The Slave Trade
Henry Charles Carey
How Slavery Grew, and How it is Now Maintained,
in The West Indies.
The system described in the last chapter was fully carried out in the West India colonies. Manufactures were so entirely interdicted from the date of their coming under the crown of Great Britain, that the colonists were not permitted even to refine their own sugar, and still less to convert their cotton into cloth. The necessary consequence was that women and children could have no employment but that of the field. This, of course, tended to sink both mother and child far lower in the scale of civilization than would have been the case had the lighter labour of conversion been associated with the more severe one of production. The next effect was, that as all were bound to remain producers of raw commodities, there could be no markets at hand, and no exchanges could be made except at a distance of thousands of miles. Difficulties, too, arose in regard to the diversification of labour, even in agriculture itself. Indigo was tried, but of the price for which it sold in England so large a portion was absorbed by ship-owners, commission merchants, and the government, that its culture was abandoned. Coffee, was extensively introduced, and as it grows on higher and more salubrious lands its cultivation would have been of great advantage to the community; but here, as in the case of indigo, so small a portion of the price for which it sold was received by the producer that its production was about being abandoned, and was saved only by the government agreeing to reduce its claim to a shilling, or twenty-four cents, a pound. This amounted to about a hundred and eighty dollars per acre, the estimated produce being about 750 pounds of merchantable coffee; and very much of it came out of the producer the poor negro. How enormously burdensome such a tax must have been may be judged by the farmers who feel now so heavily the pressure of the malt duties; and it must always be borne in mind that the West India labourers were aided by the most indifferent machinery of production. By degrees these various taxes rendered necessary the abandonment of all cultivation but that of the sugar-cane, being of all others the most destructive of health, and as the whole population, men, women, and children, were limited to that single pursuit, we shall scarcely err in attributing to this fact the great waste of life recorded in a former chapter.
Commerce, too, was interdicted, except with Great Britain and her colonies; and this led to efforts at a smuggling trade with the Spanish possessions on the continent; but this was brought to a close by the watchfulness of the ships of war. Slaves, however, might be imported and exported, and this traffic was carried on a most extensive scale, most of the demand for the Spanish colonies being supplied from the British Islands. In 1775, however, the colonial legislature, desirous to prevent the excessive importation of negroes, imposed a duty of £2 per head, but this was petitioned against by the merchants of England, and the home government directed the discontinuance of the tax. At this period the annual export of sugar is stated, to have been 980,346 cwt., the gross sales of which, duty free, averaged £1 14s. 8d. per cwt., making a total of £1,699,421, so large a portion of which, however, was absorbed by freight, commissions, insurance, &c., that the net proceeds, of 775 sugar estates are stated to have been only £726,992, or less than £1000 each. If to the £973,000 thus deducted be added the share of the government, (12s. 3d. per cwt.,) and the further charges before the sugar reached the consumer, it will be seen that its grower could not have received more than one-fourth of the price at which it sold. The planter thus appears to have been little more than a superintendent of slaves, who were worked for the benefit of the merchants and the government of Great Britain, by whom was absorbed the lions share of the produce of their labour. He was placed between the slave, whom he was obliged to support, on the one hand, and the mortgagee, the merchants, and the government, whom he was also obliged to support, on the other, and he could take for himself only what was left and if the crop proved large, and prices fell, he was ruined. The consequences of this are seen in the fact that in twenty years following this period, there were sold for debt no less than 177 estates, while 92 remained unsold in the hands of creditors, and 55 were wholly abandoned. Seeing these things, it will not be difficult to understand the cause of the extraordinary waste of life exhibited in the British Islands. The planter could exist, himself, only by overworking his people; and notwithstanding all his efforts, no less than 324 out of 775 estates changed hands by reason of failure in the short space of twenty years. Whatever might be his disposition to improve the condition of the labourer, to do so was quite impossible while receiving for himself and them so small a portion of the price of his commodity.
In the early years of the present century, land had become more valuable. The price of sugar had risen about 80 percent, and the planters were gradually extricating themselves from their difficulties; and a consequence of this was seen in a considerable amelioration of the condition of the slave, who was now much better fed, clothed, and otherwise provided for. Slaves that had been as low as £34, average price, had risen to £50, at which the 250,000 in the island amounted to £12,500,000, and the real and personal property, exclusive of the slaves, was estimated at £25,000,000. How great, however, were the difficulties under which the planters still laboured, may be seen from the following extract, which, long as it is, is given because it illustrates so forcibly the destructive effects of the policy that looks to the prevention of that association which results from bringing the loom and the anvil to the side of plough and the harrow.
I have now to enter upon a painful part of my task, a part in which I am under the necessity of stating such circumstances as cannot but reflect disgrace on those who give rise to them, and from which the weakness, I will not use a harsher term, of the legislature, is but too apparent. These circumstances arise from the various modes of agency, such as that of the attorney of estates, mortgagee in possession, receiver in chancery, &c. The first of these characters requires a definition. By the word attorney, in this sense, is meant agent; and the duties annexed to his office are so similar to those of a steward in England, that were it not for the dissimilarity of executing them, and the dignity attendant upon the former, I should pronounce them one and the same, But as this colonial stewardship is the surest road to imperial fortune, men of property and distinguished situation push eagerly for it. Attorneys are of two sorts; six percent attorneys, and salaried attorneys; the profits of the former arise from commissions of six percent on all the produce of an estate, and various interior resources; the latter are paid a certain stipend by some unincumbered proprietors, who have lately discovered that a steward in Jamaica may be hired like a steward in England, by which several thousand pounds a year are saved, and instead of enriching their agents, are poured into their own coffers. The office of both is to attend to the estates of their employers, and to all their interests in the island, deputed to them that the proprietors themselves may live at home, that is to say, in Europe.
Of all the evils in the island of Jamaica, which call for a remedy, and by means of which the most unjustifiable practices are continued, the first and most crying is that of the business of a certain description of attorneys of orphans, mortgagees in possession, trustees, executors, guardians, and receivers under the court of chancery; a nd these evils arise in a great measure from the unjust and impolitic law which allows six percent commission on the gross produce of the estates under their charge and direction. The iniquitous practices, screened, if not authorized by that law have long been too glaring to be unnoticed; and attempts have been made to reduce the commission, and to fix it on some more equitable principle; but unfortunately there have always been in the House of Assembly too many of its members interested in benefits resulting from the present law to admit the adoption of the measure. That the interest of attorneys is not always the interest of those whose estates they hold is an undeniable fact, of which I think you will be convinced by the time you arrive at the conclusion of this letter. In many instances, too, this superior collateral interest militates against the happiness and amelioration of the state and condition of the slaves, which is now professed by the colonists to be an object of their most serious attention; and it proves not unfrequently the total ruin of the unfortunate planter, whose involved situation compels him to submit to the condition of consigning his estate to the management of an attorney appointed by his creditor, who is generally his merchant, and who throws the full legal advantages of his debtors estate into the hands of his own agent in the island, to compensate for the economical bargain he makes for the management of his own concerns; a practice common also to trustees, guardians, &c. The law allowing such enormous commissions for services so inadequate, is also very defective in an important point; for it establishes no data for fixing the charge of this commission, which is never made according to the sales of sugar, for that is not soon, if ever known to the attorney. Hence, in the different accounts, the charges are estimated on sugar at several prices, from 20s. per cwt. to 45s., and even 50s.; and in the same books of one and the same attorney, these charges are found to differ according to his connection with his employer, generally increasing in proportion to the distress of the property and of the proprietor. To form some notion of the advantages attending these appointments, and of their injurious tendency to involved proprietors, and even to their creditors, let us see what a receiver under the court of chancery can do. In the first place, it has not always been the practice to select him from among the inhabitants in the vicinity of the unfortunate estates, or from among the friends of the proprietor; he is frequently a resident in one of the towns, with perhaps as little knowledge of the management of an estate as is possessed by the sweeper of the chancery office; and indeed it would not be inapplicable to distinguish such receivers by the appellation of chancery-sweepers. These gentlemen seldom if ever see the estates which they are to direct, and have no other directions to give than, in a lumping way, to make as much sugar as possible, and to ship it, most likely to their own correspondents. Whatever the estates clear is so much in their hands, and of course the more money the better for them; money takes root in every soil, and propagates itself a thousand ways; not a dollar of it therefore finds its way into the chancery chest, for the receiver having given security, the treasure is, by a common fiction in use, held to be fully as safe in his hands. While the different creditors of the estate are fighting the battle of priority, the receiver continues to direct the management of it, to ship the crop, and to take care of the money. At length a prior debt is established, and the creditor having gained the point, remains for a time satisfied; but finding, though his principal accumulates, that he receives nothing, he becomes clamorous for a sale. This may take place in five or six years time, when all pretexts for delay are worn out, and in the mean time the receiver takes care to have money, adequate to the simple sums received, turned over by his consignee or merchant to another hand, his bankers, to be ready to answer bills to be drawn on his own account, for which he must have a premium of from twelve to seventeen and a half percent. The estate at last is advertised for sale by a master in chancery, in consequence of an order from the chancellor. The sale, however, is spun out, a year or two longer, till the creditor or his attorney begins to remonstrate with the master: stipulations for an amicable settlement ensue, that is, for an admission of the receivers accounts such as they may be, and for time allowed him for payment of the mesne profits or balance in his hands; which agreed to, the sale is positively to take place when the next crop is over. The sale then is actually concluded, the accumulations of these annual funds go unperceived to the further propagation of wealth for the receiver; and the purchaser, who is no other than the prior creditor, is put in possession of an estate in ruin, with a gang of negroes dispirited and miserable, who had been long sensible of their situation, conceiving themselves belonging to nobody, and almost despairing of ever falling into the hands of a kind master, interested in their welfare and happiness. Let us now turn to the attorney of a mortgagee in possession, and see what better he offers. The debt of the involved estate is due to a man of large property, or to a merchant; if to the former, he has a merchant to whom the consignment is of considerable value. It is immaterial what the debt is, an estate in possession of a mortgagee is generally made to pay full commissions to the attorney employed for it. In justice to all parties the most is to be made of the property, and it is soon found that the negroes upon it are not equal to the returns it is capable of making, consequently hired negroes are added to the plantation-gangs, to plant, weed, and take off the crop; the works are extended, to be adequate to the proposed increase; more stock, more carts are bought, more white people employed. To keep pace with these grand designs, the poor plantation negroes are of course overworked. What is the result? A great deal of sugar and rum is made, to the credit as well as profit of the attorney, and by which the merchant is benefited, as the consignments are augmented; but six percent interest on the principal, six percent on that interest by compound arithmetic become principal, six percent commissions, with the contingent charges for labour, improvements, stores, etc., absorb the whole produce, and the planter daily sinks under an accumulating debt, till he is completely ruined. The greater the distress, the more the attorney fattens; in a war, for instance, a considerable additional benefit occurs; he becomes lumber-merchant, and having the rum of the estate at his command, and perhaps a little sugar, though in the latter article he is usually restricted, as the disposal of it in the island would interfere with the loading of ships and consignments, he purchases wholesale cargoes, and retails them out to the estate at a large profit. Staves bought by the attorney at £18 per thousand, have been known to be sold to the estate for £45 per thousand; and the cart belonging to the property has carried the rum to pay for them. It is well known that the rum made upon an estate will seldom pay its contingent expenses, and that frequently bills are drawn on Great Britain to the amount of one thousand pounds, and sometimes two thousand pounds, for the excess of the contingencies over and above the amount of the sale of the rum: here the attorney finds another avenue of amassing for himself. Settling the excess from his own means, he appropriates the bills which it enabled him to draw to the purchase of the remainder of a cargo of negroes, after the best have been culled at the rate of from ninety to ninety-five pounds per head: these inferior negroes he disposes of to his dependent overseers, jobbers, doctors, tradesmen, distillers, and book-keepers, at forty or fifty pounds a head profit; nor is it without example, that the very estates on the credit of which some of the bills are drawn, have been supplied with negroes in the same manner, and at the same rate. This manoeuvre indeed is ventured only on estates of minors, whose trustees are merchants in Great Britain, ignorant of such practices; or may be, when they have committed the estates to the attorney, liable to the full advantages to be made of them, to compensate for the moderate allowance they give for the management of their own concerns. An island merchant, or according to the West India appellation, storekeeper, in great business, told a friend of mine, that he had sold a cargo of mules at eighteen pounds per head to an attorney, which were dispersed in separate spells of eight each to several estates, but that at the special instance of the purchaser, he had made out the bills of parcels at thirty pounds per head. This does not speak much in favour of the virtue of the storekeeper, but it must be observed that he would have lost his customer had he demurred, and would probably have been considered as righteous overmuch. There is a variety of smaller advantages enjoyed by the attorney, such as forming connections with butchers who may purchase the fatted cattle, with jobbers of negroes for the purpose of intermingling negroes at a proportionable profit, fattening horses, and a long et cetera. To the attorney the commanders of the ships in the trade look up with due respect, and as they are proper persons to speak of him to the merchant, their good-will is not neglected. To the involved planter their language often is, Sir, I must have your sugars down at the wharf directly; that is, your sugars are to make the lowest tier, to stand the chance of being washed out should the ship leak or make much water in a bad passage. When they address an attorney, they do not ask for sugars, but his favours, as to quantity and time; and his hogsheads form the upper tier.
An examination made about this period proved that these persons, 193 in number, held in charge 606 sugar-works, producing about 80,000 hhds. of sugar, and 36,000 puncheons of rum, which at the selling prices of that day in England yielded about £4,000,000, upon which they were entitled to six percent, or £240,000. We have here a most extensive system of absenteeism, and absentees must be represented by middlemen, having no interest in the slave or in the plantation, except to take from both all that can be taken, giving as little as possible back to either.
Why, however, did this absenteeism exist? Why did not the owners of property reside on their estates? Because the policy which looked to limiting the whole population, male and female, old and young, to the culture of sugar, and forbade even that the sugar itself should be refined on the island, effectually prevented the growth of any middle class that should form the population of towns at which the planter might find society that could induce him to regard the island as his home. Such was not the case in the French Islands, because the French government had not desired to prevent the weaker class of the population from engaging in the work of manufacture, as has been seen in the case of Grenada, in which sugar was refined until the period of its surrender to the British arms. Towns therefore grew up, and men of all descriptions came from France to make the islands their home; whereas the English colonists looked only to realizing a fortune and returning home to spend it. All this is fully shown in the following extract, in which is given a comparative view of the British and French Islands immediately before the emancipation act of 1832.
The houses have more of a European air than in our English colonies, and I must notice with praise the existence of four booksellers shops, as large and well furnished as any second-rate ones in Paris. The sight of books to sell in the West Indies is like water in the desert, for books are not yet included in plantation stores for our islands. The cause is this. The French colonists, whether Creoles or Europeans, consider the West Indies as their country; they cast no wistful looks toward France; they have not even a packet of their own; they marry, educate, and build in and for the West Indies and the West Indies alone. In our colonies it is quite different; except a few regular Creoles to whom gratis rum and gratis coloured mothers for their children have become quite indispensable, every one regards the colony as a temporary lodging-place, where they must sojourn in sugar and molasses till their mortgages will let them live elsewhere. They call England their home, though many of them have never been there; they talk of writing home and going home, and pique themselves more on knowing the probable result of a contested election in England than on mending their roads, establishing a police, or purifying a prison. The French colonist deliberately expatriates himself; the Englishman never. If our colonies were to throw themselves into the hands of the North Americans, as their enemies say that some of them wish to do, the planters would make their little triennial trips to New York as they now do to London. The consequence of this feeling is that every one, who can do so, maintains some correspondence with England, and when any article is wanted, he sends to England for it. Hence, except in the case of chemical drugs, there is an inconsiderable market for an imported store of miscellaneous goods, much less for an assortment of articles of the same kind. A different feeling in Martinique produces an opposite effect; in that island very little individual correspondence exists with France, and consequently there is that effectual demand for books, wines, jewelry, haberdashery, &c., in the colony itself, which enables labour to be divided almost as far as in the mother country. In St. Pierre there are many shops which contain nothing but bonnets, ribbons, and silks, others nothing but trinkets and toys, others hats only, and so on, and there are rich tradesmen in St. Pierre on this account. Bridge Town would rapidly become a wealthy place, if another system were adopted; for not only would the public convenience be much promoted by a steady, safe, and abundant importation, and separate preservation of each article in common request, but the demand for those articles would be one hundred-fold greater in Bridge Town itself than it now is on the same account in London, Liverpool, or Bristol, when impeded or divided and frittered away by a system of parcel-sending across the Atlantic. Supply will, under particular circumstances, create demand. If a post were established at Barbadoes, or a steamboat started between the islands, a thousand letters would be written where there are one hundred now, and a hundred persons would interchange visits where ten hardly do at present. I want a book and cannot borrow it; I would purchase it instantly from my bookseller in my neighbourhood, but I may not think it worth my while to send for it over the ocean, when, with every risk, I must wait at the least three months for it. The moral consequences of this system are even more to be lamented than the economical, but I will say more about that at some other time.
In another part of the same work, the writer says
Schools for the children of the slaves are the first and chief step toward amelioration of condition and morals in every class of people in the West Indies.
Here, however, the same difficulty had existed. For the same reason that no towns could arise there could be no schools, and the planter found himself forced to send his children to England to be educated; the consequence of which was that at his death his property passed into the hands of agents, and his successors having contracted a fondness for European and a dislike for colonial life, remained abroad, leaving their estates to go to ruin, while their people perished under the lash of men who had no other interest than to ship the largest quantity of sugar, molasses, and rum. All this was a natural result of the system that denied to the women and children the privilege of converting cotton into cloth, or of giving themselves to other in-door pursuits. The mechanic was not needed where machinery could not be used, and without him there could grow up neither towns nor schools.
The reader will have remarked, in the first extract above given, that the export of rum generally brought the planter in debt, and yet the price paid for it by the consumers appears to have been nearly a million of pounds sterling that is, the people of England gave of labour and its products that large sum in exchange for a certain product of the labouring people of Jamaica, not a shilling of which ever reached the planter to be applied to the amelioration of the condition of his estate, or of the people upon it. The crop sold on its arrival at 3s. or 3s. 6d. a gallon, but the consumer paid for it probably 17s., which were thus divided:
Government, representing the British people at large 11.3 Ship-owners, wholesale and retail dealers, &c 5.9 Land-owner and labourer 0.0 17.2
If we look to sugar, we find a result somewhat better, but of similar character. The English consumer gave for it 80s. worth of labour, and those shillings were nearly thus divided:
Government 27 Ship-owner, merchant, mortgagee, &c 33 Land-owner and labourer 20 80
The reader will now see that Mr. Joshua Gee was not exaggerating when he gave it as one of the recommendations of the colonial system that the colonists left in England three-fourths of all their products, the difference being swallowed up by those who made or superintended the exchanges. Such was the result desired by those who compelled the planter to depend on a distant market in which to sell all he raised, and to buy all he and his people needed to consume. The more he took out of his land the more he exhausted it and the less he obtained for its products, for large crops made large freights, large charges for storage, and enormous collections by the government, while prices fell because of the size of the crop, and thus was he ruined while all others were being enriched. Under such circumstances he could not purchase machinery for the improvement of his cultivation, and thus was he deprived of the power to render available the services of the people whom he was bound to support. Master of slaves, he was himself a slave to those by whom the labours of himself and his workmen were directed, and it would be unfair to attribute to him the extraordinary waste of life resulting necessarily from the fact that the whole people were limited to the labours of the field.
With inexhaustible supplies of timber, the island contained, even in 1850, not a single sawmill, although it afforded an extensive market for lumber from abroad. Yielding in the greatest abundance the finest fruits, there were yet no towns-people with their little vessels to carry them to the larger markets of this country, and for want of market they rotted under the trees. The manufacturing resources of this island, says Mr. Bigelow, are inexhaustible; and so have they always been, but the people have been deprived of all power to profit by them, and for want of that power there was lost annually a greater amount of labour than would have paid, five times over, for the commodities for which they were compelled to look to the distant market. Of those who did not perish, because of the necessity for an universal dependence on field employments, a large portion of the labour was then, as it now must be, utterly wasted. For six or eight months of the year, nothing, says Mr. Bigelow, (Notes, p. 54,) is done on the sugar or coffee plantations. Agriculture, he continues, as at present conducted, does not occupy more than half their time. So was it fifty years ago, and it was because of the compulsory waste of labour and consequent small amount of productive power that there existed little opportunity for accumulating capital. Population diminished because there could be no improvement of the condition of the labourer who, while thus limited in the employment of his time, was compelled to support not only himself and his master, but the agent, the commission-merchant, the ship-owner, the mortgagee, the retail trader, and the government, and this under a system that looked to taking every thing from the land and returning nothing to it. Of the amount paid in 1831 by the British people for the products of the 320,000 black labourers of this island, the home government took no less than £3,736,113 10s. 6d., or about eighteen millions of dollars, being almost sixty dollars per head, and this for merely superintending the exchanges. Had no such claim been made on the product of the labour of those poor people, the consumer would have had his sugar cheaper, and this would have made a large consumption, and these eighteen millions would have been divided between the black labourer on the one hand and the white one on the other. It would be quite safe to assert that in that year each negro, old and young, male and female, contributed five pounds $24 to the maintenance of the British government, and this was a heavy amount of taxation to be borne by a people limited entirely to agriculture and destitute of the machinery necessary for making even that productive. If now to this heavy burden be added the commissions, freights, insurance, interest, and other charges, it will readily be seen that a system of taxation so grinding could end no otherwise than in ruin; and that such was the tendency of things, was seen in the steady diminution of production.
Sugar, hhds. Rum, puncheons. Coffee, lbs. In the three years ending with 1802, the average exports were, of ....... 113,000 44,000 14,000,000 Whereas those of the three years ending with 1829 were only ......... 92,000 34,000 17,000,000
The system which looked to depriving the cultivator of the advantage of a market near at hand, to which he could carry his products, and from which he could carry home the manure and thus maintain the powers of his land, was thus producing its natural results. It was causing the slave to became from day to day more enslaved; and that such was the case is shown by the excess of deaths over births, as given in a former chapter. Evidence of exhaustion was seen in every thing connected with the island. Labour and land were declining in value, and the security for the payment of the large debt due to mortgagees in England was becoming less from year to year, as more and more the people of other countries were being driven to the work of cultivation because of the impossibility of competing with England in manufactures. Sugar had declined to little more than a guinea a hundred-weight, and rum had fallen to little more than two shillings a gallon; and nearly the whole of this must have been swallowed up in commissions and interest. Under such circumstances a great waste of life was inevitable; and therefore it is that we have seen importations of hundreds of thousands of black men, who have perished, leaving behind them no trace of their having ever existed. But on whom must rest the responsibility for a state of things so hideous as that here exhibited? Not, surely, upon the planter, for he exercised no volition whatsoever. He was not permitted to employ his surplus power in refining his own sugar. He could not legally introduce a spindle or a loom into the island. He could neither mine coal nor smelt iron ore. He could not in any manner repay his borrowings from the land, and, as a matter of course, the loans he could obtain diminished in quantity; and then, small as they were, the chief part of what his commodities exchanged for was swallowed up by the exchangers and those who superintend the exchanges, exercising the duties of government. He was a mere instrument in their hands for the destruction of negro morals, intellect, and life; and upon them, and not upon him, must rest the responsibility for the fact that, of all the slaves imported into the island, not more than two-fifths were represented on the day of emancipation.
Nevertheless, he it was that was branded as the tyrant and the destroyer of morals and of life; and public opinion the public opinion of the same people who had absorbed so large a portion of the product of negro labour drove the government to the measure of releasing the slave from compulsory service, and appropriating a certain amount to the payment, first, of the mortgage debts due in England, and, second, of the owner, who, even if he found his land delivered to him free of incumbrance, was in most cases left without a shilling to enable him to carry on the work of his plantation. The slaves were set free, but there existed no capital to find them employment, and from the moment of emancipation it became almost impossible to borrow money on mortgage security. The consequences are seen in the extensive abandonment of land and the decline of its value. Any quantity of it may be purchased, prepared for cultivation, and as fine as any in the island, for five dollars an acre, while other land, far more productive than any in New England, may be had at from fifty cents to one dollar. With the decline in the value of land the labourer tends toward barbarism, and the reason of this may be found on a perusal of the following paragraph:
They have no new manufactories to resort to when they are in want of work; no unaccustomed departments of mechanical or agricultural labour are open to receive them, to stimulate their ingenuity and reward their industry. When they know how to ply the hoe, pick the coffee-berry, and tend the sugar-mills, they have learned almost all the industry of the island can teach them. If, in the sixteen years during which the negroes have enjoyed their freedom, they have made less progress in civilization than their philanthropic champions have promised or anticipated, let the want I have suggested receive some consideration. It may be that even a white peasantry would degenerate under such influences. Reverse this, and when the negro has cropped his sugar or his coffee, create a demand for his labour in the mills and manufactories of which nature has invited the establishment on this island, and before another sixteen years would elapse the world would probably have some new facts to assist them in estimating the natural capabilities of the negro race, of more efficiency in the hands of the philanthropist than all the appeals which he has ever been able to address to the hearts or the consciences of men. Bigelows Jamaica, p. 156.
The artisan has always been the ally of the agriculturist in his contest with the trader and the government, as is shown in the whole history of the world. The first desires to tax him by buying cheaply and selling dearly. The second desires to tax him for permitting him to make his exchanges, and the more distant the place of exchange, the greater the power of taxation. The artisan comes near to him, and enables him to have the raw materials combined on the spot, the producer of them exchanging directly with the consumer, paying no tax for the maintenance of ship-owners, commission merchants, or shopkeepers.
In a piece of cloth, says Adam Smith, weighing eighty pounds, there are not only more than eighty pounds of wool, but also several thousand weight of corn, the maintenance of the working people, and it is the wool and the corn that travel cheaply in the form of cloth. What, however, finally becomes of the corn? Although eaten, it is not destroyed. It goes back again on the land, which becomes enriched; and the more that is taken from it; the more there is to be returned, the more it is enriched, the larger are the crops, and the greater is the ability of the farmer to make demands on the artisan. The reward of the latter increases with the growth in the value of the land and with the increase in the wealth of the land-owners by whom he is surrounded; and thus it is that all grow rich and free together, and that the community acquires from year to year power to resist attempts at taxation beyond that really needed for the maintenance of the rights of person and property. The greater the power to make exchanges at home, the greater will always be found the freedom of man in relation to thought, speech, action, and trade, and the greater the value of land.
The object of the policy pursued toward the colonies was directly the reverse of all this, tending to prevent any diversification whatsoever of employments, and thus not only to prevent increase in the value of land, but to diminish its value, because it forbade the return to the earth of any portion of its products. It forbade association, because it limited the whole people to a single pursuit. It forbade the immigration of artisans, the growth of towns, the establishment of schools, and consequently forbade the growth of intellect among the labourers or their owners. It forbade the growth of population, because it drove the women and the children to the culture of sugar among the richest and most unhealthy soils of the islands. It thus impoverished the land and its owners, exterminated the slave, and weakened the community, thus making it a mere instrument in the hands of the people who effected and superintended the exchanges the merchants and the government the class of persons that, in all ages, has thriven at the cost of the cultivator of the earth. By separating the consumer from the producer, they were enabled, as has been shown, to take to themselves three-fourths of the whole sales of the commodities consumed, leaving but one-fourth to be divided between the land and labour that had produced it. They, of course, grew strong, while the sugar-producing land and labour grew weak, and the weaker they became, the less was the need for regarding the rights of either. In this state of things it was that the landholder was required to accept a fixed sum of money as compensation for relinquishing his claim to demand of the labourer the performance of the work to which he had been accustomed. Unfortunately, however, the system pursued has effectually prevented that improvement of feeling and taste needed to produce in the latter desires for any thing beyond a sufficiency of food and a shirt. Towns and shops not having grown, he had not been accustomed even to see the commodities that tempted his fellow-labourers in the French Islands. Schools not having existed, even for the whites, he had acquired no desire for books for himself, or for instruction for his children. His wife had acquired no taste for dress, because she had been limited to field labour. Suddenly emancipated from control, they gratified the only desire that had been permitted to grow up in them the love of perfect idleness, to be indulged to such extent as was consistent with obtaining the little food and clothing needed for the maintenance of existence.
Widely different would have been the state of affairs had they been permitted to make their exchanges at home, giving the cotton and the sugar for the cloth and the iron produced by the labour and from the soil of the island. The producer of the sugar would then have had all the cloth given for it by the consumer, instead of obtaining one-fourth of it, and then the land would have increased in value, the planter would have grown rich, and the labourer would have become free, by virtue of a great natural law which provides that the more rapid the augmentation of wealth, the greater must be the demand for labour, the greater must be the quantity of commodities produced by the labourer, the larger must be his proportion of the product, and the greater must be the tendency toward his becoming a free man and himself a capitalist.
As a consideration for abstaining from converting their own sugar and cotton into cloth, it had been provided that their products should enjoy certain advantages in the ports of the mother country; and the understanding at the date of emancipation was that the free negro should continue in the enjoyment of the same privileges that had been allowed to the slave and his master. It was soon, however, discovered that the negro, having scarcely any desire beyond the food that could be obtained from a little patch of land, would not work, and that, consequently, the supply of sugar was reduced, with a large increase of price, and that thus the ship-owner suffered because of diminished freights, the merchant because of reduced consumption, and the government because of reduced revenue. Instead of obtaining, as before, one-fourth of the product, the cultivator had now perhaps one-half, because the taxes did not rise with the rise of price. Nevertheless, the land-owners and labourers of the island were weaker than before, for all power of association had disappeared; and now it was that the trader and the government discovered that if they would continue to draw from the sugar producers of the world their usual supplies of public and private revenue, they must resort again to slave labour, putting the poor free negro of Jamaica, with his exhausted soil, on the same footing with the slave of Brazil and Cuba, on a virgin soil; and this, too, at a moment when the science of Europe had triumphed over the difficulty of making sugar cheaply from the beet-root, and Germany, France, and Belgium were threatening to furnish supplies so abundant as almost to exclude the produce of the cane. They, too, had the sugar-refinery close at hand, whereas the poor free negro was not permitted to refine his product, nor is he so even now, although it is claimed that sugar might still be grown with advantage, were he permitted to exercise even that small amount of control over his labour and its products.
What was the character of the machinery with which they were to enter on this competition will be seen by the following extract:
I could not learn that there were any estates on the island decently stocked with implements of husbandry. Even the modern axe is not in general use; for felling the larger class of trees the negroes commonly use what they call an axe, which is shaped much like a wedge, except that it is a little wider at the edge than at the opposite end, at the very extremity of which a perfectly straight handle is inserted. A more awkward thing for chopping could not be well conceived at least, so I thought until I saw the instrument in yet more general use about the houses in the country, for cutting firewood. It was, in shape, size, and appearance, more like the outer half of the blade of a scythe, stuck into a small wooden handle, than any thing else I can compare it to: with this long knife, for it is nothing else, I have seen negroes hacking at branches of palm for several minutes, to accomplish what a good wood-chopper, with an American axe, would finish at a single stroke. I am not now speaking of the poorer class of negro proprietors, whose poverty or ignorance might excuse this, but of the proprietors of large estates, which have cost their thousands of pounds.
Cuba, too, had its cities and its shops, and these it had because the Spanish government had not desired to compel the people of the island to limit themselves to cultivation alone. Manufactures were small in extent, but they existed; and the power to make exchanges on the spot had tended to prevent the growth of absenteeism. The land-owners were present to look after their estates, and every thing therefore tended toward improvement and civilization, with constantly increasing attraction of both capital and labour. Jamaica, on the contrary, had but a seaport so poor as not to have a single foot of sidewalk paved, and of which three-fourths of the inhabitants were of the black race; and among them all, blacks and whites, there were no mechanics. In the capital of the island, Spanishtown, with a population of 5000, there was not to be found, in 1850, a single shop, nor a respectable hotel, nor even a dray-cart; and in the whole island there was not a stage, nor any other mode of regular conveyance, by land or water, except on the little railroad of fifteen miles from Kingston to the capital.
Such was the machinery of production, transportation, and exchange, by aid of which the free people of Jamaica were to maintain unlimited competition with Cuba, and its cities, railroads, and virgin soil, and with Europe and its science. What is to be the ultimate result may be inferred from the following comparative view of the first four years of the century, and the last four for which we have returns:
Sugar, hhds Rum, puncheons. Coffee lbs. 1800 to 1803, average export, 124,000 44,000 14,600,000 1845 to 1848, average export 44,000 17,000 6,000,000
The consequence of this is seen in the fact that it requires the wages of two men, for a day, to pay for a pound of butter, and of two women to pay for a pound of ham, while it would need the labour of eighty or a hundred men, for a day, to pay for a barrel of flour. The London Times has recently stated that the free labourer now obtains less food than he did in the days of slavery, and there appears no reason to doubt the accuracy of its information. This view would, indeed, seem to be fully confirmed by the admission, in the House of Commons, that the cost of sugar in labour and food is less now than it was six years since.
How indeed can it be otherwise? The object sought for is cheap sugar, and with a view to its attainment the production of sugar is stimulated in every quarter; and we all know that the more that is produced the larger will be the quantity poured into the market of England, and the greater will be the power of the people of that country to dictate the terms upon which they will consent to consume it. Extensive cultivation and good crops produce low prices, high freights, large commissions, and large revenue; and when such crops are made the people of England enjoy cheap sugar and are prosperous, but the slave is rendered thereby more a slave, obtaining less and less food in return for his labour. Nevertheless, it is in that direction that the whole of the present policy of England points. The prosperity of her people is to be secured by aid of cheap sugar and high-priced cloth and iron; and the more exclusively the people of India and of Brazil can be forced to devote themselves to the labours of the field, the cheaper will be sugar and the greater will be the tendency of cloth and iron to be dear. What, however, becomes of the poor free negro? The more sugar he sends the more the stocks accumulate, and the lower are the prices, and the smaller is his power to purchase clothing or machinery, as will now be shown.
The London Economist, of November 13, furnishes the following statement of stocks and prices of sugar in the principal markets of Europe:
1849 1850 1851 1852 Stocks ...............cwt 3,563,000 2,895,000 3,810,000 3,216,000 Prices Duty Free Havana Brown.......... 17 to 24s. 20 to 27s. 16 to 22s. 19 to 26s. Brazil Brown ........... 16 to 20s. 18 to 22s. 12 to 17s. 16 to 20s.
The stocks of 1849 and 1852 were, as we see, nearly alike, and the prices did not greatly differ. Taking them, therefore, as the standard, we see that a diminution of supply so small as to cause a diminution of stock to the extent of about 400,000 cwts., or only about three percent of the import, added about fifteen percent to the prices of the whole crop in 1850; whereas a similar excess of supply in 1851 caused a reduction of prices almost as great. The actual quantity received in Europe in the first ten months of the last year had been 509,000 cwts. less than in the corresponding months of the previous one. The average monthly receipts are about a million of cwts. per month, and if we take the prices of those two years as a standard, the following will be the result:
1851 12,000,000 cwts. Average 16s. 9d.... £10,050,000 1852 11,500,000 " " 20s. 3d.... 11,643,750 Gain on short crop 1,593,750
If now we compare 1850 with 1851, the following is the result:
1851 As above ....................... £10,050,000 1850 11,000,000 cwts " " 21s. 9d.... 11,971,250 1,921,250 Now if this reduction of export had been a consequence of increased domestic consumption, we should have to add the value of that million to the product, and this would give .... 1,187,500 £3,108,750
We have here a difference of thirty percent, resulting from a diminution of export to the amount of one-twelfth of the export to Europe, and not more than a twenty-fourth of the whole crop. Admitting the crop to have been 24,000,000 of cwts., and it must have been more, the total difference produced by this abstraction of four percent from the markets of Europe would be more than six millions of pounds, or thirty millions of dollars. Such being the result of a difference of four percent, if the people of Cuba, Brazil, India, and other countries were to turn some of their labour to the production of cloth, iron, and other commodities for which they are now wholly dependent on Europe, and thus diminish their necessity for export to the further extent of two percent, is it not quite certain that the effect would be almost to double the value of the sugar crop of the world, to the great advantage of the free cultivator of Jamaica, who would realize more for his sugar, while obtaining his cloth and his iron cheaper? If he could do this would he not become a freer man? Is not this, however, directly the reverse of what is sought by those who believe the prosperity of England to be connected with cheap sugar, and who therefore desire that competition for the sale of sugar should be unlimited, while competition, for the sale of cloth is to be limited?
Unlimited competition looks to competition for the sale of raw produce in the markets of England, and to the destruction of any competition with England for the sale of manufactured goods; and it is under this system that the poor labourer of Jamaica is being destroyed. He is now more a slave than ever, because his labour yields him less of the necessaries and comforts of life than when a master was bound to provide for him.
Such is a brief history of West India slavery, from its commencement to the present day, and from it the reader will be enabled to form an estimate of the judgment which dictated immediate and unconditional emancipation, and of the humanity that subsequently dictated unlimited freedom of competition for the sale of sugar. That of those who advocated emancipation vast numbers were actuated by the most praise worthy motives, there can be no doubt; but unenlightened enthusiasm has often before led almost to crime, and it remains to be seen if the impartial historian, will not, at a future day, say that such has been here the case. As regards the course which has been since pursued toward these impoverished, ignorant, and, defenceless people, he will perhaps have less difficulty; and it is possible that in recording it, the motives which led to it, and the results, he may find himself forced to place it among crimes of the deepest dye.
1 Dallass History of the Maroons, vol. i. page c.
2 Macpherson, vol. iii. 394.
3 Ibid. 574.
4 Ibid. vol. iv. 255.
5 Dallass History of the Maroons, vol. i. cvii.
6 Ibid. cv.
7 Dallass History of the Maroons, vol. ii. 358.
8 See page 14, ante.
9 Coleridges "Six Months in the West Indies," 131.
10 See pages 71-2, ante.
11 Martins West Indies.
12 Tookes History of Prices, vol. ii. 412.
13 The reader who may desire to see this law fully demonstrated, may do so on referring to the authors Principles of Political Economy, vol. i. chap. v.
14 Bigelow, Notes, 129.
15 Ibid, 31.
16 Ibid, 69.
17 Bigelow, 125.
18 Speech of Mr. James Wilson, December 10, 1852. On the same occasion it was stated that the lower orders are daily putting aside all decency, while the better class appear to have lost all hope, and that the Governor, Sir Charles Grey, described things as going on from bad to worse. The cholera had carried off, as was stated, 40,000 persons.