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FROM THE RENEWAL OF THE COMMERCIAL INTERCOURSE BETWEEN THE UNITED STATES AND THE BRITISH WEST INDIES IN 1831, TO THE DEPARTURE OF SIR JAMES LYON IN 1833.
THE restrictions which the erroneous policy of the United States had placed upon the intercourse between their ports and the British West India islands, produced the most serious complaints of their citizens, and the Government saw themselves obliged to enter into diplomatic negotiations with the court of St. James to bring about a better understanding. Mr. McLane was for this purpose despatched to London with certain propositions.
Towards the end of the session in May 1830, President Jackson communicated to the Senate and House of Representatives, that he daily expected the answer of the British Government to a proposition which had been submitted upon the subject of the colonial trade, and requested that he might be authorized, in case an arrangement could be effected upon such terms as Congress would approve, to carry the same into effect. It appears that the President had received certain information respecting the professions of Great Britain, that as soon as the restrictions which the United States had laid upon British vessels were removed, his Majesty's government would restore to the commerce of the United States the direct intercourse with the West Indies, upon the terms of the Act of July 1825. The President therefore issued his proclamation on the 5th of October 1830, stating that British vessels and their cargoes were admitted to an entry in the ports of the United States, "from the islands, provinces and colonies of Great Britain, on or near the North American continent, and north or east of the United States." Upon this an order in council repealed the restrictions imposed by the British Government upon the intercourse of American vessels with the West India colonies and the British possessions in North America. The ports of both governments were opened and a free intercourse established, based upon the act of the British Parliament of the 5th of July 1825, and upon the act of Congress of the 30th of May 1830.
The several attempts which had been made during past years by the free-coloured and free black population of this island to obtain the repeal of various acts which continued their political disabilities, had been hitherto fruitless. Mr. Robert Haynes, member for St. John's, introduced on the 22nd of February 1831 a bill into the House of Assembly, the
object of which was to remove these disabilities, and it passed the House on the 28th of March, only four members voting against it: some obstacles however delayed its passing the Legislature until the 7th of June, and it received the sanction of the Governor on the 9th of that month, subjected to the approbation of his Majesty. This act conferred upon the coloured class the same rights as those possessed by the white inhabitants,-namely, to elect or be elected members of the House of Assembly, vestrymen, or to serve as jurors to try real actions, provided such individuals should have the necessary qualifications of age and the possession of the stipulated freehold or other property. A tardy act of justice was thus at last conceded, and thenceforth all the inhabitants who professed the Christian religion, without distinction of complexion, were placed on the same footing of civil political privileges. An Act for the relief of his Majesty's subjects in Barbados professing the Jewish religion had received the signature of the Governor on the 25th of May, subjected likewise to the approbation of his Majesty before it should come into operation'. Both these Acts ultimately received the King's sanction.
In the month of October 1819, an Act had passed the Legislature for printing a perfect edition of all the laws in the island in force which were in manuscript and had never yet been printed or published by authority. His Majesty in council disallowed this Act on the 5th of February 1827; the reason assigned for which was that the Act "authorizes a private person to publish the laws of the island with abridgements, notes, references and observations thereon at his discretion, and declares the work when so published to be a good, lawful statute book of the island without any security being taken for the correction of the publication, or for the propriety of such abridgements, references or observations; and because this unlimited confidence is extended not only to that individual himself, but to his administrators, executors, or assigns." Subsequently a committee was appointed by the House on the 20th of April 1830, to confer with a committee to be appointed by the Council and take into consideration the publication of a new edition of the laws of the island. It appears that no further steps were taken; at least a petition of her Majesty's Solicitor-General, Henry E. Sharpe, Esq., drew the attention of the House on the 22nd of February 1831 to the great inconvenience generally felt from the want of a complete edition of the laws. Mr. Sharpe offered to make a compilation of them, with the approbation of the Legislature, and to open a list for subscriptions to the new edition, upon the understanding that, should he not be indemnified by the sale of such publication for his labour, cost, and charges, he might rely on the liberality of the House to make good any loss he should sustain. An appointment of a
1 See ante, p. 97.
* It is remarkable that such a long interval should have been allowed to pass between the enactment by the Legislature and the disallowance by the King in council.
committee therefore, as under former circumstances, took place, but the desired object was not effected, and the calamity which shortly after befel the colony retarded it altogether.
At a public meeting in the island of Grenada, held on the 6th of January, 1831, it was resolved "that a unanimous expression of the sentiments of the colonists on the present alarming and depressed state of the West Indies would tend to impress the more strongly on his Majesty's Government and the Parliament of England, the very urgent necessity which exists for immediate and substantial relief to save them from impending ruin; and that such expression of sentiment would be likely to meet with more prompt attention, and be productive of more beneficial results, if it proceeded from the united voice of the colonists, expressed through the medium of representatives delegated from each." The meeting proposed therefore that Grenada should send two delegates, and that each of the other colonies should be requested to send one or more delegates, to assemble on the first day of March following in the city of Bridgetown in Barbados. This proposition was very favourably received, and fifteen delegates met from the colonies of Antigua, Demerara, Dominica, Grenada, Nevis, St. Christopher, St. Vincent, Tobago, and the Virgin Islands. The meeting took place on the 1st of March, and was continued for several subsequent days; and the results of their deliberations were embodied in the following resolutions, which the author inserts the more readily, as they express in the most concise manner the general opinion on the state of the British West India colonies at that period.
"It was resolved,-That these colonies are now, and have been for some time past, labouring under multiplied difficulties and embarrassments.
"That whilst every other interest of the empire has been relieved from the pressure of the war duties, the West India colonists, after a period of fifteen years of peace, still labour under exactions imposed upon the staple articles of their produce imported into Great Britain, which ought in justice to have ceased with the necessity that gave rise to them.
"That another prominent cause of distress is the decisive advantage given to the foreign cultivators of sugar, by their continuation of the African slave trade.
“That the inhabitants of these colonies contemplate with the most serious apprehension the effect which the reiterated clamours of a powerful, designing and interested party are calculated to produce on the deliberations of Parliament and the measures of Government, with reference to the question of colonial slavery; and the avowed determination of this party to persevere in the continuance of their hostile measures, until they shall have involved in confusion, and ultimately in ruin, all classes of society in this part of the British empire.
"That they protest most solemnly against any spoliation of, or interference with their property, which they hold by a right as sacred as the public cre
ditor his claim on the national funds, the highest or lowest subject in the United Kingdom his lands, his mansion, or his cottage, or any corporate body their chartered rights.
"That this right of property has been sanctioned by various Acts of Parliament, encouraging their ancestors to embark their capital, their industry and their fortunes in the settlement of lands, on the express condition of cultivating them by the labour of slaves imported into these colonies by British subjects. That the consequences of this traffic are not now to be charged against the character of the West India Colonies, whose principal share in the transaction has been that of civilizing, and bringing to order and comparative comfort persons brought into the colonies in a state of barbarism.
"That out of the settlement and cultivation of the West India Colonies, has arisen a commercial intercourse, amply supplying the mother country with colonial produce, giving employment to upwards of four hundred thousand tons of shipping, and more than twenty thousand seamen, diffusing immense wealth among her people, and contributing millions to the public revenue.
"That the existence of slavery and of property in, or connected with, and depending upon slaves in the West Indies, having been thus created by Great Britain for her own objects and benefit, and having been recognized and guaranteed by repeated Acts of Parliament and decisions of the highest law authorities, any attempt to injure or destroy property so sanctioned is a gross violation of every principle of law and justice, unless full and complete indemnification for all losses which may arise, and all injuries which may be sustained, by any changes in such property shall have been previously provided at the expense of the nation in general.
"That the inhabitants of the West Indies have, by their efforts to improve the condition of the slave, already raised him far above his original state of barbarism, have placed him in possession of comparative comfort, have invested him with privileges and immunities, and are gradually proceeding to qualify him for a larger participation in the advantages of civilized life.
"That a petition be presented to his Majesty from the deputies assembled for themselves and on behalf of their constituents, the inhabitants of these colonies, humbly praying that his Majesty would be graciously pleased to exert his royal authority in order to avert the destruction with which they were threatened.
"That petitions be prepared and presented to both Houses of Parliament, embracing the general objects of this meeting.
"That memorials setting forth the present distressed state of the West India interests, and the causes thereof, and praying that such relief may be promptly afforded as the circumstances of the case require, be presented to the Lords of the Treasury and the Board of Trade.
"That the Marquis of Chandos be requested to present the Petition to the King
That the Right Honourable the Earl of Eldon be requested to present the petition to the House of Lords.
"That the Marquis of Chandos be requested to present the petition to the House of Commons.
"That the agents for the colonies, represented at this meeting, be requested to present the memorials to the Lords of the Treasury and the Board of Trade, and that they be instructed to wait on the Marquis of Chandos, and solicit his valuable assistance in furthering the objects of these memorials."
The dreadful hurricane, of which a detailed account has been given in the first part of this work', had brought the greatest misery upon the island. It has been generally asserted that the administration of Sir James Lyon was one of the happiest Barbados can boast of, and that his talents, urbanity and benevolence, went hand in hand with his energy whenever circumstances required active measures; but whatever conduct had earned this encomium for him on former occasions, his zeal under the present calamities, and his unremitting endeavours to mitigate the general suffering, deserved a higher praise than had ever previously been bestowed on him. It was his first object to preserve the public order under such an accumulation of miseries; and he issued a proclamation on the 15th of August, commanding all magistrates and constables to exert themselves to the utmost in preserving the peace and tranquillity of the island, and preventing depredation and plunder. The thirty-first clause of the militia-act, which empowered all commanding officers to assemble any sufficient part of their regiments for preventing disturbances, was called to their recollection. It having been reported to the Governor that the principal merchants in Bridgetown had not enhanced the prices of the necessary articles of life, he strongly recommended that so laudable an example should be generally followed.
By virtue of the full power and authority given to his Excellency, and by the advice of the Legislature, the Governor nominated on the following day the members of his Majesty's Council, the members of the House of Assembly and the field-officers of the militia in the different parishes, to be commissioners for the purpose of preserving due subordination amongst the slave population. Another commission with similar powers was nominated that day for clearing the streets of the town, with full power and authority to call on all householders who were owners of slaves to furnish labour for that purpose.
The Legislature had been summoned to meet on the 15th of August, but a sufficient number of members not being in attendance on that day to form a House, they were summoned to meet again on the 18th of the same month, when the following message was delivered to the House:
"Government House, Barbados, 15th of August, 1831.
"The Governor, deeply afflicted by the distress and devastation with which it has pleased Almighty God to visit this once prosperous and happy colony, entreats the Honourable House of Assembly to cause a Committee of its members to be formed, and to be associated with some of the honourable gentle
1 See ante, p. 52 et seq.