- The Committee
of West India Planters and Merchants was formed in the late eighteenth
century to represent the interests of plantation owners and traders
who lived in the West Indies and in England (specifically around London).
In the first few decades of its existence, much of its time was spent
defending slavery and the slave trade.
slavery was abolished, the Committee remained in existence and started
to campaign against the removal of beneficial duties on West Indian
sugar and encourage immigration of labourers from India, Africa and
China to replace slave labour.
- By the
late ninteenth century the Committee had started to represent interests
in the West Indies other than sugar and its role continued to expand
in the twentieth century.
- This Memorial
is contained in the letters and papers of Charles, 2nd Earl Grey. Grey
was Prime Minister from 1830-1834 and received many letters regarding
the question of abolition.
Grey first entered Parliament in 1786 as MP for Northumberland, aged
22. He was a supporter of the Whigs, led by Charles James Fox, and soon
became one of the leaders. In 1806, when his father became the first
Earl Grey, Charles became Viscount Howick. In that same year, he was
appointed First Lord of the Admiralty in what became known as the Ministry
of All Talents. Later that year, following the death of Fox, Grey became
Foreign Secretary and leader of the Whigs.
- In 1807,
Grey's father died and he inherited the title. As 2nd Earl Grey, Charles
could no longer remain in the Commons and took up his seat in the Lords.
He did, however, remain leader of the Whigs who by this time had fallen
from power. Grey spent the next 23 years in opposition before being
made Prime Minister in 1830.
- Grey had
long been a supporter of reform and during his Ministry he steered through
a number of important measures. These included: the Reform Act of 1832
which gave more people the vote; the Factory Act of 1833 which aimed
to give more protection to children at work; the reform of the Poor
Law; and, of course, the Act that abolished slavery.
- In this
extract, the planters and merchants show their fear that news of the
intended Act will cause the slaves to rise up in rebellion. This fear
had a real basis. In late 1831/early 1832, there had been a rebellion
of over 20,000 slaves in Jamaica. Led by a Baptist lay preacher, called
Sam Sharp, the slaves had gone on strike demanding payment for their
work. The rebellion was crushed by the military and over 750 slaves
were convicted of taking part, most of whom were sentenced to death.
- The other
argument used by the planters in this extract is that compensation must
be paid if abolition occured. This argument was based on the belief
that Parliament had no right to interfere with a person's property.
If slavery was to be abolished then the planters should be compensated
for the loss of their property. This argument was ultimately accepted
and the planters were given £20 million in compensation. According to
a House of Commons research paper, this would be equivalent to £1,280,000,000