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titude, that they should have continually before them the punishment of those who have deviated from it; but we may hope that by some ather means a fall from rectitude may be prevented. Some of the texts of Scripture upon this subject are, as you observe, indeed strong; but they may admit of a mitigated interpretation.” He talked to me upon this awful and delicate question in a gentle tone, and as if afraid to be decisive.
After supper, I accompanied him to his apartment, and at my request he dictated to me an argument in favour of the negro who was then claiming his liberty, in an action in the Court of Session in Scotland. He had always been very zealous against slavery in every form, in which I with all deference thought that he discovered “a zeal without knowledge.” Upon one occasion, when in company with some very grave men at Oxford, his toast was, “Here's to the next insurrection of the negroes in the West Indies." His violent prejudice against our West Indian and American settlers appeared whenever there was an opportunity. Towards the conclusion of his “ Taxation no Tyranny," he says, “how is it that we have the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes ?” and in his conversation with Mr. Wilkes, he asked, “Where did Beckford and Trecothick learn English ?” That Trecothick could both speak and write good English is well known. I myself was favoured with bis correspondence concerning the brave Corsicans. And that Beckford could speak it with a spirit
of honest resolution even to his Majesty, as his “ faithful Lord-Mayor of London,” is commemorated by the noble monument erected to him in Guildhall.
The argument dictated by Dr. Johnson was as follows:
“ It must be agreed that in some ages many countries have had part of their inhabitants in a state of slavery; yet it may be doubted whether slavery can ever be supposed the natural condition of man. It is impossible not to conceive that men in their original state were equal; and very difficult to imagine how one would be subjected to another but by violent compulsion. An individual may, indeed, forfeit his liberty by a crime; but he cannot by that crime forfeit the liberty of his children. What is true of a criminal seems true likewise of a captive. A man may accept life from a conquering enemy on condition of perpetual servitude; but it is very doubtful whether he can entail that servitude on his descendants; for do man can stipulate without commission for another. The condition which he himself accepts, his son or grandsoh perhaps would have rejected. If we should admit, what perhaps may with more reasou be denied, that there are certain relations between man and man which may make slavery necessary and just, yet it can never be proved that he who is now suing for his freedom ever stood in any of those relations. He is certainly subject by no law, but that of violence, to his present master; who pretends no claim to his obedience, but that he bought him from a merchant of slaves, whose right to sell him never was examined. It is said that according to the constitutions of Jamaica he was legally enslaved; these constitutions are merely positive; and apparently injurious to the rights of mankind, because whoever is exposed to sale is condemned to slavery without appeal; by whatever fraud or violence he might have been originally brought into the merchant's power. In our own time Princes have been sold, by wretches to whose care they were entrusted, that they might have an European education ; but when once they were brought to a market in the plantations, little would avail either their dignity or their wrongs. The laws of Jamaica afford a Negro no redress. His colour is considered as a sufficient testimony against him. It is to be lamented that moral right should ever give way to political convenience. But if temptations of interest are sometimes too strong for human virtue, let us at least retain a virtue where there is no temptation to quit it. In the present case, there is apparent right on one side, and no convenience on the other. Inhabitants of this island can neither gain riches nor power by taking away the liberty of any part of the human species. The sum of the argument is this :No man is by nature the property of another : the defendant is, therefore, by nature free: The rights of nature must be some way forfeited before they can be justly taken away: That the defendant has by any act forfeited the rights of nature we require to be proved; and if no proof of such forfeiture can be given, we doubt not but the justice of the court will declare bim free.”
I record Dr. Johnson's argument fairly upon this particular case; where, perhaps, he was in the right. But I beg leave to enter my most solemn protest against his general doctrine with respect to the Slave Trade. For I will resolutely say—that his unfavourable notion of it was owing to prejudice, and imperfect or false information. The wild and dangerous attempt which has for some time been persisted in to obtain an act of our Legislature, to abolish so very important and necessary a branch of commercial interest, must have been crushed at once, had not the insignificance of the zealots who vainly took the lead in it, made the vast body of Planters, Merchants, and others, whose immense properties are involved in that trade, reasonably enough suppose that there could be no danger. The encouragement which the attempt has received excites my wonder and indigoation; and though some men of superior abilities have supported it; whether from a love of temporary popularity, when prosperous ; or a love of general mischief when desperate, my opinion is unshaken. To abolish a status which in all ages God has sanctioned, and man has continued, would not only be robbery to an innumerable class of our fellow-subjects; but it would be extreme cruelty to the African Savages, a portion of whom it saves from massacre, or intolerable bondage in their own country, and introduces into a much happier state of life; especially now when their passage to the West Indies and their treatment there is humanely regulated. To abolish that trade would be to
shut the gates of mercy on mankind.” Whatever may have passed elsewhere concerning it, The House Of LORDS is wise and independent;
Intaminatus fulgit honoribus ;
I have read, conversed, and thought much upon the subject, and would recommend to all who are capable of conviction, an excellent Tract by my learned and ingenious friend John Ranby, Esq. entitled “Doubts on the Abolition of the Slave Trade.” To Mr. Ranby's " Doubts," I will apply Lord Chancellor Hardwicke's expression in praise of a Scotch Law Book, called Dirleton's Doubts ;' his Doubts, (said his Lordship,) are better than most people's Certainties.”
When I said now to Johnson, that I was afraid I kept him too late up, “No, Sir, (said he,) I don't care though I sit all night with you." This was an animated speech from a man in his sixty-ninth year.
Had I been as attentive not to displease him as 1 ought to have been, I know not but this vigil might have been fulfilled; but I unluckily entered upon the controversy concerning the right of Great-Britain to tax America, and