Eric Eustace Williams

Eric Williams
Eric Williams

Eric Eustace Williams (25 September 1911 – 29 March 1981) was the first Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago He served from 1956 until his death in 1981. He was also a noted Caribbean historian.

Eric Williams was a descendant from the de Boissiere family which made its fortune trading African slaves illegally after slave trading had been abolished in 1807. Williams specialised in the study of the abolition of the slave trade

In 1944 his book Capitalism and Slavery argued that the British abolition of their Atlantic in 1807 was motivated primarily by economics—rather than by altruism or humanitarianism. By extension, so was the emancipation of the slaves and the fight against the trading in slaves by other nations. As industrial capitalism and wage labour began to expand, eliminating the competition from slavery became economically advantageous.

In Inward Hunger, his autobiography, he described his experience of racism in Britain, and the impact on him of his travels in Germany after the Nazi seizure of power.

Slavery helped finance the Industrial Revolution in England. Plantation owners, shipbuilders, and merchants connected with the slave trade accumulated vast fortunes that established banks and heavy industry in Europe and expanded the reach of capitalism worldwide.

Eric Williams advanced these powerful ideas in Capitalism and Slavery, published in 1944. Years ahead of its time, his profound critique became the foundation for studies of imperialism and economic development. Binding an economic view of history with strong moral argument, Williams’s study of the role of slavery in financing the Industrial Revolution refuted traditional ideas of economic and moral progress and firmly established the centrality of the African slave trade in European economic development. He also showed that mature industrial capitalism in turn helped destroy the slave system. Establishing the exploitation of commercial capitalism and its link to racial attitudes, Williams employed a historicist vision that set the tone for future studies. In a new introduction, Colin Palmer assesses the lasting impact of Williams’s groundbreaking work and analyzes the heated scholarly debates it generated when it first appeared.

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