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Anna Gambles's Protection and politics (1999) established the existence of a sophisticated and pervasive conservative economic discourse in Britain in the decades before Repeal. This article argues that the imperial aspect of that discourse – comprising ideals of imperial economic integration, imperial preference, and British navigational prowess – has been mistakenly understood as a response to ‘the imperialism of free trade'. In fact, these ideals were evolved primarily as the intellectual response of the West Indian lobby to the Anti-Slavery Society's campaign for the emancipation of British colonial slaves. Emancipation was regarded as a prospective economic disaster for the British plantation system and so the years after 1823 witnessed the vigorous and sophisticated defence of West Indian slavery by rhetorical and discursive means traditionally ascribed the label of ‘conservative economics'. This article argues that the imperial economic discourse hitherto considered ‘conservative’ should more properly be recognized as ‘pro-slavery’, something underscored by the pro-slavery sympathies of the writers credited with the articulation of this discourse, and by the almost exclusive relevance of its arguments to West Indian, as opposed to other colonial possessions.

Corresponding author
Gonville & Caius College, Trinity Street, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, CB2
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The author, an AHRC-funded student, wishes to thank John Robertson, Boyd Hilton, Peter Mandler, David Lambert, Richard Huzzey, Keith McClelland, and his anonymous referees for their comments on previous drafts of this article.

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1 Major contributions include Hilton, Boyd, Corn, cash, commerce: the economic policies of the tory governments, 1815–1830 (Oxford, 1977); Gordon, Barry, Economic doctrine and tory liberalism, 1824–1830 (London, 1979); Hilton, Boyd, The age of atonement: the influence of evangelicalism on social and economic thought, 1795–1865 (Oxford, 1988); Waterman, A. M. C., Revolution, economics and religion: Christian political economy, 1798–1833 (Cambridge, 1991); and Winch, Donald, Riches and poverty: an intellectual history of political economy in Britain, 1750–1834 (Cambridge, 1996).

2 Perkin, Harold, The origins of modern English society, 1780–1880 (2nd edn, London, 2002); Stewart, Robert, The politics of protection: Lord Derby and the protectionist party, 1841–1852 (Cambridge, 1971); Rashid, Salim, ‘David Robinson and the tory macroeconomics of Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine’, History of Political Economy, 10 (1978), pp. 258–70; Macintyre, Angus, ‘Lord George Bentinck and the protectionists: a lost cause?’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 39 (1989), pp. 141–65.

3 Gambles, Anna, Protection and politics: conservative economic discourse, 1815–1852 (Woodbridge, 1999), p. 1.

4 Taylor, James, Creating capitalism: joint-stock enterprise in British politics and culture, 1800–1870 (Woodbridge, 2006), p. 15; Hilton, Boyd, ‘Utilitarian or neo-Foxite whig? Robert Lowe as chancellor of the exchequer’, in Green, E. H. H. and Tanner, D. M., eds., The strange survival of liberal England: political leaders, moral values and the reception of economic debate (Cambridge, 2007), pp. 3761, at p. 45; Turner, Michael J., ‘Political leadership and political parties, 1800–1846’, in Williams, Chris, ed., A companion to nineteenth-century Britain (Oxford, 2004), pp. 140–55, at p. 150.

5 Gambles, Protection and politics, p. 149.

6 Ibid., pp. 149, 1.

7 Daunton, Martin, Trusting Leviathan: the politics of taxation in Britain, 1799–1914 (Cambridge, 2001), pp. 124–25; Eastwood, David, ‘Tories and markets: Britain, 1800–1850’, in Trentmann, Frank and Bevis, Mark, eds., Markets in historical contexts (Cambridge, 2004), pp. 7089, at p. 86.

8 For example, Davis, David Brion, The problem of slavery in the age of revolution, 1770–1823 (Ithaca, NY, 1975), pp. 343468; Drescher, Seymour, The mighty experiment: free labour versus slavery in British emancipation (Oxford, 2002), esp. pp. 1972.

9 Huzzey, Richard, Freedom burning: anti-slavery and empire in Victorian Britain (Ithaca, NY, 2012); Hall, Catherine, Civilizing subjects: metropole and colony in the British imagination, 1830–1867 (Oxford, 2002).

10 Swaminathan, Srividhya, Debating the slave trade: rhetoric of British national identity, 1759–1815 (Farnham, 2009).

11 Among recent studies of the anti-slavery movement, see Clapp, Elizabeth J. and Jeffrey, Julie Roy, eds., Women, dissent and anti-slavery in Britain and America, 1790–1865 (Oxford, 2011); Whyte, Iain, Zachary Macaulay, 1768–1838: the steadfast Scot in the British anti-slavery movement (Liverpool, 2011); and Hochschild, Adam, Bury the chains: the British struggle to abolish slavery (2nd edn, London, 2012). The Anti-Slavery Society did not campaign for immediate emancipation until 1831, but this change in object had little effect on pro-slavery argument because the emancipationists’ ultimate ambition of slave freedom – and therefore the ultimate consequence for slaveholders – remained the same.

12 Parliamentary Papers (PP) 1831–2 (381), p. 116.

13 Address to manufacturers, traders, and others, on the importance of preserving the colonies (London, 1832), p. 15.

14 Drescher, Mighty experiment, pp. 88–105.

15 ‘Z’, Slavery – to the editor of the English Chronicle and Whitehall Evening post – To the West India Planters and abolitionists – Negro slavery (Penzance, 1831), pp. 1–2.

16 West Indian Reporter (WIR), 25 (1829), pp. 173–88.

17 Barclay, Alexander, Effects of the late colonial policy of Great Britain described (London, 1830), p. 16.

18 McDonnell, Alexander, An address to the Members of both Houses of Parliament on the West India question (London, 1830), p. 90.

19 Turner, Samuel, A letter addressed to Charles Rose Ellis, Esq., M. P., chairman of the standing committee of the West India Planters and Merchants (2nd edn, London, 1825), p. 9.

20 PP 1831–2 (381), pp. 89, 104–5; see also pp. 61, 93, 118, 119, 151.

21 Alexander, R., Fate of the colonies: a letter to the proprietors and planters of the West Indies, resident in the colonies (London, 1830), p. 305.

22 See, for example, Fletcher, Matthew, Letters in vindication of the rights of the British West India colonies (Liverpool, 1822).

23 ‘A.H.’, ‘East Indian sugar recommended’, Gentleman's Magazine (GM), 96 (1826), pp. 229–31, at p. 231.

24 See [Zachary Macaulay], East and West Indian sugar: or, a refutation of the claims of the West India colonists to a protecting duty on East India sugar (London, 1823); idem, A letter to W. Whitmore, Esq., M. P., pointing out some of the erroneous statements contained in a pamphlet by Joseph Marryat, M. P. (London, 1823); and Stephen, James, England enslaved by her own slave colonies: an address to the electors and people of the United Kingdom (London, 1826).

25 WIR, 2 (1827), p. 29.

26 ‘A West Indian’ [S. P. Hurd], A letter to the Right Honourable the earl of Liverpool, K. G., on the claims of the West India proprietors (London, 1823), p. 11.

27 [Lockhart, J. G.], ‘The West Indian controversy’, Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine (BEM), 14 (1823), pp. 437–51, at p. 451.

28 Hansard, 2nd ser., 1823, ix, 459–61.

29 See, for example, Barclay, Effects of the late colonial policy, p. 42.

30 Gambles, Protection and politics, pp. 150–7, at p. 150.

31 McDonnell, Alexander, Considerations on negro slavery (London, 1824), p. iii.

32 Idem, Free trade; or, an inquiry into the expediency of the present Corn Laws (London, 1826), pp. 455, 456, 457.

33 Idem, Colonial commerce; comprising an inquiry into the principles upon which discriminating duties should be levied in sugar, the growth respectively of the West India British possessions, of the East Indies, and of foreign countries (London, 1828); Gambles, Protection and politics, pp. 155, 71–2; West India literary committee minute book, 26 Feb. 1831, The Alma Jordan Library, The University of the West Indies, St Augustine, Trinidad and Tobago, West India committee records (WICR), box 6 folder 7, fos. 9–11.

34 Thomas Moody to Robert Wilmot Horton, n.d., Matlock, Derbyshire Record Office, Wilmot Horton papers, D3155/WH/3050, fo. 2567; see also Moody to Wilmot Horton, 15 Sept. 1825, Derbyshire Record Office, Wilmot Horton papers, D3155/WH/2849.

35 ‘Alexander McDonnell’, Legacies of British slave-ownership,, accessed 22 Aug. 2013.

36 MacQueen, James, The West India colonies; the calumnies and misrepresentations circulated against them by the Edinburgh Review, Mr Clarkson, Mr Cropper, &c., &c., examined and refuted (London, 1824), p. ix.

37 West India literary committee minute book, WICR, box 5 folder 1, fos. 5–19.

38 Lambert, David, ‘The counter-revolutionary Atlantic: white West Indian petitions and pro-slavery networks’, Social & Cultural Geography, 5 (2005), pp. 405–20; idem, ‘The “Glasgow King of Billingsgate”: James MacQueen and an Atlantic pro-slavery network’, Slavery & Abolition, 29 (2008), pp. 389–413; and idem, Mastering the Niger: James MacQueen's African geography and the struggle over Atlantic slavery (Chicago, IL, 2013).

39 MacQueen, James, ‘The British colonies; letter to his Grace the duke of Wellington, &c. &c. &c. from James McQueen, Esq.’, BEM, 23 (1828), pp. 891913; ‘The British colonies; letter third to His Grace the Duke of Wellington, &c. &c. from James MacQueen, Esq.’, BEM, 27 (1830), pp. 223–53.

40 Gambles, Protection and politics, pp. 151–2.

41 Ellis, Charles Rose and Horton, Robert Wilmot, ‘West India colonies’, Quarterly Review (QR), 30 (1824), pp. 559–87; Gambles, Protection and politics, pp. 151–2.

42 Ellis and Horton, ‘West India colonies’, pp. 570, 569, 576.

43 Among those publications addressed or dedicated to Ellis, in his capacity as chairman of the West Indian body, were: MacQueen, West India Colonies; Thomson, Charles, Mr. Stephen's attempt to influence legislation in his address to the electors of Great Britain, considered, in a letter to Charles Ellis, Esq., M. P. (London, 1826); Turner, Letter addressed to Charles Rose Ellis.

44 Marryat, Joseph, A reply to the arguments in various publications recommending an equalization of the duties on East and West Indian sugar (London, 1823).

45 Gambles, Protection and politics, p. 156.

46 ‘Obituary – Joseph Marryatt, M.P.’, GM, 94 (1824), pp. 372–4, at p. 373.

47 ‘The fate of the colonies’, Fraser's Magazine (FM), 2 (1830), pp. 226–32, at pp. 230–1.

48 See, for example, Rashid, ‘Robinson’, passim, and Perkin, Origins of modern British society, pp. 245–52.

49 Robinson, David, ‘A friendly epistle to John Bull, Esquire, from one of the old school’, BEM, 19 (1826), pp. 633–52, at p. 644, cited by Gambles, Protection and politics, p. 154.

50 Barrow, John, ‘Political importance of our American colonies’, QR, 33 (1826), pp. 410–29.

51 Gambles, Protection and politics, p. 157, also at p. 151.

52 Barrow, ‘Political importance’, p. 416.

53 Maginn, W. S., ‘MS. notes on the articles concerning Ireland, the West Indies, &c., in the last number of the Edinburgh Review’, BEM, 17 (1825), pp. 461–75; Gambles, Protection and politics, p. 151.

54 Maginn, ‘MS. notes’, p. 471.

55 Galt, John, ‘The colonial question’, BEM, 27 (1830), pp. 455–62, cited by Gambles, Protection and politics, at p. 157.

56 Galt, , ‘Second letter from John Galt, Esq., with preliminary observations, by Oliver Yorke’, FM, 2 (1830), pp. 556–63, at p. 557.

57 Idem, ‘Letters on West Indian slavery. – By J. Galt, Esq., to Oliver Yorke, Esq. Letter I’, FM, 2 (1830), pp. 440–9, at p. 443.

58 Idem, ‘Letters on West Indian slavery. – By J. Galt, Esq.’, FM, 2 (1830), pp. 563–71, at p. 567.

59 Alison, Archibald, ‘The West India question: introduction’, BEM, 21 (1832), pp. 412–23; Gambles, Protection and politics, pp. 151–2.

60 Alison, ‘West India question’, p. 415.

61 Idem, Some account of my life and writings: an autobiography, ed. Lady Alison (2 vols., Edinburgh, 1883), ii, pp. 345, 346, 346–7.

62 Gambles, Protection and politics, pp. 153, 154, 152.

63 Lockhart, , ‘West Indian controversy’; ‘The West Indian controversy II’, BEM, 14 (1823), pp. 647–66; idem, ‘The West Indian controversy. No. III’, BEM, 15 (1824), pp. 68–82; idem, ‘The West Indian controversy. No. IV’, BEM, 16 (1824), pp. 682–97.

64 Lockhart, ‘West Indian controversy’, p. 442.

65 Lowe, Joseph, ‘The condition of the negroes in our colonies’, QR, 29 (1823), pp. 475508.

66 Idem, Inquiry into the state of the West Indies (2nd edn, London, 1807).

67 Gambles, Protection and politics, p. 152.

68 Horton, Robert Wilmot, The West India question practically considered (London, 1826), pp. 98–9; for a brief discussion of Wilmot Horton's commitment to compensation, see Draper, Nicholas, The price of emancipation: slave-ownership, compensation and British society at the end of slavery (Cambridge, 2010), p. 79.

69 Speech of the Right Hon. R. Wilmot Horton in the House of Commons, on the 6th of March, 1828 (London, 1828); Horton, First letter to the freeholders of the county of York, on negro slavery (London, 1830); idem, Second letter to the freeholders of the county of York, on negro slavery (London, 1830); literary committee minute book, 29 Jan. 1831, WICR, box 6 folder 7, fo. 6.

70 McDonnell, The West India legislatures vindicated from the charge of having resisted the call of the mother country for the amelioration of slavery (London, 1826), p. 65; Colonial slavery: defence of the Baptist missionaries from the charge of inciting the late rebellion in Jamaica (London, 1833), p. 22; The speech of the Hon. John Dalzell, in the House of Assembly, Saint Vincent, on the 4th September, 1827 (London, 1827), pp. 18–19.

71 The speech of the Right Hon. George Canning in the House of Commons, on the 16th day of March, 1824, on laying before the House the papers in explanation of the measures adopted by His Majesty's government, for the amelioration of the condition of the slave population in the West Indies (London, 1824); Gambles, Protection and politics, p. 152.

72 Speech … of Canning, pp. 5, 8, 8, 21–2, 3; for the original resolutions, see Hansard, 2nd ser., 1823, ix, pp. 285–6.

73 West India literary committee minute book, 7 June 1824, WICR, box 5 folder 1, fo. 15.

74 WIR, 1 (1827), p. 1.

75 See, for example, Hansard, 2nd ser., 1824, xi, 1417–19; 2nd ser., 1826, xiv, 973–83; 2nd ser., 1826, xv, 1356–65.

76 McDonnell, Free trade, p. 2; MacQueen, ‘The British colonies’, p. 891; Robinson, ‘Friendly epistle’, p. 634.

77 Barrow, ‘Political importance’, p. 410.

78 McDonnell, Colonial commerce, p. 69.

79 Colonial register and West India Journal, 1 (1824), p. 16.

80 ‘West India Proprietor’, Opinions and remarks on slavery in the West India Colonies, with advice to the planters (London, 1829), pp. 25–6.

81 ‘A West Indian’ [Simon Houghton Clarke], Some considerations on the present distressed state of the British West India Colonies, their claims on the government for relief, and the advantage to the nation in supporting them, particularly against the competition of East India sugar (London, 1823), pp. 25, 24.

82 Colonial Register, 1 (1824), pp. 1, 16.

83 A statement of the claims of the West India Colonies to a protecting duty against East India sugar (London, 1823), p. 16; Memorandum of the relative importance of the West & East Indies to Great Britain (London, 1823), p. 3.

84 Barham, J. F., Considerations on the abolition of negro slavery, and the means of practically effecting it (2nd edn, London, 1823), p. 25.

85 Clarke, Some considerations, p. 17.

86 McDonnell, Considerations, pp. 27–8.

87 Memorandum on the relative importance, p. 5; see also WIR, 1 (1827), p. 17.

88 McDonnell, Free trade, p. 453.

89 Clarke, Some considerations, p. 17; Memorandum on the relative importance, p. 9.

90 Memorandum on the relative importance, p. 9.

91 McDonnell, Colonial commerce, p. 68.

92 Address to manufacturers, pp. 14, 10.

93 ‘S.D.’, ‘Value of the West India colonies to the mother country’, GM, 94 (1824), pp. 224–7, at p. 225.

94 Marly; or, the life of a planter in Jamaica (2nd edn, Glasgow, 1828), p. 314.

95 McDonnell, Colonial commerce, p. 80.

96 Address to manufacturers, p. 10.

97 McDonnell, Colonial commerce, p. 80.

98 Borthwick, P., A report of colonial slavery and gradual emancipation, delivered in the Assembly Rooms on Friday, March 1, 1833 (Edinburgh, 1833), p. 4.

99 Alison, ‘West India question’, p. 414.

100 Borthwick, Report of colonial slavery p. 5.

101 WIR, 41 (1831), p. 36.

102 A brief sketch of the political importance of the British colonies (Edinburgh, 1826), p. 29.

103 Lockhart, ‘West Indian controversy’, p. 449.

104 Barclay, Alexander, A practical view of the present state of slavery in the West Indies (London, 1826), p. 308.

105 McDonnell, Colonial commerce, pp. 12, 186, 68.

106 British colonial slavery (London, 1833), p. 4; Alexander, Fate of the colonies, p. 27; [Sir James Carmichael Smyth], Reflections upon the value of the British West Indian Colonies, and of the British North American Provinces (London, 1826), p. 8; WIR, 1 (1827), p. 16.

107 Qu. in Barrow, ‘Political importance’, p. 428.

108 Address to manufacturers, p. 12.

109 Borthwick, Report of colonial slavery, p. 4.

110 Proceedings at a public meeting of persons interested in the preservation of the British West India Colonies held at the City of London Tavern, the 27th May, 1833 (London, 1833), p. 22; Simmons, H. P., Letter to the Right Hon. Earl Grey, on the West India Question (Liverpool, 1833), pp. 32–3.

111 Grossett, J. R., Remarks on West India affairs (London, 1824), p. 85; Alison, ‘West India question’, p. 414.

112 Alison, ‘West India question’, p. 414; Clarke, Some considerations, p. 26.

113 ‘S.D.’, ‘Value of the West India colonies’, p. 226.

114 Marryat, Frederick, Newton Forster: or, the merchant service (3 vols., London, 1832), iii, p. 58.

115 Barrow, ‘Political importance’, p. 411.

116 McDonnell, Free trade, p. 431.

117 Petley, Christer, ‘“Devoted Islands” and “That Madman Wilberforce”: British pro-slavery patriotism during the Age of Abolition’, Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, 39 (2011), pp. 393415; idem, Slaveholders in Jamaica: colonial society and culture during the era of abolition (London, 2009); Legacies of British slave-ownership, University College, London,, accessed 17 Nov. 2013.

118 Williams, Eric, Capitalism and slavery (Chapel Hill, NC, 1944).

119 Drescher, Seymour, Econocide: British slavery in the era of abolition (2nd edn, Chapel Hill, NC, 2010), p. 25.

* The author, an AHRC-funded student, wishes to thank John Robertson, Boyd Hilton, Peter Mandler, David Lambert, Richard Huzzey, Keith McClelland, and his anonymous referees for their comments on previous drafts of this article.

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