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Volume 50: debated on Thursday 8 August 1839

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I rise in pursuance of notice which I gave, to move for leave to bring in a bill for the better suppression of the Slave-trade. The House are aware, I presume, of the grounds and circumstances which render it necessary for me to make this motion. We know, by the committee appointed to search the Lords' Journals, that the bill which was passed for the purpose of suppressing the Slave-trade by this House, and which was sent up to the House of Lords, has not passed that House. Undoubtedly, in the first instance, that fact would have led this House to imagine, that there was a difference of opinion between the two Houses of Parliament upon the great, interesting, and important subject to which the bill so sent up related. If that difference of opinion had really existed, it would have been a subject of much regret and deep concern in this House, and might have materially if not entirely defeated the efforts which this House of Par- liaraent, in concurrence heretofore with the other House, has made to put an end to this abominable crime. But I am happy to be able to state, that the proceedings which have taken place in the House of Lords since the rejection of that bill, tend satisfactorily to show, that the rejection did not arise from any difference between the two Houses as to the great object in view, and that it must have been founded either upon some misconception of the grounds upon which that particular bill was proposed, or some objections in point of form connected with it; because the House of Lords have, since they rejected the bill, sent up an address to the Crown, couched in the strongest possible terms, calling upon the Crown to give to the cruizers, such orders as may effectually enable them to put down and prevent the traffic in slaves. Now, that address proves, that the House of Lords are sincerely desirous of co-operating with this House in the attainment of that great object, and that address, I think, by calling upon the Crown to take measures which undoubtedly the Crown will not hesitate one moment in taking, goes strongly to prove, that it was but a formal objection, which made the House of Lords indisposed to pass the particular measure which we proposed. As far as we can judge, by those means of information we possess, of the grounds upon which that bill was considered objectionable, those grounds were two:—first, an objection was taken to the course of proceeding; next, an objection was taken to the particular nature of the bill. It was contended, in the first place, that the proceeding ought to have originated in consequence of a communication of the Crown to Parliament. That objection will now be removed, because, in answer to the address of the House of Lords there will be a communication from the Crown, intimating the intention of the Crown to take those measures which the House of Lords has requested might be taken. The proceedings, therefore, will from that moment be placed upon the footing which the House of Lords thought it ought to stand upon. The other objection taken was, that in the preamble of the bill, Parliament was called upon to pronounce an opinion, as it were, upon the difference which has arisen between Great Britain and Portugal; and it was understood to have been alleged that it belonged to the Crown, acting on the responsibility of its advisers, to pronounce an opinion upon that difference, and that Parliament ought not to have been brought in, as it were, to espouse the opinion of the Crown, and make itself responsible for a measure which exclusively devolved upon her Majesty's Ministers. I propose to get rid of that objection, by entirely altering the preamble of the bill I now ask leave to introduce. I propose, that the preamble of the bill shall be (if I may say so) entirely Parliamentary, merely reciting the expediency of giving certain powers to the Crown and to certain courts of law, without entering into any question pending between the Crown of England and Portugal. I should confidently hope, that these two circumstances would remove the objections which the other House of Parliament entertained against the former bill. As it will then stand, we may be entitled to hope that if we pass a bill which shall contain those powers which are absolutely necessary to give effect to those measures which the House of Lords has requested the Crown to take, that that House will not refuse to give it their sanction, seeing that by those powers alone the end we all desire can be accomplished. I should perhaps, especially at this late hour, content myself with this statement, but I feel it necessary, for my own vindication, and in some degree for the vindication of the House of Parliament, whose organ only I have been on this occasion, to explain the course of proceeding which was adopted-in the preparation of the former bill. It was objected to that bill, that it is unusual to call upon Parliament to act without any previous communication from the Crown, but those who urged that objection seemed to have forgot, that the bill itself arose out of Parliamentary proceedings, for it was in the course of last year, by addresses to the Crown from both Houses of Parliament, that the attention of the Crown was called to the fact, that Portugal had violated her engagements and treaties with this country, and had refused to assent to an adequate treaty for the suppression of the Slave-trade. The meaning of those addresses was, that the Crown should endeavour to obtain from Portugal such an adequate treaty. In the discussion upon the address from this House I stated, on the part of the Government, that we would endeavour to prevail on Portugal to sign such a treaty; and if we failed, we should come to Parliament and declare, that we had so failed, and in that case call upon Parliament to give us the necessary powers, in order to accomplish the purposes which Parliament itself wished to have accomplished. In reply to that declaration of mine I was told by hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House, that if we did come to Parliament with that statement, our request would be granted, and that Parliament would give us the necessary powers. In the early part of this Session, I stated in answer to an inquiry that was made of me, that we had failed in obtaining from Portugal a treaty, which alone would have been sufficient for our purposes. I was then asked if I intended to come to Parliament. I replied that it was our intention to do so, and that I had a bill in preparation, but that I wished to postpone it until I could lay before Parliament the papers that would show the course of the negociation between this country and Portugal, and explain how and why we had failed, and wherefore it was that we were obliged to ask for further powers. I am sure therefore that it is from misconception and inadvertence merely that the objection as to our mode of proceeding has been urged. However the objection was urged, and it was stated that we were doing that which was tantamount to making war; while if we had declared war against Portugal we should have been obliged to lay before Parliament the projet and contre projet, the notes and the answers. The parties who made that objection were not aware (and it was no wonder, considering the multitude of papers that are before Parliament) that I had laid all those papers on the Tables of both Houses in the fullest detail before I brought in the bill—the introduction of which, in the opinion of some, perhaps, I too long delayed—in order that it might be proceeded with after a full statement to the House of the transactions between the two countries. With regard to the bill itself, if there was any departure from form, or from the usual course of Parliamentary proceedings, I did not altogether inadvertently adopt that departure, because, before I brought in the bill I felt it my duty to consult several persons, some connected with myself in politics, others unconnected with me in general politics, but all equally interested in attaining the great object in view, as to the bill I intended to bring in before I actually produced it to the House; and if we all of us preferred that form of the preamble to which objection has been made elsewhere, it may have been an error of judgment on our part, but at all events we did not adopt it inadvently or from a wish unnecessarily to depart from the usual course. After deliberation we thought it the better mode of proceeding under the extraordinary circumstances of the case, that the bill which gave these powers should record the circumstances that lead to the necessity of creating them. At the same time, if these objections can be removed, I am sure this House will feel happy to make any change in order to obtain the much desired unanimity on this subject. Objections have been made to my not having introduced the bill with a statement of the grounds on which it was founded. It was perhaps unfortunate that no debate arose upon the bill. If there had been, it might have prevented the misconception that had arisen elsewhere. But the cause of there being no debate, was the perfect unanimity which prevailed in this House on the subject. There was an equal understanding by all parties of the grounds upon which the measure was introduced. All were equally anxious that there should be no unnecessary delay, and we preferred passing the bill sub silentio, that it should that not be postponed. We thought, too, that equal unanimity would prevail elsewhere upon the subject, and I am convinced that our expectation will prove ultimately right, notwithstanding the circumstance which has rendered the introducion of a second bill necessary. There having been no debate, however, it might be necessary to state briefly the grounds upon which Parliament is called upon to adopt the present measure. The first ground is that Portugal is bound by different treaties with this country to abolish her Slave-trade; not only to co-operate with us in that abolition, but to use all the means in her own power to accomplish that purpose. These stipulations were not made gratuitously on the part of Portugal. We made pecuniary sacrifices. We gave her money which, by her own admission, amounted to nearly half a million. Beyond that we paid to Portuguese owners for the loss of their slave ships upwards of 300,000l. as compensation money. Thus besides the 300,000l., a sum between 450,000l. and 460,000l. was paid to Portugal as a nation as the price for abolishing the Slave-trade. The treaties of 1815 and 1817 contained engagements most stringent and complete upon this subject. Now, Sir, has Portugal fulfilled these engagements? No. She has violated them in a greater degree, I will venture to say, than any country in the history of the civilized world could be found ever to have violated the solemn obligations of treaties. I will venture to say that there is no instance in history of such a flagrant breach as that committed by Portugal towards this country with regard to the Slave-trade. For, instead of suppressing the Slave-trade and abolishing it, she encourages it. She not only connives at it by her officers; but the authorities actually lend themselves to it, encourage it, thrive by it, make fortunes by it, enrich themselves by it, form parties of influence which control and overrule the Government at Lisbon. It is owing to the very fortunes made by the Slave-trade, that an influence of a political character has been acquired at Lisbon which now overrules and sways the Government of that country. By this slave-trading faction the government of Portugal has been prevented from acceding to the treaties which we have proposed. I say, so far from abolishing the Slave-trade, she has substituted her slave-trading flag in the place of all the slave-trading flags in the world. In proportion as we have been enabled to exclude from that trade the flag of Holland, the flag of France, and the flag of Spain, we find the flag of Portugal extending its protection to the trade which was formerly carried on under the flags of those different Powers. Not only has she not fulfilled her engagements with us—not only has she retained her trade where it was when those engagements were contracted, but she has actually increased it; and there is now not a slave-trader that crosses the ocean that does not carry his protection of that traffic under the prostituted flag of Portugal. I can only say, to take a single instance, that I believe not less than 100,000 Africans, from one side of the Atlantic to the other, are annually carried from a state of liberty to a state of slavery into the Brazils and Cuba under the flag of Portugal. This is therefore a case of engagements contracted here, and of engagements violated. No efforts on our part have been wanting to procure by persuasion from Portugal what Portugal ought to have granted unasked. We have for more than four years endeavoured to persuade government after government in Portugal to conclude a treaty, which shall by her consent, enable us to acomplish the purposes which she had bound herself by her own means to effect, but we have endeavoured in vain. The several governments of Portugal, by pretexts the most frivolous, upon objections the most unfounded, upon allegations totally destitute of truth, have rejected the proposals which we have made, and by every contrivance have spun out the negociation for the mere purpose of avoiding the termination of the question. At one time we say, "Make slave-trade piracy." "No," say they, "we cannot do that, because it would be repugnant to our custom and feelings to put a slave-trader to death." We say, "We don't ask you to make it a capital offence, but to subject it to a severe secondary punishment." Still they refuse. We then say, "Call it a piratical offence." "No," that is an offensive term." We propose to extend the right of search by treaty. They require to make the treaty limited in point of time, for the obvious purpose, that when the treaty should have expired, they might re-establish the Slave-trade in all its vigour. We propose to continue the mixed commission. "No," say they, "why continue the mixed commission with us, when you have discontinued it with France?" But France is no longer engaged in the Slave-trade. We ask them to agree to a regulation by which captured negroes should be placed under the superintendence of the mixed commission, in order that they should not, under the pretence of being made free, be converted into slaves. Portugal has refused. She says, that it would be contrary to her honour, and contrary to the principles of her laws, which declare, that there shall be no foreign interference. It must at once be obvious, that any negroes taken in a slave-ship under a Portuguese flag, if handed over to the Portuguese authorities, would, although nominally emancipated, be in fact and reality slaves. As soon as they have agreed to one proposition, and as soon as by some modification we have got rid of one objection, they have started another. In short, there is, on the part of Portugal, an obstinate and rigid determination not to make any treaty with us to give any facility whatever to the great purpose we have in view. Then I say it is necessary that we should do it by our own means. We have told Portugal over and over again, as well by the addresses of the two Houses of Parliament, as by our appeals to Portugal to grant us a treaty, that if they did not of their own accord consent to fulfil their engagements, this country would be obliged to take the matter into its own hands. Therefore we do not, as is supposed by some, come by surprise upon the Portuguese government. It has been thought, that if we had an opportunity of giving them more notice, they would have yielded to our request. Notice they hare had in abundance. It would be mere mockery to give them more. They knew long ago what we are going to do, and they determined rather than consent to what they were bound to give us, to let us take it by our own means; and I do not know, that it would be disagreeable to them for us to do it. Although one must acknowledge that the conduct of the Portuguese government has in this respect disentitled them to the esteem of 11 mankind, yet I do not think so ill of them as to believe, that it has arisen from any real disinclination to put an end to this traffic. I believe, that they have been controlled by a domestic power stronger than themselves, and that the nation at large does not participate in this traffic, and I really think, that in doing this thing it will not be unbeneficial or unacceptable to some of those persons that may have appeared to be obstinate in resisting our proposals. For in truth Portugal has no interest in this trade. She has no colonies that require slaves for the purposes of cultivation. She is an exporting and not an importing country. In truth, a great part of the ships that sail under Portuguese colours, and profess to be Portuguese, are the property of Spaniards, and of rapacious pirates of all nations, in whose success or failure Portugal as a nation has no more interest than we ourselves. I say, therefore, we are not doing that by Portugal which Portugal has any right to resent. But the powers we ask for by this bill are necessary to enable us to execute the object we have in view, and it is on that ground, mainly, that I trust the other House will concur in the adoption of this bill. The noble Lord then proceeded to state the nature of the clauses in the bill, and observed, no doubt, as had been suggested, the Crown, by its prerogative, and on the responsibility of its advisers, might take measures which would effectually put down Portuguese slavery; but there would be two inconveniences for which it would he necessary to provide a remedy. In the first place, the officers who had to act under the orders of the Crown, would be exposed to vexatious and harrassing proceedings in the courts of law in this city; and he was sure neither House of Parliament would wish the Crown to employ the officers of the navy in such circumstances as must involve them in consequences most inconvenient to them. In the next place, it was true we might capture the ships and deal with them accordingly, but he contended it would not befitting that this country should seize ships primâ facie the property of the subjects of other States, and deal with them without having proved before some court of record the grounds of such proceedings. It was necessary, then, to have an act to define what should constitute a slave-trader. It was not necessary that slaves should be aboard; a ship being equipped in a particular manner was an infallible proof that she was engaged in the Slave-trade. It was necessary to have an act of the Legislature before the Courts of Admiralty could condemn a ship upon that ground. It was also necessary to enable the Crown to give the same bounties to those who captured these slave-ships under this treaty as under treaties with other Powers. This was the extent of the powers called for under the bill. He was convinced they would be sufficient to enable the Government to put down the traffic in slaves carried on under the Portuguese flag, and a great point would then be accomplished. The trade, it would be said, might still be carried on under other flags; when driven from one flag the slave-trader might seek refuge in another. After having united all the flags of Christendom in an attempt to put down this horrid traffic, the slavers might repudiate all flags, and divest themselves of every document which might enable the captor to prove that they belonged to any particular nation. That would be the last refuge of desparing crime. He would propose a clause by which a ship taken under those circumstances should be dealt with as if she were an English slave-trader, provided always, that if in the course of trial it should appear, that she did belong to some State, then the case should not be adjudicated upon by the Court of Admiralty, but dealt with as if at the outset she had been of the nation to which she was ultimately proved to belong. It might be said, that this was waging war against the world. He did not see how any nation could complain of such a course. If the protection of a nation was cast to the winds he did not see what ground there was of complaining that we had not respected a nationality the existence of which was studiously kept beyond our knowledge. Well, then, what prospect was there of arriving at that general union in putting down the Slave-trade, the hope of which he had held out to the House? When all the Powers of Europe had united in giving a mutual right of search, or the power of condemnation by a mixed commission, there would no longer remain any defence for carrying on the Slave-trade under any European flag. He had on a former occasion staled, that he had concluded treaties with Chili, Grenada, and Venezuela, and he had the satisfaction of stating, that he had since received intelligence that a treaty was concluded with Buenos Ayres. Although he had not concluded a treaty of execution with Mexico, she had stipulated by treaty to co-operate with us in the suppression of the Slave-trade. And though the United States might perhaps still feel some little jealousy as to the right of search (which in their understanding implied something very different from our impression), he still relied, from the advances it had already made, on the hearty and cordial cooperation of that government in putting down this abominable traffic. Well, then, if these Powers sincerely co-operated in this undertaking, they would have the satisfaction of feeling that they put an end to misery which no imagination could conceive, and to an enormity of human crime, the magnitude of which no tongue could adequately describe. He was persuaded the House of Lords would not refuse to co-operate with them in this work. He was satisfied the House of Lords were as sincere as the House of Commons were in detestation of this abominable traffic. They must know that this was the best recompense they could make for the long and grievous sufferings which England had in great part neglected under this system. He trusted the bill which they should send up unanimously would receive the assent of the Upper House. He was satisfied if they took this step it would be a great means towards the accomplishment of the end which all had in view. And if, said the noble Lord, England should have the glory of succeeding in her efforts and exertions to put a complete end to this amount of human misery and crime, I think that alone would be sufficient to hand down her memory in undying brightness to the lapse of endless ages.

said, the vast sacrifices which this country had incurred since 1815, amounting at least to 1,000,000l. sterling, in consequence of her treaties with Portugal, besides 2,000,000l. in bounty for the maintenance of an adequate force, demanded the assistance of Portugal; but Portugal, nevertheless, had gone on up to this moment in violating all her treaties. He was not exceeding the truth when he stated, that since that treaty, 2,000 Portuguese ships had been engaged in that abominable traffic, and had carried not less than 1,000,000 slaves away from Africa, That being the case, there must have died between the time of their seizure and their adjudication not less than 120,000 out of that number. Instead of that treaty having been carried into effect in any one point, the traffic in slaves had gone on increasing with a rapidity even far beyond that which had been mentioned by his noble Friend. He held in his hand the Shipping Gazette of Rio Janeiro, of the date of the 31st of May 1839. It appeared that there were on that day 69 vessels, bearing the Portuguese flag, lying off Rio Janeiro, and he had a certificate, under the hand of the British consul, that of that number 59 were slavers. When he looked at our treaties with Portugal, and at the very first obligation contained in the treaty of 1810, he found that every syllable of those treaties had been violated from the beginning to the end. By the treaty of 1817, the Portuguese engaged to abandon altogether the Slave-trade to the north of the equator, and also in every part of Africa that did not belong to themselves, and, in fact, to confine the trade to the supplying of their own transatlantic possessions, and when they had no such possessions for the last ten years. Never, he would say, had there been exhibited to the civilized world so gross an infraction of the most solemn obligations to which a country could bind itself. But there was more than this. The treaty was not a voluntary offer on the part of Portugal; it did not arise from a conviction of the inhumanity of the traffic; but it was a treaty for which Great Britain had paid an equivalent. Portugal had not only robbed this country, but it had insulted us by a pretended abolition. In December 1836, the Portuguese government agreed to abolish the trade, but did they give this country any power to carry that abolition into effect? Did they themselves do any act in furtherance of the agreement thus entered into? Why, had not their own governor of Mozambique taken upon himself to suspend the execution of the treaty entered into by his employers, and had not the government of Portugal approved of that suspension? These were facts, and could not be contradicted. Much more might be said on this subject, but he would confine himself to a very few words upon the remedy that was proposed. There had been, he regretted to say, an entire misapprehension of the former bill that had passed this House on the part of the House of Lords. He had no hesitation in saying, that that bill did in no respect whatever contravene the accustomed course of legislation. If that bill had been introduced for the purpose merely of doing by Act of Parliament what the Crown was already entitled to do by its prerogative, he would never have supported it. Undoubtedly it was perfectly competent to the Crown to declare war, or to issue letters of marque; but one of the wisest principles of government was not to go to war for an object which was attainable by peaceable means. That wise course was pursued by the Government, and the bill now introduced for the purpose, not of usurping the place of the prerogative, but for the purpose of aiding that prerogative, was in fact a subsidiary measure to give due effect to the prerogative of the Crown. The noble Lord had fully explained the intentions of his measure. He declared, that if men engaged in this trade, they should not be entitled by the law of nations to the protection of the law of nations; and that if they sailed under piratical colours, they should be treated as other persons who assumed to themselves the character of pirates. Such an enactment was absolutely necessary in this trade; for to such an extent had the temptation of profit gone in this nefarious trade, that pirate vessels were now fitted out to cruise for the smaller slave-vessels. When such vessels were captured by them, the master and crew were consigned to a watery grave, and the cargo—the fruit of a second robbery—was carried off without remorse to the Brazils. To say that persons engaged in such iniquitous practices, should be protected by the law of nations, was an insult to the law of every nation. He did hope, and trust, and believe, that this bill would become law. He was perfectly confident, and he spoke unfergnedly, that the former bill miscarried from misapprehension, and when the speech of his noble Friend became known, and his explanations were made public, he verily believed, that among those who opposed the former bill, this bill would meet with some of its ablest and warmest advocates.

rose upon this occasion, lest the whole responsibility, or, he should rather say, the whole glory of this measure, should be left to those statesmen to whom he had long been politically opposed. He hoped that the predictions of his right hon. and learned Friend would be realized, and that their misapprehensions being removed, the House of Lords would join in supporting the bill which the noble Lord had asked leave to bring in. The speech of the noble Lord was not less deserving of eulogy for its conciliatory tone towards the other House of Parliament, and even towards Portugal herself, than for its forcible and eloquent explanation of the great rights of justice and humanity. A speech more worthy of the subject he had not heard from any of the greatest orators that had graced that House during his recollection. He, also, like his right hon. and learned Friend opposite, had received from Rio Janeiro the Shipping Gazette, to which he had made allusion. And to the statement quoted by him from that document, he could add this further piece of information, that 35 of those vessels, from their papers, appeared to have come from the coast of Africa. Was any man weak enough to suppose, that it was a legitimate traffic that had carried such a large number of Portuguese vessels from the coast of Africa to Rio Janeiro? There was another piece of information recently communicated to him, apparent, indeed, on the face of papers now before Parliament, which showed the character as well as the extent of the Brazilian traffic in slaves,—that was, the formation of a company, with a settlement on the coast of Africa, for a supply of slaves, regularly registered and chartered. A more systematic violation of treaties, a more deliberate infraction of the rights of justice, humanity, and religion, could not be found, than that which was apparent in all the proceedings of Portugal on this point towards this country. Hoping, as he did, that much advantage would accrue from this bill, he was still anxious that the House should not suppose that it would be sufficient to remove from the civilized world the stain of Slave-trade. If one nation deemed itself at liberty to form establishments on the coast of Africa to carry on the Slave-trade, means must be taken by this country to cut off in Africa the source of the evil; legitimate commerce must be carried into the centre of the vast regions recently made known to us; and to prevent slavery from being carried from Africa across the Atlantic, a larger force, and a force, too, of steamers, must be employed upon the coasts. We must not content ourselves with trusting to the mere parchment on which this bill might be written, but we must, as he had stated before, be prepared, if necessary, for war. War, however, he was convinced would not ensue. Bellum ostendite, pacem habebitis. He would not enter into any political consideration on this occasion, but he hoped that he might be permitted to say this, that, in the existing circumstances of Portugal, he noble Lord and his colleagues opposite had a peculiar right to claim from her the performance of all that by treaty she has stipulated to grant. He concluded by stating, that he cordially concurred in the views which the noble Lord had explained with so much impressive eloquence, and he was only sorry that others besides themselves had not been present to listen to its inspiring accents.

supported this measure. Lord Brougham had done him the honour to send him in the last Session of Parliament a pamphlet, in which his Lordship was pleased to assert, that rather than take measures to abolish the Slave-trade, we had quailed before the might of Portugal, and had not dared to encounter the empire of Brazil. How, then, did it happen that the noble Lord was not present in his place to advocate the defence of humanity, when her Majesty's Ministers were preparing to show both Portugal and Brazil that they would be trifled with no longer? The noble Lord on that occasion had spoken of tongues cleaving to the roof of the mouth. To what fatality was it owing that his tongue, once so voluble, then so immoveable, had cleaved to the roof of his mouth in mute inglorious silence, and had forgotten all its usual stratagems and tricks of fence?

approved of the principle of this bill, and hoped that the House would not object to dispense with its usual forms in reference to it. He congratulated the noble Lord on not allowing both himself and the friends of emancipation generally to be disappointed by the fate of his former bill.

Leave given; Bill brought in, and read a first time.