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civilisation as deep, order as permanent, industry as universal, justice as equal, aristocratic violence as subdued, private property as secure, passions as coerced, central power as resistless, as was in England under the reign of Elizabeth, or in France under that of Francis I.; and then they may with reason allege that, the soil being duly prepared by previous culture, the seeds of universal freedom may be sown. But let them not urge on immediate or early emancipation under circumstances which Supreme Wisdom has in all past ages deemed unfit for its introduction ; let them not attempt those changes in infants, which have been uniformly reserved by Providence for full-grown men; or delude themselves with the idea that they are preparing the pacific reign of the Gospel for the sable inhabitants of the regions of the sun, when they are only hastening the horrors of a Jacquerie, or the flames of St Domingo.
Considered in this point of view, there can be no doubt that much, perhaps most, of the misery of Ireland is owing to the too early abolition of slavery among its inhabitants, and the premature extension to its fierce and passionate population of the passions of English freedom, without the moderation of English civilisation. Ireland is not in a state to be able to bear the relaxation of its labouring classes from the bonds, or their deprivation of the benefits, of private servitude. All travellers concur in stating that they are incomparably more miserable than the serfs of Russia, or the boors of Poland. Periodical famines, unknown in the rest of the world; starvation unparalleled in modern Europe; violence and bloodshed, unexampled even in barbarous states, have signalised the fatal gift of personal freedom, to men still actuated by the passions, and requiring the restraint, of savages. And that unhappy country affords the clearest proof, that the mere existence of the highest refinement, the most polished manners, and the best education among the higher, is no security whatever against the utmost possible suffering being produced by the premature extension of freedom to the labouring classes of society. To enable mankind to bear this gift, it is indispensable not merely that the rich should be refined and civilised, but that the poor should be industrious, patient, and acquainted with artificial wants; that an extensive and opulent middle class should for a length of time have formed the connecting link between the higher and the lower classes of society; that the firm establishment of law and justice should have taught mankind the necessity,and habituated them to the means, of restraining their passions; and that the emancipation of the labouring poor from the fetters of private authority, should have been so gradual, as, like the growth of a child, or the innovations of time, to have been imperceptible.
What are the great sources of distress in Ireland ; what the causes which, in the nineteenth century, under British rule, and almost in sight of the British shores, have perpetuated the reign of anarchy and misrule—have stained its fields with murders, and lighted its midnight sky with conflagrations—have precipitated upon this land a squalid and suffering multitude, and left only in its fertile plains the feeling of suffering and the passion for revenge ? They are to be found in the redundance of the population, the grievances and vexations of the poor ; the division of society into two great castes, the oppressor and the oppressed ; the absence of any middle rank in the state; the unsettled, unequal, and partial administration of justice; the want of any legal provision for the labouring classes; their utter destitution in sickness and old age, and the total absence of all artificial wants, from the experienced impossibility of purchasing any of the comforts of life. As these features unequivocally demonstrate that the poor are unfit for the enjoyment of freedom, and that their emancipation from the restrictions of servitude would only tear society in pieces, so the most lamentable of them would be removed, by the poor being the property of their landlords. We often hear of the poor in Ireland starving of hunger, or being driven by the pangs of want to robbery and murder, but never of the cattle wanting their daily meal. The Irish are in that state where not only they are incapable of receiving any benefit from personal freedom, but the state of destitution which it induces subjects them to a degree of suffering and distress to which there is nothing comparable in the situation of those who are looked after by their owners, on the principle of private interest.
All these considerations apply with tenfold force to the case of the West India Negroes. They are in a situation so extremely low, when considered with reference to their capability of governing themselves, or acquiring subsistence in a state of freedom, that it may be foretold with perfect certainty, that any attempt not merely to emancipate them, but even to instil into their minds the idea that they are to be emancipated, would lead immediately to idleness, irregularity, and apathy, if not conflagration, massacre, and ruin. They are incapable of understanding what freedom is, the duties with which it is attended, the restraint which it imposes, and the labour which it induces. They have none of the artificial wants which reconcile men to the severe and uninterrupted toil which constitutes the basis of civilised prosperity, nor of the power of voluntary restraint upon inclination and coercion of passion, which springs from the experience of the necessity for their exertion among all societies of free citizens. To them, freedom conveys the idea of the immediate cessation of all restraint, the termination of every species of labour, the undisguised indulgence of every passion. It is not surprising that it should be so. Nature never intended that men in this stage of society should be free; because their emancipation from servitude leads immediately to evils, both to themselves and to society, incomparably greater than servitude itself. The inveterate habits of indolence which always characterise savage life, the vehement passions with which it is attended, the entire disregard of the future by which it is invariably distinguished, render men, in that stage of civilisation, as incapable of flourishing or even of existing as freemen, as a child of three years of age is of comprehending the Principia, or fighting the battle of Waterloo.
How is it possible that men in the condition of African Neyroes can conduct themselves as freemen? They see none but their masters, the owners of the estates on which they work, and their overseers; and they expect, of course, that when they become free they are to live like them, and enjoy the same immunity from personal toil. They little know that the free labourer is chained by necessity to severer toil than that which is wrung from them by the lash of the overseer; that they receive no certain provision in sickness or age, are allowed to beg their bread through a land flowing with milk and honey, and frequently perish of want amidst the palaces of unheeding opulence. They feel few of the artificial wants, which sweeten to the European labourer his unceasing toil; and are drawn by an irresistible attraction to the indolent habits, the dreaming existence, the listless repose, which constitute the chief enjoyments of savage life. The indulgence of such habits must be utterly destructive of the splendid, but imperfectly founded fabric of industry which the West Indies exhibit. If their labouring classes are emancipated before ages of civilisation have given them the habits, the wants, the self-command, and the desires of civilised life, society must instantly be resolved into its pristine elements; the smiling plantations, the industrious villages, be destroyed or fall into ruins; and bands of naked savages gain a precarious subsistence amidst the woods, which under a tropical sun will speedily obliterate all traces of former cultivation.
This is not mere speculation. The truth of these principles has been demonstrated in the most signal manner; the experiment of precipitate emancipation has been tried on the largest scale, in the greatest, the richest, and the most flourishing of the West India colonies : conflagration, murder, and ruin signalised its commencement; and the most frightful dissoluteness of manners, a rapid decline of population, a total cessation of industry, and general suffering among the unhappy victims of premature freedom, have been its lasting effects. It is this dreadful example which has penetrated the West India proprietors with a sense of the danger which threatens them; and it is in the face of its lamentable effects that the same deplorable system is incessantly pressed forward by a numerous and well-meaning, but ignorant and deluded party in this country.
When the fumes of the French Revolution had spread the same visionary ideas of liberty and equality through its extensive dominions, which have lately penetrated the veins of the British empire, the situation of the Negroes of St Domingo excited the immediate attention of the National Assembly. It was strongly urged that the existence of slavery was an abomination inconsistent with the new-born principles of freedom; that all men were by nature equal; and that it would be a lasting disgrace to the French Legislature if, after having emancipated themselves from the fetters of slavery, they permitted them to hang upon the wretched cultivators of their distant colonies. In vain it was urged, by those practically acquainted with the state of the Negroes, that such a measure would, without benefiting the slaves, involve the whole colony in conflagration, and ultimately occasion the ruin of the very men whom it was intended to benefit. These wise observations were utterly disregarded : a society, with the title of Les Amis des Noirs, was instituted at Paris, under the auspices of Brissot and the leading Revolutionists, which carried on a correspondence with the friends of emancipation in the colony;* and at length, overborne by clamour and subdued by declamation, the Colonial Assembly passed several decrees, tending to the gradual abolition of slavery. +
Nothing could exceed the picture of prosperity which the colony exhibited, when these well-meant but fatal innovations began. The whites were about 40,000; the free men of colour, 30,000; and slaves, above 500,000. Above a thousand plantations, in different parts of the island, nourished its numerous inhabitants in peace and happiness ; great part of the most fertile portion of the island was cultivated like a garden ; and the slaves, indulgently treated, and liberally partaking of the fruits of their labour, exhibited a scene of rural felicity and general happiness rarely witnessed in the freest and most civilised states. Every evening, the whole Negroes, of both sexes, were to be seen dancing in festive circles : the sound of music, the voice of gladness, was to be heard on all sides ; and the traveller, captivated by the spectacle, blessed the beneficent hand of nature, which had provided such means of felicity to the humblest of its family.
But very different was the state of the island, when the demon of revolutionary innovation found an entrance. Various laws, tending to the emancipation of the Negroes, were first passed in 1790 and 1791 ; and at length, on 21st June 1792, a decree emancipated all the slaves who should take up arms in favour of the Republic. Il
The consequences of these well-meant but injudicious * 15th May. + Toulangéon, iv. 244.
Ibid. iv. 239. § HUMBOLDT, Voyages, ix. 332. || Jomini, iv. 405.