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A History of the United States by Cecil Chesterton

No considerable export commerce


During

the French war the excellent professional army which England was able to maintain in the field was supported by levies raised from the English colonies, which did good service in many engagements. Among the officers commanding these levies one especially had attracted, by his courage and skill, and notably by the part he bore in the clearing of Pennsylvania, the notice of his superiors--George Washington of Virginia.

England was now in a position to develop in peace the empire which her sword had defended with such splendid success and glory. Before we consider the causes which so suddenly shattered that empire, it is necessary to take a brief survey of its geography and of its economic conditions.

The colonies, as we have seen, were spread along the Atlantic seaboard to an extent of well over a thousand miles, covering nearly twenty degrees of latitude. The variations of climate were naturally great, and involved marked differentiations in the character and products of labour. The prosperity of the Southern colonies depended mainly upon two great staple industries. Raleigh, in the course of his voyages, had learned from the Indians the use of the tobacco plant and had introduced that admirable discovery into Europe. As Europe learned (in spite of the protests of James I.) to prize the glorious indulgence now offered to it, the demand for tobacco grew, and its supply became the principal business of the colonies

of Virginia and Maryland. Further to the south a yet more important and profitable industry was established. The climate of the Carolinas and of Georgia and of the undeveloped country west of these colonies, a climate at once warm and humid, was found to be exactly suited to the cultivation of the cotton plant. This proved the more important when the discoveries of Watt and Arkwright gave Lancashire the start of all the world in the manipulation of the cotton fabric. From that moment begins the triumphant progress of "King Cotton," which was long to outlast the political connection between the Carolinas and Lancashire, and was to give in the political balance of America peculiar importance to the "Cotton States."

But at the time now under consideration these cotton-growing territories were still under the British Crown, and were subject to the Navigation Laws upon which England then mainly relied for the purpose of making her colonies a source of profit to her. The main effect of these was to forbid the colonies to trade with any neighbour save the mother country. This condition, to which the colonists seem to have offered no opposition, gave to the British manufacturers the immense advantage of an unrestricted supply of raw material to which no foreigner had access. It is among the curious ironies of history that the prosperity of Lancashire, which was afterwards to be identified with Free Trade, was originally founded upon this very drastic and successful form of Protection.

The more northerly colonies had no such natural advantages. The bulk of the population lived by ordinary farming, grew wheat and the hard cereals and raised cattle. But during the eighteenth century England herself was still an exporting country as regards these commodities, and with other nations the colonists were forbidden to trade. The Northern colonies had, therefore, no considerable export commerce, but on the seaboard they gradually built up a considerable trade as carriers, and Boston and New York merchant captains began to have a name on the Atlantic for skill and enterprise. Much of the transoceanic trade passed into their hands, and especially one most profitable if not very honourable trade of which, by the Treaty of Utrecht, England had obtained a virtual monopoly--the trade in Negro slaves.

The pioneer of this traffic had been Sir John Hawkins, one of the boldest of the great Elizabethan sailors. He seems to have been the first of the merchant adventurers to realize that it might prove profitable to kidnap Negroes from the West Coast of Africa and sell them into slavery in the American colonies. The cultivation of cotton and tobacco in the Southern plantations, as of sugar in the West Indies, offered a considerable demand for labour of a type suitable to the Negro. The attempt to compel the native Indians to such labour had failed; the Negro proved more tractable. By the time with which we are dealing the whole industry of the Southern colonies already rested upon servile coloured labour.


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