A poster for an anti-slavery speech

Gentlemen,

 

I thank you very sincerely for the opportunity you have now afforded me of expressing to you the sentiments which I entertain on the subject of Colonial Slavery. I know that subject is so near the heart of every man who claims a philanthropic or Christian character, that not merely in regard to the circumstances in which I now stand, but for my fair fame among those whose good opinion I am not most anxious to cherish and deserve, I am extremely desirous that my sentiments upon it should be distinctly understood.

 

It is, I assure you, a great satisfaction to my own mind, that I can appear before you this day, and can state in all sincerity of heart, that the opinions which I profess now are the same as I have always professed. No man can charge me, therefore, with having assumed these opinions for the promotion of any selfish or personal object. From the moment I went to the University to the hour I now stand before you, I have been, (and hundreds can bear testimony to the fact,) the zealous and ardent promoter of the Abolition of Slavery. (Cheers.)

 

The question appears to me now to have drawn itself into a very narrow compass, and to have assumed, I am happy to say, a very simple form; and I am sure, if the Friends of Humanity, - if the people of England, - are only true to themselves, and to that great principle which carried the Act of the Abolition of the Slave Trade, I am perfectly satisfied that the extinction of Slavery might be effected at once and for ever.

 

With a view to explain what I mean, I will run over cursorily the heads of the history of the Slave Question. I believe it was in 1807, that the great act, - the first which was effected in the name of justice and humanity, - the Act for the Abolition of the Slave Trade, - passed the British Parliament. Lord Grenville, the Minister of the day, on laying it upon the table of the House of Lords, distinctly stated , that this measure was only to be regarded as a step to the final extinction of Slavery. It was not to be considered a final measure. It has reference to another measure, which was, the utter annihilation of Slavery. This view was adopted, in fact, and publicly declared, by most of the leading Members, in both Houses of Parliament,  by Mr. Sheridan, Mr. Canning, and others, as well as by Lord Grenville. This view of the question was likewise adopted by the Planters themselves. They said to Mr. Wilberforce and his Party, 'Your object is now, in a great measure, accomplished; leave the rest to us; we will take care that your views shall be entirely carried into effect; but a gradual emancipation is necessary for the welfare of both parties; only give us time'. Mr. Wilberforce and the Friends of Humanity acquiesced in the proposition; - they thought they might cease from their labours, and that in the course of a short time they would have the satisfaction of knowing, that no man could live within the British Dominions and be a slave. Gentlemen, five and twenty years have now passed since that Act of Parliament was sanctioned by the Legislature; - during which time the Planter has been promising gradual emancipation. What the, you will ask, is now the condition of the slave. It is exactly what it was: at least, no amelioration has been effected by the voluntary act of the Planter. Some few measures have been adopted; but the Slave still continues a Slave, after five and twenty years have passed away! Yes, Gentlemen, in spite of the demands of justice, - in spite of the exertions of the Friends of Humanity, - in spite of the voice of twenty millions of people, - in spite of the authority of the British Parliament; - the system of Slavery still exists! Now, I ask, what is to be done? Will the Planters require five and twenty years more for the completion of this act of justice? Are we to delay, for half a century, the extinction of this atrocious and degrading system? I am sure you will not consent to it. I am sure we are not now to be told, that the slave owner is the best legislator for the slave; that the slave owner is the most proper guardian of his rights. (Hear.) I think it is now high time to come forward and demand the immediate Abolition of Slavery. I know the Planter talks to us of his rights in the slave, and of the rights of property. This language might have suited those time of bigotry and delusion which, thank heaven, have gone by for ever; but, in  the present day such language is not an argument it is an insult, - I will not stop to refute it. It has been refuted by far higher powers than mine. It is only necessary to notice it, in order that it may be despised. (Cheers.)

The planter says that insurrection and bloodshed will arise; that the slave is in a condition unfit for freedom; and that if we put freedom in his possession, it will prove a curse not merely to his master but to himself, that he is a mean, wretched, sordid, degraded animal. Gentleman, I know that he is so. How in the name of reason should he be otherwise! During the course of five and twenty years of gradual abolition, he has been surrounded by nothing but cruelty, oppression and crime, - by slavery, and by that utter depravation of moral feeling of which slavery is alternately the cause and the consequence. I now demand, - I trust the people of England will demand, - of the slave-owner the renunciation of his preposterous claims. (Hear.) Some preparation may, indeed, be necessary in order to fit the slave for the enjoyment of his freedom; but this I think is perfectly plain, that the slave owner either cannot or will not adopt the measures necessary for that purpose. I think five and twenty years, experience is sufficient to satisfy us, that this preparation must no longer be entrusted to his hands. (Hear.) Gentlemen, I think we should take it out of his hands. I would require of him at once that the slave should be free. He tells us that a seen of bloodshed and insurrection must ensue. Most unquestionably, it is the duty of every wise and humane man to take every proper precaution that the measure which rescues the Negro from Slavery shall not involve society in bloodshed or confusion. Still, I would commence with saying 'The Slave shall be free'. (Hear.) I would put under the control, - not of the Planter, - but of the Parliament, - the then situation of the Slave. I would allow other men, who, recognising the Negro no longer as a bondman, would undertake that duty, to promote, as much as possible, his social moral, and religious character, to prepare him for enjoying the blessings of liberty, which is equally the right of the black man and the white, - the indefeasible right of every human being upon earth. (Cheers.)

 

This, then, Gentlemen, is my argument: - The extinction of Slavery, has been, for many years past, the object before us. The extinction of slavery by the intervention of the Planters, and a gradual process, has been put to the test of a fair and adequate experiment. What has been the consequence? It has failed, - cruelly and entirely failed. (Hear.) It is clear we must adopt another system; and that system I would commence, by declaring, in the outset, - the Negro is free. (Cheers.) Having established that principle, I might think it necessary to place him under the restraint of persons who would undertake the care of his education. But I look upon it as an object of first-rate importance, to establish the principle immediately, - that man can no longer hold property in man. (Applause.)

 

I will not go into the question of the rights of property, - the right which the slave-owner presumes to set up in the blood and muscles of his fellow creature. That question has been settled by higher powers and far happier eloquence. Nor will I go into the question, (for that too has been settled) how far we should neglect our duty, because the Colonial Assemblies have neglected theirs. I have stated to you, simply and plainly, the views I entertain on the question of West India Slavery. Whether it may be my lot to advocate these views in a public character, as your Representative, or in what would be to me, in many respects, the more enviable situation of private and domestic life, I assure you this question will always command the best energies which it is in my humble power to afford. (Applause.)

 

I have now, Gentlemen, only to thank you for your great kindness in coming here, and for the attention you have paid me. I hope the explanation I have given will appear satisfactory. With respect to any other matters, involved in the choice of a Representative, I will only say, I shall be extremely happy to answer any questions which any Gentleman may think proper to put to me. I have nothing to conceal, and am most anxious to give every explanation with respect to my views and conduct, that any Gentleman can require.

 

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