Imágenes de páginas

ducing a portiou of the human race to the condition of Brutes, or of articles of merchandize ;-the only difference between ihem and other Men being their diversity of colour and their higher or lower degree of civilization, and with respect to whom an equivocal right and assumed privilege have been brought forward, in support of the practice of forcing, or by means of deceit inducing, those unfortunate beings to serve, with their labour, in augmenting the riches of their hard-hearted Masters; and hence we must conclude that, if the moral principle alone of the Trade were to be considered, no Person would be found hardy enough to propose it, nor would any Government be induced to permit it. In a financial and political point of view, however, no such unanimity of opinion is to be met with.

Considering the length of time, (3 centuries) during which America has enjoyed the privilege of carrying on the Trade in question, and the influence which the old custom of employing Slaves for the la. bours of the field, as well as for domestic services, may have on the Colonies; some Persons are inclined to think, that the encouragement of agriculture in those vast Regions indispensably requires the continued importation of Slaves, especially in the Island of Cuba; and they go even so far as to point out several serious consequences which would result from a total and sudden abolition. Hence, they incline to the opinion, that a gradual abolition, such as the other European Powers have sanctioned, would be preferable, and that great advantages, moreover, would be derived, by an increased quantity of produce, and a better sale of our Colonial Articles in the different markets of Europe.

Others, on the contrary, apprehend, and with more than sufficient reason, that great disadvantages and well-known dangers would ensue from the continuance of the Trade; nor can they perceive the asserted utility of it, nor the indispensable necessity of African hands, which might not be done away with by a system of a more humane, just, and equitable nature. They, therefore, feel that it would be perfectly in conformity with your Majesty's well-known sentiments of Christian piety, and with the relations which unite us to the generous British Nation, more especially since the interposition, on her part, of her friendship and influence, not merely to limit this illicit commerce to the period of 5 years, but rather to strike immediately at its root,-care being taken, by prudent and proper measures, to prevent injury being done to those who are engaged, under the late Royal Grants, in that Trade, at the present moment; and to supply with White Men the demand for manual labour, which such a prohibition might occasion in some Provinces of the American Hemisphere.

The Council incline to the latter opinion; and, in order that your Majesty may feel satisfied that they have endeavoured to fulfil your Majesty's benevolent intentions, they will proceed to shew, on the one


hand, the solidity of the principles and the irresistibility of the grounds upon which they support that opinion, and, on the other, to combat, so far as a matter of this description will admit of evidence, the objections that have already been, and may yet be, brought forward against the abolition of the Traffic. The result, they hope, will be a thorough and general conviction, that the proposed measure will do equal justice to the welfare of the Nation, the privileges of the American Merchants, and the glory of your Majesty.

But in order to do this the more effectually, it will be proper, in the first place, to take a review of the subject, by relating, with as much brevity as possible, the history, progress, and vicissitudes, of this commerce, from its commencement.

The Slave-trade began, immediately after the first settlement of the Portuguese on the Coasts of Africa, and at a time nearly coeval with the discovery of the Americas. They were the first who, profaning the sacred rights of natural and civil liberty, snatched from their native soil the unfortunate Africans, depriving them of every thing that was dear to them, forcing them across the Atlantic, through a thousand miseries, and there reducing them, as an aggravation of their miseries, to the wretched condition of Slaves, after exposing them for sale as objects of commerce in the European markets.

The Dutch and the Genoese, and afterwards the English, gave greater extension to this Traffic: but the Spanish Court viewed with horror a commerce so contrary, in its nature, to every feeling of humanity;-so much so, indeed, that, notwithstanding the repeated Applications from our American Colonies, the encouragement of such a Trade was constantly refused, and it went even so far as to proliibit, in the year 1516, under various lieavy penalties, the importation of Negrocs into America.

In spite, however, of this determination, which ought to have closed for ever any further opening to future Applications, the Licentiate, Bartolomeo de las Casas, urged his reclamations in favour of Ainerica, and, led away by his excessive attachinent to that Country, he imagined it to be beneath the character and dignity of its Ivhabitants to apply themselves to labour in the fields, and proposed that Negroes from the African shores should be procured for that purpose.

Yielding to his importunities, our Lord Charles V. removed the then existing prohibition, and permitted him to introduce into the American Islands, 4,000 Slaves, for the purpose of cultivating the land.

This is the history of the first Resolution which was passed against those unfortunate Beings. Its effect was to last for 8 years; but, at the end of that period, the trade and importation of Slaves still continued, in virtue of Special Privileges granteil, though with no very great progress, to Private Individuals, util, at the Union of the 2 Crowns of l'ortugal and Castile, in the year 1580, the Portuguese gave a greater

extension to this Traffic, from the facilities which their Possessions on the Western Coast of Africa offered to them; facilities which the English had, since the year 1552, shared with them.

The French, likewise, took part in the Traffic at the beginning of the last Century, after the accession of Philip V. to the Throne ; but it ultimately remained, under a Contract for 30 years, in the hands of the English, in consequence of certain stipulations which were contained in the Treaty of Utrecht, of 1713.

In this order, but with some slight variation, has the Slave-trade heen carried on in Europe for upwards of 3 centuries, in spite of the law of nature, and of every sentiment of humanity; and, whilst the French, English, and North Americans have, at different times, carried this speculation to an amazing extent, we have limited ourselves to receiving the Slaves from their hands, for a price regulated by the circumstances of the moment. It was not until the 28th of September, 1789, that the first Royal Cedula was issued, permitting to Spaniards the free Trade in Slaves, but with the limitation of “ till further orders,” and to Foreigners the same permission for 2 years, under certain conditions enumerated and stated in the said Royal Cedula.

By another Royal Cedula, however, of the 24th of November, 1791, the time allowed to every Spaniard and Foreigner, for carrying on the Slave-trade, was fixed to 6 years in the Vice-Royalties of Santa Fe and Buenos Ayres, the Captain Generalship of Caracas, and the Islands of St. Domingo, Cuba, and Porto Rico, distinguishing the Ports in which they were to be imported; and charging the Governors and Captain Generals to give a Monthly Account of the number of Negroes successively imported, -reporting whether the Plantations were sufficiently provided with them, -and the prices properly regulated; together with any further information that they could supply, by which it might be seen, whether, after the expiration of the prescribed period, it would be expedient either to prolong or to suspend the Traffic.

By a Royal Order of the 22nd of November, 1792, several privi. leges were granted to the Island of Cuba, with a view to promote its trade and agriculture; namely, an exemption for 10 years, from all duties of " Alcabala” and Tenths, upon cotton, coffee, and indigo, and the restitution of duties upon sugar and other products; as well as an extension to 40 days of the period previously limited to 8, during which Foreigners might effect the sale of the Slayes imported into the Port of Havana.

In another Royal Order of the 3rd of January, 1793, we find that permission was granted for the embarkation of African produce on board of Slave Ships; and on the 24th of the same month and year, various other favours were granted to Persons carrying on that Trade.

On the 19th of March, 1794, Spanish Vessels which should not meet


with Slaves, were permitted to return with machines and other utensils for engineering, and implements of Agriculture. On the 23rd of the same month, the Harbour of Manzanillo, in the Island of Cuba, was appointed for the express purpose of the Slave-trade, exclusively in favour of Spanish Subjects.

On the 21st of May, 1795, the same Trade was permitted in the Vice- Royalty of Peru, with the limitation of " for the present;" the Ports of Callao and Pasto being assigned for that purpose to Spaniards, and that of Monte Video to Foreigners.

On the 14th of January, 1797, Spanish and Foreign Slave Ships were exempted from the duty they had previously paid, of 4 dollars for the Light-House of the Mole at The Havana; and on the 12th of April, 1798, the importation of Negroes into the Vice-Royalties of Buenos Ayres and Peru was further extended for 2 years.

At the time when this last concession was about to expire, a Petition for a fresh Licence was presented, grounded upon the representation, that without Slaves there could be no agriculture, and without agriculture no commerce, in America. This Petition was referred, by a Royal Order of the 15th of April, 1803, to the Council, which, on the 24th of November of the same year, bumbly submitted, that it was highly necessary to look with the utmost caution and circumspection to the unlimited importation of Slaves into America, and not to lose sight of the uvhappy effects which were produced in the French Colonies, owing to the Revolution of 1789; for, at the latter period, not only did the Slaves throw off all subordination, but commit the most horrible excesses, in the Island of St. Domingo; which circumstance rendered it still more necessary to avoid the giving to our Rivals any opportunity of availing themselves of the assistance of the Negroes, in order to revoJutionize our Colonial Possessions. On these considerations, the Council thought proper to advise, that the Licence requested to carry on this Traffic should be limited to 20 years only for Spaniards, and to 10 years for Foreigners; with the sine quâ non condition, that the Ne. groes called Bozales alone should be imported, as more likely to attach themselves to our Religion, Laws, and customs.

About the same period, Don Manuel de Guevara Vasconcelos, Captain-General of the Province of Venezuela, President of the Audiencia of Caracas, addressed to the Government a Representation, dated the Ilth of September, 1803, shewing the great inconvenience likely to arise from the continuance of the importation of Slaves, which had originally been permitted, on the supposition that the agriculture of that Country stood in need of them, notwithstanding all that had been said to the contrary by just and wise Men, who saw with alarm the progress of this juhuman Traffic. Don Manuel made several observations, to shew that the Negroes were more prejudicial than advantageous, and that the most beneficial results had been obtained in cultivating the land by means of Free Persons, -as had been proved by actual experiment, in the vallies of Aragua, destined for the growth of indigo and cotton, and cultivated by that class of Persons, when compared with the Plantations of Cacao, which were cultivated by Slaves. The former had been converted into numerous and populous Villages, in which content and abundance reigned; whilst in the latter nothing but gloom, rage, despair, revenge, vice, wretchedness, and a frightful solitude, were to be seen amidst Farms, abandoned by their own Masters to the care of their Slaves, who wantonly neglected them. From these circumstances it resulted, that their Proprietors were in a constant state of distress and bankruptcy. He lastly contended, that the necessary hands for the cultivation of the land might easily be procured, on account of the State, or by advances of the Public Money, by engaging the Natives of the Canary Islands, who, provided that it were beld out to them that, after the first 10 years of agricultural labour in America, they should receive a free donation of certain portions of land, together with the necessary implements, would be glad to undertake it.

This Representation of Don Manuel was referred, by a Roval Order of the 1st of January, 1804, to the Council; but it dia not, in consequence, alter its decision;, and although His Majesty concurred in their Report, yet he was pleased only to reduce the period of prolongation for this Traffic, to that of 12 years for Spaniards, and 6 years for Foreigners.

In consequence of this determination of His Majesty, 4 Royal Cedulas, dated the 22nd of April, 1804, were issued, fixing the period last mentioned for the importation of Negroes, who were all to be, moreover, of the description called Bozales ; and ordering, at the same time, that female Negroes should be introduced, in certain proportions, into all the Plantations. He also granted an extension, in their favour, of the various concessions contained in the Royal Decree of 1792, for a further period of 10 years.

The War with Great Britain, which commenced in the same year, (1804), put an entire stop to the execution of these Resolutions in the Province of Venezuela. Don Manuel Vasconcelos suspended the carrying into effect of the Royal Cedula, grounded upon the opinion he entertained, that, if it were to be published, the Colonies would immediately be filled with Foreign Vessels; and that, under the pretext of the importation of Negroes, our money and produce would be carried away by them, and a contraband trade carried on, which would prove most ruinous to the commerce of the Spanish Nation.

The Intendant of Caracas, at the same time, refused to publish the same Cedula : the Ayuntamiento, on the contrary, demanded that all the 4 Cedulas should be published and carried into effect; while the Archbishop and Chapter insisted, that the abolition of the Tenths on

« AnteriorContinuar »