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"Liverpool's slave trade was the centre of a global commerce and an important factor in British economic growth." To what extent would you agree with this opinion?

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Introduction

Part B -"Liverpool's slave trade was the centre of a global commerce and an important factor in British economic growth." To what extent would you agree with this opinion? This essay will attempt to answer the question by approaching it in three stages. Firstly it will assess the importance of Britain's slave trade in the context of global commerce, especially during the 18th century. Secondly it will attempt to show the degree of significance - and the reason - for Liverpool's involvement as a British port, and thirdly, to find out whether or not this had a bearing on Britain's economy in general. In other words, the essay will attempt to ascertain whether Britain's slave trade "was the centre of a global commerce", and whether Liverpool was, in turn, the central city for that particular trade. From around 1600, Britain had colonised or conquered a network of territories all over the world including parts of the Americas - According to Professor Kenneth Morgan, "By 1797-8, North America and the West Indies received 57 per cent of British exports, and supplied 32 per cent of imports"1. The 18th century saw Britain rise to an undisputed dominant position among her rival European powers. ...read more.

Middle

E. H. Hair believes that Liverpool was favoured over other European ports, mainly because of the quality of its shipping industry. The slave trade needed, he writes, "private shippers of high efficiency" to reduce economic factors such as "shipping and trading costs (including high ship-depreciation and high mortality of crews and traders)"8 These factors appear to have combined, and there remains little doubt over Liverpool's becoming the biggest slave trading port in the world throughout this century. So was all this "an important factor" for the economic development of the rest of Britain? In his 1944 book, Capitalism and Slavery, Eric Williams was the first to put forward the idea of a link between the spoils of Britain's colonies and the start of industrialisation, stating that the profits from slavery were channelled into domestic industrial enterprises. These profits, according to Williams, were the main source of capital accumulation that funded the nascent Industrial Revolution. But Kenneth Morgan argues against this. Annual profits from Britain's slave trade were on average less than 10%, this small profit being largely due to the attendant risks. Also, between 1688 and 1800, writes Morgan, the British national income from slave trade profits was small - almost always less than 0.5% of the total. ...read more.

Conclusion

the largest estimates of profits from slave trade and plantations are insufficient to account fully for the industrial "take-off" that occurred in the later 18th Century".14 The tremendous growth of the Lancashire cotton industries after 1800 meant that new markets were soon needed, wider horizons than Africa and the West Indies. According to Craton, the American "new south" revitalised slavery in America, and "Liverpool gained greatly in importance even as the slave trade on which it was founded was officially abolished". The "respectability" of the cotton industry was conveniently used to obscure Liverpool's disreputable past. But it was still slavery, not the slave trade, which continued to be a main support for both Liverpool's prosperity and Lancashire's industries. These two factors "provided such a large component of Britain's 19th Century [world] supremacy"15 So it would appear that Eric Williams is in something of an isolated position - other historians are able to provide evidence to the contrary. Liverpool certainly became the hub of the 18th Century West Indian slave trade, which was in turn "the centre of a global commerce". But this had very little bearing on Britain's economy. Rather, Liverpool herself was the main beneficiary, and it was the use of slaves in the 19th Century cotton industry, which better fits the description of "an important factor in British economic growth". ...read more.

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