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Analyze the role of slavery and Triangular trade in the Colonial mercantile structure and for the primitive accumulation of Capital that allowed the take off of Capitalism?
The slave trade originated in a shortage of labor in the New World. The first slaves used were Native American people, but they were not numerous enough and were being decimated by European cruelty and diseases. It was also impossible to convince enough Europeans to migrate to the colonies, despite attempts to distribute free land. Massive amounts of labor were needed for mining, but especially for the plantations, in the labor-intensive growing, harvesting and processing of sugar, cotton and other tropical crops which could not be grown profitably in Europe. Growing sugar was an extremely labor intensive process. To meet this demand for labor European traders thus turned to Africa as a source of slaves. (Blackburn)
From the outset, relations between Europe and Africa were economic. Portuguese merchants traded with Africans from trading posts they set up along the coast. “In 1492, Christopher Columbus discovered for Europe a ‘New World’. It marked the beginning of a triangular trade between Africa, Europe and the New World. The Atlantic slave trade was organized in three legs, hence the phrase “triangular trade”. Ships left Europe, usually with three kinds of commodity: weapons, strong spirits, and cheap trade items such as beads which were bartered for slaves. On arrival in the Caribbean or the Americas, slaves were auctioned off. On the third leg, the same ships took back to Europe, whatever the planters had produced usually sugar and rum, cotton, tobacco, cocoa, coffee.” (Blackburn) The triangular Atlantic trade was probably the most important and profitable trading route in the world. The value of this trade route was that a ship could make a substantial profit on each leg of the voyage.
The profits from the slave trade were central to the “primitive accumulation which paved the way for English industrialization and important to the development of capitalism in Britain.”(Blackburn) England’s unique economic position both assisted and was assisted by the development of the colonies. The capitalist transformation of agriculture helped to create a landless proletariat, which was available for emigration or for wage labor in England. The transformation of the English economy helped to create a market for the new goods of the colonies.
“Mercantilism was the economic theory, which guided England. This theory stated that the possession of gold, silver, and other precious metals was the basis of the wealth of nations. Therefore, before the slave trade, trade became important as England and other nations struggled to monopolize sources of precious metals and to export (or send to other countries) more goods than they imported (or received from other countries).” (Blackburn)
It was this need for precious metals and their shortage in Europe that led to a period of exploration and discoveries.
As mentioned the discovery of the New World led to a need for workers. It was to Africa and the slave trade that England finally turned in order to obtain the labor needed in America. If the lands colonized in the Americas were to yield a profit, labor was needed. The population of Africa was abundant and could be “purchased” cheaply. In addition to supplying an all important labor force for the development of the Americas, the slave trade itself yielded great profits. “To one influential mercantilist in the 18th century, slaves were “the fundamental prop and support” of the English colonies.”(Blackburn) The slave trade not only provided the population of workers for the plantations and mines of the New World, but it also made big profits for both the slave traders and those who provided them with goods and services. The slave trade was perhaps the most abundant source of quick and substantial profits during this period of history.
Discussing the triangular trade can bring the overall importance of all of this together. As stated in Capitalism and Slavery:
“In this triangular trade England – France and Colonial America equally – supplied the exports and the ships; Africa the human merchandise; the plantations the colonial raw materials. The slave ship sailed from the home country with a cargo of manufactured goods. These were exchanged at a profit on the coast of Africa for Negroes, who were traded on the plantations, at another profit, in exchange for a cargo of colonial produce to be taken back to the home country. As the volume of trade increased, the triangular trade was supplemented, but never supplanted, by a direct trade between home country and the West Indies, exchanging home manufactures directly for colonial produce.
The triangular trade thereby gave a triple stimulus to British industry. The Africans were purchased with British manufactures; transported to the plantations, they produced sugar, cotton, indigo, molasses and other tropical products, the processing of which created new industries in England; while the maintenance of the Negroes and their owners on the plantations provided another market for British industry.
Thus, we see the close connection between the slave trade and the development of capitalism in Europe. Capitalism represents an increased use of machinery and increased demanded for more raw materials. This led to the colonization of the Americas to secure land (raw materials), and to the slave trade which supplied the needed labor. Merchants accumulated the profits from the sale of slaves and slave-produced products. They then used these profits as capital to build improved factories to further exploit the workers and peasants of Europe. The exploitation of African and European workers was two sides of the same coin.”
Slavery helped finance the Industrial Revolution in England. Plantation owners, shipbuilders, and merchants connected with the slave trade accumulated vast fortunes that established banks and heavy industry in Europe and expanded the reach of capitalism worldwide.
Blackburn, Robin. “Slavery and the rise of capitalism The Making of New World Slavery: from the Baroque to the Modern, 1492-1800.”
Verso, 1997 (Pbk, 1998).
Williams, Eric. “Capitalism and Slavery.” uncpress.unc.edu/books/T-1409.html –