A revisionist study of the consequences of Britain's abolition of the Atlantic slave trade. - Awarded Honorable Mention for the 1988 John Ben Snow Foundation Prize in History and the Social Sciences
In this revisionist study of the consequences of the abolition of the Atlantic slave trade, economic historian David Eltis contends that the move did not bolster the Atlantic economy; rather, it vastly hindered economic expansion, just as the earlier great reliance on slave labor had played a role in the development of that economy.
This watershed study is the first to consider in concrete terms the consequences of Britain's abolition of the Atlantic slave trade. Why did Britain pull out of the slave trade just when it was becoming important for the world economy and the demand for labor around the world was high? Caught between the incentives offered by the world economy for continuing trade at full tilt and the ideological and political pressures from its domestic abolitionist movement, Britain chose to withdraw, believing, in part, that freed slaves would work for low pay which in turn would lead to greater and cheaper products. In a provocative new thesis, historian David Eltis here contends that this move did not bolster the British economy; rather, it vastly hindered economic expansion as the empire's control of the slave trade and its great reliance on slave labor had played a major role in its rise to world economic dominance. Thus, for sixty years after Britain pulled out, the slave economies of Africa and the Americas flourished and these powers became the dominant exporters in many markets formerly controlled by Britain. Addressing still-volatile issues arising from the clash between economic and ideological goals, this global study illustrates how British abolitionism changed the tide of economic and human history on three continents.
"Eltis's magisterial reconstruction of the last, and most dynamic, century of the slave trade and the Atlantic slave economy...should command our attention. In its depth of documentation, its systematic treatment of alternatives, and in its geographical scope, it is a landmark in the history of the slave trade."--Journal of Social History
"A work of prodigious and meticulous scholarship, Eltis's book will be studied and debated well into the next century....Eltis's provocative arguments will require historians to reconsider the entire Anglo-American antislavery movement as well as the place of coerced labor in an emerging industrial and free market Atlantic world."--David Brion Davis,The New York Review of Books
"A provocative book that promises to long be required reading."--Library Journal
"A remarkable book, erudite, breathtaking in sweep of research, original in thought, and masterful in language. It is a landmark in the literature on the transatlantic slave trade."--Journal of Southern History
"Critical to a better understanding of the contribution of the slave trade to Atlantic economic growth."--Journal of American History