Sunday, August 12, 2012

Economic Reasons for The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and Its Abolition


Original Article By: Rainfaerie

            It is easy to see how why Trans-Atlantic slave trade is credited with the economic development of world powers such as Western Europe and the Americas. But what may not be so easy to understand is why slavery was abolished after proving to be such a source of financial wealth. This analysis will look over some of the major events that occurred towards the end of slavery, and show that the abolition of slavery was a business decision, not an ethical one. In turn, the economic reasons for the Trans-Atlantic slave trade and its abolition will be revealed.

The Triangular Trade
            The triangular trade was a Trans-Atlantic trade network established between Europe, Africa, and the Americas. Originally started by Spain and Portugal, the triangular trade soon attracted more merchants including Great Britain, France, and the Netherlands. Some of the goods plantations were set up to cultivate the production of a variety of goods such as Sugar

Change Comes to the West Indies
            The Napoleonic Wars in the West Indies caused a strain on trade relations between France and Great Britain—who barred the French from trade with English colonies. Bur prior to that there was another problem arising for the French. Saint Dominigue was the crown jewel of the French in the West Indies due to its profitability from abundant commodities produced on its plantations—sugar and coffee—both of which were highly demanded by Europeans. These commodities were so highly demanded that the need for manpower increased—resulting in the slave population of the island doubling.1 This created an imbalance in the ratio of whites to black slaves, in which the latter had greater numbers. An uprising, which Boukman led in 1791, left a fear in slave owners that the slaves could possibly succeed in overthrowing the French, and take control of the island. A “Saint-Domingue insurrection...began in 1791 and culminated in the creation of the independent black  republic of Haiti in 1804.”2 The rebellion of 1804 eliminated the supply of commodities from Domingue.3 In an effort to eliminate competition, France's rival—Great Britain cut them off from British colonies4, which had already put the French at a major financial disadvantage. After Haiti's independence, the French found a new, more efficient means of sugar production on their own soil.  Meanwhile, in 1801 the king of Prussia financed the establishment of a factory for the production of beet sugar, which has recently been discovered. Napoleon took this opportunity to reestablish France's sugar industry by decreeing that French farmers cultivate beets since the climate of France was permissible. Towards the end of the 18th century, sugarcane plantations of the Americas became less profitable due to the European embargo during the European wars. This was exaggerated even more because by 1900, beet sugar accounted for 65%  of the world's sugar production. The French economy began to flourish as the West Indies declined in profitability as beet sugar became a rival of cane sugar.5 Because the triangular trade was no longer as profitable to Western economies as before, cultivation of goods on African soil became a popular alternative to transporting slaves to the West Indies. This was a step in the direction of abolishing the slave trade, which would become a reality much later.
The Industrial Revolution
           “Industrial development in Great Britain stimulated the demand for oil, and this demand was partly satisfied through trade with the west African coast”. As more machines were invented the British, lubricants were needed for their successful operation. Palm oil proved very useful as a machine lubricant, as well as in the making of soap, candles, and medicinal ointments.6 The mass manufacturing of palm oil on the Ivory Coast did not profit the local economy, it actually created dependence on Europe. Because income derived by the local Africans from the trade of palm oil was spent on European manufacturing items7—Europe was benefiting double from this industry as the money they spent on palm oil circulated right back into their hands. There was such a high demand for palm oil that the king of Dahomey restricted the cutting of oil palms to reserve oil for his kingdom.8 The king of Dahomey was unsuccessful under military pressure from Europeans, who continued to exploit palms for major production of palm oil in Ghana and Nigeria in the late 19th century. Other African products were also exploited to benefit the Western European economy, such as rubber in Liberia. Firestone9, a major beneficiary of Liberia's rubber production  from hevea trees, is today the world's leading producer of rubber—this was at the expense of the Africans who previously owned the land.10 African agriculture also changed with the development of monocultures by Western Europeans seeking to mass produce crops on African land. These are just a few examples of the way in which the Western European economy profited from the exploitation of African resources. The actions of Western Europeans weakened the African economies, leaving many African nations in a poor financial state deigned to ensure their dependence on Europe, even after the abolition of slavery.
Influential Activists in the Abolitionist Movement
            In addition to finances, there were other factors that led to the abolition of slavery. Slave resistance grew to undermine the triangular trade, as in the example to the Haitian revolution. This persuaded slave owners to take action, and avoid losing control of their resources if a similar situation arose where blacks gained their freedom. The rise economic evolution of the world—industrial revolution—made direct exploitation of Africa more profitable than bring slaves to the Americas. By accessing resources and establishing plantations on African soil, the 'middle men' could be cut out—slave traders, and village raiders. Also, the costs associated with insurance, and the losses of personnel during the middle passage—due to disease and death—could be avoided.
            Abolitionists and former slaves began telling their stories of slave-life to the uninformed public through narratives and public lectures—causing whites to question whether slavery is ethical. Olaudah Equiano published his memoir in 1789, captivating the hearts of many readers with the help of influential acquaintances and abolitionists11. Other slave testimonies were circulates as in the case of Ottobah Cugoano, who published Narrative of the Enslavement of Ottobah Cugoano: a Native of Africa in 1787, Mary Prince, who published The History of Mary Prince in 1831, and Frederick Douglas who published Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas in 1845. These abolitionists wrote about their life as a slave, gave lectures, and traveled to gain supporters of abolition. Other abolitionists are Lucretia Coffin Mott and William Lloyd Garrison of the United States, Granville Sharp and William Wilberforce of Great Britain, and Abby Pierre and Victor Schoelcher of France. Although many abolitionists sought an end to slavery for mostly ethical reasons, their efforts mainly benefited those who only wanted to abolish slavery for economical reasons.

After Slavery Was Abolished
            Slave trading was outlawed by Great Britain in 1807, this was before slavery itself was abolished. Not  everyone ended slavery on the same date, but eventually is was abolished completely. However, after slavery was outlawed, some West Indian slave owners continued to trade illegally. These illegal actions promoted the development of a strong economy in both Cuba12 and Brazil13.
           Another effect of the abolition of slavery was the instance of trials. Slave owners who were accustomed to bringing their slaves along with them to Europe were met with surprise when their slaves sought legal action against them upon arrival. Because slavery was outlawed in continental Europe, it was illegal for slave owners to possess slaves in Europe. A classic example of this is the Somerset trial that was held in London in 1772.14 This obviously presented a financial risk to slave owners traveling to Europe. Slave owners actually received compensation from for taking a loss of manpower once slavery ended.
Summary of the Ultimate Reasons for the Abolition of Slavery
            The Trans-Atlantic slave trade provided a solid foundation for guiding the economies of the Americas and well as Europe. The abolition of slavery and the slave trade was made possible by a variety of factors. The Industrial Revolution led to monumental transformation in the means of gaining wealth among world economy leaders, from manpower to mass production from factories and plantations using machines. As technology advanced, providing more profitable means for gaining and sustaining wealth, the world view of slavery also began to change. Although abolition was considered by some—an ethical movement to end crimes against humanity, the slave trade was a indeed about business. At the end of the day, the abolition of slavery was a decision by business owners worldwide to ensure the success of their companies, and in turn promote a healthy economic state in their homelands. For countries, continuing slavery late into the 19th century was more profitable for their economies, even if they had to take risks of illegal slave trading. However, for world leaders like the British, abolition was a step in the right direction to promote a much wealthier economy. As for the post-abolition conditions of Africa, dependency on Europe caused a decline in many economies. Even though African land and resources were exploited by Europeans, the profits generated only further stimulated those who were in the control—Europeans. It is fairly simple to understand that that the abolition of slavery was merely an economic strategy devised to expand the wealth of some European countries. The efforts of abolitionist movements helped to further this agenda by changing the concept of slavery in the minds of the masses, and gaining their cooperation. With this agenda, Europeans could ensure that Africa would be forced into a position to provide a secure, and substantial source of income for Europe long into the future, and not have the financial resources to overcome dependency on the European economy. In summary, the main economic reason for the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, was to create a stable system of residual income to stimulate European economies, with the least amount of financial expenditures. Abolition was merely implemented as a business strategy necessary to increase European cash flow by eliminating the costs of slavery—made unnecessary with the advances of the Industrial Revolution.


Footnotes:

1 Jeremy D. Popkin, “Facing Racial Revolution: Captivity Narratives and Identity in the Saint Domingue Insurrection,” Eighteenth-Century Studies 36, no. 4 (2003): 513.
2 Jeremy D. Popkin, “Facing Racial Revolution: Captivity Narratives and Identity in the Saint Domingue Insurrection,”Eighteenth-Century Studies 36, no. 4 (2003): 512.
3 J. R. Ward, “The Industrial Revolution and British Imperialism, 1750-1850,” The Economic History Review, New Series47, no. 1 (1994): 49.
4 J. R. Ward, “The Industrial Revolution and British Imperialism, 1750-1850,” The Economic History Review, New Series47, no. 1 (1994): 60.
5 Muriel E. Poggi, “The German Sugar Beet Industry,” Economic Geography 6, no. 1 (1930): 81.
6 James Sanders, “Palm Oil Production on the Gold Coast in the Aftermath of the Slave Trade: A Case Study of the Fante.” The International Journal of African Historical Studies 15, no. 1 (1982): 58.
7 James Sanders, “Palm Oil Production on the Gold Coast in the Aftermath of the Slave Trade: A Case Study of the Fante.” The International Journal of African Historical Studies 15, no. 1 (1982): 63.
8 Robin Law, “The Politics of Commercial Transition: Factional Conflict in Dahomey in the Context of the Ending of the Atlantic Slave Trade,” The Journal of African History 38, no. 2 (1997): 224.
9 William R. Stanley, “Transport Expansion in Liberia,” Geographical Review 60, no. 4 (1970): 533.
10 J. Forbes Munro, “Monopolists and Speculators: British Investment in West African Rubber 1905-1914,” The Journal of African History 22, no. 2 (1981): 269.
11 Olaudah Equiano, The Interesting Narrative of Olaudah Equiano od Gustavas Vassa, The African (New York: Modern Library, 1789, 2004), xl-lx.
12 Alfonso W. Quiroz, “Implicit Costs of Empire: Bureaucratic Corruption in Nineteenth-Century Cuba,” Journal of Latin American Studies 35, no. 3 (2003): 475.
13 Alfonso W. Quiroz, “Implicit Costs of Empire: Bureaucratic Corruption in Nineteenth-Century Cuba,” Journal of Latin American Studies 35, no. 3 (2003): 481.
14 Daniel J. Hulsebosch, “Nothing but Liberty: 'Somerset's Case' and the British Empire” Law and History Review24, no. 3 (2006): 648.


Bibliography

Equiano, Olaudah. The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano or, Gustavas Vassa, The African. New York: Modern Library, 1789, 2004.

Hulsebosch, Daniel J. “Nothing but Liberty: 'Somerset's Case' and the British Empire.” Law and History Review 24, no. 3 (2006): 647-657.

Law, Robin. “The Politics of Commercial Transition: Factional Conflict in Dahomey in the Context of the Ending of the Atlantic Slave Trade.” The Journal of African History 38, no. 2 (1997):         213-233.

Munro, J. Forbes. “Monopolists and Speculators: British Investment in West African Rubber,        1905-1914.” The Journal of African History 22, no. 2 (1981): 263-278

Poggi, Muriel E. “The German Sugar Beet Industry.” Economic Geography 6, no. 1 (1930): 81-93

Popkin, Jeremy D. “Facing Racial Revolution: Captivity narratives and Identity in the Saint Domingue Insurrection.” Eighteenth-Century Studies 36, no. 4 (2003): 511-533

Quiroz, Alfonso W. “Implicit Costs of Empire: Bureaucratic Corruption in Nineteenth-Century Cuba.” Journal of Latin American Studies 35, no. 3 (2003): 473-511

Sanders, James. “Palm Oil Production on the Gold Coast in the Aftermath of the Slave Trade: A Case Study of the Fante.” The International Journal of African Historical Studies 15, no. 1 (1982):49-63

Stanley, William R. “Transport Expansion in Liberia.” Geographical Review 60, no. 4 (1970): 529-547

Ward, J. R. “The Industrial Revolution and British Imperialism, 1750-1850.” The Economic History Review, New Series 47, no. 1 (1994): 44-65

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