29 JUNE 1912, Page 20



WE are glad to see that the Anti-Slavery Society is giving proof of its determination to awaken the country in regard to our responsibilities for slavery in the colonial possessions of Portugal, People confronted with this question are at first inclined to argue that it is no business of ours, and. that we cannot be always inter- fering with the domestic concerns of our neighbours and setting them right. In general this is a view with which we agree. But none of the ordinary arguments for non-interference apply in the case of Portugal. It must never be forgotten that we stand as regards Portugal in a perfectly different relation from that in which we stand to any other Power in the world. Ever since the year 1373 we have had an alliance with Portugal of BO close and intimate a character that it amounts to a guarantee of the oversee, possessions of that State against all comers. When we use the word " guarantee " we are using it in no loose sense, but are adopt- ing the actual words of one of the confirmatory treaties— that concluded at Vienna, in 1815. That treaty describes our obligations to Portugal as those of "alliance, friend- ship, and guarantee." What is there, our treaty obliga- tions with Portugal cannot be alleged to have lapsed, for they were acknowledged and confirmed so lately as 1904 by a treaty of arbitration. In truth, however, this confirmation was not needed, for our treaties with Portugal are, as Sir Edward Grey declared the other day in the House of Commons, "perpetual," and do not even need confirmation on a change of Constitution in Portugal. Of course, when we say perpetual this does not mean that they cannot be denounced, but merely that till they are denounced we are in the position of protecting and guaranteeing the Portuguese oversee, possessions against all comers.

It may be of interest to make one or two quotations from the treaties to prove our statement. The treaty signed in London in 1373 declares that the two countries through their monarchs covenant "that as ftrue and faithful friends they shall henceforth reciprocally be friends to friends and enemies to enemies, and shall assist, maintain, and uphold each other mutually by sea and by land against all men that may live or die, of whatever dignity, station, rank, or condition they may be." In 1642 Charles I. renewed the obligations of guarantee and defence, and the Republic of England under Cromwell in 1654 took up the same burden and further declared that "no other league or confederacy whatsoever, made or to be made, should derogate from" the Portuguese alliance. Curiously enough, the confirmation of this alliance with Portugal was one of the last acts of the English Republic. In April 1660 Portugal and the Council of State of the Commonwealth, then tottering to its fall, renewed the alliance. In 1661 came the treaty which Sir Edward Grey has declared in the House of Commons to be still in force. In the secret article to this treaty we under- take "to defend and protect all conquests or colonies belonging to the Crown of Portugal against all his enemies, as well future as present." That treaty has since been confirmed and is the governing instrument.

A specific though hypothetical case may show the exact effect of these treaties. Let us suppose that some country —the United States of America, for instance—became inspired with the determination to put down slavery throughout the world, and that accordingly she sent a fleet either to San Thome or to the Tagus, and presented an ultimatum to the Portuguese Government that unless they would agree to abolish the system of slavery existing on the islands, she, the American Republic, meant to take those islands away from Portugal and to annex them. Now it is absolutely clear that if Portugal in these cir- cumstances should apply to us and invoke the treaty of 1661, and its subsequent confirmations, we must either violate our national faith by not carrying out our existing and undenounced treaty obligations or else go to her aid and defend her with all our force, whatever the merits and however true in fact the contentions of the Americans. We must say in effect to the United States : "You shall not stop slavery in the Portuguese colonies. We are pledged to protect Portugal and must 'protect her whether she maintains or does not maintain the 'domestic institution' pre- vailing in those islands." In other words, the treaty would force us to maintain the status of slavery. That is the obligation under which we are at present placed as regards Portugal. It is no good to say that this is all hypothesis or all dreaming. It is a definite fact that so long as the treaty of alliance with Portugal remains in force we are obliged to protect Portugal, and therefore incidentally to protect the institution of slavery. Now we venture to say that this is an intolerable situation and one which when it is brought home to the people of this country, as we are glad to note the Anti-Slavery Society means to bring it home to them, will not be endured. When it is proved, as it can be up to the hilt, that the status and condition of slavery exists not only on the cocoa islands of San Thome and Principe but also upon the mainland of Portuguese Angola, and that on the main- land to the evils of slavery are added the horrors of slave- trading and slave-kidnapping, we are certain that public opinion will demand that one of two things must be done —" either the Portuguese must put an end to slave-owning, slave-trading, and slave-raiding in the colonial possessions which we now guarantee to them, or else our guarantee 9nust at once and for ever cease." It is utterly intolerable that. we, the nation which has always held, and rightly held, that the noblest thing in our history is the abolition of the slave trade throughout the world and of slavery in our own dominions, should now 'be actually guaranteeing a condition of slavery in Portuguese Africa. If we do not face this dilemma, and. face it in the only way that is both logical and honest, we become responsible in the sight of God and. of man for using the force, might, majesty, and dominion of Britain to uphold the curse of slavery.

In dealing with this matter the public will rightly demand that we shall be absolutely fair to Portugal and shall hear her side of the case. In the first place it is argued on behalf of Portugal that slavery does not exist in her colonies, but only indentured labour. The blacks at work on the plantations of San Thome are, they declare, not slaves, but serviettes, or contract labourers— persons who have freely agreed to perform a certain amount of work in the islands, and who, subject to carrying out their contracts, are therefore as free as the President of the Portuguese Republic. Of course, if the Portuguese can alter facts by altering names, this argument is conclusive against the attitude we have adopted. We fatly admit that the Portuguese do not call the black men and women who are at work in San Thome or Angola slaves, and that some form of indenture was presented to the workers before they were put on board the steamers and shipped to the islands. That, however, is as far as our admissions can go. All the evidence shows—and it is the evidence, remember, of impartial eye-witnesses who have nothing to gain by their testimony—that the conditions of slavery exist onthe islands and on the mainland. Mr. Harris, who spoke at Tuesday's meeting, has only lately come back from San Thome. There he saw, and owing to him knowledge of African languages was able to converse with, slaves, or serviettes, who had been kidnapped a thousand miles or more from the coast. We cannot here find space to give all the proofs from mis- sionary and consular witnesses of what we say, but we ask our readers to note the impressive words with which Lord George Hamilton concluded the meeting on Tuesday. He gave it as his deliberate opinion that conditions of slavery, though slavery under another name, do exist on the islands and in Angola. That is the verdict of a statesman of un- rivalled experience and of a statesman of reasonable and moderate views, not of a fanatic or a person attempting to make capital, party or otherwise, out of this question. Remember also that Lord George Hamilton has had great experience in regard to indentured labour, for he was for many years Secretary of State for India. The plea, then, that there is no slavery in the Portuguese colonies cannot stand.

The next plea relied on by the Portuguese is that the slaves on the islands are well treated. Lord George Hamilton admitted this plea, and we have no desire to challenge it, though the terrible death rate among the labourers—about five times the normal—and the passion- ate entreaties made by the labourers to Mr. Harris when they heard that there was a man among them who was concerning himself with the possibility of their freedom must be set against the testimony as regards good food and good housing. Good feeding and good housing do not alter the fact of slavery, and ought not to weigh for a moment with those who are determined that slavery shall cease in all possessions guaranteed by England. Starva- tion and cruelty may add to the horrors of slavery, but good feeding and absence of ci uelty cannot in the least justify its continuance.

One other plea of defence put forward at the meeting by some of the representatives of Portugal is so curious that it may be noted. A certain mitigation of the condition of the San Thome slaves has lately been obtained by the British Government. By repeated protests they have forced the Portuguese to assent to a system of repatriation, and a number of slaves—probably about 1,200—have actually been repatriated, though, as Mr. Harris ex- plained, under conditions which make the boon almost useless. The defenders of Portugal circulated at Tuesday's meeting a pamphlet entitled "San Thome Repatriation : its Farce and its Tragedy," the point of which is that re- patriation is really an act of cruelty. Yet at the meeting one of the speakers dwelt upon repatriation as a proof that it was unfair to speak of. slavery. The Portuguese can- not have it both ways. No doubt repatriation is an exceedingly difficult business in the case of men and women who have been for fifteen or sixteen years on the islands ; but, difficult as it is, it might be accomplished if the repatriation fund were efficiently administered and as much care were taken to get the so-called time-expired serviciies off the islands as to put them there. The Portuguese idea, of repatriation is to dump.a certain number of the unfor- tunate creatures upon the mainland, without money and without hope, and to leave them there to find their way back to homes sometimes a thousand miles away. The Portuguese cannot be allowed to make moral capital out of their past crime of allowing the kidnapping of slaves in the interior and to insist that the condition of slavery must go on because of the offences of the past. As well might the owners of a house of ill- fame declare that its inhabitants must not be rescued because if rescued they would not know how to make a living.

Let us say once more with what satisfaction we note the determination of the Anti-Slavery Society to go on with the work they have begun, and this autumn to con- duct a regular campaign throughout the country, the main feature of which shall be to press upon the present Govern- ment this one specific demand : "Either abandon our guarantee of the Portuguese possessions or else oblige the Portuguese to put an end to predial slavery in the , islands and on the mainland to slave-stealing and slave- trading." We sincerely hope that the Society's efforts will be kept concentrated upon thisvery clear, simple, and intelligible point. Let them bring home to the nation the terrible responsibility which now rests upon it as the eider, abettor, and guarantor of slavery in its vilest forms.

One word more. Let no one suppose that the Portuguese islands would be ruined by a bond fide abandonment of slavery. It is one of the ironies of the whole situation, as indeed it has always been, that slavery is economically as great a crime as it is ethically. Slave labour has always a wretched product, and there can be no possible doubt that the planters of San Thome, by establishing a reasonable system of properly paid labour would find their production not hampered but improved, not rendered dearer but cheaper. No doubt the appalling terror with which the very thought of San Thome now inspires the people of the neighbouring mainland—the dread of the house of bondage—will take some time to eradicate. At the moment throughout a large part of West Africa the thought of shipment to San Thome is worse than the thought of death. Ultimately, however, the offer of good wages under reasonable terms will have its effect. Already there are a certain number of really free labourers at work on the islands, and more could be obtained once it were proved that slavery had been abandoned. In truth the earnest men and women of the Anti-Slavery Society are the best friends, not only of the Portuguese people, but of the Portuguese planters.