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SOUTH AMERICA AND IMPERIAL PROBLEMS c. R. FAY N ATIONS do not stumble into empire. It only seems so, because we are ignorant of imperial history. They work for it, and when it is won they must hold it. Though every empire aims at 1mmortality , yet all have hitherto proved mortal, was the verdict of Adam Smith in the year of England's imperial tragedy, 1776. The bounds of empire are often not seen in advance; and since empire is an overlordship, it may be lost to another imperial power or to the parts themselves , if they successfully revolt. Empire is not a disease; it is a phase o.f national expansion. It may be unlovely: economic progress may be unlovely. We can hardly think of a nation disappearing except by annihilation. But empires may die through political reshaping which leaves the parts in vigour. Furthermore, a mother country may have its empire at one period in one part of the world and at another period in another, as every Frenchman knows. Finally, in most empires the economic aspect is of capital importance. It is older, wider and more vital than the political. It is the seed from which the latter grows; whereas the latter is all too often an excess of centralization which culminates in disaster. To translate these general thoughts into historical facts. Spain and Portugal, the first colonizing powers of modern Europe, established themselves in the new world at the beginning of the 16th century. Portugal, already entrenched in the Far East, secured Brazil in the west. The rest of America was claimed by Spain. The Spanish occupation was more than the settlement of a coastal fringe. For the search after precious metals took them inland. 183 THE UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY Potosi, the El Dorado, or more strictly the (£Argentine" of South America, was in the heart of old Peru; and as settlement filtered through to the south, cities were planted in what is now the Argentine republic (though no silver is mined there). Portugal, somewhat later, pushed into the plateaux of Brazil, to win gold and diamonds, as the Spaniards had won silver. But they had always to defend their empire against newcomers-interlopers, pirates, free-traders, call them what you will. Holland and England led the challenge; and so for three ·centuries there was a new world aspect of each great old world struggle: the normal alignment being England, Holland and other Protestant powers against Spain, France and other Catholic powers. It was a rivalry in overseas expansion , fought out largely on the seas. Without a doubt from Mexico to the River Plate this expansion brought woe to the native peoples. For Spain and Portugal came not to plant or to trade but to win treasure; and they were militant Christians. The Mexicans had the misfortune to expect a Messiah from the East; but Cortez and his soldiers, observing that they possessed gold, fell upon them, robbed, murdered and enslaved. They had no qualms of conscience about it, for their victims were but heathen savages. Nevertheless, the course of conquest was not a political disease; it w·as only a cruelty of growth. Disease appeared when the valour of Spain was sterilized by contact with gold and silver, so that she neglected her agriculture and commerce. And the disease was mortal in the end. England and Holland soon came hovering around, steering as straight as the trade wind would take them to a share in El Dorado. Holland for a time had a grip on Brazil, to which came many Jews who had .fled from Portuguese persecution to the low countries. England 184 IMPERIAL PROBLEMS sent out two unhappy colonies _to the Spanish Main. The first was the old Providence Co1npany, which in 1630 tried to settle the islands of Providence and Henrietta off the coast of what is Nicaragua to-day; in 1641 it was ignominously expelled by a lively don of appropriate name, Don Pimienta. The second was the Darien Company , which sent two disastrous expeditions, 1698 and 1699, to the isthmus of Darien. The company, of course, was Scottish, but to the Spaniards it was one more assault by piratical England...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 183-196
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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