Politics of Population: Empire, Slavery and Race

  • Eamon Wright

Abstract

Late eighteenth-century British women writers lived and wrote in a context. What follows in this chapter is an examination of the politics of population within that contextual landscape. The nature of that landscape was British capitalism, skewed by colonialism and international trade from its inception, and which had deeply marked Britain.1 It created an eddy across all features of national, social, political and economic life. The ‘population’, variously delineated in subsequent textual moments, is located inside questions of poverty, welfare and citizenship; these are narratives which provide the contextual interaction of moral panic and ethnic survival. Crisis and social anxiety in late eighteenth-century Britain were inextricably linked in the valorization of British raciology. The centrality of ‘race’ is most obvious in slavery; slavery and the slave trade were endemic to that early phase of modern British social, political and economic development. But ‘race’ is not reducible to slavery alone; other ways in which ‘race’ imprinted early modern Britain are also explored in this chapter.

Keywords

Sugar Clay Fatigue Furnace Depression 

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Notes and References

  1. 1.
    See Eric Williams, Capitalism and Slavery (London: Andre Deutsch, 1964); Eric Hobsbawm, Industry & Empire, op. cit.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    The Sierra Leone Company was granted a Royal Charter in 1791 to introduce freed blacks to Sierra Leone, a settlement which had been purchased in 1787: James Walvin, ‘The Rise of British Popular Sentiment for Abolition, 1787–1832’, in Christine Bolt and Seymour Drescher (eds), Anti-Slavery, Religion and Reform (Folkestone: Dawson Archon, 1980), p. 150. The Dutch were the first westerners to ‘discover’ Australia; they named it New Holland. The British deployed the first large-scale settlement there, a penal colony. The indigenous Aborigines have been almost totally written out of this spatio-historical process. Consequently, the ‘real’ story of Australasia supposedly begins with the first free immigrants who settled in Australia and New Zealand between 1792 and 1793. Van Diemen’s Land, later renamed Tasmania, was acquired in 1804:Google Scholar
  3. A.G.L. Shaw, The Story of Australia (London: Faber & Faber, 1983), p. 17;Google Scholar
  4. Sian Rees, The Floating Brothel (London: Headline, 2001);Google Scholar
  5. Keith Sinclair, A History of New Zealand (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1988).Google Scholar
  6. 3.
    See William L. Langer (ed.), An Encyclopedia of World History (London: George G. Harrap, 1968), p. 884.Google Scholar
  7. 5.
    See W.D. McIntyre, Colonies into Commonwealth (London: Blandford Press, 1966), p. 154.Google Scholar
  8. 6.
    See B. Gardner, The East India Company (New York: Dorset Press, 1971), p. 122.Google Scholar
  9. 8.
    See Eric Williams, From Columbus to Castro: The History of the Caribbean, 1492–1969 (London: Andre Deutsch, 1983), pp. 250, 394, 419.Google Scholar
  10. 9.
    See P.J. Marshall, ‘The Eighteenth-Century Empire’, in Jeremy Black (ed.), British Politics and Society from Walpole to Pitt, 1742–1789 (London: Macmillan, 1990).Google Scholar
  11. 12.
    See James Walvin, Black Ivory (London: HarperCollins, 1992), p. 258.Google Scholar
  12. 13.
    William Wilberforce, ‘Letter to Lord Harrowby, 29 September 1804’, in James Aitken (ed.), English Letters of the XIX Century (Harmondsworth: Pelican, 1946), p. 28.Google Scholar
  13. 14.
    William Cowper, ‘To William Wilberforce,’ Cowper’s Poetical Works (London: Macmillan, 1902), p. 384. Written in 1792.Google Scholar
  14. 15.
    See Thomas Paine, ‘African Slavery in America’, in Michael Foot and Isaac Kramnick (eds), The Thomas Paine Reader (Harmondsworth: Penguin Classics, 1987), pp. 55–6.Google Scholar
  15. 18.
    Anna Laetitia Barbauld, ‘Eighteen Hundred and Eleven’, in Isobel Armstrong, Joseph Bristow, and Cath Sharnock (eds), Nineteenth-Century Women Poets (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998), p. 14. Barbauld who came from a dissenting family was no stranger to political critique: in 1790 she wrote An Address to the Opposers of the Repeal of the Corporation and Test Acts:Google Scholar
  16. see Paul Barry Clark (ed.), Citizenship (London: Pluto, 1994), pp. 117–18.Google Scholar
  17. 19.
    See Andrew Ashfield (ed.), Romantic Women Poets, 1770–1838 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1995), p. 10.Google Scholar
  18. 21.
    See Thomas Sowell, Race and Culture: A World View (New York: Basic Books, 1994), p. 18;Google Scholar
  19. Kenan Malik, The Meaning of Race: Race, History and Culture in Western Society (London: Macmillan, 1996);Google Scholar
  20. Paul Rich, Race and Empire in British Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986).Google Scholar
  21. 23.
    For a narration about (white) European attitudes to others, see Victor Kiernan, Lords of Human Kind: European Attitudes to the Outside World in the Imperial Age (Harmondsworth: Pelican, 1972).Google Scholar
  22. 25.
    Hannah More, ‘Slavery’, in Jennifer Breen (ed.), Women Romantic Poets, 1785–1832 (London: J.M. Dent, 1992), p. 17. This poem was written in 1788.Google Scholar
  23. 30.
    See Ann Cromartie Yearsley, ‘A Poem on the Inhumanity of the Slave-Trade’, in Moira Ferguson (ed.), First Feminists: British Women Writers, 1578–1799 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press/Feminist Press, 1985).Google Scholar
  24. 33.
    Mary Wollstonecraft, ‘A Vindication of the Rights of Woman’, in Janet Todd (ed.), Mary Wollstonecraft: Political Writings (London: Pickering, 1993), p. 235. First published in 1792.Google Scholar
  25. 34.
    See William Godwin, ‘Memoirs of the Author of “The Rights of Woman”’, in Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin (eds), A Short Residence in Sweden AND Memoirs of the Author of ‘The Rights of Woman’ (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1987). Godwin precipitated a scandal for sympathizers of the feminist project because it was too frank.Google Scholar
  26. See Mary Wollstonecraft, ‘The Wollstonecraft Debate’, in Carol H. Poston (ed.), A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (New York: Norton, 1988) Kirkham, op. cit., Chapter 7, pp. 48ff.Google Scholar
  27. 35.
    See Moira Ferguson, ‘Mary Wollstonecraft and the Problematic of Slavery’, Feminist Review, Number 42 (1992), 82–102.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. 38.
    Jane Austen, ‘Mansfield Park’, The Collected Works of Jane Austen (London: Parragon, 1993). First published in 1814. The troubles in Antigua occur against the background of the American Revolution; the political and economic dislocation caused by the American War of Independence sent a wave of tension and strife across the Caribbean:Google Scholar
  29. Eric Williams, From Columbus to Castro: The History of the Caribbean, 1492–1969 (London: Andre Deutsch, 1983), Chapter 14. For a sensitive critique of the impact of ‘race’, through slavery, see Brian Southam, ‘The Silence of the Bertrams: Slavery and the Chronology of Mansfield Park’, The Times Literary Supplement, 17 February 1995. Southam was Chairman of the Jane Austen Society.Google Scholar
  30. 39.
    See Park Honan, Jane Austen: Her Life (New York: St Martin’s Press, 1987), p. 21.Google Scholar
  31. 42.
    See Edward Said, Culture and Imperialism (London: Chatto & Windus, 1993), p. 101.Google Scholar
  32. 43.
    Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France, and on the Proceedings in Certain Societies in London Relative to That Event (Harmondsworth: Penguin Classic, 1982), p. 194. First published in 1790.Google Scholar
  33. 44.
    For accounts of these economic and social histories, see Andre Gunder Frank, World Accumulation, 1492–1789 (London: Macmillan, 1978), p. 217;Google Scholar
  34. Jacob M. Price, ‘The imperial Economy’, in P.J. Marshall (ed.), The Oxford History of the British Empire, Volume 2, The Eighteenth Century (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), pp. 100–3;Google Scholar
  35. Walter Minchinton, ‘Patterns of Demand’, in Carlo M. Cipolla (ed.), The Industrial Revolution (London: Collins/Fontana Books, 1973), p. 123;Google Scholar
  36. K.N. Chaudhuri, ‘The New Economic History and the Business Records of the East India Company’, in P.L. Cotrell and D.H. Aldcroft (eds), Shipping, Trade and Commerce: Essays in Memory of Ralph Davis (Leicester: Leicester University Press, 1981), p. 58; Catherine Hall, ‘The Ruinous Ghost of Empire Past’, The Times Higher Education Supplement, 8 March 1996. Hall teases out the lost memories of empire replete in drinking chocolate.Google Scholar
  37. 45.
    Eric Williams, Capitalism and Slavery, op. cit., p. 61. Others too have drawn from Williams’ thesis: Beverley Bryan, Stella Dadzie, and Suzanne Scaffe, The Heart of the Race: Black Women’s Lives in Britain (London: Virago, 1985), p. 7.Google Scholar
  38. This glosses an important fissure in economic history; for a critique of the racialized foundation of the Industrial Revolution, see Joseph E. Inikori, Africans and the Industrial Revolution in England: A Study in International Trade and Economic Development (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002). As Inikori correctly points out, most of the attention of economic historians has been on profits and specifically their effectiveness as sources of finance; however, ‘once the role of international trade in England’s industrialization has been demonstrated, the main burden of analysis focuses on the extent to which the evolution of the industrial economy during the period rested on the shoulders of Africans. Africans’ contribution centred on the evolution of the Atlantic World economic system. The main thrust of analysis, therefore, has to be on the role of Africans in the growth and development of the Atlantic World economy and of the quantitative and qualitative place of the Atlantic World economy in England’s international trade …’ (p. 8).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. 46.
    Linda Colley, Britons: Forging the Nation, 1707–1837 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992), p. 69.Google Scholar
  40. 47.
    See James Walvin, Black Ivory, op. cit. Eric Wolf reminds us that British Celts were treated as half-slaves, but that their status was more privileged: the bondservants were subject to greater legal and social benefit. See Eric R. Wolf, Europe and the People Without History (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982), p. 202.Google Scholar
  41. 49.
    See J. Mokyr (ed.), The Economics of the Industrial Revolution (London: Allen & Unwin, 1985) ignores West Indian slavery or production monocultures. Conversely, Wolf notes that British exports to India destroyed the subcontinent’s handicraft industry; this facilitated British economic expansion in the East. See Wolf, op. cit., p. 287.Google Scholar
  42. 52.
    See C.L.R. James, The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution (London: Allison & Busby, 1980).Google Scholar
  43. 60.
    See W.G. Hoskins, The Making of the English Landscape (Harmondsworth: Pelican, 1970);Google Scholar
  44. David Lowenthal, ‘European and English Landscapes as Symbols’, in David Hooson (ed.), Geography and National Identity (Oxford: Blackwell, 1994);Google Scholar
  45. Leonore Davidoff, Jean L’Esperance, and Howard Newby, ‘Landscape with Figures: Home and Community in English Society’, in Juliette Mitchell and Anne Oakley (eds), The Rights and Wrongs of Women (Harmondsworth: Pelican, 1976).Google Scholar
  46. 61.
    Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (Harmondsworth: Penguin Classics, 1985), p. 76. First published in 1776–1788.Google Scholar
  47. 62.
    See Bob Press, Trees of Britain and Ireland (London: Collins, 1996), passim.Google Scholar
  48. 63.
    See Barrie Trinder, The Making of the Industrial Landscape (Gloucester: Alan Sutton, 1982), p. 87.Google Scholar
  49. 67.
    See Gillian Rose, Feminism and Geography: The Limits of Geographical Knowledge (London: Polity, 1993), p. 108.Google Scholar
  50. 68.
    See W.J. Mitchell, ‘Imperial Landscape’, in W.J. Mitchell (ed.), Landscape and Power (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994), p. 17.Google Scholar
  51. 72.
    See M. Dorothy George, London Life in the Eighteenth Century (Harmondsworth: Peregrine, 1966), Chapter 3.Google Scholar
  52. 78.
    Peter Linebaugh, The London Hanged: Crime and Civil Society in the Eighteenth Century (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1993) is a glowing exception;Google Scholar
  53. see also Nicholas Rogers, ‘Vagrancy, Impressment and the Regulation of Labour in Eighteenth-Century Britain’, in Paul E. Lovejoy and Nicholas Rogers (eds), Unfree Labour in the Development of the Atlantic World (Ilford: Frank Cass, 1994). Rogers reminds us that vagrants were pressed into naval service as part of the insatiable demand for seamen. Britain’s national survival rested on its naval supremacy.Google Scholar
  54. 79.
    See Ali Rattansi, ‘“Western” Racisms, Ethnicities and Identities in a “Postmodern” Frame’, in A. Rattansi and S. Westwood (eds), Racism, Modernity & Identity (London: Polity, 1994), p. 25.Google Scholar
  55. 80.
    See Betty Fladeland, Abolitionists and Working-Class Problems in the Age of Industrialization (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1984).Google Scholar
  56. 81.
    Wollstonecraft attempted, in concert with others, to grapple with the vigorous industrial, economic, political and social dislocation that Britain experienced at that time. She brought to the various analyses of her day a rigorous sexual critique, that is a very sharp and witty exposition of gender relations that left the sea of change more unsettled and choppy than most were able to countenance. Wollstonecraft and others suffered the full vituperative force of menfolk; her claim for rights for women was subjected to ridicule by Graves, parody by Taylor and outright attack by Polwhele: see Richard Graves, ‘Maternal Despotism; Or The Rights of Infants’, in Roger Lonsdale (ed.), The New Oxford Book of Eighteenth Century Verse (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984), pp. 791–2. This poem was written c. 1792, in response to what was obviously perceived as a mania for ‘rights’ in the wake of the texts by both Wollstonecraft and Thomas Paine. See Thomas Taylor, ‘A Vindication of the Rights of Brutes’, in Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, Norton Critical Edition, Carol H. Poston (ed.), op. cit. The word ‘brute’ in eighteenth-century parlance was a euphem-ism for ‘negro’.Google Scholar
  57. See Richard Polwhele, ‘The Unsex’d Female’, in Vivien Jones (ed.), Women in the Eighteenth Century: Constructions of Femininity (London: Routledge, 1990), pp. 186–9. His 1798 poem, a spiteful condemnation of women advocates of rights, singled out both Mary Hays and the by-then-dead Wollstonecraft. Sympathy, however, was found in many quarters in many voices.Google Scholar
  58. See Robert Burns, ‘The Rights of Woman’, in The Works of Robert Burns (Ware: Wordsworth Poetry Library, 1994), pp. 244–5.Google Scholar
  59. 85.
    See Christopher Hill, Reformation to Industrial Revolution: A Social and Economic History of Britain, 1530–1780 (London: Readers Union/Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1968), p. 143.Google Scholar
  60. 86.
    The living standards debate, waged between two broad camps focusing on the effects of industrialization, is comprehensive. The ‘pessimists’ contend economic diswelfare people suffered as a result of the capitalist project was extensive in terms of the misery caused and the length of time for which it was endured. The ‘optimists’, however, contend the trend has been inexorably towards an improved economic, and social, betterment that manifested sporadically during the course of economic restructuring, a project that is ultimately vindicated by the sheer level of opulence that has accrued to all levels of society. Much of the discourse has been gender and racially blind. See Ron Ramdin, op. cit.; Ivy Pinchbeck, op. cit.; Eric Hobsbawm, Labouring Men: Studies in the History of Labour (London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1968).Google Scholar
  61. 87.
    See Douglas Hay, ‘Property, Authority and the Criminal Law’, in Mike Fitzgerald, Gregor McLennan, and Jeannie Pawson (eds), Crime and Society: Readings in History and Theory (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1981), p. 10.Google Scholar
  62. 97.
    See Olaudah Equiano, The Interesting Narrative and Other Writings (Harmondsworth: Penguin Classics, 1995), p. 229. First published in 1789.Google Scholar
  63. 99.
    See Sian Rees, The Floating Brothel (London: Headline, 2001).Google Scholar
  64. 100.
    See Felicity Nussbaum, ‘The Other Woman: Polygamy, Pamela, and the Prerogative of Empire’, in Margo Hendricks and Patricia Parker (eds), Women, ‘Race’, & Writing in the Early Modern Period (London: Routledge, 1994), p. 149. Hyam argues that in eighteenth-century West Indies, it was socially expected for white men of all social ranks to sleep with black women. Mistresses were often openly kept.Google Scholar
  65. See Ronald Hyam, Empire and Sexuality: The British Experience (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1991), pp. 92–3.Google Scholar
  66. 112.
    See Rozina Visram, Ayahs, Lascars and Princes: The Story of Indians in Britain, 1700–1947 (London: Pluto, 1986), Chapter 2.Google Scholar
  67. 121.
    William Wordsworth, ‘September 1, 1802’, in The Works of William Wordsworth (Ware: Wordsworth Poetry Library, 1994), p. 305.Google Scholar
  68. 126.
    Amelia Opie, Adeline Mowbray (London: Pandora, 1986), p. 141. First published in 1804.Google Scholar
  69. 131.
    See Bonnie S. Anderson and Judith P. Zinsser, A History of Their Own: Women in Europe from Prehistory to the Present, Volume 2 (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1990), p. 126.Google Scholar
  70. 132.
    Mary Wollstonecraft, ‘An Historical and Moral View of the French Revolution’, in Janet Todd (ed.), Mary Wollstonecraft: Political Writings (London: Pickering, 1993), p. 332.Google Scholar
  71. 133.
    Eliza Fenwick, Secresy; Or Ruin on the Rock (London: Pandora, 1989), p. 42. First published in 1795.Google Scholar
  72. 138.
    See Sheila Rowbotham, Hidden From History (London: Pluto Press, 1977), pp. 36ff. Eric Hobsbawm, however, commends Malthus not for his presentation of a theory of demography, which attempted to verify a mathematical relationship between population growth rates and the means of subsistence, but for attempting a scientific treatment of unpredictable sexual decisions; accordingly, in Malthus, we find the apogee of eighteenth-century logical application of probability to population control: see Hobsbawm, Age of Revolutions, op. cit., pp. 343–4.Google Scholar
  73. 139.
    William Hodgson, however, while imprisoned for sedition in 1795, wrote that governments should encourage population growth to maximize the strength of the state: see William Hodgson, ‘The Commonwealth of Reason’, in Gregory Claeys (ed.), Utopias of the British Enlightenment (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), p. 234.Google Scholar
  74. 141.
    See Thomas Malthus, Essay on the Principle of Population (Harmondsworth: Pelican, 1970). First published in 1798.Google Scholar
  75. 145.
    William Godwin agreed that the disaster might happen, but thought it would occur at some far future date. Francis Place took the middle ground between the two, arguing that a disaster might happen but could be avoided if action were taken: primarily contraception would alleviate some of the demographic pressure; and as a secondary palliative measure he suggested colonial expansion: see Francis Place, Illustrations and Proofs of the Principle of Population (New York: Augustus M. Kelly, 1967). First published in 1822. S.T. Coleridge, who criticized Malthus, echoed Place. Coleridge wrote ‘colonisation is not only a manifest expedient for, but an imperative duty on, Great Britain. God seems to hold out his finger to us over the sea …’Google Scholar
  76. S.T. Coleridge, Table Talk (London: John Murray, 1874), p. 238. William Wordsworth also articulated a romantic colonialism in The Excursion. He suggested that the will, the instincts and appointed needs of Britain would establish new communities. He grounded his imperialist view in the concept of ‘Albion’s noble race’. This is Romantic teleology in which Britain must complete its glorious destiny: William Wordsworth, ‘The Excursion’, The Works of William Wordsworth, op. cit., pp. 889–90.Google Scholar
  77. 150.
    See Kurt Heinzelman, ‘The Cult of Domesticity’, in Anne Mellor (ed.), Romanticism and Feminism (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988), p. 58.Google Scholar
  78. 151.
    William Hazlitt, Spirit of the Age (Plymouth: Northcote House, 1991), p. 171. Hazlitt originally published a reply to Malthus in 1807, and later revised it for Spirit of the Age, which was published in 1825.Google Scholar
  79. 165.
    Judith Rowbotham, Good Girls Make Better Wives: Guidance for Girls in Victorian Fiction (Oxford: Blackwell, 1989), p. 181.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Eamon Wright 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Eamon Wright

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations