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Previous to 1788, such progress had been made in public sentiment and feeling in England, through the indefatigable labors of Clarkson and the committee he had founded, that it was determined to bring the subject of Abolition before Parliament. Mr. Wilberforce was selected to open the question ; but, owing to his ill health, Mr. Pitt, on the 9th of May, 1788, moved that the House do resolve to take into consideration the state of the slave trade early in the next session. In 1790, Wilberforce introduced a proposition for the total abolition of the traffic, and sustained it with eminent ability, Pitt, Fox, and Burke giving him their support. The West India interest took fire, insisting that the trade was sanctioned by the Bible, and its abolition would ruin the commerce of London, Bristol, Liverpool, and other large marts. The session of 1792 saw the tables of both Houses loaded with influential petitions. Wilberforce led off, as usual, followed closely by Fox and Pitt. Dundas, “ the right hand of Pitt,"' opposed the measure, and was scathed by Fox in reply. In the Lords, the Duke of Clarence denounced Wilberforce as a “meddling fanatic," who ought to be expelled from Parliament. But the object of his censure lived to see his royal traducer, as King William IV, sign a bill appropriating £20,000,000 for the abolition of slavery in the West India islands! Omitting details, suffice it to say, that the friends of Abolition pressed its consideration upon the public attention from year to year, with increasing fervor, Clarkson being the out-door manager, and Wilberforce the Parliamentary, (always sustained by Pitt and Fox,) till, on the downfall of Pitt, and the coming in of a liberal administration, with Fox for its leader, in 1806, a condemnatory vote was obtained, which, in the next year, was followed by the total abolition of the trade.
I will not stop to state why this measure, since adopted from time to time by all Christian nations, has not fulfilled the expectations of its friends; nor why the number of victims of
the slave trade in our day is double that of the time when Clarkson commenced his labors. In a word, so long as the existence of slavery makes a demand for fresh" human agony," so long wretches will be found to brave heaven, earth, and hell, to furnish the supply. But the failure to attain complete success should not lessen our admiration of those early toils, which, like an oasis in the wide desert of human selfishness, refresh the eye of all who recognize the common brotherhood of man.
Mr. Clarkson was greatly aided in his labors by GRANVILLE SHARPE. This singular person had already become known for his advocacy of the rights of negro slaves when Clarkson commenced his work. He was born of humble parents, in 1735. He had a mind peculiarly fond of probing everything to the bottom. While an apprentice, a controversy with a Socinian led him to study Greek, that he might read the New Testament in the original. A dispute with a Jew induced him to obtain a knowledge of Hebrew. In 1767, his interference in behalf of a West India slave, whose master, then in London, had whipped him nearly to death, cost him a lawsuit. He must be beaten, if the master could hold his slave in England. Eminent counsel told him he must, fail, for the right of the master was not invalidated by bringing his slave to England. Repudiating this advice, Sharpe, with his usual diligence and bent of mind, devoted himself to the study of the law, preparatory to his own defense. The “law's delay” gave him ample time to explore the subject to its foundations. He published a tract “On the injustice and dangerous tendency of tolerating slavery, or even of admitting the least claim to property in the persons of men, in England." His rare authorities and profound reasoning converted to his views many leading memberg of the bar. After a delay of two years, the plaintiff abandoned the case, paying Sharpe heavy costs. While further prosecuting his legal researches, he had another affair of a similar kind, in which he was partially successful. By this time, though
comparatively an obscure man, he was better read in the law of slavery, and the restrictions upon the system in England, than any barrister or jurist in Westminster Hall. In 1772 came on the hearing, before Lord Mansfield, in the matter of the negro Somersett, a West India slave, who claimed his freedom on the ground that his master had brought him into England. The ablest counsel were employed on both sides ; the case was argued twice or thrice, and was under consideration several months. Sharpe took deep interest in the issue, frequently conferred with Somersett's counsel, and wrote in his behalf for the newspapers. At length, on the 22d of June, 1772, Mansfield, with great reluctance, (for he leaned to the side of the slaveholder,) pronounced the celebrated judgment, that slavery, being contrary to natural law, was of so odious a nature that nothing but positive law could support it, and that every slave, on touching English soil, became free, and “ therefore the man must be discharged !” This rule has ever since been recognized as law in all climes where England bears sway, and is so regarded in America and most of the civilized States of the world. For three-fourths of a century it has pursued the Evil Spirit of slavery with uplifted weapon, ready to cleave it to the earth the moment it passed the boundaries of its own odious and unnatural law; and in our day it stands like the flaming sword of Paradise, turning every way, to guard the tree of Liberty. For the early announcement of this farreaching and deep-sounding principle, the world is indebted to the labors of one who commenced his career as a humble London apprentice. Having fought the good fight of Abolition with Clarkson and Wilberforce, and gained considerable distinction by his philanthropic deeds and writings, numbering Sir William Jones among his intimate friends, he died in 1813. A monument, with suitable devices and inscriptions, was erected to his memory in the Poet's Corner of Westminster Abbey, to mark the public sense of his merits. Mr. WILBERFORCE has not been over-estimated, but, in my
judgment, he has been mis-estimated. Entitled to less relative praise for his Abolition services than is generally bestowed, is worthy of a higher position as a statesman and orator than is usually assigned to him. This common error is readily accounted for. The commanding place he so long occupied, as the Parliamentary leader in this Reform, rendered him more conspicuous at home, and especially abroad, than any of his coadjutors, though no man was more ready than he to acknowledge that his services were meager, compared with those of some of his less noted colaborers. So, on the other hand, such is the luster of Mr. Wilberforce's undoubted achievements in the Abolition cause, that to the public eye they have thrown into the shade his very superior talents in other and more general aspects. He would have stood in the front rank of Parliamentary orators, (and those were the days of Burke, Fox, Pitt, Erskine, Wyndham, and Sheridan,) had he never thrown a halo round his name by consecrating his powers to humanity. Thoroughly educated, and furnished with general information, bis eloquence was of a high order—fervid, instructive, persuasive ; his diction classical and elegant; his voice musical and bland ; and though his figure was diminutive, and not graceful, his countenance was remarkably expressive. He possessed a lively imagination, a keen sense of the ludicrous, a ready wit, and powers of sarcasm which Pitt might envy. These latter, however, he kept in subjection, mainly from his strong religious susceptibilities and kindly spirit, which impelled him to avoid giving pain, choosing to disarm personal assailants by winning appeals to their calmer judgments. On one occasion, after being repeatedly and coarsely alluded to, as “the honorable and very religious member," he turned upon his antagonist, and poured upon him a torrent of contempt, sarcasm, and rebuke, which astonished the House, not more for the ability it displayed, than that so great a master of indignant declamation should so rarely resort to its use. These intellectual elements combined with the spotless purity and winning beauty of his character, to give him great weight in the House, and contributed not a little to sustain the general policy of Mr. Pitt, whose supporter he usually was, though he ever maintained a position of comparative political independence. He had much personal influence over that minister, whose repeated offers to take office under his Administration he steadily declined. He retired from Parliament in 1824. His last public appearance was in 1830, when, on motion of his old friend Clarkson, he took the chair at a large meeting of delegates, in London, assembled to promote the abolition of slavery in the West Indies.
Mr. Pitt's advocacy of Abolition is now believed to have been hollow-hearted--a mere trick to gain popular applause in unwonted quarters, and retain his hold upon Wilberforce. During the twenty years which this question agitated Parliament and the country, Pitt, with the exception of two or three, reigned supreme, and never failed to carry any scheme he set his heart upon. At the wave of his hand, he could have driven from the House half the members, who steadily voted against Abolition, whilst with a dash of his pen he could have swept from the offices of the kingdom every occupant who dared oppose his will on this measure. By his personal advocacy of it, he lost nothing, and gained much.
We turn with more pleasure to contemplate for a moment the services of two very different coadjutors of Wilberforce and Clarkson-James Stephen and Zachary Macaulay. It has already been said that the more imposing character of Mr. Wilberforce's services threw into the shade those of many not less worthy colaborers. Of these, Messrs. Stephen and Macaulay were among the most eminent.
MR. STEPHEN was a barrister. On being called to the bar, he emigrated to St. Kitts, and attained such distinction in the colonial courts as to be called “the Erskine of the West Indies.” Impaired health induced his return to England in 1794, where he urged his way to a respectable standing in