which, in all human probability, would prove ruinous to the commercial consequence, to the national honor, and the political glory of Great Britain.

Mr. Grosvenor, having come into the House while Col. Tarelton was speaking, rose immediately after him. He prefaced his speech with many compliments to the humanity and good intention of the Honorable Mover. He said, he had read only the Report of the Privy Council; for he wanted no other evidence, and it appeared to him, from the delay of two years, that the Honorable Gentleman himself must have great doubts of the propriety of his motion; for, if it was so clear a point as it was declared to be, it could not have needed either so much evidence or so much time. Mr. Grosvenor said, he had heard a great deal of kidnapping Slaves, and of other barbarous practices. He was sorry for it; but it should be recollected, that these things were the consequence of the natural law of Africa, and that, instead of declaiming against it, we should endeavor, like wise men, to turn it to our own advantage. Gentlemen had displayed a great deal of eloquence in exhibiting, in horrid colors, the traffic in Slaves. He acknowledged it was an unnamable Trade, so also were many others: the trade of a butcher was an unnamable trade, but it was necessary one, notwithstanding. He could not help thinking there was great reason to doubt the propriety of the motion; and, the more he considered the subject, the more was he persuaded that it was an improvident and unwise measure. Mr. Grosvenor said, he would endeavor to explain the nature of his objections to the motion, by introducing a story. When the Duke of Marlborough was abroad, the Commander of a garrison, which he visited, made an apology for not saluting His Grace, according to the custom, assuring him he had one hundred reasons to assign for not doing it. The first of which was, that he had no cannon: upon which the Duke immediately answered, that he would excuse him the other ninety and nine. In the same manner, said Mr. Grosvenor, "I have twenty reasons for disapproving the Abolition of the Slave Trade, the first of which is, That the thing is impossible; and therefore, I need not give the other nineteen." Parliament could not abolish the Trade: they might relinquish it; but to whom? To France, Spain, and Holland, and other countries, who would take it up and share it among them; so that the Trade would be still continued, and without the humane regulations which were applied to it by the English.

After some observations, Mr. Grosvenor quoted a saying of the late Alderman Beckford, on the origin of the American War, when he cautioned the House against it: "Meddle not with troubled waters (said the Alderman) they will be found to be bitter waters, and the waters of affliction." He again said, that he admitted it was an unnamable Trade; but he would not gratify his humanity at the expense of the interests of his country, and he though we should not too curiously enquire into the unpleasant circumstances with which perhaps it was attended. He should, therefore, certainly oppose the Abolition.

Mr. Burdon said, he was a good deal embarrassed how to act. The Honorable Gentleman who moved the question, had, in a great measure, met his ideas. He considered himself as very much in his hands; but he wished to go gradually, and not so much at one, to the question of Abolition. He wished to give time to the Planters; for taking such measures as would keep up their stock; and he feared the immediate Abolition might cause a monopoly among the rich Planters, to the prejudice of the less affluent. We ought, like a judicious physician, to follow Nature, and promote a recovery that should be gradual. He wished, therefore, for some motion short of Abolition.

Tuesday, April 19.

Sir William Young rose and said, that having the day before listened, with due attention, and he might say, with admiration, to the Speech of his Honorable Friend (Wilberforece), he felt the presumption of any attempt to counteract the first impression on the minds and passions of the House, and he therefore had reserved his opposition to a more cool and temperate period of the Debate.

He knew that the part which, with others, he was to take, would bear time and reflection, that he had the vantage ground of fact and of argument, which he had much need to possess, while so much ability, as well as influence of situation and character, were ranged on the side of his adversaries. Truth and reason, he said, must indeed be with him, and strongly too, to warrant a single hope of success in the event of that night's Debate! Yet that hope he ventured to entertain, relying on the facts and inferences which he should state.

It was indisputable, that the interests of private property and of commerce, might be affected by the measure proposed. A new trade, indeed, in Africa, was held out as an indemnification; and considerations also of still greater force, namely, the paramount claims of justice and of humanity, had also been brought in aid of the argument. Such claims no one would oppose, when clear and acknowledge; but the premises on which the Committee were urged to proceed, ought first to be examined, and a discrimination made of circumstances of objects and effects. The probable attainments, on the side of Philanthropy and moral obligation, ought to be sifted out, since the sacrifice proposed was, in the opinion of many, nothing less than a considerable portion of British Commerce, and an ultimate surrender of the British Colonies.

Before he gave his vote for the Abolition of the Slave Trade, he should wish to be convinced, that whilst Britain loses, Africa would gain. No one was more averse to a traffic of men, termed a Slave Trade, and he happily anticipated it's termination at no very distant period of years, under a wise and temperate system of regulation. He spoke of the present measure, as crude and indolent, as precluding better and wiser measures already in train, and as tending to withhold the necessary encouragement to our Colonies, in what they were now doing, preparatory to the object, of finally suppressing the Trade, which we had in view; and he observed, that it ought to be the characteristic of a British Parliament, to attain not only the best ends, but by the wisest means.

Great Britain might abandon her share of this Trade, but could not abolish it. The general question of the Abolition of the Trade for Salves to Africa, was not before the Committee. They were not an Assembly of Delegates from France, from Spain, from Holland, and other Powers, now engage in that Commerce, but the Legislature of a single Nation, whose dereliction of it could not, in anywise suppress, but would eventually aggravate, those miseries incident to it, which every enlightened man must acknowledge, and every good man must deplore. He wished to see the traffic for ever closed, as much as his Honorable Friend, but that "consummation devoutly to be wished," would be farther removed, by a too hasty and unqualified secession on the part of Great Britain.

We might, by regulation, give example of new sentiments, new policy, and principles of justice, and of nature, both to Africa, and to the Nations trading with her, but if we suddenly withdrew from this Commerce of Slaves, like Pontius Pilate, we washed our hands indeed, but we should not be innocent as to the consequences.

He then stated, that the Nations of Europe, as well as the United States of America, were crowding to this Trade for Slaves, and only waited it's suppression, on the part of Great Britain, to rush on the Coasts of Africa, in competition for the share of traffic, thus newly opened to them. The new projects would go far beyond the old mark of temperate acquisition, and in the zeal of rivalship, the present evils of comparatively sober dealing, would be aggravated to an enormity beyond all estimate, in this new Auction, this new heat of Bidders for Life and Limb.

On the first agitation of this business, his Honorable Friend (Wilberforce) spoke with confidence, of other Nations abandoning this traffic, after our example. The prophecy was scarcely delivered, when a similar procedure was instituted in the National Assembly of France, under every advantage: yet what was the result? The Slave Trade was referred to a Select Committee, and the report of that Committee to reject the measure of Abolition. Mr. Barnave moved sundry resolutions to such effect, which were received with acclamation, and voted with unanimous assent. He was astonished to hear again, the same promises and expectations held out. He then quoted the evidences of Mr. Dalzell, Mr. Penny, Mr. Falconbridge, and others, to show that the French were actually foremost in continuing and extending the Slave Trade, giving bounties of 40 Livres a ton, on the shipping employed in it, and 60 Livres on each Slave, imported into Martinique and Guadeloupe, 100 Livres on each, being the bounty to several other Islands; that Spain also was seeking a Slave Trade, giving a bounty of four dollars each, and opening certain Ports for two years, to all foreign vessels, freighted, exclusively, with African Slaves; that Denmark also was desirous of a portion of this commerce, as appeared from the evidence; that America did not neglect this Trade, but was advancing in it: and that the Dutch, as appeared by resolutions of the States of Holland and West Friezeland, recognized it's necessity, and formally recommended effectual means for it's recovery.

The consequences of this new competition, he was persuaded, would be more pernicious to the Africans, than the share of Trade now held by Great Britain. Things were bad enough indeed, as they now ere, but they would bear aggravation. He did not admit the disorders imputed to the Trade, in all their extent. The Slave Coast was said, in evidence, to be populous. He did not allow, therefore, that pillaging, or kidnapping, could be general, though too frequent instances of it were in proof. Crimes were said to be falsely imputed, for the purpose of procuring Slaves; this also, he admitted, but only to a certain extent. Witchcraft, he believed, was the secret of poisoning (a crime, surely, of the deepest dye) and adultery, in countries, where, as in Africa, polygamy was practiced, was wont to be so severely punished, that a number of convictions on this ground, was not to be wondered at. He feared, if a sale of these Criminals was hastily done away, massacre would be the substitute; and he urged the sanguinary temper of the Africans, which appeared from a variety of witnesses, as a ground of this suspicion.

His Hen. Friend had stated, that a full third of those sold to the slave ships, were children; and had then asked, as in just triumph of argument, "Have these committed crimes, have these been taken in war?" In answer to this, he declared, That women and children were often included in the massacres of savage Nations, engaged in war; and he quoted a Book, entitled, A State of Hudson's Bay, mentioning the destruction of a young girl, by the Savages, at war, in proof of this assertion.

A Right Hon. Gentlemen, of leading abilities, had asked, on a former day, "Is it an excuse for committing robbery on Hounflow Heath, to say, that another would commit it, adding murder also, if you did not?" This was begging the question. A Trade for Slaves did not necessarily imply robbery or rapine. Not long since, Great Britain sold her Convicts, indirectly at least, to Slavery. But he was not advocate for the Trade; it rested on principles repugnant to the temper of his mind. He wished it had never begun. He wished it might soon terminate; but the means proposed were not merely inadequate, but would preclude the effect. He had shown, that other States would supersede, and even go beyond us in the Trade, is we left it. Where, then, would be the improved manners and industry of the Africans?

He therefore thought, that all argument respecting the improved agriculture, manufactures, and civilization of Africa, ought to be put out of the question. A Right Hon. Gentleman (Mr. Burke) distinguished for his genius, had said, "That in adopting the measure proposed, we must prepare to pay the price of our virtue." He was ready to pay his share of that price; but, the object of purchase must be ascertained. Was it the happiness or the misery of thousands? Gentlemen must not be allured from their duty, by mere names. If they did not estimate the effect, it was not benevolence, but dissipation.

Some persons, in a high tone, had said, "A traffic in human flesh, was not to be borne with; let the consequences be what they would, the national honor, glory, and character, required it's suppression; the consequences were not at our door." He answered, that his conscience told him, that the consequences were at our door, and though statesmen might rest every thing on a plausible manifesto of cause; the humbler moralist, meditating on peace and good will towards men, would venture to call such statesmen responsible for consequences. He then spoke of the regulations respecting objects of sale in Africa, demurrage on the Coast, transport to the West Indies, or the Settlement of Slaves when arrived there. The Trade to Africa, he said, must principally be abolished in and from the West Indies.

In regard to the Colonies, a sudden Abolition would introduce oppression, and defeat the purposes of humanity. We ought, also, rather to lead our Colonies into the way we deem right, than force them to it, especially when Government had once protected, and even instituted the present course or trade. No violence, but preparatory experiment, should be used in order to show that nothing but extreme necessity would induce the Legislature to change it's ancient and it's own system. He was persuaded the Legislatures in the West Indies would act wisely and humanely, to attain the object pointed out to them; that a natural increase of their Negroes might be effected by an improved system of Legislation; and that, in the result, the Slave Trade would no longer be necessary.

He insisted that a direct Abolition of the Trade would cause both distress and disaffection in our colonies; that supplies were necessary for some period to come; that the Negroes did not now generally increase by birth; that the numerous White Servants and Apprentices, appropriated to themselves a great number of Negro females, which caused the disproportion of sexes to be more material; that the gradation of ages was not yet duly filled, there not having been so great an attention to breeding some time since, as there was now; that the neglect of marriage, the dissoluteness of morals, and the inattention to infants, were also evils which could not be overcome suddenly.

He spoke of the Planters, as oppressed with debts, and as being generally the Slaves of the British Creditors, that they could not afford to remit the industry of their Slaves, and that if their numbers were less, their work being more, the extent of their misery could not be conceived without horror. He quoted Mr. Ottley, Chief Justice in St. Vincent's, after paying him some handsome compliments, in confirmation of this. Slaves, it was said by him, were liable to seizure for their master's debts, in default of other goods and chattels, nor was there any provision in this case, against the separation of families, except as to the mother and infant child. These separations were one on the chief outrages complained of in Africa; why then should we institute new causes of such separation in the West Indies? The confinement on board a slave ship was also bitterly complained of, but under a distrain for debt, the poor Slave might linger in a goal jail twice or thrice the time of a Middle Passage.

On it's own grounds, he most explicitly declared, that he could not be an advocate for the traffic in Slaves, on any one question, even of natural expediency; but as a resource, and he hoped but a temporary one, to our West India colonies, it was of such importance as to touch the very existence of the British Empire. He then stated the amount of exports from Great Britain to the West Indies, in value above 1,600,000, and it's imports above 3,700,000 the excise and customs on which were about 1,600,000 the ships being 570, and the tonnage above an eighth of the whole tonnage of these kingdoms.

He then hinted at the collateral advantages of the West India Trade, and said that every thing he had stated, the Committee was requested to endanger, at least, by a vote for immediate Abolition.

Sir William Young then made some observations on the volume of evidence relating to the West India Planters, who, he said, in the course of this business, had been no way spared. He blamed, in strong terms, the censure cast upon them, and the cruel stories hastily and lightly told. He adverted, with regret, to the invidious comparisons which degraded a British Slave owner, below a Frenchman, a Spaniard, or a Dutchman, in the same circumstances, observing, that one of our best comic writers discriminated better the pretensions of our people. When wishing to show benevolence in it's fairest colors, he personified it in the character and conduct of the West Indian.

He wished that the Slave might become as secure, or even more so, than the Apprentice in this country; but it was necessary that the alarms concerning the Abolition of the Trade, should, in the mean time, be quieted; and he rejoiced that the motion before the House, was such as to put the question at issue.

He regretted all the hasty expressions which had been thrown out the day before, and the want of Christian charity, which they seemed to imply; and he trusted that the good sense and true benevolence of the House, would reject the present motion.

Mr. Stanley (Agent for the Islands) though laboring with an indisposition, thought this an occasion in which he was called upon to refute the many false and malicious calumnies which had, for some years, gone abroad against the Planters in the West India Settlements, and which, having been lately adopted and dispersed from the seminaries of learning, and the pulpits of the church, places that should be employed to better and more useful purposes, had at length produced the mischievous measure that was now under the discussion of the House. Representations had been made of the mischievous consequences of holding any set of people in any situation of slavery whatever; and these declamations came blazoned out to the public in the most high sounding language, and were urged with as much violence of enthusiasm, as if there never before had been a Slave from the days of Adam to the present moment. He, on the contrary, maintained, that it appeared to be the intention of Providence, from the system of the universe, That one set of men must always be Slaves to another. This truth was as old as it was universal. It was recognized in every history, and in every Era; under every Government, and in every Religion. The Christian Religion itself showed no more repugnance to it than any other; and, in proof of this, he cited the authority of the Bishop of Gloucester, (Dr. Halifax) drawn from a passage in St. Paul's Epistle to the Corinthians; and mentioned other passages as a farther confirmation of his, and the Bishop of Gloucester's opinion.

He read over a number of documents, and went (though with rather a low voice) into a considerable length of argument to show, that the Slaves were not captured in the manner described. It being the nature of all Savages to put their prisoners to death, he thought they ought to be thankful for being led into a state of captivity, where their condition was more meliorated.

He also represented the stories, concerning their distresses in the Middle Passage, as exaggerations and falsehoods; and as to their treatment in the West Indies, he was himself witness that it was, in general, highly indulgent and humane.

With regard to the possibility of encouraging their increase, by any other means or a better mode of treatment, he earnestly prayed of a Gentlemen to let him know how that could be effected. As a Planter, he would thank them for it; and he was sure that if it could be made to appear practicable, neither he nor any of his brother Planters, would ever wish to purchase another slave. It was absurd to suppose that any set of men could be so blind to their own interest, as not to use the natural means of obtaining Slaves, if it was in their power. It was very well known that one Creole Slave was worth two Africans; and, setting humanity quite out of the question, their interest must suggest that the propagation of Slaves was a better mode of increasing their stock, than the constant purchase of imported Negroes, of whom, he confessed, that one half very frequently died in the seasoning.

He then argued the impossibility of Beasts doing the work of the Plantations; and, amongst other reasons, he observed, that it would be impossible to supply them with food. A great part of the food used by the Negroes and Whites also was imported; it frequently happened, that, for eight months together, there was not a shower of rain in many of the islands. Their grain was obliged to be kiln dried for preservation, and the idea of feeding a considerable number of cattle was, therefore, quite out of the question.

Mr. Stanley, after having gone through a considerable detail of observations, concluded by objecting to the motion.

Mr. Sumner declared himself against the total, immediate, and unqualified Abolition, which he thought would wound at least the prejudices of the West Indians, and might do mischief, but a gradual Abolition, he said, he should much wish to see.

Major Scott declared he could not possibly give a silent vote on so momentous a question, and particularly after what had been said of those who should dissent from the Motion. He declared there was no Member in the House who could give a more independent and honest vote upon the question than himself. He had no sort of concern either in the African or West India Trade, farther than an acquaintance with many very respectable West India Merchants, which could not possibly bias his judgment. He said, that he had read the evidence with the utmost care, and had heard all that had been said upon it; but in the present alarming state of the Finances of this Country, he was clearly of opinion that it would be a most dangerous experiment indeed, to risquÍ any one part of our foreign commerce. As far as regulation could go, he would most heartily join, and was confident that the inquiries of the Hon. Gentleman (Mr. Wilberforce) had produced many very beneficial effects; but a total and immediate Abolition of the Slave Trade, struck him as a very dangerous experiment. Let the Trade be regulated, and as populations increased in the West Indies, the African Trade would abolish itself.

Mr. Drake spoke strongly against the Abolition. He came into the House, he said, with an unimpassioned vacancy of head and heart, but with all his might he would oppose the question. We had by want of temperance and of prudent conduct lost America. He said the House should beware of being carried away by the meteors they had been dazzled with. The Leaders, it was true, were for the Abolition; but the minor orators, the dwarfs, the pigmies, he trusted, would this day carry the question against them. The property of the West Indians was at stake, and though men might be generous of their own property, they should not be so with the property of others.

Lord Sheffield, in strong terms, reprobated the overbearing language that had been used by some Gentlemen, towards others who differed in opinion form them on a matter so great difficulty and so much doubt as this, and said it was not he way to convince him. He protested against a debate in which he could trace nothing like reason, but on the contrary downright frenzy, raised perhaps by the most extraordinary eloquence; yet he was satisfied he could at any other time demonstrate the Abolition, as proposed, was impracticable, and that the attempt would be productive of the greatest mischief. He denied the right of the British Legislature to pass such. He turned to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and warned him, that the day on which the Bill should pass into a law, would be the worst he had ever seen. It would hamper him more than his Spanish or Russian War, or a War with all Europe, in as much as a Civil War was more terrible than all other Wars.

Lord Sheffield replied, that his opinion had always been the same, and that the Honorable Gentlemen misunderstood what he had been reading. He wished the condition of the Negroes in the West Indies to be meliorated as much as any man, but to be done with justice and good sense; and through the medium of the West India Assemblies, who alone could do it.

Mr. Wilberforce made a short reply to some arguments used in the course of the debate, and at half past three o'clock, the House divided.

Noes 163
Ayes 88
Majority against the Abolition 75


All correspondence (including reports on dead links, typos, or HTML errors) should be sent to

Copyright © 2005,