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Abstract

John Stuart Mill s comment that the British Caribbean was really a part of the British domestic economy, because almost all its trade was with British buyers and sellers, is used to make a new assessment of the importance of the eighteenth-century slave systems to British industrialization. If the value added and strategic linkages of the sugar industry are compared to those of other British industries, it is apparent that sugar cultivation and the slave trade were not particularly large, nor did they have stronger growth-inducing ties with the rest of the British economy.
Economic History Association
The Importance of Slavery and the Slave Trade to Industrializing Britain
Author(s): David Eltis and Stanley L. Engerman
Source:
The Journal of Economic History,
Vol. 60, No. 1 (Mar., 2000), pp. 123-144
Published by: Cambridge University Press on behalf of the Economic History Association
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The Importance of Slavery and the Slave
Trade to Industrializing Britain
DAVID ELTIS AND STANLEY L. ENGERMAN
John Stuart Mill's comment that the British Caribbean was really a part of the British
domestic economy, because almost all its trade was with British buyers and sellers,
is used to make a new assessment of the importance of the eighteenth-century slave
systems to British industrialization. If the value added and strategic linkages of the
sugar industry are compared to those of other British industries, it is apparent that
sugar cultivation and the slave trade were not particularly large, nor did they have
stronger growth-inducing ties with the rest of the British economy.
ow important were the slave systems of the Americas to the economic
idevelopment of Europe, and more specifically Britain? In 1788, after
the initial attack on the British slave trade, Parliament held hearings on and
collected information about all aspects of the trade in Africa, the West In-
dies, and Great Britain. Among those testifying or writing letters to Parlia-
ment were merchants in the trade, whose arguments against abolition in-
cluded claims of overall importance to the British economy. James Penny,
a principal owner of dozens of Liverpool slaving ventures, stated that
"[s]hould this trade be abolished, it would not only affect the Commercial
Interest, but also the Landed Property of the County of Lancaster, and more
particularly the Town of Liverpool, whose fall, in that case, would be as
rapid as its Rise has been astounding." The Committee of Merchants Trading
to Africa added that "the effects of this trade to Great Britain are beneficial
to an infinite Extent ... [and] ... there is hardly any Branch of Commerce
in which this Nation is concerned that does not derive some advantage from
it." Further, "were this country to agree that [the slave trade] shall be abol-
ished, it would deprive us of the Benefit of fitting out annually, a great num-
ber of Ships, to a very great Detriment to our Manufacturers, and terminate
in the Ruin of our British Settlements in the West Indies."1'
The Journal of Economic History, Vol. 60, No. 1 (March 2000). C The Economic History
Association. All rights reserved. ISSN 0022-0507.
David Eltis is Professor of History at Queen's University, Research Lecturer at the University of
Hull, England, and Research Fellow at the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute at Harvard University. Email:
eltisdgqsilver.queensu.ca Stanley L. Engerman is John H. Munro Professor ofEconomics and Profes-
sor of History at the University of Rochester, and Research Associate at the National Bureau of Eco-
nomic Research. Email: enge@troi.cc.rochester.edu.
We thank Ralph Austen, Seymour Drescher and David Richardson for comments on earlier drafts
of this essay. Financial support was provided by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council
of Canada
'All quotes from United Kingdom, "Report," pp. 49, 72, 83.
123
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124 Eltis and Engerman
These comments by contemporaries represent one of three possible posi-
tions on slavery's contribution to British development: that Britain would
not have been able to industrialize in its absence. A second and opposite
position is that Britain would have industrialized at roughly the same rate as
it did without slavery-or, more pointedly, without knowledge ofthe Ameri-
cas-until, say, 1800. A third position lies between these two extremes in
quantitative, if not qualitative, terms. It holds that while the Atlantic slave
systems were not necessary to the industrialization process, they neverthe-
less were more important to the British economy between 1750 and (say)
1830 than was any domestic sector or industry, and also more important than
other foreign sectors.
There are few proponents today of the first extreme position.2 Indeed, it
may be argued that even Eric Williams avoided this stance. The second
position has gained adherents in recent decades, yet the third position has
probably received most support in the 1990s. The most comprehensive
recent reformulation of the importance of slavery to British economic
growth, Robin Blackburn's The Making of New World Slavery (1997), ar-
gues for the great importance of the slave systems to British growth without
quite embracing the first position. It is really allied with the third position:
after two long chapters examining the relevant sources, Blackburn states that
"nor does our survey lead to the conclusion that New World slavery pro-
duced capitalism. What it does show is that exchanges with the slave planta-
tions helped British capitalism to make a breakthrough to industrialism and
global hegemony ahead of its rivals."3 In the sense that the Atlantic slave
system was just one of many sectors contributing to British economic
growth, there is nothing in this statement that is inconsistent with the second
position. It is difficult, however, to read the chapter preceding this quote, and
his earlier chapter 10, without sensing that the thrust of his argument is that
the Atlantic system helped more than did any other source, domestic or
foreign. Blackburn writes that "the British path to industrialization had been
smoothed by the aggressive and relentless application of force," but as the
previous quote suggests, analytically slavery merely "helped" this process.4
The third position is often presented as a softer version of the first; but as
it lacks any specific quantitative basis, it is very hard to evaluate. If one
economic activity is judged more important than another, does this merely
mean that it is larger, or does it mean that in its absence the whole economy
would follow a different path? As few scholars today contend that industrial-
2 For recent restatements of the Williams's thesis on the contribution of slavery to industrialization,
see Darity, "British Industry," pp. 247-79; Bailey, "Slave(ry) Trade," pp. 205-46; and Inikori, "Slav-
ery," pp. 79-101. For an earlier debate on this issue see Sheridan, "Wealth," pp. 292-311; and Thomas,
"Sugar Colonies," pp. 30-45.
3Blackburn, Making, p. 572, emphasis added.
4Blackburn, Making, p. 573.
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Slavery and Industrialization 125
ization would not have happened without Atlantic slavery, we focus here on
the analytically less interesting, but nevertheless widely held position that
slave-produced sugar was more important than any other British product in
the buildup to industrialization.
As Blackburn lucidly discusses, the literature lays out three ways in which
the Atlantic slave systems could have been of greater importance to Britain's
industrial headstart than other economic activities. The first was by provid-
ing markets for British goods, the second by generating profits to underwrite
the capital stock of the early industrial economy, and the third by supplying
cheap raw materials for growing industries (or cheaper food and drink for
the workers in those industries). To these may be added a fourth connection,
stated by Malthus, that slave-grown products- exotic goods in the context
of seventeenth- and much of eighteenth-century Europe-helped stimulate
consumerism, among the English in particular. 5 This in turn elicited a greater
effort, and in effect a greater supply of labor on the part of the average
worker, which offset the backward-bending labor supply curve. Thus the
Atlantic slave systems meant bigger markets for British goods, larger profits
to British investors, more and cheaper raw materials for emerging industrial
sectors, and more incentives for British consumers than were offered by
domestic industries or other foreign markets.
All scholars recognize the domestic market to have been much larger than
that of the Caribbean, so that those who advocate the importance of the latter
often stress not its sheer magnitude, but rather its strategic nature. Thus the
slavery-based demand for British goods was not so much (or not only) large,
but rather, presumably unlike domestic demand, focused on a particular type
of product-such as iron-that was central to the British growth process.
Likewise profits earned from slavery were not only large, they were particu-
larly likely to be invested into banks, textile factories, or canals, all of which
were of huge importance to the industrialization process. Plantation crops
such as cotton, so the argument goes, were critical to growing industries
even though, as we later demonstrate, raw cotton imports appeared too late
in the British growth process to have possibly contributed much to the
cheapening of British textiles.6
But before pursuing the question of the importance of the slave colonies
to the British economy, we should note an even larger context. To some
extent the question is linked to the longstanding debate on the standard of
living of English workers. For some scholars exploitation of workers, specif-
ically their separation from the means of production, permitted the acceler-
ated capital formation which lay at the core of the Industrial Revolution. If
the worker was exploited (or, in more neutral terminology, on the short end
5 Malthus, Principles, p. 403; Austen and Smith, "Private Tooth Decay," pp. 183-203.
6On timing see Engerman, "Atlantic Economy," pp. 146-57.
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126 Eltis and Engerman
of an increasingly unequal distribution of income and wealth), then the
domestic market could not generate the burgeoning demand for cheap manu-
factures which the early industrialists needed. Overseas markets-and in the
eighteenth century, markets in the plantation Americas were among those
which expanded most rapidly-made good the deficiency. The issue of the
importance of slavery to any European society is thus a derivative of the old
debate on the relative importance of home and overseas demand to
development.
Whether the issue is the relative importance of overseas and domestic mar-
kets, or the strategic importance of any one activity (say, manufacturing iron
or growing sugar), there are two broad approaches to making an evaluation.
One is to assemble the opinions of contemporary observers, the other is to
construct estimates ofthe output or value-added ofthe activity. Contemporary
observers were often involved directly in the activities they described, but the
anecdotal record is usually richest when those opposed to an activity or indus-
try wished to draw attention to it. Indeed, when a business became the subject
of dispute it was often in the interests of both sides to magnify its significance.
Constructing estimates, on the other hand, sometimes involves going beyond
what was available to observers at the time, or at least using modem methods
to take full advantage of what was available, especially statistics on exports
and imports. As we shall see, the British slave colonies and the British slave
trade are quite rich in both statistics and anecdotes.
Generally, if we rely on the comments of the historical actors associated
with a business, or indeed on the opinions of modem scholars who study it,
that industry appears very important indeed.7 As the opening paragraphs of
this essay suggest, arguments tend to stress its great utility, indeed indispens-
ability, such that its counterfactual absence is seen as disastrous. This can
apply not only to industries, but to trade with specific geographic areas. For
example, as early as 1625, in an early environmentalist twist to the indis-
pensability concept, the "rapidly disappearing" forests of North America
were cited as the beginning of the end of British naval strength.8 Earlier, in
the late sixteenth century, defenders of the Russia Company pointed to the
Russian origin of the cordage and cables of the fleet that defeated the Ar-
mada and opened the East Indies, as evidence of the essential importance of
their business.9 Two centuries later, trade with Russia has been seen by some
modem scholars to have been vital to the success of British industrialization.
One scholar, indeed, has claimed that this trade was "more than just impor-
7 "That the brewing industry is of the utmost importance to Great Britain is sufficiently evidenced
by the very considerable portion of the public revenue thence arising, by its commercial advantages,
as an article of trade, and by its essential utility to individuals...." Richardson, Philosophical Princi-
ples, p. iii, cited in Mathias, Industrial Revolution, p. 209.
8 Eburne, Plaine Pathway, p. 22.
9 Willan, "Trade," p. 320.
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Slavery and Industrialization 127
tant ... it was crucial. The enormous contributions to Great Britain's eco-
nomic growth" stemmed from "multiplier effects" ofthe large trade in hemp
and iron bars which "provided British entrepreneurs with a means of exploit-
ing advances in productivity."10 Immanuel Wallerstein has used similar
arguments to sustain his broader hypothesis about the critical role of the
periphery as a whole in the development of the core areas of western
Europe."1 In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, in a further extension
of the geographic scope of the external-market argument, British exploita-
tion of India-specifically, what has been called the westward "drain" of
capital-has been cited as a key contribution to the Industrial Revolution
(though many Marxists argued that the exploitation of the British worker
was the major source of this accumulation).12
Yet while links between Britain and the lands to its east and north have
been assigned key roles in the former's takeoff, it is the West Indies that
have figured most frequently in arguments for the importance of external
markets to the European metropoles; and this was as true in contemporary
political debate as it has been in late-twentieth-century scholarship. In
1655 the planters of Barbados pressed for the removal of sugar duties on
the grounds that they and "twenty thousand negroes" contributed greatly
to "the national stock," and in support of this proposition they provided an
estimate of the value of their activities broadly consistent with modern
calculations.13 In 1670 a pamphlet from the sugar colonies arguing for
lower sugar duties stated that without their trade "this Nation must have
long since totally sunck." At this point, the settlements in the Americas
could not have been producing, in total, more than 0.5 percent of English
national product.14 Most of the wider impacts on the national economy to
which the Barbadian planters drew attention should have been the same for
any domestic activity as well.
Quite apart from the natural tendency of merchants and historians alike to
exaggerate the importance of their projects, the dramatic eighteenth-century
expansion of the English Caribbean would seem by itself to make a prima
facie case for the significance of the West Indies to the English economy. In
0 Kaplan, Russian Overseas Commerce, p. 269. For Kaplan the volume, timing, and composition
of Russian trade were all crucial. See also Kahan, "Eighteenth-Century Russian-British Trade,"
pp. 181-89.
11 Having established the importance of these activities on the periphery, Wallerstein nevertheless
observes inanotethat"[w]henNapoleon's Continental System interferedwithRussianexports to Great
Britain, the British found ... that all these imports were replaceable or secondary, except hemp"
(Modern World System, 3: p. 142, n. 62).
12 Maddison, Class Structure, pp. 63-65, and "Dutch Income."
13 British Library, Add. Mss., 11,411, f. 9. The ?200,000 estimate is consistent with that developed
in Eltis, "New Estimates," pp. 631-48.
14Anon., State ofthe Case, f. 48. The case was made on the basis ofthe number of ships, seamen and
traded commodities (including some for export), and the claim that any enhanced French growth in
sugar production would impose heavy costs on Britain.
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128 Eltis and Engerman
the second half of the seventeenth century the British West Indies meant
effectively Barbados, and the analysis here is based on a comparison with
England itself. The population of Barbados was about that of a small Eng-
lish county, or a larger town.15 In England a county of this scale would
have grown wheat and other staples to sell in market towns. No such crops
could have borne the cost of transportation from Barbados. The island's
ability to maintain trading links with England (and North America) hinged
on two factors. The first was shipping technology; the second was the
possibility of lowering labor costs by coercing peoples from another conti-
nent to labor with an intensity that would have been out of the question if
the only source of labor had been England itself."6 Slave labor, while rela-
tively economical, was not free, but rather was obtained only at high costs
of purchase and shipment. The basic point of this analogy is that, from an
English perspective, the Barbadian economy before 1700 was about as
significant as a prosperous but very small county. Most of the premium
that sugar commanded at this time (relative to, say, wheat) went to pay for
transportation: first of Africans to the Caribbean, then of sugar from the
Caribbean to Europe. Moreover, any private profits were offset, at least in
part, by the public expense of defending this new English territory, a cost
which was many times higher than would have been the case if it had been
part of the British Isles.
Until 1700 Barbados was the economic equivalent of a Rutland, hypothet-
ically well endowed with coal; the Chesapeake was perhaps another
Westmorland. This was enough, however, to make them far more significant
than any other region of the Americas to the imperial power. The English
who went forth and multiplied (temporarily in Barbados, and eventually
more permanently in the Chesapeake) would probably not have been unem-
ployed if they had stayed at home, though they might have been less produc-
tive. The Africans who were forced to relocate, on the other hand were, from
an imperial perspective, providing some gains based on their surplus product
relative to the price paid in Africa to acquire and to maintain them. Further,
sailing the Atlantic was not costless. For the English who stayed behind, the
Americas in the seventeenth century meant a very few more wealthy individ-
uals in an already unequal society, marginally cheaper sugar and tobacco
(items claiming a tiny share of household budgets at that time), and a few
thousand extra jobs on those ships involved in long-distance trade.
The dramatic expansion of the slave system continued long after 1700, as
did the expansion of most segments of the British economy. Did the relative
15 See Mill, Principles, vol. 2, pp. 256-57, for a similar argument on the colonies. Mill wrote that
"trade with the West Indies is ... hardly to be considered external trade, but more resembles the traffic
between town and country."
16 For the argument that gang-labor using slaves developed first in early English sugar estates, see
Eltis, Rise, pp. 193-223.
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Slavery and Industrialization 129
position of the Caribbean in the British economy change over the course
of the eighteenth century? The usual approach to this question is to com-
pare the sugar sector in 1700 with the same sector at some later date. The
benchmark years are often chosen to coincide with political events such as
abolition, or the dates of one of the frequent wars of the period, which in
the British case no doubt distorted output and profits, or, at times, brought
new territory on stream.
After adjusting for these impacts, the expansion of slave-grown sugar in
the Americas after 1700 (and of the- slave trade which underpinned it)
appears impressive. But a different picture emerges if we compare the
British and non-British slave trades and plantation sectors in the eighteenth
century, and also when we compare sugar against some other important
British industries, particularly those on the threshold of industrialization.
The thrust of recent revisions of British national income trends in the eigh-
teenth century has been to eliminate the pattern of dramatic bursts of
growth that characterized earlier interpretations. The value of British Ca-
ribbean plantation produce approximately doubled between 1700 and
1770, a growth rate of about 1 percent per annum,17 while British national
income expanded by about two-thirds over the same period, at about 0.7
percent a year."8
Historical interest in the slave trade rests on its obvious immorality, not
its economic importance. The business formed a relatively small share of
the Atlantic trade of any European power. Its direct contribution to the
economic growth of any nation was trivial. The largest number of slave
ships to leave Britain in any five-year period was between 1798 and
1802-long after the beginning of the structural changes in the British
economy that have been termed the Industrial Revolution. The busiest
single year was 1792, when 204 vessels with a total capacity of 38,099
tons, or about four slave ships each week on average, left England to carry
slaves from Africa to the Americas. Each voyage lasted just over a year. In
1792 there were 14,334 vessels registered in Britain, totaling 1.44 million
tons.'9 The slave trade thus accounted for less than 1.5 percent of British
ships, and less than 3 percent of British shipping tonnage. Shares of car-
goes carried and of earnings from freight were in the same low range.
Quarter-century comparisons suggest that British ships carried about the
17 The value of exports from Barbados, Jamaica, and the Leewards in 1700 is estimated at ?800,000
(Eltis, Rise, p. 197), and the value of plantation output in the British Caribbean is estimated at
?1,553,000 in 1770 (Eltis, "Slave Economies," p. 113). Both values are expressed in current prices.
18 Crafts, "Industrial Revolution," p. 47. Despite the more rapid growth in plantation than in national
income between 1700 and 1760, the increase in plantation output accounted for only about 1 percent
of British national income at the latter date. The excess increase in plantation output above the increase
in national income was only 0.6 percent of national income.
9 Eltis et al., Transatlantic Slave Trade; general shipping data are from Mitchell, British Historical
Statistics, p. 539.
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130 Eltis and Engerman
same number of slaves across the Atlantic between 1751 and 1776 as they
did between 1783 and 1807. Therefore the slave trade was rather more
important in relative terms in the third quarter of the eighteenth century
than in the fourth. In neither period, however, does it appear large when
compared to other branches of long-distance trade.
If economic activity on so modest a scale could contribute significantly
to industrialization, then we might expect Europe's first industrial econ-
omy to have been Portugal, not Britain. Though Portugal had less than one-
third the population of Britain in the late eighteenth century, and a total
national income which was no doubt still lesser, the country's nationals
nevertheless managed to carry nearly two-thirds again as many slaves
across the Atlantic than did the British over the course of the slave-trade
era. While the British probably carried 30 percent more slaves than the
Portuguese during the eighteenth century, the relative size of their two
economies (even if we include Brazil) always meant that the slave sector
formed a far larger share of the Portuguese economy than did its British
counterpart. Strikingly, the Portuguese were responsible for far more
slaves leaving Africa in the first half of the nineteenth century than were
the British in any 50-year period. While most Portuguese slave traders
were based in Brazil, they maintained close links with Portugal and many
returned there when suppression finally became effective in the early
1850s. Few would argue, however, that the per capita income of either
Brazil or Portugal converged upon Britain's in this period.20
In recent literature the trigger for metropolitan economic development is
seen as the overall slave system, rather than the slave trade to which Wil-
liams had initially paid such attention.21 But, here too, there is no systematic
connection between the size of the plantation system-defined in either
absolute or relative terms-and the development of the metropolitan econ-
omy. Despite the impressive performance of the British Caribbean in the
seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, it was the French plantation
sector that expanded most rapidly from 1714 to 1791. By 1770 the French
Caribbean was producing 17 percent more sugar, nine times more coffee,
and 30 times more indigo than its British counterpart. Overall, as contempo-
raries fully appreciated, France's Caribbeanplantations produced 43 percent
more crops by value than did Britain's on the eve of the American
20 Eltis et al., Atlantic Slave Trade. On the apparent asymmetry of the impact of British and Portu-
guese slavery and slave trading see Drescher, "Capitalism and Slavery," pp. 213-14. It should also be
noted that most of the goods that the Portuguese exchanged for slaves on the African Coast, including
roll tobacco and cachaca, were produced within the Portuguese Empire. These were not, however,
industries of the type which the Williams thesis might lead us to expect. A nascent textile industry did
briefly appear in Portugal in the 1780s and 1790s.
21 Williams, Capitalism and Slavery.
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Slavery and Industrialization 131
Revolution.22 The phenomenal expansion of St. Domingue between 1770
and 1791 meant that the French planters widened the gap dramatically.
The British Caribbean recovered strongly once the St. Domingue revolu-
tion effectively removed French competition, but the effects of British aboli-
tion in 1807 and 1834 meant that other areas overtook it in the production
of plantation crops: flows of slave-grown commodities such as Cuban sugar,
North American cotton, and Brazilian coffee each became much greater in
terms of both volume and value of production than the British system had
ever been. Indeed, from the broad perspective, British domination of the
American plantation sector was limited to the years from 1665 to 1730 and
from 1792 to 1820. Despite the rapid growth of the French Caribbean, it
seems that only C. L. R. James and one or two French economic historians
attribute France's industrialization to the plantation sector. Nor do scholars
look for links between the economic development of Portugal and the Bra-
zilian slave system.23 Such comparisons, or rather the lack of them, indicate
that the causal links posited between British slavery and industrialization
cannot be the basis of an overarching historical generalization.
The French economy was, of course, much larger than Britain's in aggre-
gate terms throughout the eighteenth century. But even if we turn from
absolute to relative contributions of slavery to European industrialization,
there are still better candidates than Britain. The Brazilian slave system
(before the 1790s, the sugar and gold sectors specifically) comprised a far
larger share of a notional Portugese-Brazilian transatlantic economy than did
plantation produce for the British-Caribbean equivalent. Any reasonable
estimate of the value of sugar produced, goods imported, or profits earned
in mid-nineteenth-century Cuba amounts to a far larger fraction of Spanish
national income than any equivalent estimates would for Britain's Caribbean
colonies in the eighteenth century.24 But neither the Spanish nor the Portu-
guese took off into sustained industrial growth until long after abolition.
22 Eltis, "Slave Economies," p. 113. Including Virginia and South Carolina in the British account
would narrow the gap somewhat, but would not come close to eliminating it. Contemporaries argued
that the French were more efficient producers of sugar than were the British, and that sugar from the
British colonies maintained its place in the home market thanks only to tariff protection.
I James, Black Jacobins, ch. 2. Sde, Modern Capitalism, argues that the "enormous profits" of the
slave trade aided both French and British industrialization; but he also quotes an anonymous early-
eighteenth-century English author to the effect that the production of East Indian textiles with cheap
labor "is a very likely way of forcing Men upon the invention of Arts and Engines, by which other
things may also be done with less and cheaper labor and therefore may abate the price of Manufactures,
tho' the Wages of Men shou'd not be abated" (pp. 42, 117).
24 See Eltis, "Slave Economies," pp. 117-19, for estimates of values of plantation output in 1850.
Some might counter that in the nineteenth century the effective metropolitan center for Cuba was the
United States, not Spain. But there can be little doubt that more rapid economic growth in the United
States was well established before it came to occupy a central role in the Spanish colony. See Moreno
Fraginal's comparison of data for Cuban trade with the United States and data on Cuban trade with
Spain (El Ingenio, 3: pp. 67-87).
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132 Eltis and Engerman
The core of the case for the causal linking of the slave systems of the
Americas with accelerated European growth lies, first, in the supposedly
higher profits that the systems generated relative to the domestic European
sector, and second, in sugar's supposedly strong linkages with the rest of the
British economy.25 This argument is based partly on the size that the sugar
sector had reached by the second half of the eighteenth century, and partly
on its demand for imported inputs.26 A different perspective on these argu-
ments is possible if the sugar sector is imagined to have been part of the
British domestic economy, and its value added (the difference between what
the industry paid for the products it purchased and the revenue it received
from selling its output), or contribution to national income, is compared with
those of other British industries. Table 1 presents some very rough estimates
for seven established British industries at the beginning of the nineteenth
century, a time when the British slave trade and sugar sector were close to
their peaks. The industries have been selected partly on the basis of data
availability, but also because of their representativeness. Four industries
larger than sugar are included-iron (defined broadly to include ore mining
and metal trades), two textile industries, and sheep farming-and three
industries which, during the early phases of industrialization, were smaller:
coal, linen, and paper.
Table 1 indicates that the business of producing muscovado sugar was one
of the more prominent activities in the British-Caribbean economy. Its
growth during the nearly two centuries after 1640, thousands of miles distant
from its main markets, was extremely impressive. As late as the early nine-
teenth century the industry was producing more (by value) than the British
coal industry. During this period, and for a long time thereafter, the British
consumed more sugar than any other people in the world, and still were able
to reexport about 20 percent of the sugar imported into the country. Yet
sugar claimed only a small part of the British consumer's budget. Several
other food staples generated more income and employment than did Carib-
bean sugar. Based on Phyllis Deane and W. A. Cole's estimates of income,
the value added by the Caribbean sugar sector was less than 2.5 percent of
British national income, meaning that more than 97.5 percent of income was
generated by domestic and other foreign markets. As a share of the U.K.
labor force Caribbean sugar comes out slightly higher, at 3.7 percent (see
sources to Table 1). Even if we include British refining enterprises in the
calculations, sugar production was no more important than were several
25 The clearest statement ofthis position is that ofBarbara Solow ("Caribbean Slavery," pp. 99-115),
who argues that a small sector can have a large impact on growth. This implies that important economic
preconditions were in place that permitted such an impact. For a recent summary of the literature on
comparative rates of profit see Morgan, "Atlantic Trade," pp. 14-33.
26 For the best exposition of this impact see Richardson, "Slave Trade." In staples-thesis parlance,
these are the products of backward and final-demand linkage.
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Slavery and Industrialization 133
other industries.27 Within agriculture, the value added by wheat and cattle
farming, taken separately, and barley, hops, and brewing taken together were
probably greater than that for either sheep farming or sugar (see Table 1).
Outside agriculture, and indeed outside the main manufacturing industries,
there was a range of construction and service activities the value added of
which rivaled sugar's. The English shipping industry, for example, had a
larger workforce and higher revenues than did the sugar sector, and wooden
ships, a major input, were cheap to produce.28
In both economic and demographic terms, the British Caribbean colonies
grew relative to Britain between 1700 and 1800. But such relative growth
was less than, say, that of Cuba relative to Spain between 1790 and 1860.
If in 1700 the British Caribbean colonies were together equivalent to one
of the smaller English counties, by 1801 they had grown to parity with one
of the larger counties. With an estimated population of 760,000 in 1801,
the British Caribbean was smaller than Middlesex or Yorkshire, but larger
than Lancashire.29
But Caribbean sugar was not the only peripheral sector to grow dispro-
portionately in the century-and-a-half before 1800. The Irish and Scottish
flax and linen industries expanded from insignificance to revenues greater
than, and value-added comparable to, sugar's. Scottish output alone in-
creased sixfold in the second and third quarters of the eighteenth century,
and the value of output rose even faster. In the Irish linen industry espe-
cially, English merchants dominated the export trade.30 Profits in this era
of expansion were no doubt healthy, and a portion of them were certainly
spent on infrastructure and industrial activity in England. Yet few scholars
have argued that such dramatic growth could explain the expansion of the
English economy in the later eighteenth century. Historians have little
difficulty in envisioning England's industrialization if Scotland and Ulster
had remained outside its political or economic orbit. Why is the same not
true of the British Caribbean?
27 The value-added of sugar refining is not known, but it cannot have been great. Apart from the
unrefimed sugar that was reexported, in 1870 U.S. sugar refiners had sales of $108.9 million and spent
$96.9 million on materials (United States, Statistics, p. 626). This suggests a value-added of 12.3
percent of materials purchased, well over half of which were sugar products. Strictly construed, our
exercise of counting the West Indies as part of the British economy requires the inclusion of refined
sugar in our estimates. Its absence, however, does nothing to distort our overall conclusions.
28 There were nearly 1.8 million tons of shipping registered in 1801. On the reasonable assumption
that one crew member was required for every ten tons, such shipping would have employed 180,000
seamen.
29 Population projected backwards from the estimate of population for 1807 by Higman (Slave
Populations, p. 417), on the basis of slave arrivals in the British Caribbean 1802 through 1807, from
Eltis et al., Transatlantic Slave Trade. The slave population is assumed to have been 88 percent oftotal
population in 1801. For populations ofEnglish counties in 1801 see Wrigley and Schofield, Population
History, p. 622.
30 Gill, Rise, pp. 3-128; Campbell, Scotland, pp. 54-63; Smout, History, p. 244.
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134 Eltis and Engerman
TABLE 1
VALUE ADDED AND LABOR FORCES OF SELECT SECTORS OF THE
UNITED KINGDOM-BRITISH CARIBBEAN ECONOMY IN 1805
Value of Output Value of Inputs Value Added Labor Force
Sector (? millions) (? millions) (? millions) (thousands)
Iron (broad definition) 16.2 1.5 14.7
Woollen textiles 22 9.2 12.8 -
Cotton textiles 18 7.5 10.5 274
Sheep farming' 7.8 <0.2 -7.6 -
West Indian sugar' 6 -0.6 5.4 176
Coal 5.1 0.5 4.6 70
Linen textiles3 7.2 2.9 4.3
Paper 1.7 0.8 0.8 6
3~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
11800. 2 1800-1804.3 1803.
Notes and Sources:
Sheep Farming: Wool output from Allen, "Agriculture," p. 102. Wool prices (for 1801) from Mitch-
ell, British Historical Statistics, p. 766. Mutton volumes and prices from Holdemess, "Prices," pp. 110,
155, 171-74.
Sugar: Includes rum and molasses. The returns to labor and capital on sugar plantations are included
in the value added. The sugar industry usually attracts more attention than other industries in the table
because of the role of the slave labor force. The basic assessment procedures are the same for all
industries in the table, once it is understood that slave-labor costs included food, clothing, and shelter.
Values for Jamaica from Higman (Slave Population, p. 213), converted to pounds sterling, adjusted for
rum and molasses output (26 percent of sugar output), and expressed in terms of sugar prices in Ja-
maica, which averaged 57.2 percent of London prices, 1800-1804 (Ryden, "Does Decline?"). Totals
for the British Caribbean were derived according to Drescher's observation that Jamaica produced 52
percent of all British Caribbean sugar between 1801 and 1805 (Econocide, pp. 79, 80). Precise esti-
mates of inputs into the sugar industry are not possible. Only one major input is calculated here:
purchases from cattle pens. Jamaican plantations (sugar and nonsugar) bought all the output of that
island's cattle pens. The ratio of cattle-pen revenue to sugar-estate revenues in 1832 (Higman, Slave
Population, pp. 17, 25-26), less purchases by nonsugar estates (based on the crop distribution of the
slave labor force described below) is applied to the value of total output. There were obviously other
inputs which we have not included. Accordingly the true value added for sugar is less than suggested
above. As the thrust of our argument is that sugar's value added was not exceptionally high compared
to other industries in early nineteenth-century Britain, our estimate's upward bias works against our
contention. Estimates of the labor force in sugar are derived from Higman (Slave Populations), who
gives 56.8 percent of the slave labor force on sugar estates in 1810 and 60.1 percent in 1820. The ratio
for 1800-1804 is taken as 55 percent. The slave population was 765,350 in 1810 which, after allowing
for new arrivals (calculated for 1801-1807 at 180,700 from Eltis et al, Transatlantic Slave Trade) and
for deaths, suggests a slave population of about 700,000 in 1800. Further adjustments were made for
age and sex structures of the sugar-estate population and for nonsugar activities (domestic service,
provision-growing, etc) on those estates. Worksheets available from David Eltis.
Coal: Flinn, History, vol. 2, pp. 292-93, 365, 451; Mitchell, British Historical Statistics, p. 252.
Paper: Coleman, British Paper Industry, pp. 88, 105, 169, 203, 289, 346.
All others: Deane and Cole, British Economic Growth, pp. 204, 212, 223.
Was there anything unusual about the production of sugar, beyond the share
of economic resources it utilized, that could have given it a special role in
stimulating economic development? Was it, in any sense, what development
economists used to call a "strategic" industry? Compared to most industries,
including those listed in Table 1, it provided relatively limited inputs to other
industries. Unlike iron or coal, or even textiles, sugar had a limited role as an
intermediate product. The sugar refining industry was probably somewhat
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Slavery and Industrialization 135
smaller than the paper manufacturing industry shown in Table 1. The sugar
sector did generate purchases of a range of consumer products, but it was
scarcely the only industry to do so. Moreover its most important complements,
tea and coffee, were produced overseas. Perhaps the reasons why sugar has
attracted so much attention is that it was produced by a slave labor force not
used anywhere else in the British economy, and that, unlike most other activi-
ties, its output was recorded in British trade statistics. Given the absence of
official data for most other sectors, products bought by sugar plantations were
much more visible. If records had survived for the consumer and capital goods
entering all English agricultural and industrial sectors, as they have survived
for the slave trade and the Caribbean, then perhaps the sugar sector would not
so frequently be regarded as vital to British economic development. Sugar was
just one of hundreds of industries in a complex economy; and while sugar was
one of the larger industries, its linkages with the rest of the economy and its
role as an "engine" of economic growth compare poorly with textiles, coal,
iron ore, and those British agricultural activities which provided significant
inputs to industry. Raw cotton, it should be noted, did not become a significant
import until the turn of the century.
Table 1 does not provide estimates of profits. Profits, in either the slave
trade or plantation sugar production, are sometimes seen as making the vital
contribution to the pool of savings funding the British Industrial Revolution.
However, there were numerous other industries with the potential to produce
comparable profits, and many, many others that could have done so in com-
bination with related activities. Suppose that all the profits of the slave trade
and sugar were dedicated to industrial capital formation, that slave- and
slave-shipowners together refused to expand their own activities or to spend
profits on consumption. Under these extreme (and improbable) assumptions,
sugar and slavery would have been a major contributor to British gross fixed
capital formation. Using Engerman's estimates, Barbara Solow has pointed
out that profits from the slave trade alone could have formed "one half of 1
percent of national income, nearly 8 percent of total investment, and 39
percent of commercial and industrial investment." Such ratios she rightly
describes as "enormous."'31 But what could have been true for the slave
trade or sugar could, under the same extreme assumptions, also have been
the case for many other economic activities, both at home and abroad.32
Banking, insurance, horse-breeding, canals, hospitality, construction,
wheat farming, fishing, and the manufacture of wooden implements are
just a few possible industries that could have yielded the profits to fund the
Industrial Revolution. It is not clear that the profits from slave trading, or
31 Engerman, "Slave Trade," pp. 430-43; Solow, "Caribbean Slavery"; see also Darity, "British
Industry"; and more recently Blackburn, Making, pp. 540-43.
32 Solow, "Caribbean Slavery," pp. 105-06.
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136 Eltis and Engerman
from the sugar sector at large, were more oriented toward industrial invest-
ment than were those from other lines of business, which also had spokes-
persons making strong claims for their contributions to the national
economy.
Was the profit rate for sugar higher than in other industries? British own-
ers of West Indian sugar estates had the option of investing in a range of
British agricultural activities, as well as in coal, iron, and the burgeoning
transportation sector, among the economic opportunities of which landed
aristocrats availed themselves. If the risk-adjusted rate of return had been
higher for Caribbean sugar than for these other activities, it would have been
possible for these investors to switch their investments. In the process, the
rate of return in the sugar sector would certainly have declined to match the
returns available from, say, textile factories, canals, and coal mines. Sugar's
contribution to the pool of capital available for investment purposes was thus
unlikely to have been greater than that of other sectors. The British could
have funded government war debts, or built canals and textile mills, or fed
a rapidly growing population, in the absence of Africa and the Americas. It
is much less certain that there would have been a slave trade and capital-
intensive plantations in the Americas without the credit and mortgage fi-
nancing that flowed out from the European metropolitan centers and made
long-distance labor flows possible.33 The Caribbean itself may have gener-
ated much of the capital it needed, but the direction of the net transatlantic
capital flow remains unclear.34
Even if we allow that sugar played a major role in English economic
development, it is not clear that sugar was exactly coterminous with slavery.
Much recent literature on the early modern Atlantic world has argued that
without the African slave trade there would have been few or no plantations
operating in the Americas, a greatly reduced level of transatlantic
commerce,35 and presumably no Industrial Revolution, either in England or
in North America. Of the superior economic efficiency of slave labor from
Africa, there can be no doubt. Yet to assume that in its absence there would
have been nothing but subsistence agriculture in the Americas seems unreal-
istic.36 The dichotomy between free and slave labor was not as sharp in
seventeenth-century English society as it was to become later. Coerced labor
came in many forms, and while there are no modern instances of any groups
reducing members of their own societies to outright chattel slavery, some
other form of coerced labor would have been possible in the absence of
Africans. Sixteenth-century Iberians exported many commodities from the
33 See the discussion of these issues in Engerman, "Atlantic Economy," pp. 146-57.
34 Pares, "Economic Factors," pp. 119-44.
3S See for example Solow, "Capitalism and Slavery," p. 71.
36 For the argument that free-labor plantations in the Americas were possible see Blackburn, Making,
pp. 360-61.
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Slavery and Industrialization 137
Americas, including sugar, using primarily coerced Native American, not
African, labor.37 The absence of Africans in the seventeenth-century British
Americas would have increased prices for sugar, tobacco, cotton, and indigo.
For early modem consumers, the absence of African slavery would have
meant more expensive sugar down to the beginning ofthe nineteenth century
and the more rapid (and possibly earlier) development of beet sugar there-
after. Any estimate of the counterfactual implications of withdrawing slave
labor from the production of sugar, and more broadly its effects on the de-
velopment ofthe English economy in general, hinges on analytical consider-
ations that cannot be addressed here. But only some rather strong assump-
tions would support an argument that there would have been almost no
production of sugar in the Americas and no trading links with Africa.
Recently the debate on the importance of slavery has become subsumed
in the broader issue of the importance of transatlantic trade to the British
growth process, particularly inthe late eighteenth century.38 At certain points
the Caribbean, and American markets generally, became much more impor-
tant than hitherto.39 The basic argument is that overseas demand augmented
domestic demand at critical junctures and triggered permanent structural
changes in the British economy. But the most rapid growth of markets in the
plantation Americas came very late in the century-after the onset of accel-
erated industrial growth around 1780.40 The share of the British West Indies
in British exports increased only after the middle of the eighteenth century,
and reached sustained heights only in and after the 1790s. Much of this
pattern was clearly due to the exigencies of war. Between 1756 and 1800,
the most expansive export markets were sometimes in Europe, sometimes
in Asia, and sometimes in the Americas. None of these markets enjoyed
continuous primacy, and British merchants and manufacturers were clearly
able to switch flexibly from one to another as the political and military situa-
tion dictated.
After suppression of the slave trade in 1807, the importance of Britain's
slave colonies as markets for its goods and as sources of raw materials and
profits relapsed in relative terms, and the slack was not picked up by the
non-British slave economies. A striking feature of the markets for British
goods between 1775 and 1850 is their wide geographic range, suggesting an
ability to sell in whatever markets happened to become available.4" This in
turn indicates that the late expansion of the British plantation sector and the
37 Lockhart and Schwartz, Early Latin America.
38 The argument that the acceleration of economic growth could be dependent on changes in only one
sector is not consistent with most recent historical interpretations.
39Deane and Cole, British Economic Growth. This position has recently been forcefully argued by
O'Brien, "Inseparable Connections"; and Cuenca Esteban, "Rising Share," pp. 879-906.
40 Crafts, "Industrial Revolution," p. 47.
41 Engerman, "Atlantic Economy," pp. 165-68; and Fisher, "Commerce," pp. 459-79.
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138 Eltis and Engerman
subsequent strengthening of connections between the British economy and
the world outside its empire are more plausibly seen as results of industrial-
ization than as causes. In short, export expansion should be seen as the result
of an outward shift in supply as well as a growth of demand. Generalized
war and the sudden collapse of St. Domingue certainly helped restore British
slave colonies to their forner dominance, but the single most important
factor in the expansion of both markets for finished goods and sources of
raw materials was the British Industrial Revolution itself. Thus, prices of
basic textiles and iron on the African coast fell precipitously between the
1 780s and the 1 830s, as a result of rising productivity in British manufactur-
ing and transportation.42 Slave-produced raw materials generally formed a
small share of the price of a finished good, in this case textiles. After 1790
the British exported their Industrial Revolution on the back of more efficient
manufacturing techniques which allowed them to undercut foreign competi-
tion. The geographical location ofthe market, or indeed whether that market
was supported by rising profits from intensive exploitation of slave labor (or
indeed was expanding at all) was of no great significance.
This is not to say that slavery, and the overseas markets to which it gave
rise, did not have an impact on Europe and, more specifically, on England
at the time of the Industrial Revolution. The central question, implicit in the
work of Williams and James, is whether in the absence of slavery, industrial-
ization would have happened at all. The comparison of sugar with other
economic activities presented here suggests that there were several vital
industries, each with a big impact. In the end none were indispensable in the
strict sense.
It is important to remember that the intellectual interest in Williams's
argument reflects his ability to relate events in the West Indies with those n
Britain at many different levels. To Williams, these links were not only
economic, but also political, cultural, and ideological. The rise and the fall
of slavery in the West Indies were both cause and consequence of the dra-
matic eighteenth- and nineteenth-century changes within the metropole.
While Williams may not have had the specific mechanisms correct, few
subsequent writers have regarded these events as completely independent
and unrelated. Recent treatments of the emergence of the antislavery move-
ment have pointed to a quite different set of linkages between slave labor
42 Curti, Economic Change, pp. 95-112. The major source of price declines was rising industrial
productivity, and not declining prices for slave-produced raw materials (as argued by Blackburn,
Making, p. 555; compareHobsbawm, IndustryandEmpire, p. 76). Ellison's price series (Cotton Trade,
p. 61) shows that raw cotton prices fell from 2 shillings to 0.645 pence between 1784 and 1830, while
the price of cotton yarn over the same period fell from 10.9 to 1.2 shillings. Thus the trend in raw cotton
prices accounted for just 14 percent of the fall in the price of cotton yarn. Apart from the composition
of the price trend there is also the point that most of this decline in prices occurred after what is usually
taken to be the start of the British Industrial Revolution (and after the supposed decline of the British
slave colonies).
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Slavery and Industrialization 139
and free labor than those posited by Williams. While Williams argued that
the politics of abolition was driven by the economic motives of English
industrialists, others argue that the relationship was more ideological, with
artisans and skilled labor in the new industries providing the basis of the
initial late-eighteenth-century onslaught on West Indian slavery. Even if
there had been no generalized increase in the extent of free labor in England
just prior to the rise of antislavery, and even if leaders of intellectual and
moral opinion had expressed only mild interest in the advantages of free
labor, the new developments in particular segments of the labor market
provided a key basis for the attack on the slave trade, and apparently did so
on grounds that were more ideological than economic. Understanding the
extent to which this crusade drew upon direct comparisons of free and slave
labor, and the role played by increased knowledge of the slave's status in the
late eighteenth century, will provide further insight into the broader role of
slavery in shaping the modem world. In this sense the impact of the Carib-
bean on eighteenth-century England was ideological rather than, as Williams
stressed, economic.43
When Europe expanded eastwards, the "second serfdom" was part of the
process. When Europe expanded westwards, reliance on forced labor by
indigenous Americans, and then by African chattel slaves, was a seemingly
inevitable consequence. Where Amerindian bondsmen were not available
and African slaves were too expensive, as in the early British and French
settlements, indentured servitude occurred; but it was seldom if ever the only
form of labor available to sugar planters. Is it reasonable to assume, as we
have done here, that in the absence of slavery, planter use of white labor
would have been limited to free whites or indentured servants? In general,
Europeans imposed serfdom whenever the land-labor ratios were high, but
labor was available from within their own societies. Slavery was the labor
regime of choice for Europeans whenever in these circumstances the labor
that might be available was from outside their own society. A second serf-
dom, after all, evolved in the Scottish coal mines after 1606 and endured to
the end of the eighteenth century. If, in the absence of African slavery, some
form of labor regime had evolved for whites in the Americas, with degrees
of coercion lying perhaps between indentured servitude and slavery (though
well short of the latter), and if that system had been as extensive in the west-
ern as it was in the eastern branch of European expansion, then the social
and ideological consequences for Western Europe would have been large
indeed. Europeans, and the English in particular, did not need slavery to help
define their freedom, as Orlando Patterson has argued for the ancient world,
43 Note, though, that despite Williams's general position of economic determinism, such a link was
more than hinted at in his famous comment that "British historians wrote almost as if Britain had
introduced Negro slavery solely for the satisfaction of abolishing it" (British Historians, p. 233).
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140 Eltis and Engerman
but they could hardly have built as coherent and powerful an ideology
around free labor if large numbers of their fellows (and descendants) in the
Americas had worked under the conditions experienced by Lanarkshire coal
miners.4 It was Western, not Eastern, Europe that became a birthplace of
modern neoliberal economics. As long as the enslaved remained outsiders,
either African (by descent at least) or Native American, then Europeans
could continue to evolve a free labor ideology, and largely ignore the prob-
lem of the need to coerce people from the fifteenth to late eighteenth centu-
ries. In effect, the growth ofthe slave system in the second half of the seven-
teenth century being well outside England itself (though within English
political and legal jurisdiction) permitted the continuing celebration of Eng-
lish liberties at home. English commentators, and the elite for.whom they
wrote, did not have to cope with the apparent difficulties of hiring free labor
in a land-abundant environment until the British abolished slavery in their
parts of the Americas (and Asia) in the first half of the nineteenth century.45
In the long run, of course, the issue could not continue to be ignored.
Shifts in worker attitudes were among the societal changes that helped to
make slave and wage systems incompatible, and ultimately to quash the
former. Higher productivity and the development of a modern industrial
sector were associated with the emergence of a free labor market, where
employers and employees were considered legally (if not materially) equal.
Possessive individualism and the market system were compatible with both
wage and slave labor before the middle of the eighteenth century. But by
1800 belief in the legitimacy of the market and individualism had become
ideologically more closely linked with wage than slave labor.A
In summary, the West Indian sugar economy may have been large, but no
more so than many industries operating within Britain's domestic economy.
The connections between sugar and the larger British economy were excep-
tional only in that they seem weaker and less "strategic" than those of other
industries such as textiles, iron, and coal. And unlike these latter sectors,
plantations were sustained by an altogether more vicious labor system. But
precisely because that labor was African, and therefore not part ofthe recog-
nized social system in European eyes, Britons could describe their own
social systems as totally "free" both in terms of the way employers and
44 Patterson, Freedom.
45 Perhaps this is why the ideological tensions between slavery and freedom in revolutionary America
have received more attentionthanthe same phenomenon in late-seventeenth-century England. For John
Locke's association with the slave trade and the governance of slave colonies see Pagden, "Struggle,"
p. 42; compare also Davis, Slavery, pp. 63-77.
46 Steinfeld (Invention, pp. 138-72) argues that abolitionism and arising awareness of slavery helped
create the modern concept of a free labor force. This was undoubtedly true, but it might be noted that
the changing nature and apparent success of free labor (free in the modern sense) helped create and
shape anti-slavery. For possessive individualism see Macpherson, Political Theory; an argument for
the persuasiveness of the free-labor ideology is in Temperley, "Capitalism," pp. 94-118.
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Slavery and Industrialization 141
employees dealt with each other, and more broadly, in the way governments
and citizens interacted. Thus in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the
British could develop their free labor system and construct an ideology of
freedom on the foundations it provided without paying attention to the fact
that what was happening in the Caribbean was at odds with what was hap-
pening at home. Of course, while early modem European conceptions of
freedom made slavery possible, they also in the end helped fuel its demise.
The European idea of freedom had first been consistent with slavery in the
Americas, but later brought about its abolition. The very fact that slavery in
the Americas was limited to persons of African descent permitted an ideol-
ogy of freedom (and ultimately of abolition) to evolve. African slavery thus
had a vital role in the evolution of the modem West, but while slavery had
important long-run economic implications, it did not by itself cause the
British Industrial Revolution. It certainly "helped" that Revolution along, but
its role was no greater than that of many other economic activities, and in the
absence of any one of these it is hard to believe that the Industrial Revolu-
tion would not have occurred anyway.
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... However, its classical categories left it vulnerable to the then emerging field of New Economic History in the 1970s, which applied econometrics to the past, a method developed in the wake of the Second World War and firmly established in British and American universities by the 1970s (Hodgson, 2002). While NEH scholars attacked it from various quarters (Anstey, 1975;Aufhauser, 1974;Eltis, 1987;Engerman, 1972;Engerman & Eltis, 2000), it took Seymour Drescher's Econocide (1977) to coalesce their assaults into an overall rejection of Williams's work. A few remarks on Drescher's tour de force are required to understand the basic contours of the "American moment" of the debate. ...
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The capitalism and slavery debate is among the most significant in world historiography. This essay suggests that its main perspectives still use nation-based approaches and employ analytical categories of classical and neoclassical economics that obscure the very notion of capital. As a result, the material relations of slavery are reduced to the problem of profitability within national or colonial contexts, an approach that depicts the nineteenth-century nexus between slavery and capitalism as a transhistorical one. Against this backdrop, this essay proposes that the rise and fall of slavery can be better understood by examining the changing material composition of capital as well as its equally changing cluster of global circuits. Based on critical value theory, it argues that industrialization consistently reshaped spatial and material relations between town and country, capital and labor, and production and consumption, engendering world geographies of accumulation that both fueled and challenged the reproduction of slave labor in the Americas.
... "Que o trabalho escravo era em si mesmo uma forma reacionária de produção, tanto do ponto de vista da produtividade do trabalho como do pleno desenvolvimento de um mercado capitalista, foi uma lição que a burguesia estava por aprender inteiramente" (2014, p. 39, grifos adicionais). Embora Williams dê flexibilidade histórica a essas categorias, exibindo sensibilidade para articulá-las com fatores geopolíticos como a Independência dos Estados Unidos, a Revolução do Haiti e a colonização da Índia, a presença delas no seu texto serviu como cavalo de Troia para uma profunda revisão do argumento no campo da Nova História Econômica (Engerman, 1972;Aufhauser, 1974;Anstey, 1975;Eltis, 1987;Engerman & Eltis, 2000). Desses ataques, o livro Econocide (1977), de Seymour Drescher, teve maiores consequências para o estado atual da questão. ...
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Revisitando o debate sobre capitalismo e escravidão, este artigo ilumina as relações materiais entre Revolução Industrial e crise da escravidão negra no Império britânico a partir das perspectivas da teoria crítica e do sistema-mundo. Depois de sugerir que o debate invisibilizou o capital como categoria de análise histórica, argumento que a Revolução Industrial desencadeou um processo de ampliação de circuitos mercantis sobre o Atlântico e o Indo-Pacífico que estabeleceu relações tensas com fronteiras mercantis escravistas dentro e fora do Império britânico. Essas relações se tornaram uma poderosa mediação material entre a crise da escravidão negra nas West Indies, a ascensão do escravismo nos Estados Unidos, em Cuba e no Brasil e o avanço do neoimperialismo no Oriente.
Chapter
In the seventeenth century, Veracruz was the busiest port in the wealthiest colony in the Americas. People and goods from five continents converged in the city, inserting it firmly into the early modern world's largest global networks. Nevertheless, Veracruz never attained the fame or status of other Atlantic ports. Veracruz and the Caribbean in the Seventeenth Century is the first English-language, book-length study of early modern Veracruz. Weaving elements of environmental, social, and cultural history, it examines both Veracruz's internal dynamics and its external relationships. Chief among Veracruz's relationships were its close ties within the Caribbean. Emphasizing relationships of small-scale trade and migration between Veracruz and Caribbean cities like Havana, Santo Domingo, and Cartagena, Veracruz and the Caribbean shows how the city's residents – especially its large African and Afro-descended communities – were able to form communities and define identities separate from those available in the Mexican mainland.
Chapter
This book re-examines the relationship between Britain and colonial slavery in a crucial period in the birth of modern Britain. Drawing on a comprehensive analysis of British slave-owners and mortgagees who received compensation from the state for the end of slavery, and tracing their trajectories in British life, the volume explores the commercial, political, cultural, social, intellectual, physical and imperial legacies of slave-ownership. It transcends conventional divisions in history-writing to provide an integrated account of one powerful way in which Empire came home to Victorian Britain, and to reassess narratives of West Indian 'decline'. It will be of value to scholars not only of British economic and social history, but also of the histories of the Atlantic world, of the Caribbean and of slavery, as well as to those concerned with the evolution of ideas of race and difference and with the relationship between past and present.
Chapter
This book re-examines the relationship between Britain and colonial slavery in a crucial period in the birth of modern Britain. Drawing on a comprehensive analysis of British slave-owners and mortgagees who received compensation from the state for the end of slavery, and tracing their trajectories in British life, the volume explores the commercial, political, cultural, social, intellectual, physical and imperial legacies of slave-ownership. It transcends conventional divisions in history-writing to provide an integrated account of one powerful way in which Empire came home to Victorian Britain, and to reassess narratives of West Indian 'decline'. It will be of value to scholars not only of British economic and social history, but also of the histories of the Atlantic world, of the Caribbean and of slavery, as well as to those concerned with the evolution of ideas of race and difference and with the relationship between past and present.
Chapter
This book re-examines the relationship between Britain and colonial slavery in a crucial period in the birth of modern Britain. Drawing on a comprehensive analysis of British slave-owners and mortgagees who received compensation from the state for the end of slavery, and tracing their trajectories in British life, the volume explores the commercial, political, cultural, social, intellectual, physical and imperial legacies of slave-ownership. It transcends conventional divisions in history-writing to provide an integrated account of one powerful way in which Empire came home to Victorian Britain, and to reassess narratives of West Indian 'decline'. It will be of value to scholars not only of British economic and social history, but also of the histories of the Atlantic world, of the Caribbean and of slavery, as well as to those concerned with the evolution of ideas of race and difference and with the relationship between past and present.
Chapter
This book re-examines the relationship between Britain and colonial slavery in a crucial period in the birth of modern Britain. Drawing on a comprehensive analysis of British slave-owners and mortgagees who received compensation from the state for the end of slavery, and tracing their trajectories in British life, the volume explores the commercial, political, cultural, social, intellectual, physical and imperial legacies of slave-ownership. It transcends conventional divisions in history-writing to provide an integrated account of one powerful way in which Empire came home to Victorian Britain, and to reassess narratives of West Indian 'decline'. It will be of value to scholars not only of British economic and social history, but also of the histories of the Atlantic world, of the Caribbean and of slavery, as well as to those concerned with the evolution of ideas of race and difference and with the relationship between past and present.
Chapter
This book re-examines the relationship between Britain and colonial slavery in a crucial period in the birth of modern Britain. Drawing on a comprehensive analysis of British slave-owners and mortgagees who received compensation from the state for the end of slavery, and tracing their trajectories in British life, the volume explores the commercial, political, cultural, social, intellectual, physical and imperial legacies of slave-ownership. It transcends conventional divisions in history-writing to provide an integrated account of one powerful way in which Empire came home to Victorian Britain, and to reassess narratives of West Indian 'decline'. It will be of value to scholars not only of British economic and social history, but also of the histories of the Atlantic world, of the Caribbean and of slavery, as well as to those concerned with the evolution of ideas of race and difference and with the relationship between past and present.
Chapter
This book re-examines the relationship between Britain and colonial slavery in a crucial period in the birth of modern Britain. Drawing on a comprehensive analysis of British slave-owners and mortgagees who received compensation from the state for the end of slavery, and tracing their trajectories in British life, the volume explores the commercial, political, cultural, social, intellectual, physical and imperial legacies of slave-ownership. It transcends conventional divisions in history-writing to provide an integrated account of one powerful way in which Empire came home to Victorian Britain, and to reassess narratives of West Indian 'decline'. It will be of value to scholars not only of British economic and social history, but also of the histories of the Atlantic world, of the Caribbean and of slavery, as well as to those concerned with the evolution of ideas of race and difference and with the relationship between past and present.
Article
This research analyses 48 heritage sites in England and New England, which offered narratives of transatlantic slavery in 2018–2019. Building on previous critiques of public memory of slavery, I focus on highlighting the economic connections of what I term enslavement-associated commerce (EAC). Researching sites in England and New England enabled a transnational comparison between two regions that both profited from enslavement, but largely at a geographic distance. I argue that changing our focus of vision from sites of enslavement to sites of EAC reveals the widespread spectral traces, impact, and importance of slavery to both England and New England. In both regions the analysed sites of intervention participate in the act of challenging the “un-visibility” of EAC, which was buried beneath abolition, as part of what I call the defenders of liberty heritage narrative (DOLHN). Conscious of this context, this thesis draws on decades of historical literature to undertake in-depth analysis of the scope of narratives offered, across the 48 case studies. These include museums, memorials, historic houses and cotton mills. I investigate whether the interventions within these sites effectively acknowledge the impact of EAC, and consequently its relevance to the heritage narratives of England and New England. While collectively they do reveal the importance of EAC, there are recurring limitations in the narratives, including a predominant focus on individual wealthy enslavers and ports. Moving forward, I encourage the development of more complex narratives of EAC, which better recognise the contribution of enslaved labourers to modern capitalism.
Chapter
Introduction British agriculture developed in a distinctive manner that made important contributions to economic growth. By the early nineteenth century, agricultural labour productivity was one third higher in England than in France, and each British farm worker produced over twice as much as his Russian counterpart (Bairoch 1965; O’Brien and Keyder 1978; Wrigley 1985; Allen 1988, 2000). Although the yield per acre of grains was no higher in Britain than in other parts of north-western Europe, the region as a whole reaped yields twice those in most other parts of the world (Allen and O’Gráda 1988; Allen 1992.) Most accounts of British farming link the high level of efficiency to Britain’s peculiar agrarian institutions. In many parts of the continent, farms were small, operated by families without hired labour and often owned by their cultivators. Farms often consisted of strips scattered in open fields, and animals were often grazed on commons. Peasant farming of this sort was consolidated by the French Revolution. In contrast, in Britain, the open fields were enclosed, farm size increased and tenancy became general. While this transformation had been underway since the middle ages, it reached its culmination during the industrial revolution. Furthermore, it is often claimed that the agrarian transformation made important contributions to industrialisation by increasing output and supplying the industrial economy with labour and capital.