The Atlantic System Essay

1053 words - 4 pages

How did the Atlantic System affect Europe, Africa, and the Americas? (The Earth and Its Peoples, 500)
The movement of goods, people, and wealth in the late 17th and 18th centuries permanently changed societies across the continents of Europe, Africa, and North and South America, thereby increasing the reach of globalization in the modern age. Most influential to this movement was what is sometimes referred to as “The Atlantic Circuit”, a triangle of trade between Western Europe, western Africa, and the West Indies. Out of this circuit came the rapid growth of the Atlantic slave trade, which not only established multiple industries of agriculture, but significantly changed the economies of all countries involved. The agriculture industries, in combination with further colonization transformed the land of the Americas, and the impacted diets across the world. Capitalist systems and mercantilist policies provided structure to trade, and allowed both private investors and nations to profit from it. These systems laid the foundation for future economies by creating new levels of power and interaction between the private and public sectors and, in the process, generating many successes and failures.
One of the most significant catalysts of the system was the growth of the Atlantic slave trade. The success sugar plantations of the West Indies and the colonial expansions in South America would not have been possible without African slave labor. Although African slaves were expensive, approximately equivalent to 6.5 thousand USD in today’s currency , compared to natives or indentured servants from Europe, they were seen as a better investment. The mercantilist policies of European states such as England and the Netherlands allowed for low competition and high profits. From 1500-1800, over 8 million African slaves crossed the Atlantic, with approximately half that amount in the last half of the 18th century alone. This enormous increase in slave trade came from the chartered companies (given trade monopolies in exchange for fees), as well as from new maritime knowledge gained by repeated travels across what became known as the “The Middle Passage”, a stretch of water between the gold and slave coasts, the region of Angola, and Brazil and the West Indies.
Cultures in the Americas were permanently affected by the mass importation of African slaves in the 17th and 18th centuries. In Spanish America (as opposed to the English colonies), a large number slaves were freed by manumission, a process in which a master granted legal freedom to an individual slave, and by being born to legally free black parents. This allowed for the native Africans and their descendants to sustain their traditional beliefs and customs; these influences can be seen today in the Caribbean and South America. However, many American slaves were never freed, and struggled to keep these traditions alive in an effort to stave off the depression of a harsh...

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