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Why did the colonial powers develop a need for African Slavery?

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Introduction

Why did the colonial powers develop a need for African Slavery? The European colonial power's reliance and use of the African slave trade has become notorious for the vast scale of its commercial operation that relied on inhumane and destructive principles.1 In it we see societies at the apparent height of civilised progress devise a highly brutal system of human trade. Why colonial powers developed a need for African slavery is an analysis of colonialism, wealth, Africa and a consideration of the ideology of institutions that could obstruct or promote it. The ascendancy of economic and political freedoms, specifically those geared to capitalism, would fuel the development of desire for African slaves with the ideological blessing of both Church and State. An examination of first British and then Iberian colonies in the seventeenth century proves an excellent analysis for why a colonial power developed a need for slavery. Initially demand for workers in the New World was satisfied by white 'servants' and preferential demand was given to them over non-whites for their civility and common language; both crucial if their employers were to gain maximum productivity from them.2 While blacks first arrived in Virginia in 1619 they enjoyed the same legal status as any white servant due to a lack of legislation to even define them as slaves. After their term of service ended they were free men as no indefinite or hereditary law existed to chattel them any further. The 1660s saw definite changes to this and the beginnings of a gulf between blacks and whites. The very preference for white servants would extend differing attitudes towards Africans to point of establishing laws in favour of better treatment for whites. ...read more.

Middle

invade, search out, capture and subjugate the Saracens and pagans and any other unbelievers and enemies of Christ wherever they may be... and reduce their persons into perpetual slavery." From before the fall of Rome we see the Church accepting the existence of slavery into its constitution and while not extending it directly at least sanctioning others God-given right to do so. The Church, while supported existing rights of those within slave or serf systems, never led or gave religious blessing to any attempt to achieve liberty. Nor would they attempt to erode the universal conviction that institutional slavery was acceptable. Religious justification and foundations were laid for the Colonial powers to develop their need for African Slaves and extend it with no moral inhibitions dictated from above by Church or State. Indeed, State adoption across Western Europe of much of Roman law in, and prior to, the fifteenth century meant they absorbed a legal code that intrinsically accepted slaves within its framework. Ideology was systematically making the use of forced labour socially acceptable or even desirable given circumstance. George Fitzhugh's 1854 work, 'The Sociology of the South' controversially argues in favour of a need for slavery in order to establish the most productive use of labour for its masters while being the most socially beneficial form of governance for slaves. For total slavery dispenses with class and capitalist antagonism by promoting the protection of the weak and poor who would otherwise suffer, "slavery is the very best form of socialism, the ordinary wages of common labour are insufficient to keep up separate domestic establishments for each of the poor... starvation is in many cases inevitable." The alternatives of liberty can only result in "the dissociation of labour and the disintegration of society." ...read more.

Conclusion

Surges in demand as imports came to be perceived as a necessity, not a luxury, could only be met by more plantations and hence more slave imports. A virtuous economic circle albeit dependant slavery. European nation's maritime power and colonies would allow them to skew world markets in their favour. This dynamic of wealth generation would rely increasingly on their control and development of the slave trade to the point that it had to continue perpetually to meet the needs of colonist and consumer. Economic logic dictated that the development of a need for African slaves had a ghastly inevitability. Institutions designed to protect their own citizens such as the Church or the Aristocracy had no power or desire to limit the development of a need for slavery. Indeed they would be instrumental in bringing about its operation. In an absence of legislation on slavery in the colonies those who required forced labour were also in the position of power to develop and gear a new legal system to the procurement of it. The British Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne opinion encapsulates the elevation of the importance of profit above all else in developing a need for African slavery, "religion, morality, law, eloquence [and] cruisers will all be ineffective when opposed to a profit of a cent per cent and more." Slavery would only begin to ebb with the fall of profits associated with the trade. Yet slavery did continue in areas long devoid of its financial benefits for reasons of social prestige or ideological entrenchment. In these cases great shifts in political and intellectual philosophy would bring its downfall. An ideological tradition made the acceptance of slavery possible in the first place. Profit motive would develop that possibility into a desire and consequentially a need for African slavery. ...read more.

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