No. 786.
Mr. Beardsley to Mr. Fish.

No. 137.]

Sir: Referring to my dispatch No. 128, of the 16th ultimo, relating to the liberation of slaves at Mansourah, and to a proposed treaty between England and Egypt for the abolition of slavery in Egypt, which I represented as about being concluded, I have now the honor to inform you that, although the negotiations on the subject are still pending, the prospects of a treaty, as originally proposed by England, are not encouraging.

The Khedive is willing to bind himself by treaty to abolish the slave-trade, to make the creation of eunuchs a criminal offense, and to abolish every kind of involuntary servitude except domestic slavery. He thinks that the abolition of domestic slavery would be not only impolitic and practically impossible, but unjust toward his subjects.

I have the honor to inclose herewith a translation of a dispatch from His Excellency Nubar Pasha to Mr. Vivian, explaining the views of His Highness on this subject.

It will be observed that his excellency states that the orders hitherto given by His Highness, in regard to the liberation of slaves, have been that only those were to be liberated who could prove that they had received cruel treatment from the hands of their masters. Now, it is generally understood by the foreign representatives in Egypt, as well as by Europeans residing here, that slavery has heretofore been looked upon as illegal by the Egyptian government. It appears to be certain that His Highness has, on more than one occasion, publicly announced that slavery did not legally exist in Egypt; that it only existed in fact in the mildest form of domestic slavery; and that every slave demanding his freedom would be liberated at once by the Egyptian authorities.

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That all slaves demanding their freedom through the intermediary of any consular authority have hitherto been liberated, regardless of their former treatment, seems to be equally certain. While, therefore, slavery has been tolerated and rather encouraged than otherwise in Egypt during the past eight or ten years, it has been declared to be illegal by the words of His Highness and by the acts of his officials, and the dispatch of Nubar Pasha must be considered in connection with these facts.

It was after the date of this dispatch that the draught of a treaty was drawn up substantially the same as indicated in my dispatch No. 128. This draught was taken into consideration by His Highness, who finally struck out the clause abolishing slavery after the expiration of five years. I have every reason to believe that the balance of the draught is now being considered at Constantinople and London, and it is possible that a satisfactory treaty may be concluded.

Domestic slavery would soon disappear as a feature of the country if the slave-trade could be effectually suppressed, but there is no question but that the traffic in slaves is actively carried on in every town of any considerable size in Egypt. There are no public slave-markets, and the trade is conducted quietly for fear of attracting the notice of strangers and the government officials, but slaves may be bought without difficulty throughout the country.

It must be borne in mind that it is a mild and harmless traffic as compared with slave-trading in other parts of Africa, and that domestic slavery in Egypt presents but few of the horrible features which have been witnessed in other parts of the world.

Sanctioned by religion as well as by the practice of centuries, it will be difficult to eradicate slavery from Egyptian soil. The complete suppression of the slave-trade is the first great step to be taken in that direction.

In view of the present state of the negotiations on this subject, would it not be well for our Government to represent to the Khedive the great interest which it takes in this matter, and to assure His Highness that an energetic and honest crusade against the slave trade, on his part, will meet the warm approval of the United States.

I am, &c,


Nubar Pasha to Mr. Vivian.

Sir: I have had the honor of receiving the dispatch which you have addressed to me, under date of the 16th ultimo, with reference to the three hundred slaves which the moodir of Mansourah hesitates to set free.* You ask me what are the orders of His Highness on this subject, so that you may he able to bring them, at the same time, to the knowledge of your consul at Mansourah, desirous as you are to act in perfect harmony with the local authorities in carrying out the measures leading to the abolition of slavery. As for the special case of these three hundred slaves now at Mansourah, I have already made known to you the dispositions taken by His Highness. All of the slaves who are foreigners to the moodirieh of Mansourah will be sent to their native moodirieh. The owners will be searched for, and His Highness will pay to each of them the price of the slave, who will be thus naturally and legally set free.

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The Khedive has further directed me, in compliance with the desire which you have expressed to me, and which is his own desire as well, to recapitulate his ideas and to acquaint you with the orders really issued respecting slaves in Egypt. It was not possible for His Highness to issue orders, and it seems to have been understood that it was only necessary for a slave to present himself before the local authorities in order that those authorities should be under the obligation to give him his free papers. Such a proceeding would be considered arbitrary on his part, and would have necessarily led to a result diametrically opposed to that which His Highness proposes in stimulating the public sentiment against measures tending to injure arbitrarily private rights legally acquired.

This public sentiment has all the more reason to exist, since in the Orient, and especially in Egypt, the religion and customs correct, as much as is possible, whatever there is hard and cruel in the condition of the slave. The governments of Europe which have abolished slavery in their colonies, have taken account, in the interest of justice, of the rights acquired by the owners, and it was only by fair means and the payment of large indemnities that they put an end to an institution which even their religion condemned.

His Highness, therefore, could not, in the orders he issued, abandon the care and protection which he is supposed to have for institutions consecrated by religion and custom. For this reason the orders he has always given were intended to authorize the government’s employés not to free all the slaves who might claim their liberty, but only those who may have suffered cruel treatment on the part of their masters, whether they presented themselves or whether they asked for their freedom through some other person.

The local authorities are obliged, in such cases, to inquire as to the truth, and once the maltreatment is proved the freedom is given.

I must not conceal from you that this measure conflicts somewhat with the religious law, which prescribes that the slave, when ill-treated, has only the right to ask that he shall be sold to another master. But, on the other hand, from the religious precepts prescribing kindness on the part of masters toward their slaves, and in the midst of a people possessing good and gentle manners, it may be inferred, without exciting any hostile feeling, that the slave is legally free the moment the benevolent precepts of the religious law are not applied to him.

I therefore repeat that the spirit of the Khedive’s orders is that the local authority shall interfere and set free all slaves who may claim their freedom on the ground of ill-treatment, the moment the ill-treatment is proved, regardless of the owner’s claim to be indemnified for his loss.

These orders certainly will not nor cannot bring to an end the institution of slavery in Egypt. This institution can only be made to disappear by the complete abolition of the slave-trade, and the complementary measures, of which His Highness has spoken to you as well as to his excellency the embassador of Her Britannic Majesty at Constantinople.

I believe, Monsieur 1’Agent, that I have fully answered your dispatch, and also the desire you have verbally expressed to me, and in the hope that these explanations will be of a nature to dissipate all misunderstanding, I have the honor to beg you to accept the expression of my highest consideration.


Hon. Mr. Vivian,
Her Britannic Majesty’s Agent and Consul-General in Egypt.

  1. These three hundred slaves were only a small part of the number liberated at Mansourah; in all 1,700 were liberated within a month, as mentioned in my dispatch No. 128.—R. B.