Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

peculiarly observe on this day, for it is a case precisely in point, that the very practice of the slave-trade once prevailed among us. Slaves, as we may read in Henry's History of Great Britain, were formerly an established article of our exports. “Great numbers," he says, “ were exported like cattle, from the British coast, and were to be seen exposed for sale in the Roman market." It does not distinctly appear, by what means they were procured; but there was unquestionably no small resemblance, in the particular point, between the case of our ancestors and that of the présent wretched natives of Africa — for the historian tells you that “ adultery, witchcraft, and debt were probably some of the chief sources of supplying the Roman market with British slaves -- that prisoners taken in war were added to the numberand that there might be among them some unfortunate gamesters who, after having lost all their goods, at length staked themselves, their wives, and their children." Every one of these sources of slavery has been stated, and almost precisely in the same terms, to be at this hour a source of slavery in Africa. And these circumstances, Sir, with a solitary instance or two of human sacrifices, furnish the alleged proofs, that Africa labours under a natural incapacity for civilisation ; that it is enthusiasm and fanaticism to think that she can ever enjoy the knowledge and the morals of Europe ; that Providence never intended her to rise above a state of barbarism : that Providence has irrevocably doomed her to be only a nursery for slaves for us free and civilised Europeans. Allow of this principle, as applied to Africa, and I should be glad to know why it might not also have been applied to ancient and uncivilised Britain. Why might not some Roman senator, reasoning on the prin. ciples of some honourable gentlemen, and pointing to British barbarians, have predicted with equal boldness, There is a people that will never rise to civilisation — there is a people destined never to be free - a people without the understanding necessary for the attainment of useful arts ; depressed by the hand of nature below the level of the human species ; and created to form a supply of slaves for the rest of the world." Might not this have been said, according to the principles which we now hear stated, in all respects as fairly and as truly of Britain herself, at that period of her history, as it can now be said by us of the inhabitants of Africa ? :

We, Sir, have long since emerged from barbarism - we have almost forgotten that we were once barbarians - we are now raised to a situation which exhibits a striking contrast to every circumstance, by which a Roman might have characterised us, and by which we now characterise Africa. There is indeed one thing wanting to complete the contrast, and to clearus altogether from the imputation of acting even to this hour as barbarians ; for we continue to this hour a barbarous traffic in slaves; we continue it even yet in spite of all our great and undeniable pretensions to civilisation. We were once as obscure among the nations of the earth, as savage in our manners, as debased in our morals, as degraded in our understandings, as these unhappy Africans are at present. But in the lapse of a long series of years, by a progression slow, and for a time almost imperceptible, we have become rich in a variety of acquirements, favoured above measure in the gifts of Providence, unrivalled in commerce, pre-eminent in arts, foremost in the pursuits of philosophy and science, and established in all the blessings of civil society; we are in the possession of peace, of happiness, and of liberty; we are under the guidance of a mild and beneficent religion ; and we are protected by impartial laws, and the purest administration of justice: we are living under a system of government which our own happy experience leads us to pronounce the best and wisest which has ever yet been framed; a system which has become the admiration of the world. From all these blessings, we must for ever have been shut out, had there been any truth in those principles which some gentlemen have not hesitated to lay down as applicable to the case of Africa. Had those principles been true, we ourselves had languished to this hour in that miserable state of ignorance, brutality, and degradation, in which history proves our ancestors to have been immersed. Had other 'nations adopted these principles in their conduct

towards us ; had other nations applied to Great Britain the reasoning which some of the senators of this very island now, apply to Africa, ages might have passed without our emerging from barbarism; and we, who are enjoying the blessings of British civilisation, of British laws, and British liberty, might at this hour have been little superior either in morals, in knowledge, or refinement, to the rude inhabitants of the coast of Guinea.

If then we feel that this perpetual confinement in the fetters of brutal ignorance, would have been the greatest calamity which could have befallen us; if we view with gratitude and exultation the contrast between the peculiar blessings we enjoy, and the wretchedness of the ancient inhabitants of Britain ; if we shud. der to think of the misery which would still have overwhelmed us, had Great Britain continued to the present times to be the mart for slaves to the more civilised nations of the world, through some cruel policy of theirs, God forbid that we should any longer subject Africa to the same dreadful scourge, and preclude the light of knowledge, which has reached every other quarter of the globe, from having access to her coasts !

I trust we shall no longer continue this commerce, to the destruction of every improvement on that wide continent; and shall not consider ourselves as conferring too great a boon, in restoring its inhabitants to the rank of human beings. I trust we shall not think ourselves too liberal, if, by abolishing the slave-trade, we give them the same common chance of civilisation with other parts of the world, and that we shall now allow to Africa the opportunity - the hope--the prospect of attaining to the same blessings which we ourselves, through the favourable dispensations of Divine Providence, have been permitted, at a much more early period, to enjoy. If we listen to the voice of reason and duty, and pursue this night the line of conduct which they prescribe, some of us may live to see a reverse of that picture, from which we now turn our eyes with shame and regret. We may live to behold the natives of Africa engaged in the calm occupations of industry, in the pursuits of a just and legitimate commerce. We may behold the beams of science and philosophy breaking in upon their land, which, at some happy period in still later times, may blaze with full lustre ; and joining their influence to that of pure religion, may illuminate and invigorate the most distant extremities of that immense continent. Then may we hope that even Africa, though last of all the quarters of the globe, shall enjoy at length, in the evening of her days, those blessings which have descended so plentifully upon us in a much earlier period of the world. Then also will Europe, participating in her improvement and prosperity, receive an ample recompense for the tardy kindness (if kindness it can be called) of no longer hindering that continent from extricating herself out of the darkness which, in other more fortunate regions, has been so much more speedily dispelled.

- Nos primus equis oriens afflavit anhelis ;

Illic sera rubens accendit lumina Vesper. Then, Sir, may be applied to Africa, those words, originally used indeed with a different view:

His demum exactis -
Devenere locos lætos, et amæna vireta
Fortunatorum nemorum, sedesque beatas :
Largior hic campos Æther, et limine vestit
Purpureo.

It is in this view, Sir, -- it is as an atonement for our long and cruel injustice towards Africa, that the measure proposed by my honourable friend most forcibly recommends itself to my mind. The great and happy change to be expected in the state of her inhabitants, is, of all the various and important benefits of the abolition, in my estimation, incomparably the most extensive and important.

I shall vote, Sir, against the adjournment; and I shall also oppose to the utmost every proposition, which in any way may tend either to prevent, or even to postpone for an hour, the total abolition of the slave-trade: a measure which, on all the various

grounds which I have stated, we are bound, by the most pressing and indispensable duty, to adopt.

The House divided on an amendment moved by Mr. Dundas, for inserting in the motion the word “gradually,"

Ayes............. 193

Noes............ 125 and the question thus amended was then put, and, after a second divi.. sion, carried.

Ayes............ 230
Noes.............. 85

February 1. 1793.

The order of the day being moved for taking into consideration His Majesty's message of the 28th of January, it was read by the Speaker, as follows :

“ GEORGE R. “ His Majesty has given directions for laying before the House of Commons, copies of several papers which have been received from M. Chauvelin, late minister-plenipotentiary from the Most Christian King, by His Majesty's secretary of state for foreign affairs, and of the answers returned thereto; and likewise copy of an order made by His Majesty in council, and transmitted by His Majesty's commands to the said M. Chauvelin, in consequence of the accounts of the atrocious act recently perpetrated at Paris,

“ In the present situation of affairs, His Majesty thinks it indispensably necessary to make a further augmentation of his forces by sea and land; and relies on the known affection and zeal of the House of Commons to enable His Majesty to take the most effectual measures in the present important conjuncture, for maintaining the security and rights of his own dominions; for supporting his allies; and for opposing views of aggrandisement and ambition on the part of France, which would be at all times dangerous to the general interests of Europe, but are peculiarly so, when connected with the propagation of principles which lead to the violation of the most sacred duties, and are utterly subversive of the peace and order of all civil society.

G. R." Mr. Pitt then rose : Sir - I shall now submit to the House some observations on

[graphic]
« AnteriorContinuar »