African Slavery and Spanish Empire

Imperial Imaginings and Bourbon Reform in Eighteenth-Century Cuba and Beyond

In: Journal of Early American History
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This article traces a philosophical shift that opened the door to a new departure in eighteenth-century Spanish empire: a newly emerging sense that the slave trade and African slavery were essential to the wealth of nations. Contextualizing this ideological reconfiguration within mid-eighteenth century debates, this article draws upon the works of political economists and royal councilors in Madrid and puts them in conversation with the words and actions of individuals in and from Cuba, including people of African descent themselves. Because of the central place of the island in eighteenth-century imperial rivalry and reform, as well as its particular demographic situation, Cuba served as a catalyst for these debates about the place of African slavery and the transatlantic slave trade in Spanish empire. Ultimately, between the mid-eighteenth century and the turn of the nineteenth, this new mode of thought would lead to dramatic transformations in the institution of racial slavery and Spanish imperial political economy.

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