During Industrialization What Were the Attitudes Toward Slavery

During Industrialization What Were the Attitudes Toward Slavery

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Book cover of 'Slavery, Atlantic Trade and the British Economy, 1660–1800'

Book review


Slavery, Atlantic Trade and the British Economy, 1660–1800

Kenneth Morgan

Cambridge Academy Printing
ISBN: 052158213X; pp. ix + 120, 2001


David Richardson

The human relationship between slavery, colonialism, capital accumulation and economic evolution has long been an consequence that has exercised political economists and economic historians, though it is perhaps fair to say that it tends to exist neglected in standard university courses for undergraduates. Kenneth Morgan’south booklet in the Cambridge New Studies in Economic and Social History series should go some way towards redressing this imbalance between bookish research and undergraduate appreciation of contempo work in this field. Indeed, it provides a useful and accessible introduction for undergraduates to what has been one of the most provocative mod theses relating to British industrialization, namely that articulated by Eric Williams in his most famous piece of work
Commercialism and Slavery. Published in 1944, Williams’s study ready out the explore the impact of African slavery on British economic evolution, his most celebrated claim being that profits from slavery helped to fertilize the British Industrial Revolution. Although non the get-go to discern a connectedness between slavery and capital aggregating – Marx and Hobson, among others, had been there earlier him – Williams was perchance the first explicitly to attribute British industrialization to the gains from enslavement of Africans in the Americas. A 2d, every bit provocative, theme articulated by Williams involved the impact of industrialization on British attitudes and policy towards the slave trade and slavery and included the claim that, contrary to so received interpretation, it was economical self interest, not humanitarianism, that collection nineteenth-century British antislavery. Seen in the context of wider academic and political concerns in the Westward over problems relating to race, inequality and economic development from the late 1950s onward, information technology is perchance non surprising that Williams’southward work has attracted widespread and continuing interest among historians over the terminal forty years, provoking diverse debates over the impact of slavery on British industrialization and over the nature of British antislavery from the 1780s onward. It is on the first ready of issues that Morgan focuses in his booklet.

Given the intensity of historians’ reaction to Williams’due south work and the centrality of British industrialization to historical scholarship, information technology is curious that there has not been until now a publication relating to Caribbean slavery, Atlantic merchandise and British industrialization in this popular Cambridge series. This may partly exist explained by the fact that the majority of scholars working on British industrialization tend to be highly skeptical of the ‘Williams thesis’. As Morgan himself observes, the “insights and evidence” offered by Williams in
Capitalism and Slavery
are “much contested”, though the study still remains “seminal” (p. 113). There remain, however, scholars for whom Williams’s claims about the profits from slavery and British upper-case letter accumulation retain much merit. Moreover, others, including Morgan, have sought to explore more thoroughly than Williams other possible lines of connection between slavery, external trade and British industrialization. In this respect, the fence between slavery and the British Industrial Revolution that Williams helped to ignite almost 60 years ago remains very much live. Whether, as Morgan hopes, his booklet succeeds in prompting fresh inquiry (p. 5) rather than but providing an attainable summary of current debates for students, is open to question.

Morgan’s purpose is to ask into connections between the growth of the Atlantic empire and the development of the British economy between 1660 and 1800. His goal is “to keep students and teachers abreast of the leading debates” but besides to produce a synthesis that “has something of its own to say” and that is, therefore, a contribution to “an ongoing discourse nearly the economic benefits of imperial trade and slavery” (p. 2). Specifically, he seeks to address three questions. What financial rewards did Great britain reap from slavery and Atlantic merchandise in the century or so afterward 1660? To what extent did the gains from such activity stimulate British industrialization? And how far did the Atlantic trading complex provide an impetus for economic change in Britain? As Morgan admits these “seemingly straightforward questions are not susceptible to like shooting fish in a barrel answers”.

His search for answers to these questions leads Morgan to explore various issues as he reminds us that British Atlantic trade not only grew substantially in calibration and relative importance between 1660 and 1800 but besides became “more complex, specialized and interdependent”. Two chapters deal specifically with the human relationship between the profits and wealth generated by slavery and the American plantation circuitous and British capital accumulation and industrial investment. In some other chapter he explores linkages between American markets and British industry, arguing that “a strong case” tin be made for exports to America “equally a generator of growth in the 2nd half of the eighteenth century” (p. 70). In all the same farther chapters he focuses on the impact of Atlantic trade on British financial institutions and commercial practices and on the economical fortunes of particular British ports, notably Bristol, Glasgow, Liverpool and London. In the course of his word, he accepts that Eric Williams and his followers probably exaggerated the profitability of the slave merchandise and slave plantation circuitous. But he also takes result with so-called ‘small ratios’ arguments that purport to deny slavery and colonial trade a major role in British capital accumulation and industrial growth, claiming that such arguments rely on estimates of profits from slavery that are “subject to regular revision” and have limited value conceptually in understanding the dynamics of modify in eighteenth-century Britain. He also makes a plea for more detailed studies of slave prices (sometimes used to estimate slave trade profits) and of financial links between trade and industry, while as well suggesting that the links between slavery, colonial merchandise and British industrialization extended well across issues of capital accumulation. For Morgan, the existent significance of Atlantic trade lay in its touch on on institutional change, regional and city growth, and the expansion of new industries whose dependence on export markets for sustained growth was evident even before the close of the eighteenth century. Recognizing that claims that slavery and sugar made a substantial contribution to British capital accumulation take all the same to exist proven (p. 95), he nonetheless argues that slave-based Atlantic trades fabricated “an important, though not decisive, bear upon on Britain’due south long-term economical development”, though as much for their stimulus to industrial, commercial and financial innovation as for “their direct touch on capital investment and national income”.

Morgan accepts that many of the institutional effects of Atlantic trade “are non always quantifiable”, merely still insists that they “contributed much to the commercial dynamism of Britain” (p.74). Evaluating the impact of Atlantic trade – and more specifically transatlantic slavery – on British industrialization, however, involves more than quantification or accumulating examples of how Atlantic slave-based trades appear to accept stimulated growth in sure industries, whether in the manufacturing or service sector. Information technology likewise involves conceptual problems that Williams and his followers tend to neglect and that, sadly, Morgan bypasses in his otherwise useful review of the literature. A critical trouble for Williams was his failure properly to locate the British experience of colonialism, transatlantic slavery and industrialization into comparative perspective – an issue that, for example, Robin Blackburn (The Making of New World Slavery: From the Bizarre to the Modern 1492-1800
(London, 1997)) and David Eltis (The Ascent of African Slavery in the Americas
(Cambridge, 2000)), albeit from different points of view, have recently sought to accost. Williams’southward failure was perhaps excusable, if merely because data on the scale and profitability of transatlantic slavery were very patchy at the time he wrote. But the quantitative revolution that since the 1960s has swept through studies of transatlantic slavery, the Atlantic slave merchandise and economical history more than by and large means that there is now much less excuse for not trying to place the human relationship between British capitalism and colonial slavery into a wider international context. A crucial exam for the Williams thesis, as Stanley Engerman observed in 1975 (‘Comments on Richardson and Boulle and the “Williams Thesis”‘,
Revue Francaise d’Histoire d’Outre-Mer, LXII, p. 333) and reminded scholars again in 1995 (‘The Atlantic Economy of the Eighteenth Century’,
Journal of European Economic History, 24, p. 169) is to explicate “Britain’s lack of uniqueness” in relation to transatlantic slavery but its “uniqueness” in terms of early industrialization. In fairness to Morgan, he does acknowledge this claiming. Indeed, he recognizes that other European nations were involved in transatlantic slavery and accepts that this “had very small effects” on their industrialization (p. 34), yet at no stage does he seek to accost this issue further or fifty-fifty to identify Britain’s relationship to colonial slavery and the slave trade in comparative perspective. In this respect, he misses a real opportunity to move forward the debate about the Williams thesis and thus to brand the contribution to debates over imperial trade, slavery and the British Industrial Revolution to which he aspires. Students reading this booklet will undoubtedly acquire a good overview of much of the literature provoked by Williams’southward
Commercialism and Slavery, but it is an overview largely framed by Williams’s ain original perspective rather than one influenced by the broader, Western European perspectives adopted by some more contempo scholars.

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During Industrialization What Were the Attitudes Toward Slavery

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