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duced the name of M. Lessein, as having been present on two occasions, on both of which he proved a clear alibi, having been, on one of them, out of the island, and, on the other, in prison. Throughout the whole of the depositions, if depositions they might be called, there were repeated and barefaced contradictions; and they were the contradictory affirmations only of slaves, who, the House had often been told, were incapable of understanding an oath, or feeling its obligation. What opinion was to be formed of the courts of justice in Jamaica, where slaves were condemned upon the evidence of slaves alone, who were not even examined upon oath, and whose consciences were crippled by the same fear as their bodies? for, if when called as witnesses, they gave evidence unpalatable to their masters, they knew well that they would only leave the court-house for the work-house. He proposed the above resolution, that the Commons of England might have an opportunity of raising their voice against acts of such crying injustice and barbarity.
Although in the views thus taken by Mr. Denman of these proceedings of the colonial tribunals and authorities, too much influence might be allowed to the habits of thinking and feeling produced by the cautious and unimpassioned administration of justice, still enough had been disclosed to excite the gravest doubts, whether, in these trials, very great injustice had not been committed, and whether the whole proceedings, besides being founded on incredible testimony, had not been hurried on, from accusation to execution, with a degree of interested precipitancy which only the alarms of the plant
ers could have occasioned — and that very state of alarm, in which they might have found themselves, only rendered mistakes and irregularities more probable. Yet, if the proceedings, however much to be regretted in themselves, were really carried on according to the forms of the existing laws of the island, which the colonial tribunals were bound to administer, it seemed difficult to discover a good reason for supporting a resolution which censured them for having followed their only legal guide, and accused them of having perverted and violated that law. Accordingly, Mr. Wilmot Horton, in opposing the motion, did not take his ground on any justification of every part of these trials, considered merely in themselves, but maintained that the courts had only applied the law which they were bound to apply; that they had applied it according to the forms required by that law, and in circumstances which fairly called for the interference of the legal authorities. There could, he said, be no doubt, that at the time when the insurrections which occasioned these trials were to have broken out, the public authorities were convinced that rebellious designs existed among the negroes in the northern districts of the island, inflamed by the idea that the intentions of government in their favour •were frustrated by the masters being unwilling to obey instructions which had been sent out. The proof that such was the impression on the mind of the duke of Manchester, the governor, was to be found in his demands for additional troops, and the preparations made to meet the danger with which circumstances induced him to believe the island was threatened, In the proceedings at St. Mary's there was nothing contrary to the law under which alone the court acted. However desirable an alteration in that law might be, and however much the state of things, which for a moment, could render it necessary, was to be lamented, still, if the proceedings which had taken place, were conformable to it, could the House now censure those who, having no other rule to guide them in their legal decisions, felt themselves under the necessity of acting upon its provisions? He did not stand up as the advocate of that law; he did not mean to defend the justice or wisdom of it; but, if it existed when those trials took place, the conduct of the court could not justly orfairly be attacked, however deserving the law itself might be of reprobation. The forty-sixth section of the existing statute provided, that if slaves should be convicted of rebellion, murder, robbery, or of compassing or imagining the death of white persons, they should suffer death. It further provided, that if slaves should be found in possession of fire-arms, swords, cutlasses, slugs, balls, &c. without the knowledge of their masters, they were to suffer death. Now, it was proved by a female witness that she saw a slave with a gun and bayonet in his possession, and also some powder and ball; and the powder and ball were found by the officer who searched for them, in the place where she had said they were concealed, in a basket. Here was an act, which, by the law, subjected the person so offending to the punishment of death. If censure was to be laid any where, it was surely the law they had to blame, and not the persons whose business it was to administer it. The effect to be Vol. LXVIII.
given to the evidence adduced was a question entirely for the jury. The discrepancies or contradictions of the witnesses were not of such a kind as to destroy their credibility; and, at all events, the jury had believed them. In all the instances in question, rebellious proceedings had taken place; whatever the state of the law might be, it had been strictly followed; and the punishment inflicted had been pursuant to its enactments. He would, therefore, move the following amendment:—That the House sees, in the proceedings brought under their consideration, a further proof of the evils attendant upon slavery, and derives from them an increased conviction of the propriety of resorting to the measures recommended by government in the order of council; but does not deem it necessary, however desirable a change of the law may be, to impeach the sentences passed according to law, by a competent tribunal, and convicted by a jury sworn to give a verdict according to the evidence.
The Attorney General and Solicitor General, in supporting this amendment, frankly joined in admitting the vices of the system of law under which the proceedings in question had taken place; but could not concur in stigmatizing West-Indian jurors, because they had not done their duty so well as, perhaps, an English jury would have performed it, or imputing the highest delinquency to the judicial and executive departments of Jamaica, not for having violated, but for having observed the law. It was impossible, said the Attorneygeneral, to look at the case, arising, as it did, out of the vice of the system, without wishing for a change. If the white man, upon his, trial, had an opportunity afforded him of knowing the charge, and thereby preparing his defence, why should not the black slave have the same advantage? An act of the legislature had lately passed, to compel the charge to be delivered in writing. This act was brought into the colonial legislature of Jamaica, but it was accompanied by a proviso, that no objection should ever be made on a point of form. Now men were too apt to confound substance and form, to be permitted this latitude. An instance of this was supplied in the present case. The prisoners were accused of being guilty of a rebellious conspiracy, and "other charges." Thus, the prosecutor could adduce whatever evidence he chose, under a charge so very broad.—Here was a conspiracy charged, but with whom? No individuals were mentioned.—Any overt act mentioned f None. — Time? No time specified.—Place? No circumstance or place! When the Slave Evidence bill was introduced into the colonial assembly of Jamaica, it was rejected on the ground that the slave was too low in the scale of moral beings—that he had no character, no distinct notion of morality, no notion of religion, or of the distinction between truth and falsehood. But when the slave was to be tried, other slaves were admitted as witnesses, and that, too, on their bare word, artd an exhortation from the judge not to speak falsely. It was a known rule in this country—and the common law of England was in force in the West Indies —that hearsay evidence should not be received. Yet the whole course of these proceedings showed manifold departures from this important rule; for, while it was an acknowledged
law in regard to the whites, it had no application in regard to the blacks. Such was the law, and so long, said the Solicitor-general, as the law remained in its present form, he was unable to discover on what principle those members would proceed, who were for holding the government of Jamaica responsible because it had acted in conformity with the existing law of that island. Very wise men had entertained very grave doubts of the justice of that rule of our own law which rejected the testimony of a Quaker in criminal cases, because he would not take an oath. But, although a Quaker might thus be unable to convict the man who had maimed, or robbed him, who would ever think of venting his indignation against the judge who tried, or the jury who acquitted, the culprit? To alter the law was one thing, to which there could be no objection, but to pass a vote of censure for the observance of an existing laW was a very different thing. The House ought to separate the defects of the law from the alleged delinquency of the parties, and reject a motion which went, not to denounce the system of slavery, or to censure the law, but to condemn individuals who had no power to alter the one, or to abolish the other.
Mr. Brougham said that, without admitting that the law had not been violated, he did not Care though the words "perversion of law" were left out of the resolution, so long as it admitted that general justice had been most grossly violated, and the common rights of humanity assailed. However, he had little doubt, that the law, bad as it was, had not been observed, at least in some of these trials. The charges in St. Mary's were differently stated from those in St. George's and Hanover parishes. In the latter, too, the prisoners were tried before a judge by twelve jurors, and on an indictment bearing gome semblance to our own J and from the circumstance of the trial having been differently conducted in St. Mary's, great irregularity might be presumed to have prevailed in the judicial proceedings in the latter. This opinion is strengthened by the admissions contained in the documents of colonel Cox, one of the principal parties in these trials, who, in a letter written on the 19th of December, states it to be necessary to hurry them on. His words are, "I thought it my duty to insist on the magistrates bringing the negroes that had been taken immediately to trial, and to send their trial and sentences express, as it will, in my opinion, be highly important for the safety of the parish, and probably the island, that they should be executed before the holidays." The urgency thus exhibited made despatch necessary; and therefore, without any imputation of want of charity, or disregard for the documents on the table, and indeed without meaning to attach any stigma on the character of this officer, except that of which he had shewn himself deserving, he (Mr. B.) might be permitted to believe that there existed in these trials less regularity and attention to legal forms, than was elsewhere manifested. Besides, there was one other omission in the trial at St. George's not to be found in that at Hanover; inasmuch as in the one case a solicitor and two counsel were allowed the prisoners, but that indulgence was not extended in the other. There exist
ed yet another distinction; for in one instance, at least, there was an indictment, neither vague in its nature, nor charging the slaves with conspiring with no one knows who, to do no one knows what, but containing a specific accusation, sufficiently distinct to be under-' stood, and found by a grand jury, or by persons exercising the functions of a grand jury. Thus put on their trial, and formally arraigned, the counsel for the negroes were allowed to superintend their defence: by these counsel objections were taken on behalf of their unfortunate clients, and, in one remarkable instance, the objections were allowed. But this was a solitary instance, and from the difference existing between the proceedings on each of these trials, coupled with the admission of colonel Cox, he concluded that some of the trials were conducted without even that attention to the proper forms which the present law, detestable as it was, required and permitted—And thus it was, that in the space of one short tropical sun, these miserable slaves were put on trial for life or death, for an offence which no reasonable man could define; and before that sun went down, upon evidence such as no individual in possession of his faculties should receive against the lowest and meanest of human beings, though the offence and the punishment were the most trifling, these eight men were capitally convicted, and, having been condemned, died an ignominious death, to gratify the headlong impatience of alarmists who had determined on having eight executions before Christmas. Would the House of Commons look in apathy at proceedings such as these, and say nothing, from fear of casting an imputation on the constituted judicature of Jamaica? If these circumstances of undefended injustice passed unreproved, it would go out to the West-Indies that the same error, injustice, or cruelty, might be committed again and again with impunity, so long as the present abominable system of law continued; and, if the House negatived the motion, it would set the seal of its sanction on a great and crying injustice, and do more than it would be able speedily to undo towards perpetuating the existing system in our colonies.
Mr. Horton having consented to omit that part of the amendment which declared it to be unwise and inexpedient to censure the conduct of the court and jurors, the House divided, when the amendment was carried by a majority of 103 to 63.
The resolutions adopted by the House of Commons in May 1823, expressive of the expediency of ameliorating the condition of the slaves, had not been sent up to the House of Lords, nor had any similar measure been hitherto proposed in that House. They were now communicated to the Peers, and the assent of their lordships to them craved. Lord Bathurst (7th March) prefaced his motion that the House should concur in these resolutions,* with a statement of
• The Resolutions were as follows:— 1st. "That it is expedient to adopt effectual and decisive measures for ameliorating the condition of the slave-population in his majesty's colonies.
2nd. "That through a determined and persevering, but at the same time judicious and temperate, enforcement of such measures, this House looks forward to a progressive improvement in the character of the slave-population, such as may prepare them for a participation
the steps which had already been taken, and the farther measures which it was the intention of government to adopt. The order in council, he said, for the improvement of the condition of the slavepopulation, which had received the sanction of their lordships in 1824, had been sent to the colonies, with a view to call the attention of their respective legislatures to the expediency of adopting such measures as might be the means of introducing into the colonies the principles of improvement in the condition of the slave-population generally, which the order contemplated with particular reference to Trinidad. The recommendations of his majesty's government on this subject were not attended with the success which its magnitude and importance demanded. Very little, indeed, had been done in conformity to the principles of that order, by any of the colonial legislatures, with the exception of Grenada, St. Vincent, and Dominica, in which two acts of considerable importance had passed the legislature. By one of those acts, in the event of any dispute with respect to the right of property in an alleged slave asserting himself to be free, the onus probandi was very properly thrown on the claimant; and, by the other, a slave, when tried for any offence, was placed in every respect on the footing of a white
in those civil rights and privileges which are enjoyed by other classes of his majesty's subjects.
3rd. "That this House is anxious for the accomplishment of this purpose, at the earliest period that shall be compatible with the well-being of the slaves themselves, with the safety of the colonies, and with a fair and equitable consideration of the interests of private property.''