How significant were economic and financial factors in the abolition of the slave trade?

  • Created by: becky.65
  • Created on: 05-03-18 16:00

Suggests that with the growth of industrialisation and new economic theories relating to the benefits of paid labour, the slave trade was a barrier to further prosperity and was therefore ended

Eric Williams and the 'Decline Thesis':

  • Very critical view of the abolitionists and their 'saintly' image
  • These men were very selective in their efforts and if they were truly motivated by humanitarianism then they would have considered working conditions of mines and poverty of the working class
  • He maintained that the motivation was tied to economic interests due to their focus on the slave trade alone
  • Slave system was only challenged in the late 1700s because it was becoming unprofitable 
  • The weakness of his argument lies in the definitive assertion that economic considerations were the primary motivation for abolition as he reduces the importance of other factors
  • Drescher challenged his idea by showing how abolishing the trade actually did more to undermine the economy rather than abolition being motivated by the decline

Economic considerations:

  • The infrastructure of the trade generated prosperity 
  • Shipbuilding and outfitting businesses grew as 35,000 slave voyages took place between the 16th and 19th centuries
  • 1790s - Liverpool became the biggest slave trading port (3/7 of European trade)
  • The trade supported a growing economy and provided thousands of jobs for associated industris
  • The network built up between the West Indies, Britain, the Americas and West Africa created export markets 
  • Sugar plantation owners' homes were furnished with British imports
  • Slaves used tools fashioned on British workbenches
  • Slave ports of Britian became centres of excessive wealth
  • 1780s - in Bristol 40% of people's incom was slave-based
  • mid to late 1700's - slave trade continued to reap substantial economic rewards for the country as the trade routes expanded due to growing demand for British goods
  • 1784-86 / 1805-07 - 87% of Britain's textile output went abroad with African markets taking the lion's share of this produce
  • Traders in slaves would first load their ships with British made goods and use these as bargaining counters when they arrived on the African coast, and in return for slaves, African traders would be givn these goods
  • This exchange of goods helped to develop markets for British goods
  • 1793/1815 - British manufacturers often had to rely on these markets alone as European buyers were temporarily excluded
  • Importance of the slave trade was that it went beyond the profiteering of slavery itself as it also promoted the growth of other industries such as textiles
  • While…


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