chapter  1
12 Pages

Introduction

Jonathan Swift, Alexander Pope and John Gay were all connected with the Tory ministry of 1710-14, and with its leader Robert Harley. His ministry made the slave trade a principal – perhaps the principal – element in its financial planning. One of the ministry’s earliest tasks was to solve the problem of the national debt which had built up during the first years of the War of Spanish Succession (1702-13). It founded the South Sea Company in 1711 in order to exploit the Asiento, the lucrative slave-trading contract with Spanish South America, which was expected to be, and eventually was, the major concession of the peace agreed in the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. As G.M. Trevelyan’s still trenchant analysis put it, ‘the finances of the country were based in May 1711 on the assumption that the Asiento . . . would be wrested from France’.1