Mr. Harvey to Mr. Seward.
Sir: I transmit with this despatch the copy of a proposition recently presented to the Chamber of Peers by the Marquis de Sá da Bandeira, one of the most distinguished men of the country, for the immediate extinction of slavery in Portugal and its possessions. Slavery now actually exists in but a limited degree, and would wholly disappear, by the operation of law, on the 29th of April, 1878. The Marquis de Sá, who was the author of the original measure of abolition, has constantly followed it up in the cortes by propositions for sweeping away every vestige of the condition of bondage, which, while conferring no benefit upon the kingdom, has not only remained a blot upon its good name, but has subjected it to misunderstandings and misrepresentations.
It is estimated that there are nearly 100,000 slaves in the Portuguese possessions in Africa and the neighboring islands, including the Cape de Verdes. Under the process of gradual emancipation heretofore adopted, the friends of immediate abolition have found themselves embarrassed by the difficulty of compensating the owners of these slaves, owing to the straitened resources of the public treasury. The principle having been accepted, at the beginning, of emancipating by degrees, the public opinion, though quite prepared for the complete extinction of slavery, has held it to be just, in the event of a radical change in that policy, to compensate the owners for the time being. These good dispositions, however, have had to encounter the obstacle of limited means, and consequently slavery has been dragging out its term of existence, while the nation has, in fact, regarded its doom as sealed since 1854. The present plan proposes to overcome the practical difficulty suggested by converting the actual slaves into freedmen, (libertos,) and allowing their owners the benefit of their labor until the 29th of April, 1868. This transition state of freedmen owing service for a limited time is materially different from the condition of slavery, and is protected by legal rights and privileges which are calculated to elevate the black man morally and socially.
It is understood that the ministry is favorable to the project of the Marquis de Sá, and therefore it will probably pass into law, though resisted by those who cling to old habits and traditions in an age every step of whose marvellous progress [Page 692] tramples out, as it were, an institution of the past, and marches forward under the banner of newer ideas and a fresh civilization.
It will soon, I hope, be my pleasant duty to announce that no slave clanks the chains of a degraded condition inside the extended dominions of this ancient kingdom.
I have the honor to be, sir, your obedient servant,
Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, Washington, D. C.