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A History of the Four Georges and of William IV, V

Zachary Macaulay was one of these


The

time was one especially favorable for such hopes and for such achievements. A new era had opened on the civilized world. New ideas were coming up regarding the value and the validity of many of our constitutional and social arrangements which had formerly been considered as inspired and sanctified forever by that mysterious influence, the wisdom of our ancestors. If education had not yet made much way among the masses of the people, at least the belief in popular education was becoming a quickening force in the minds of all intelligent men. Then, as ever since, the agitation for each great new reform began outside the walls of Parliament, and had to take an organized shape before it became a question for the House of Commons. The first great work to which the reformed Parliament applied itself, after the conditions of Lord Grey's Act had been allowed to take effect in remoulding the constituencies, was the abolition of negro slavery in the colonies of Great Britain. Domestic slavery and the slave trade had already been abolished, but in the minds of a great number of well-meaning, well-informed, and by no means hard-hearted men slavery in our colonies was a very different sort of institution from slavery in our own islands, or from the actual trade in slaves. The ordinary Englishman, when he troubled himself to consider such questions at all, had settled it in his own mind that slavery in England, or in any part of the British Isles, was incompatible with the free constitution
of the realm, and that the forcible abduction of men and women from African sea-shores in order to sell them into slavery was an offence against civilization and Christianity. But this average Englishman did not see that there was anything like the same {190} reason for interfering with the system of slave labor as we had found it established, for instance, in our West Indian colonies. "We did not introduce the system there," it was argued; "we found it established there; we inherited it; and its continuance is declared, by all those who know, to be absolutely essential to the production of the sugar which is the source of profit and the means of living to the islands themselves, and an indispensable comfort, a harmless and healthful luxury, to millions of civilized beings who never stood under a tropical sky." The mind of the average Englishman, however, had been, for some time, much disturbed by the arguments, the pleadings, and the agitation of a small number of enlightened Reformers, at first much in advance of their time, who were making a pertinacious crusade against the whole system of colonial slavery. Some of these men have won names which will always be honored in our history. Zachary Macaulay was one of these. He was the father of the Macaulay whom we have just heard of as seated side by side with Charles Greville at Lord Holland's dinner-table. Zachary Macaulay had been the manager of a great West Indian estate, but he had given up the position because his conscience would not allow him to have anything to do with the system of slavery, and he had come home to devote his time, his abilities, and his earnestness to the generous task of rousing up his countrymen to a full sense of the horrors which were inseparable from the system. He was able to supply men like Brougham, like Fowell Buxton, and like Whitbread with practical facts beyond dispute to establish the realities of slavery in the West Indian colonies. Among the more obvious, although not perhaps even the most odious, accompaniments of the system were the frightful cruelties practised on the slaves, the flogging, the mutilation, and the branding of men, women, and children which formed part of the ordinary conditions of a plantation worked by slave labor. Over and over again it had been denied by men who professed to know all about the subject and to be authorities upon it that any such cruelties were practised on a well-regulated plantation belonging to a {191} civilized owner. It was constantly argued, with self-complacency, that the planter's own interests would not allow him thus to mar the efficiency of the human animals who had to do his work, and that even if the planter had no pity for them, he was sure to have a wholesome and restraining consideration for the physical value of his own living property.


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