Page images
PDF
EPUB

EXTRACT FROM A SPEECH

IN THE

HOUSE OF COMMONS,

ON

COLONIAL SL A VERY,

JULY 13th, 1830

AFTER the question of Colonial Slavery has for so many years been familiar to the House, and I fear still more familiar to the country, I would fain hope that I may dispense with the irksome task of dragging you through its details, from their multiplicity so overwhelming, from their miserable nature so afflicting. But I am aware that in the threshold of the scene, and to scare me from entering upon it, there stands the phantom of Colonial Independence, resisting parliamentary interference, fatiguing the ear with the thrice-told tale of their ignorance who see from afar off, and pointing to the fatal issue of the American war. There needs but one steady glance to brush all such spectres away. That the Colonial Legislatures have rightsthat their privileges are to be respected—that their province is not to be lightly invaded—that

the Parliament of the mother country is not without necessity to trench on their independence—no man more than myself is willing to allow. But when those local assemblies utterly neglect their first duties—when we see them from the circumstances of their situation

prevented from acting—struggling in these trammels for an independent existence-exhausted in the effort to stand alone, and to move one step wholly unable—when at any rate we wait for

years, and perceive that they advance not by a hair's breadth, either because they cannot, or because they dare not, or because they will not

then to contend that we should not interfere that we should fail in our duty because they do not theirs--nay, that we have no right to act, because they have no power or inclination to obey us, would be not an argument, but an abomination, a gross insult to Parliament, a mockery of our privileges—for I trust that we too have some left a shameful abandonment of our duty, and a portentous novelty in the history of Parliament, the plantations, and the country.

Talk not of the American contest, and the triumph of the colonists! Who that has read the sad history of that event (and I believe among the patriarchs of this cause whom I now

address there are some who can remember that disgrace of our councils and our arms) will say, that either the Americans triumphed or we quailed on one inch of the ground upon which the present controversy stands ? Ignorance the most gross, or inattention the most heedless, can alone explain, but cannot at all justify the use of such a topic. Be it remembered, and to set at rest the point of right, I shall say no more-let it not once be forgotten that the supremacy of the mother country never for an instant was surrendered at any period of that calamitous struggle. Nay, in the whole course of it, a question of her supremacy never once was raised; the whole dispute was rigorously confined to the power of taxing. All that we gave up, as we said voluntarily, as the Americans more truly said by compulsion, was the power to tax; and by the very act which surrendered this power, we solemnly, deliberately, and unequivocally reasserted the right of the Parliament to give laws to the plantations in all other respects whatever, Thus speaks the record of history, and the record of our statute book. But were both history and the laws silent, there is a fact so plain and striking, that it would of itself be quite sufficient to establish the doctrine of parliamentary supremacy. I believe it may safely be affirmed, that on neither

side of the water was there a man more distinguished for steady devotion to the cause of colonial independence, or who made his name more renowned by firm resistance to the claims of the mother country, than Mr. Burke. He was, in truth, throughout that memorable struggle, the great leader in Parliament against the infatuated Ministry, whose councils ended in severing the empire; and far from abating in his opposition as the contest advanced, he sacrificed to those principles the favour of his constituents, and was obliged to withdraw from the representation of Bristol, which till then he had held. His speech, on that occasion, reaffirms the doctrines of Anierican independence. But neither then nor at any other time did he ever think of denying the general legislative supremacy of Parliament; he only questioned the right of taxing the unrepresented colonies. But another fact must at once carry conviction to every mind. During the heat of the controversy, he employed himself in framing a code for the government of our sugar colonies. It was a bill to be passed into a law by the legislature of the mother country; and it has fortunately been preserved among his invaluable papers. There is no minute detail into which its provisions do not enter. The rights of the slave, the duties of the master, the obligation to

feed and clothe, the restriction of the power of coercion and punishment, all that concerns marriage and education, and religious instruction, all that relates to the hours of labour and rest, every thing is minutely provided for, with an abundance of regulation which might be well deemed excessive, were not the subject that unnatural state of things which subjects man to the dominion of his fellow creatures, and which can only be rendered tolerable by the most profuse enactment of checks and controuls. This measure of most ample interference was devised by the most illustrious champion of colonial rights, the most jealous watchman of English encroachments. With his own hand he sketched the bold outline ; with his own hand he filled up its details; with his own hand, long after the American contest had terminated, after the controversy on Negro freedom had begun, and when his own principles touching the Slave Trade and Slavery had bent before certain West India prejudices, communicated by the party of the planters in Paris, with whom he made common cause on revolutionary politics,-even then, instead of rejecting all idea of interference with the rights of the colonial assemblies, he delivered over his plan of a slave code to Mr. Dundas, the Secretary for the Colonies, for the patronage and adoption of Mr. Pitt and

« PreviousContinue »