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THE PRE A MBLE.
Monday, 7th May, 1838.
There is every appearance that, almost immediately, this question will be again agitated. It is one of the strongest instances of the danger, in which the British legislature stands, of being forced into ruinous measures by popular excitement and impulse. The arguments which are the most strenuously urged for cancelling the apprenticeship are, in truth, the most forcible reasons for continuing it during the stipulated period. It is said, that in Jamaica, at least, all the constituted authorities below the Governor, and all the occupiers of land upon the island, or a large majority of them, have violated the laws made for the protection of the negroes, and have neglected and refused to prepare those provisions for their freedom which they were bound by law to make. Planters, juries, magistrates, and colonial legislatures, are all described as being implicated in a wicked conspiracy to make the nominal apprenticeship of the negroes a substantial slavery, and to treat them more cruelly than ever.
If this be really the case, what would be the effect of an act of parliament for an immediate and universal abolition of the apprenticeship? Would this alter the disposition of the planters for the better? Would their feelings towards the negroes become suddenly more kind ? Would the will or the power to do evil be overcome? If so great be the malignancy of nearly all who stand above the negro race, where are the materials for erecting amidst these black and white masses a tribunal, from which not only the voice of Justice shall be heard, but the lictor shall go forth? If any such power can be created, will it not be a sufficiently difficult task wherewith to task its first efforts, that it should compel the planters to observe the obligations of the law as it exists? Is there not enough of hazard in the liberation of the myriads of non-predial negroes, which must take place in three months from this time, and in that of the hundreds of thousands which is appointed two years later? All of these, for some time, at least, after they are liberated, must still labour for the wealthy classes, and must be their dependants. May it not be less difficult to enforce the obligations of humanity towards them at present, and to make them freemen in two years, if Justice can speak to the masters with a steady front, and in the language of unviolated law, than if she has to blush for a broken word, and to explain the violation, of a law of property ?
A great deal of inconclusive and vague reasoning has been employed to shew that there has, and that there has not, been a contract, or a compact, between the British state and the masters of negro apprentices.
There has been no agreement of any sort but an act of parliament: and a law differs essentially from an agreement, being a command and rule of action imposed by a superior power upon those who are subject to it, and not requiring for its validity any expression of their assent. But laws are not less solemn than agreements. There is as much injustice in violating the provisions of a law of property, as the stipulations of a contract. There is more mischief to be apprehended as the consequence, inasmuch as a party to a contract has, usually, a peaceable remedy; but he who is wilfully ruined by the sovereign power thinks that he has no other remedy on earth than rebellion. Laws of property frequently involve a great deal, though not the whole of the principles of an agreement; and there never was a case in which a law approached more nearly, not to one contract, but to an aggregation of several contracts with individuals, than the law for the emancipation of the negroes. The British state acknowledged that, according to British law, the masters of slaves had a lucrative interest in their labour, of which they ought not to be deprived by the British legislature without compensation. To preserve and uphold this principle of legislation, the nation paid twenty millions sterling towards the compensation ; and it was further provided, that the slaves should, for a fixed period, be apprentices to those to whom, but for this law, they would have been slaves. Neither the right to the money, nor the relation of master, was vested in any body corporate or politic; but the money was paid piecemeal to individuals, and authority over his apprentices was given to each master separately. It was not one joint contract, which was either involved or shadowed out in this act of parliament, but several contracts. It might have been quite consistent with the spirit of the act to have provided in it, that the misconduct of any master should disqualify him individually, either for receiving compensation, or for being allowed to remain a master of apprentices; but nothing could then, or can now, make it equitable, that, for the misconduct of others over whom he has no power, any owner of a West Indian estate, who is honestly disposed to fulfil the law of emancipation, should be deprived of any part of what the law provided for him as a compensation for that which it took away. In England, a master is entitled to the service of his apprentice according to the stipulations of the indenture; in the West Indies, the Emancipation-act, as to each individual master separately, stands in lieu of indentures. The paper of the king's printer, in the one case, is as good as the parchment of the law stationer in the other; and every master, whilst he himself performs the obligations imposed upon him by the one or the other, has a right to demand the performance of all that is assured to him by the instrument, without reference to the conduct of those by whose conduct he has not agreed, or intended to be bound.
The owners of West Indian estates, who, in law or equity, are the masters of the negro apprentices, or have an appreciable interest in their services, are, in many cases, resident in England; nay, many of them are women, or minors, for whom the estates are held in trust. It is not the value to these persons of the apprenticeship which so much merits consideration, as the violation of the principles of law in depriving them, for the misdeeds of others, of what the law, at least, regards as a lucrative interest. We have paid twenty millions to gain the credit and advantage of being thought to deal fairly, and to found our colonial legislation in equity, and not in force. We are now clamorously urged to undo all this, and to make our expenditure unprofitable. The excuse for a quarrel, the vantage ground in the dispute which might be thus afforded to the malcontent planters of the West Indies, are reasons in themselves for pursuing that course which requires no reasoning to recommend it; for an adherence to a law of property; and for directing the efforts of colonial government, during the next two years, to the enforcement of the enactments which have been made for the mitigation of