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The Atlantic System
The Atlantic systems refers to the“four sided trade”between England,West Africa,American southern colonies and northern colonies.Its emergence and prosperity derived from then-historical conditions,including European colonial expansion,technological innovations,huge demand for unfree labor force in Southern plantation agriculture,etc.This system has exerted great impact on the development of British North America in that it created two interdependent regional cultures,a hierarchical plantation culture in the South and a merit-oriented merchant culture in the North.It also motivates the local colonists to rebel against the ruling of Great Britain when faced with unfair treatment.In next sections,I will elaborate on the historical contexts of the Atlantic system,the detailed operation and its huge influence on British North America.
One of the historical contexts for the Atlantic System is the maturation of commodity economy in Europe.The commercial revolution generates surplus capital which allows for extra investment in abroad.Another elements which promotes Atlantic system is the technological development,especially navigation system and weapons.Navigation instruments like compass and weapons like gunpowder makes the sailing across Atlantic possible and safe from pirates.In addition,this system also benefited from the ideological preparation in that early capitalism formed a benign legal atmosphere for manufactured goods from American colonies.Another sideline of Atlantic system,the South Atlantic system,is also created due to the great demand for sugar and tobacco in Europe.
A more close examination of historical preparation for the Atlantic System is not complete without descriptions on the development of colonies themselves.Just as briefly mentioned in above paragraph,there are three major colonial regions in America in 1660s:the South,the North or New England,West Indians or Mid-Atlantic colonies.In Southern colonies,plantation owners manipulate the local economy by monopolizing the production of crops.Plantation agriculture requires a huge unfree labor force to work for owners whereas in North,a different type of merchant and artisan culture develops.In West Indians,large farms emerged and seaports devoted to international trades also developed.
With this type of full preparation in economy,ideologies,and politics,the Atlantic system gradually developed into its mature form,which mainly takes the superficial form of four side trade.Its underlying elements include the mercantilism economy and the Navigation Acts,which regulates the safe and orderly operation of this trading system.Therefore,it gradually grows into the largest global economy at the current historical contexts.
The British Mercantilism is the most direct or basic form of capitalism.The British government regarded the existence of colonies as milk-cow to enrich the Great Britain instead of a necessary part of national territory.What is more fundamental is British’s idea about a national’s economy.A health national economy was marked by a surplus of exports over imports.More deposits of gold and silver currency in treasuries and private banks is judged as a healthy or an improving economy situation.The Navigation Acts is passed by Parliament to ensure the maximal interests of Great Britain.The enforcement of Navigation Acts further set down the restrictions of trades in the Atlantic system.For instance,some commodities like“enumerated articles”cannot be manufactured in colonies but only to be imported from Britain.Colonists have to pay heavy duties both to importation and exportation,so for them,they have to“buy dear,sell cheap”.
So the four-sided trade between England,West Africa,Northern American colonies,and West Indians and Virginia takes the following form:firstly,from England to West Africa,high-end products like weapons,alcohol,and cured tobacco were shipped.England also export to all colonies other manufactured products and capital.Secondly,slaves were exported from West Africa to other colonies,especially West Indians and Virginia to guarantee the labor force for farm plantations.Thirdly,crops like wheat,meats and fish were exported from Northern colonies to other colonies and Britain.Other naval items like masts and tar were also shipped from the Northern colonies to other areas.Lastly,other produces like sugar,tobacco and rice were exported from Southern colonies to England.
What needs to pay attention in this four sided trade is the African slave trade.In this trade,10 million people were removed from African whereas 7.5 million died before they arrived in the new land.They lacked human rights and only used as a work force for plantations.Slaves were sold at a price 4-5 times the value of goods for them and they have to work totally for free in 1-2 years of labor to work for their price.Only living for around 6 years on a plantation in colonies,they worked for their price 3 times over.Distressing story it was,the huge slavery trade created mixed-race societies in Caribbean and Brazil.The local economy in British North America was also advanced.In Africa,on the other hand,their societies were reorganized to a great extent in that administrations favoring slavery-trading were established and protected by European countries.Any rebellions were suppressed with great violence and firearm.The slavery also promotes the emergence of a huge African American Community till nowadays.Slaves who speak different languages were from different areas of West Africa and Central Africa.They even created their own language and formed friendships across racial boundaries but the brutal treatment to slaves did not stop until the civil war.
Beside the upsetting slavery impact,the colonization society and economy of British North America were improved.First of all,the economical status of British settlers in colonization were secured.The connections between British and colony were established and secured in daily economic exchange.Individual wealth and social status were also determined in the colonies.This ownership of great wealth catalyze the rebellion against the British Government when local colonists were powerful enough to say no.Another impact to North America Colonies is the separation of two regional cultures in British colonies.One is plantation culture in the South,which sets strict restrictions on power relations between owners and slavery.Whereas in the North,a merchant culture were generated,whose main goal is to pursue wealth and merit.In south,a new social class,the Southern Gentry,rises to its prosperity.Gaining enough wealth,this gentry has formed its unique tastes of arts but still rejected by British mainstream as not being a real noble.This cultural distance between British colonials and Britain island creates tensions between these two groups,which further promoted the independence war.In north,artisan families,which takes up half the whole population,were the then middle-class of that seaport society.Other forms of merchants,such as butches,shoemakers,bakers,masons,also gained sufficient income to maintain families.So the local economy of the entire British North American colonies were boosted thanks to this Atlantic trading system,except for the inhuman treatments and experiences suffered by African slaves.
Its impact to England was also huge in that industrialization were financed by the capital surplus gained in this cross-Atlantic trading system.What is more important was that it sponsored the three imperial war against France and establish its leadership status in Europe for at least next 200 years.In one word,Britain gained its wealth from the heavy taxing applied both to exportation and importation and it helps creates a prosperous and expanding society in colony because of its colonial assemblies.A royally appointed governors were not usually assigned for colonial administratives so that internal taxation of colonials were controlled by the colony itself.
To add a little more words on the Atlantic System’s long-standing influence on Northern American colonies,the enlightenment movement,represented by John Locke’s Second Treatise of Government,is also counted as a fruit of the cross-Atlantic system.The independence war of Northern American colonies were partly inspired by John Locke’s social contract political ideas.According to his ideas,an individual subject has the right to rebel against a king if he does not safeguard his subjects’natural rights.On the aspect of economy,John Locke established a man’s right to his private property and a civil society should create a government to protect their fundamental rights of individual property ownership.However,Indians,strictly speaking,were not in the civil society thus their property was not required to be respected.In this way,the removal of Indians to the South is justified with full reasoning.Inspired by John Locke’s economical and political freedom ideas,the North American’s later rebellion against British’s administrative were validated on an ideological level.
To sum up,the Atlantic system emerged under favorable historical contexts with full preparation on merchant cultures,expansion of colonial workforce,demand for labors.Britain,West Indians,North American colonies and African were connected by shipping and trading from each area with different commodities.This trading brings great economical advantages for plantations owners in the South and creates trading surplus for British Government.On the other hand,slaves were inhumanly treated in this sordid trading and numerous African American communities were created.What is more important is the emergence of two discrete economical and cultural regions in South and North and this separation catalyzes the tension between the two and predicts the civil war.
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