Impact of Slavery on the British Industrial Revolution

Slavery in early European history holds a more economical stance and is seen as a gateway for the industrial revolution of Britain. Many countries including Britain fought for African trading routes. The economy of Britain began to flourish rapidly after the introduction of slaves. In addition to this, after the abolition of slavery, the economy and production of crops diminished to an unbelievable extent.

The trading routes between Europe and Africa caused a lot of tension between neighboring countries. Taking control of these routes was more profitable than finding a gold mine for most traders. There came a point in time where the trade of slavery would yield more than gold and herbs combined. It was a business that many traders strived to be part of. The Portuguese controlled the first trading routes to Africa but nearing the 16th century these routes were taken over by the Dutch who held them for nearly a century. As a result of the increased demand for slaves and the profit being made from this trade, countries such as the French and English aimed towards this trade as well. The English and French eventually took over this trade and passed Acts to keep control. Would all these countries put that much effort and risk because of racist views? Economics and money was their main goal centuries ago as it is today. A representation of this would be the ‘Enterprize’ ship that netted a profit of nearly twenty-five thousand pounds from one cargo of slaves.

With the increased demand for slaves, larger ships were travelling across the Atlantic to Africa in order to carry more slaves in a single roundtrip. This sparked a new age of ship architecture as new models with greater stability and reliance were being built. “Around 1730, in Bristol it was estimated that on a fortunate voyage the profit on a cargo of about 270 slaves reached 7,000 pounds or 8,000 pounds”. Due to the growing necessity for slaves and as a result -of this, the considerable decrease in number of Africans to be enslaved, commercial farmers and planters were going out of their way to buy these slaves. It was seen as a long-term investment with greater profit outcomes and less work on their part.

The British economy was greatly influenced by the evolution of this slave trade and the slave trade was the main spark of the Industrial Revolution of Britain. Eric William stated that “The profits obtained provided one of the main streams of that accumulation of capital in England which financed the Industrial Revolution”. Monitoring the British economy from the beginning of the slave trade in Britain until the abolition of it, one can see the unbelievable increase in wealth of farmers and production of crops. This increase in production kept the trade within Britain which depreciated the crops imported from Britain but increased those exported. This led to a large monetary influx into Britain because it was self sustained. One of the main crops being grown in large amounts all over Britain was sugar. “The West Indian islands became the hub of the British Empire, of immense importance to the grandeur and prosperity of England. It was the Negro slaves who made these sugar colonies the most precious colonies ever recorded in the whole annals of imperialism”.

This goes to show how important slavery was for Britain. In order for a slavery to cause an Industrial Revolution, there was no chance of Britain letting go of such an inhumane but golden opportunity. The trade gave a triple stimulus to British Industry. Many people see slavery in Britain as a racist point of view as it was directed towards one certain culture and stereotyped color, but nobody ever thought of the economic stance that it gave Britain. The use of slavery by Britain aided them in becoming one of the countries in the triangular trade. They simply saw slavery as an easy way to make enough money to build their economy instead of seeing it as unethical and unjust. “This is what society is like. The infrastructure is more important than the super-structure, the economic base than the ideologies”. This goes back to show home important building the economy was for Britain during that time period. If the law making all humans equal was removed from the constitution today, slavery has a strong will of returning as economy plays a large role in many decisions.

“Slavery was not born of racism: rather, racism was the consequence of slavery.” What Eric Williams meant by this quote was simply that slavery was not founded as a result of racism but grew into Britain and many other countries around the world because of its aid to the economy and production of goods. As a result of the boost in Britain’s economy, Britain could not allow for the abolition of slavery even with riots breaking out for justice. This in turn was seen as racism and was disguised from its economic standpoint.

Britain’s economy took a great plunge after the abolition of slavery. The declivity in production of crops as a result of the shortened workforce on the fields caused fear in the colonies. Farmers’ could not sustain their crops and many feared the loss of their business and trade. Exporting goods was enhanced again as slavery began to fade away. “Since after the abolition of the slave trade in 1807, the planters were forced to rely on their existing workforce and its reproduction to keep the estates in operation.” Flooding Britain with anxiety and uneasiness, the fall of the slave trade struck the nation’s economy with great threat.

Thankfully, Britain held itself together through these rough times and focused on building an empire rather than just sustaining daily living. Holding this mindset, Britain had eventually sustained its economy to such a fixed condition that the abolition of slavery did not affect them at such a negative extent. Britain held its ground and as an outcome of the Industrial Revolution and began to grow at a rapid pace with increased industrialization and a vast growth of population in colonies. Factories were opening up on every corner employing hundreds of thousands of individuals. This accelerated industrialization acquired increasing capital which allowed for the Atlantic slave trade to nearly abolish as well as the Triangular trade. This eventually led them to become one of if not the strongest nation in the world.

Through the vast change of Britain’s economy throughout the African slave trade, we can see that the relationship of slavery with Britain’s economy was a direct positive correlation. The more slaves employed on these fields yielded a larger production of crops to be sold which in turn increased Britain’s main capital as a whole following this correlation closely. The triangular trade was highly profitable and was probably the main cause of Britain’s accumulation of capital. The accumulation of capital from the “slave trade” significantly aided in the prospering of investments. Investments predominantly consisted of Industries that hired many of the residents in these European colonies. On account of the greater profits obtained from these Industries in comparison to the African slave trade, Britain found it quite easy to abolish slavery. The influx of capital that was poured into the Atlantic slave trade was not as promising as the Industries being set up.
It is quite obvious that capitalism was Britain’s main ambition during this span of great economic stress. ‘Dr Eric Williams has stressed, in his Capitalism and Slavery, that the origin of transatlantic Negro servitude was thus ‘economic, not racial; it had to do not with the color of the labourer, but the cheapness of the labour’. Slavery of Africans in Britain was not seen as racist for the Europeans but as vital to their economy. Racism was a result of Britain’s desire for capital as they set aside any reasoning of inhumanity and equality of others. They saw these Africans as different from their own which is a form of racism but their actions were purely economical as one can see through-out this time period. If slavery held a racist standpoint, why would Britain abolish slavery once a new, more promising opportunity approached them? The economic theory comes into consideration again where slavery was simply a part of building Britain’s economy and allowing for the Industrial Revolution.

“Edward Gibbon Wakefield, asseverated that the reasons for Negro slavery ‘are not moral, but economical, circumstances; they relate not to vice or to virtue, but to production’.” Economics and power overthrow moral ideologies which in turn are hidden behind the development of a great infrastructure.

James Pope-Hennessy, Sins of the Fathers: The Atlantic Slave Trade 1441-1807, First published
in 1970, ed. James Pope-Hennessy (Castle Books. 2004)

Frank Cass, The Slaves’ Economy, First published in 1991, ed. Ira Berlin and Philip D. Morgan
(Frank Cass & CO. LTD. 1991)

Eric Williams, Capitalism and Slavery, First published in 1944, ed. Eric Williams (The
University of North Carolina Press, October 14, 1994)

Barbara Solow & Stanley Engerman, British Capitalism and Caribbean Slavery, originally
published in 2004, ed. Barbara Solow & Stanley Engerman (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press . 2004)