Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Differences Between British and Spanish Colonization of North America: Analysis of J.H. Elliot's Empire's of the Atlantic World

 As Elliot points out in his work, Empires of the Atlantic, Spanish and English colonization of the America’s conveyed astounding differences.  It was the differences of timing, Church, private and crown involvement, treatment of indigenous and African slaves, and the construction of race that shaped the organization of these two colonial societies in North and South America.
Although only separated by eighty-seven years, the difference in timing between the Spanish and English arrival and colonization efforts in the Americas proved to dictate the shape of their colonial societies in very distinct ways. Hernan Cortes successfully landed on the Caribbean coast of what is modern day Mexico in 1519 and as Elliot points out laid the foundation of Spanish Empire in South America.  It was not until 1607 when the Englishman Christopher Newport put ashore on what would be the Jamestown colony, marking Britain’s foothold in North America.  While the English held the advantage of being able to take Spain first as a model, and then as a warning[i], the Spanish conquistadores did not bear the luxury.  As the first Europeans to come to the Americas, the Spaniards enjoyed more room and freedom to acquire lands, than their successors who were forced to content themselves with territory not already occupied by subjects of the Spanish crown.[ii]  As well, with the Spaniards also came their 16th Century assumptions about the promotion of the civil and religious values of Christendom and their ideas of the nature of non-European peoples, both of which were products of the Reconquista and expulsion of the Moors from Spain.  During the Reconquista, the Spanish state unified under the monarchy of Ferdinand and Isabella successfully exterminated the Moors from the Iberian Peninsula.  In doing so, it fostered a mentality of radical Catholicism and religious fervor within Spanish society.  Upon the arrival of Columbus to Hispanola in 1492 and later Cortes to Mexico in 1519, the feverous ideals of the Reconquista were very much engrained in Spanish colonization. Pursuing an imperial strategy aimed at exploiting indigenous labor, the Spanish persisted to colonize South America by vigorously attempting to convert large populations found within its regions, and save indigenous peoples from damnation.  On the other hand, the English experienced a much different development.  The English using its colonization of the British Isles as a stepping off point, attempted to colonize in a different manner than the Spanish.  While the Spanish were interested in conquering new territories, the English primarily planted new settlers in new lands.  By the time the English reached North America, the Protestant Reformation had already swept through Europe, leaving behind in England transformations in both society and politics.  Among the most important was the result of individual and local decision-making.  So rather than a centrally directed imperial strategy like Spain, the English enjoyed the creation of a number of differing colonial societies, sharing the fundamental features of representative assemblies and a plurality of faiths.[iii]  As the English would bring to light, political consent and religious toleration proved to be a successful strategy.  So while Spanish colonization persisted on the path of dictates from the crown, English colonization took a much more independent approach. 
The role of the Crown versus private companies is another key difference in the two colonization projects that shaped the organization of societies in each respected territory.  While ideologies of the time influenced colonization efforts, so to did funding.  Spanish exploration and colonization was dictated and funded solely by the state.  The crown in search of mineral resources in the form of precious metals, aspired to gain wealth from the new world.  The Spanish crown’s determination to create an institutional framework designed to ensure compliance by its officials and the obedience of its overseas subjects encouraged the creation of bureaucracy’s in accordance to crown priority to the exploitation of wealth.[iv]   In essence, the Spanish crown controlled every aspect of colonization from exploration through settlement. 
In contrast, primarily private companies initiated British colonization.  Although the British crown did sponsor the voyage of John Cabot, who founded the fisheries around Newfoundland, royal interest waned when mineral resources were not found.  In the crown’s absence, private merchant based companies moved in to fund colonization efforts.  Unlike the Spanish, English colonizers were granted funds to settle in North America.  Instead of revenue from America returning to the state, it went to the investors and stockholders of the private companies.  While the Virginia Company sponsored the voyage of Captain Christopher Newport in return for the revenue that would be created from the new colony of Jamestown, charters were granted to those fleeing religious persecution as well.  Building on the ideals of religious toleration sparked by the Enlightenment, the Massachusetts Bay Company, Puritans, was granted a charter in 1629.  Also in 1632, Lord Baltimore was granted a charter to colonize Maryland as a Catholic colony.[v]  The granting of charters through private companies reflects directly on the absence of mineral deposits in North America.  The English crown feeling no urgency to make its claim in North America made little imperial strong holding in the colonies.  In reality, the lack of imperial presence by the English also goes to display the effect of Reformation ideals and the changing balance of political forces it entailed.

At the same time when the Spanish crown was dominating the colonization of South America, the English in North America were colonizing under a loose set of imperial restrictions.  Because the English crown largely stayed out of colonial affairs, the colonies were left to their own mechanisms for survival.  They developed a rich diversity, which in turn fostered a shared political culture centered at the right of political representation and Locke’s idea of a common law.[vi]  Thus, the colonies shared a common interest and enabled them to unite for independence, which occurred much later.  It is important to note that the crowns lack of administration planted the seeds of independence.
The role of religion and the Church in colonial North and South America played key roles in the development of colonial society.  While both the English and the Spanish saw their mission in the Americas to “reduce the savage people to Christianity and civility[vii]”, the English were not as aggressive as the Spanish for the cause.  Riding high off the ideals of the Reconquista, the Spanish saw it as their duty to convert and save indigenous populations from eternal damnation.  The conversion of indigenous peoples into Catholics served as the justification for Spanish claims to the new world.  Under the Alexandrine Bulls, issued by the pope, of 1493 gave the monarchs of Castile dominion over any land discovered, on condition that they assumed responsibility for protecting and evangelizing the indigenous inhabitants.[viii]  By violence and example they managed to catholicize large sections of the indigenous populations and force them to be subjects of the crown.  Through the forced conversion and labor of indigenous peoples, the Spanish successfully organized colonial society under the pretext of inequality.  The Church recognized that indigenous peoples were inferior to Spaniards and thus exploited the idea.  Thus, in Spanish and Crown worked side by side in colonization.  While both disagreed on many issues, the Church served to justify the actions of the state.
As for the English, religion and the Church played a much smaller role.  Influenced by the Reformation, English colonization exercised a fair degree of religious toleration, as evidenced by Catholic, Puritan, Protestant and Quaker groups in the colonies.  Their policy towards the indigenous peoples was lenient as well.  Failing to find large populations of indigenous peoples, like the Spanish in South America, the English viewed indigenous conversion as a futile effort.  Lacking a large labor force to tap into, English colonizers saw conversion as an unnecessary risk. 
So while religion was at the core of Spanish colonization, justifying the conquest of indigenous peoples and forcing them into labor, extracting revenue for the crown in return for salvation, it served as a tool to include indigenous populations into colonial society.  In opposition, the lack of conversion efforts by a Church authority and central religion in the English colonies served to marginalize indigenous peoples from colonial society.
The relationship between the English and Spanish towards the indigenous populations of the Americas was vastly different and shaped colonial society in two distinct ways.   Upon arrival to the Americas, the Spanish encountered large groups of indigenous peoples.  Realizing there benefits, the Spanish forced labor upon the indigenous peoples, in return that the indigenous peoples would be catholicized.  This system was known as the encomienda system.  Under this system, indigenous peoples learned the atrocities of forced labor and many died from overwork and malnutrition.  The encomienda system fostered attitudes of resentment towards the Spanish and colonial control.  While the Spanish treated the indigenous populations brutally, they also included them in colonial society, albeit as fundamentally unequal. 
In the case for the British colonizers, indigenous populations were shunned to the margins of colonial society.  Faced with sparser indigenous populations that could not be mobilized as a labor force, the English adopted an exclusionary approach to the natives. While Cortes encountered an indigenous population of roughly ten million in Mexico, the English found a native empire consisting only of fourteen thousand.[ix]The English could not rely on the native population for labor and supplies, thus barred them from their communities. Unlike the Spaniards who made the indigenous a facet of colonial society, the English expelled the natives beyond the borders of their colonial societies. 
The inclusion of indigenous peoples into Spanish colonial empire as subjects to the crown shaped colonial society into a rigid system of social and racial hierarchies.  Levels of inequality, within a greater society all under Spanish law, led to many unhappy citizens who saw there place in society unrepresented and undermined. In effect, the workings of Spanish colonial government had to be performed with respect to indigenous peoples as well towards Spaniards. However, the English did not face the same problems as the Spanish.  Because the indigenous populations were left out of English colonial society, it gave them more freedom to make reality conform to their imagination.  Without the need to integrate indigenous populations into society, the English hath not needed to accept compromises with indigenous inhabitants like the Spanish.[x]
In both Spanish and English America, African slaves constituted the bottom wrung of society.  As indigenous populations started dying off because of disease and over work, the Spanish turned to the importation of black African to meet their labor demands as slaves.  African slaves in Spanish America most often worked in sugar plantations, agricultural production or as household servants.  Socially, slaves were at the bottom of society, but as laborers in Spanish society, they were included in the colonial system.  Slaves were granted some certain space in colonial society, such as the ability to buy their freedom.  Slaves had the right to earn a wage, doing small menial tasks, as long as it did not interfere with their work for their owner.
As for the British, slaves were acquired to work on the vast plantations in the colonies.  Like the indigenous peoples, slaves were granted very little space in English colonial society.  Slaves in the English colonies had virtually no freedom and did not have the opportunity to buy their own freedom. 
By making black Africans a part of their society, the Spanish affectively limited their maneuverability to construct Spanish America as they saw fit.  Legislation and law had to account for Africans, indigenous, and Spanish persons and led to increased complexity in the workings of government.  While the English colonists were awarded with more maneuverability in law and practice, their refusal to include Africans within their boundaries eventually maintained slavery as an institution longer than in South America.
Although in both colonial projects inequality played a major role, Spanish construction of race varied greatly from English construction of race in its colonies.  Because indigenous peoples, black Africans and Spaniards were all subjects included in colonial society, this led to a rise in racially and culturally mixed populations through the mingling of blood.  The outcome was societies composed of a variety of castes, or castas, and shades.  In Spanish America, there were many categories of classification to distinguish race.  There were creole Spaniards, peninsular Spaniards, blacks, Indians, mestizos, mullatos. Cholos, castizos and mambos.  Society was organized based off race, in that Spaniards constituted the elite, and the more black someone was, the lower in society they were.  Spanish construction of race is very complicated and is an ideal illustration of the inequality colonial society was based on. 
In contrast, the English colonies remained much more Caucasian.  By shunning black Africans and Indians from society, the English colonies did not encounter the same racial mixing as was developed in Spanish America.  They saw Africans and indigenous peoples as an other group, did not mix with them.  Because of this, white racism became much more widespread in the English colonies. 
So while Spanish and British colonization enjoyed similarities, it was their differences that shaped the colonial societies of the two in very different ways.  The Spanish colonized on the precept of conquest incorporating and integrating the newly discovered lands into the King of Spain’s dominion, There inclusion and Catholic conversion of indigenous peoples and black Africans shaped colonial society into a rigid hierarchical framework wrought with inequality and fissures.  On the other hand, the more independent, private entrepreneurship of the English colonized on the basis of planting and sustaining a new life.  Their exclusion of Indians and blacks from society and the lack of crown interest paved the way for diverse communities who shared a same common goal and idea about their place in colonial society.

[i] J. H. Elliot, Empires of the Atlantic World, (Yale University Press), 405
[ii] Elliot, 406
[iii] Elliot, 407
[iv] Elliot, 411
[v] Elliot, 35
[vi] Elliot, 410
[vii] Elliot, 11J.H. Elliot: Empire's of the Atlantic World
[viii] Elliot, 13
[ix] Elliot, 409
[x] Elliot, 410

Power in Comancheria: Analysis of Hamalainen's Comanche Empire

Pekka Hamalainen’s The Comanche Empire serves as a well-written account that embodies the trend in Native American history to discard Euro-American biases of past scholarship and to place Indian agency at the center of the historical process.  Hamalainen demonstrates how the Comanche accommodated to outside pressures in order to survive as coherent cultural entities, but goes further by showing how they not only adapted to new political and economic realities wrought by various imperial projects but also competed with and bested European and Euro-American powers in controlling the heartland of the North American Continent.  In doing so. Hamalainen tells the story of expansion with a reversal of usual historical roles, in which Indians expand, dictate and prosper, and European colonists resist, retreat and struggle to survive.[i]  This ambition leads Hamalainen to reveal that in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the Comanche turned the Southwest into a boundless resistant indigenous empire.  This paper is intended to portray how the Comanche’s ecological base, monopoly of trade, ability to adapt to Western technologies and flexible social structure allowed them to invert projected colonial trajectory and bring much of the colonial Southwest under their sway and at the same time explain the failures of Spanish and Mexican colonialism and the nature and course of United States conquest. 
            The power of the Comanche cannot be understood without first playing on the importance of their ecological system of the horse, grass and bison complex.  The abundant grasslands present in the environment they lived in made Comanche monopoly on horses and bison hunting possible. The horses’ ability to convert plant life into muscle power tapped into the seemingly inexhaustible pool of thermodynamic energy stored in the grasses.  This in turn, led  the Comanche to use horses as hunting tools to harness the enormous biomass stored in the bison herds.[ii]  The horse served to both simplify and expand Comanche economy.  The effectiveness of mounted hunting allowed the Comanche’s to dismiss their gathering system and switch to specialized bison hunting and horse herding.  This resulted in a dual economy of hunting and pastoralism. Using this new economic system, the Comanche reared horses for part of the year, while following the bison herds the rest of the year.  The semi-nomadic way they lived made it possible to control and exploit the environment of the Great Plains.  The effective hunting of bison also insured both an adequate food supply consisting of protein and materials to make clothing and other essential needs.  Through horses serving as both vehicles for travel and as commodities to be traded, the Comanche’s dominated long-distance trade networks and extended their raiding spheres far beyond their core area.  This enabled Comanche’s to eliminate Spain’s edge on colonial expansion.  By controlling trade, the Comanche’s dictated where resources were allocated, thus in effect brought Spanish colonialism under their control.    It is also important to note that frequent raids deep into Spanish territory weakened the Spanish military that were ineffective in protecting Spanish settlements and Indian encroachment.  The thinly colonized Hispanic lands had no way of halting Indian raiding parties that extracted their horses, and thus the Spanish submitted to becoming tributary subjects of the Comanche.  The Hispanic peoples gave the Comanche gifts in return for leaving their herds alone.  This tributary gift giving weakened the treasury of Spain and Mexico and forced them as subjects of the Comanche Empire.
            As eluded to earlier, the Comanche ecological system enabled them to effectively form a monopoly on trade in the Southwest, which greatly expanded their power.  Their horse economy also supported a thriving exchange economy.  This exchange economy gave access to vegetables and grains as well as guns, gunpowder and metals.[iii].  Vegetables and cereals were collected through massive trade networks, which linked tribes of the east within the network of the Comanche empire.  By allying with neighboring native groups, the Comanche’s ensured a system of trade and at the same time created a buffer between them and the expansionist Euro-American forces of the East.  Comanche power in horse trade also enabled them to become strong trade partners with the expanding United States.  In return for horses, the Comanche amassed expansive quantities of both guns and gunpowder.  In a sense, it can be understood that United States trade with the Comanche played a major role in weakening Spanish power.  Through the guns and firepower supplied by the United States, the Comanche successfully kept the Spanish at their will.  Another major component in Comanche trade was their monopoly on the slave trade.  While they raided Spanish lands for cattle, they did also for human capital.  The Comanche used their slaves as trade collateral and also used them to work in their growing dualist economy.  Slaves mainly worked in horse rearing and domestic chores and were sometimes adopted into the family.  The taking of slaves both frightened and terrified Spanish settlers.  The constant fear and ineffective way in dealing with them prompted many Spanish settlers to give up their lands and return to areas away from Comanche aggression. 
            Another way the Comanche’s maintained power in the interior of the United States, was the way the adapted to Western technologies, especially weapons, diplomacy and disease.  With the use of the horse and adapting to western guns and firepower the Comanche were able to exert control over the Southwest.  Western weaponry allowed the Comanche to not only mount a strong military force, but it also allowed for the efficiency of bison hunting.  The horse and gun allowed efficient killing, reducing both time and effort. 
In regards to diplomacy, the Comanche effectively exploited it to meet their needs. The Comanche were adept at drawing native nations into its sphere of commercialization.  The movement west of native tribes because of encroaching American settlement and pressures of Indian groups caused an influx of people upon Comancheria territory.  While a clash was inevitable and immediate, the Comanche soon invited the removed Indians to become middlemen who facilitated the movement of goods among the centers of wealth around them.  By adapting other native tribes into their commercial realm, the Comanche refigured trade to distant markets but also surrounded Comancheria with important buffer zones against white setllement.  These Indian alignments halted the encroachment of United States and Texas settlers who feared a massive joint tribal retaliation.  Another aspect of the alliances with native tribes is that it opened Comancheria to open commercial trade with American markets.  Thus, in abstract, the thriving trade zone of eastern Comancheria meant the removal of indigenous nations from the east Indian territory to the west could continue.   Another way the Comanche used diplomacy in their favor was the fact that they did not recognize national boundary lines and legal obligations.  Even though the Spanish and later Americans established boundaries denoting their territory.  Comanche’s did not follow them.  In their eyes, all land was free and available to whoever had the ability to use it.  Thus they raided deep into Spanish territory.  Likewise, even though the Comanche’s agreed to formal trade relations with the Spanish, the Comanche did not see the trade partnership in the same way.  Comanche’s traded and dealt with whoever they could gain the most from and make the most profit.  Trade agreements meant nothing to them and the Comanche a lot of the time doubled dealt with both the Spanish and Americans. 
            The Comanche also successfully adapted to diseases brought by western settlers.  While the humid temperatures of the coast brought the indigenous there terrific population loss from western diseases, the dry air of the Southwest and Great Plains halted the spread of disease to an effect not as dramatic as other parts of North America.  Another, more exploitative way the Comanche dealt with diseases was the practice of marrying and fornicating with western women.  By fornicating with western women, the Comanche successfully produced offspring who were tolerant to western diseases.  And while disease decimated the Comanche at first, over time they became tolerant of western diseases due to the increased numbers of racially mixed offspring. 
            One more basis of Comanche power can be understood through their flexible and adaptive social structure.  Comanche society was very hierarchical.  While the men hunted bison, went on raiding missions and controlled the household, the women and children reared horses and did domestic work.  However, not just Comanche men enjoyed power.  Slave men, also had the ability to rise up in the ranks  and become warriors and hunters.  Most male slaves taken by the Comanche were young boys, who could be raised and nurtured in Comanche ideals.  Older men proved too much of a risk as they would likely never repel western ways which they have learned.  As a society, the Comanche were also very mobile.  Their hunting and pastoralist economy was unfit to foster large permanent settlements and thus they lived in a semi-nomadic way migrating in different times of the year to follow the bison herds and the fresh grasses to raise their horses.  The lack of permanent settlement proved it difficult for another power to launch an attack on the Comanche that would cripple them.  Because members of Comanche society were always separated and never cloistered, it was only possible to attack a portion of the empire and never inflict massive losses.  The semi-nomadic structure of the Comanche thus made it difficult for the Spanish and United States to amount successful control over the Comanche Empire.  
            Politically, the Comanche Empire was distant but unified.  All Comanche units or households lived distantly from each other.  The semi-nomadic ways and need to raise horses allowed the Comanche unit to live fairly independently, with each unit or family containing a male that held power.  Usually the most powerful male was the one that had multiple wives and could produce the most goods.  While the Comanche were so distant from each other, in times of toil they could easily unite.  All the heads of family would join together in a great joint meeting and discuss the problem at hand.  All the males had equal power in the assemblies, and thus made decisions as a single polity or unified empire.  This ability of the Comanche to unify and amass great forces greatly halted American and Spanish expansion, as they feared conflict with a massive Comanche force. 
            Lastly, while the systems, which constituted Comanche power made them, a superpower in the Great Plain and Southwest, they also led to the collapse of the Comanche Empire in the 1870’s-1880’s.  The center of Comanche power caved in with the sharp declines of bison herds.  The Comanche had exploited the land beyond its sef-sustaining ecological stability.  There had simply been too many Comanches and their allies raising too many horses and hunting too many bison on too small a land base.  The Comanche could not move to other lands because there whole economy relied on the grasslands.  The Comanche ability to adapt and incorporate other groups into their empire eventually led to their demise.  The incorporation of removed Indian groups, facilitated American expansion and led to increased competition over bison on which they ultimately were being killed faster than they could reproduce.  When the bison fell, so did the Comanche Empire.  The Comanche trade networks collapsed because they had no bison meat to trade and their whole lifestyle became unglued.  Powerless with the collapse of trade, Comanche’s were placed in reservations by the fast encroaching Americans.  There, the Comanche were forced to live permanently and could not continue to live the way they had for much of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  The Comanche’s rapid decline, tells a great deal about the nature of their power system.  They were not a tightly structured, self-sustaining entity but rather a system based on networks of power.[iv]  The lack of centrality in Comanche Empire therefore allowed the decline to move rapidly and forcefully. 

[i] Pekka Hamalainen, The Comanche Empire, (Yale University Press), 1
[ii] Hamalainen, 347
[iii] Hamalainen, 348
[iv] Hamalainen, 361

Monday, November 19, 2012

Terry C. Johnston Review

I recently started reading an author by the name of Terry C. Johnston.  He is a well known western writer whose novels cover the 19th century rocky mountain fur trade and U.S. indian wars.  Johnston is a fine writer and meticulous researcher.  If you are interested in the history of the opening of the west, but don't want to plow through the more dry versions offered by history books, these are the works for you.  Johnston's splendid series about the Old West, peopled with actual characters and several fictional ones, blends into some relentless and exciting adventures. Plenty of real events and people, the research is top notch and the characters are compelling and fleshed out. While reading his books is a great way to learn about western history, they must be read with a grain of salt.  Especially, in Johnston's Plainsmen Series, which covers the Indian wars period, fictional characters are put in that truly muddle the true account.  (A renegade confederate general who has teamed up with Sioux warriors is just one example). Overall, however, Johnston's books provide a clear history of events.  I have found that a good way to explore the events of his novels is to first read his books, then go back and read non-fiction about the event.  Doing this allows you to engage into a "dryer" history book and still understand the general outline of what is happening and why.  He is a good engaging writer and I will no doubt be reading more of his novels.