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November 10 1812: Slave Trade and Impressments



On November 10, 1812, in St Petersburg, John Quincy Adams   makes the following  entry  in his diary: 

10th. I read the remainder of Gisborne's Principles of Moral Philosophy, and his remarks on a decision in the British House of Commons, in April, 1792, on the abolition of the slave trade. He is a very zealous advocate for this abolition, which has been since legally decreed in England, as well as in America. Whether it will be eventually abolished in fact is yet a problem. The trade is beyond question an abomination, disgraceful to the human character, but there are so many powerful passions and interests concurring to support it, and the efforts to obtain its abolition are themselves so much composed of fashion and faction, that I still doubt whether the abolition will be accomplished. I say the motives of the abolitionists are in a great degree fashion and faction; for the impressment of seamen is to all intents and purposes a practice as unjust, as immoral, as base, as oppressive and tyrannical as the slave trade. It is in all its most heinous features identically the same crime; in some particulars it is more aggravated; and yet the same members of the British Parliament who have been the greatest zealots for abolishing the slave trade are not only inflexible adherents to the practice of impressments among their own people, but are now waging a rancorous war against the United States to support the practice of their officers in impressing men from American merchant vessels on the high seas. Every particle of argument that can bear against the slave trade bears with equal force against impressment. Dr. Gisborne is at least consistent. He admits that the impressment of seamen is a violation of the general principles of the English constitution; and he speaks of it, even as applied to British subjects, with disapprobation. He says nothing of the abuse of extending the practice to Americans and upon American vessels, and even his censure upon it as applied only to British subjects is very faint and cold compared with his fervor of passion against the slave trade.


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