After the loss of her American colonies and intense colonial economic competition with France, the British government became abolition-minded not out of pity for those they had purchased from African tribes to labor in America and the West Indies, but to destroy the successful French colony of San Domingo – as well as the American South’s labor system from which Yankee shipping interests were earning vast fortunes.
This was not lost on John C. Calhoun, who in mid-August 1844 wrote American Minister to France William R. King that “It is too late in the day to contend that humanity or philanthropy is the great object of the policy of England in attempting to abolish slavery on this continent. [In abolishing slavery in her colonies], She acted on the principle that tropical products can be produced cheaper by free African labor and East India labor, than by slave labor.”
Calhoun contended that England “calculated to combine philanthropy with profit and power, as is not unusual with fanaticism,” with the experiment turning out to be a costly one. And in order to regain her superiority, England must destroy her economic competition through emancipation.
Britain, France and Abolition
“The slave-trade and slavery were the economic basis of the French Revolution. “Sad irony of human history,” comments Jaures, “The fortunes created at Bordeaux, at Nantes, by the slave trade, gave to the bourgeoisie that pride which needed liberty and contributed to human emancipation.”
Nantes was the center of the slave-trade. As early as 1666, 108 ships went to the coast of Guinea and took on board 37,430 slaves, a total value of more than 37 millions, giving the Nantes bourgeoisie 15 to 20 percent on their money. In 1700 Nantes was sending 50 ships a year to the West Indies with Irish salt beef, linen for the household and for clothing the slaves, and machinery for the sugar-mills. Nearly all the industries which developed in France during the eighteenth century had their origin in goods or commodities destined either for the coast of Guinea or for America. The capital from the slave-trade fertilized them; though the bourgeoisie traded in other things than slaves, upon the success or failure of the traffic everything else depended.
The British bourgeois, the most successful of slave-traders, sold thousands of smuggled slaves every year to the French colonists and particularly to San Domingo. But even while they sold the slaves to San Domingo, the British were watching the progress of this colony with alarm and with envy. After the independence of America in 1783, this amazing French colony suddenly made such a leap as almost to double its [sugar] production between 1783 and 1789.
The British bourgeoisie investigated the new situation in the West Indies [and] prepared a bombshell for its rivals. Without slaves San Domingo was doomed. The British colonies had enough slaves for all the trade they were ever likely to do. With tears rolling down their cheeks for the poor suffering blacks, those British bourgeoisie who had no West Indian interests set up a great howl for the abolition of the slave trade.”
(The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Overture and the San Domingo Revolution, Vantage Books, 1963, excerpts pp. 47-48; 50-51)