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Spanish Empire

Domincan Republic14921795
Melilla 1496...
Puerto Rico15021898
El Salvador15381821
Costa Rica15381821
Northern Marianas15651899
Venezuela 15671811
Caroline Is. - Micronesia 1686/18551899
Caroline Is. - Palau 1686/18551899
Equatorial Guinea17781968
Towards the end of the 15th Century the Portuguese and Spaniards emerged as competitors for the Oriental trade. Their efforts to break through the monopoly enjoyed by the Italian cities led to the discovery of the sea-routes to the Indies. When Columbus started out, he firmly believed that a journey of only four thousand miles would bring him to Cipango and of Columbus, the realms of the Great Khan of Cathay. The error was natural enough, for Ptolemy had reckoned the earth's circumference to be about one-sixth less than it is, and Marco Polo had given an exaggerated idea of the distance to which Asia extended toward the east. The name West Indies, applied to the islands discovered by Columbus, still remains as a testimony to this error.

Shortly after the return of Columbus from his first voyage, Pope Alexander VI, in response to a request by Ferdinand and Isabella, issued a bull granting these sovereigns exclusive rights over the newly discovered lands. In order that the Spanish possessions should be clearly marked off from those of the Portuguese, the pope laid down an imaginary line of demarcation in the Atlantic, three hundred miles west of the Azores. All new discoveries west of the line were to belong to Spain and all those east of it, to Portugal. But this arrangement, which excluded France, England, and other European countries from the New World, could not be long maintained.

The New World contained two virgin continents, rich in natural resources and capable of extensive colonization. The native peoples, comparatively few in number and Expansion barbarian in culture, could not offer much resistance ot Europe to the explorers, missionaries, traders, and colonists from the Old World. The Spanish and Portuguese in the sixteenth century, followed by the French, English, and Dutch in the seventeenth century, repeopled America and brought to it European civilization. Europe expanded into a Greater Europe beyond the ocean.

The motives which led to Spanish colonization in America may be summed up in the three words "gospel, glory, and gold." Missionaries sought converts in the New World; warriors sought conquests; and adventurers sought wealth. Together, they created for Spain an empire greater in extent than any ever known before. After the middle of the sixteenth century homeseekers also came to the Spanish colonies, but never in such numbers as to crowd out the Indian aborigines. Intermixture between the races soon became common, resulting in the half-breeds called "mestizos." Although the white element remained dominant in public affairs, the racial foundation of most of Spanish America was Indian. Spain governed her American colonies for her own benefit. She crippled their trade by requiring the inhabitants to buy only Spanish goods and to sell only to Spaniards. She prohibited such colonial manufactures as of Spain might compete with those at home.

The discovery of America revealed to Europeans a new source of the precious metals. The Spaniards soon secured large quantities of gold by plundering the Indians of Mexico and Peru of their stored-up wealth. The production output of silver much exceeded that of gold, as soon at the precious metals as the Spaniards began to work the wonderfully rich silver mines of Potosi in Bolivia. It is estimated that, by the end of the sixteenth century, the American mines had produced at least three times as much gold and silver as had been current in Europe at the beginning of the century.

The energies of the Spanish colonists of South America were absorbed by gold - gold glittered on the hill-side, and they were maddened at the sight of it. Though the soil was fertile, the climate mild, the air salubrious, and all things invited to a residence and cultivation; yet it was a waste of time to build them homes, to till the soil, to practise the courtesies of social life, to make their bread. And the land which yielded millions upon millions to the treasuries of the world, is still the waste it was three hundred years ago.

The Spaniards could not keep this new treasure. Having few industries themselves, they were obliged to send it out, as fast as they received it, in payment for their imports of European goods. Spain acted as a huge sieve through which the gold and silver of America entered all the countries of Europe. Money, now more plentiful, purchased far less than in former times; in other words, the prices of all commodities rose, wages advanced, and manufacturers and traders had additional capital to use in their undertakings. The Middle Ages suffered from the lack of sufficient money with which to do business; from the beginning of modern times the world has been better supplied with the indispensable medium of exchange.

But America was much more than a treasury of the precious metals. Many commodities, hitherto unknown, soon found their way from the New World to the Old. Among these were maize, the potato, which, when cultivated in Europe, became the "bread of the poor," chocolate and cocoa made from the seeds of the cacao tree, Peruvian bark, or quinine, so useful in malarial fevers, cochineal, the dye-woods of Brazil, and the mahogany of the West Indies. America also sent to Europe large supplies of cane-sugar, molasses, fish, whale oil, and furs. These new American products became common articles of consumption and so raised the standard of living in European countries.

Portugal and Spain had chiefly profited by the geographical discoveries and colonizing movements of the sixteenth century. Hew rivals The decline of these two countries enabled for colonial other European nations to step into their tm lure place as rivals for commerce, colonies, and the sovereignty of the seas. But the vast colonial empire of Spain was still intact through the end of the 18th Century.

In 1808 Napoleon drove the Portugese royal family to Brazil, and then proceeded to deprive his friend and ally, Ferdinand VII, of the Spanish crown, giving it to his own brother, Joseph. These high-handed acts enabled the emperor to extend the Continental System over the Iberian Peninsula. What he gained there was more than offset elsewhere. As soon as the Portuguese government removed to Brazil, it opened that country to British trade, and after the Spanish monarchy fell, its colonies revolted from the mother country and admitted British goods. Napoleon thus unwittingly created lucrative markets in Latin America for his rival.

Spain had filled all the offices of Church and State in her colonies with Spaniards born in the mother country, to the exclusion of those born in the colonies (the Creoles). This restrictive system made the colonists long for freedom, especially after they heard the stirring story of the revolutions which had created the United States and republican France. When Napoleon invaded Spain, forced the abdication of Ferdinand VII, and gave the crown to his own brother Joseph, the colonists set up practically independent states throughout Spanish America.

The close of the revolutionary and Napoleonic era found Europe in confusion. Ferdinand VII, whom Napoleon had dethroned, went back to Spain. This Spanish Bourbon had no sooner recovered his crown than he began to sweep away all traces of revolutionary ideas and institutions introduced by the French. A constitution, modeled upon that of France, which the Spaniards had framed in 1812, was suppressed, because it denied divine right and asserted the sovereignty of the people. 1820 was a year of revolutions. A widespread uprising in Spain against Ferdinand VII forced that tyrannical monarch to restore the constitution of 1812 and to convene Revolutions a liberal parliament.

Ferdinand VII, who returned to his throne after Napoleon's overthrow, was a genuine Bourbon, incapable of learning anything or of forgetting anything. His refusal to satisfy the demands of the colonists for equal rights with the mother country precipitated the revolt against Spain. Its greatest hero is Simon de Bolivar, who, in addition to freeing his native Venezuela, helped to free the countries now known as Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Peru. One by one all the colonies in South America, together with Central America and Mexico, threw off the Spanish yoke.

The sovereigns of Austria, Prussia, and Russia - the Concert of Europe - commissioned France to act as their agent to subdue the turbulent Spaniards. These sovereigns were also ready to crusade against freedom in Spain's American colonies, which had revolted against the mother land. Both Great Britain and the United Breaches in States felt thoroughly alarmed at the prospect the Euroof European interference in the affairs of the New World. George Canning, the British foreign minister, made it clear to the governments of France, Austria, Prussia, and Russia that, as long as Great Britain controlled the seas, no country other than Spain should acquire the colonies either by cession or by conquest. Canning's policy received the emphatic support of President Monroe in his message to Congress in 1823. Shortly afterwards both the United States and Great Britain recognized the independence of the Spanish-American republics.

The Spanish empire was thus reduced to the Philippines, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and a few other scraps of land. Magellan discovered the Philippines on his voyage of circumnavigation in 1521, and for more than three hundred and fifty years they belonged to Spain. The conquest of the Philippines was essentially a peaceful missionary enterprise. Spanish friars accomplished a remarkable work in carrying Christianity to the natives. These converted Filipinos are the only large mass of Asiatics who adopted the Christian religion in modern times.

Cuba continued to be a badly governed and restless dependency until the United States intervened in 1898. At the Peace of Paris, which concluded the Spanish-American War, Spain renounced her sovereignty over Cuba and ceded Porto Rico and the Philippines to the United States. Most of the smaller West India islands were held by Great Britain, France, and Holland. A year later, she sold to Germany her remaining island possessions in the Pacific. Her few African possessions, recently acquired, were a poor compensation for the loss of what was once the greatest colonial empire in the world.

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Page last modified: 29-11-2017 19:30:37 ZULU