Then again a very taking argument was found by those who insisted that the workers on the West Indian plantations were for the most part better fed and cared for than the white slaves who drudged in an English factory or risked their lives in an English mine. This argument was especially telling because undoubtedly it had a certain amount of truth in it; and the Reformed Parliament had not yet seriously turned its attention to the condition of women and children in our factories and mines. As to the arguments drawn from the alleged humanity of the system, Zachary Macaulayand other experienced men supplied their friends with facts and dates and cases which no sophistry could refute to prove that the whole system was interwoven with cruelty and brutality of the most abominable kind. The public advertisements printed in Colonial papers concerning escaped slaves would have supplied proof enough of this, in the means of identification which were given - the backs marked with stripes, the breasts stamped with the burnt-in brand of the owner. How did it come about that English families of honoured name had great possessions in the Colonies where slavery prevailed and tolerated the existence of such evils? The answer was easy enough. Not many of the heads of those great families were at the pains of visiting their Colonial estates and thoroughly investigating the system for themselves. They found the slavery institution going on, and it did not occur to most of them that they were born to set it right. Most of them, even of those who actually went out and inspected their own estates, were willing to accept the reports of the managers and overseers whom they trusted, and did not take great trouble to discover what could very easily be concealed from their sight.
Then, again, some of the owners of great estates did pay earnest attention to the condition of the slaves and did take care that so far as their own property went the negro worker should be fairly and kindly treated. But even to those men it was seldom borne in with any force of conviction that the system of slavery was a barbarous one in itself, and that merely to make the slave tolerably comfortable did not by any means dispose of even the principal objection to the odious system. It had not yet got clearly into the public mind that man's right to own his fellow man was, as Brougham said, "a wild and guilty fantasy." Therefore the pioneers in the Abolition movement had to set to work in the first instance to arouse the national conscience and to create a public opinion capable of supporting them in their noble and philanthropic efforts. But it was clear that with a non-reformed - that is to say, a non-representative - Parliament no strength of public opinion could have influence enough to carry the abolition of slavery. What did the unreformed Parliament care about the eloquence of Brougham, or Zachary Macaulay's array of facts and evidence, or the pleadings of Fowell Buxton and Wilberforce and Whitbread ? The House of Commons of that day was not responsible to the English public. It was responsible only to the owners of the constituencies which held an overpowering majority in the House of Commons. At one time the Peers who sat in the House of Lords had, as owners of the soil in this place and that, a direct control over a large number of votes in what was ordinarily called the Representative Chamber. On such questions as that of Slavery and its abolition most of the landowners held firmly together. An interference with the rights of those who owned property in the West Indies might become but a precedent for an interference with the rights of those who held property in England; and the right of property seemed in the minds of many at that time to be something so sacred that no inquiry as to its operation, its origin, its justice, or its divinely appointed mission could be allowed without dread of the vengeance of Heaven.
Then again there were difficulties of another kind. Some of the West Indian Colonies, and places also like Demerara, were governed directly from Westminster, and were in fact what are called Crown Colonies; but some, like Jamaica, for instance, and other West Indian islands, had a sort of representative system of their own and a kind of local parliament which managed their affairs. Now it was easy to imagine, and the imagination was only too well justified by the facts, that the Colonies which had any manner of local government would wax highly indignant at the thought of their representative system being interfered with by the meddling of philanthropists in the English House of Commons. Some of the strongest opponents of all representative systems in England were among the most eager to seize upon this form of argument and brandish it as their own in the faces of their philanthropic opponents. "Where is your consistency?" it was pertinaciously asked, sometimes in tones of mere anger, sometimes in tones of sarcasm. "You call yourselves Whigs and you are for ever clamouring about the independence of Parliament, and yet you want to take away from the parliamentary assembly of Jamaica or of Barbadoes the right to manage its own affairs." The Government made some efforts to compromise with some of the Colonies by issuing Ordinances which endeavoured to mitigate the severity of the slave system on the plantations. The Jamaica Assembly refused to accept the recommendations or orders of the Colonial Office and tried to mend the matter by passing an Act to mitigate the system; but the Act was of no practical use whatever, and the Colonial Office declined to sanction it.
In Demerara there was something of a disturbance caused by the slaves in one part of the colony, who had heard vague news that their emancipation was coming, and on a particular day struck work, as we should put it in modern phraseology. This unhappy little movement was crushed by the planters with remorseless severity, and an incident occurred which was very timely, in the fact that it brought home to the mind of the British public a distinct idea of what the slave system could do in the way of hardening the minds of masters. An English Dissenting minister, the Rev. John Smith, was accused of inciting the slaves to insurrection. He was put in prison; he was made to stand a trial, which by its utter disregard of all the rules of evidence was itself an act of lawlessness; he was found guilty and sentenced to death. The court martial which tried him accompanied its judgment with a recommendation for mercy; but while some of the planters were humanely urging that the recommendation ought to be carried out, and others were insisting that the case of the poor minister afforded an opportunity for a stern example, to warn off other abolitionists, the missionary himself died from the effects of the imprisonment and the hard treatment he had received. The news of this death created a profound sensation in England. Brougham, Mackintosh, Lush-ington and other philanthropists stirred up the feeling of Englishmen to indignation. The Government were compelled by the force of public opinion to reverse the sentence of the court martial; and even when they had made this inevitable concession to the common feeling, Brougham went very near to carrying a resolution in the House of Commons denouncing the whole conduct of the trial.