CLIO 7 (1) - page 24

The treatment of human be-
ings as property, deprived of basic
human rights, is something that has
occurred in many forms through-
out the world, but the transatlantic
slave trade is the institution that
stands out for the scale of its injus-
tice and lasting legacy.
Occurring in the late 15th
and spanning to the mid 19th
century, the impact it would leave
would not only affect the descend-
ants of those affected by this crime
against humanity, but also the
economies and histories of large
parts of our modern world. It be-
gan with European ships and new
colonies in Americas in the 1400s;
these were rich in natural resources,
however the emerging industries
of tobacco, cotton and sugar were
incredibly labour intensive. The lack
of new settlers and servants living
meant that there were simply not
enough able workers to farm the
land. In order to meet the huge
labour demand, the British and
Europeans looked to Africa. African
slavery had existed for centuries
in various forms, typically used as
criminal punishment or to preside
power over rival tribes; it was not
initially fuelled by racism. There-
fore, when white captains came
offering manufactured goods, Euro-
pean weapons and rum in exchange
for slaves, African kings and mer-
chants had little reason to hesitate.
They viewed the humans sold as
subhuman criminals, not fellow
Africans. By selling them, they were
only enriching and strengthening
their kingdoms against neighbour-
ing enemies.
With the demand for labor-
ers being so large and the profits so
great the slave trade quickly be-
came an arms race between African
tribes, creating fierce competition
that fuelled wars fought using Euro-
pean weapons, resulting in disas-
trous consequences. Later, when
slavery was at last abolished, the
prosperous African communities
that were supported by the transat-
lantic slave trade collapsed, result-
ing in further turmoil and great
violence; the effects of this are still
felt today.
British Involvement:
British merchants were
among some of the largest par-
ticipants in the slave trade. Much
like the rest of Europe, ship owners
transported enslavedWest Africans
to the NewWorld to be sold for
labour. These ships later returned
commodities to Britain and then
exported goods back to Africa in
return for more slaves.
In the renowned 1944 book
‘Capitalism and Slavery’ theTrini-
dadian scholar EricWilliams argues
that the way in which Britain was
able to prosper from slavery al-
lowed and strongly underpinned
the development of their economy
and ultimately facilitated England’s
industrial revolution of 1760 to
1840. His thesis continues to spur
much controversy, as it claims the
W h a t w a s B r i t a i n ' s
i n v o l v e m e n t i n
t h e T r a n s a t l a n t i c
S l a v e T r a d e ?
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