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Thoughts on the Necessity of Improving the Condition of the Slaves in the British Colonies   By: (1760-1846)

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THOUGHTS ON THE NECESSITY OF IMPROVING THE CONDITION OF THE SLAVES IN THE BRITISH COLONIES, WITH A VIEW TO THEIR ULTIMATE EMANCIPATION; AND ON THE PRACTICABILITY, THE SAFETY, AND THE ADVANTAGES OF THE LATTER MEASURE.

BY T. CLARKSON, ESQ.

1823.

PREFACE.

The following sheets first appeared in a periodical work called The Inquirer. They are now republished without undergoing any substantial alteration. The author however thinks it due to himself to state, that he would have materially qualified those parts of his essay which speak of the improved Condition of the Slaves in the West Indies since the abolition , had he then been acquainted with the recent evidence obtained upon that subject. His present conviction certainly is, that he has overrated that improvement, and that in point of fact Negro Slavery is, in its main and leading feature, the same system which it was when the Abolition controversy first commenced.

It is possible there may be some, who, having glanced over the Title Page of this little work, may be startled at the word Emancipation . I wish to inform such, that Mr. Dundas, afterwards Lord Melville, an acute Man, and a Friend to the Planters, proposed this very measure to Parliament in the year 1792. We see, then, that the word Emancipation cannot be charged with Novelty . It contains now no new ideas . It contains now nothing but what has been thought practicable , and even desirable to be accomplished . The Emancipation which I desire is such an Emancipation only, as I firmly believe to be compatible not only with the due subordination and happiness of the labourer, but with the permanent interests of his employer.

I wish also to say, in case any thing like an undue warmth of feeling on my part should be discovered in the course of the work, that I had no intention of being warm against the West Indians as a body. I know that there are many estimable men among them living in England, who deserve every desirable praise for having sent over instructions to their Agents in the West Indies from time to time in behalf of their wretched Slaves. And yet, alas! even these, the Masters themselves, have not had influence enough to secure the fulfilment of their own instructions upon their own estates ; nor will they, so long as the present system continues . They will never be able to carry their meritorious designs into effect against Prejudice, Law, and Custom . If this be not so, how happens it that you cannot see the Slaves, belonging to such estimable men, without marks of the whip upon their backs ? The truth is, that so long as overseers, drivers, and others, are entrusted with the use of arbitrary power , and so long as Negro evidence is invalid against the white oppressor , and so long as human nature continues to be what it is , no order from the Master for the better personal treatment of the Slave will or can be obeyed . It is against the system then, and not against the West Indians as a body, that I am warm, should I be found so unintentionally, in the present work.

One word or two now on another part of the subject. A great noise will be made, no doubt, when the question of Emancipation comes to be agitated, about the immense property at stake , I mean the property of the Planters; and others connected with them. This is all well. Their interests ought undoubtedly to be attended to. But I hope and trust, that, if property is to be attended to on one side of the question, it will be equally attended to on the other . This is but common justice. If you put into one scale the gold and jewels of the Planters, you are bound to put into the other the liberty of 800,000 of the African race; for every man's liberty is his own property by the laws of Nature , Reason , Justice , and Religion ? and, if it be not so with our West Indian Slaves, it is only because they have been, and continue to be, deprived of it by force . And here let us consider for a moment which of these two different sorts of property is of the greatest value... Continue reading book >>




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