See Industrial Revolution in The Modern Era
Chapter 7, Capitalism And Slavery by Eric Williams
European colonial empires at the start of the Industrial Revolution.
Before the 18th century, the manufacture of cloth was performed by individual workers, in the premises in which they lived.
In 1764, Thorp Mill, the first water-powered cottonmill in the world was constructed at Royton, Lancashire, England. It was used for carding cotton. The multiple spindle spinning jenny was invented in 1764. James Hargreaves is credited as the inventor.
The cotton industry was the capitalist industry par excellence.The first steam spinning mill was set up in England in 1785, the first in Manchester in 1789. Between 1785 and 1800, eighty-two steam engines were constructed for cotton mills, fifty-five of these in Lancashire alone. The first steam loom factory was built in Manchester in 1806. In 1835 there were 116,800 power looms in all Great Britain, all but six per cent in the cotton industry.
In 1785 the exports of British cotton manufactures exceededone million pounds in value;they were thirty-one million in 1830. The cloth printed in Great Britain increased from 20 million yards in 1796 to 347 million in i83o. The population employed by the industry rose from 350,000 in I788 to 800,000 in i8o6. There were 66 cotton mills in Manchester and Salford in 1820, 96 in i832. Cotton was “raising men like mushrooms.
British cotton imports rose from 11 million pounds in 1784 to 283 million in 1832. The New World, thanks to Eli Whitney, had come, not for the last time, to the rescue of the Old. The United States supplied less than one-hundredth part of British cotton imports in the five years 1786-1790, three-quarters in the years 1826-1830, four-fifths in 1846-1850. The British West Indian planter, faithful to his first love, sugar, could not keep pace with Manchester’s requirements. The sugar islands provided seven-tenths of British cotton imports in 1786-1790, one-fiftieth in 1826-1830, less than one-hundredth part in i846-1850.
The West Indies had built up Manchester in the eighteenth century.
Less spectacular, perhaps, but no less significant was the progress made in the metallurgical industries, without which the reign of machinery would have been impossible. Britain’s production of pig iron increased ten times between 1788 and 1830. There were three times as many furnaces in operation in 1830 as in 1788. The iron sent down the Glamorganshire and Monmouthshire Canals increased two and a half times between the years 1820 and 1833; from Cyfartha the export doubled, from Dowlais it trebled during the same period. In 1800 the proportion of home make to the foreign import was four to one; in 1828, fifty to one.
“Britain after Waterloo,” Clapham writes, “clanged with iron like a smithy.”
Iron smelting required coal. The coal mines worked in Northumberland and Durham almost doubled in number between 1800 and 1836, production increased from six million tons in 1780 to thirty million in 1836. An enormous saving was effected when in 1829 the invention of the hot blast in smelting reduced the coal fuel required by more than two-thirds.
Iron was being put to a variety of new uses pillars, rails, gas and water mains, bridges, ships. Wilkinson built a “cast iron chapel” for the Methodists at Bradley, and London even experimented with iron paving. But the greatest victory was in the construction of machinery. The early textile machinery was made of wood, by the manufacturers themselves or to their order. The decade of the twenties saw the emergence of the professional purveyor of machines made with the help of other machines, and the beginning of the manufacture of interchangeable parts which was facilitated by the invention of new tools and the discovery of the technique of cutting accurate screws. In 1834 the firm of William Fairbairn offered to turn out an equipped mill for any price, trade, site or motive power.
In 1832 the average iron master ranked, as capitalist and entrepreneur, on equal terms with the cotton spinner. In the Reformed Parliament not only cotton, iron, too, was ready to discard monopoly as a suit it had outgrown. Bar iron exports more than doubled between 1815 and 1833, and in 1825 Britain permitted what turned out to be a fatal decision a partial relaxation of the ban on the export of machinery. British rails covered the railroads of France and the United States. The sugar colonies took one-tenth of British iron exports in 1815, one-thirty-third in 1833; the United States one-quarter in 1815, one-third in 1833. The sugar planters, who had for so long enjoyed an unquestioned right to a box seat, could now barely find standing room.
The opponents of the measure, however, backed down afterthe King’s reluctant promise to create sufficient new^ peers, andthe Reform Bill became law. The political structure of Englandwas brought into accord with the economic revolution which had taken place. In the new Parliament the capitalists, their needs and aspirations were paramount. Once the colonial trade had meant everything. In the new capitalist society the colonies had little place. “The exportation of a piece of British broadcloth,” wrote Eden in 1802, “is more beneficial to us than the re-exportation of a quantity of Bengal muslin or of West India coffee of equal value.” 64 In 1832 an official of the East India Company explained to a parliamentary committee that woolens were exported to China, even when the market was not good, as a matter of tradition and duty: “it was considered a moral obligation.” Trade by “moral obligation” was one of the deadly sins in the gospel according to Manchester.
Note: Jamaica’s sugar boom
In the mid-17th century, sugarcane had been brought into the British West Indies by the Dutch from Brazil. Upon landing in Jamaica and other islands, they quickly urged local growers to change their main crops from cotton and tobacco to sugar cane. With depressed prices of cotton and tobacco, due mainly to stiff competition from the North American colonies, the farmers switched, leading to a boom in the Caribbean economies. Sugar was quickly snapped up by the British, who used it in cakes and to sweeten teas.
Chapter 8: THE NEW INDUSTRIAL ORDER
The slave trade was abolished in 1807, slavery in 1833, the sugar preference in 1846.
The advocates of East India sugar persistently attacked the West Indian monopoly. They called the islands “sterile rocks,” whose insatiable calls for money represented “an eternal sponge on the capitals of this country, both national and commercial.”
The West Indian monopoly was not only unsound in theory, it was unprofitable in practice. In 1828 it was estimated that it cost the British people annually more than one and a half million pounds. In 1844 it was costing the country 70,000 a week and London 6,ooo. England was paying for its sugar five millions more a year than the Continent. Three and a half million pounds of British exports to the West Indies in 1838,
said Merivale, purchased less than half as much sugar and coffee as they would have purchased if carried to Cuba and Brazil. Two-fifths of the price of every pound of sugar consumed in England represented the cost of production, two-fifths went in revenue to the government, one-fifth in tribute to the West Indian planter.
Time was when the leading statesmen were on the West Indian side. Now Palmerston lined up with the opponents of the planters.
The West Indians tried to stem the free trade torrent. Their exclusive possession of the home market was their just reward for the restrictions imposed on them by the colonial
system. The superior advantages of their rivals made competition impossible and the protecting duty indispensable to their preservation. In the case of India they pointed to the cheapness of labor, the abundance of food and unlimited extent of the richest soil, capable of irrigation and intersected with navigable rivers. Whatever the state of these colonies their refrain was always the same — protection. “Ruin” was ever the first word in their vocabulary a word used to designate “not the poverty of the people, not the want of food or raiment, not even the absence of riches or luxury, but simply the decrease of sugar cultivation.”
West Indian claim for protection was weakened after 1836
when the protecting duty was extended to East Indian sugar
which could plead no such difficulties and disadvantages as
faced the West Indians.49 And Gladstone knew that the course
had been run. Protection could not be permanent, and even if
continued for twenty years, would not bring West Indian
cultivation to a sound and healthy state.
B. THE GROWTH OF ANTI-IMPERIALISM
The colonial system was the spinal cord of the commercial
capitalism of the mercantile epoch. In the era of free trade the
industrial capitalists wanted no colonies at all, least of all the
To Molesworth, one of the outstanding colonial reformers, Britain’s colonial policy was motivated by “an insane desire of worthless empire,” as on the frontier of the Cape Colony in South Africa, where “the loss of one axe and two goats . . . has cost this country a couple of millions sterling.” Australiawas a collection of “communities, the offspring of convict emigration.”New Zealand was a constant headache with its “imbecilegovernors, discreditable functionaries, and unnecessarywars with the natives.” South Africa was “a huge worthless andcostly empire, extending over nearly 300,000 square miles,chiefly rugged mountains, and arid deserts, and barren plains,without water, without herbage, without navigable rivers, withoutharbours, in short, without everything except the elementsof great and increasing expense to this country.” In charge of this diverse and heterogeneous collection of colonies was theColonial Secretary, “traversing and retraversing, in his imagination, the terraqueous globe flying from the Arctic to the Antarctic pole hurrying from the snows of North America to the burning regions of the Tropics rushing across from the fertile islands of the West Indies to the arid deserts of South Africa and Australia like nothing on earth, or in romance, save the Wandering Jew.” The cost of protecting this empire was one-third of Britain’s export trade to the colonies. Colonial independence was cheaper. The colonies should be freed from the “ever-changing, frequently well-intentioned, but invariably weak and ignorant despotism” of the Colonial Office.