13. The Expansion of Christian nations

13.6 Empire Building

The strength of the European was on the sea. No serious land-based adventures or direct political control of the land initially took place, unless special conditions were met, as was the case of North America occupied by primitive civilizations, lying at a short distance and having an adequate climate. In general, the European remained close to the seashore in heavily guarded trading posts or else, within land, in a few fortified towns. The countryside remained for the most part, at least initially, unoccupied. This was also true for the North American plain. It is only after the industrial revolution took place that attempts at direct political control were initiated. Light firearms, medicines and improved means of communication allowed land penetration.

The North-American plains were occupied. “Buffalo Bill“, i.e. William Cody exterminated the buffaloes, prime source of food for the Amerindians, and food deprivation, firearms, alcohol and disease reduced the original 5 to 7 million inhabitants to at most 400,000 in the 20th century. The two Far-Eastern Empires were far enough, strong enough and cohesive enough to repel any attempt at political control, although this was sometimes on the brink of success. The industrial revolution was taking momentum and an outlet for cheap goods could not be found in poor Africa either, which was largely bypassed until the very end of the 19th century. Its only richness was the African, whom the European imported into North and South America. Henry the Navigator as well as Columbus practiced this slavery. Both followed immemorial practices, best exemplified in their time by Venice and Islam. The Flemish acquired in 1517 the monopoly of slave trading in the Spanish colonies. The city of Gent was embellished thanks to this trade. Philip II restricted severely the importation of Negro slaves to Spanish America. As a consequence, the Dutch continued this trade without a whim of protest and, in 1562, the English financed by Elizabeth took the slave trading to Spanish America in their charge.

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Figure 13.13. Slave transport. The first Negroes were imported in Virginia in 1619 by a Dutch frigate. The passengers were not slaves but indentured workers as the white workers. These Negroes were freed after their contract ended, and used themselves in their turn white indentured workers (Northampton county) as well as Negro slaves. The trade was thereafter taken up by the British: the “three corner trade” consisted in bringing small mirrors, glass and beads, small silver and gold coins to West Africa in exchange for slaves, bring these to the Americas, with a return freight of rum and sugar to England.

Fortunes were built on this trade, and the assertion by Adam Smith (Wealth of Nations), that slavery was economically senseless, is not true. The American Republic deliberately sacrificed the solution of slavery because indentured colonists could not anymore meet the demand in labor. Slavery was legally adopted in Virginia in 1661. In 1700, there were about 25,000 Negro slaves on a total population of 270,000 souls in the whole of the British colonies. The puritan lawyer Samuel Sewall wrote, in Massachusetts, the pamphlet “the selling of Joseph”, wherein he condemned slavery on religious grounds: Joseph was sold by his brothers to Pharaoh, and this was a shame because all men are the sons of Adam, entitled to freedom, and so are Negroes.

The slavery problem was eschewed at a time when it could have been easily solved, for the sake of immediate political gains: fear existed that the Union would never come into being if slavery were discussed. With the amplification of the industrial revolution, the need for cheap labor also amplified and Negro slavery blossomed. On the East African coast, the Arabs staged raids from Zanzibar, but their needs in labor were not so huge.

By the 19th century, technological progress allowed the penetration of the last forbidden regions: Black Africa, Afghanistan. China was forced to open its doors to the British located in Hong-Kong (1840). Commodore Perry of the US Navy forced the opening of Japan in 1853 (fig. 13.14).

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Figure 13.14. The red stripe identifies the ship as Commodore Perry’s flagship Powhattan. The four black warships, carrying a formidable armament, anchored off the harbor of Uraga in 1853. Perry exposed that Japan must open its harbors for shipwrecked American seamen, who should not anymore be executed, as well as for watering and fueling of ships.

Australia and New Zealand were occupied. Also, the conquest of Roman Catholic lands by the Turks who had adopted European armament was finally checked and the Turk was driven out, leaving behind the Muslim Bosnians, Albanians and Kosovars. The last deserts, the Amazon and the polar caps begin to be occupied right now.

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