British Colonial Developments, 1774-1834

By Vincent Harlow; Frederick Madden | Go to book overview

3
MINUTES OF THE SOCIETY FOR EFFECTING THE ABOLITION OF THE SLAVE TRADE August 1788 to April 1792

12 August 17881

It has been suggested, with a view to insinuate the impracticability of success, that the intention of the Society went to promote the abolition of slavery--an intention which the Committee have thought necessary to disclaim by public advertisement.2 For however acceptable a temperate and gradual abolition of slavery might be to the wishes of individuals it never formed any part of the plan of this Society.3 The more humane part of our adversaries have allowed the charges of cruelty in the conduct of this trade and admit that certain regulations are necessary by which those charges may be obviated; but the Committee are of opinion that the trade is in its nature and principle essentially unjust, and they apprehend that mere regulation by authority of Parliament will by those immediately concerned be constrained into an approbation of the principle. The voice of humanity calls loudly for the extinction of a traffic which no plea of policy or interest can justify in the eye of reason or conscience. Yet the Committee trust that on a candid and full examination it will appear that policy and philanthropy are not at variance on this occasion, and that it is no less the interest of this nation than it is becoming the spirit of humanity, which distinguishes its character, to comply with the wishes of the people and prohibit the trade.

20 July I7904

At the commencement of this Society it could not be foreseen that the prosecution of its greatest object would acquire so much time and expense. It may be of use to take a summary view of the ground we have passed and of that on which we now stand. . . .

In the progress of this business a powerful combination of interests have been created against us. The African trader, the planter and the West India merchant have united their forces to defend the fortress in which their supposed treasures lie. Vague calculations and false alarms arising from them have been thrown out to the public attempting

____________________
1
Add. MSS. 21,255, f. 50. This Society was formed by Clarkson and a group of Quakers in 1787.
2
Cf. Minute of 31 January 1792, with statement for the country papers denying misrepresentations that emancipation was their real aim.
3
See also Clarkson to Beauvet in 1789: 'The colonial slavery, sir, does not enter into our plan. We are of opinion that the emancipation of the slaves would be of no benefit to them at present, would ruin some of their proprietors, would endanger the revenue for a time, and would be an evil rather than a good.'
4
Add. MSS. 21,256, ft. 4-5. This report was published.

-528-

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