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Resource Date: 1790

Number: 4

Record Office: St John's College Library, Cambridge

Record Office Location Number: Folder 1 Doc 7


Draft article/ letter from Thomas Clarkson, in response to Mons. Mosneron de l'Auny 1790.

Notes: The letter counters claims that slavery is right, because it has always existed in Africa, and there are few commercial alternatives. It shows how Clarkson used evidence and his knowledge to refute the supporters of the trade.

Draft letter/article from Thomas Clarkson (countering claims that slavery is right)

Messieurs! In the Supplement to your Journal of the 24 of January 1790 I find a Letter written by Monsr. Mosneron de l'Auny, which I should have thought Myself at Liberty to answer were it only to guard the Publick against the erroneous Statements as well as Conclusions it contains, but as I am publickly mentioned in that letter without any previous Provocation on my Part, I have no doubt that you will think Me fully authorized to answer him, and that you will have the Goodness to receive my letter. Mr. Mosneron de l'Auny has asserted that fourteen Examinations at the Bar of the English House of Commons, taken from Persons who have resided in Africa, prove three things, 1. "that Slavery has existed there at all Times; 2. that the Natives make often human Sacrifice; 3. that that vast Country offers but few Objects of Commerce." My Observations, Gentlemen, upon these three Assertions will, I fear, take up as much of your Journal as is usually allotted for a Letter, and deprive Me for the present of noticing others, which that Gentlemen appears to me to have made with equal Ignorance and Indiscretion. To begin with the first. The 14 Persons before cited, have proved "that Slavery has always existed in Africa." Not to dwell on the exceeding Absurdity of Men being capable of proving by a Short Residence in any Country the Situation of its Affairs for Centuries before, I will even allow the fact. I will give to Mr. De l'Auny more than he and his 14 Evidences can prove. - And what then Because an Evil has existed from time immemorial, is it an Argument that it ought to last forever. Human Sacrifices were formerly made among many Nations as far as history can trace. But does not the enlightened Mind revolt at the Idea? Does not our Education and Common Feelings tell us that it was wrong? If antiquity be called upon to justify Customs the most villainous will find an Excuse, and the most villainous ought to have been handed down and approved of to the present day. But to come to a recent Moment. Slavery has long existed in France. The Chain at length has been happily broken but if Mr Mosneron de l'Auny's System be true "that Antiquity sanctions Practice", it is a Crime to have dissolved it. The Revolution, according to his Principles, is contrary to what is right. O, Monsr. Mosneron de l'Auny, why will you endeavour to persuade the French Nation that their Efforts are not glorious but base? It is not the Moment for disseminating such aristocratical Principles as these. France, sir, is free. The Unanimity of her Efforts bespeak her to be right. Her Cause is the Cause of Justice and of Truth, and it would have passed with Honour had it not received a Stain from the Scribbling of your Pen. But, Sir, I am not ignorant of the Insinuation which you would wish to convey by stating "that Slavery has always existed in Africa". You would wish to persuade the World that the Slaves exported from thence upon your Plantations were Slaves in their own Country, and, that in Consequence of such Transportation, they "change only the Place of their Abode and not the Severity of their Condition." But, Sir, to refute this Insinuation of yours, and to give you an opportunity at the same time to trace, whether what I am going to say by way of reply be true or not, I will refer you to such parts of the Coast of Africa as are in the Vicinity of the French Establishments at Senegal and Goree, and to such Authorities as you can have access to in this City. I state then, Sir, that in the Kingdom of Cayor the Inhabitants are reckoned at 1500,000 People and that there are not reckoned 1000 Slaves. The same Proportion subsists in the neighbouring Kingdoms of Sin and Sallum. In these three the Mode of obtaining Slaves for the French Islands of America is the same. The grand Source of obtaining them is the Pillage, in Consequence of which these unhappy People are dragged from their Families and all that is dear to them in Life by the Hands of Robbers in the Night. The inferiour Source is the Imputation of Crimes either imaginary or real. Now, Sir, as the Pillage is executed promiscuously upon Freemen and Slaves, and as the former Description of people are presumed not to be less disposed to Vice than the latter, it is evident that the number of pillages and condemned of the first Class will be to the Number of pillages and Condemned of the Second in the Proportion of the number in which they are found to exist to one another, that is to say among every fifteen hundred and one Persons exported from these Countries there may be considered to be nearly fifteen hundred free People, who in Consequence of their Transportation, not only change the Place of their Abode, but the Severity of their Condition." Remember, Sir, that I have stated this to you and the Publick, and that though I have never yet had the Honour of conversing with the Chevalier de Boufflers on this Subject, yet confiding in the numerous and respectable Accounts I have received for this Part of the Coast, and confiding in him as a Man of Character and Worth, as well as one of the most recent and best of Judges of the Situation of Affairs there, I dare appeal to him for the Truth of my Assertions and be judged at his Tribunal. I dare appeal also to Monsieur Geoffroy de Villeneuve, one of his Aid des Camp, whose great attention to every thing that passed during his Residence in those Parts, whose Impartiality also, and whose wish to go as far as the Truth on the one Hand and Dread to exceed it on the other cannot be sufficiently applauded by those, whose Object is the Discovery of Truth with regard to the State of Things in a different Quarter of the Globe. But even, Sir, on a Supposition that they were all Slaves in Africa, before they were landed in your Colonies, it would not all serve the Argument, for you are as ignorant of the State of Slavery there (as small as the Portion of it is) as you are of the Rules of Morality when you conceive that Antiquity gives a Sanction to Baseness. In Africa, Sir, (and for the African Part of the Comparison I shall refer to the former Authorities, and for the Colonial to yourself) the Labour, which is imposed upon such as are Slaves there, is extremely easy and light. With you in the Colonies it is hard & intolerable. In the former Case there are whole Days of Ease; with you Days and Years pass alike without any Respite from their Labours, and Days and Years are still to pass till Nature refuses any longer to move their Limbs for your Avarice or Ambition. In the former Case they are cheered by the Example of their Masters undergoing the same Labour and undistinguished from the rest; with you they are spurred up by the Lash. Vain is the Plea that Disease has assailed them and that they are weak. To suggest this they dare not, and not to suggest it is to become the Victims of your Torments. And let us mark their Treatment as experienced from the one and the other. The Slaves in Africa eat in Company with the Children of their Masters and partake of the same Repast. They sleep often in the same Room, and, if not, in an apartment not inferior to that of their Lords. But what is their Situation with you? Distance immense. Considered as not worthy to approach your Presence; as a different order of Creation, as below the Rank of your Dogs, for with your Dogs you are familiar and play, but you dare not even touch the Hand of your Slaves. The Whip only is base enough to approach their Bodies. I do not know how to express my Idea of the Immense Distance you observe, except I call it the Distance between a Reptile and a God. And with respect to their Treatment in Point of Corporal Suffering, where is the Lash in Africa with its calculated Sting or the Body that is defaced by Mutilation? With you on the other hand Eyes are beaten out in the sallies of Passion and Caprice and on the Backs of your Slaves are engraved in a manner never to be erased by time the Proofs of the Barbarity and Despotism of the Agents whom you employ. In vain then, Sir, will you labour, if you attempt to justify your Cause by having recourse to the Principle "that Slavery has existed always in Africa; for in the first Place "Antiquity does not justify Baseness", and, in the Second, every Man, who is exported to your Colonies, even though he may have been always a Slave, finds to the very Anguish of his Soul a most important Difference in his Condition, in Consequence of being Transported, as well as in the Place of his Abode - The Second Charge made out by the 14 Gentlemen before cited is, that "human Sacrifices prevail in Africa", not to dwell upon the Circumstance that not more than two or three out of the 14 have suggested that such a Custom subsists, and that none of them have seen it, I will allow the fact. And what then? Does this give you a Plea to let loose the Dogs of Persecution among a People who are innocent with respect to you? Suppose that there are human Sacrifices among them, does not History tell you that the French, English, and Germans had the same Customs among them in the same Stage of Society? And was this a Plea for Julius Caesar and other Robbers to cut the Throats of the Inhabitants of these Countries and send them into Chains. It would appear to Me, if such Customs exist among the Africans, that it is your Duty as a more enlightened People to shew them that they are wrong and to conduct them to Civiliization, instead of which you incur the Crime of continuing a Trade, which in its own Nature is an insuperable Impediment to Civilization, and which, if there are any savage Customs among them, will unavoidably insure their Continuance. A third Position, said to be established by the 14 Witnesses before cited, is that "that vast Country offers but few Objects of Commerce". How Mr. Mosneron de l'Auny could have taken it into his Head, even on the Evidence of the 14 Persons, that so extensive a Continent as Africa offers but few Objects of Commerce, I should be at a Loss to conceive, had I not often found that Interest and Prejudice perverts the Judgement and warps its Decisions its own way. Perhaps, Gentlemen, there is no Country in the Globe, that is more fertile, or that has more numerous or valuable Productions than Africa, or where there is a Prospect of greater Advantages in the Institution of another Trade. Among its Productions may be reckoned Woods, Cotton, Indigo, Tobacco, Rice, Gums, Millet, Spices and Peppers of various Sorts, Fruits, Honey, Wax, Ambergris, Ivory, Gold. The Woods for Cabinet Work and Dying stand unrivalled. Of the Cotton there are three Sorts with respect to Colour, White, Nankeen, and Crimson in the Pod, the latter of which has never yet been found in any other Parts, and of the rest it is remarkable that they are in general better in quality than can be had from any other Quarter of the Globe. And upon what Foundation does Mr. Mosneron de l'Auny say that these and similar Productions do not exist in Africa? - Upon the Credit of 14 Examinations, which he has never read. But, Gentleman, I do not speak on so slight a Ground. Independently of having the whole of the Evidence in my Hands, which will come before the present Session of Parliament in England in favour of the Abolition of the Slave-Trade, I have a large Cabinet containing all the Productions mentioned and many more, and if Mr. Mosneron de l'Auny continues to impose longer on the Publick by denying that they exist, I will send them from England with the proper Certificates, and present them at the bar of the National Assembly as worthy of their Attention for the Institution of a new and profitable Trade, and as a Proof of the erroneous Statements, which he has given to the Publick. But this is not the only Answer, which I propose to make upon this Point. Mr. Mosneron de l'Aunay professing as he does to be acquainted with Trade, ought to have known better. He ought to have known that Vessels are fitted out in England for the Coast of Africa, to trade, not in the Bodies of the Natives, but in those very Commodities alone, which he says do not exist. I will cite the Port of Bristol for one, from whence alone 13 Vessels sail annually in this Species of Trade. When I was there a few months ago one of them belonged to Mr. Overend, six to Mr. Biggs, and six to Teast & Co. But Mr. Mosneron de l'Aunay, professing the commercial Knowledge which he does, ought to have been acquainted with other Facts. He ought to have known that the English Slave Vessels themselves buy Rice on particular Parts of the Coast, which Rice is of a better Quality than any other on the Globe. He ought to have known that they bring home Ivory, Malaguetta Pepper and Palm Oil: he ought to have known that the value of African Productions brought into England (notwithstanding all the Impediments which the Prosecution of the Slave-Trade throw upon that in the natural Productions of the Country) is about 2,500,000 Livres a Year. Mr. Mosneron de l'Aunay deserves not to pass without some Comment on this Occasion. Had he written as an ignorant Man or as one who sought for Information, he would have been out of the reach of Censure, but when he writes with Confidence and knows nothing about his Subject, he calls upon People to act against him, who would have otherwise been silent. This, Sirs, is the Answer which I make Mr. Mosneron de l'Aunay upon these three Questions at the first Sight. I shall now say a Word or two with your Leave on the 14 Gentlemen, whose ipse Dixit he takes as delivered by the Mercure de France, without either having read the original Depositions, or known the Characters of those who gave them. And, first, Gentlemen, Mr. Mosneron de l'Auny is ignorant or he has forgotten to state, that the 14 Persons examined were the Evidence of the Merchants only, and that those on the other Side of the Question have not been yet heard. Mr. Mosneron de l'Aunay again is ignorant or he has forgotten to state, that these are all of them interested Persons. Messrs. Barney, Miles, and Weuves, three of them, are of the African Company. Messrs. King and Anderson are Slave-Merchants, and the rest are Captains in the Trade. Mr. Mosneron de l'Aunay again is either ignorant or has forgotten to state, that the Contradictions of these People are manifest, that they have ruined their own Cause. But if he knew this and has not stated it he is guilty of Concealing the Truth, and if he is ignorant, he is not fir to write. And after all upon what Authority does Mr. Mosneron de l'Aunay state that the 14 Gentlemen have proved the Assertions, which he quotes - I reply on the bare Authority of the Mercure de France. On the other hand I have read these Depositions and to these Depositions I appeal. I was present also at the Examinations of the Persons alluded to at the Bar, of the House of Commons, and heard enough to convince Me that their Evidence was worth a Million in the Cause of Humanity and for the Abolition of the Trade. As to the two other Proofs of these three Assertions, first that different Voyageurs, who have visited the interiour of Africa, agree with them, I must beg the favour of Mr. Mosneron de l'Aunay to furnish me with their Names, and secondly, that he has learnt the same things from the Colonial Slaves, I must pay him the Compliment of having been one of the first Persons, who by his Condescension to converse with these wretched People, has broken the immense Distance between Master & Slave - I have the Honour to ----
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