Reparations

A friend at my gym told me of an interview he had heard on CBC radio about a theatrical play, “The Whip,” the subject of which was the slave trade and resulting “reparations” in Britain. I knew I had to do some research.

This depiction of African slaves being loaded on a ship for transport to the New World appeared in The Guardian, along with a story about reparations for slavery. In 1833 the Slavery Abolition Act was passed, formally freeing some 800,000 African slaves indentured to British owners. The British government’s compensation committee decided that reparations would be paid in 1834 – not to the slaves, but to their owners!! The 46,000 slave owners were entitled to receive a total £20 million (roughly £17 billion in today’s currency), which represented 40% of the British government’s budget for 1834. Were that not bad enough, the reparation money was borrowed, with the final loan payment made in 2015!! Yes, that also deserves two exclamation marks.

The slaves received nothing, except that for 4 years after being “freed,” they were required to provide 45 hours of toil a week – gratis. The Slave Compensation Commission kept records – lists of slave owners, the numbers of slaves owned and where the slaves lived (mainly the West Indies) and how much compensation each owner was paid.

The Independent newspaper revealed that the largest amount was paid to John Gladstone, the father of William Gladstone (above). John Gladstone received £106,769 (£83 million in today’s currency) for the more than 2,500 slaves he owned in several plantations. It is alleged that William Gladstone, having spent 60 years in politics, including 4 stints as prime minister, “was heavily involved in his father’s claim.” According to Wikipedia, William Gladstone, “was known affectionately by his supporters as “The People’s William” or “G.O.M.” ( for “Grand Old Man,” or, according to his political rival Benjamin Disraeli, as “God’s Only Mistake”). I will go with the Disraeli characterization.

David Cameron, the former British PM, will long have to live with his brilliant decision to hold the referendum that resulted in Brexit. But he has managed to live with the fact that his first cousin (albeit 6 times removed) General Sir James Duff was awarded £4,100 (equal to £3 million today) in compensation for giving up his 202 slaves. Cameron’s wife, Samantha (pictured with Cameron above), descended from William Jolliffe, who received £4,000. Cameron, as prime minister, was taken to task during a visit to Jamaica by Sir Hilary Beckles, who, as a native of Barbados and chairman of the Caricom Reparations Committee, wrote of Cameron, “You are, Sir, a prized product of this land and bonanza benefits reaped by your family and inherited by you continue to bind us together like birds of a feather.”

Over the course of 5 centuries, more than 11 million slaves were transported to the New World. Countless more were tossed into the sea – sick, dead or dying of hunger.

It was the British taxpayer that footed the cost of these reparations – described as the second biggest bailout in British history after the bank bailout of 2008-2009. That bailout bill was also sent to the British taxpayer. It seems that, whether here in North America, or in Britain, that that the friends of government – the barons, baronesses, the bankers, the beacons of industry – get the dough. The common taxpayer gets stiffed.