Academic journal article The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography

Freedom's Debt: The Royal African Company and the Politics of the Atlantic Slave Trade, 1672-1752

Academic journal article The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography

Freedom's Debt: The Royal African Company and the Politics of the Atlantic Slave Trade, 1672-1752

Article excerpt

Freedom's Debt: The Royal African Company and the Politics of the Atlantic Slave Trade, 1672-1752 * William A. Pettigrew * Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2013 * 262 pp. * $43.00

In his original rough draft of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson famously excoriated the king for perpetuating slavery and the slave trade throughout the Atlantic world. By not allowing his American subjects to restrict the trade, Jefferson claimed, the king imperiled the lives of his loyal subjects and robbed them of their liberties. According to William Pettigrew in Freedom's Debt, the unhindered transatlantic slave trade was actually a powerful expression of liberty in the British Atlantic world. The ascendancy of Parliamentary authority, the growing power of public opinion, and the triumph of a conception of British freedom that celebrated free trade and individual property rights threw open the doors to an unrestricted slave trade in the eighteenth century. Slavery, Pettigrew contends, grew out of freedom.

Beginning in 1672, the Royal African Company possessed an exclusive charter to facilitate the slave trade to America. The company, like other trading monopolies, was an economic expression of the royal prerogative to promote and protect the national interest. Parliaments assertion of authority in the so-called Glorious Revolution (1688-89) transformed the political culture of the nation and provided the mechanism and ideological rationale for opponents of the Royal African Company to chip away at its monopolistic pretensions. Subsequently, Britain witnessed the first great fight over slavery within the Empire. In contrast to many other scholars, though, Pettigrew argues that the debate was not about economics. Rather, it was a political struggle between parties that agreed on the propriety of slavery but otherwise disagreed strongly about who should control it (if anyone) and why.

The separate traders-or those who wished to deregulate the slave trade-were forward-thinking political strategists in Pettigrew's telling. This group included a disparate body of increasingly powerful interest groups throughout the Atlantic world, including Chesapeake tobacco merchants who wanted more control over the supply of African slaves. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.