British manufacturers drive the expansion of the slave trade in the years 1760-1800

During the years of C1760 – C1800 Britain were heavily involved in manufacturing, this was mainly due to the transatlantic slave trade. This asks the question to what extent did the needs of the British manufacturers drive the expansion of the slave trade in the years C1760-C1800. This question is very important especially in the history of the British Empire because it was one of the factors which made Britain dominant and imperial. The three main factors which will be analysed in this essay are that the slave trade provided capital for investment.

The slave trade was also a market for manufactured goods and the Slave trade was also crucial to the Atlantic trading system. This essay will evaluate why the needs of British manufacturers were responsible for driving the expansion of the Slave trade in the years C1760-C1800. The “slave trade” refers to the transatlantic trade triangle. This is where European ships would set sail to Africa. The ships would be filled with cargo such as Copper, cloth, glassware, ammunition, guns, manilas, brass and iron.

This type of cargo was usually all manufactured goods. Once they reached West Africa they traded their cargo for slaves that were captured by the African merchants. The European ships would then set sail to the Americas with the slaves crammed up in the Ship’s hold. Once the ships reached the Americas the European ships traded the slaves for commodities such as coffee, cotton, raw sugar, rum and rice. The European ships would then set sail towards their home countries where they would trade the goods with local merchants.

This is an example of how manufacturers drove the expansion of the slave trade because the manufactured goods were an essential part of the slave trade as without these goods merchants would not have been able to barter for slaves which, therefore, would have meant that the slaves would not have gone to the Americas to work in plantations. This is a ‘domino effect’. The slave trade also produced capital for investment in manufacturing. For example technological developments were funded with transatlantic slave trade money[1].

Eric Williams argues in his book Capitalism and Slavery that the slave trade had financed Britain’s industrialisation. He states that “…the profits obtained provided one of the main streams of that accumulation of capital in England which financed the industrial revolution”. [2] This means that the slave trade helped to build and equip manufactories such as workshops and factories. This means that for manufacturers to increase profits they would have to increase the number of goods they produce. This, in actual fact, did occur and historians describe this as the “Atlantic boom”[3].

Another reason why the needs of the British manufacturers drove the expansion of the slave trade in the years C1760-C1800 was because the slave trade created a market for manufactured goods. Merchants can take their manufactured goods to Africa where they can barter for slaves. This was a massive market. A prime example of how the market was crucial is “Manillas”[4]. This good was manufactured in Britain and then taken to Africa to trade. This good became extremely popular in Africa and was used as currency. This gave manufacturers an incentive to produce more of the good in order to obtain larger profits.

This means that manufacturers became extremely interested in the slave trade as it was a major source of income. The more manufacturers produced meant the more slaves being bought therefore meaning more slaves in plantations. This shows that manufacturers did drive the expansion of the slave trade in the given period. Britain also profited from goods sold to colonies. During 1770 96. 3% of British exports of nails and 70. 5% exports of wrought iron went to colonial and African markets[5]. Textile exports were also large and often accounted for around a half of British exports.

During the French Wars in 1793-1802 British exporters often found that they had to rely on colonial and American markets. These figures show how heavily manufacturers and Britain depended on the slave trade. These figures show that manufacturers were responsible for the expansion of the slave trade because of the amount of money there were obtaining.

However, many historians dispute the idea that British manufacturers drove the expansion of the slave trade. For example Kenneth Morgan argues that the slave trade comprised as much as 39% of commercial and industrial movements[7]. This figure is relatively small and shows that the slave trade did not contribute much to the manufacturing investments in Britain. Although 39% is a relatively small figure, it still is a massive contributor to manufacturing investments and does in some respects show how important the slave trade was to manufacturing and vice versa.

This is because a large amount of money was being poured into this. Another reason why this argument is disputed is because Britain was being dependent on the commodities that were being imported into Britain from the Americas in the slave trade. For example commodities such as sugar, tea, tobacco etc. Sugar became a vital necessity in the British way of life. This meant that merchants involved in the slave trade had to import a lot more sugar. Figures show that in the 1700s the British imported 23,000 tons of sugar, a century later it stood at 245,000 tons[8].

James Walvin states that sugar “transformed the routines of domestic life and shaped key areas of sociability”. The demand for tobacco was growing at an astonishing rate. 220 million pounds of tobacco had been imported to England in the 1670s[9]. These examples show that it was not just Britain’s manufacturers that were driving the expansion of the slave trade. The selling of slaves was also another major contributor to the expansion of the slave trade.

For example The South Sea Company was involved in the trading of slaves and the company took advantage of the Assiento[10] this meant that the company was able to bring a total of 144,000 slaves to the Spanish colonies for a period of 30 years. This gave the Company a massive financial gain; this gain gave the government and other trading companies the incentive to generate huge profits. This factor was extremely important to the expansion of the slave trade because it was the largest contributor to the trade triangle. In conclusion, there are many alternative factors that drove the expansion of the slave trade in the years C1760-C1800.

These factors did contribute to the slave trade, however, British manufacturers did also contribute and in retrospect they had more of significance in expanding the slave trade; the slave trade provided capital for investment, it also created a market for manufactured goods and the Slave trade was also crucial to the Atlantic trading system. This essay has stated figures and reasons why these points are significant and that is why the final conclusion of this essay is that the needs of British manufacturers drove the expansion of the slave trade in the years C1760-C1800 to a major extent.

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