Adam Smith: Part VIII

16th to 18th century, the mood seemed to be that we were, as an island people, not going to be invaded ever again.
Those who had wealth wanted to become richer, thus more influential and more powerful.
Those with family wealth didn’t want to be the generation that lost it. 
There was evidence of cultures who had utilised the labour of slaves to create wealth. No-one wanted to be a slave – even Robbie Burns considered managing slaves on a plantation in Jamaica before he started to make money from his poetry.
Slavery refers to a condition in which individuals are owned by others, who control where they live and at what they work. Slavery had previously existed throughout history, in many times and most places. The ancient Greeks, the Romans, Incas and Aztecs all had slaves. 

Slaves could increase productivity and make one rich. They had to be harnessed. This was the way people thought then,  and still, tragically, many still do in the 21st century

With a strong navy and forceful army an elite could prosecute wars to destroy competitors and annihilate any other war machine against it and take goods and resources as ‘spoils of war’ to create wealth back home.

Britain had been invaded for centuries. Now Britain was going to take the initiative and become the ruler of the seas.

Creating an invincible war machine

Wealth had accumulated into the hands of certain people before Adam Smith’s time. The military played a large part, the development of the British Navy as a result of centuries of European conflict and ‘winner takes all’ aggressive tactics. Religious differences motivated the rhetoric to stir armies to believe they had ‘God on their side’. Applying brutality metered out to thousands of innocents as the Empire was gradually forged, and carrying diseases to other peoples through missionaries, militaries and even pioneering tourism, laid waste to previously isolated communities.

Creating the first corporation

Back when Elizabeth I justified piracy on the high seas, she realised she could use the skills of remarkable seamen like Francis Drake to acquire wealth through covert means. She had learned the Spanish conquistadores were returning from lands they had devastated with their ships heavily laden with gold, silver, jewels. Philip II of Spain, already an enemy as head of a Catholic country, was accumulating power and wealth, and Elizabeth thought their ships were easy pickings for her privateers (or pirates, as the Spanish called them).

Elizabeth I brought the East India Company into being and gave immunity to those who may have ‘killed innocents’ in the course of carrying out her wishes to raid the Spanish ships.

The organisation grew, it was amazingly successful.  Greed and the desire for power was its engine.

The British East India Company

The East India Company is, or rather was, an anomaly without a parallel in the history of the world. It originated from sub-scriptions, trifling in amount, of a few private individuals. It gradually became a commercial body with gigantic resources, and by the force of unforeseen circumstances assumed the form of a sovereign power, while those by whom its affairs were directed continued, in their individual capacities, to be without power or political influence. — Bentley’s Miscellany 43 (1858).

One of the strangest parts of the history of the British Empire involves that commercial venture generally known as the East India Company, though its original name when founded by royal charter on the very last day of 1600 was the Governor and Company of Merchants of London Trading into the East Indies. As its name suggests, the company was the enterprise of London businessmen who banded together to make money importing spices from South Asia. For centuries the valuable spice trade with the East Indies (as they were long known) relied on land routes across Asia and the Middle East, but by the sixteenth century, the superior navigational technology and skills of the Portuguese for the first time permitted Europeans to cut out intermediaries and hence make themselves far greater profits. The Spanish and Portuguese had a monopoly of the East Indies spice trade until destruction of the Spanish Armada in 1588, which permitted the British and Dutch to seek their share of this wealthy import business.

The company with the long name first entered the spice trade in the form of an old-fashioned or early capitalist venture, essentially conducting each voyage as a separate business venture with its own subsribers or stock-holders. This approach lasted for a dozen years, and then in 1612 the company switched to temporary joint stocks and finally to permanent joint stocks in 1657. Supposedly a monopoly, the company eventually faced competition from another group of English investors and merchants, and the two merged in 1708 as the United Company of Merchants of England Trading to the East Indies.

This was a year after the Act of Union. Those who were Mariners would already know more about opportunities of making wealth.

The Spanish had taken the lead, discovering new lands (targets) and coming home laden with their ‘spoils of war’ such that they exhausted the Caribbean Islands, for example, of a limited quantity of pearls and gold and eradicated the entire native population. Then the Spanish conquistadors assaulted the mainland.

In their wake, the islands of the Indies were left to be exploited by a colonial elite. Plantations were worked by brutalised slaves imported from Africa. The sugar crop was sold in European markets.

English colonies copied Spanish plantation-style agriculture, first in the Lesser Antilles and then in Virginia.

And Sir Francis Drake – one of Queen Elizabeth’s ‘privateers ‘ – he was motivated by a fanatical dislike of Catholics.

During the Roman Catholic uprising in 1549, Francis Drake was not granted legal right to his father’s farm. Aged 13, he fled to Kent he took to the sea on a cargo barque, becoming master of the ship at the age of twenty. At age 23, Drake took his first voyage to the New World under the sails of the Hawkins family of Plymouth, in company with his cousin, Sir John Hawkins. Together, Hawkins and Drake made the first English slave-trading expeditions.

Drake took an immediate dislike to the Spanish, at least in part due to their mistrust of non-Spaniards and their Catholicism. His hostility is said to have been increased by an incident at San Juan de Ulua in 1568, when Spanish forces executed a surprise attack — in violation of a truce agreed to a few days before — nearly costing Drake his life. From then on, he devoted his life to working against the Spanish Empire; the Spanish considered him an outlaw pirate, but to England he was simply a sailor and privateer. On his second such voyage, he fought a costly battle against Spanish forces, costing many English lives, but earning Drake the favour of Queen Elizabeth.

The most celebrated of Drake’s Caribbean adventures is his capture of the Spanish Silver Train at Nombre de Dios in March of 1573. With a crew including many French privateers and Cimaroons — African slaves who had escaped the Spanish — Drake raided the waters around Darien (in modern Panama) and tracked the Silver Train to the nearby port of Nombre de Dios. He made off with a fortune in gold, but had to leave behind another fortune in silver, because it was too heavy to carry back to England. It was during this expedition that he climbed a high tree in the central mountains of the Isthmus of Panama and thus became the first Englishman to see the Pacific Ocean.

When Drake returned to Plymouth on August 9, 1573, a mere thirty Englishmen returned with him, every one of them rich for life. However, Queen Elizabeth, who had up to this point sponsored and encouraged Drake’s raids, signed a temporary truce with King Philip II of Spain, and so was unable to officially acknowledge Drake’s accomplishment.

Scots and the Slave Trade

After the 1745 Rebellion many defeated Scots Jacobites fled the country to the West Indies to become slave masters on plantations. They were also attracted to the American South, where states such as Virginia, the Carolinas and Georgia were developing plantations.

Glasgow’s ‘Tobacco Lords’ and merchants profited from the slave trade…….

Not many years after Adam Smith died:

In 1796Scots owned nearly 30 per cent of the estates in Jamaica and by 1817, a staggering 32 per cent of the slaves………

At any given time there were only about 70 or 80 slaves in Scotland but the country reaped the fruits of their labour in the colonies in the sugar, cotton and tobacco plantations.

Many Scots masters were considered among the most brutal, with life expectancy on their plantations averaging a mere four years.

The importance of the Royal Navy grew during 1660 – 1815

Historic Periods

Britain was establishing itself as the dominant naval power, but maintaining this status was often a close run thing. After two wars against the Dutch with little success, a series of notable victories over the French marked these years. But France was far from defenceless inflicting a defeat an the Anglo-Dutch fleet at Beachy Head in 1690. The eighteenth century saw remarkable successess in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. Nelson’s famous victory at Trafalgar effectively ended any further contest at sea.

Adam Smith will have been aware of the victory, in 1759 at the Battle of Quiberon Bay 

The Battle of Quiberon Bay (known as Bataille des Cardinaux in French), was a decisive naval engagement fought on 20 November 1759 during the Seven Years’ War between the Royal Navy and the French Navy. It was fought in Quiberon Bay, off the coast of France near St. Nazaire. The battle was the culmination of British efforts to eliminate French naval superiority, which could have given the French the ability to carry out their planned invasion of Great Britain. A British fleet of 24 ships of the line under Sir Edward Hawke tracked down and engaged a French fleet of 21 ships of the line under Marshal de Conflans. After hard fighting, the British fleet sank or ran aground six ships, captured one and scattered the rest, giving the Royal Navy one of its greatest victories, and ending the threat of French invasion for good.

The battle signalled the rise of the Royal Navy in becoming the world’s foremost naval power, and for the British was part of the Annus Mirabilis of 1759.

(The “Annus Mirabilis of 1759” is a term used to describe a string of notable British victories over French-led opponents during the Seven Years’ War. The term is taken from Latin, and is used to denote a “year of miracles” or “year of wonders”).

Athough the Auld Alliance remained strong between many Scots and the French, those who had already turned their back on the past when Scotland was Catholic and an enemy of the English, would move toward being a part of this ever strengthening British Empire building nation, and assimilate into the aspiring wealth which would surely come to those who embraced this outlook.

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About borderslynn

Retired, living in the Scottish Borders after living most of my life in cities in England. I can now indulge my interest in all aspects of living close to nature in a wild landscape. I live on what was once the Iapetus Ocean which took millions of years to travel from the Southern Hemisphere to here in the Northern Hemisphere. That set me thinking and questioning and seeking answers.
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