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Open Access Herman Merivale’s black legend: rethinking the intellectual history of free trade imperialism

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Herman Merivale’s black legend: rethinking the intellectual history of free trade imperialism

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image of New West Indian Guide / Nieuwe West-Indische Gids

Focusses on the lectures and theories of economist and colonial bureaucrat Herman Merivale on the imperial transition of British colonialism from slave labour to free labour, and toward free trade, in 1839. Author specifically shows how Merivale propagated the free trade imperialism of the reformed British Empire by using the "Black Legend" way of thinking, i.e. criticizing Spanish colonialism, to caricaturize the second British Empire, and thus justify imperial policy reforms. Author elaborates on this Black Legend tradition, going back to writings of Las Casas, and how it served as justification for "better" imperialisms of other colonial powers than Spain, and how Merivale's views followed this tradition. He shows how Merivale as part of this criticized the mismanagement, slavery, brutality, mercantilism, and the concentration of power and wealth in Cuba and other Spanish colonies, as negative examples contrasted to the British approach. Author points out, however, how Merivale's views were in part paradoxical and ambiguous, as he favoured a social hierarchy and an imperial authoritarianism limiting free labour.

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