[Capitalism and Slavery, Eric Williams, 1944 UNC Press] Theory for folks who aren’t trying to read all those damn pages, by someone who has nothing better to do. Part 3 of a new series based on Eric Williams’ Capitalism and Slavery. Check out the introduction here.
ACCORDING TO ADAM SMITH, the discovery of America and the Cape route to India are "the two greatest and most important events recorded in the history of mankind." (51) Chapter 3: British Commerce and the Triangular Trade
Hey, remember that triangular trade thing? Here’s the triangle, for the British Empire at least (according to Williams):
England, France, and Colonial America supplied exports and ships
Africa had humans to enslave
Plantations provided raw materials
So, a typical triangular voyage could go something like this:
A slave ship leaves from England carrying a cargo of manufactured goods (often: utensils, cloths, and, importantly: guns – see page 65). The ship sails to Africa.
The goods in A would be exchanged, at a profit, for enslaved Africans. The ship sails west, to the plantations (the US South, or Jamaica, for example).
The ship sells the Africans, at another profit, to the plantations or their intermediaries. With these profits, the slavers buy colonial products – often raw materials like sugar and cotton that would be refined into consumer products back in the mother country. When said consumer products were manufactured, they’d be put onto slave ships...and we’re starting back at one.
one, its like a nightmare come true, two, don't wanna be with you...
Then, the triangular trade was a “triple stimulus” to the British imperial economy - think of the slave trade as the Pythagorean Theorem of Fuck Shit you used to solve the history of capitalism. The raw materials (tobacco, molasses, cotton, sugar) produced by slave labor in the colonies created dependent industries in England for processing. Both maintaining the enslaved and free populations of the colonies market, and the imperial presence on the coast of Africa both created large new markets for English manufacture.
The English working class gained new access to employment due to slave ownership: one author during this period estimated that every Englishman in the West Indies, "with the ten blacks that work with him, accounting what they eat, use and wear, would make employment for four men in England.” The “mother country” as a whole made a killing: by one estimate Williams considers, every person employed on the sugar plantations was 130 times more valuable to England than one at home. The slave trade so drastically increased the volume of ships and goods imported to English ports that the stacks of plunder literally could not fit in the docks – in 1800 they began construction of new ones. In 1798, William Pitt, then Prime Minister, estimated that the West Indian colonies generated four times more income than from British plantations in the entire rest of the world combined. The British “sugar colonies” on the Caribbean islands were “the most precious colonies ever recorded in the whole annals of imperialism.”
If I can leave summarizing for a second and make an additional point that Williams diplomatically leaves unstated: these profits certainly served the private greed of businessmen, members of Parliament, and the royal family – but they also built roads, hospitals, financed research and educational institutions in the mother countries, all of which sediment the advantages of this plunder in the “mother country” in ways that are at least somewhat public. I mean to say that that plunder is that are serve the interests even of the otherwise oppressed working classes of these countries. (51)
Anyways, for the crown to keep up this triangle hustle, the colonies had to be made dependent on the mother country. And to stay that way. That meant preventing the development of manufacturing in the colonies – otherwise it would cut into the huge profits being made in and for England. Parliament passed Navigation Acts to govern its most important commodities – chief among them, sugar and enslaved Black folks. These would go to any lengths to maintain mother country’s monopoly over this or that industry, from requiring people to be buried in English wool to defining “English ships” so narrowly that it excluded ships that were built with wood from any other country. The colonists, being patient and understanding, definitely were not pissed off at all.