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WEST INDIES / ECOMOMIC HISTORY: A Statement of the Claims of the West India Colonies to a Protecting Duty against East India Sugar.



This anonymous pamphlet mounts a forceful defence of the beleaguered West Indies sugar industry and calls for the imposition of tariffs to protect it from the juggernaut of competition from the East Indies.

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During the early 1820s, the once mighty West Indies sugar industry was faced with a perfect storm.  The Abolitionists were, day by day, making progress, as in 1807 Parliament banned the slave trade and had since placed ever greater regulations upon the treatment of slave labour (this would eventually lead to the Emancipation of slaves throughout the British Empire, from 1834 to 1838).  Sugar planters and traders were also facing higher cost in production, taxes, transport, while suffering falling prices.  The imperial and global market was being inundated with sugar from the East Indies, notably India and Mauritius.  The prospects for the West Indian sugar industry were quickly going from grim to hopeless.  Here the author exhorts Parliament to level tariffs upon East Indies sugar, to make the West Indies product competitive once again. 

Ragatz summarizes the tone of the argument that “Holds that the West India colonists were possessed of vested rights like other British subjects, that they were entitled to the same restrictive duties on foreign produce that British agriculturists and manufacturers at home enjoyed, that the advantages accruing to the mother country from her relations with the West Indies were greater than those arising from her having trading posts in the East, and that it would be inexpedient to hazard the prosperity of the former in the speculative hope of uncertain and distant advantages which might be obtained from the latter. The belief that an equalization of East and West India sugar duties would lower the cost to consumers in Great Britain and would at the same time increase the export of British manufactures to India was neither justified by the experience of the past nor reasonable expectations of the future”.

An academically valuable feature of the work is found at the end (pp. 117 – 120), being a chart of the Calcutta Market Price for the best sort of Cheenee Sugar, given monthly from 1812 through to 1821 inclusive.

Unfortunately for the West Indian sugar planters and traders, Parliament, declined to impose the tariffs, a decision that, along with the Abolition of Slavery, resulted in the terminal decline of the sugar industry across the British Caribbean.

References: Cundall, West Indies, 2158; Kress C1153; Ragatz, p. 272; Sabin 90729.

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