British West Indies – Amelioration Proposals
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The West India Interest was made up of planters who lived in the colonies and those in the mother colonies. The London Society for the gradual abolition of slavery was formed in 1823. The society wanted amelioration to be made a part of the government’s policy, to be enforced by law and to be followed by abolition (at an early date). Thomas Fowell Buxton, the chief parliamentary spokesman on slavery introduced in 1823 his famous resolution that slavery “ought to be gradually abolished throughout the British colonies”. However, the West India Interest was determined to undermine the activities of the anti-slavery society. In order to prevent the abolition of slavery, they decided to draft their own amelioration proposals. The proposals seemed reasonable so Buxton, not knowing the true intentions of the West India Interest, withdrew his resolution. The amelioration proposals put forward by the West India Interest were accepted and George Canning the foreign minister put forward the Amelioration bill based on these proposals.
Reasons for the West India Interest Amelioration Proposals.
1. They wanted to appease the humanitarians.
2. Undermine the efforts of the abolitionists.
3. Forestall the abolition of slavery.
4. Improve the conditions under which the slaves lived.
Responses to the Amelioration Proposals.
They fiercely resisted and rejected the amelioration proposals in all colonies. For example: 1. The assembly in Barbados arrayed that the slave laws were already lenient. 2. Trinidad planters asked that the proposals be withdrawn. 3. The 1820 revised slave code in Jamaica violated the proposals: slaves could not receive religious instruction, church services were forbidden and slaves could not preach without their owner’s consent. SLAVES.
The slaves believed the proposals meant freedom had been granted but was being withheld which resulted in many of the revolts. For example: Demerara Revolt.
Reasons the Amelioration Failed.
1. Planters strongly opposed it.
2. The planter dominated assemblies resented what they perceived as the unnecessary interference in the internal affairs of their colonies by the British Parliament. 3. The planter dominated legislators in the crown colonies tended to ignore the proposals, feeling justified about their attitude on the grounds that the slave revolt in Demerara had confirmed about the dangers of the proposals. 4. There was not enough officials in the crown colonies to supervise the enforcement of the amelioration laws and those who had the responsibility were either slave owners or sympathetic to the slave owners. 5. Many planters feared the amelioration would erode their control over the slaves and that slave insubordination would be encouraged. They claimed that amelioration was a violation of their rights to their property in slaves. 6. In territories like Barbados and the Leeward, the Planters claimed that slave conditions were good and did not need improvement. So they objected to the policy.
The Emancipation Act.
Clauses of the Emancipation Act.
1. Slavery should be abolished throughout the British Empire. 2. Slaves were to stay on the plantation and serve apprenticeship. In the case of domestic slaves, this was for four years and six years for field slaves. 3. Apprentices were to work for their masters for 40 ½ hours per week without wages. Any additional hours, they were to be paid. 4. Twenty million pounds were given to the planters as compensation money to be shared among them according to the number of slaves they owned. 5. Children under 6 years old on August 1, 1834 were to be freed immediately. 6. Planters were to continue to provide food, clothing and medical care for apprentices. In absence of food, provision grounds should be provided and time to cultivate them. 7. Apprentices could not be sold unless the estate to which they belonged was sold 8. Apprentices could purchase their freedom with or without their master’s consent as long as they could afford it. 9. The apprenticeship period could be shortened but no alternative to apprenticeship could be allowed
It was introduced to:
1. Delay immediate emancipation.
2. Provide for a peaceful and easy change over from slavery to freedom 3. Facilitate the continuation of the plantation economy by guaranteeing the planters a sure supply of labour to continue sugar production at least for the next 4- 6 years. 4. Train the apprentices for the responsibilities of full freedom especially in working regularly for wages. 5. Facilitate the changeover to a wage economy.
Attitudes to labour
Restrictive laws were placed on island legislator to ensure a regular supply of labour for the estate. For eg. Vagrancy laws limited the freedom of movement of the ex-slaves. Governments imposed burdensome regulations on the acquisition of crown lands and refused to survey them so that ex-slaves could settle legally on them.
Ex-slaves were allowed to remain on the estates but they had to pay rent for the cottages and provision grounds. Ex-slaves were required to obtain costly licenses for selling sugar, for making charcoal, for opening shops or for starting other small businesses. This was aimed at attacking the alternatives for working on the sugar estates by making it difficult and thus discouraging ex-slaves from engaging in other occupations than estate labour.
The government taxed peasant land at a higher rate than large estates.
They tried to prevent the ex-slaves from leaving the estate and establishing free villages. They tried to trim wages which accounted for the greatest portion of the cost of production. They imported workers from overseas to help solve their labour problem. Planters in Trinidad and British imported foreign workers on a large scale especially east Indians.
Planters devised ways of maintaining viability in the industry by introducing the use of labour saving devises such as the plough and the harrow. Some planters were prepared to rent only small portions of their marginal land to the ex-slaves in exchange for their labour.
Planters tried to prevent plantation from becoming abandoned so ex-slaves did not have the option of squatting on this land. There were stiff penalties for ex-slaves who squatted on unused land.
Some slaves were able to rent marginal land from planters in territories such as Antigua and Barbados. On their land, ex-slaves cultivated a variety of crops for eg., spice in Grenada. Some ex-slaves worked on the plantations on a part time basis to supplement their earnings from their provision grounds.
Ex-slaves in territories such as Montserrat, Nevis and the Windward Islands went into share cropping with sugar cane fields with the plantation owners. Ex-slaves from smaller territories such as Antigua and Barbados migrated to larger territories such as British Guiana and Trinidad where land was more readily available and wages were high.
Ex-slaves who rented land helped to reduce the planter’s labour cost as some of them used their labour to pay their rent for eg., they would work for the planter without pay for one of two days per week in exchange for the use of their land.
Schemes of migration
The planters argued that the introduction of a large number of immigrant workers would guarantee them labour for at least the duration of the contract. Secondly, in the long run it would serve to force down the wage level. Britain did not want her “great Experiments” of free labour to fail so she reluctantly agreed to the scheme.
The immigrants were required to sign a contract. The provisions of the 1854, Immigration Ordinance (Trinidad) gave us a good idea of the various immigration schemes that were operated throughout the Caribbean. Most of the other territories used Trinidad and or British Guiana’s Ordinances as models.