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THE WEST INDIES.
(Edinburgh Review, January 1825.)
Or the numerous excellent works in which this important subject has lately been discussed, that of Mr. Stephen is the most comprehensive, and, in many respects, the most valuable. We are not aware that any opponent has appeared, sufficiently intrepid to deny his statements, or to dispute their results. The decent and cautious advocates of slavery carefully avoid all aš asion to a publication which they feel to be unanswerable; and the boldest content themselves with misrepresenting and reviling what they cannot even pretend 'to confute. In truth, it is not too much to assert that, on the part of the slave-drivers and their supporters, this controversy bas, for the most part, been conducted with a disingen. uousness and a bitterness to which literary history furnishes no parallel. Most of the honourable and intelligent men whose names give respectability to the Colonial party, have in prudence or in disgust, stood aloof from the contest. In their absence, the warfare has been carried on by a race of scribblers, who, like the mercenary Mohawks, so often oui auxiliaries in Transatlantic campaigns, unite the indifferena of the hireling to the ferocity of the cannibal; who take ais. from an ambush, and who desire victory only that they may have the pleasure of scalping and torturing the vanquished.
The friends of humanity and freedom have often boasted, 1 The Slavery of the British West India Colonies delineated, as it exista soth in Law and Practice, and compared with the Slavery of other countries, Ancient and Modern. By JAMES STEPHEN, Esq. Vol. 1., being a Delid. ration of the State in point of Law. London, Butterworth, 1824.
with honest pride, that the wise and good of hostile sects and factions seemed, wher slavery or the slave-trade were in question, to forget their mutual antipathies :— that the introduction of this subject was to such men what the proclamation of a Crusade was to the warriors of the dark ages a signal to suspend all their petty disputes, and to array themselves under the same holy banner, against the same accursed enemy. In this respect the slave-drivers are now even with us. They, too, may boast that, if our cause has received support from honest men of all religious and political parties, theirs has tended, in as great a degree, to combine and conciliate every form of violence and illiberality. Tories and Radicals, prebendaries and field-preachers, are to be found in their ranks. The only requisites for one who aspires to enlist, are a front of brass and a tongue of venom.
“ Omnigenumque Deùm monstra, et latrator Anubis,
Tela tenent." But it is neither on facts nor on arguments that slavery seems now to depend for protection. It neither doubles, nor stands at bay. It has neither the ingenuity of the hare, nor the intrepidity of the lion. It defends itself, like the hunted polecat, by the loathsomeness with which it taints the atmosphere around it; and hopes to escape, by disgusting those whom it can neither weary nor subdue. We could say much on this subject. But the sum is, that "the worm will do his kind" — and we have a more important task to perform. It is our intention to analyse, very concisely, the valuable work of Mr. Stephen, and afterwards to offer to our readers some remarks which the perusal of it bas suggested.
Mr. Stephen begins, by inquiring into the origin and agthority of the Colonial Slave-laws. It has been commonly supposed in England, that there exists some known local law in the Colonies, distinct from the law of England, by which the bondage of the Negro has been introduced and defined. There is, however, no such law. The Colonists could, at no time, venture to present an act for such a purpose to an
1 Mr. Stephen's work cannot, of course, embrace any changes which Lay have taken place in West Indian Legislation during the last eightees ponths or two years. Some partial modifications of the former code may nave taken place luring that time in three or four of the colonies, bu these do not affec: the general results.
English sovereign. The Spanish conquerors and the roving pirates of the Antilles bad established that state : and the English settlers considered themselves as succeeding to the rights of the original despoilers of America. Those rights, as they at that time existed, may be summed up in one short and terrible maxim, - that the slave is the absolute property of the master. It is desirable that this should be known; because, although a few restraining statutes have of late years been passed, this odious principle is still the basis of all West Indian legislation. It is pre-supposed in all meliorating acts. It is the rule, and the restraints are exceptions. In the benefits which every other English subject derives from the common law, the Negro has no share. His master may lawfully treat him as he pleases, except in points reg. ulated by express enactment.
Mr. Stephen proceeds to analyze the legal nature of the relation between the master and the slave. Throughout the West Indies, slavery is a constrained service, –a service without wages. In some of the colonies, indeed, there are acts which regulate the time of labour, and the amount of the subsistence which shall be given in return. But, from causes to which we shall hereafter advert, these acts are nugatory; In other islands, even these ostensible reforms have not taken place : and the owner may legally give his slaves as much to do, and as little to eat, as he thinks fit.
In all the islands, the master may legally imprison his slave. In all the islands he may legally flog him; and in some of the islands he may legally flog him at his discretion. The best of the meliorating acts promise little, and perform less. By some of them it is enacted, that the slave shall not be flogged, till recovered from the effects of his last flogging - by others, that he shall not receive more than a certain number of lashes in one day. These laws, useless as they are, have a meaning. But there are others which add insult to cruelty. In some of the Colonial Codes, there are facetious provisions that the slave shall not receive more than a certain number of lashes at one time, or for one fault. What is the legal definition of a time? Or who are the legal judges of a fault? If the master should chuse to say that it is a fault in his slave to have woolly hair, whom does the law authorize to contradict him?
It is just to say, that the murder of a slave is now a cap