Established in 1595, the Asiento de Negros was a monopoly trading contract awarded by the Spanish crown to supply its American colonies with a predetermined number of African slaves and other trading goods. The asiento was given to individuals, private join stock companies, or governments for a period of five to thirty years. Although access to Spanish colonial markets had long been viewed as the key to political and economic success in Atlantic commerce, the asiento contract also posed significant risks since taxes were calculated based on the terms specified in the agreement, rather than the number of enslaved people actually delivered. It was first granted to the British and signed on behalf of Queen Anne and Philip V in 1713 as part of the Treaty of Utrecht, a series of agreements between European powers concluding the War of Spanish Succession. Given the official character of the treaty, the Asiento was widely recognized as international law.
Responsibility for the conduct of the trade was eventually transferred to the South Sea Company (founded in 1711), which received its cargo of enslaved Africans from the Royal African Company. Like most asientas before, the South Sea Company struggled to fulfill its annual quota of 4,800 slaves, and ongoing hostilities between Spain and Britain in the early eighteenth century further undermined the Asiento trade. It did, however, precipitate and strengthen Britain’s involvement in the expanding transatlantic commerce in slaves, which mobilized capital and human migrations on an unprecedented scale.
- Palmer, Colin A. Human Cargoes: the British Slave Trade to Spanish America, 1700-1739. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1982.
- Pettigrew, William A. Freedom’s debt: the Royal African Company and the politics of the Atlantic slave trade, 1672-1752. Chapel Hill: Omohundro Institution of Early America and University of North Carolina Press, 2013.
- Queen Anne. “Queen’s Speech in Parliament, the 6th of June, 1712.” In A Collection of all Her Majesty’s Speeches, Messages, &c. From Her Happy Accession to the Throne, to the Twenty First of June 1712. London: [s.n.], 1712. British Library, 101.d.35.
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QUEEN’s Speech in Parliament, the 6th of June, 1712.
My Lords and Gentlemen,
The making Peace and War is the undoubted Prerogative of the Crown; yet such is the just Confidence I place in you, that at the Opening of this Session I acquainted you, That a Negotiation for a General Peace was begun, and afterwards by Messages. I promised to communicate to you the Terms of Peace, before the same should be concluded.
In pursuance of that Promise, I now come to let you know upon what Terms a General Peace may be made.
I need not mention the Difficulties which arise from the very Nature of this Affair; and it is but too apparent, that these Difficulties have been increased by other Obstructions, artfully contrived to hinder this Great and Good Work.
Nothing however has moved Me from steddily [steadily] pursuing, in the first place, the trust Interest of my own Kingdoms; and I have not omitted any thing which might procure to all our Allies what is due to them by Treaties, and what is necessary for their Security.
The Assuring of the Protestant Succession, as by Law establish’d in the House of Hannover, to these Kingdoms, being what I have nearest at Heart, particular Care is taken, not only to have that acknowledg’d in the strongest Terms, but to have an Additional Security, by the Removal of that Person out of the Dominions of France, who has pretended to disturb this Settlement.
The Apprehension that Spain and the West-Indies might be United to France, was the chief Inducement to begin this War; and the effectual preventing of such an Union, was the Principle I laid down at the Commencement of this Treaty.
Former Examples, and the late Negotiations, sufficiently shew how difficult it is to find Means to accomplish this Work, I would not content My-self with such as are Speculative, or
depend on Treaties only; I insisted on what is Solid, and to have at hand the Power of Executing what should be agreed.
I can therefore now tell you, That France at last is brought to offer, that the Duke of Anjou has himself and his Decendants, Renounce for ever all Claim to the Crown of France; and that this important Article may be expos’d to no Hazard, the Performance is to accompany the Promise.
At the same time, the Succession to the Crown of France is to be declared, after the Death of the present Dauphin and his Sons, to be in the Duke of Berry and his Sons, in the Duke of Orleans and his Sons, and so on to the rest of the House of Bourbon.
As to Spain and the Indies, the Succession to those Dominions, after the Duke of Anjou and his Children, is to descend to such Prince as shall be agreed upon at the Treaty, for ever Excluding the rest of the House of Bourbon.
For Confirming the Renunciations and Settlements before mentioned, it is further offered, That they shall be ratify’d in the most strong and solemn Manner, both in France and Spain; and that those Kingdoms, as well as all the other Power engag’d in the present War, shall be Guarantees to the same.
The Nature of this Proposal is such, that it executes itself. The Interest of Spain is to support it; and in France the Persons to whom that Succession is to belong, will be Ready and Powerful enough to vindicate their own Right.
France and Spain are now more effectually Divided than ever. And thus, by the Blessing of God, will a Real Ballance of Power be fix’d in Europe, and remain liable to as few Accidents as Human Affairs can be exempted from.
A Treaty of Commerce between these Kingdoms and France has been entred upon; but the excessive Duties laid on some Goods, and the Prohibitions of others, make it impossible to finish this Work so soon as were to be desired. Care is however taken to establish a Method of settling this Matter; and in the mean time provision is made, that the same Privileges and Advantages as shall be granted to any other Nation by France, shall be granted in like manner to Us.
The Division of the Island of St. Christopher between Us and the French, having been the Cause of great Inconveniency and Damage to my Subjects, I have demanded an absolute Cession made to Me of that whole Island, and France agrees to this Demand.
Our Interest is so deeply concerned in the Trade of North-America, that I have used my utmost Endeavours to adjust that Article in the most beneficial manner. France consents to restore to Us the whole Bay and Straits of Hudson, to deliver up the Island of Newfoundland, with Placentia; and to make an absolute Cession of Annapolis, with the rest of Nova Scotia or Accadie.
The Safety of our Home-Trade will be better provided for by the Demolition of Dunkirk.
Our Mediterranean Trade, and the British Interest and Influence in those Parts, will be secur’d by the Possession of Gibraltar and Port Mahon, and the whole Island of Minorca, which are offer’d to remain in my hands.
The Trade to Spain and to the West-Indies may in general by settled as it was in the Time of the late King of Spain, Charles the Second; and a particular Provision be made, That all Advantages, Rights, or Privileges, which may have been granted, or which may hereafter be granted, by Spain to any other Nation, shall be in like manner granted to the Subjects of Great Britain.
But the Part which We have born in the Prosecution of this War, entitling us to some Distinction in the Terms of Peace, I have insisted and obtained, That the Assiento or Contract for furnishing the Spanish West-Indies with Negroes, in shall be made with Us for the Term of Thirty Years, in the same manner as it hath been enjoyed by the French for Ten Years past.
I have not taken upon Me to determine the Interests of our Confederates; these must be adjusted in the Congress at Utrecht, where my best Endeavours shall be employed, as they have been hitherto constantly been, to procure to every one of them all just and reasonable Satisfaction. In the mean time, I think it proper to acquaint you, That France offers to make the Rhine the Barrier of the Empire, to yield Brisack, the For of Kehl and Landau, and to rase all the Fortresses, both on the other side of the Rhine, and in that River.
As to the Protestant Interest in Germany, there will be, on the part of France, no Objection to the Resettling thereof on the Foot of the Treaty of Westphalia.
The Spanish Low Countrys may go to his Imperial Majesty; the Kingdoms of Naples and Sardinia, the Dutchy of Milan, and the Places belonging to Spain on the Coast of Tuscany, may likewise by yielded by the Treaty of Peace to the Emperor.
As to the Kingdom of Sicily, tho there remains no Dispute concerning the Cession of it by the Duke of Anjou, yet the Disposition thereof is not yet determined.
The Interests of the States-General, with respect to Commerce, are agreed to, as they have been demanded by their own Ministers, with the Exception only of some very Species of Merchandize; and the Entire Barrier, as demanded by the States, in Seventeen hundred and nine, from France, except two or three Places at most.
As to these Exceptions, several Expedients are proposed; and I make no doubt but this Barrier may be so settled, as to render that Republick perfectly secure against any Enterprise
on the part of France, which is the Foundation of all my Engagements upon this Head with the States.
The Demands of Portugal depending on the Disposition of Spain, and that Article having been long in Dispute, it has not yet been possible to make any considerable Progress therein; but my Plenipotentiaries will now have an Opportunity to assist that King in his Pretensions.
Those of the King of Prussia such as, I hope, will admit of little Difficulty on the part of France; and my utmost Endeavours shall not be wanting to procure all I am able to so good an Ally.
The Difference between the Barrier demanded for the Duke of Savoy in Seventeen hundred and nine, and the Offers now made by France, is very inconsiderable: but that Prince having so signally distinguish’d himself in the Service of the Common Cause, I am endeavouring to procure for him still further Advantages.
France has consented, that the Elector of Palatine shall continue This present Rank among the Electors, and remain in Possession of the Upper Palatinate.
The Electoral Dignity is likewise acknowledged in the House of Hannover, according to the Article inserted, at the Prince’s Desire, in my Demands.
And as to the rest of the Allies, I make no doubt of being able to secure their several Interests.
My Lords and Gentlemen,
I have now communicated to you not only the Terms of Peace, which may, by future Treaty, be obtained for my own Subjects, but likewise the Proposals of France for satisfying our Allies.
The former are such as I have reason to expect, to make my People some Amends for that Great and Unequal Burden which they have lain under thro the whole Course of this War; and I am willing to hope, that none of our Confederates, especially those to whom so great Accessions of Dominion and Power are to accrue by this Peace, will envy Britain her Share in the Glory and Advantage of it.
The latter are not yet so perfectly adjusted, as a little more Time might have rendered them: but the Season of the Year making it necessary to put an End to this Session, I resolved no longer to defer communicating these Matters to you.
I can make no doubt but you are fully persuaded, that nothing will be neglected on my Part, in the Progress of this Negotiation, to bring the Peace to an Happy and Speedy Issue; and I depend on your entire Confidence in Me, and your cheerful Concurrence with me.