Skip to main content

Why did the British end the slave trade?

Despite what we've been told, the real reason behind the British banning of the slave trade is more economics and less Christian-inspired morality. The following is a brilliant passage (found on page 53 and 54 in the second edition revised) from C.L.R. James' classic book, The Black Jacobins

It was the growth of San Domingo that was decisive. Pitt [William, "the Younger"] found that some 50 percent of the slaves imported into the British islands were sold to the French colonies. It was the British slave-trade, therefore, which was increasing French colonial produce and putting the European market into French hands. Britain was cutting its own throat. And even the profits from this export were likely not to last. Already a few years before the slave merchants had failed for £700,000 in a year. The French, seeking to provide their own slaves, were encroaching in Africa and increasing their share of the trade every year. Why should they continue to buy from Britain? Holland and Spain were doing the same. By 1786 Pitt, a disciple of Adam Smith, had seen the light clearly. He asked Wilberforce to undertake the campaign. Wilberforce represented the important division of Yorkshire, he had a great reputation, all the humanity, justice, stain on national character, etc., etc., would sound well coming from him. Pitt was in a hurry- it was important to bring the trade to a complete stop quickly and suddenly. The French had neither the capital nor the organization to make good the deficiency at once and he would ruin San Domingo at a stroke. In 1787 he warned Wilberforce that if he did not bring the motion in, somebody else would, and in 1788 he informed the Cabinet that he would not stay in it with those who opposed. Pitt was fairly certain of success in England. With truly British nerve he tried to persuade the European Governments to abolish the trade on the score of inhumanity. The French Government's negotiations had been to "compliment us and to keep us quiet and in good humour." The Dutch, less polite, gave a more abrupt negative. But here a great stroke of luck befell Pitt. France was then stirring with pre-revolutionary attacks on all obvious abuses, and one year after the Abolitionist Society had been formed in Britain, a group of Liberals in France, Brissot, Mirabeau, Pétion, Condorcet, Abbé Grégoire, all the great names of the first years of the revolution, followed the British example and formed a society, the Friends of the Negro. The leading spirit was Brissot, a journalist who had seen slavery in the United States. The society aimed at the abolition of slavery, published a journal, agitated. This suited the British down to the ground. Clarkson went to Paris, to stimulate "the slumbering energies" of the society, gave it money, supplied France with British anti-slavery propaganda. Despite the names that were to become so famous and a large membership, we must beware of thinking that the Friends of the Negro represented a force. The colonists took them seriously, the maritime bourgeoisie did not. It was the French Revolution which, with unexpected swiftness, would drag theses eloquent Frenchmen out of the stimulating excitement of philanthropic propaganda and put them face to face with economic reality.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Against Empire

It seems like no one outside of the “American Conservative” is thinking about the US as a declining empire. Contrary to what some thought, Trump has no interest in scaling back the US to a “normal” country. That wasn’t what MAGA meant. Quite the opposite, Trump and his goons think the post war international order isn’t US-centric enough. This is where Trump and the neoconservatives find common ground. 

What’s more interesting to me is the Democratic Party, and the liberal/left in general. The Dems are historically the war party, and they have renewed that patriotic passion in the Trump era. The shameful treatment of Ilhan Omar is a good example. This charge of her being “anti-Semitic” for questioning Israel’s influence in US foreign policy is disingenuous and disgraceful. (People are acting like we didn’t already go through this silly “debate” when Walt and Mearsheimer’s book came out over a decade ago. It’s infuriating. These are also the same people who can’t go a half an hour witho…
I’m really glad to see Paulsen and Lewis gone (especially Lewis who is particularly ghoulish), but I would be much more confident if the DFL would have kept Walz’s and Nolan’s seats. Many powerful Dems were already convinced of the “suburban strategy” (basically a mad dash away from anything labeled “populist”) and the midterm results are going to make them even more zealous. The problem is that this strategy is based almost solely on moral outrage and that burns people out. It’s simply not sustainable. And while I’m sure they’re good people who know how to say the right things, I don’t trust the political instincts of Craig or Phillips. 
The Sanders wing of the Democratic Party is the most interesting thing to happen to it since Vietnam and there is a real possibility it will be manuvered into irrelevance during the 2020 nomination process. This will make the Dems turn to suburban white collar professionals complete. It will also cede all populism to the right which will open the do…

The Best a Man Can Get

Paralleling the socially conscious corporation is the conservative critique of capitalism. Tucker Carlson, an odious character to be sure, has gone as far as saying family values are being “crushed” by market forces. How is the left going to explain this, let alone fight it, when to your average person the left is indiscernible from a massive corporation like Gillette? The right has already taken a chunk of what it means to be transgressive, particularly in England as they pretty well own the counter-culture, now they are set to become the new anti-capitalists while we cheer on advertisements. This is going to be a rough year.