Liberty vs Power in Europe and England

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article is excerpted from the preface and first chapter of Conceived
in Liberty
, Volume I, Part I. Audiobook recordings of these
sections, read by Dr. Floy Lilley, are available
for download

the legislators endeavour to take away and destroy the property
of the people, or to reduce them to slavery under arbitrary power,
they put themselves into a state of war with the people, who are
thereupon absolved from any farther obedience, and are left to
the common refuge which God hath provided for all men against
force and violence.” — John Locke

vs Power

My own basic
perspective on the history of man is to place central importance
on the great conflict that is eternally waged between Liberty and
Power, a conflict that was seen with crystal clarity by the American
revolutionaries of the 18th century. I see the liberty of the individual
not only as a great moral good in itself (or, with Lord Acton, as
the highest political good), but also as the necessary condition
for the flowering of all the other goods that mankind cherishes:
moral virtue, civilization, the arts and sciences, economic prosperity.

Out of liberty,
then, stem the glories of civilized life. But liberty has always
been threatened by the encroachments of power, power which seeks
to suppress, control, cripple, tax, and exploit the fruits of liberty
and production. Power, then, the enemy of liberty, is consequently
the enemy of all the other goods and fruits of civilization that
mankind holds dear. And power is almost always centered in and focused
on that central repository of power and violence: the State.

With Albert
Jay Nock
, the 20th-century American political philosopher, I
see history as centrally a race and conflict between “social power”
– the productive consequence of voluntary interactions among
men – and state power. In those eras of history when liberty
– social power – has managed to race ahead of state power
and control, the country and even mankind have flourished. In those
eras when state power has managed to catch up with or surpass social
power, mankind suffers and declines.

For decades,
historians have quarreled about “conflict” or “consensus” as the
guiding leitmotif of the past. Clearly, I belong in the
“conflict” rather than the “consensus” camp, with the proviso that
I see the central conflict as not between classes (social or economic),
or between ideologies, but between Power and Liberty, State and
Society. The social or ideological conflicts have been ancillary
to the central one, which concerns these questions: who will control
the state, and what power will the state exercise over the citizenry?

Trade in the High Middle Ages

Western Europe,
during the early Middle Ages, was a stagnant and war-torn region,
burdened by feudalism, a hierarchical rule based on assumed and
conquered land titles, and on the virtual enslavement of the peasantry,
who worked as serfs in support of the ruling castes. A great revival
during the 11th century, inaugurating the High Middle Ages, was
based upon the rise of trade between Italian towns that had remained
relatively free of feudal restrictions, and the commercial centers
of the eastern Mediterranean. The revival of industry and trade
and the concomitant growth in living standards provided the necessary
economic base for a flowering of learning and culture. The emerging
commercial capitalism and growing civilization soon developed most
intensively in the city-states of northern Italy, the centers of
the vital Mediterranean trade with the East.

It was this
“international trade” that began to break up the isolated, local
self-sufficiency at subsistence levels that had characterized feudal
Western Europe. The local feudal manor could no longer be a stagnant,
self-sufficient, agricultural, and “domestic-industry” unit if it
wished to purchase the products of the Middle East and especially
of the Orient. The Orient furnished luxury goods of all kinds –
silks, damasks, jewels, dyes, tropical fruits – but its great
contribution was spices, the preeminent commodity in Mediterranean
trade. Spices not only enhanced the taste of food, but also preserved
it. For in those days, before refrigeration, spices were the only
way to preserve food for any length of time.

The oriental
commodities were produced in China, India, Ceylon, or the East Indies,
and transported by Muslim merchants – Indian and Arab –
to the ports of the Middle East and the shores of the Eastern Mediterranean,
where northern Italian merchants took over to transport the goods
to Western Europe. Sales were then made, often by German merchants,
at such places as the great “fairs,” notably the fairs of Champagne
in northeastern France. Thus, pepper, by far the most important
of the spices, was largely grown on the Malabar Coast of India,
and from there taken to the eastern Mediterranean and thence to
Europe. In exchange for these products from the East, Western Europe
exported timber, metals, and especially woolen textiles, which had
become its major commodity for export. From the late 11th century,
England became the major European supplier of raw wool, because
of its advantages of soil and climate, as well as the advanced scientific
management of its monastic sheep ranches. The English wool was then
exported to Flanders for weaving into cloth. The cloth was exchanged
for spices at the great fairs of Champagne, and then carried by
the Italian merchants to sell in the Middle East.

Three main
routes connected the West with the Orient. One was a virtually all-sea
route from China, India, Malaya, and the rest of the Orient to the
Red Sea, and thence up to Cairo and Alexandria. A second went up
the Persian Gulf to Baghdad, and thence overland to Antioch or to
various cities of the eastern Mediterranean. The third, a northerly
route, traveled overland by caravan from North China westward to
the Caspian and Black seas. This last route was made possible in
the 13th century by the establishment of Mongol rule over this vast
trading area. In all of this trade, the northern Italians, as we
have indicated, were predominant in Europe; they were the great
merchants, shippers, and bankers of the Western world.

Disaster of the 14th Century

In the mid-14th
century, a severe blow was struck at this vital pattern of European
trade with the Orient. This blow was the general collapse of Mongol
rule in Asia. The end of Mongol rule in Persia destroyed the freedom
of Italian – especially Genoese – traders in that critical
terminus of the overland route. And the liquidation of Mongol rule
in China ended Mongol friendliness to Western trade, which had permitted
both commerce and cultural contact with the West; thereafter, traditional
Chinese suspicion of foreigners reasserted itself. The consequent
forced closing of the overland route doubled the price of silks
in Europe.

one would have expected the Mongol collapse and the closing of the
overland route to spur a search by northern Italians – especially
the Genoese – for an all-sea route to the Orient. Indeed, Genoese
captains by the late 13th and early 14th centuries had already sailed
through the Strait of Gibraltar and south along the western coast
of Africa in search of new spice routes, and had already discovered
the Canary and Madeira islands. But a cataclysmic set of changes
at the turn of the 14th century was to divert attention from such
sea exploration and drastically alter the pattern of European production
and trade.

The expansion
of medieval production and trade and the concomitant cultural progress
of Europe came to an abrupt halt at the beginning of the 14th century.
As wealth and capital continued to accumulate in Western Europe
from the 11th century on, this growing wealth provided great temptations
to Power to seize and divert that wealth for its own nonproductive,
indeed antiproductive, purposes. This power loomed in the emerging
nation-states of Western Europe, particularly in France and England,
which set about to confiscate and drain off the wealth of society
for the needs and demands of the emerging state. Internally, the
state siphoned off the wealth to nurture an increasingly elaborate
and expensive state apparatus; externally, the state used the wealth
in expensive wars to advance its dynastic power and plunder. Furthermore,
the states increasingly regulated and intervened in, as well as
taxed, the market economy of Europe. The several nascent states
of the modern era ruptured the harmonious and cosmopolitan social
and economic relations of medieval Europe. A unity in free-market
relations was sundered and ravaged by the imposed violence and plunder
of the governments of the new nation-states.

the new policy of statism of England and France at the beginning
of the 14th century involved first the immediate expulsion and confiscation
of the wealth of Jewish merchants, Italian bankers, and vital independent
financial institutions, such as the crucial fairs of Champagne.
For the longer run, the monies necessary to support the state apparatus
and army were derived from privileges and monopolies granted by
governments to associations of merchants and craftsmen who aided
in the collection of taxes, in return for the assurance of profits
by excluding native and foreign competitors. The consumer was completely
sacrificed to that producer who proved the best help in the collection
of taxes, and incentives for initiative, inexpensiveness of product,
and technical progress were destroyed. Detailed regulations and
controls were established by government-privileged guilds to assure
the collection of taxes and to prevent competition from more efficient
producers within and without the guild monopoly. As a result of
the growth and development of warfare, the state apparatus, monopoly,
and taxation, the 14th and 15th centuries in Europe were marked
by stagnation, depression, and even retrogression.

the Continent: The Hanseatic League and Atlantic Trade

Not only were
there no further expansion in the scope of international trade and
no increase in the volume of commerce, but this trade was forced
to take far different directions. The commercial centers of Italy
– the northern cities – remained relatively free of restrictions
of monopoly and the state apparatus, and Italian capitalists now
sought a commerce free from control by the regulations and taxation
of governments. The crucial problem of the capitalists was the loss
of their overland trade route to northern France, brought about
by the destruction of the great fairs of Champagne, by the taxation
and controls of the French king. The Italian merchants therefore
had to find an efficient route to Flanders, the source of European
cloth. The only alternative for the carrying of large quantities
of goods was the sea, and it was natural for Venice and Genoa to
turn to the sea as the best means of transportation from the Mediterranean
to Flanders. The first Atlantic convoys of ships to Flanders were
sent from Venice and Genoa about 1314; they sailed through the Strait
of Gibraltar and along the Atlantic coast of Europe to the English
Channel port of Southampton, in England, then on to Bruges, in Flanders.

Bruges now
became the great center of northern European commerce; it served
as the northern depot of Italian trade, even as it had been the
western terminus of North Sea and Baltic trade, a trade which now
received a great impetus for growth. During the Middle Ages, cities
were founded along the coast of the Baltic Sea as the German people
colonized eastward. These German cities engaged in trade along the
North or German Sea, as well as the East or Baltic Sea. For the
mutual defense of their trade they formed a confederation of cities
called the Hanseatic League. From the Hanseatic western depots,
Bruges and the Steelyard in London, the trade of the League extended
through the German and Scandinavian countries to the Slavic countries
of the eastern Baltic, terminating in the great northern Russian
commercial center, the independent Republic of Great Novgorod.

The trade of
the Hansards, or Easterlings (from which the English measure of
silver, the pound sterling, is derived), as the Hanseatic merchants
were called, was largely in raw materials and agricultural products.
The foundation of Hanseatic commerce was its dominance of the Baltic
trade in dried and salted fish, a necessary part of the European
diet because of the scarcity of meat and the needs of religious
observance. Search for the salt necessary for curing the fish had
led the Hanseatic traders to Bordeaux on the Atlantic coast of France,
the major source of salt. Bordeaux wine also accompanied the salt
to northern Europe.

The Bordeaux
trade increased the importance of England in European commerce,
as Bordeaux and the province of Gascony had been English possessions
since the middle of the 12th century. For the spices and manufactured
goods that the Hansards carried to the Baltic from Bruges, they
supplied the industrial centers of Western Europe with the dried
and salted fish of the Baltic, the grain of Prussia and Poland,
the timber of Scandinavia, and the furs, wax, and honey of the Russian
forests. The closest to a luxury product for the Hansards was the
important fur trade. Fur, because of its rarity and beauty, had
become a symbol of social and political importance. The only form
of fur sufficiently inexpensive to be available to the masses was
hats processed from beaver – the most popular form of headwear.
The Russian Republic of Great Novgorod built its greatness by controlling
the fur trade with the Finnish peoples who inhabited the forests
of northern Russia, and the Hanseatic League controlled the distribution
of furs across Europe from Novgorod to the Steelyard in London.

Rise of Mercantilism

Wool, the principal
product of English agriculture, entered Hanseatic and Italian trade
mainly through the cloth woven in Flanders. Poundage, the tariff
on the export of wool and the import of cloth, was the principal
tax imposed by the English government in the process of state formation.
Poundage was permanently established by the 14th century, even though
it was contrary to the provisions of Magna Carta. The newly burgeoning
state apparatus was maintained by this tax on wool exports, and
the rates increased as England’s financial crisis of the 14th and
15th centuries continued to intensify. This continuing crisis was
brought about by the English government’s persistent interventions
in overseas wars. To ensure collection of taxes on wool exports,
the English government granted a monopoly of the export of wool
to a group of merchants, drawn from the importing and exporting
centers. In return for the monopoly profits gained from this privilege,
the merchants would enforce and collect the tariffs and ensure their
payment to the government. “The mayor, constables, and fellowship
of the merchants of the staple of England” received the monopoly
of wool export to the Continent in the mid-14th century, after a
succession of ill-starred attempts to grant the monopoly to smaller
groups of merchants. It was the first lasting organization of English
foreign trade monopoly.

The Merchants
of the Staple proceeded to use their monopoly privilege in the time-honored
manner of monopoly: by moving to jack up their selling prices and
to lower their buying prices. Such procedure ensured their profit,
but also eventually crippled the great English wool trade by reducing
the demand for wool and by discouraging the production of wool at
home. But the free market also has a time-honored way of fighting
back against restrictions: by evading them. Despite the restrictions,
the free trade in wool persisted in the form of smuggling, which
the government policy had forced upon the merchants. From the late
Middle Ages through the 18th century, England was not so much a
nation of seafarers and shopkeepers as a nation of smugglers.

Since Flanders
was being carefully watched by the Merchants of the Staple, the
Dutch Netherlands became the center of the free trade – the
nontaxed trade in smuggled wool, and the Dutch ship captains became
the leading carriers and traders in tax-free goods, shipped into
and out of small harbors along the coasts of England. When the constitutional
procedures of the common law were applied, there could be few convictions
for smuggling by juries of ordinary people, who shared in the common
interest as sufferers from taxes and monopoly, and hence in the
common enthusiasm for smuggling. To circumvent the constitutional
courts of common law, the prerogative High Court of Admiralty was
established to absorb the jurisdictions of the maritime courts of
the seaports, which had administered the traditional sea law and
law merchant. A tariff on the importation of wines, called tunnage
(the measure of a tun of wine), was imposed with the excuse that
it would finance the policing of the seas. The creation of the offices
of Lord High Admiral and the High Court of Admiralty increased the
burdens on commerce, while their activities were used by the government
to advance the claim of an English monopoly over the English Channel
and other neighboring seas.

Thus, during
the 14th and 15th centuries, in place of a universal economic system
based on international trade, common commercial laws, and efficient
economic relationships, unnatural economies were created on a foundation
of violence and political power. The purposes were to supply a constantly
increasing financial means of support for the civil and military
apparatus of the state, and to grant special privileges for groups
of merchants favored by, and sharing in control of, the state at
the expense of the economy and the rest of the population. This
mercantilist system, having its origins in the rise of sustained
warfare and the development of the state apparatus, also introduced
a permanent hostility between countries by its destruction of the
universal European economy.

Arts and Sciences of Navigation

While Western
Europe stagnated under the weight of the mercantilism imposed by
the apparatuses of the emerging states, the regions of relative
freedom – Italy and the areas of the Baltic producing raw material
– continued to develop and progress economically. The Italian
cities were preeminent not only by reason of their merchants, shippers,
and bankers, but also for their advances in the arts and sciences
of navigation – in technological inventions and the sciences
of astronomy, cartography, and geography.

In the Middle
Ages, the development of geography in Europe had centered in Sicily,
where a Latin culture had been enriched by classical and Byzantine
knowledge, directly by Greek and indirectly by Arab scholars. To
classical geographical knowledge, summarized in Ptolemy’s 2nd-century
Geography, was added knowledge of Africa and India from
Arab sources, and of East Asia from Italian travelers. A leading
Italian traveler was Marco Polo, a late-13th-century Venetian merchant
who had settled as an official in the Mongol capital of Peking,
and had written the most important book on Asia of the late Middle
Ages. This new geographic knowledge was incorporated into the scientific
charts and maps developed by the cartographers of the northern Italian
cities, the most advanced of which was a 1351 map of Laurentian
Portolano of Florence. The Arab and Jewish scholarship in Spain
led, in the latter half of the 14th century, to the development
of the important Jewish school of geographers on the island of Majorca,
which produced the most accurate medieval map, the Catalan Atlas
of 1375. This atlas had a significant influence on future exploration
both of Africa and of Asia.

Ptolemy’s Geography
had indicated a short circumference of the earth, making Asia three
times nearer Europe than it actually was, and had depicted the African
continent as short and connected directly to East Asia, making the
Indian Ocean an inland sea. In 1410, however, Cardinal Pierre d’Ailly
wrote Imago Mundi; he indicated that Africa was long and
surrounded by water, thus making the Indian Ocean approachable by
sea. These works were all to have a profound influence on the explorations
seeking the routes to Asia around Africa and across the Atlantic.

But before
the advanced geographical concepts could guide exploration, the
necessary ship designs, navigational science, and experience of
oceanic sailing needed to be developed. The northern Italian merchants
had been forced to inaugurate the long Mediterranean-Atlantic oceanic
route in the early 14th century, and thus had added oceanic experience
to their overall stature as the great seamen of Europe. When, thereafter,
the major Atlantic countries – England, France, Spain, and
Portugal – decided to create governmental navies, they naturally
turned to contract with Italian captains to develop, staff, and
command these navies. The great northern Italian cities of Genoa,
Venice, Pisa, and Florence were particularly abundant sources of
those having experience with the sea. Thus, in 1317, Emanuel Pesagno
of Genoa contracted to command the Portuguese navy as Lord High
Admiral and to keep it supplied with twenty experienced Genoese
navigators; these arrangements were continued as hereditary contracts
with the Pesagno family for two centuries.

In addition
to the role that Italian navigators and sailors, astronomers and
instrument makers, geographers and map makers played in the maritime
history of Atlantic Europe, Italians made important contributions
as ship designers and shipbuilders. The Hanseatic cogs, built in
the Baltic, were efficient ships for carrying bulky cargoes in the
Hanseatic trade. Italian ship designers maintained this efficiency,
but revolutionized the ships’ maneuverability and speed; as a result,
during the 15th century, ships became available that could travel
long distances at a suitable speed on rough oceans. They had large
carrying capacities but needed only small crews, so that they could
remain for a long while at sea without stopping regularly to take
on provisions. However, as timber supplies in the Mediterranean
became increasingly scarce, greater reliance was placed upon such
ships built and even manned in the Atlantic European countries.

Sugar, and Slaves

At the same
time that the sailors of the Atlantic countries were gaining knowledge
and experience from oceanic voyages, increasingly higher prices
of spices in Western Europe encouraged the Atlantic countries to
find the gold with which to pay for the spices, or to discover better
alternative routes to the oriental sources of these commodities.
Routes were also sought that could bypass the Italian middlemen.
Hence, when Portuguese explorers began to be sent southward along
the African coast, their immediate and primary objective was to
discover the sources of the gold of West Africa with which the North
African Arabs were plentifully supplied.

From 1419 until
his death in 1460, most of the exploration of the 15th century was
organized by Prince Henry the Navigator, governor of the southern
district of Portugal. Henry accomplished his exploration with the
aid of a court functioning as a veritable maritime college, including
Genoese captains, Venetian navigators, and Italian and Jewish geographers.
The Madeira Islands were discovered definitely by 1420 by a Portuguese
expedition, and one of the first officials sent there by Prince
Henry was Bartholomew Perestrella, an Italian and future father-in-law
of Christopher Columbus. Sugar cane from Sicily was introduced into
Madeira and into the Canary Islands being settled by Spaniards,
and these islands soon became an important source of sugar for Europe
until the establishment of sugar culture in Brazil by the Portuguese
in the 16th century. These “Western Islands” also became an important
center of the cultivation of sweet wines.

During the
following generation, numerous expeditions made slow progress down
the coast of Western Sahara, while others discovered and settled
the Azores in the North Atlantic. In 1441, a few Negro slaves were
brought back to Portugal, thus beginning the extensive and barbarous
slave trade. After tropical Africa, 1,500 miles from the Strait
of Gibraltar, was reached in 1445, large numbers of slaves were
purchased from the native chiefs of the coastal districts, and slave
stations were constructed by the Portuguese along the West African
coast. Although the Cape Verde Islands were discovered in 1445 by
a Venetian, Captain Cadamosto, the world of Portuguese exploration
largely turned to concentration upon commerce in gold and local
West African pepper, as well as to the slave trade for supplying
the large feudal estates of southern Portugal, which had been granted
by the Portuguese government after taking that region from the Moors.

Age of Exploration

During the
1470s, explorations under private auspices covered another two thousand
miles along the coast of the Gulf of Guinea. The Spanish, based
on the Canaries, began to compete with the Portuguese in the Guinea
trade, and the warfare resulting from this rivalry was settled by
treaty in 1480. By this treaty, Spain recognized Portugal’s prior
rights to Africa and the South Atlantic, and Portugal accepted Spanish
rights to the Canary Islands and the “western seas” beyond the Azores.
Thereupon, and being hurried by the rumor of an English expedition
to West Africa, Portugal in 1482 commissioned voyages to create
a strong fort at Elmina in West Africa to defend the trade in gold,
pepper, and slaves. Captains for these voyages included Bartholomew
Diaz and the Genoese Christopher Columbus.

A large colony
of Genoese captains, pilots, and mapmakers had settled in Lisbon
during the late 15th century, and by 1477 Christopher Columbus (1451–1506)
was established in Lisbon as a mapmaker with his brother Bartholomew.
After engaging in the sugar trade from Madeira and in the African
trade for Genoese firms, Columbus had gained sufficient experience
in oceanic navigation to propose a plan for a westward voyage to
the Orient. Columbus had concluded that China and the Orient could
easily be reached by sailing westward, if Asia were really three
thousand miles west of Europe, as the geographers had indicated.
(Contrary to popular myth, the idea that the earth was round was
well known to the educated Europeans of the day.) The geographical
concept of a feasible westward voyage to the Orient received even
wider currency in Europe when printed editions appeared of Ptolemy
in the 1470s, D’Ailly’s Imago Mundi in 1483, Marco Polo’s
Travels in 1485, and Aeneas Sylvius’s (Pope Pius II’s)
Historia Rerum in 1477. Columbus was also encouraged in
his project by his correspondence with the Florentine scientist
Paolo dal Pozzo Toscanelli.

The Portuguese
had meanwhile resumed exploration of Africa south of the equator
under the command of Diogo Cao, who discovered the Congo River in
1483. Upon Cao’s return in 1484, the Portuguese prepared for more
vigorous exploratory activity, the Crown appointing a Junta dos
Mathematicos, composed of Bishop Diogo Ortiz and two Jewish physicians,
to decide questions of navigation and exploration. Late in 1484,
Columbus presented his plans to the Junta for a westward voyage
to China and Japan; however, as Cao was to begin his second expedition,
it was hoped that he would discover the route to the Indies around
Africa, so the Junta decided to await Cao’s return before accepting
Columbus’s project. Cao promptly extended Portuguese exploration
by 1,500 miles, reaching Cape Cross in 1486; he also explored the
Congo River and established diplomatic relations with the ruler
of the lower Congo. In the summer of 1487, an expedition under Bartholomew
Diaz was sent to discover the sea route to India; Diaz sailed around
the Cape of Good Hope in early 1488, making it clear that an ocean
passage to the Indies would soon be found.

Balked by Portugal,
Columbus had gone to Spain to seek aid for his projected voyage;
and although he was well received, Spain too made no decision on
extending its support. Columbus then renewed his negotiations with
the Portuguese, and returned to Lisbon in late 1488. But when Diaz
returned to Portugal in December of 1488 with news of his exciting
discovery, Portugal lost interest in Columbus’s plan. Columbus then
returned to Spain, meanwhile sending his brother Bartholomew to
London to present his plan to Henry VII of England. After receiving
no encouragement in England, Bartholomew Columbus went to the French
court in 1490, where he received better treatment and remained as
a mapmaker. When the Spanish court rejected his proposal in 1491,
Christopher prepared to join Bartholomew in France; but Columbus
was recalled to the Spanish court, partly because its conquest of
the Moorish kingdom of Granada was completed in January 1492.

The agreements
between Columbus and the Spanish Crown were completed in April 1492;
they provided for Spanish financing of the bulk of expenses of the
voyage, as well as for naming Columbus “Admiral of the Ocean Sea”
and governor of any lands that he might discover en-route. On August
3, Columbus departed from Palos in three ships. Sailing to the Canaries
and then westward, Columbus discovered the Bahama Islands on October
12, 1492, and explored the Greater Antilles – Cuba and Hispaniola.
Columbus was convinced that he had discovered the shores of Asia,
and so christened the natives he found there “Indians.” But despite
his error, the New World was now to be opened to the ambit of European

Columbus left
America in early January 1493, arrived in the Azores in February,
and reached Lisbon early in March. Even though Diaz was busy supervising
construction of the ships necessary for the voyage around Africa
to India, the Portuguese king had the gall to claim the new lands
as an extension of the Azores. When Columbus presented his report
to the Spanish court in mid-March 1493, it sought to protect its
claim from Portuguese encroachment. On the basis of the discovery
and of the treaty of 1480, Spain appealed to the pope for a determination
of its rights.

As a neutral
third power, the papacy made a diplomatic award, affirming Spain’s
claim to monopoly possession of Columbus’s discovery. The respective
discoveries claimed by Portugal in Africa and Spain in the West
were protected by drawing a boundary between Spain and Portugal
west of the Portuguese Azores. The respective routes to the Indies
were recognized by limiting the Spanish to the western and southern
route, and the Portuguese to their eastern and southern route around
Africa. The Portuguese considered the papal opinions a useful base
for negotiation, but refused to be bound by them. To gain Portuguese
recognition for its claims, the Spanish government was obliged to
make concessions to Portugal, and in June of 1494 the Treaty of
Tordesillas extended the boundary 270 leagues further westward than
in the papal mediation, which had the unintended effect of allowing
Portugal to control the yet undiscovered coast of Brazil. As the
dispute was strictly between Spain and Portugal, the treaty and
boundary related only to the area that they had explored, and thus
did not receive international recognition by the other powers until
confirmed by effective occupation of the respective claims. Since
the Spanish territorial claim was limited to the west and south
of Columbus’s discovery, that is, the West Indies and Central and
South America, it did not exclude other states from North America,
as witness the English, Portuguese, and French explorations; there
was conflict only when they approached the West Indies.

in September 1493 Columbus had sailed again to the West Indies with
1,500 colonists on board in seventeen ships fitted out by his friend,
the Florentine merchant of Seville, Gianneto Berardi. After exploring
the Lesser Antilles, a colony was established in Hispaniola to be
an agriculturally self-supporting mining town that would supply
Spain with the much-needed gold believed to abound there. After
further explorations, Columbus departed for Spain in March 1496,
leaving his brother Bartholomew as governor.

In March 1496
Henry VII of England granted a patent to John Cabot, a Genoese captain
and merchant lately settled in Bristol, England, who had sailed
for Venice and Portugal to explore to the west or north, thereby
indicating that England would not intervene in Spanish or Portuguese
colonies. Cabot was granted a monopoly of trade to any lands he
might discover and claim for the Crown, in the profits of which
the government would share; and Bristol was made a monopoly or “staple”
port for all voyages to or from the newly explored regions.

In May 1497
Cabot and his son Sebastian sailed west from Bristol to Asia; they
reached Cape Breton Island and sailed down the Atlantic coast to
perhaps the site of Maine. In the spring of 1498 Cabot went to Lisbon
and Seville to hire sailors who had sailed with Cao, Diaz, or Columbus,
and set sail for Japan and the Spice Islands in May 1498; he succeeded
in exploring the coast of North America down to the Delaware Bay
or the Chesapeake Bay. Joao Fernandes, called Labrador, a Portuguese
who had advised Cabot, received a Portuguese patent for northern
and western discoveries and explored Greenland.

From 1501 on,
a group of Bristol and Portuguese merchants, including Fernandes,
explored North America under English patents, while several Portuguese,
such as the Corte Real brothers, sailed to Newfoundland in the early
16th century.

The Portuguese,
however, were concentrating on the voyage to India around Africa
for which Diaz had spent almost a decade preparing a fleet. In July
1497 the fleet departed, commanded by Vasco da Gama, and arrived
at the Malabar coast of India in May 1498; it returned to Lisbon
in September 1499 with a cargo of pepper and cinnamon. The Portuguese
had finally found their eastern sea route to India. Early in 1500
a second expedition under Pedro Cabral was dispatched to India;
blown off course, Cabral discovered and claimed Brazil for Portugal.
In 1501, the Portuguese spices reached Antwerp, which promptly became
the major center of spices from Portugal, even as it was then the
financial center of Europe.

The Italian
merchants were not immediately disturbed at the development of the
new spice route, for they considered their competitive position
assured by their capital, their commercial ability, and the security
of their established routes. Lacking gold or specialized products,
the Portuguese were not able to undersell the Arab and Venetian
merchants. A major Portuguese voyage of 1505 was, in fact, financed
by Genoese, Florentine, and South German bankers, although the complications
of bureaucracy led them to provide capital indirectly through investment
in “future” cargoes. Similarly, Italian merchants and bankers in
Spain provided the venture capital for exploration and discovery.

In 1495, on
the death of Gianneto Berardi, who had contracted to fit out twelve
ships, Amerigo Vespucci, a Florentine who was manager of the Medici
bank at Seville, assumed the contract. In succeeding years, Vespucci
sailed in Spanish expeditions, and then from 1501 on sailed in Portuguese
voyages to explore Cabral’s discovery, Brazil. Vespucci wrote accounts
of his voyages; they were immediately printed and received wide
circulation. As a result, the mapmakers irrevocably attached Amerigo’s
name to the newly discovered continents.

The succession
of the Hapsburgs to the Spanish throne in the early 16th century
promptly occasioned investments by South German banking houses in
Spanish mines and then in American mines. The Fuggers leased mines
in Hispaniola and Mexico, while the Welsers leased Venezuela for
twenty years. However, the Italians, especially the Genoese merchants
of Seville, dominated Spain’s American trade during the 16th century,
importing gold and tropical products into Europe and exporting manufactured
goods as well as slaves under contracts, or Asientos, to America.

In 1498–1500
and 1502–04, Columbus made two further voyages to America, which
he still believed to be part of the East Indies. He finally reached
the American mainland in 1498. Explorations of the interior of the
mainland were begun in 1513, when Ponce de Leon explored Florida,
and Vasco de Balboa crossed the Isthmus of Panama to discover the
Pacific Ocean, which he believed could be easily crossed to reach
the Spice Islands and the Orient.

entrance into the spice trade had led to mutual hostility with the
Arab and Indian merchants, for these Muslim traders feared the competition
afforded by the new sea route. The new route was expected to avoid
the heavy expense and taxation that had greatly increased the cost
of the route through the Levant. At the same time, the Portuguese
feared that they could not compete in the spice trade for lack of
capital, gold, or specialized products.

In 1509, the
Portuguese defeated a fleet of Arab and Indian Muslims, and, under
Alfonso de Albuquerque, established trading centers at Goa on the
Malabar Coast and at Malacca in Malaya. By 1513, Portuguese trade
had extended to the East Indian Spice Islands and to Canton in China.
Albuquerque’s attacks on Muslim shipping and markets caused a shortage
of spices in Alexandria, while the conquest of Egypt in 1517 by
the Ottoman Turks temporarily cut off spice supplies to Venice.

During the
second decade of the 16th century, most of the spices for Europe
arrived in Portuguese vessels by way of the Cape of Good Hope, and
the Venetian merchants were forced to purchase spices in Lisbon
to supply their customers. Soon, however, Venice reached a trade
agreement with the Turks, the spice trade of the Levant returned
to normal, and the Levantine trade in spices and Mediterranean goods
remained larger and more important during the 16th century than
oceanic commerce. The Venetians bought goods of better quality,
while the expenses of long voyages, shipwrecks, and military forces
for Portugal, and lack of goods for trading raised prices in the
Portuguese trade.

The Spanish
finally reached the East Indies in a voyage under the command of
Ferdinand Magellan, a Portuguese mariner who had lived in the East
Indies. Proposing to follow a westward route around South America,
Magellan, with a fleet equipped by capital provided by the Fuggers,
sailed from Seville in the summer of 1519. He passed through the
Strait of Magellan, separating South America from Tierra del Fuego,
the following summer and arrived at the Philippine Islands, where
he was killed in a native war in April 1521.

In September
1522 one ship, commanded by Sebastian del Cano, returned to Spain
by way of the Cape of Good Hope, and thus became the first to circumnavigate
the world. Meanwhile, in 1519 Hernando Cortez crossed from Cuba
to Mexico, and by 1521 had conquered the Aztec empire and begun
a search for ports for trade with the East Indies. In 1532, Francisco
Pizarro led an expedition to Peru, where, after a number of years,
the Inca empire was conquered. In 1527, Sebastian Cabot was to lead
an expedition over Magellan’s route to the East Indies, but instead
explored for gold on the Rio de la Plata in South America. During
the early 1540s the Spanish explored the southern part of North
America. In 1539 Hernando de Soto landed in Florida from Cuba and
traveled along the Gulf Coast and lower Mississippi River, which
he discovered in 1541. At the same time, Francisco Vasquez de Coronado
traversed the southwestern part of North America up to Kansas, while
expeditions sailed along the Pacific Coast of California to Oregon
in 1542–43.

too undertook active explorations in the New World. In 1524 the
Florentine captain Giovanni da Verrazano explored virtually the
entire east coast of North America. A decade later Jacques Cartier
sailed to Newfoundland (1534). A second voyage found him exploring
the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the St. Lawrence River (1535–36), which
he thought would lead to China. A dubious tradition says he named
the falls at Montreal, La Chine, a bitter gesture indicative of
his failure to reach China. A colony was established temporarily
by Cartier near Quebec in 1541–42, but the Spaniards were the only
ones to establish important settlements in the New World in the
first half of the 16th century.

and Conquest

The pattern
of Spanish colonization was based upon conditions in Spain in the
late Middle Ages. In contrast to Europe generally, where aggressions
against non-European territories had been checked by the growth
of Turkish power, the Spanish and the English could still pursue
the conquest of lands and peoples against the Spanish Arabs of Granada
and the Celts of Ireland. Thus, the two major land-conquering and
colonizing powers, Spain and England, preceded their respective
transatlantic conquests by the conquest of neighboring peoples –
the Moors of Granada by Spain in the late 15th century, and the
Irish by the English, particularly during the 16th century. In these
aggressions both the Spanish and the English not only acquired the
skills and appetites for further violence, but also established
the attitudes and policies to be applied to alien peoples through
conquest, extermination, or enslavement.

Due to geographical
and political conditions, Spain retained the military spirit of
feudalism for a longer time than other European countries. The arid
climate and the frontier wars with the Muslims caused the Spanish
ruling class to remain essentially horsemen, who in place of agriculture
emphasized sheep and cattle farming, occupations in which horsemen
could be utilized and trained for war. This style of life had a
profound influence on Spanish colonization. The Christian and Muslim
farmers conquered by the Spanish nobles were kept in feudal serfdom
to provide foodstuffs for the ruling class, to whom their villages
had been granted. This feudal system, which had been imposed on
the conquered lands of Granada and the Canary Islands, was then
applied to the larger islands of the West Indies and later to Mexico,
Venezuela, and Peru. The native villages were granted to Spanish
conquistadores, who were to govern them so as to live upon the work
of the natives. The hapless natives were compelled to provide food,
cotton, and forced labor for building the great cities where the
Spanish lived and from which they governed, and to work for large
mining operations of the Spaniards. Alongside the agriculture of
the Indians, the conquistadores developed the raising of sheep,
cattle, horses, and mules to provide profits for themselves as well
as work and plentiful meat for their keepers. Generally the Spanish
colonists did not pursue productive work; instead they entered government
and privileged occupations, in which to live from the work of the
natives whom they enslaved.

The right to
conquer, coercively convert, govern, and enslave the natives of
the New World was subjected to intense criticism in a series of
lectures in 1539 at the University of Salamanca by the great Dominican
scholastic philosopher Francisco de Vitoria. In international law
based upon the natural law, insisted Vitoria, the native peoples
as well as European peoples have full equality of rights. No right
of conquest by Europeans could result from crimes or errors of the
natives, whether they be tyranny, murder, religious differences,
or rejection of Christianity. Having grave doubts of the right of
the Spaniards to any government of the natives, Vitoria advocated
peaceful trade, in justice and in practice, as against conquest,
enslavement, and political power, whether or not the last mentioned
were aimed at individual profit, tax revenue, or conversion to Christianity.
Although the Spanish government prohibited further discussion of
these questions, the Vitoria lectures influenced the New Laws of
1542, which gave greater legal protection to the natives in America.

there were defenders of imperialism in Spain who rejected international
law and scholastic individualism and returned to the slave theories
of the classical authors. Based on the theory of natural servitude
– that the majority of mankind is inferior and must be subdued
to government by the ruling class, of course in the interest of
that majority – these imperial apologists proposed that the
natives be taught better morals, be converted, and be introduced
to the blessings of economic development by being divided among
the conquistadores, for whom they must labor.

The serfdom
of the Indians was most strongly and zealously opposed by the Dominican
missionary Bishop Bartolome de Las Casas. Tireless in working to
influence European public opinion against the practices of Spanish
officials in America, Las Casas argued that all men must have freedom
so that reason, which naturally inclines men to live together in
peace, justice, and cooperation, can remain free and unhampered.
Therefore, concluded Las Casas, even pursuit of the great objective
of conversion to Christianity cannot be used to violate these rights.
Not only was all slavery evil, but the natives had a right to live
independently of European government. The papacy, in 1537, condemned
as heretical the concept that natives were not rational men or were
naturally inferior persons. These progressive views were also reflected
in the abolition of conquistador feudalism in the New Laws of 1542;
however, this abolition was revoked by the Spanish Crown three years

Political control
of the Spanish colonies was first exercised by a committee of the
Council of Castile, and then from 1524 by the Council of the Indies.
In the New World, provincial governments were created, with the
two most important, Mexico and Peru, raised to the status of viceroyalties.
Economic control of the colonies was vested in the Casa de Contratacion,
instituted in 1503 to license, supervise, and tax merchants, goods,
and ships engaged in trade in the New World. In 1508 a Bureau of
Pilots was established under the Casa which advised the Government
on maritime matters and supervised navigation and navigators; its
first chief pilot was Amerigo Vespucci. Sebastian Cabot held that
office for about thirty years, after transferring from English to
Spanish service, as England’s maritime interests had shifted from
exploration to the development of a governmental navy.

The shift of
English interests from exploration to naval construction was reflected
in 1510, when the English government began to build a shipyard for
making vessels for a navy. In 1512 the controller of the navy organized
an association of pilots that would provide experienced navigators
for the navy in return for privileges in control of English shipping,
privileges similar to those granted to the Spanish Bureau of Pilots.
With the controller of the navy as its first master, that association
was chartered as “the master, wardens and assistants of the guild
of the Trinity.” The Trinity House Corporation advised the government
on maritime affairs and controlled navigation and seamen.

Just as Spain
had made Seville the staple port to and from which all colonial
commerce was compulsorily channeled, so Bristol was made the staple
port for monopolizing English commerce with the New World. Bristol’s
experience in colonial trade had begun with the grant of Dublin
as a colony to the merchants of Bristol when England initiated its
occupation of Ireland; that experience was enlarged when Bristol’s
oceanic trade to the Iberian countries was extended during the 15th
century to the sugar colonies of Madeira and the Canaries.

the Market in England and the Netherlands

By artificially
depressing the price of wool in England and raising it abroad from
the mid-14th century on, the Merchant Staplers not only had greatly
injured the growth and export of English wool but had also unintentionally
spurred the establishment of wool and textile manufacturers in England.
For woolen manufacturers could now buy wool at significantly lower
prices than could their competitors abroad. This rising cloth industry
was organized in country districts and villages, where it could
be free of the restrictions and the excessively high prices and
wage rates imposed by the privileged monopolies of the urban guilds.
Furthermore, the merchants of Bristol were now able to bring to
England the finer Spanish wool that formed the raw material for
the developing manufacture of “new drapery,” a lighter and less
expensive cloth than that woven from the heavier English wool. Since
the technique of manufacture of the new drapery was new, it did
not come under the controls and monopolies of the urban guilds,
which manufactured the traditional heavy cloth. The period of peace
from the mid-15th century on witnessed a rapid increase in population,
but the rigid cartel restrictions of the urban guilds condemned
large numbers to unemployment. Hence the expansion to the countryside
of both the new-drapery and the traditional heavycloth industries
of England. Unburdened of guild regulations on production, prices,
and labor, the new rural woolen cloth industry was sufficiently
elastic to respond to the demands of large-scale export markets
for cheap plain cloth, by developing a large-scale organization
of production forbidden by the guilds.

From the middle
of the 15th century, indeed, there had begun to occur a great transformation
of the entire economy of Western Europe. Stagnation and depression
proceeded to give way to economic progress, as the state-ridden
system of protection and regulation broke apart, and capital was
accumulated and invested outside the controls that had encompassed
the economy. In the Netherlands, in particular, a development occurred
similar to England’s: the rapid emergence of a rural cloth industry,
free of urban guild and municipal regulations and taxation. Furthermore,
the controls and high taxation of commerce in Bruges drove trade
to Antwerp, where, free of hampering legislation, privileges, and
taxes, business was able to organize itself on the basis of a new
spirit of capitalist progress and economic growth. For a century,
Antwerp now became the commercial capital of Europe, drawing by
its freedom not only the traditional trades of English wool and
cloth, Baltic grain and timber, and luxury goods of the Mediterranean,
but also the growing trade in spices and sugars of the Indies –
East and West. Antwerp became the main center of importation not
only of English wool, but also of English woolen cloth; for woven
cloth would be sent to Antwerp for dyeing and finishing. As Henri
Pirenne has noted,

Never has
any other port, at any period, enjoyed such worldwide importance,
because none has ever been so open to all commerce, and, in the
full sense of the word, so cosmopolitan. Antwerp remained faithful
to the liberty which had made her fairs so successful in the 15th
century. She attracted and welcomed capitalists from all parts
of Europe, and as their numbers increased so did their opportunities
of making a fortune…. There was no supervision, no control:
foreigners did business with other foreigners freely as with the
burgesses and natives of the country at their daily meetings.
Buyers and sellers sought one another and came to terms without

The rise of
Antwerp as the great center of European commerce was complemented
by the growth of the Dutch merchant marine; for the free-trading
Dutch were the major carriers of goods to and from the unrestricted
and progressive port of Antwerp, and were as motivated by the spirit
of liberty and capitalism as was Antwerp. During the 15th century,
the herring, upon which the Hanseatic trade had been founded, migrated
from the Baltic to the North Sea and became a cornerstone of Dutch
commercial development. Holland and Zeeland became the major herring
fisheries of Europe; they improved the techniques of curing the
herring and transporting it to all the ports of Europe, while simultaneously
refining the methods of shipbuilding and fishing. Hence the Dutch
were able to compete successfully with the Hanseatic traders in
the Baltic, the North Sea, and the Atlantic, to Bordeaux and Lisbon.

Too many historians
have fallen under the spell of the interpretation of the late 19th-century
German economic historians (for example, Schmoller, Bucher, Ehrenberg):
that the development of a strong centralized nation-state was requisite
to the development of capitalism in the early modern period. Not
only is this thesis refuted by the flourishing of commercial capitalism
in the Middle Ages in the local and noncentralized cities of northern
Italy, the Hanseatic League, and the fairs of Champagne – not
to mention the disastrous economic retrogression imposed by the
burgeoning statism of the 14th century. It is also refuted by the
outstanding growth of capitalist economy in free, localized Antwerp
and Holland in the 16th and 17th centuries. Thus the Dutch came
to outstrip the rest of Europe while retaining medieval local autonomy
and eschewing state building, mercantilism, government participation
in enterprise – and aggressive war.[2]


Despite the
rise of rival Dutch shipping, the continued importance of the Hanseatic
League in the economic life of England was indicated by the Treaty
of Utrecht (1474), which confirmed the trading privileges of the
Hansards in England, including the payment of lower duties than
the English merchants paid. But the accession of the Tudor dynasty
to the English throne in 1485 marked the beginning of a steady growth
of the power of the English government. Medieval forms were transformed
by the Tudors into a more efficient and complete machinery for repression,
especially in regulating those economic activities that had achieved
prosperity by freely evading the government’s regulations, controls,
and taxation. Monopoly rights were granted in 1486 to the Fellowship
of the Merchant Adventurers of England in all trade to the Netherlands
except in wool; especially important was the export of cloth to
the finishing and dyeing centers of the Netherlands. Furthermore,
navigation acts restricted to English ships the importations of
wines, in the vain expectation of thus increasing the number of
English sailors and ships sufficiently to develop a strong governmental
naval force.

In 1496 the
English government negotiated with the government of the Netherlands
the Great Commercial Treaty (Intercursus Magnus), which provided
favorable commercial conditions for English merchants at Antwerp.
The important contribution of the Intercursus Magnus to international
law was to recognize the freedom of English and Dutch fishermen
on the high seas, especially on the North Sea, which had become
the major European fishing area. The fishermen were to be free to
fish anywhere and to use the ports of either country in an emergency.
For a century and a half, the Intercursus Magnus remained the foundation
of Anglo-Dutch commercial and maritime relations. However, by an
act of 1497 the English government implemented its treaty power
to monopolize and control trade to other countries; specifically,
the act excluded English competitors of the Merchant Adventurers
from the Netherlands trade by granting that company a monopoly in
the trade with Antwerp. The cloth trade to the Netherlands now became
the privileged monopoly of a limited number of London merchants,
who came more and more to have the closest fiscal relationships
with the state through loans at favorable terms to the government.

For more effective
enforcement of government power under the Tudors, executive power
was exercised by a specially selected group of government advisers
that, because it met in secret, was called the Privy Council. The
Privy Council acted by means of fiat proclamations rather than by
legislation of Parliament. Judicial power was granted to the Court
of Star Chamber, a prerogative court that tried the violations of
the proclamations by the mere force and whim of government rather
than by the traditional common law, which guaranteed the rights
of the people. Defending the government from the criticisms of the
people (called libels), from conspiracy and riots (that is, any
gathering protesting the oppressions of the government), and from
infractions of its coinage, the Star Chamber was notorious for the
imposition of ruinous fines, cruel imprisonment, whippings, brandings,
and mutilations of those who came under its aegis. To aid its work,
the Tudor Government had set aside the common-law prohibition of
the use of torture.

The Tudors
also introduced the first permanent state military force in England,
as they had established the foundation for a governmental navy.
Military force was most generally used to subject the Irish to English
rule. Poynings’s Law (1495), which established the model for the
control of colonies by the English government, extended to Ireland
the repressive and absolutist measures current in England, and required
all legislation in the Irish Parliament to receive prior
approval from the Privy Council in England. When, a century and
more later, England acquired transatlantic territories and Englishmen
fled there to escape the economic effects of mercantilism or the
repressions of the Privy Council, the Star Chamber, or prerogative
will, it was the English subjugation and domination of Ireland that
furnished the earliest precedents and models for attempted imperial
control of the peoples in America.

During the
16th century a principal office developed in the Tudor government
that would later have the greatest importance for the English colonies
in America. This was the secretary of state, a title of Spanish
origin, indicating some of the strong political and cultural influence
derived from England’s commercial and diplomatic relations with
Spain. By 1540, there were two secretaries of state, each of whom
had full authority to act on a wide range of matters dealing with
the king and his officials and the king and foreign governments.
The secretaries of state became responsible for the expanding areas
that the Privy Council took under its jurisdiction: judicial matters,
internal government, taxation and economic controls, leadership
of the houses of Parliament, military and naval affairs, foreign
affairs, and, finally, colonial affairs, when England acquired and
governed colonies.

During the
first half of the 16th century, while the English government was
neglecting the New World for state building and navy building, English
fishermen quietly but regularly began to enjoy the abundant fishing
in the waters off Newfoundland. Fishing ships put out from West
Country ports, such as Bristol and Plymouth, and then sold the fish
in Spain, Portugal, and Italy. On their return, these ships carried
the goods of the Mediterranean to northern Europe; for with the
decline, and cessation in 1532, of the Venetian-Flanders fleets
that had been calling in Southampton, English merchants imitated
the Dutch and themselves carried the trade of Italy, Spain, and
Portugal to Antwerp. The Venetian fleets could no longer compete
in the spice and Atlantic trade because of a growing shortage of
and therefore a high price for timber in the Adriatic, and because
Portuguese aggression against Venice’s Arab allies at the ports
of the Persian Gulf cut off its spice routes. Such oceanic voyages,
however, were not at this time of interest to the English government,
which was pushing for the building of large ships and the maintenance
of fishing fleets in the nearby North Sea, where the sailors could
be regularly and immediately available to be pressed into the navy
for military adventures in Europe, in alliance with Spain. To this
end a navigation act was introduced in 1540 requiring the use of
the larger, more expensive, and less efficient ships of the English
shipowners and captains instead of the smaller, less expensive Dutch
ships. However, privileged merchants, such as the Merchant Adventurers,
in trade with Spain or its possessions (for example, Spain and the
Netherlands), were exempted and could, by employing Dutch shipping,
gain a competitive advantage over independent English merchants.
Decreased English participation in the North Sea herring fishery
caused by the greater efficiency of the Dutch as well as by the
Reformation, which greatly reduced the religiously based demand
for fish in England, greatly alarmed the English government. To
maintain the traditional source of impressment of men into the government’s
navy, a statute of 1549 imposed upon the English a political abstinence
from meat under penalty of fine, in place of the previous purely
religious abstinence.

This intensification
of mercantilist policy was accelerated by the intervention of England
into the dynastic wars on the Continent in the 1540s. To support
its military activity, the English government initiated a series
of great debasements of the currency as a hidden form of taxation
of the people. The depreciation of the currency made England’s goods
cheaper to foreigners, who were able to purchase more English goods
for the same amount of money. This taxation by inflation thus called
forth an unnatural expansion in the production of the export commodities
of wool and cloth, dislocating the economy both in agriculture and
in industry. By 1550 the great increase in the costs of production,
brought about by the inflation, caught up with the fall of the foreign
exchange rate, thus ending the artificial comparative advantage
causing the increased export of cloth. The inevitable end to the
overexpansion of export industry, stimulated by the government’s
debasement in the 1540s, resulted in a severe depression, prolonged
during the 1550s by further restrictive and monopolizing economic
intervention by the government. Thus Parliament passed laws to protect
the guild industry and to bring the free rural industry under the
control of the traditional patterns of regulation and taxation;
at the same time, the Merchant Adventurers, who were becoming the
major tax collectors and lenders of money to the government, received
a more complete monopoly of the export of cloths to Europe.

The accession
of Queen Elizabeth (1558–1603) was followed by the transformation
of piecemeal, unsystematic government interventions, into a comprehensive
program of restrictions, privileges, and taxes. Elizabeth’s reign
brought to culmination the trend to absolutist government, especially
noticeable in the exercise of power by the prerogative courts. By
the Statute of Labourers and Apprentices of 1563, Parliament extended
to the whole nation the restrictions that had formerly been limited
to the urban guilds. In order to check and control the free capitalist
textile industry based on rural labor, the government bound rural
workers to agricultural labor and extended restrictive seven-year
apprenticeship requirements and maximum-wage rates to the rural
cloth industry. In this way, by crippling the free cloth industry,
the government moved to confer special privilege on two powerful
groups: the backward urban guilds, who were being outcompeted by
the free and progressive rural cloth makers; and the quasi-feudal
landlords, who had been losing workers to the higher-paying cloth
industry. To overcome the protections afforded defendants in common-law
trials, the punishment for violating New Laws was placed by the
Privy Council into the hands of the prerogative courts, where prisoners
could be tortured and were deprived of the benefits of trial by
jury. The Court of Star Chamber also developed censorship to control
the reading of the people, and the laws of seditious and slanderous
libel to protect the government from criticism.

Under the pressure
of the financial crisis and of the control of markets by monopoly
trading companies, the only possible avenue for the export of cloth
appeared to be the opening of new areas of trade. As a result there
was a resumption of English maritime exploration by the merchants
seeking markets for cloth and sources of raw material. The most
successful of these attempts began in December of 1551 with the
formation of “The Mystery and Company of the Merchant Adventurers
for discovery of Regions, Dominions, Islands, and Places Unknown.”
To it Sebastian Cabot, the partner and son of John Cabot and chief
pilot of Spain for thirty years, was appointed as governor for life.
After consideration by the Trinity House Corporation, which was
empowered to review petitions for charters of exploration and trade,
the company received its charter. Organized according to Italian
practice as a joint stock company, it was named the Russia or Muscovy
Company. The company received a grant of monopoly in 1553 for all
trade with Russia, Central Asia, and Persia through the White Sea
port of Archangel. An expedition to Archangel and Moscow returned
in 1554 with permission to sell English cloth and purchase Russian
furs plus the spices transported along the Volga River from central
Asia and Persia. The descendants and relatives of the founders of
the Muscovy Company were important in later explorations, most of
which were conducted under the auspices of the company.

Pirates, and Freebooters

The English
also looked to Spanish America as a market for the export of cloth
and the purchase of raw materials. Although Spain maintained a system
of monopoly trade to the New World, it could not supply large quantities
of goods at low prices due to the regulations, taxes, and privileges
of the mercantilist system. By the mid-16th century, the silver
mines of Mexico and Peru were not only contributing greatly to a
monetary inflation in Europe, but also making the Spanish commerce
with America the most valuable part of transoceanic trade. While
Europe had difficulty in selling goods in Asia in exchange for spices,
and therefore had to reexport American silver for spices, it could
not supply enough manufactured goods to Spain for purchasing the
silver, hampered as it was by the restrictions, monopoly, and taxation
imposed by the Spanish government. These restrictions and inefficiencies
of the Spanish monopoly greatly encouraged smuggling by ships from
other European countries.

Large amounts
of manufactured goods were reexported to the Spanish colonies from
the Portuguese colony of Brazil, which around the middle of the
16th century became, by virtue of the absence of restrictions and
heavy taxes, the major sugar-producing area in the world. Just as
the bullion from America in payment for manufactured goods, and
loans on the slave trade from West Africa (through which goods were
smuggled to the West Indies) by the Genoese, now made Antwerp the
banking capital of Europe, so the sugar trade from Brazil to Portugal
by Jewish merchants, and from Lisbon to Antwerp by Dutchmen and
Portuguese Jews living in the Netherlands, made Antwerp the center
of the finest and cheapest sugar-refining industry in 16th-century
Europe. The English, like the Portuguese, were able to engage in
the illegal trade to the West Indies at reduced risks, because of
close diplomatic relations between England and Spain. In 1562, Sir
John Hawkins of Plymouth, after acquiring 300 slaves in West Africa,
received permission to sell them in slave-hungry Hispaniola and
to purchase a valuable cargo of sugar. Hawkins made a second voyage
in 1564 to sell English cloth. In return for a license to trade
in the West Indies and promises as to his peaceful trade, Hawkins
offered to aid the Spanish in destroying the Colony established
in Florida by the French, who were also the Jeadingi pirates in
the West Indies.

The Spaniards,
however, decided to do this job themselves. In 1564 a group of French
Huguenots under Rene de Laudonnière settled at the mouth of
the St. Johns River on the east coast of Florida, and there constructed
Fort Caroline. The Spaniards, worried about their bullion convoys
and the threat of buccaneers, and anxious to enforce their claims
of monopoly power over Florida, sent Pedro Menéndez de Avilés
from Spain to crush the French. In 1565 Menéndez founded the
great base of St. Augustine, the first permanent city in the Western
Hemisphere, and fifty miles south of the French settlement. After
a French fleet moving against the Spaniards was wrecked in a storm,
Menéndez, heavily outnumbering the French, then marched overland
and butchered over two-thirds of the settlement, especially including
prisoners, save for a hundred colonists who managed to escape to
some French vessels in the harbor. Philip II, king of Spain, rejoiced
at the news: “Say to him [Menéndez] that as for those he has
killed, he has done well; and as for those he has spared, they should
be sent to the galley [i.e., into slavery].”

In retaliation,
a French nobleman, Dominique de Gourgues, outfitted an expedition
at his own expense, landed in early 1568 near the fort (now renamed
San Mateo), and mobilized many Indians who were happy to take revenge
on the hated Menéndez. Gourgues now swept down on the Spanish
garrison, taking it completely by surprise and conquering it easily.
The entire Spanish force, prisoners again included, was now in turn
put to the sword. Although Menéndez himself escaped punishment
by being absent in Spain, Gourgues was able to enforce poetic justice.
Menéndez had hanged several prisoners, publicly posting the
notice that they were hanging as Protestants, not as Frenchmen.
Now Gourgues hanged a score of his prisoners on the same trees,
and posted the sign: “Not as Spaniards, but as liars and murderers.”

Due to English
intervention into the constitutional and religious struggle of the
Netherlands against Spain, English activity in the West Indies tended
more and more toward piracy against Spanish shipping. The English
freebooters were encouraged in their piratic attacks by the Crown,
which participated in the profits of the plundering voyages. Sir
John Hawkins and his cousin Francis Drake were defeated at Vera
Cruz in 1568, but in 1571 and 1573 Drake plundered the Spanish silver
depots at Panama. In 1577–80 Drake dared to circumnavigate the globe;
he was the first Englishman to challenge the concept of the Pacific
Ocean as a vast Spanish lake. Along the way, Drake plundered Chile
and Peru, and purchased tons of spices in the East Indies. In 1585
Drake returned to the West Indies; on this voyage his fleet plundered
Santo Domingo, Cartagena, and St. Augustine. In 1587, he attacked
Lisbon and Cadiz, and in 1588 participated in the defeat of the
Spanish Armada, which had attempted to retaliate against English
attacks. This was a victory that brought to England domination of
the seas.

Although the
distraction of Spanish bullion would continue to complicate English
colonial activities in the future, the actual settlement of North
America was founded on the search for trade by the Muscovy Company
and the extension of land conquest and speculation from Ireland
to America. A staunch defender of monopoly, special privilege, and
the royal prerogative, Sir Humphrey Gilbert, after serving as an
officer in the war of extermination against the Irish (1566), had
proposed to establish English colonies on the confiscated Irish
lands and was appointed governor of southern Ireland in 1569. Gilbert
emerged as the great leader of the futile quest for a northwest
passage around North America to the Orient. He published in 1576
his tract in behalf of this search, Discourse of a Discovery
for a New Passage to Cataia (i.e., to China). The Muscovy Company,
holding a monopoly privilege for exploration and trade in the Atlantic
Ocean north of London, desired to find a northwest passage, as well
as stations for its whaling fleets for the whale oil used in the
manufacture of soap. The Muscovy Company thereupon licensed Martin
Frobisher, a nephew of one of the founders of the company, to explore
Greenland and Labrador in search of a passage. Frobisher made three
fruitless voyages, in 1576, 1577, and 1578.

Gilbert perceived corollary possibilities of power and personal
profit by the colonization of Newfoundland – both in the conquest
of its fishing grounds and as a base for search for a northwest
passage. Preparing to petition Queen Elizabeth for a monopoly patent
of exploration and colonization of North America, Gilbert sought
the advice of “Dr.” John Dee, mathematician, magician, astrologer,
and mystic adviser to the queen. Dee was much consulted in matters
of exploration. To support the petition, Dee submitted reports extending
previous historical fantasies that the English Crown possessed the
God-given right to North America and to sole ownership of all remotely
adjacent seas and to all the fish therein. Gilbert received the
patent for exploration and colonization in North America in 1578.
Humphrey Gilbert made several preparatory voyages to Newfoundland
as did his brother Adrian, his half-brother and freebooter Walter
Raleigh, and his associate John Davis. After further engaging in
conquest and colonization in Ireland, Gilbert prepared, during 1582–83,
another voyage for “western planting” in Newfoundland to establish
a fishing colony. He was lost at sea in 1583. In February 1584,
Adrian Gilbert and Walter Raleigh were granted a patent for northwest
exploration under which John Davis made three voyages (1585–88)
in a vain quest for a northwest passage, while in the following
months of 1584, Humphrey Gilbert’s monopoly patent for North American
colonization was renewed in favor of Walter Raleigh.

Sir Walter
Raleigh had been inspired by the Reverend Richard Hakluyt concerning
colonization of the New World. Hakluyt, a friend of his and Gilbert’s,
had written paeans to the idea of English colonization. Indeed,
Raleigh commissioned Hakluyt to write Discourse of Western Planting
(1584), to be submitted to Queen Elizabeth in order to induce her
to invest money in their colonization schemes. In this work, Hakluyt
promised virtually every boon to the English establishment –
especially to the merchants and the Crown – markets for its
products (especially woolens), raw materials for its purchases,
furs, timber, and naval stores; outlets for her surplus population,
and bases from which to loot Spanish shipping. Sir George Peckham,
an associate of Gilbert and Raleigh, wrote in 1583 – in support
of Gilbert’s project – that a Newfoundland colony would provide
a port to increase England’s fishing fleet, a supply of valuable
furs, and a northwest passage. But all of Hakluyt’s and Peckham’s
propaganda could not induce the queen to loosen her purse strings.

The products
that Peckham and Hakluyt expected America to produce and the trade
with foreign countries that they expected American trade to replace
– these expectations, were not arrived at accidentally. Their
program was founded on the experience of the Muscovy Company, which
had established trading posts on the inhospitable coasts and in
the forests of Russia. But the project was not described merely
to indicate the close comparisons between America and Russia, from
whose forests had come furs, timber, and naval stores, and over
whose routes came the spices and luxuries of the Orient. Rather,
the plan was offered as an alternative to the Russian trade that
was desperately needed by the London merchants. For England’s Baltic
trade had been crippled by conflicts with the Hanseatic League,
and the English government had granted to the newly chartered Eastland
Company a monopoly of exports to the Baltic areas.

The conflict
between the Dutch and the Spanish in the Netherlands had brought
upon Antwerp a series of calamities that ruined it as the great
European center of commerce. Moreover, when the king of Spain acceded
to the Portuguese throne in 1580, the Dutch were eliminated from
the vital trade in spices from Lisbon, causing a rise in prices.
Most important, in the 1580s the Muscovy Company’s trade with Russia
suffered crippling blows when the Cossacks disrupted the Volga route,
by which England had received spices from Persia and central Asia,
and when Russia lost its Baltic coast, including the port of Narva,
to Sweden. To regain the spice trade, a group of leading merchants
of the Muscovy Company formed the Turkey Company and the Venice
Company in 1581 for direct trade with the Levant in spices and Mediterranean
goods. Because of wars in the Levant, these companies sent English
merchants overland to India to establish a direct trade in spices.
When these merchants returned, the Turkey and Venice companies were
merged into the Levant Company (1592), with a charter to trade with
India through the Levant and Persia.

Having secured
his monopoly grant of colonization, Sir Walter Raleigh “planted”
in 1585 the first English colony in what would later be the United
States, on Roanoke Island off the coast of present-day North Carolina.
The area had been first explored by Ralph Lane and Richard Grenville
under Raleigh’s direction the previous year, and was named Virginia
in honor of England’s virgin queen. The new colony had few dedicated
settlers, however, and the people returned to England two years
later. In 1587 still another Raleigh expedition, headed by the painter
John White, tried to effect a permanent settlement of Roanoke Island.
Indeed, the first English child born in America, Virginia Dare,
granddaughter of John White, was born that summer at Roanoke Colony.
But English interest in and communication with the tiny colony was
cut off during the battle with the Spanish Armada, and White, stranded
in England, could not return to Roanoke until 1591. He could then
find no trace of any of the colonists. The first attempt at English
colonization of America had totally failed.

If Raleigh
and Gilbert had received their inspiration for colonizing from such
men as Hakluyt, their practical experience had been picked up in
the course of subduing and enslaving Ireland. After serving in the
army attempting to impose English rule on Ireland, Gilbert had proposed,
in the late 1560s, to plant Englishmen in Ulster, as the Irish were
forcibly driven out. A few years later, Gilbert became governor
of Munster in Southern Ireland; in the course of “pacifying” the
Irish, he drove out Irish peasants and replaced them with West Country
English. Even as late as 1580, Gilbert and Raleigh fought together
to suppress the Irish in Munster, and were rewarded with sizable
grants of land. After the American colonizing failures, Raleigh
turned his attention back to Ireland. There he planted English colonists
to grow tobacco on the forty thousand acres of land he had been
granted in Munster. In 1589 Raleigh, having expended forty thousand
pounds on the American failure and not succeeding in persuading
the queen to supply more, was happy to sell his patent for North
American colonization to a group of associates and London merchants,
largely connected with the Muscovy Company and including John White,
the Reverend Richard Hakluyt, and Sir Thomas Smith. Raleigh, however,
reserved to himself the right of dominion over the prospective colony.

Leading circles
in and around the Muscovy Company had thus resumed the monopoly
of rights to exploration and colonization of North America, which
monopoly they had briefly held a decade earlier. But now they had
a far greater incentive to pursue their grant to try to find compensation
for the upheavals of the spice and Baltic trade, and of Antwerp,
during the 1580s. Consideration was therefore given to establishing
a sea trade direct to the East Indies by English and Dutch merchants.
Thomas Cavendish, who had served on the Raleigh voyage to America
in 1585, had sailed around the world during 1585–88 and had returned
with a cargo of spices. The war with Spain now completely cut England
off from the Levant spice trade, and in 1589 the London merchants
received permission from the Privy Council to send three ships to
the East Indies, carrying silver out of the country to pay for spices.
Cavendish and John Davis, another old associate of Raleigh, made
an unsuccessful attempt to circumnavigate the world. James Lancaster,
who had been a merchant in Lisbon, was in 1591 dispatched with three
ships to India; he returned in 1594 with one ship and a cargo of
spices. In 1593 the Muscovy and Levant companies moved to the fore,
sending George Weymouth to search for a northwest passage to India
along the coast of North America.

The Dutch began
in 1594 to form companies for distant voyages around Africa to India.
Their first fleet returned in 1597, thereby giving a new impetus
to the activity of English merchants. In 1598 alone, Dutch companies
sent five fleets, totaling twenty-two ships, to the Indies; John
Davis was the chief pilot of the Zeeland fleet. By 1601, over a
dozen Dutch fleets of almost seventy ships had sailed for the East
Indies. Because of renewed English voyages and conflicts with the
Portuguese, the Dutch merchants forming the companies that had sent
the ships to the East Indies began to amalgamate them, and in March
1602 all the Dutch companies merged into the United East India Company.

In September
1599, London merchants belonging to various trading companies, especially
the Levant Company, formed an association on the model of the successful
Dutch companies and petitioned the government to charter a company
of London merchants having a monopoly of trade by sea to the East
Indies. The charter to the East India Company was granted on December
31, 1600, under the title of the “The Governor, and Company of Merchants
of London Trading into the East Indies”; the Levant Company was
granted a new charter to distinguish the monopoly areas of the two
companies. The governor named in the charter of the East India Company
was Sir Thomas Smith (or Smythe). Smith’s grandfather, Andrew Judd,
had been a principal founder of the Muscovy Company. His father
had preceded him as a leading tax collector, and had been a key
royal official in erecting the edifice of royal absolutism, high
taxation, and economic restrictionism during the Elizabethan era.
Smith was governor also of the Muscovy Company and the Levant Company,
of which he was a founder, and was also the principal member of
the group of London merchants to whom Raleigh had in 1589 assigned
his patent for American colonization. Indeed, Smith was the governor
of every one of England’s privileged companies then interested in
foreign commerce and colonization. Smith has been referred to as
the greatest “merchant-prince” of his era, but it is clear that
his status and wealth arose not from private trade, but from the
governmental privileges of tax farming and grants of monopoly.

The first voyage
of the East India Company went out under the direction of James
Lancaster and John Davis in 1601, and was followed the next year
by George Weymouth’s second voyage along the coast of North America,
sponsored by the East India and Muscovy companies. Meanwhile, Sir
Walter Raleigh resumed his interest in the New World in 1602, sending
out another futile expedition to search for survivors of the Roanoke
Colony. But in the following year, Raleigh’s colonizing activities
were unceremoniously cut short by the accession of King James I
to the throne of England. One of James’s first acts was to consign
Raleigh to an indefinite imprisonment in the Tower and abruptly
to vacate his dominion over Virginia. Among the king’s motives was
the desire to give Spain a tangible token of the new king’s wish
to conclude peace between the two warring countries. For Raleigh
was now perhaps the most ardent warmonger and plunderer against
Spanish shipping and whose colonizing activities sought bases for
aggression against Spain; his incarceration was therefore a particularly
apt token of peace between the two nations. Indeed, peace was concluded
the next year, in August 1604, after which King James cracked down
on the formerly lionized captains of piracy and freebooting.


The Treaty
of London of 1604 provided for freedom of commerce between England
and Spain, as it had existed prior to the war. Since England had
had the right to sail to Spain and Portugal, England now claimed
that its ships could sail to the East and West Indies as well. Spanish
America was the source of tobacco, and its use in England increased
greatly once trade was reestablished on a regular basis, even though
James disapproved of its use as a poisonous weed. Although the London
merchants hoped to monopolize the renewed trade with Spain, the
protests of the merchants of the West Country ports, especially
Bristol and Plymouth, forced the government to backtrack. First
it tried to include the West Country merchants in the monopoly,
and then it decreed for all English merchants freedom of trade to
Portugal, Spain, and the western Mediterranean, a policy that was
later to apply to American merchants. At the same time, the privileged
merchants of the Levant and Muscovy companies were suffering further
losses because of local difficulties, especially foreign invasions
of Russia.

While economic
pressure was turning the attention of English merchants once again
to possible markets and supplies of raw materials in North America,
and peace renewed attention to the New World that had been diverted
by the war against Spain, the peace treaty also terminated the previously
permanent employment of many military and naval officers engaged
in the war. In 1605 Weymouth again explored the coast of New England,
this time in behalf of a group of soldier-courtiers, including Sir
Ferdinando Gorges, the Earl of Southampton, and the latter’s brother-in-law,
Sir Thomas Arundel. Weymouth’s return in July 1605 led to several
projects for trade and colonization in America, and in September
of that year, petitions were presented to the Privy Council for
the formation of companies to engage in these activities. Although
the Privy Council was then considering a project to plant English
colonists in the lands taken from the Irish in Ulster, the value
of North American colonies to English shipowners and to the English
navy led the Trinity House Corporation and the Privy Council to
approve the petitions. Finally, in April 1606 Raleigh’s old dominion
over Virginia was granted to two sets of powerful merchants, which
included the merchants to whom Raleigh had sold his rights of trade.

The new patent
divided the monopoly powers of government over Virginia between
two joint stock companies of merchants. The South Virginia Company
was to have claim over the land between the thirty-fourth and thirty-eighth
parallels, roughly from Cape Fear north to the Potomac River; the
North Virginia Company was to rule between the forty-first and forty-fifth
parallels, roughly from Long Island to Maine. To stimulate competition
and to provide incentive for colonizing, the zone in between was
thrown open to settlement by either company, with the stipulation
that one could not settle within one hundred miles of the other.
Since the South Virginia Company was headed by leading merchants
of London, it soon became known as the London Company; while the
North Virginia Company, centered around merchants of Plymouth, came
to be called the Plymouth Company. Each company was granted powers
to allocate its land in any way it wished; the king reserved the
then customary royalty of five percent of whatever gold or silver
might be mined from the new land. Insisting upon overall royal control
and dominion unique to monopoly charters of that era, the king vested
supervisory control of the two companies in a Royal Council of Virginia,
which was appointed by the king and which in turn was to appoint
resident local councils to govern each of the two colonies. The
settlers and their descendants were supposed to enjoy all the “liberties,
franchises, and immunities” of Englishmen at home – a clause
immediately contradicted by the absence of any provision for elections
or home rule.

The Plymouth
Company for North Virginia was composed of west country merchants,
gentry, and soldiers, and was headed by the governor of Plymouth,
Sir Ferdinando Gorges, who desired to establish a fishing and fur-trading
colony independent of the London merchant-financiers. Also included
in the group were Raleigh Gilbert, a son of Sir Humphrey, and Sir
John Popham, chief justice of the King’s Bench; Sir John had played
a leading role in procuring the charter. The Plymouth Company dispatched
an exploratory expedition in October 1606, and sent colonists to
America in May 1607 under Raleigh Gilbert and George Popham, a relative
of Sir John. A settlement was established on the Kennebec River
in what is now Maine, but because of a severe winter and poor crops,
and the death of the two Pophams, the colony was abandoned in September
1608. Thereafter the Plymouth Company did not attempt further colonization,
but concentrated on the Newfoundland fisheries and some fur trade.

The London
Company for South Virginia was composed of members of leading political
families. The leading member was the ubiquitous Sir Thomas Smith,
the leader of the group that had purchased trade rights from Raleigh,
and the governor of the East India, Muscovy, and Levant companies.
Other leading members were: the Reverend Richard Hakluyt; Robert
Rich, Earl of Warwick, a leader in the monopoly-chartered East India,
Burma, and Guinea companies; and the leading London merchants involved
in the Muscovy, Levant, and East India companies. And just as the
Levant Company had been founded by members of the Muscovy Company,
and a quarter of the stockholders in the East India Company were
members of the Levant Company, so over one hundred members of the
East India Company were now investors in the London Virginia Company,
a main purpose of which was to provide a source of raw materials,
such as tropical products, spices, and furs. Another prominent member
in the London Company was Sir Edwin Sandys, a prominent Puritan
and friend of a royal favorite, the Earl of Southampton.

The London
Virginia Company sent forth its first settlers in December 1606;
they were carried then as in succeeding years on ships provided
by privileged favorites. The crucial question then becomes: Will
the land pass after a time into the hands of the settlers, or will
it remain permanently in the hands of privileged overlords dominating
the settlers?

England, the
major sovereign over the lands of North America, had been subjected
to feudalism since at least the Norman Conquest of the 11th century.
After the conquest of England in 1066, the conquerors parceled out
large tracts of land to the ownership of their leading warlords,
and this newly created nobility became the liege lords of the subdued
peasantry. Since the overwhelming mass of Englishmen were still
engaged in agriculture, feudalism became the crucial fact about
English – as well as other European – society. The major
attributes of the feudal system were: the granting of huge estates
to landowning warlords, the coerced binding of the peasants (serfs)
to their land plots, and hence to the rule of their lords, and the
further bolstering by the state of feudal status through compulsory
primogeniture (the passing on of the estate to the oldest son only)
and entail (prohibiting the landowner from alienating – selling,
breaking up, etc. – his land). This process froze landlordship
in the existing noble families, and prevented any natural market
or genealogical forces from breaking up the vast estates.

But after the
late 14th century, the serfdom aspect of feudalism began a steady
decline in England, as compulsory labor service imposed on the peasants
began to be commuted permanently into money rents (“quitrents,”
which quit or freed one of the onerous obligations of feudal –
including military – service). By the early 17th century, however,
feudal military service had not been abolished, and the two other
aspects of feudalism – primogeniture and entail – remained

An important
specific spur to imposing feudalism on the colonies of the New World
was England’s experience in subjugating Ireland. In the process
of conquering Ireland during the 16th century, the English concluded
that the “wild Irish” were no better than “Savages” and “unreasonable
beasts” and hence could be treated as such – a significant
preview of English treatment of the American Indian. As a result,
the English decided that, as in Ireland, a colony had to be “Planted”
under direction of a central monopoly organization run along military
lines; they also decided to favor imposing on a colony a system
of feudal land tenure. It was no coincidence that the leaders in
the early English colonizing projects in America had almost all
been deeply connected with the planting of Englishmen (largely a
supposed surplus of poor) and feudal landownership in Ireland. Indeed,
many of the active incorporators of the Virginia Company had substantial
interests in Irish plantations.[3]

As recently
as 1603, in fact, a crushing defeat of the Irish had spurred renewed
colonization in Ulster by the English government. The hapless Irish
peasants were declared to have no rights in owning land; instead,
their lands were handed over by the Crown in large grants to privileged
courtiers and monopoly companies, all enjoying feudal powers over
the new domain.

The Irish were
deliberately exterminated or driven off their land, and the vacant
lands compulsorily planted with an alleged surplus of English poor,
who were now little better than serfs. The treatment of the Irish
and Ireland provided a directly illuminating model for the gentlemen
colonizing in Virginia.

That the first
English settlements in the New World were organized not directly
by the Crown, but by private monopoly companies, meant that the
proprietary company would be interested in subdividing its granted
land as quickly as possible to the individual settlers, in order
to reap a rapid gain for its shareholders. The situation was of
course not that of the free market; if it were, the British
government would (a) have refrained from claiming sovereignty over
the unused American domain, or especially (b) have granted ownership
of the land titles to the actual settlers rather than to the company.
The privileges to the chartered companies, however, did not prove
disastrous in the long run: the companies were eager to induce settlers
to come to their granted land and then dispose of the land to them
at a profit. The cleansing acid of profit was to dissolve incipient
feudalism and land monopoly. It is true that the fact of the land
grant to the company engrossed the land for a time, and raised its
price to the settlers, thus restricting settlement from what it
would have been under freedom; but the quantitative effects were
not very grave.[4]

Bibliographical Essay

In recommending
books and references, the historian is in a happier position than
his colleagues in political philosophy or the social sciences. In
contrast to these other disciplines, a work of history does not
lose the bulk of its value because of errors in ideology or points
of view. An historical work can be extremely valuable despite great
differences in basic political or even historical points of view,
provided that it focuses on the right questions and that its scholarship
is sound. For one thing, such a book can supply the factual data,
which are the vital stuff of history. The following references,
then, are not in the least to be construed as endorsements of the
basic points of view of the authors.

It is the increasing
loss of the stuff of history, in fact, that provided much of the
inspiration for the present volume. It is rare these days to find
a general work on American history that retains the richness of
narrative and the vital factual record. Instead, while historians
have written excellent monographs on specific areas, the more comprehensive
works have either been brief essays presenting the author’s point
of view, or textbooks remarkable for the increasing skimpiness of
their material. Perhaps college students these days are expected
to know less and less actual history in their courses. The result
is a series of unproven, ad hoc dicta by the historian;
such a product fails to present the student or the reader with the
factual data that support the historian’s conclusions or that allow
the reader to make up his own mind about the material.

As a result
of these trends, the reader interested in American history is no
longer in a position to find those multivolume works so plentiful
in the past, works which not only presented the author’s point of
view and conclusions, but also brought to the reader the narrative
events, the stuff of history itself, that enabled the reader to
find a comprehensive viewpoint backed by the data, and to make up
his own mind about the American past. The present volume undertakes
to begin to fill this gap.

Still useful
on the European background is Edward P. Cheyney, European
Background of American History, 1300–1600
as are J.H. Parry, The
Age of Reconnaissance
(1963), and Wallace Notestein, England
on the Eve of Colonization, 1603–1630

Also see the
newer work by Carl Bridenbaugh, Vexed
and Troubled Englishmen, 1500–1642

literature on English Puritanism and the Civil War is enormous;
perhaps the most useful for insights into the New England scene
are the pro-Puritan The Century of Revolution, 1603–1714
(1961) by Christopher Hill, and Hill’s God’s
Englishman: Oliver Cromwell and the English Revolution

(1970); and the pro-Leveller book by H.N. Brailsford, The
Levellers and the English Revolution


Henri Pirenne, A
History of Europe
(New York: University Books, 1955), pp.

See Jelle C. Riemersma, “Economic Enterprise and Political Powers
After the Reformation,” Economic Development and Cultural Change
(July 1955), pp. 297–308.

See the penetrating discussion in Howard Mumford Jones, O
Strange New World
(New York: Viking Press, 1964), pp. 162–79.

Defenders of presettler land speculation have claimed that speculators
(such as the first charter companies) spurred settlement
in the hope of profit. This is true, but it does not offset the
net restriction on settlement by virtue of the land grants and the
consequent raising of the price of otherwise free land to the settlers.
In a free market the same companies could simply have loaned settlement
money to the colonists, and this productive credit could then have
spurred settlement and earned them a profit without the arbitrary
restrictions imposed by the land grants.

N. Rothbard
(1926–1995) was the author of Man,
Economy, and State
, Conceived
in Liberty
, What
Has Government Done to Our Money
, For
a New Liberty
, The
Case Against the Fed
, and many
other books and articles
. He was
also the editor – with Lew Rockwell – of The
Rothbard-Rockwell Report

Rothbard Archives

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