chapter  8
33 Pages

Beware of the Long Knives

The eighteenth century was the great age of global maritime empires. Brit­ ain, France, Spain, Portugal, and Holland used “industry and audacity,” in the evocative words of Voltaire, to further extend their imperial reach. The British, who tripled their shipping tonnage in the eighteenth century while reducing insurance and freight costs, made the most spectacular gains. From 1700 to 1780, about 2 million people migrated to British America. Almost 67 percent of them were African slaves, most of whom were shipped to the West Indies. At the beginning of the century, Britain’s gross domestic prod­ uct was 96 percent larger than the thirteen American colonies. By 1770, this figure had declined to 60 percent, and the standard of living of nonindentured white colonists was probably higher than their counterparts in Britain. Dur­ ing the same period, the British colonial consumption of the mother country’s total exports rose from 10 to 37 percent.