Sugar Duties Act


The mid-nineteenth century saw the tides of slavery beginning to change. The world started to move away from forced labor and and protectionist policies that were traditionally seen as a necessity for a state's economic health. One such policy, the Sugar Duties Act, removed the British import tax on sugar and sparked a debate over whether colonies without slave labor could compete in the global marketplace.


  • Great Britain outlawed slavery in her colonies in the 1830s as part of a grand social experiment. Realizing that a shock therapy of abolitionism could devastate the economies of the colonies, Britain enacted an import tax on certain products, chiefly of these was sugar, a staple of the Caribbean and world economy. By 1845, British Parliament felt enough time had passed and lifted this import tax with the Sugar Duties Act.


  • The effects of a "free" colony and free trade compounded to destroy the Caribbean economies who did not use slave labor. Colonies of other states, such as Cuba, still used slave labor and produced sugar for a far cheaper price than their Caribbean counterparts. As a result, the British imported far more sugar from slave states than from free states, creating a financial crisis in the Caribbean.

Labor Debate

  • British abolitionists had debated for years that a free labor system would eventually outproduce a slave labor system. After the Sugar Duties Act passed, abolitionists had to admit that this act seriously undermined their arguments, but this did not deter abolitionists from the ideal of free labor. Either way, Britons would still buy the cheapest material no matter where it came from to continue fueling the Industrial Revolution.

Slavery Debate In America

  • Americans noticed the debacle occurring in the Caribbean colonies and it sparked debate between American abolitionists and slaveholders. Abolitionism began to spread around the United States since the general decline of the worldwide slave trade in the 1830s. Slaveholders used the Caribbean example to bolster their views on their belief in the superiority of slave labor.


  • Hundreds of years after sugar became a staple of the world economy it still remains important to global trade and the methods of production have changed little since the slave era. The mass production of cheap sugar still requires a great deal of low cost labor and experiences great fluctuations in the global market.


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