Adopting Slavery Overseas

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‘Adopting slavery overseas was a regressive step for European societies moving towards modernity.’ How far do you agree with this statement?

To begin the analysis of this statement I think it is essential to define what modernity means. By defining the elements of modernity I will be able to analyse the impact overseas slavery had for European societies. Leading on from modernity I will also look at the term freedom and its definition. By establishing what is modernity and what is the meaning of freedom I will discuss how the adoption of slavery overseas caused European societies to move towards modernity is some elements but how it did not necessarily support it in other ways. Through this essay I will look at the impact adopting slavery overseas had on the European economy, politics and social in respect of moving towards modernity “An intellectual tendency or social perspective characterized by departure from or repudiation of traditional ideas, doctrines, and cultural values in favour of contemporary or radical values and beliefs (chiefly those of scientific rationalism and liberalism).” is one of the definitions of modernity described by The Oxford English Dictionary. The key words here are that modernity is a rise of new ideas, values and beliefs that have an impact politically, economically and socially, each influencing and developing the other. However they do not always develop in the same direction and although one aspect of modernity can be progressive it can cause another to be regressive, “To adopt slavery might seem to be a regressive step for European societies moving towards greater modernity; we often associate slavery with backward societies” (Goodrich & Waites, 2011, p. 9). “To be free is to be unrestricted. Freedom arises as a concept that applies to all with the liberal tradition.” (Credo reference, 2007). The Oxford English Dictionary also details freedom as the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants, which is how most of us view freedom today. Goodrich and Waites discuss “The Enlightenment articulated the concept of freedom as a universal right”. The notion of Freedom is complex even today, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries during the height of slave trade these complexities were even more apparent.

The ‘Williams thesis’ discussed the relationship between the adoption of Caribbean slavery and the development of British economy in that slavery provided the funds for industrial capitalism. However this theory has conflicting views “Williams imagined a surge of industrial investment, swollen by West Indian profits; in reality this was not the case” (Waites & Goodrich, 2011, p. 69) what Williams had done was exaggerated the detail of contribution slave trading to European economic growth. This theory was opposed by other historians and in particular I refer to David Eltis discussion of the slave trade “its contribution to the economic growth of a European power was trivial” (2000, p. 20). Eltis argues that there were several other industries such as Iron, Woollen and Cotton that added more value to British economy than that of the sugar plantations laboured by slaves. Equally there was nothing to ascertain that slave trade had any impact on economic growth in Portugal or France. Eltis provides figures in a table 10.1 (2000, p. 22) conclude that compared with the other British industries the slave trades share was not as significant, this demonstrates Eltis point that slave trade played a minimal part in economic growth. What the slave trade did open up in the economy was “credit networks of unrivalled efficiency” (Waites & Goodrich, 2011, p. 42) as a result of the Colonial Debts Act 1732 installing confidence in creditors due to changes in debt recovery imposed by the Act, leading to bigger investments in slave trade. Although the production of sugar as a commodity did not overall steer the growth of European economy it did have an impact on consumption in society. Over...
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