« ПредишнаНапред »
goods to feed the poor, and even though he devote his body to the flames, to gain the glorious crown of martyrdom, he has lived in vain, and all these fplendid distinctions will profit him nothing.
ESSA Y XXIII.
On the AFRICAN SLAVE TRADE.
THERE are some truths which all mankind
agree to regard as first principles; the clearness and certainty of them are such as preclude even the possibility of a doubt; and all attempts, therefore, to establish or confirm them by argument, are not only superfluous, but absurd and ridiculous; and we laugh, without seruple, at the Philosopher who gravely exclaims, “ Cogito ergo * fum.” There are other truths of great magnitude and importance, which cannot indeed properly be stiled self-evident; for they are capable of being opposed, and of being supported by argument; but the arguments, on the one fide, are so obvious and convincing, and on the other, so weak and futile, that candour itself cannot, without difficulty, believe the most ignorant and prejudiced of mankind incapable of discerning the disparity. The question relating to the African Slave Trade, considered either in a civil or a moral view, may be adduced as an instance
exactly in point. It is so flagrant and enormous a violation of the most facred and fundamental laws of justice and humanity, it so evidently sets at defiance all those obligations which result from the nature of civil society, and the unalterable principles of equitable and legitimate government, that one cannot, without astonishment and indignation, view the necessity of entering into a regular discussion of the question, and of formally exhibiting a train of arguments, in order to prove this horrible traffic to be the height of moral and political depravity. The famous Abbé Terrai, Comptroller of the Finances in France, during the latter part of the reign of Lewis XV. on being informed that a certain iniquitous measure, proposed by him, was universally condemned as highly oppressive and unjust, replied coolly, “ Who pres6 tends that it is just?” This may be ftiled the magnanimity of villainy. That abandoned Minister at least was not guilty of the crime of lowering the standard of moral rectitude, and of endeavouring to debase the sentiments of mankind to a level with his own practice: but the advocates for the Slave Trade do not rest satisfied with practical villainy; they are ambitious of distinguishing themselves by a speculative attachment to it. Rather than renounce an hypothesis which they are interested to maintain, they would reverse the general order of the universe, and the constitution of nature. They would fain persuade us, that virtue may fubfift, though it is not nourished with
the milk of human kindness; and that vice does not consist in cruelty, rapine, treachery, and violence. It is not my present purpose to enter expressly into the consideration of those arguments which demonstrate the contrariety of this practice to the first and plainest principles of moral and political rectitude. They have been repeatedly urged, with irresistible force, by writers of diftinguished merit, in various recent publications. I mean to offer only a few remarks on the pleas which are usually advanced in defence or extenuation of this outrage against the common rights of humanity.
First, It is alledged, that “ the Negroes are an
inferior and subordinate race of men; and it is, “ therefore, allowable to treat them as such, “ without incurring the imputation of cruelty and
injustice.” What! to borrow the language of Shylock, “ Hath not a Negroe eyes, hands,
organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions ? “ fed with the same food, hurt with the same
weapons, subject to the fame diseases, healed
by the same means, warmed and cooled by the 66 fame Winter and Summer that a Christian is ?” Say, ye profound Philosophers, ye enlightened Sages, who inhabit the shores of Mersey and of Avon, by what medium of proof have you discovered and ascertained the intellectual inferiority of this devoted race? Will you venture to affirm, that the inhabitants of Africa are, at present, in a state of greater inferiority, compared with
you, their high and mighty lords; you who hold so conspicuous and so honourable a rank amongst rational and intelligent beings, than your ancestors, the Ancient Britons, compared with the Romans of the Augustan age? But fuppofing this to be the case, their inferiority only gives them an additional claim to your indulgence and protection. That the power implies the right of oppression, is a discovery in political morality worthy of such sagacious and profound investigators of the natural rights of mankind, as the Lockes, the Blackstones, and the Montesquieus, trading to the coast of Guinea.
Secondly, The Slave Trade, mirabile diētu, is gravely vindicated on the principles of humanity, as being highly beneficial to those who are apparently the victims of it; for they are affirmed to be principally composed of prisoners of war, who would, in all probability, be laughtered in cold blood, if their enemies were deprived of this more advantageous mode of disposing of them. What! is it then the voice of humanity that we hear pleading in defence of a practice, the very idea of which must excite, in every breast susceptible of the feelings of humanity, amazement and horror! View yon vessel, with fails expanded, ploughing the deep.-Contemplate for a moment the scene which it exhibits.--Within that receptacle of human misery, are contained hundreds of beings, poffefsing passions and feelings congenial to thine own.-Behold them bereft of every enjoy