Mr. Buxton proposed one or two amendments to the third resolution, but was prevailed upon, by the advice of some of his friends, to allow the resolution to pass so far as he was concerned, and without challenging a division. It is to the credit of Ireland that her popular leader, Daniel O'Connell, refused to listen to any terms of compromise. He had himself seconded Mr. Buxton's principal amendment, but he firmly declined to allow the third resolution to pass without challenge. He insisted on a division, and with so many opponents to contend against, the whole Tory party, the planter party, all the regular supporters of the Government, and many sincere friends of Abolition, who were, nevertheless, willing to listen to some sort of compromise; O'Connell carried forty votes with him out of a House of 324. This might seem a very small minority, and so it was numerically speaking; but those who understood the House of Commons saw then, as those who understand it will see now, that the principle which at such a time and in the face of almost unparalleled difficulty could secure forty independent votes was a principle to be reckoned with by prudent Ministers. The proposal of the Government for the £15,000,000 loan was fiercely opposed by all the friends of the planter interest. It was urged on behalf of the planters that the amount of the loan would not nearly cover the loss which Abolition would bring upon them, and there were not wanting many shrewd political go-betweens who hinted in public and explained in private that the loan was never likely to be repaid. The Government after a while began to think that there was little use in haggling over the settlement of so portentous a question, and they withdrew their proposal for a loan, offering instead an absolute gift of £20,000,000 sterling out of the national funds to recompense the planters for any loss to which they might have been put.
The proposal was carried without a division. There was much difference of opinion about its justice then, and there is some difference of opinion even now. Why, it was asked, should the English populations be taxed to meet the losses which men might suffer who had to give up an odious trade, against which every Christian doctrine and every humane feeling alike protested? As well, it was urged, might the man who lived by the carrying off and selling of slaves claim compensation for his losses, when civilisation pronounced the decree that his infamous traffic must cease. Why should not the pirate plead for compensation when international law declared that he must no longer ravage the seas? Yet the Government on the whole was right in spending the money for the sake of obtaining a measure of abolition. England had grown up in a passive recognition of the right of men to have slaves in the Colonies and to make their profits out of slave labour. Two or three generations before the time of Wilberforce and Zachary Macaulay, it seemed quite a natural thing that the man who acquired West Indian property should be the owner of slaves, and nobody thought any the worse of him for it. England had allowed men to grow rich by slave labour all this time without, until quite lately, raising any strong moral protest against it. We have seen already how a public opinion had to be literally created in order to sustain any Government in an attempt to abolish the ownership of slaves and the making of fortunes out of slave labour. In the House of Commons, at the very time when the measure was introduced, there were many men, undoubtedly educated and humane, who did not see anything deserving of utter condemnation in the system of domestic slavery. More than a quarter of a century later still there were educated and humane Englishmen who got up on public platforms in London at the time of the great American Civil War to tell their audiences that the slaves on the plantations of Georgia and South Carolina were better fed and cared for than the workers in many an English factory and mine, as if that settled the whole question and left nothing else to be said.
Lord Stanley. (Lord Derby).
Lord Macaulay (180O-1859).
On the whole, then, it was wise of the Government to get out of the entire controversy by throwing down £20,000,000 of the national funds to buy out the opposition of the planters and their friends. The Government had no difficulty in carrying their proposal through the House of Commons and the House of Lords. The House of Lords, it may be said, has rarely, if ever, put much difficulty in the way of any proposal which tends to benefit the owners of landed property at home or in the Colonies. A Bill was brought in by the Government which with some modifications simply carried into effect Lord Stanley's resolutions as adopted by the Representative Chamber. The principal modifications were the substitution of the larger gift for the smaller loan, and a reduction in the term of apprenticeship, from twelve years to seven in one category of apprentices, and from seven years to five in another. The Bill was then carried easily enough, and Slavery as a system was declared to be abolished for ever in the British Colonies. This, as has been said, was the first great work of the Reformed Parliament; and it will be readily acknowledged that a Reformed Parliament could not have started on its way with brighter omens than those which were shining from that first great success.
During the debates on the Slavery question the philanthropists, as they were contemptuously called - in other words, the opponents of the slave system - were constantly asked by the advocates of the planters, "Why don't you look at home? Why don't you turn to the condition of your labourers in your factories and your mines?" "If you will only think about their condition," it was urged, "you will have little time left to maunder and potter over the condition of the slaves in the plantations of Georgia and South Carolina. Don't you know that there is white slavery as well as black slavery, and that the white slavery is of your making, so far as these islands are concerned? Think more, then, of the white slaves of these islands, and less of the black slaves of Barbadoes and Jamaica." It would have been impossible that some Englishmen, and among them some of the leading opponents of West Indian slavery, should not have the condition of the white slaves of Great Britain brought to their minds long before the advocates of West Indian slavery had publicly taunted them with their indifference to the domestic evil. One of the principal opponents of slavery, in whatever form, was the late Earl of Shaftesbury - Lord Ashley, as he was at the time of the West India Bill. Lord Ashley had turned his attention from his early years to the condition of the workers in our factories and our mines. To him white slavery was just as odious as black, and he made himself, during his long career, a special champion of the white slaves. Many of us can well remember Lord Shaftesbury during his later days in the House of Lords.