An Introduction to the Issue


British slave ship


Welcome to an introduction to slavery in the British empire. In order to understand the reason for a forum on slavery, some background knowledge of the history of the trade will be helpful. As the European demand for tropical products increased, and the Spanish and Portuguese introduced African slave labor into their economies, England could hardly resist the economic and political opportunities of joining the trade.
Through the Seven Years War, Britain gained a stronghold in the West Indies. The territorial expansion necessitated the use of slaves for the islands' development. (1) The Asiento Contract furthered Britain's involvement in the trade as part of the Treaty of Utrecht. The English Guinea Company began Britain's involvement in the carrying trade to the Spanish colonies in the Americas. (2) With this Contract, Britain retained the exclusive right to trade slaves with these colonies until the King terminated the contract in 1750.
The trade first began as a government endeavor to protect the interests of empire. Only in 1749 was the trade in slaves opened to the public. (3) As a result of the trade becoming a public enterprise, the business flourished. The increased use of slave labor catered to the public's increased demands for luxury goods. Coffee houses proved crucial in the dissemination of the popular cultural habits of drinking tropical drinks, sweetened with sugar, and smoking tobacco. (4) This increased importation of tropical products created a rise in mercantilism to suit supply and demand.
The exchange of manufactured goods for tropical products and slaves completed a firm link between the Mother Country and her West Indian colonies. The result was an intertwinement of Britain in the slave trade on all economic, political, and social levels. Slavery, in many ways, dictated the daily lives of British citizens during the 18th century.


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