TOPICS OF THE DAY.
DIFFICULTIES OF THE WEST INDIA QUESTION.
IT iS becoming pretty clear, that the West Indian sugar manufac- turers will not be able to carry on business long : the labourer
strikes, and the capitalist is undersold. As to the labourer, if he has got it into his head that he is an injured person, and ought not to work,—that his injuries are about to be redressed, and that he has a strong party at home to back him,—it is a hopeless ease. His grievances, real or imaginary, must be redressed : to force labour upon a working population, unanimous in resisting it, is impossible,—impossible in any state of society, much more in that of the West Indies. The contest may be more or less pro- tracted, but the result is certain. There is only the alternative of Haiti, or a garrison from shore to shore. In the latter ease, how much would sugar cost?
With regard to the capitalist, we do not see how any question can be clearer than this,—that if, by prescribing a certain line of conduct to a colonial agriculturist or manufacturer, we increase the cost of his produce, the Government so prescribing ought to pay the difference. If the House of Commons, in its wisdom, were to enact, that no man should weave cloth unless attired in silk breeches, the cost of the cloth would be increased by the wear and tear of the operative's inexpressibles. Who is to pay?— They who elected so wise a Parliament to regulate their afliiirs. We apprehend, the main reason for the superior cheapness of Cuba sugar, is the superior misgovernment of Jamaica. This part of the evil might be got rid of to-morrow, by repealing every enactment -which shackles the West Indian supplies. The ex- penses of military government, as resulting from a political sys- tem, and having reference chiefly to the interests of the mother country, should be borne by those whom they concern. Thus the difficulty does not lie here.
With regard to the first horn of the dilemma—the slaves. There is no use in disputing whether West Indian slavery is worse than African freedom, or whether the owners abuse their property —whether planters are models of benevolence, or monsters of cruelty. The slaves will be slaves not much longer. It is worth while to inquire, what would be the consequence, if, at the end of the next harvest of sugar, slavery were declared no longer to exist —that the Black man was as free as the White man. It is not to be supposed that the Negro labourer has very correct ideas of what freedom is : to many it will mean rum, to others idleness. There would be vast rejoicing, much drunkenness, and an utter abhorrence of labour—as long as their provisions held out. But it must be remembered that their wishes have been granted, and that they are in good humour. Finding themselves blessed with no means of procuring food and raiment, but by the offer of their labour, would they not flock to the gates of the capitalist for em- ployment? But suppose, that instead of applying for work, they should combine to plunder,—a not unnatural supposition,—how are life and property to be protected ? In time, the Negro will learn the value of the security of property, and that the way to real independence is by industry and frugality; but in the first days of the boon of freedom, this is a knowledge he cannot be expected to possess. Before reason comes, discipline acts. Therefore, to grant freedom to the slaves of the West Indies, an army and a Beet will be required,—an expensive and a dangerous business. In the mean time, supposing the labourers do not demand work, the planters are ruined, capital is lying dead, and interest is due but not paid. On the other hand, should the slaves, now become -free operatives, return to their work at fair wages, but little loss -would be sustained : property will have changed owners, but the inequality may be easily adjusted. The probability is, that some would do one thing and some another ; some would work, some remain idle, and some again would work a little and idle a little. Could a moderate number of soldiers maintain order for a few years, after the expiration of that period the danger would have passed uway. Many Blacks would have acquired property; the White colour would gradually disappear ; and before thirty years were over, there might be expected a thriving and wealthy population of sable people, scarcely tinged with the pale blood of their European masters. A position which does not imply the sacrifice of any British property. A mortgage might then be even safer than now : a Black agent is not necessarily a greater rogue than a White one.
It may be said that less sugar would be produced. It is pos- sible : but there is likely to be no want of sugar. Property in the West Indies would have gradually changed hands ; and the fact of. less sugar being produced would not imply then, as now, any ihminution in the -incomes or profits of British subjects. . A former slave becomes possessed of property ; he buys a small farm ; the purchase-money comes in some • shape to the present proprietor,-whether in England or America; and after he has paid the purchase-money, it does not matter to any one whether he grows yams or sugar. Such may be considered the speculation of an honest inquirer. It would be useless to deny that the actual execution of any great remedial measure is surrounded with difficulties, or to pretend that ive see our way entirely through them. But this, we think, has become certain and clear, that a bit-by-bit emancipation will only make things worse-that there must either be a sudden re- deTption of slavery; or a determined change of system, under winch, by regular dragenading, the slaves must be reduced to the
intellectual condition of the lower animals. Missionaries, school masters, and all species of instructors must be withdrawn, and the soldier and the driver stand over the forced labourer. This alternative is revolting to the feelings : and besides this, it would require an army almost as large as the Army of Occupation. John Bull, one way or other, would then pay a shilling for every lump of sugar he put into his tea.