Economic Growth and the Ending of the Transatlantic Slave Trade: David Eltis

This watershed study is the first to consider in concrete terms the consequences of Britain’s abolition of the Atlantic slave trade. Why did Britain pull out of the slave trade just when it was becoming important for the world economy and the demand for labor around the world was high? Caught between the incentives offered by the world economy for continuing trade at full tilt and the ideological and political pressures from its domestic abolitionist movement, Britain chose to withdraw, believing, in part, that freed slaves would work for low pay which in turn would lead to greater and cheaper products.

In a provocative new thesis, historian David Eltis here contends that this move did not bolster the British economy; rather, it vastly hindered economic expansion as the empire’s control of the slave trade and its great reliance on slave labor had played a major role in its rise to world economic dominance. Thus, for sixty years after Britain pulled out, the slave economies of Africa and the Americas flourished and these powers became the dominant exporters in many markets formerly controlled by Britain. Addressing still-volatile issues arising from the clash between economic and ideological goals, this global study illustrates how British abolitionism changed the tide of economic and human history on three continents.


“Brilliant. A tour de force.”–Richard Salvucci, Trinity University
“Eltis has produced a very important piece of historical work, covering a large and important topic with an impressive integration of primary research and generously acknowledged secondary writings….[I]t raises the entire discussion to a new level of both empirical and interpretive scholarship.”–American Historical Review

“Eltis’s magisterial reconstruction of the last, and most dynamic, century of the slave trade and the Atlantic slave economy…should command our attention. In its depth of documentation, its systematic treatment of alternatives, and in its geographical scope, it is a landmark in the history of the slave trade.”–Journal of Social History

“Ambitious and far-reaching….Stimulating and should be read by anyone interested in how the slave trade, suppression, and economic development of the Americas, Africa, and Europe in the nineteenth century were connected. It is safe to say that this book will stand the test of time and will have to be cited and taken into account by researchers interested in a wide variety of questions.”–Argonauta

“A painstakingly researched and thought-provoking book, that seems destined to become one of the more controversial classics of the history of the slave trade.”–English Historical Review

“The most innovative, provocative, and, in many ways, disturbing assessment of the trade’s character and the limited gains of abolition….[A] remarkable achievement.”–Journal of the Early Republic

“An important survey and outstanding synthesis….[A] major contribution to the literature of slavery.”–The Historian

“A work of prodigious and meticulous scholarship, Eltis’s book will be studied and debated well into the next century….Eltis’s provocative arguments will require historians to reconsider the entire Anglo-American antislavery movement as well as the place of coerced labor in an emerging industrial and free market Atlantic world.”–David Brion Davis, The New York Review of Books

“Eltis’s narrative…displays wide-ranging scholarship, good economic analysis, and careful quantitative work….The value in the book lies in its scrupulous care in depicting the abolition and suppression of the slave trade, not in debatable judgments about its signficance for British economic development or American immigration. That depiction is certain to ensure its status as a classic in this field.”–Labor History

“A provocative book that promises to long be required reading.”–Library Journal

  • Paperback : 434 pages
  • ISBN-13 : 978-0195045635
  • Item Weight : 12.8 ounces
  • Dimensions : 5.31 x 0.81 x 8 inches
  • ISBN-10 : 0195045637
  • Publisher : Oxford University Press (October 19, 1989)

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