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Good Words 1860

Instead of onward steps, there has been backsliding in reference to slavery and the slave-trade during the last ten years. This mournful fact has been one of the consequences of the nocturnal surprise which, by surrounding the National Assembly of France with cannon, and locking up the newspaper offices in the early morning of the 2d of December 1851, transformed an American republic into a Roman Empire, and a President into a Caesar.

Arago, as minister for the colonies, proposed, and the Provisional Government unanimously and by acclamation, decreed, the abolition of slavery in 1848. This decree was very eloquently worded, and after passing it, the members embraced each other. The Constituent Assembly, while ratifying the decree by a law, fixed a day, in 1852, for emancipating all the slaves in the French colonies; but long before the day of freedom came, the day of despotism, and the imperial government, instead of abolishing slavery, re-established it permanently. Slavery has, indeed, often been abolished in law, but never in fact, by our continental neighbours. Tinder every symbol of party power which has been uppermost during the last seventy years, except the bees of the Bonapartes under the lilies and red bonnets, the white cockades and the tricolour cockades, slavery has been abolished by a series of laws; but I cannot say that, in virtue of them, any negro has ever ceased to be a slave.

But, in common with all the nations calling themselves civilized, the French have been parties to treaties abolishing the slave-trade. There is no nation, indeed, which has boasted more of the humane ideas which these treaties embody, as the offspring of the revolution of 1789. We shall see by and by how far the ideas have been borne out by facts. It is not generally understood how far the growth of sentiments hostile to the slave-trade in Great Britain during the eighteenth century tended to alienate the planters of Virginia from the mother country, and bring them more and more under Gallican influences, preparing the way, in fact, for the declaration of American independence. The Virginians, however much they loved liberty for themselves, had no liking for it on behalf of blacks, nor, indeed, of whites whose labour was profitable to them. Wonder has often been expressed by travellers in the southern states of America because the skins of the slaves are sometimes white. Why, it would be wonderful if they were not, for there were many whites kidnapped into slavery in Virginia during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It is one of the black spots in the history of Aberdeen, for example, that the magistrates were guilty of conniving at the kidnapping of outcast children, who were sold to be slaves in Virginia. When, indeed, the Virginians revolted against Great Britain, they fought for slavery with liberty upon their flags, contending for their property in men, while proclaiming all men free and equal. But such was the force of public opinion against the slave-trade in the beginning of the present century, that the United States were forced to become parties to treaties abolishing it. Such, again, was the influence of the emancipation of the slaves in the British colonies, that it might have been predicted, as a matter of course, that an anti-slavery party would spring up in the northern states of America ; and such a party there is, composed of persons endowed with the highest gifts, and animated by the most heroic spirit.

But of late years slavery has been gaining ground across the Atlantic, at least to all outward appearance. Nobody but a friend of slavery can be elected President. The tendency of legislation has been to extend the area of slavery, and to diminish the chances of fugitives escaping from bondage. It was recently proposed in some of the slave states to prevent negroes from meeting together upon any pretence whatever. The frolics and balls, out of which so many quaint melodies and humorous songs have come, are being suppressed. Meetings of benevolent societies, and even public worship, are prohibited when the preachers are black. Slaves must not drive about in hired carriages, without the permission of their masters. Shopkeepers are requested to have no dealings with negroes. Without passes from their masters, negro husbands must no longer visit their distant wives. Five-and-twenty years ago, there were two millions and a half of slaves in the States, and there are now four millions. The price of an able-bodied slave was then 900 dollars, and the price is now 1400. It thus appears that while slave estates are being managed more and more like penal settlements, there has been a vast increase of their victims, and ever-increasing motives for swelling their numbers.

But the French have gone still farther back than the Americans. People who have been taught to admire the brilliant Frenchmen who left the court of Louis the Sixteenth to fight with Washington, have not been told that hostility to England was so much more their animating motive than the love of liberty, that, on returning home, they solicited and obtained an ordinance restricting the right of holding commissions in the army to noblemen born. This fact is a specimen of how they had learned liberty and equality in the army of independence. And facts of this kind are characteristic of Gallican liberalism throughout its whole history. For, did not the French National Assembly pass a law abolishing slavery in the French colonies, and were not the blacks obliged to conquer it for themselves under the heroic leadership of Toussaint L'Ouverture, the liberator of Saint Domingo? And did not the first Bonaparte, as soon as he seized the dictatorship, send an expedition to re-subdue the blacks of Saint Domingo? No one, surely, can have forgotten how Toussaint, the impersonation of negro freedom, was starved to death in a prison among the snows of the Alps?

And now, under the second Empire, the French are the greatest slave-dealers in the world. During the last ten years, they have established a system of kidnapping upon the west coast of Africa. Slave hunts have been got up to supply their marts. Their system was brought fully to light by the affairs of the Charles et Georges and the Regina Coeli. The Portuguese government cruisers having caught the Charles et Georges upon the coast of Mozambique, fitted up as a slaver, with manacles and feet-irons on board, seized her, and the proper court tried and condemned her as a slaver. But the French Government sent three war steamers to the Tagus, and, to use the words of the King of Portugal, "took the question from the field of legal right, and obliged his government to cede to the peremptory exaction of the delivery of the vessel and the liberation of the captain." A cry of indignation resounded over Europe against this deed; and the Emperor of the French, desiring to soothe public opinion on this occasion, published a letter, in which he promised to abandon his system of African for Coolie emigration.

The affair of the Regina Coeli is another illustration of the modern French slave-trade. The Queen of Heaven was a slaver. This fact was proved by abundant evidence. Six English gentlemen, passengers on board the Ethiope steam-packet, signed their names to a declaration, saying they had seen irons on board of her. The negroes, although they were called emigres or engages, were really slaves bought from the most determined slave dealer in Manoo. The very fact that they rose up and massacred the crew of the Regina Coeli, proves they were not free emigrants on their way to a land of promise. It has been pretended that two hundred and seventy men massacred a crew of eleven sailors, in consequence of a quarrel about cooking bananas or smoking at the stove; but if there had been any truth in this pretext, the Liberian Government never would have deemed the massacre justifiable, and never could have refused to punish the massacrers.

When the British Government remonstrated with the French in reference to the revival of the slave-trade, the Emperor promised to give up his peculiar system of emigration, if supplied with a suffi-cient number of labourers from British India. Now nobody is ignorant now-a-days respecting what labourers are in the French colonies; they are slaves. Yet it is authoritatively stated that there are no less than 49,000 British subjects in the condition of labourers or slaves in the island of Reunion alone. The treaty or pact under which this transaction has taken place has never been submitted to the consideration of the Parliament or the public, and yet the treaty is said to be so far binding, that the supply of British subjects to be French slaves cannot be stopped without giving eighteen months' notice.

This may be the proper place to mention that there was recently in London, and in communication with the Foreign Office, an African lad, a British subject, who had been kidnapped into slavery in Cayenne, and from whence he managed to escape.

Kidnapping has just been detected in China and the West Indies. The kidnapping in China has been proved by 105 depositions denounced by British and French commanders-in-chief. Here is a specimen of these depositions, and a sample of the system pursued by certain Americans:

Ung Cheo-Foo, a Tartar, states: "About twelve days ago I was selling herbs in the streets of Canton; it was in the south suburbs. A man (Chinese) came up and asked me to go to Honan to fetch something to Canton. Got into a boat, and was taken to Chung Chow. I objected to go to that place, and was struck. I was placed on board a foreign ship, and asked if I would go to a foreign country. I declined. The foreigner said I was to be taken back, as I had refused to go. I was again put into the kidnapping boat, and beaten on my back with the flat of a sword. I received four blows, and was told I must, when on board the foreign ship, say I was willing, or I should be killed. I was afraid, and consented to go. I was kept below in the foreign ship, my dress was changed, and I was not allowed on deck. There were 189 coolies down in that place. We had plenty of room, and plenty to eat. All were unwilling to go, and had been kidnapped. Six days ago I was brought away from the foreign vessel."

The skipper of the Alice Rodgers, one Braley, has recently excited great indignation in Jamaica. This man, having inveigled two black boys, bearing the Scottish names of Campbell and Raeburn, to engage as his apprentices to the trade of seamen, took them to Norfolk, Virginia, where he tried to sell them as slaves. Fortunately for the boys, the American gentleman to whom this British kidnapper offered them, denounced him to the police, and had him arrested for violating the laws of the State.

From St. Helena we learn that the number of slaves brought into depot there is larger than ever was known before. American captains boast openly in this port that the slave-trade is far too profitable ever to be put down.

When slavery was abolished in the British Empire, moralists remarked how astonishing it was that an iniquity so flagrant should have endured so long. Surely it is astounding not merely that slavery should still survive, but that the slave-trade should have revived and flourished once more. Slavery deprives men of their souls with the freedom of their bodies. When slave-dealers try to prove that negroes are not of the one human species, but something beneath it, they are trying to cast upon nature the degradation which is their own work. A community of slaves is a community of men, but souls are wanting there.

Agitation for the abolition of slavery is merely supporting the plea of men to be men. Gloomy as the present aspect of slavery and the slave-trade undoubtedly is, it is but a phase; and the history of humanity, like the history of every man, is chequered with black and white aspects. The English-speaking nation in America can preserve slavery permanently only by annihilating among them the knowledge of the language of Milton and Clarkson. The Dred-Scott decision may say every territory has a right to maintain iniquity if it pleases, and Presidents may be elected to stand by the Dred-Scott decision, but nothing will be decided by all that, whilst words of righteousness have the power of disturbing the consciences of men.

"King Cotton," again, is said to be the mainstay of slavery and the slave-trade, and this industrial monarch may destroy the institution he upholds. Hitherto we have been told that Cotton is King, and must have slaves. But there is a whisper gone over the whole geographical area of the cotton plant, saying, Cultivate cotton, for the British cotton-spinners cannot obtain enough of it. At present, the slave-owning planters can produce a quantity of cotton for threepence which they can sell for tenpence, and the labour of their slaves is very profitable to them. However, India, Australia, and Africa can all grow cotton, and King Cotton is summoning free labour to compete with slave labour in supplying his wants. The very fury of the slave-owners is a sign of weakness. Three thousand slaves escaped last year from the slave states to Mexico. The slave-owners could not afford to be magnanimous to poor Captain Brown. Why, a book-hawker was burned in Texas the other day for selling anti-slavery books! Magnetic wires and steam-engines, the discoveries of travellers, and the enterprise of industrials, the economical law which produces competition for profits, is working at the bases and undermining the foundations of the institutions of slavery and the slave trade. King Cotton, after having bolstered them up, seems destined to crumble them down.

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