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Setting the Stage for American History: Liberty vs Power in Europe and England

Mises Daily: Saturday, March 15, 2008 by

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[This 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.]


Willem van de Velde, the Younger (1633–1707)
"Calm: Dutch Ships Coming to Anchor"

"Whenever 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

Liberty 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?

International 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.

The 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.

Ordinarily 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.

"This growing wealth provided great temptations to Power to seize and divert that wealth for its own nonproductive, indeed antiproductive, purposes."

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.

Specifically, 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.

Bypassing 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.

"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. "

The 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.

The 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.

"In 1441, a few Negro slaves were brought back to Portugal, thus beginning the extensive and barbarous slave trade."

Gold, 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.

The 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.


Christopher Columbus (1451–1506)

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 society.

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.

Meanwhile, 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.


John Cabot (1450–1499)

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.


Vasco da Gama (ca. 1469–1524)

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.


Amerigo Vespucci
(1454–1512)

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.


Dom Afonso
de Albuquerque
(1453–1515)

Portuguese 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.


Ferdinand Magellan (1480–1521)

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.

France 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.

Colonization 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 was subjected to intense criticism by the great Dominican scholastic philosopher Francisco de Vitoria (ca. 1480–1546).

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.

Nevertheless, 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 later.


Bartolome de Las Casas
(ca. 1474–1566)

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.

Unhampering 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 intermediaries.[1]

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]


"Medieval forms were transformed by the Tudors into a more efficient and complete machinery for repression…"

The Tudors

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.

"Elizabeth's reign brought to culmination the trend to absolutist government…"

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.

Smugglers, 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."


Sir Francis Drake
(ca. 1540–1596)

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.

Meanwhile, 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 (1552–1618)

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.

"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.

"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.

American Neofeudalism

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 intact.

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]

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"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?"

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]


Murray N. Rothbard (1926–1995) was dean of the Austrian School. This article appears for the first time on Mises.org, the website of the Mises Institute. See his archive. Comment on the blog.

This 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 in MP3 format.

Brief 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 (1904), as are J.H. Parry, The Age of Reconnaissance (1963), and Wallace Notestein, England on the Eve of Colonization, 1603–1630 (1951).

Also see the newer work by Carl Bridenbaugh, Vexed and Troubled Englishmen, 1500–1642 (1968).

The 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 (1961).

Notes

[1] Henri Pirenne, A History of Europe (New York: University Books, 1955), pp. 524–25.

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

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

[4] 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.