Analyses of immigration in the nineteenth century, at least after the end of Britain's slave trade in 1807, have been written within the context of freedom. European migration has been presented in terms of individual response to push and pull forces, and to free choice. The movement of millions from Europe to lands of recent white settlement may have been accompanied by the traumas of uprooting but the pain suffered was born of free will. Charlotte Erickson has emphasised the atomistic character of the movement. European emigrants, Erickson emphasises,
were free people, in a legal sense, free to depart and return at will and free of any obligations to work for a particular employer in a particular place in return for assistance in travelling … obstacles to freedom of movement were being removed … migrants had freedom of choice…
Erickson, it must be recognised, qualified her arguments. She noted that Brazilian coffee plantations came to rely on contract labour towards the end of the century, and that convicts were sent to Australia. Those qualifications are clearly correct. They are, also, understated. European countries remain far more attached to forced or indentured labour than has generally been recognised. The emigration of whites from Europe, and the immigration of settlers into European colonies, were not nearly so free as standard interpretations have indicated.
This traditional emphasis of historians has been questioned in recent years. David Eltis, for example, has stressed the need for historians to overcome their tendency to write of the two immigrant flows, free and coerced, in isolation from one another.
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