Slavery

T. Clarkson Urges Emancipation in the Americas - 9 Pages Full of Slavery Content by one of the most Important Abolitionists



T. Clarkson Urges Emancipation in the Americas - 9 Pages Full of Slavery Content by one of the most Important Abolitionists

Thomas Clarkson, Autograph letter signed, to Benjamin Hawes, a lengthy letter concerning the abolition of slavery in the West Indies and the conversion of plantation slave labor into a free labor system. Ipswich:  9 June 1842. 9pp. Early annotation at the top right corner.

 

An incredible content 9-page letter about the transition from slavery to free labor in the West Indies: "... you cannot force these to labour by the whip, as they are now free Men ..."

 

With the passage of the Slavery Abolition Act in 1833, Great Britain ended slavery in the West Indies.  In the years following Emancipation, the former slaves were indentured to their former masters before moving to a wage labor system. However, this period saw an economic decline in the region: sugar production drastically slumped, the price of sugar surged and little of the £20 million awarded to the West Indian planters under the Abolition Act was re-invested in the West Indies.  The economic woes prompted a Parliamentary investigation. 

 

The present letter, written by Thomas Clarkson (1760-1846) the father of the British abolitionist movement, was written to a then sitting member of Parliament, Benjamin Hawes, a young but influential Whig politician.  The lengthy letter begins: "I have not the honor of knowing you personally, but only as an upright member of Parliament, and as such I take the Liberty of addressing you, knowing that you are now sitting as a member of a parliamentary committee for inquiring into West India concerns, as they relate to difficulties or impediments which may stand in the way of a fair remuneration to the planters in the cultivation of their estates. This question, Sir, upon which you were called to deliberate, is of immense importance; and it will require the strictest impartiality, both towards the interests of the Masters and of the Servants to develop it, so as to come to a satisfactory conclusion; for if you take the side of the servants unduly against their masters you may become the means of enraging the former to make such exorbitant demands in the shape of wages, as to make it impossible for the latter to cultivate their Estates; and if, on the other hand, you take the side of the Planters unduly against their Servants, so that their wages will not enable them to live, the servants will refuse to work, and thus the Estates again will go uncultivated; and you cannot force these to labour by the whip, as they are now free Men."

 

Clarkson continues by arguing against the blatant racism brought forth by the advocates of the planters to the committee: "... the Negroes of the present day are not the sort of People here described. Their behavior ever since the day of their Emancipation has been in general most exemplary and laudable. They have been moral, industrious, orderly and well disposed. Crime has so diminished amongst them, that the gaols are frequently quite empty ... You are aware, Sir, that in the days of Slavery nothing would exceed the vile management of a West India Estate. Negroes were obliged to carry manure in baskets on their heads to a plantation perhaps to a distance of a mile or more. Would not such practice be laughed at in England when a single mule and cart would have done three times the work?..."

 

The letter continues with various arguments to prove that the economic troubles of the West Indian plantations were the result of mismanagement and not the freed slaves.

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