Friday, June 14, 2013

The Cruelty and Injustice of Negro Slavery

Slaves on board a ship being shackled circa 1835. Illustration by Swain Photograph: Rischgitz/Getty Images

From the UK Guardian archive, 15 November 1823: Leading article: "The cruelty and injustice of negro slavery: It has long been a matter of public notoriety that the slaves in the West Indies are degradingly driven like cattle by the whip," re-published on 15 November 2012 --  The following observations on this interesting subject, which we have reason to believe are the production of a most respectable and intelligent merchant, in Liverpool, we copy, by particular request, from the Liverpool Mercury of the 31st to the proprietors of which paper we are indebted for the loan of the accompanying illustrative chart.

In the cruelty and injustice of negro slavery, in the misery it occasions, and the devastation which it spreads over the face of the earth, all the thinking part of mankind are agreed. How is it possible there can be two opinions on the subject, when it has long been a matter of public notoriety, that the slaves in the West Indies are degradingly driven like cattle by the whip at their labour, which, for nearly half the year, lasts for one half the night, as well as the whole day; that they are held, and dealt with, as property, and often branded as such with a hot iron; that they are liable to be sold at the will of their master, or for payment of his debts, and the nearest ties of life are thus rent asunder; that they are liable, whether male or female, to be exposed and degradingly punished, at the caprice, not only of the master or overseer, but of the meanest driver; that they are compelled to work on the Sabbath for their own subsistence, which is, in fact, for their master's profit; that the advantages of religious instruction, and of the marriage tie, are almost universally withheld from them; that the most unrestrained licentiousness prevails amongst them, and is exhibited in a degrading, disgusting, and depopulating promiscuous intercourse, encouraged by the debaucheries of the whites; that they can hold no property; their evidence is not received, and hence laws for their protection are but a mockery.

The reader will be ready to exclaim, "Surely there must be some great and palpable gain arising from this system, to induce its maintenance for a single hour!" But what will be his astonishment to find, that instead of gain, it is attended with great and enormous loss; that such is its inherent impolicy, that if it had not been supported and protected by bounties and prohibitions, it would long since have been ameliorated and finally have fallen.

Had commerce been carried on with enlarged and enlightened views of self-interest, and especially if united with motives of benevolence and humanity, how would knowledge and civilization have marked the steps of Europeans, and have been extended from the coasts to the interior of Africa! Instead of which, we have spread barbarism and desolation on her coasts, and thereby formed a formidable barrier to our intercourse with the more civilized interior!

Had these views and these motives characterized our intercourse with India, how would darkness, ignorance and idolatry, have been disappearing amongst her vast population? Then might we, at this day, have been exchanging the produce of a vastly-extended manufacturing industry, for the cheap productions of voluntary labour on the fertile soils of Africa and of India.

But how widely different has been our conduct! What but absolute infatuation could have induced the Europeans to destroy the native inhabitants of the West Indies, in order to repeople those islands, at an enormous expense, from the coast of Africa! And what but absolute infatuation can it have been, which in this country has actually led us to reject sugar, if produced by the labour of the African on his native soil; and at the same time to give a bounty on the produce of his labour, when converted into a slave, and forced to cultivate the now-exhausted soils of our West India islands!

Such is truly the state of things; and how lamentable is it, that after condemning and abolishing the African slave trade, we should still be supporting, with enormous pecuniary sacrifices, the remnant of our wickedness and folly!

If the change from slavery to freedom was attended both with danger and with loss, who would even then be found to advocate the continuance of slavery? But when its policy has been so fully proved, let us hope that the enlightened part of the West Indians themselves will unite with us to extirpate this evil. Who can entertain any doubt, that if the subject was properly investigated, and the interests and claims of the planters, and those of their oppressed slaves fairly taken into consideration, a plan might be devised and adopted which would prove greatly beneficial alike to planters, to the slaves, and to the country at large?

Do not these things call for investigation? Can any individual, who feels an interest in the prosperity of his country, or in the happiness of his fellow-creatures, refuse to examine whether they are true? And, if convinced of their truth, shall we be guiltless if we hold our peace, or relax our efforts until the whole mass of this iniquitous system, with all its ruinous effects, is understood and felt by the country? [(source: UK Guardian© 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved.)  This is an edited extract. Click here to read the full essay, and the accompanying graphic.]

Liverpool and the Slave Trade - Anthony Tibbles from Gresham College on Vimeo.

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