Within two decades, however, Britain (1807) and the United States (1808) had acted decisively to abandon the transatlantic slave trade. In fact, "abolition" was to emerge as one of the most important reform movements of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
How and why this came about are questions that continue to puzzle historians. By and large, interpretations of abolition tend to fall into two camps. The first, popularized during the nineteenth century, tends to explain abolition in terms of a moral or humanitarian movement.
The second, which can be traced back to the publication of Eric Williams's book Capitalism and Slavery, in 1944, places much greater emphasis on economic factors. Controversially, Williams argued that abolition coincided with periods of general economic decline in the British Caribbean. Abolition, in other words,