Slavery helped finance the Industrial Revolution in England.
Plantation owners, shipbuilders, and merchants connected with the
slave trade accumulated vast fortunes that established banks and
heavy industry in Europe and expanded the reach of capitalism
worldwide. Eric Williams advanced these powerful ideas in
Capitalism and Slavery
, published in 1944. Years ahead of
its time, his profound critique became the foundation for studies
of imperialism and economic development. Binding an economic view
of history with strong moral argument, Williams's study of the role
of slavery in financing the Industrial Revolution refuted
traditional ideas of economic and moral progress and firmly
established the centrality of the African slave trade in European
economic development. He also showed that mature industrial
capitalism in turn helped destroy the slave system. Establishing
the exploitation of commercial capitalism and its link to racial
attitudes, Williams employed a historicist vision that set the tone
for future studies.
In a new introduction, Colin Palmer assesses the lasting impact of
Williams's groundbreaking work and analyzes the heated scholarly
debates it generated when it first appeared.