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We cannot dismiss Mr. Wilberforce's appeal, without quoting the following observations from “ The Bahama Letter,” as to the policy of direct interference with the Colonial Legislatures :
“ Most of the colonies, it is admitted, make excellent laws for the protection of the slaves; but, according to Mr. Wilberforce, none of them are executed ; and, until Parliament interferes, the slaves will never be the better for any law. But with due deference, let us ask, can Parliament itself in its omnipotence, do any thing more than make laws ? And if the colonial laws are evaded by the colonies themselves, what would there be to protect the enactments of Parliament from a similar fate? If the laws which we ourselves provide, with a close and intimate knowledge of the subject requiring regulation, are not carried into execution, would the difficulty be lessened by having the same subject regulated by gentlemen, able statesmen no doubt, but with very little other insight into our affairs, but what they acquire from official reports, documents too often of a mere artificial character, and the writings and speeches of persons, all whose little greatness and influence, and sometimes whose comfortable incomes, or daily bread, in a great measure depend upon keeping up the cry of avarice, rapacity, irreligion, and cruelty, against the whole of the West Indies."
When part of the Common-sense Book was already in the press, we thought it necessary not to disregard a publication which had subsequently made its appearance, entitled, “ Stephen on West Indian Slavery.” The day on which our labours must be submitted to the public being fixed, enough of time is not permitted to go through the work alluded to elaborately; but it has a long preface, and confining our observations to that preface alone, we think the same principle
ofantiquated references, and of customs long passed, or so altered as scarcely to be recognized, will be found to bottom Mr. Stephen's performance; which is pushed forward at the request of the London Society for mitigating and gradually abolishing Slavery.
The mitigation and gradual abolition of slavery is no longer the object or wish of any individual society, it is the wish of the whole kingdom; if there were no obstacles to it, the measure would be decided by the legislature to-morrow, and be acquiesced in cheerfully by the colonists. Whether the principles of Mr. Stephen's work tend to promote the conciliatory spirit between all parties, by which alone this most desirable measure may be safely accomplished; or whether it does not throw the apple of discord at a moment when the gracious communication of the King to Parliament had laid down distinct and well understood principles of guidance, will now be seen. If by the examination of those principles it should appear that the object is to promote a breach between the British Parliament and the colonial legislatures, and to raise that legal but delicate question, “ whether the colonies having institutions for their own local purposes in such matters, are bound by the acts of a British House of Commons,” then we argue that the manner in which the work in question is compiled does any thing but tend to promote the amelioration and enfranchisement of the negro population, and that
the object of a well meaning society is conse' quently frustrated by its own agent.
On public questions, agitated by an individual, it is impossible to avoid the mention of the name of the party, but when we cannot refrain from personality in its obnoxious meaning, the Common-sense Book loses its character and meaning; we speak, therefore, not of Mr. Stephen, but of Mr. Stephen's book..
Mr. Stephen, in his preface, appears to anticipate that an objection will be made to a publication requested of him in February, 1823, since in the following May certain resolutions had been entered on the journals of the House of Commons, pledging it to important reformations both in the law and practice of slavery, and for the progressive termination even of the state itself.
Mr. Stephen might indeed well anticipate such an objection; he urges, that had his work appeared previously to the resolutions of the House of Commons, that then he should have foretold the manner of their reception in the various colonies ; and he now rests his defence of the necessity of the publication upon the manner in which such resolutions have been met by the colonial legislature. The author says, “ the non-compliance of many, if not all the assemblies, is now matter, not of anticipation, but experience,” and then goes on
to draw his conclusions against the sincerity of colonial co-operation.
Mr. Stephen's work appeared about the 18th of February; in January, the following transactions had already taken place in the colonial councils ; and Mr. S. had previously time to know, when he published his work, that in using the words “non-compliance of many, if not all, the assemblies,” he stated that which was not the fact.
Even Barbadoes is included in the subjoined reports; and though the island of Jamaica has in its Lower House passed a bill, revoking the Registry Act; still, as yet such a procedure is the temporary effervescence of one house which has not met the assent of the council, and would not, in all probability, be sanctioned by the British privy council. But indeed, what is the real substance of the act of this one branch of the Jamaica legislature? Not a determination, not to ameliorate the condition of the slavės, not a positive denial to them of a future freedom; but it amounts to an opposition to any laws to be enacted by the British parliament for that purpose, not out of mere contumacy, but because the British parliament did not possess those lights, and that disinterested and dependable information, upon which it could proceed to legislate safely.
Many public meetings have taken place in
Jamaica to promote resolutions and petitions to its legislature; and though they certainly do breathe an angry feeling at any interference by a third party (meaning the initiating branches of the British Constitution), yet they all express a decidedly loyal and firm attachment to the throne.
There have been times, when the sentiments expressed by the colonists of Jamaica, would have been lauded to the skies, (not that we admit they are not bound by the fundamental laws of England; we contend they are, for they are not to choose which they will pay obedience to; it must be to all or none)-as in the case of Ireland; what triumphant contests did she not continue against the parliament of England! for which she was held up as a model of struggling patriotism.
Nothing can be more clear than the distinct tone taken in Jamaica. It is “ to carry into effect, by their own measures, that which will not be done by our interfering imposition.”
On the 4th October, 1823, among many resolutions, claiming their internal legislatorial independence, was the following :-“ Resolved that, from the gradual dissemination of Christian principles, we look forward with peculiar pleasure, to the improvement of our slaves in the scale of civilized beings; and that from past experience and the good effects which have already resulted from their instruction, we confidently anticipate, under di