Slavery - again
The personal and public wealth of Britain created by slave labour was a crucial element in the accumulation of capital that made the industrial revolution possible.
This is simply not the case according to most recent economic historians of empire. John Darwin (who taught me incidentally, and supervised my doctorate) has estimated that the role of slavery in British capital accumulation was in the very low single figure percentages of total capital creation. When I taught history in Zimbabwe the text book contained the phrase: 'according to one historian the buildings of Liverpool were mortared with African blood.' I often wondered who the hell that 'historian' was - but he was talking emotionally rather than historically. The truth is that, though the slave trade was profitable to those involved in it, it was not a particularly significant factor in British industrialisation.
Then there is the rather unstructured call for financial reparation to be given to the descendants of slavery:
Black people whose forebears were slaves, victims of that other Holocaust, are simply asking for the stolen fruits of their ancestors' labour power to be given back to their rightful heirs.
This is bizarre in the extreme - if one of my forebears was exploited in the eighteenth century, should I get the right to compensation now? What if one of my ancestors was a slave? How much compensation should I get - an amount in proportion to the 'slave' blood in me?
More historical inanity is on the way.
Third, in considering the British achievement of 1807, we should remember that other countries got there first. Again, it is customary to record the decision of the French convention to abolish slavery itself, on February 4 1794.
It is also customary, if one is not to be accused of misrepresenting history, to state that this decision lasted less than 10 years, with Napoleon rescinding it in 1801. Slavery was only officially abolished in France in 1848. But wait! there's more.
The vote did not put an end to the international trade by other nations, nor did it terminate slavery.
While Gott is certainly correct that other nations did not recognise the ban on the trade, he is wrong to suggest that the ban did not put an end to the international trade. The Royal Navy unilaterally supervised the ban, ignoring international conventions by boarding ships from other nations if they were suspected to be slavers. The Royal Navy policed West Africa and the South Atlantic trade routes for many decades after the ban was imposed, and the trade was enormously diminished.
The strangest thing of all, and one that Gott might not have had control over, is the title of the piece: Britain's vote to end its slave trade was a precursor to today's liberal imperialism. Does he mean that it was a bad thing that Britain abolished the slave trade? Or that today's liberal imperialism is a good thing and should be praised? I would tend towards the latter, but I doubt Gott is as much of a fan of Niall Ferguson as I am.
One point that was raised in the comments to the piece made me smile, however.
Speaking of context, Richard Gott's former employers were practicing slavery up until 1960 in the form of the gulag system. As a beneficiary of their slave labour perhaps he should be named as a co-litigant in their compensation claim, or at the very least apologise to them.