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The National and private advantages of the African trade considered: being an enquiry, how far it concerns the trading interest of Great Britain. Effectually to support and maintain the forts and settlements in Africa; belonging to the Royal African Company of England ...

POSTLETHWAYT Malachy (1746.)

£5000.00  [First Edition]

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First edition. With a large (395 by 460mm) "New and correct map of the coast of Africa" dated 1746 (small tear, smaller than one inch, to the inner folded margin). 4to. A few blank corners folded over and a little bit dusty and browned in spots but otherwise a very good copy with generous margins, recently bound in calf and marbled boards, antique style. [4], 128pp. London, printed for John and Paul Knapton,

First edition of an important pro-slavery economic work often cited by abolitionists and written by "a commentator too frequently neglected in histories of British Antislavery thought" (Brown, 269). A second edition was published in 1772.

 

Written in support of the Royal African Company, The National and Private Advantages offers mercantilist arguments for greater direct British involvement in Africa. "Few before the American Revolution went further than Postlethwayt in imagining West Africa as a future seat of British power" (Brown, 271).

 

In the first chapter of The National and Private Advantages ... Postlethwayt outlines the "triangular trade" and its benefits to Great Britain. He explains further that the slave trade is self-sustaining in that nine-tenths of slaves "are paid for in Africa with British produce and manufactures only; and the remainder with East-India commodities. We send no specie or bullion to pay for the products of Africa, but 'tis certain, we bring from thence very large quantities of gold; and not only that but wax and ivory".

 

Later he advocates a plan for trading directly with Africa with the protection of forts and under the aegis of a trading company - specifically the Royal African Company. He believes that a lack of governmental support, in the form of official investment, and regulation would mean "throwing the slave trade into the arms of European competitors ... Whereas France kept the purchase price of slaves low by restricting the number of French ships on the African coast, British merchants drove up their own costs through reckless bidding wars on each cargo. Only the Royal Africa Company, Postlethwayt insisted, could discourage such free-for-alls by negotiating for all British traders a set price from African suppliers" (Brown, 271).

 

He also put forward the argument that before Africans had "this method of disposing of their Prisoners of War to Christian Merchants, they were not only to be applied to inhuman sacrifices but also to extream Torture and Barbarity, their Transplantation must certainly be a Melioration of their condition; provided living in a Christian Country is better than living among savages." This argument was thoroughly refuted by Benezet (see item 9), citing European meddling among African tribes, and then the conditions under which slave were kept in America.

 

This being said however, the work outlived the occasion that necessitated its publication and was read by later abolitionists. "The first abolitionists leaned heavily on those authorities like Malachy Postlethwayt who had envisioned radically different ways of organizing the African trade. Anthony Benezet drew his portrait of Africa from a variety of sources, most of which he generously cited. In tone and substance, though, key passages seemed to owe an unacknowledged debt to the work of Postlethwayt, the erstwhile propagandist for the Royal African Company" (Brown, 323).

 

Malachy Postlethwayt (c.1707-1767) wrote other works on economics in the 1740's and 1750's. His best known work was The Universal Dictionary of Trade and Commerce which appeared in instalments between 1751 and 1755. "It has been argued that he was a paid agent of the Royal Africa Company in whose interests he published three separate pamphlets. In the first of these, The African Trade the Great Pillar and Supporter of the British Plantation Trade in America, appeared in 1745, followed by another in 1746" (ODNB).

 

Brown, Christopher Leslie. Moral Capital: foundations of British abolitionism.Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006.

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