From the Preface:
In this book, which in its original form was a doctoral dissertation, I have attempted an investigation of industrial and social conditions in the British West Indies in the effort to reach a better understanding of the part those islands played in the growth and dissolution of the empire. In the seventeenth century the British sugar islands served as an adequate market for northern produce and furnished tropical commodities in abundance for northern consumption and commerce. But the habit of free access to the foreign West Indies, especially in the first quarter of the eighteenth century, enormously stimulated the growth of North American industries and commerce. America was fast outgrowing, therefore, the empire to which mercantilists and West India planters desired to confine its trade. America's progress and insistence upon free trade conflicted more and more with the interests and aims of British sugar planters. The latter, in an attempt to cheapen plantation supplies, monopolize the British and American sugar markets, and embarrass their rivals, secured the passage of the well-known Molasses and Sugar Acts discouraging all commerce with the foreign West Indies. It is conceivable that even this legislation might have been tolerable to North America if it had been accompanied with adequate territorial expansion in the tropics. But the peace
of Paris revealed the government's intention of maintaining the boundaries of British dominion in the West Indies at substantially the old limits. Finally, the subsequent reforms in colonial administration made clear the determination to enforce all restrictions on colonial commerce. This course led straight to revolution. The interests and aims of American merchants and West India planters were clearly incompatible.
Thus the eighteenth was in general a century of restraint in politics and commerce for the British West Indies. Its history, despite a record of imposing wealth and growth in maritime strength, is wrapt in an atmosphere almost of pathos. For the settlement of the tropics was often a straggle with nature in her most violent moods. The jungle, earthquakes, hurricanes, disease, and an enervating climate seemed at times irresistible foes to the men who came to extract wealth from the soil. That end was achieved but seldom by small proprietors from the lower middle class of England. The production of sugar required above all an enormous outlay of capital, an abundant supply of the most expensive form of labor, slaves, and industrial organization on a large scale. When British capitalists with such equipment entered the field the small farmers could not hope to compete. The Anglo-Saxon society in the West Indies of the mid-seventeenth century gradually decayed. Great numbers died in the struggle with nature, many migrated, and others merged with the negroes and were lost to the white race.