A Respectable Trade: Slavery

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A Respectable Trade: Slavery

Many economic systems are revealed in A Respectable Trade: Slavery, Feudalism, Self-Employment, and Capitalism. England in 1788 was entering a period of economic transition. Viewing this finite period in A Respectable Trade allows us, as economists, to dissect the different market systems prevalent during that time.

Slavery is the market system most focused on in A Respectable Trade. Josiah's "respectable trade" involves trading sugar, cocoa, coffee and cotton in Africa for captured Negro men, women and children. He then ships these "slaves" to the Caribbean, where he sells them. He makes all of his money in the sale of these people. While Josiah and Sarah Cole have been involved in the slave trade for many years, in 1788 they have just begun to experience the immediate effects of slaves in their lives. Josiah has determined that he will make more money if he ships some slaves to England to train as house slaves. He has married Frances so that she will train and teach them while they live with the Cole's in England. Josiah, Sarah, and Frances are learning the techniques of the slave master. As the film progresses, Josiah becomes more crass and unfeeling toward the slaves, seeing them solely as property. When the slaves first arrive, he feels awkward and anxious about harming them. He knows that he should punish them and lord over them, but he is more comfortable allowing Bates to reprimand and beat the slaves. He allows his customer to rape the slave girl, but he is uncomfortable doing so and does not want to watch. However, at the end of the movie, he stands over Bates while he severely beats Matthew, watching closely with no remorse. Holding human beings as property by chaining them and locking them in the house, controlling their lives and fates by selling them and forcing them to work, Josiah Cole has become a cruel slave master. Frances has a chief role in the slave system. Marrying Josiah, she becomes a teacher and a manager of the slaves in her home. She teaches them English, manners, and proper ways to serve their masters so they may become a more successful sale for Josiah. She does not do this because she desires his success, but because she is held in marriage in a feudal contract.

Francis, a young woman without significant funds, without supportive family, and without an acceptable job, has few options in life.

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