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II: THE NEW WORLD - John Emerich Edward Dalberg, Lord Acton, Lectures on Modern History 
Lectures on Modern History, ed. John Neville Figgis and Reginald Vere Laurence (London: Macmillan, 1906).
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THE NEW WORLD
Greater changes than those which were wrought by governments or armies on the battlefield of Italy were accomplished at the same time, thousands of miles away, by solitary adventurers, with the future of the world in their hands. The Portuguese were the first Europeans to understand that the ocean is not a limit, but the universal waterway that unites mankind. Shut in by Spain, they could not extend on land, and had no opening but the Atlantic. Their arid soil gave little scope to the territorial magnate, who was excluded from politics by the growing absolutism of the dynasty, and the government found it well to employ at a distance forces that might be turbulent at home.
The great national work of exploration did not proceed from the State. The Infante Henry had served in the African wars, and his thoughts were drawn towards distant lands. He was not a navigator himself; but from his home at Sagres, on the Sacred Promontory, he watched the ships that passed between the great maritime centre at the mouth of the Tagus and the regions that were to compose the Portuguese empire. As Grandmaster of the Order of Christ he had the means to equip them, and he rapidly occupied the groups of islands that lie between Africa and mid Atlantic, and that were a welcome accession to the narrow territory of Portugal. Then he sent his mariners to explore the coast of the unknown and dreaded continent. When they reached the Senegal and the Gambia, still more, when the coast of Guinea trended to the East, they remembered Prester John, and dreamed of finding a way to his fictitious realm which would afford convenient leverage for Christendom, at the back of the dark world that faced the Mediterranean.
As the trade of the country did not cover the outlay, Henry began in 1442 to capture negroes, who were imported as slaves, or sold with advantage to local chiefs. In five years, 927 blacks from Senegambia reached the Lisbon market; and, later on, the Guinea coast supplied about a thousand every year. That domestic institution was fast disappearing from Europe when it was thus revived; and there was some feeling against the Infante, and some temporary sympathy for his victims. On the other side, there were eminent divines who thought that the people of hot countries may properly be enslaved. Henry the Navigator applied to Rome, and Nicholas V. issued Bulls authorising him and his Portuguese to make war on Moors and pagans, seize their possessions, and reduce them to perpetual slavery, and prohibiting all Christian nations, under eternal penalties, from trespassing on the privilege. He applauded the trade in negroes, and hoped that it would end in their conversion. Negro slavery struck no deep root in Europe. But the delusion, says Las Casas, lasted to his own time, when, half a century after the death of its founder, it began to control the destinies of America.
Henry’s brother, the Regent Dom Pedro, had visited the courts of Europe, and brought Marco Polo’s glowing narrative of his travels in the Far East, still, in Yule’s edition, one of the most fascinating books that can be found. Emmanuel the Great, in the Charter rewarding Vasco da Gama, affirms that, from 1433, the Infante pursued his operations with a view to India. After his death, in 1460, they were carried on by the State, and became a secondary purpose, dependent on public affairs. Africa was farmed out for some years, on condition that an hundred leagues of coast were traced annually. There was a moment of depression, when the Guinea coast, having run eastward for a thousand miles and more, turned south, apparently without end. Toscanelli of Florence was a recognised authority on the geography of those days, and he was asked what he thought of the situation. No oracle ever said anything so wise as the answer of the Tuscan sage. For he told them that India was to be found not in the East, but in the West; and we shall see what came of it twenty years later, when his letter fell into predestined hands. The Portuguese were not diverted from their aim. They knew quite well that Africa does not stretch away for ever, and that it needed only a few intrepid men to see the end of it, and to reach an open route to Eastern Asia. They went on, marking their advance beyond the Congo, and erected crosses along the coast to signify their claim; but making no settlements, for Africa was only an obstruction on the way to the Indies.
Each successive voyage was made under a different commander, until 1486, when the squadron of Bartholomew Diaz was blown offshore, out into the Atlantic. When the storm fell he sailed east until he had passed the expected meridian of Africa, and then, turning northward, struck land far beyond Cape Agulhas. He had solved the problem, and India was within his reach. His men soon after refused to go farther, and he was forced to renounce the prize. On his way back he doubled the Cape, which, from his former experience, he called the Cape Tempestuous, until the king, showing that he understood, gave it a name of better omen. Nevertheless, Portugal did no more for ten years, the years that were made memorable by Spain. Then, under a new king, Emmanuel the Fortunate, Vasco da Gama went out to complete the unfinished work of Diaz, lest Columbus, fulfilling the prophecy of Toscanelli, should reach Cathay by a shorter route, and rob them of their reward. The right man had been found. It was all plain sailing; and he plucked the ripe fruit. Vasco da Gama’s voyage to the Cape was the longest ever made till then. At Malindi, on the equatorial east coast of Africa, he found a pilot, and, striking across the Indian Ocean by the feeble monsoon of 1497, sighted the Ghats in May. The first cargo from India covered the expenses many times over. The splendour of the achievement was recognised at once, and men were persuaded that Emmanuel would soon be the wealthiest of European monarchs. So vast a promise of revenue required to be made secure by arms, and a force was sent out under Cabral.
The work thus attempted in the East seemed to many too much for so small a kingdom. They objected that the country would break its back in straining so far; that the soil ought first to be cultivated at home; that it would be better to import labour from Germany than to export it to India. Cabral had not been many weeks at sea when these murmurs received a memorable confirmation. Following the advice of Da Gama to avoid the calms of the Gulf of Guinea, he took a westerly course, made the coast of South America, and added, incidentally and without knowing it, a region not much smaller than Europe to the dominions of his sovereign.
The Portuguese came to India as traders, not as conquerors, and desired, not territory, but portable and exchangeable commodities. But the situation they found out there compelled them to wage war in unknown seas, divided from supports, and magazines, and docks by nearly half the globe. They made no attempt on the interior, for the Malabar coast was shut off by a range of lofty mountains. Their main object was the trade of the Far East, which was concentrated at Calicut, and was then carried by the Persian Gulf to Scanderoon and Constantinople, or by Jeddah to Suez and Alexandria. There the Venetians shipped the products of Asia to the markets of Europe. But on the other side of the isthmus the carrying trade, all the way to the Pacific, was in the hands of Moors from Arabia and Egypt. The Chinese had disappeared before them from Indian waters, and the Hindoos were no mariners. They possessed the monopoly of that which the Portuguese had come to take, and they were enemies of the Christian name. The Portuguese required not their share in the trade, but the monopoly itself. A deadly conflict could not be avoided. By the natives, they were received at first as friends; and Vasco da Gama, who took the figures of the Hindoo Pantheon for saints of the Catholic Calendar, reported that the people of India were Christians. When this illusion was dispelled, it was a consolation to find the Nestorians settled at Cochin, which thus became a Portuguese stronghold, which their best soldier, Duarte Pacheco, held against a multitude. Calicut, where they began operations, has disappeared like Earl Godwin’s estate. Forbes, who was there in 1772, writes: “At very low water I have occasionally seen the waves breaking over the tops of the highest temples and minarets.” It was an international city, where 1500 vessels cleared in a season, where trade was open and property secure, and where the propagation of foreign religion was not resented.
The Zamorin, as they called the Rajah of Calicut, ended by taking part with the old friends from the Arabian Seas, who supplied his country with grain, against the visitors who came in questionable shape. The Portuguese lacked the diplomatic graces, and disregarded the art of making friends and acquiring ascendency by the virtues of humanity and good faith. When it came to blows, they acquitted themselves like men conscious that they were the pioneers of History, that their footsteps were in the van of the onward march, that they were moulding the future, and making the world subservient to civilisation. They were Crusaders, coming the other way, and robbing the Moslem of their resources. The shipbuilding of the Moors depended on the teak forests of Calicut; the Eastern trade enriched both Turk and Mameluke, and the Sultan of Egypt levied duty amounting to £290,000 a year. Therefore he combined with the Venetians to expel the common enemy from Indian waters. In 1509 their fleet was defeated by the Viceroy Almeida near Diu, off the coast of Kattywar, where the Arabian seaman comes in sight of India. It was his last action before he surrendered power to his rival, the great Albuquerque. Almeida sought the greatness of his country not in conquest but in commerce. He discouraged expeditions to Africa and to the Moluccas; for he believed that the control of Indian traffic could be maintained by sea power, and that land settlements would drain the resources of the nation. Once the Moslem traders excluded, Portugal would possess all it wanted, on land and sea.
Almeida’s successor, who had the eye of Alexander the Great for strategic points and commercial centres, was convinced that sea–power, at six months from home, rests on the occupation of seaports, and he carried the forward policy so far that Portugal possessed fifty–two establishments, commanding 15,000 miles of coast, and held them, nominally, with 20,000 men. Almeida’s victory had broken the power of the Moors. Albuquerque resolved to prevent their reappearance by closing the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea. With Aden, Ormuz, and Malacca, he said, the Portuguese are masters of the world. He failed in the Red Sea. When Socotra proved insufficient, he attacked Aden, and was repulsed. There was a disconcerting rumour that no Christian vessel could live in the Red Sea, as there was a loadstone that extracted the nails. Albuquerque succeeded in the Persian Gulf, and erected a fortress at Ormuz, and at the other end of the Indian world he seized Malacca, and became master of the narrow seas, and of all the produce from the vast islands under the equator. He made Goa the impregnable capital of his prodigious empire, and the work that he did was solid. He never perceived the value of Bombay, which is the best harbour in Asia, and did not see that the key of India is the Cape of Good Hope. His language was sometimes visionary. He beheld a cross shining in the heavens, over the kingdom of Prester John, and was eager for an alliance with him. He wished to drain the Nile into the Red Sea. He would attack Mecca and Medina, carry off the bones of the prophet, and exchange them for the Holy Sepulchre. The dependency was too distant and too vast. The dread proconsul in his palace at Goa, who was the mightiest potentate between Mozambique and China, was too great a servant for the least of European kings. Emmanuel was suspicious. He recalled the victorious Almeida, who perished on the way home; and Albuquerque was in disgrace, when he died on his quarter–deck, in sight of the Christian city which he had made the capital of the East.
The secret of Portuguese prosperity was the small bulk and the enormous market value of the particular products in which they dealt. In those days men had to do without tea, or coffee, or chocolate, or tobacco, or quinine, or coca, or vanilla, and sugar was very rare. But there were the pepper and the ginger of Malabar; cardamoms in the damp district of Tellicherry; cinnamon and pearls in Ceylon. Beyond the Bay of Bengal, near the equator, there was opium, the only conqueror of pain then known; there were frankincense and indigo; camphor in Borneo; nutmeg and mace in Amboyna; and in two small islands, only a few miles square, Ternate and Tidor, there was the clove tree, surpassing all plants in value. These were the real spice islands, the enchanted region which was the object of such passionate desire; and their produce was so cheap on the spot, so dear in the markets of Antwerp and London, as to constitute the most lucrative trade in the world. From these exotics, grown on volcanic soil, in the most generous of the tropical climates, the profit was such that they could be paid for in precious metals. When Drake was at Ternate in 1579, he found the Sultan hung with chains of bullion, and clad in a robe of gold brocade rich enough to stand upright. The Moluccas were of greater benefit to the Crown than to the Portuguese workman. About twenty ships, of 100 to 550 tons, sailed for Lisbon in the year. A voyage sometimes lasted two years, out and home, and cost, including the ship, over £4000. But the freight might amount to £150,000. Between 1497 and 1612 the number of vessels engaged in the India trade was 806. Of these, ninety–six were lost. After the annexation by Philip II., Lisbon was closed to countries at war with Spain. Dutch and English had to make their own bargains in the East, and treated Portugal as an enemy. Their empire declined rapidly, and the Dutch acquired the islands long before the English succeeded on the mainland of India.
The Portuguese acknowledged no obligations of international law towards Asiatics. Even now, many people know of no law of nations but that which consists in contracts and conventions; and with the people of the East there were none. They were regarded as outlaws and outcasts, nearly as Bacon regarded the Spaniards and Edmund Burke the Turks. Solemn instruments had declared it lawful to expropriate and enslave Saracens and other enemies of Christ. What was right in Africa could not be wrong in Asia. Cabral had orders to treat with fire and sword any town that refused to admit either missionary or merchant. Barros, the classic historian of Portuguese Asia, says that Christians have no duties towards pagans; and their best writers affirm to this day that such calculated barbarities as they inflicted on women and children were justified by the necessity of striking terror. In the Commentaries of the great Albuquerque, his son relates with complacency how his father caused the Zamorin to be poisoned. These theories demoralised the entire government. S. Francis Xavier, who came out in 1542, found an organised system of dishonesty and plunder, and wrote home that no official in India could save his soul. By him and his brethren many converts were made, and as intermarriages were frequent, the estrangement grew less between the races. Just then, the Inquisition was introduced into Portugal, and sent a branch to Goa. One of the governors afterwards reported that it had helped to alienate the natives, whose temples were closed. But the solid structure of Almeida and Albuquerque was strong enough to defeat a second expedition from Egypt, after Egypt had become a province of Turkey, and an Indian war and insurrection. It declined with the decline of Portugal under Sebastian, in the latter part of the sixteenth century, but it perished through its association with Spain, at the hands of enemies not its own, and not from internal causes.
While the Asiatic empire was built up by the sustained and patient effort of a nation, during seventy years, the discovery of the West was due to one eager and original intellect, propelled by medieval dreams. Columbus had sailed both North and South; but the idea which changed the axis of the globe came to him from books. He failed to draw an inference favourable to his design from the driftwood which a tropical current carries to Iceland, and proceeded on the assurance of Pierre d’Ailly and of Toscanelli, that Asia reaches so far east as to leave but a moderate interval between Portugal and Japan. Although he rested his case on arguments from the classics and the prophets, his main authority was Toscanelli; but it is uncertain whether, as he affirmed, they had been in direct correspondence, or whether Columbus obtained the letter and the Chart of 1474 by means which were the cause of his disgrace.
Rejected by Portugal, he made his way into Spain. He was found, starving, at the gate of a Franciscan convent; and the place where he sank down is marked by a monument, because it is there that our modern world began. The friar who took him in and listened to his story soon perceived that this ragged mendicant was the most extraordinary person he had known, and he found him patrons at the court of Castile. The argument which Columbus now laid before the learned men of Spain was this: The eastern route, even if the Portuguese succeed in finding it, would be of no use to them, as the voyage to Cipango, to Cathay, even to the spice islands, would be too long for profit. It was better to sail out into the West, for that route would be scarcely 3000 miles to the extremity of Asia; the other would be 15,000, apart from the tremendous circuit of Africa, the extent of which was ascertained by Diaz while Columbus was pursuing his uphill struggle. The basis of the entire calculation was that the circumference of the earth is 18,000 miles at the equator, and that Asia begins, as is shown in Toscanelli’s chart, somewhere about California. Misled by his belief in cosmographers, he blotted out the Pacific, and estimated the extent of water to be traversed at one–third of the reality. The Spaniards, who were consulted, pointed out the flaw, for the true dimensions were known; but they were unable to demonstrate the truths against the great authorities cited on the other side. The sophisms of Columbus were worth more than all the science of Salamanca. The objectors who called him a visionary were in the right, and he was obstinately wrong. To his auspicious persistency in error Americans owe, among other things, their existence.
A majority reported favourably—a majority composed, it would appear, of ignorant men. Years were spent in these preliminaries, and then the war with Granada absorbed the resources and the energies of the Crown. Columbus was present when the last Moorish king kissed the hand of Isabella, and he saw the cross raised over the Alhambra. This victory of Christendom was immediately followed by the expulsion of the Jews, and then the Catholic queen gave audience to the Genoese projector. His scheme belonged to the same order of ideas, and he was eloquent on its religious aspect. He would make so many slaves as to cover all expenses, and would have them baptized. He would bring home gold enough in three years to reconquer Palestine. He had one impressive argument which was not suggested by the situation at Court. Toscanelli had been at Rome when envoys came from the Grand Khan, petitioning for missionaries to instruct his people in the doctrines of Christianity. Two such embassies were sent, but their prayer was not attended to. Here were suppliants calling out of the darkness: Come over and help us. It was suitable that the nation which conquered the Moslem and banished the Jews should go on to convert the heathen. The Spaniards would appear in the East, knowing that their presence was desired. In reality they would come in answer to an invitation, and might look for a welcome. Making up by their zeal for the deficient enterprise of Rome, they might rescue the teeming millions of Farthest Asia, and thus fulfil prophecy, as there were only a hundred and fifty–five years to the end of the world. The conversion of Tartary would be the crowning glory of Catholic Spain.
All this was somewhat hypothetical and vague; but nothing could be more definite than the reward which he demanded. For it appeared that what this forlorn adventurer required for himself was to be admiral of the Atlantic, ranking with the constable of Castile, Viceroy, with power of life and death, in the regions to be occupied, and a large proportion of the intended spoil. And he would accept no less. None divined what he himself knew not, that the thing he offered in return was dominion over half the world. Therefore, when he found that this would not do, Columbus saddled his mule and took the road to France. In that superb moment he showed what man he was, and the action was more convincing than his words had been. An Aragonese official, Santangel, found the money, the £1500 required for the expedition, and the traveller was overtaken by an alguazil a couple of leagues away, and recalled to Granada. Santangel was, by descent, a Jew. Several of his kindred suffered under the Inquisition, before and after, and he fortified himself against the peril of the hour when he financed the first voyage of Columbus. Granada fell on the 2nd of January 1492. The Jews were expelled on the 20th of March. On the 17th of April the contract with Columbus was signed at Santa Fe. The same crusading spirit, the same motive of militant propagandism, appears in each of the three transactions. And the explorer, at this early stage, was generally backed by the clergy. Juan Perez, the hospitable Franciscan, was his friend; and Mendoza, the great cardinal of Toledo, and Deza, afterwards Archbishop of Seville. Talavera, the Archbishop of Granada, found him too fanciful to be trusted.
Sailing due west from the Canaries he crossed the Atlantic in its widest part. The navigation was prosperous and uneventful until, changing their course to follow the flight of birds, they missed the continent and came upon the islands. It was the longest voyage that had ever been attempted in the open sea; but the passage itself, and the shoals and currents of the West Indies, were mastered with the aid of nautical instruments from Nuremberg, and of the Ephemerides of Regiomontanus. These were recent achievements of the Renaissance, and without them the undertaking was impossible. Even with the new appliances, Columbus was habitually wrong in his measurements. He put Cuba 18° too far to the west; he thought San Domingo as large as Spain; and he saw mountains 50,000 feet high in Yucatan. Indeed, he protested that his success was not due to science, but to the study of the prophet Isaiah. Above all things, he insisted that Cuba was part of the Asiatic continent, and obliged his companions to testify to the same belief, although there is evidence that he did not share it.
He had promised Cathay. If he produced an unknown continent instead, a continent many thousands of miles long, prohibiting approach to Cathay, he would undo his own work; the peasants who had exposed his fallacies would triumph in his failure, and the competing Portuguese would appropriate all that he had undertaken to add to the crown of Castile. Without civilisation and gold his discoveries would be valueless; and there was so little gold at first that he at once proposed to make up for it in slaves. His constant endeavour was not to be mistaken, for the man who discovered the new world. Somewhere in the near background he still beheld the city with the hundred bridges, the crowded bazaar, the long train of caparisoned elephants, the palace with the pavement of solid gold. Naked savages skulking in the forest, marked down by voracious cannibals along the causeway of the Lesser Antilles, were no distraction from the quest of the Grand Khan. The facts before him were uninteresting and provisional, and were overshadowed by the phantoms that crowded his mind. The contrast between the gorgeous and entrancing vision and the dismal and desperate reality made the position a false one. He went on seeking gold when it was needful to govern, and proved an incapable administrator. Long before his final voyage he had fallen into discredit, and he died in obscurity.
Many miserable years passed after his death before America began, through Cortez, to weigh perceptibly in the scales of Europe. Landing at Lisbon from his first expedition, Columbus, in all his glory, had an audience of the king. It was six years since Diaz proved that the sea route to India was perfectly open, but no European had since set eyes on the place where Table Mountain looks down on the tormented Cape. Portugal apparently had renounced the fruits of his discovery. It was now reported that a Spanish crew had found in the West what the Portuguese had been seeking in the East, and that the Papal privilege had been infringed. The king informed Columbus that the regions he had visited belonged to Portugal. It was evident that some limit must be drawn separating the respective spheres. Rome had forbidden Spain from interfering with the expeditions of Portugal, and the Spaniards accordingly demanded a like protection. On the surface, there was no real difficulty. Three Bulls were issued in 1493, two in May and one in September, admonishing Portuguese mariners to keep to the east of a line drawn about 35° west of Greenwich. That line of demarcation was suggested by Columbus, as corresponding with a point he had reached on 13th September, an hundred leagues beyond the Azores. On that day the needle, which had pointed east of the Pole, shifted suddenly to the west. There, he reckoned, was the line of No Variation. At that moment, the climate changed. There was a smooth sea and a balmy air; there was a new heaven and a new earth. The fantastic argument did not prevail, and in the following year Spain and Portugal agreed, by the treaty of Tordesillas, to move the dividing meridian farther west, about midway between the most westerly island of the Old World and the most easterly island of the New. By this agreement, superseding the Papal award, Portugal obtained Brazil. When the lines of demarcation were drawn in 1493 and 1494, nobody knew where they would cut the equator on the other side of the globe. There also there was matter for later negotiation.
After the fall of Malacca, Albuquerque sent a squadron to examine the region of islands farther east. One of his officers, Serrano, remained out there, and after as many adventures as Robinson Crusoe, he found his way to the very heart of the Moluccas, to Ternate, the home of the clove. In describing his travels to a friend, he made the most of the distance traversed in his eastward course. Magellan, to whom the letter was addressed, was out of favour with his commander Albuquerque, and on his return home found that he was out of favour with King Emmanuel. For the country which had repelled Columbus repelled the only navigator who was superior to Columbus. Magellan remembered Serrano’s letter, and saw what could be made of it. He told the Spaniards that the spice islands were so far east that they were in the Spanish hemisphere, and he undertook to occupy them for Spain. He would sail, not east, but west, in the direction which was legally Spanish. For he knew a course that no man knew, and America, hitherto the limit of Spanish enterprise, would be no obstacle to him.
It seemed an apparition of Columbus, more definite and rational, without enthusiasm or idealism, or quotations from Roger Bacon, and Seneca, and the greater prophets. Cardinal Adrian, the Regent, refused to listen, but Fonseca, the President of the Board of Control, became his protector. Magellan wanted a good deal of protection; for his adventure was injurious to his countrymen, and was regarded by them as the intrigue of a traitor. Vasconcellos, Bishop of Lamego, afterwards Archbishop of Lisbon, advised that he should be murdered; and at night he was guarded in the streets of Valladolid by Fonseca’s men. Magellan was not the first to believe that America comes to an end somewhere. Vespucci had guessed it; the extremity is marked on a globe of 1515; and a mercantile house that advanced funds is supposed to have been on the track.
Without a chart Magellan made his way through the perilous straits that perpetuate his name in twelve days’ sailing. Drake, who came next, in 1577, took seventeen days, and Wallis, one hundred and sixteen. And then, at Cape Deseado, the unbroken highway to the fabled East, which had been closed against Columbus, opened before him. The Spaniards discovered Cape Horn five years later, but it was doubled for the first time in 1616 by the Dutchman who gave his name to it. From the coast of Chili, Magellan sailed north–west for three months, missing all the Pacific Islands until he came to the Ladrones. He was killed while annexing the Philippines to the Crown of Spain, and his lieutenant Delcano, the first circumnavigator, brought the remnant of his crew home by the Cape. On the 9th of September 1522, thirteen wasted pilgrims passed barefoot in procession through the streets of Seville, not so much in thanksgiving for that which had not been given to man since the Creation, as in penance for having mysteriously lost a day, and kept their feasts and fasts all wrong. Magellan’s acquisition of the Philippines lasted to the present year, but his design on the Moluccas was given up. Nobody knew, until the voyage of Dampier, to whom, by the accepted boundary, they belonged; and in 1529 Spain abandoned its claim for 350,000 ducats. The Portuguese paid that price for what was by right their own; for Magellan was entirely wrong both as to the meridian and as to the South American route, which was much the longest, and was not followed by sailors.
For more than twenty years Spain struggled vainly with the West Indian problem. Four large islands and forty small ones, peopled by barbarians, were beyond the range of Spanish experience in the art of government. Grants of land were made, with the condition that the holder should exercise a paternal rule over the thriftless inhabitants. It was thought to pay better to keep them underground, digging for gold, than to employ them on the surface. The mortality was overwhelming; but the victims awakened little sympathy. Some belonged to that Arcadian race that was the first revealed by the landfall of Columbus, and they were considered incurably indolent and vicious. The remainder came from the mainland and the region of the Orinoco, and had made their way by the Windward Islands as far as San Domingo, devouring the people they found there. Neither the stronger nor the weaker race withstood the exhausting labour to which they were put by taskmasters eager for gold. Entire villages committed suicide together; and the Spaniards favoured a mode of correction which consisted in burning Indians alive by a slow fire. Las Casas, who makes these statements, and who may be trusted for facts and not for figures, affirms that fifty millions perished in his time, and fifteen millions were put to death.
Without a fresh labour supply, the colony would be ruined. It was the office of the clergy to prove that this treatment of the natives was short–sighted and criminal, and their cause was taken up by the Dominican missionaries. In 1510 the preacher Montesino, taking for his text the words, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness,” denounced the practice. Their mouthpiece with the Home Government, their immortal mouthpiece with posterity, is Las Casas, whose narrative is our authority. The government was anxious to preserve conquests that began to yield some profit. They appointed Commissions to advise, and followed sometimes one report, sometimes the other, taking generally the line of least resistance. The most important Commission of all, in which Las Casas asserted the duties of Christians and the rights of savages, against Sepulveda, who denied them, never came to a decision.
Failing the native supply, the Spaniards substituted negroes. The slaves forwarded by Columbus had been sent back with tokens of the queen’s displeasure, and Ximenes would not permit the importation of Africans. But the traffic went on, and the Indies were saved. Under Charles V. 1000 slaves were allotted to each of the four islands. It did not seem an intolerable wrong to rescue men from the devil–worshippers who mangled their victims on the Niger or the Congo. Las Casas himself was one of those who advised that the negro should be brought to the relief of the Carib, and he would have allowed twelve slaves to each settler. He survived half a century, lived to lament his error, and declared his repentance to the world. He repented from motives of humanity rather than from principle; his feelings were more sensitive than his conscience, and he resembled the imperious Parliaments of George III. which upheld the slave trade until imaginations were steeped in the horrors of the middle passage.
The supreme moment in the conquest of America is the landing of Cortez at Vera Cruz in 1521. He was an insubordinate officer acting in defiance of orders, and the governor of Cuba, in just indignation, despatched a force under Narvaez to bring him back. Cortez came down from the interior to the coast, deprived Narvaez of his command, and took possession of his men. With this unexpected reinforcement he was able to conquer Mexico, the capital of an illimitable empire. There was plenty of hard fighting, for the dominant race about the king was warlike. They were invaders, who reigned by force, and as they worshipped beings of the nether world who were propitiated with human sacrifice, they took their victims from the subject people, and their tyranny was the most hateful upon earth. The Spaniards, coming as deliverers, easily found auxiliaries against the government that practised unholy rites in the royal city. When Mexico fell Cortez sent a report to Charles V., with the first–fruits of his victory. Then, that no protesting narrative might follow and weaken his own, that his men might have no hope except in his success, he took the most daring resolution of his life, and scuttled his ships. Fonseca had signed the order for his arrest, when the most marvellous tale in that sequence of marvels reached his hands, and the disgraced mutineer was found to have added to the Emperor’s dominions a region many times vaster and wealthier than all that he possessed in Europe. In 1522 the accumulated treasure which had been extracted from Mexican mines since the beginning of ages came pouring into the imperial exchequer, and the desire of so many explorers during thirty unprofitable years was fulfilled at last.
Cortez was not only the most heroic of the Conquistadors, for there was no lack of good soldiers, but he was an educated man, careful to import the plants and quadrupeds needed for civilisation, and a statesman capable of ruling mixed races without help from home. From the moment of his appearance the New World ceased to be a perplexing burden to Spain, and began to foreshadow danger and temptation to other nations. And a man immeasurably inferior to him, a man who could not write his name, whose career, in its glory and its shame, was a servile imitation, almost a parody, of his own, succeeded thereby in establishing a South American empire equal to that of Cortez in the North. One of the ships sailing from the islands to the isthmus carried a stowaway hidden in a cask, whose name was Balboa, and who discovered the Pacific.
The third name is Francisco Pizarro. He stood by and listened while a native described a mighty potentate, many days to the south, who reigned over the mountains and the sea, who was rich in gold, and who possessed a four–footed beast of burden, the only one yet encountered, which was taken at first for a camel. He waited many years for his opportunity. Then, with 168 armed men, and with aid from an associate who risked his money in the business, he started for the Andes and the civilised and prosperous monarchy in the clouds, which he had heard of when he was the lieutenant of Balboa. The example of Cortez, the fundamental fact of American history, had shown what could be done by getting hold of the king, and by taking advantage of internal dissension. How much could be accomplished by treachery and unflinching vigour Pizarro knew without a teacher. Whilst he established his power in the highlands under the equator, Almagro occupied the coast in the temperate zone, 1000 miles farther. Together they had conquered the Pacific. Then, as no man had the ascendency of Cortez, the time that succeeded the occupation was disturbed by internal conflict, in which both the conquerors perished. They had done even more for the Spanish empire than their greater rival. There were 4,600,000 ducats in the treasury of the Inca, and he filled his prison with gold as high as he could reach for the ransom which did not save his life. The mines were soon in working order; and, as the expanse of fertile soil was 3000 miles long, it was clear that Peru, added to Mexico, constituted an important factor in European finance.
As time carried away the tumult of conquest, and the evil generation that achieved it, Spanish America became the seat of such abundance and profusion as was not found in any European capital; and the natives, instructed and regulated by the missionaries, were the object of an elaborate protective legislation, which gave reason for attachment to the mother country. The prodigality of nature was too much for tropical society, and it accomplished nothing of its own for the mind of man. It influenced the position of classes in Europe by making property obtained from afar, in portable shape, predominate over property at home. Released from the retarding pressure of accumulated years, it developed towards revolution; and all the colonies founded by the Conquistadors on the continent of America became Republics. These events shifted the centre of political gravity from land to sea. The resources of the ocean world extended the physical basis of modern History; and increase of wealth involving increase of power, depended thenceforward on the control of distant regions. Vasco da Gama created a broad channel for the pursuit of Empire, and Columbus remodelled the future of the world. For History is often made by energetic men, steadfastly following ideas, mostly wrong, that determine events.