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GH IV: Mercantilism, Capitalism & Slavery in the Atlantic World

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Sofia Eriksson

on 10 September 2014

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Transcript of GH IV: Mercantilism, Capitalism & Slavery in the Atlantic World

Mercantilism, Capitalism & Slavery in the Atlantic World
Capitalist society
- Most people sell their time to make a living
Last week:
European imperial expansion begins to undermine pre-modern/traditional world order (described in Lecture II), and the empires that dominated it.
Colonialism = a state/government or people establishing colonies outside own borders
Imperialism = a state/government or people expanding outside their original borders and establishing political control there.
Almost the same thing, so we can use them as synonyms...
Differences between the imperialism of the pre-modern/traditional empires
and the modern empires
(Chinese, Mughal, Mali, Ottoman, Holy Roman and Inca)
- landbased
- agrarian
- local
- European and non-European
- Naval
- commerical
- global
- mainly European
In the end European imperialism dominated almost the entire world...
Map of colonial territories and trade in 1750s"
limited mainly to Atlantic, with few outposts elsewhere
This lecture looks at how colonialism and imperial expansion in this specific region:
The Atlantic World
- Some (individual) persons
own the resources
that make it possible to produce things (factories, big trucks, ships, territory with minerals or oil on).
Contrast this to the kind of economy that traditional societies had:
- Each person spent their time
their food and clothes (plowing, sowing, tending, harvesting, preserving, hunting, rearing livestock, shearing, spinning, weaving, sewing, chopping logs, building houses).
- They sell their time for money (salary or wages) and buy food and clothing that others have made.
- They are the ones who buy the time and labour of those who don't own the resources, and they use that time and labour to produce things (goods or services).
Capitalism is the name of an economic system in which:
A large group of people survive by
their time and labour to those who own resources: they get money by doing work for others.
Before the emergence of a capitalist economy, the world had an agrarian economy:
A large group of people spend
their own
time making things that
they need
their own survival.
Spanish, Portuguese, British etc.
But you can clearly see that colonial expansion created globalisation, chiefly through trade networks, but also through religious pilgrimmages,
We began with the traditional, pre-modern world characterised by only archaic globalisation...
Overlapping regional networks, and no contact between the eastern and western hemispheres
...and talked about how Spanish and Portuguese colonisation began a process that would lead to the downfall of this entire, traditional, world order, as well as usher in the era of modern globalisation, as the Columbian Exchange and new trade networks began to connect the whole globe.
In the tutorials we looked at how the attitudes to race that dominated the Muslim world were transferred to colonial Latin America through the interaction between Christians and Muslims in the Iberian peninsula.
generated consequences that today define life in almost all corners of the world.
First, let's develop the terminology we need to understand the changes that took place in this region...two concepts:
The first term we need to understand to make sense of today's lecture is
Today we believe that wealth is
: there is no upper limit to how much wealth we can generate. If you invent the right kind of app and market it well, you will get rich because you will earn a lot of money.
This is a recent realisation - that humans can actually create new wealth. It emerged in the 18th century.
Before then people generally assumed the only good measure of wealth was gold (and silver), and since there is a limited amount of gold in the world, they thought there was a
limited amount of wealth
Mercantilism is the
economic theory that hold wealth to be finite
- limited.
Governments (states) that believe in mercantilism become very competitive of wealth...
Wealth is necessary to raise and equip armies, and if they don't own as much of the wealth as possible themselves, some other government (state) will, and if (when) there is a war, the other state will win.
It follows from this that governments that hold the mercantilist theory of economy to be true will spend a lot of effort trying to get hold of wealth:
1. By taxing the citizens in bullion (gold/silver),
3. By trying to make sure all needs of the citizens can be met with resources
within the state's borders
(so that bullion doesn't have to leave the country through purchases from other states).
2. By trying to conquer areas that have gold/silver deposits,
The second term we need to understand to make sense of today's lecture is

economic theory
- finite amount of wealth in the world.

From the 1500s, the mercantilism of European states in the Atlantic world led to...

economic system
- people sell labour for money.

Towards the end of the 1500s, Spain and Portugal's time as the leaders of European colonialism and imperial expansion was over.
- Inflation
- Spending rather than investing
- Hidalgo spirit (work = undignified)
- English defeat of the Spanish Armada (1588)
The Portuguese continued to trade in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific...
Latin America remained in Spanish hands for the next 200 years, but Spanish imperialism became about
empire, not
English, Dutch and French colonisation of North America
Triangle Trade
How the triangle trade was good mercantilist policy
How the Triangle Trade was Capitalism
What made this possible?
What made this possible?
But from the middle of the 1500s they were joined by Dutch and English,and eventually French traders and explorers.
The Luso-Hispanic Empire in 1598

(Portugal and Spain under the same king for a while, Philip II and I of Spain and Portugal)
Portuguese trading bases
Can you see the difference we discussed last time? In how Spanish and Portuguese colonists had different strategies?
"Luso" is another word for "Portuguese" and "Hispanic" another word for "Spanish"
In North America, the French established a colony in Nova Scotia in 1605, the English in Virginia in 1607 and the Dutch in the area of present day New York from 1614.
French Empire in North America
The Spanish (as you know) extracted minerals, and the French and Dutch traded in furs with the local population: the Huron and Iroquis among others.
The English....
they made the raw material, and sent it back to Britain to be turned into things that could be sold.
- The English in North America
- The Spanish and Portuguese in South America
- All of them plus the French in the Caribbean
1. Slaves from West Africa -> America
to grow raw materials (sugar, tobacco, cotton, coffee, indigo)

2. Raw materials from America -> Europe
to be turned into manufactured goods

(rum, textiles)

3. Manufactured goods from Europe -> Africa
to pay for slaves

Slaves that were then taken to America, to produce the raw material that when refined in Europe would pay for more slaves in Africa.
While it was individual merchants who plied the trade around the Atlantic, and individual merchants who made the most profit from the trade, the states where they came from also profited...
England at this time had little farm land left: all was taken and in use. England also didn't have the right climate to grow sugar, tobacco or cotton. Without colonies and triangle trade, the people of England would have to pay for sugar, tobacco and cotton with gold - buying it from some other country.
Remember how mercantilist states believed in keeping gold within their borders? Since there was only a limited amount of gold, and if some other state had most of it, they could build a larger army an win in future wars?
So helping enterprising citizens of England found colonies and produce things that the mother country itself couldn't produce was a good way of keeping gold in the coutnry, staying self-sufficient, and even exporting some things to other countries.
- by granting charters (pieces of paper that gave a group of citizens the right to found a colony somewhere else, in the name of the mother country).

- by sending their navies and armies to protect trade routes and colonies.
States (Kings and their governments) who believed in mercantilism would encourage and support colonial expansion:
In return they would get a lot of tax revenue from the trade (used to raise armies), and they wouldn't have to fear bullion leaving the country and going to their enemies (everyone else).
So even though the colonial expansion of Britain, the Netherlands (the Dutch) and the French was carried out by merchants in the name of profit rather than soldiers in the name of the King (in the way that the first, Spanish colonialism had been),
it still relied on the cooperation between merchants and states
In the triangle trade, the Europeans and colonists that were involved would in various ways
make their living from the production and sale of commodities, rather than from growing food they needed to eat

The same thing as the definition of capitalism I offered at the beginning
At first this only involved a few people, who crewed the ships, carried out the transactions in Africa and America, oversaw the plantations, and turned sugar in to run and cotton into fabric in Europe.
But as the trade grew in volume, more and more people became involved: more people would take work turning sugar into rum and cotton into fabric, and capitalism transformed from something a few people engaged in, to something many people engaged in.
This began very gradually in the 1500s, but didn't become widespread until the 1700s
For a significant part of the population to change the way they made their living, from agrarian self-sufficiency to capitalist wage-work, some other changes were necessary too:
Consumption patterns
Access to bullion
For much of human history, consumption (to buy, use and own things) wasn't a thing:
1. people were too poor (no surplus to consumer for).
2. there wasn't enough money (if there was surplus it would be in grain or eggs or berries)
3. there wasn't enough things to consume: little variety in food, clothes or things.
4. people thought about life after death, not about owning things in this life.
5. status was connected to courage, honour, virtue: not clothes or carriages.
6. the few who were rich enough valued exotic objects, but were collectors rather than consumers.
People began moving away from the countryside and into the cities, where they couldn't grow their own food, and had to work for others instead: as servants, street sweepers, peddlers etc. When the raw materials from the New World needed to be turned into manufactured goods, this was a ready labour force waiting for employment,
The gold and silver from the New World increased access to money, which lubricated the system: it is hard for your employer to pay you in everything you need (milk, eggs, grain, meat, clothes, firewood). Only if she can pay you in money made from bullion does the system become smooth.
With the colonisation of America and Asia more interesting variety became available for consumption:
Sugar, tobacco, coffee, tea - the first consumer goods.
- Available in small quantities
(that even the poor could afford, if they sometimes got a little bit of surplus)
- Addictive (all of them)
Gradually ordinary men and women got a taste for these things.

At the same time they (equally gradually) got a little bit more surplus at the end of the week, when the economy, fueled by the trade, expanded.

And more and more of this surplus was in the form of money, that could be exchanged for consumer goods more easily than eggs or grain.
By the early 1700s, this trade focused form of capitalism was in full swing in the Atlantic world.
In Europe it led to peculiarly modern phenomena like stock market crashes...
What made it possible for Europeans to treat Africans like this?
European opinion of the peoples that they encountered through colonial expansion was not very high...
Last week I talked about the Native Americans labouring in the Spanish silver mines, under dreadful conditions with sky-high mortality from cold, deprivation and exposure to mercury and other toxic metals.
For some, even at the time, it was immoral to treat other human beings like this...but...
In the case of Africans, there was added issue of their differently coloured skin.
In the last two tutorials we studies primary sources which showed us how the same attitudes to race that characterised the Dar al-Islam (the world of Islam) in the 14th century appear in early colonial Latin America
Attitudes that valued human life according to the lightness of the skin
These attitudes existed in the Muslim world, and were transferred to the Spanish world during the 700 years of interaction and conflict in the Iberian peninsula.
Once the Spanish colonised Latin America, these attitudes became central to the colonial world around the Atlantic: determining the status of people in Latin America, the enslaveability of people in Africa.
When coupled with the increasing economic profitability of slavery, most people in Europe adopted the view that African men and women were, if human at all, a second kind of human, made for labour in hot climates, made to obey white masters.
But in the centuries between 1500 and 1800, slavery would become the most important cornerstone of the Atlantic world and its emerging capitalist economy
Where "race" in norther Europe had been more about culture, dress, religion and behaviour in the previous centuries, it became closer and closer connected to skincolour from the 1600s and onwards...
Until the point where black skin was inescapably a sign of inferiority, and slave status...
And this is what I was talking about in the first lecture when I said that history is important because it teaches us that things we take for granted have come about through historical processes, and are much less definite than we might think.
"Race" is a concept that has had several different meanings, at different times and different places.
It is socially, and historically constructed.
So, to sum up:
The mercantilist policies of European imperial states facilitated and sanctioned the colonising activities of enterprising merchants and adventurers.
In the 1600 and 1700s
This led to the emergence of the first stage of capitalism, as money (from american gold/silver) became more widely available, colonisation provided the first consumer goods (sugar, coffee, tea/tobacco) and more people began working for wages (in the production and sale of these consumer goods).
The nascent capitalism of this Atlantic world was made possible by the enslavement of over 10 Million African men and women, who did the hardest part of the labour, that white people didn't want to do themselves, very cheaply.
"budding", "early", "emerging"...
This led to the attitudes to race that dominated the Muslim and then the colonial Latin American worlds spreading, until they were central to the entire Atlantic world, where they came to define the lives of people for the next half millenia (and arguably still do...).
As this allegorical engraving by William Blake (from 1796)
show, Europe rose to wealth and power in the 16th and 17th centuries, but did so supported by Africa (to the left) and America (to the right).
Without the labour of Africans, and the natural resources of America, Europe would have remained a backward, unimportant corner in the far northwest of the Eurasian continent.
Europe supported by Africa and America
William Blake (1796)
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