• Jonathan Hart


When Portugal entered the slave trade in the fifteenth century in Africa, a new phase of colonialism and imperialism was beginning, perhaps unbeknownst to those involved at court and on the ground. Almost 450 years of hardship and thralldom overcame Africans sent into Europe and West in the Atlantic to labor for sugar, cotton, and coffee. Columbus was interested in the Native Americans as slaves. Soon Africans were brought into the Americas to fill the gap that the dying Natives left under the yoke of slavery, abuse, and cruelty. The contest over empire was so often about making as much money as possible. Expansion could cause conflicts within empires: for instance, the Crown, landowners, and church in the Spanish colonies in the New World could find themselves at odds. The opposition to war, expansion, and empire coexisted, sometimes in the same people, with their promotion. Promoting and opposing empire were in Europe before and after Columbus and persisted from first expansion to decolonization in the twentieth century. The British Empire and the United States, together the two greatest political powers since the defeat of Napoleon, were as implicated in the trading and holding of slaves as were Portugal, Spain, the Netherlands, and other European powers. Some ambiguity remained in slavery, which is one of the key points where empires and nations contested, because as the British took American cotton for their mills, the British government and navy worked hard to close the institution down.


Fifteenth Century British Government Slave Trade Private Capacity African Slave 
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© Jonathan Hart 2005

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  • Jonathan Hart

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