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Compare and contrast the arguments made by Williams and Drescher about the relationship between capitalism and the abolition of slavery in the British Empire. Which do you find more persuasive, and why?Papers will be graded according to three main criteria: argument, evidence, and writing.3 pages (around 750 words), double spaced, with one-inch margins and times new roman,12-point fontCapitalism
Slavery
Eric Williams
s
THE UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA PRESS
Chapel Hill
8
.
THE NEW INDUSTRIAL ORDER
WAS THIS TREMENDOUS INDUSTRIAL EXPANSION that the West
Indian monopolists had to face. They had the advantages of
prestige, custom, their great contributions to British economy
can see
in the past, and a strongly entrenched position.
not
could
the
that
were
that
doomed,
Lilliputians
today
they
IT
We
hold down Gulliver nor their barbs hurt him. Lecturing to Oxford undergraduates in 1839, Merivale warned that “the rapid
that
tide of sublunary events is carrying us
inevitably past
point at which the maintenance of colonial systems and navigation laws was practicable, whether it were desirable or not.
We
are borne helplessly along with the current; we may struggle
and protest, and marvel why the barriers which ancient fore-
thought had raised against the stream now bend like reeds before its violence, but we cannot change our destiny. The mo1
.”
The
nopoly of the West Indian islands cannot stand.
as all
acted
and
West Indians, however, could not see this
.
.
vested interests do. They put up a desperate fight, “struggling
by the aid of their accumulated wealth against the encroaching
2
blind to all considerations and conseprinciple of decay,”
the
maintenance
of their diseased system.
quences except
The
on the West Indians was more than an attack on
was an attack on monopoly. Their opponents were
attack
slavery. It
not only the humanitarians but the capitalists. The reason for
the attack was not only that the West Indian economic system
was vicious but that it was also so unprofitable that for this
reason alone
its
destruction
was
135
inevitable. 3
The
agent for
136
CAPITALISM AND SLAVERY
Jamaica complained in 1827 that “the cause of the colonies altogether, but more especially that part of it which touches upon
property in slaves, is so unattractive to florid orators and so un-
we have and must have very little
4
from
protection
Parliamentary speaking.” Hibbert was only
half right. If West Indian
was
detestable, West Indian
slavery
was
and
the
united
odium of both was
monopoly
unpopular,
more than the colonies could bear. 5
The attack falls into three phases: the attack on the slave
trade, the attack on slavery, the attack on the preferential sugar
duties. The slave trade was abolished in 1807, slavery in 1833,
popular with the public, that
the sugar preference in 1846. The three events are inseparable.
The very vested interests which had been built up by the slave
system
ians, in
turned and destroyed that system. The humanitarattacking the system in its weakest and most indefensible
now
spoke a language that the masses could understand. They
could never have succeeded a hundred years before when every
important capitalist interest was on the side of the colonial
spot,
to climb,” sang Wordsworth in
would never have been reached but
for the defection of the capitalists from the ranks of the slave-
system. “It was an arduous
praise of Clarkson. The top
hill
owners and slave traders. The West Indians, pampered and
petted and spoiled for a century and a half, made the mistake
of elevating into a law of nature what was actually only a law
of mercantilism. They thought themselves indispensable and
carried over to an age of anti-imperialism the lessons
they had
been taught in an age of commercial imperialism. When, to
their surprise, the “invisible hand” of Adam Smith turned
could turn only to the invisible hand of
against them, they
God.6 The rise and fall of mercantilism is the rise and fall of
slavery.
A.
PROTECTION OR LAISSEZ FAIRE?
Queen Victoria once sent a famous message to two African
“England has become great and happy by the knowl-
chiefs:
capitalist,
God
and Jesus Christ.” 7 To the Manchester
“Jesus Christ was Free Trade, and Free Trade was
edge of the true
8
Jesus Christ.”
THE NEW INDUSTRIAL ORDER
145
71
The age of empire was dead; that of free traders,
economists, and calculators had succeeded, and the glory of the
party
spirit.
West
was extinguished for ever. Only another thirty
however, the tune would change. But the West Indian
Humpty Dumpty had had a great fall, and all the King’s
horses and all the King’s men could not
put
Dumpty
Indies
years,
Humpty
together again.
C.
THE GROWTH OF WORLD SUGAR PRODUCTION
The strength of the British sugar islands before 1783 lay in
the fact that as sugar producers they had few competitors. In
so far as they could, they would
permit none. They resisted
the attempt to introduce the cultivation of sugar (and cotton)
into Sierra
Leone on the ground that
it
would be
a
precedent
72
to “foreign nations, who have as
yet no colonies anywhere,”
and might prove detrimental to those who possessed West In-
dian colonies; 73 just as a century previously
they had opposed
the cultivation of indigo in Africa. 74 Their chief competitors
in the
sugar trade were Brazil and the French islands, Cuba be-
by the extreme exclusiveness of Spanish mercanThis situation was radically altered when Saint Domingue
forged ahead in the years immediately following the secession
of the mainland colonies.
ing hampered
tilism.
The
cultivation of Barbados and Jamaica had transferred the
sugar trade of Europe from .Portugal to England. The progress
of Saint Domingue gave control of the European sugar market
Between 1715 and 1789 French imports from the
colonies multiplied eleven times, French colonial products re75
In 1789 two-thirds of French exexported abroad ten times.
to France.
ports to the Baltic, over one-third of the exports to the Levant,
It was
“by it, and by it alone, that she
were colonial produce.
turned the balance of the trade with
all
the world to a favour-
able result.” 76
It was the old law of slave production at work. Saint Domingue was larger than any British colony, its soil was more
fertile and less exhausted, hence its costs of production were
lower. This difference in costs of production became an object
CAPITALISM AND SLAVERY
146
of particular inquiry with the Privy Council Committee of 1788.
From the standpoint of the ^British Prime Minister, William
was the decisive factor. The age of the British sugar
was over. The West Indian system was unprofitable,
and the slave trade on which it rested, “instead of being very
advantageous to Great Britain … is the most destructive that
can well be imagined to her interests.” 77 For a Prime Minister
whose father had been consistently on the West Indian side of
the fence, and whose
predecessor a mere ten years previously
had blandly turned down a petition for abolition, this was a
momentous conversion. Pitt turned to India.
Pitt’s
plan was twofold: to recapture the European market
with the aid of sugar from India, 78 and to secure an international abolition of the slave trade 79 which would ruin Saint
Pitt, this
islands
Domingue.
not international abolition, then British abolition.
If
The French were
so dependent on British slave traders that
even a unilateral abolition by England would seriously dislocate
the economy of the French colonies.
Pitt’s
plan failed, for two reasons. The importation of East
India sugar, on the scale planned, was impossible owing to the
high duties imposed on all sugar not the produce of the British
West
Indies.
80
Lord Hawkesbury,
for the
West
Indian
monop-
opposed the alteration of the existing law “in favour of
a monopolising company” which was exceeding the bounds of
olists,
charter.
its
He was
81
But Hawkesbury was more than a West Indian.
touch with British commerce and industry,
in close
especially Liverpool.
He
therefore recommended, instead, the
foreign sugar provided it was done in British
for
and
refining and re-export. “The commerce and
ships
solely
will be more diminished, and the commerce
of
France
shipping
and shipping of Great Britain more augmented, than by any
82
single measure that has been pursued for the last century.”
importation of
all
this
very simple regulation Britain would recover the sugar
trade she had enjoyed from 1660 to 1713 but which thereafter
she lost to France. 83
By
Secondly, the French, Dutch and Spaniards refused, with
called thirty years later “sheer
perverse-
what Lord Liverpool
ness,”
84
to abolish the slave trade. 85 It
was not
difficult to see
THE NEW INDUSTRIAL ORDER
147
the political motives behind Pitt’s cloak of humanitarianism.
Gaston-Martin, the well-known French historian of the slave
trade and the Caribbean colonies, accuses Pitt of aiming
by
u
propaganda to free the slaves, in the name no doubt of humanity,
this
but also to ruin French commerce,” and concludes that in
philanthropic propaganda there were economic motives
which explain the
liberality
with which Britain put funds
at
the disposal of the French abolitionists, and the
way in which
France was swamped with translations of the anti-slavery
works of the
admitted:
is
British abolitionist, Clarkson. 86
As Ramsay had
“We may confidently conclude that the African trade
more confined
in
that of late years
it
its
utility
than
has contributed
is
generally imagined and
to the aggrandisement
more
of our rivals than of our national wealth.” 87
At
this
juncture the French Revolution came to the aid of
Fearful that the idealism of the
revolutionary movement
would destroy the slave trade and slavery, the French planters
Pitt.
of Saint
Domingue
in 1791 offered the island to
were soon followed by those of the Windward
cepted the offer,
when war broke
88
England,
Islands.
8″
and
Pitt ac-
out with France in 1793.
was sent unsuccessfully to capture
the precious colony, first from the French, then from the
Negroes. It was not, Parliament was assured, “a war for riches
or local aggrandisement but a war for security.” 90 The allied
cause in Europe was weakened in the interests of British im”The secret of England’s impotence for the first six
perialism.
Expedition after expedition
years of the war,” writes Fortescue, historian of the British
“may be said to lie in the two fatal words, St. Do-
army,
91
Britain lost thousands of men and spent thousands of
mingo.”
pounds in the attempt to capture Saint Domingue. She failed,
but the world’s sugar bowl was destroyed in the process and
French colonial superiority smashed forever. “For this,” writes
Fortescue, “England’s soldiers had been sacrificed, her treasure
her arm for
squandered, her influence weakened,
six fateful
92
and paralysed.”
years fettered, numbed
This is of more than academic interest. Pitt could not have
had Saint Domingue and abolition
slave imports a year, Saint
as well.
Without
Domingue might
as
its
40,000
well have been
CAPITALISM AND SLAVERY
148
bottom of the sea. The very acceptance of the island
logically the end of Pitt’s interest in abolition. Naturally
he did not say so. He had already committed himself too far in
at the
meant
He continued to speak in favor of
even
while
abolition,
giving every practical encouragement to
the slave trade. But it was not the old Pitt of 1789-1791, the
the eyes of the public.
Pitt of Latin tags, brilliant
ism.
and
the
St.
oratory and infectious humanitarianin the debates in Parliament
The change can be followed
in
Wilberforce’s diary. In 1792 Wilberforce’s diary struck
ominous note: “Pitt threw out against slave motion on
first
Domingo
account.” 93 Thereafter
Pitt’s
support of Wilber-
became nothing short of perfunctory.
On one occasion he supported the West Indians, on another he
put off the motion, on another he “stood stiffly” by Wilber94
Under Pitt’s adforce, on yet another he simply stayed away.
ministration the British slave trade alone more than doubled, 95
and Britain conquered two more sugar colonies, Trinidad and
British Guiana. As the abolitionist Stephen wrote with bitterness: “Mr. Pitt,
unhappily for himself, his country and mankind,
force’s annual motions
not zealous enough in the cause of the negroes, to contend
them as decisively as he ought, in the cabinet any more
than in parliament.” 98
is
for
Liberal historians plead Pitt’s fear of Jacobinism. The real
is more
simple. It can be taken as axiomatic that no man
reason
occupying so important
a position as
Prime Minister of Eng-
land would have taken so important a step as abolishing the
Prime Minister
slave trade purely for humanitarian reasons.
A
were poand only secondarily personal. He was interested in the
sugar trade. Either he must ruin Saint Domingue by flooding
Europe with cheaper Indian sugar or by abolishing the slave
trade; or he must get Saint Domingue for himself. If he could
is
more than
a
man, he
is
a statesman. Pitt’s reasons
litical
get Saint Domingue, the balance in the Caribbean would be restored. Saint Domingue would be “a noble compensation” for
the loss of America, and “a glorious addition to the dominion,
97
It would give
navigation, trade and manufactures of Britain.”
Britain a
monopoly of sugar, indigo, cotton and coffee: “This
would give such aid and force to industry as
island, for ages,
THE NEW INDUSTRIAL ORDER
149
would be most happily felt in every part of the kingdom.” Followed by an offensive and defensive alliance between Britain
and Spain, “such friendship for
ages might preclude France
and America from the New World, and
effectually secure the
08
invaluable possessions of
But
if
Pitt captured Saint
Spain.”
Domingue, the slave trade must continue. When Saint Domingue was lost to France, the slave trade became merely a
humanitarian question.
The destruction of Saint Domingue meant the end of the
French sugar trade. Not all the decrees of consuls, black or
white, wrote Eden with complacency, could fill up the gaps in
the population of the island.” But the ruin of Saint
Domingue
did not
mean
the salvation of the British
West
Indies.
Two new
enemies appeared on the scene. Cuba
forged ahead to
left in
fill
the
the world market
gap
by the disappearance of Saint
defeated
in his
Domingue. Bonaparte,
attempts to recapture the
colony and determined to conquer England by strangulafirst
impetus to beet sugar, and the
began. Whilst, under the American flag,
Cuban and other neutral sugar still found a market in Europe,
lost
tion of her trade,
gave the
war of the two sugars
West Indian surpluses piled up in England. Bankruptwere the order of the day. Between 1799 and 1807, 65
plantations in Jamaica were abandoned, 32 were sold for debts,
and in 807 suits were pending against
5 others. Debt, disease
and death were the only topics of conversation in the island. 100
A parliamentary committee set up in 1807 discovered that the
British West Indian
planter was producing at a loss. In 1800
his
was
2 /2
profit
per cent, in 1807 nothing. In 1787 the planter
British
cies
1
1 1
l
got i9/6d profit per hundredweight; in 1799, io/9d; in 1803,
i8/6d; in 1805, i2/-; in 1806, nothing. The committee attributed
101
the main evil to the unfavorable state of the
In
foreign market.
1806 the surplus of sugar in
amounted
to
six
thousand
England
tons. 102 Production had to be curtailed. To restrict
production,
the slave trade must be abolished. The “saturated” colonies
needed only seven thousand slaves a year. 103 It was the new
colonies, crying out for labor, full of possibilities, that had to
be restrained, and they were
abolition.
permanently crippled
by
That
explains the support of the abolition bill
by
so
many West
150
CAPITALISM AND SLAVERY
Indian planters of the older islands. Ellis had stated categorically in 1 804 that the slave trade should be continued, but only
to the older colonies. 104 It was the same old conflict between
“saturated planters” and “planters on the make.”
The war and Bonaparte’s continental blockade made abolition
imperative if the older colonies were to survive. “Are they not
now/’ asked Prime Minister Grenville, “distressed by the accumulation of produce on their hands, for which they cannot
find a market; and will it not therefore be
adding to their distress, and leading the planters on to their ruin, if you suffer the
continuation of fresh importations?” 105 Wilberforce rejoiced:
West Indian distress could not be imputed to abolition. 106
Actually, abolition was the direct result of that distress.
If abolition of the slave trade
problems,
it
was only
a
was the solution of the
temporary
planter’s
solution. For, as Merivale
argued soundly, without imports to replace their slaves, the
West Indies, and especially the newer colonies, could not hope
still fiercer
competition of the nineteenth century.
was rather a loss than a
without
the
trade
slave
“Slavery
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