The boisterous sea of liberty : a documentary history of America from discovery through the Civil War /

Other Authors: Davis, David Brion., Mintz, Steven, 1953-
Format: Book
Language: English
Published: New York : Oxford University Press, 1998.
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Chapter One     The four-hundredth anniversary of Christopher Columbus's "discovery" of the New World was commemorated with the massive "World's Columbian Exposition" in Chicago in 1893. The exposition celebrated Columbus as a man of mythic stature, an explorer and discoverer who carried Christian civilization across the Atlantic Ocean and initiated the modern age.     The five-hundredth anniversary of Columbus's first voyage of discovery was treated quite differently. Many peoples of indigenous and/or African descent identified Columbus with imperialism, colonialism, and conquest. The National Council of Churches adopted a resolution calling October 12 a day of mourning for millions of indigenous people who died as a result of European colonization.     More than five hundred years after the first Spaniards arrived in the Caribbean, historians and the general public still debate Columbus's legacy. Should he be remembered as a great discoverer who brought European culture to a previously unknown world? Or should he be condemned as a man responsible for an "American Holocaust," a man who brought devastating European and Asian diseases to unprotected native peoples, who disrupted the American ecosystem, and who initiated the Atlantic slave trade? What is Columbus's legacy--discovery and progress, or slavery, disease, and racial antagonism?     To confront such questions, one must first recognize that the encounter that began in 1492 among the peoples of the Eastern and Western Hemispheres was one of the truly epochal events in world history. This cultural collision not only produced an extraordinary transformation of the natural environment and human cultures in the New World, it also initiated far-reaching changes in the Old World.     New foods reshaped the diets of people in both hemispheres. Tomatoes, chocolate, potatoes, corn, green beans, peanuts, vanilla, pineapple, and turkey transformed the European diet, while Europeans introduced sugar, cattle, pigs, cloves, ginger, cardamom, and almonds to the Americas. Global patterns of trade were overturned, as crops grown in the New World--including tobacco, rice, and vastly expanded production of sugar--fed growing consumer markets in Europe.     Even the natural environment was transformed. Europeans cleared vast tracts of forested land and inadvertently introduced Old World weeds. The introduction of cattle, goats, horses, sheep, and swine also transformed the ecology as grazing animals ate up many native plants and disrupted indigenous systems of agriculture. The horse, extinct in the New World for ten thousand years, transformed the daily existence of many indigenous peoples. The introduction of the horse encouraged many farming peoples to become hunters and herders. Hunters mounted on horses were also much more adept at killing game.     Death and disease--these, too, were consequences of contact. Diseases against which Indian peoples had no natural immunities caused the greatest mass deaths in human history. Within a century of contact, smallpox, measles, mumps, and whooping cough had reduced indigenous populations by 50 to 90 percent. From Peru to Canada, disease reduced the resistance that Native Americans were able to offer to European intruders.     With the Indian population decimated by disease, Europeans gradually introduced a new labor force into the New World: enslaved Africans. Between 1502 and 1870, when the Atlantic slave trade was finally suppressed, from 10 million to 15 million Africans were shipped to the Americas.     Columbus's first voyage of discovery also had another important result: It contributed to the development of the modern concept of progress. To many Europeans, the New World seemed to be a place of innocence, freedom, and eternal youth. The perception of the New World as an environment free from the corruptions and injustices of European life would provide a vantage point for criticizing all social evils. So while the collision of three worlds resulted in death and enslavement in unprecedented numbers, it also encouraged visions of a more perfect future. THE MEANING OF AMERICA 1 / "They have no iron or steel or weapons, nor are they capable of using them " At the time of the first discoveries, Europeans tended to view the New World from one of two contrasting perspectives. Many saw America as an earthly paradise, a land of riches and abundance, where the native peoples led lives of simplicity and freedom similar to those enjoyed by Adam and Eve in the biblical Garden of Eden.     Other Europeans described America in a much more negative light: as a dangerous and forbidding wilderness, a place of cannibalism and human misery, where the population lacked Christian religion and the trappings of civilization. This latter view of America as a place of savagery, cannibalism, and death would grow more pronounced as the Indian population declined precipitously in numbers as a result of harsh labor and the ravages of disease and as the slave trade began transporting millions of Africans to the New World.     But it was the positive view of America as a land of liberty, liberation, and material wealth that remained dominant. America served as a screen on which Europeans projected their deepest fantasies of a land where people could escape inherited privilege, corruption, and tradition. The discovery of America seemed to mark a new beginning for humanity, a place where all Old World laws, customs, and doctrines were removed, and where scarcity gave way to abundance.     In a letter reporting his discoveries to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain, Christopher Columbus (1451-1506) paints a portrait of the indigenous Taino Indians as living lives of freedom and innocence near the Garden of Eden. Christopher Columbus, letter to the sovereigns on his first voyage, February 15-March 4 1493, GLB 216 ... The people of this island {{Hispaniola}} and of all the other islands which I have found and seen, or have not seen, all go naked, men and women, as their mothers bore them, except that some women cover one place with the leaf of a plant or with a net of cotton which they make for that purpose. They have no iron or steel or weapons, nor are they capable of using them, although they are well-built people of handsome stature, because they are wondrously timid. They have no other arms than the arms of canes, {{cut}} when they are in seed time, to the end of which they fix a sharp little stick; and they dare not make use of these, for oftentimes it has happened that I have sent ashore two or three men to some town to have speech, and people without number have come out to them, as soon as they saw them coming, they fled; even a father would not stay for his son; and this was not because wrong had been done to anyone; on the contrary, at every point where I have been and have been able to have speech, I have given them of all that I had, such as cloth and many other things, without receiving anything for it; but they are like that, timid beyond cure. It is true that after they have been reassured and have lost this fear, they are so artless and so free with all they possess, that no one would believe it without having seen it. Of anything they have, if you ask them for it, they never say no; rather they invite the person to share it, and show as much love as if they were giving their hearts; and whether the thing be of value or of small price, at once they are content with whatever little thing of whatever kind may be given to them. I forbade that they should be given things so worthless as pieces of broken crockery and broken glass, and lace points, although when they were able to get them, they thought they had the best jewel in the world.... And they know neither sect nor idolatry, with the exception that all believe that the source of all power and goodness is in the sky, and in this belief they everywhere received me, after they had overcome their fear. And this does not result from their being ignorant (for they are of a very keen intelligence and men who navigate all those seas, so that it is wondrous the good account they give of everything), but because they have never seen people clothed or ships like ours. UTILIZING THE NATIVE LABOR FORCE 2 / "With fifty men they can all be subjugated and made to do what is required of them " Christopher Columbus's voyages of discovery were part of a much broader pattern of European commercial and financial expansion during the fifteenth century. In the span of fewer than four decades, European countries revolutionized sea travel. Led by tiny Portugal, fifteenth-century European mariners adapted from the Arabs a small, sturdy ship known as a caravel, capable of sailing against the wind. They also refined such navigational aids as the astrolabe and quadrants, allowing sailors to accurately chart their latitude, while mapmakers and geographers greatly improved the quality of maps. In just a decade, from 1488 to 1498, European sailors mastered the winds and currents of the South Atlantic, making it possible for the first time to sail from western Europe to West Africa and into the Indian Ocean.     With financial support from German and Italian bankers and merchants, Portugal was able to exploit these discoveries and create a system of long-distance trade and commerce based on sugar and slavery. As early as 1420, the Portuguese began to settle islands off the West African coast. In Madeira, the Azores, the Canary Islands, and other islands, the Portuguese introduced sugar cane. Beginning in 1443, Portugal established a string of trading posts along the West African coast, which soon became major sources of slave labor for the Iberian Peninsula and especially for the Atlantic island sugar plantations.     Christopher Columbus was very familiar with this network of Atlantic trade. Born in Genoa in 1451, the son of an Italian wool weaver, Columbus was pushed by his father into trade. In 1476 he settled in a Genoese trading community in Portugal. There he met his wife, whose father was the Portuguese governor of an island off Africa's Atlantic coast. For ten years Columbus lived in Madeira and made voyages to the Azores, the Canary Islands, and West Africa. Forty-one years old at the time he made his first voyage of discovery to the New World, Columbus was obsessed with the idea of finding a new route to the Far East, which would provide him with enough wealth to pay for the liberation of the Holy Land from Islamic rule. Personally familiar with slavery and sugar production when he arrived in the Caribbean, he quickly saw the opportunity to extract riches from this new land.     As the following extracts from his journal reveal, within days of his arrival in the New World Columbus regarded the Indian population as a potential labor source. As he and other Europeans would soon discover, the Indians, especially the Caribs, were not as timid or as easily dominated as Columbus originally thought. Christopher Columbus, journal, October 14, 1492, December 16, 1492 Sunday, 14th of October ... these people are very simple as regards the use of arms, as your Highnesses will see from the seven that I caused to be taken, to bring home and learn our language and return; unless your Highnesses should order them all to be brought to Castile, or to be kept as captives on the same island; for with fifty men they can all be subjugated and made to do what is required of them.... Sunday, 16th of December ... your Highnesses may believe that this island {{Hispaniola}}, and all the others, are as much yours as Castile. Here there is only wanting a settlement and the order to the people to do what is required. For I, with the force I have under me, which is not large, could march over all these islands without opposition. I have seen only three sailors land, without wishing to do harm, and a multitude of Indians fled before them. They have no arms, and are without warlike instincts; they all go naked, and are so timid that a thousand would not stand before three of our men. So that they are good to be ordered about, to work and sow, and do all that may be necessary, and to build towns, and they should be taught to go about clothed and to adopt our customs. "Journal of the First Voyage of Christopher Columbus, 1492-93," in E.G. Bourne, The Northmen, Columbus and Cabot, 985-1503. Edited by Edward Gaylord Bourne. New York: C. Scribner's Sons, 1906, pp. 114, 145-146, 182 . NEW WORLD FANTASIES 3 / "All slavery, and drudgery ... is done by bondsmen " The European voyages of discovery of the late fifteenth century played a critical role in the development of modern conceptions of progress. From the ancient Greeks onward, Western culture tended to emphasize certain unchanging and universal ideas about human society. But the discovery of the New World threw many supposedly universal ideals into doubt. The Indians, who seemingly lived free from all the traditional constraints of civilized life--such as private property or family bonds--offered a vehicle for criticizing the corruptions, abuses, and restrictions of European society.     In 1516 the English humanist Sir Thomas More (1478-1535) published Utopia , his description of an ideal society where crime, injustice, and poverty did not exist. Writing just twenty-four years after Columbus's first voyage to the Caribbean, More located his perfect society in the Western Hemisphere. More's book, written in the form of a dialogue, contrasts the simplicity of life in Utopia with contemporary Europe's class divisions. In Utopia, property is held in common, gold is scorned, and all inhabitants eat the same food and wear the same clothes. And yet several features of More's Utopia strike a jarring note. For one thing, his book justifies taking land from the indigenous people because, in European eyes, they did not cultivate it. And further, the prosperity and well-being of More's ideal society ultimately rest on slave labor. Sir Thomas More, Utopia , London, 1516 ... When I consider within myself and weigh in my mind the wise and godly ordinances of the Utopians, among whom with very few laws all things be so well and wealthily ordered, that virtue is had in price and estimation, and yet, all things being there common, every man hath abundance of everything.     ... No household or farm in the country hath fewer than forty persons, men and women, besides two bondmen, which be all under the rule and order of the good man, and the good wife of the house, being both very sage and discreet persons.... For they dividing the day and the night into twenty-four hours, appoint and assign only six of those hours to work....     In this hall all vile service, all slavery, and drudgery, with all laboursome toil and business, is done by bondsmen.... The Utopia of Sir Thomas More . Translated by Ralph Robinson with an introduction and notes by H.B. Cotterill. London: Macmillan & Co. Ltd., 1908, Second Book, pp. 67, 75, 79-80, 83-84. LABOR NEEDS 4 / "This is the best land in the world for Negroes " Christopher Columbus believed that Indians would serve as a slave labor force for Europeans, especially on the sugar cane plantations off the western coast of North Africa. Convinced that the Taino Indians of the Caribbean would make ideal slaves, he transported five hundred to Spain in 1495. Some two hundred died during the overseas voyage. Thus Columbus initiated the African slave trade, which originally moved from the New World to the Old, rather than the reverse.     By the beginning of the sixteenth century, Spain's experiments in enslaving Indians were failing. To meet the mounting demand for labor in mining and agriculture, the Spanish began to exploit a new labor force: slaves from western Africa.     Slavery was a familiar institution to many sixteenth-century Europeans. Although slavery had gradually died out in northwestern Europe, it continued to flourish around the Mediterranean Sea. Ongoing warfare between Christianity and Islam produced thousands of slave laborers, who were put to work in heavy agriculture in Italy, southern France, eastern Spain, Sicily, and eastern Europe near the Black Sea. Most slaves in this area were "white"--Arabs, or natives of Russia or eastern Europe. But by the mid-fifteenth century, the expansion of the Ottoman Empire cut off the supply of white slaves. It was during the mid-fifteenth century that Portugal established trading relations along the West African coast, and discovered that it was able to purchase huge numbers of black slaves at low cost.     Several factors made African slaves the cheapest and most expedient labor source. The prevailing ocean currents made it relatively easy to transport Africans to the Caribbean. Further, because Africans came from developed agricultural societies, they were already familiar with highly organized tropical agriculture. The first African slaves were brought to the New World as early as 1502, where they mined precious metals and raise sugar, coffee, and tobacco--the first goods sold to a mass consumer market.     The African slave trade would be an indispensable part of European settlement and development of the New World. By the mid-eighteenth century, slaves could be found everywhere in the Americas from French Canada to Chile. Indeed, the number of Africans forcibly imported into the New World actually exceeded the number of whites who would come to the Americas before the 1830s. Between 1492 and 1820 approximately ten million to fifteen million Africans were forcibly brought to the New World, while only about two million Europeans had immigrated. In this excerpt Alonso de Zuazo (1466-1527), the Spanish judge of Hispaniola, argues that slavery is essential for Caribbean development. Alonso de Zuazo to Cardinal Ximenes, regent of Spain, January 22, 1518 Indeed, there is urgent need for Negro slaves, as I have written to inform His Highness, and in as much as Your Lordship will see that part of my letter to His Highness, I shall not repeat it here, except to say that it is urgent to have them brought. Ships sail from these islands for Seville to purchase essential goods such as cloth of various colors as well as other merchandise, which is used as ransom of Cape Verde whither the goods are carried with the permission of the King of Portugal. By virtue of the said ransom, let ships go there and bring away as many male and female Negroes as possible, newly imported and between the ages of fifteen to eighteen or twenty years. They will be made to adopt our customs in this island and they will be settled in villages and married to their women folk. The burden of work of the Indians will be eased and unlimited amounts of gold will be mined. This is the best land in the world for Negroes, women and old men, and it is very rarely that one of these people die. J. A. Saco, Historia de la Esclavitud de las Raza Africana, Tomo I, pp. 143-44 THE: BLACK LEGEND 5 / "Under the guise of developing the country, the Christians (as they call themselves) ... engaged in plunder and slaughter " Late in the eighteenth century, around the time of the three-hundredth anniversary of Columbus's voyage of discovery, the Abbé Raynal (1713-96), a French philosopher, offered a prize for the best answer to this question: "Has the discovery of America been beneficial or harmful to the human race?"     Eight responses to the question survive. Of these, four argued that Columbus's voyage had harmed human happiness. The European discovery of the New World had a devastating impact on the Indian peoples of the Americas. Oppressive labor, disruption of the Indian food supply, deliberate campaigns of extermination, and especially disease decimated the Indian population. Isolated from such diseases as smallpox, influenza, and measles, the indigenous population proved to be extraordinarily susceptible. Within a century of contact, the Indian population in the Caribbean and Mexico had shrunk by more than 90 percent.     During the sixteenth century, when the House of Habsburg presided over an empire that included Spain, Austria, Italy, Holland, and much of the New World, Spain's enemies created an enduring set of ideas known as the "Black Legend." Propagandists from England, France, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands vilified the Spanish as a corrupt and cruel people who subjugated and exploited the New World Indians, stole their gold and silver, infected them with disease, and killed them in numbers without precedent. In 1580, William I, prince of Orange (1533-84), who led Dutch Protestants in rebellion against Spanish rule, declared that Spain "committed such horrible excesses that all the barbarities, cruelties and tyrannies ever perpetrated before are only games in comparison to what happened to the poor Indians."     Ironically, the Black Legend drew upon criticisms first voiced by the Spanish themselves. During the sixteenth century, observers such as Bartolome de las Casas (1474-1566), the bishop of Chiapas, condemned maltreatment of the Indians. As a way to protect Indians from utter destruction, las Casas proposed an alternative labor force: slaves from Africa. Given the drastic decline of the Indian population and the reluctance of Europeans to perform heavy agricultural labor, African slaves would raise the staple crops that provided the basis for New World prosperity: sugar, coffee, rice, and indigo.     Las Casas would come to regret his role in encouraging the slave trade. Although he rejected the idea that slavery itself was a crime or sin, he did begin to see African slavery as a source of evil. Unfortunately, las Casas's apology was not published for more than three hundred years. Bartolomé de las Casas, A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies , 1542 New Spain {{Mexico}} was discovered in 1517. The explorers treated the inhabitants offensively and murdered some Indians. Under the guise of developing the country, the Christians (as they call themselves) in 1518 engaged in plunder and slaughter. From 1518 until the present day, and it now 1542, the iniquity, injustice, violence, and tyranny that the Spanish have committed against the Indians has escalated as the perpetrators lost all fear of God and the King and all self-respect as well....     During the 12 years {{from 1518 to 1530}}, the Spanish killed more than four million men, women, and children with swords and lances, and by burning people alive.... This does not count those who have died, and continue to die every day, from the slavery and oppression that the Spanish impose....     Among other massacres perpetrated by the Spanish was one that took place in Cholula, a city with thirty thousand inhabitants. Dignitaries and priests from the city and the surrounding countryside greeted the Spanish with great solemnity and respect, and escorted them into the city and lodged them in the homes of the local nobility. The Spanish decided to stage a massacre--or a "chastisement" as they call it--in order to terrorize the population.     It has been Spain's practice in every land they have discovered to stage a massacre in order to make the meek and innocent tremble with fear.     To accomplish this, the Spanish summoned the local dignitaries. As soon as they arrived to hold talks with the Spanish commander, they were taken captive and had no opportunity to warn others. Then the Spanish demanded five or six thousand Indians to carry their loads.... Once these poor wretches assembled in the courtyard, guards blocked the gates while Spanish soldiers slaughtered the Indians with swords and lances. Not one escaped....     That same day, according to an eye-witness, the Spanish managed to capture Montezuma by trickery. They put him in fetters and placed a guard of eighty soldiers over him....     The pretext under which the Spanish invaded these areas, massacred their harmless inhabitants, and depopulated the country was to make the Indians subjects of the King of Spain. Otherwise, they threatened to kill the Indians or burn them alive. And those who did not promptly submit to such an unjust demand, and refused to obey cruel and beastly men, were called rebels who were in revolt against His Majesty the King. Bartolomé de las Casas, Brevisima relaction de la destruccion de las Indias (Seuilla: Truggillo [1552]). A CRITIQUE OF THE SLAVE TRADE 6 / "A thousand acts of robbery and violence are committed in the course of bartering and carrying off Negroes " Las Casas was not alone in recognizing the evils of slavery. In this selection, another Spanish cleric, Fray Tomas de Mercado (d. 1575?), argues that the slave trade was the product of deception, robbery, and violence.     The European colonization of the New World brought three disparate geographical areas together: the Americas, western Europe, and western Africa. Some of the consequences of this intercultural contact are well known, such as the introduction of horses, pigs, and cattle into the New World, and the transfer of potatoes, beans, and tomatoes to Europe. But other consequences of the Columbian exchange are less noted. As a result of the Atlantic slave trade, such New World food crops as cassava, sweet potatoes, squash, and peanuts were carried to Africa, sharply stimulating African population growth and therefore increasing the population in ways that helped make the slave trade possible. Fray Tomas de Mercado, Suma de Tratos y Contratos , Seville, 1587 It is public opinion and knowledge that no end of deception is practiced and a thousand acts of robbery and violence are committed in the course of bartering and carrying off Negroes from their country and bringing them to the Indies and to Spain.... Since the Portuguese and Spaniards pay so much for a Negro, they go out to hunt one another without the pretext of a war, as if they were deer; even the very Ethiopians, who are different, being induced to do so by the profit derived. They make war on one another, their gain being the capture of their own people, and they go after one another in the forests where they usually hunt.... In this way, and contrary to all justice, a very great number of prisoners are taken. And no one is horrified that these people are ill-treating and selling one another, because they are considered uncivilized and savage. In addition to the pretext, of parents selling their children as a last resort, there is the bestial practice of selling them without any necessity to do so, and very often through anger or passion, for some displeasure or disrespect they have shown them.... The wretched children are taken to the market place for sale, and as the traffic in Negroes is so great, there are Portuguese, or even Negroes themselves, ready everywhere to buy them. There are also among them traders in this bestial and brutal business, who set boundaries in the interior for the natives and carry them off for sale at a higher price on the coasts or in the islands. I have seen many acquired in this way. Apart from these acts of injustice and robberies committed among themselves, there are thousands of other forms of deception practiced in those parts by the Spaniards to trick and carry off the Negroes finally as newly imported slaves, which they are in fact, to the ports, with a few bonnets, gewgaws, beads and bits of paper under which they give them. They put them aboard the ships under false pretenses, hoist anchor, set sail, and make off towards the high seas with their booty.... I know a man who recently sailed to one of those Islands and, with less than four thousand ducats for ransom, carried off four hundred Negroes without license or registration.... They embark four and five hundred of them in a boat which, sometimes, is not a cargo boat. The very stench is enough to kill most of them, and, indeed, very many die. The wonder is that twenty percent of them are not lost. J.A. Saco, Historia de la Esclavitud de la Raza Africana , Tomo II, pp. 80-82.