The British Dominions, The United States, And Latin America
The greatest population movement in history took place between 1500 and
1914, when millions of Europeans crossed the oceans and made new homes for
themselves. At the same time, the slave trade brought vast numbers of Africans
to the Americas. These immigrants, whether voluntary or forced, brought with
them their languages, religions, cultures, political institutions, and laws.
No matter where they settled - the Americas, South Africa, Australia, and
New Zealand - the Europeans faced the same challenges of unexplored lands,
racial diversity, isolation, and the search for new identities. The newly
ascendant middle classes with their generally liberal politics dominated,
usually at the expense of the indigenous population or the African slaves.
Although the challenges were the same, the results were unique to each
region. Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the Union of South Africa
illustrate the transplantation of British culture to the far corners of the
globe. The United States developed the political stability and strong economy
that allowed it to grow and prosper, though not without the tragedies of the
Civil War, the oppression of its black population, and the devastation of
native American culture. Latin America faced fundamental challenges of racial
and social diversity, economic exploitation, and political instability.
In various ways, each of the new lands reflected nineteenth-century
movements that had originated in western Europe - nationalism, democracy, and
imperialism. In addition, they had problems and opportunities which sprang
from conditions specific to their environments. One was the assimilation of
the tremendous tide of immigrants entering the new lands. But before the
settlers and slaves came, vast spaces had to be explored, paths to the
interior mapped, and natural resources located.
In what is now Canada, Alexander Mackenzie in 1789 traveled to the Great
Slave Lake, then down the river that now bears his name to the shores of the
Arctic. Four years later he crossed the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific and
thereby became the first European to cross North America at its greatest
In the United States, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark started from St.
Louis in the winter of 1803-1804, blazed a trail through the unknown
Northwest, and reached the Pacific two years later. For a half century the
process of exploration and mapping continued, reaching its climax in John
Fremont's expeditions to Oregon and California.
The most famous figure in the exploration of South America was the German
naturalist Alexander von Humboldt, who from 1799 to 1804 explored Mexico,
Cuba, and South America. He investigated the valley of the Orinoco, crossed
the Andes, and studied the sources of the Amazon.
The continent of Australia was not crossed from north to south until the
middle of the nineteenth century. Between 1860 and 1862 John McDouall Stuart
made three attempts before he successfully completed the journey from Adelaide
to Van Diemen's Gulf. The penetration of the interior of South Africa differed
from explorations in the other new lands. It was achieved by the gradual
expansion of white settlement in such movements as the Great Trek rather than
by exploratory expeditions.
The poor and landless people of Europe settled the vast and often fertile
lands found by the explorers. The increase in European population from 200
million to 460 million during the nineteenth century provided the pool of 40
million immigrants who crossed the oceans. By 1914, the number of people of
European background living abroad totaled 200 million - a figure almost equal
to Europe's population in 1815.
For some 350 years this movement from Europe was accompanied by an
equally significant forced migration from West Africa to the Americas. The
number transported in the slave trade ran into the millions, and many died
from ill treatment at the time of capture and during the forty-day voyage
across the Atlantic. This trade cost Africa perhaps 15 million people, not
including the Arab slave trade from the East African coast.
Black Africans In The New Lands
In general, the liberal and egalitarian trends in western Europe took
root in the new lands. However, the millions of Africans seized and forcibly
transplanted to the Americas had little chance to benefit from those ideals.
The slave trade in Latin America began shortly after 1502. Because many
native Indians died from European diseases such as smallpox and measles, the
local population could not fill the mounting demand for labor on the
plantations. To meet that demand, the influx of black slaves increased
geometrically. The first slaves imported into Brazil arrived in 1538. By 1600
they formed the basis of the economy there, along the Peruvian coast, in
Mexico's hot lands, in Santo Domingo, in Cuba, and in the mines of Colombia.
By 1800 the population of Haiti was predominantly black or mulatto, and the
African element was substantial in Brazil and Cuba. There were smaller, though
still significant, black populations in the Dominican Republic, Panama,
Venezuela, and Colombia.
A century after Africans were brought to Latin America, they appeared in
the English colonies to the north. The first blacks landed in Jamestown in
1619, but their status was uncertain for some fifty years. Between 1640 and
1660 there is evidence of slavery, and after the latter date the slave system
was defined by law in several of the colonies. White indentured servants, at
first an important part of the work force, were soon replaced by African
slaves, who provided a lifetime of work to the plantation owner. In 1790 when
the white population was just over 3 million, there were some 750,000 blacks
in the United States.
During the American Revolution, serious questions arose about the
morality of slavery. Some people saw an embarrassing contradiction between
human bondage and the ideals of the Declaration of Independence. This
antislavery sentiment temporarily weakened as fear grew over a bloody slave
insurrection in Santo Domingo, unrest among American slaves, and the
unsettling economic and social consequences of the French Revolution. Slave
rebellions in the early 1800s shocked many Americans.
The Industrial Revolution played a large role in harnessing slavery to
the economy of the southern states. English textile mills required an
increased supply of cotton. New technology and new lands made the plantation
system more profitable, creating an additional demand for slaves even as their
importation ended in 1808.
[See Cotton Pressing: This 1856 engraving shows pressing cotton on a Louisiana
plantation. Slaves often labored 14 hours a day and even as many as 18 hours
during harvest time. From "Ballou's Pictorial Drawing Room Companion" April
Race Problems In The New Lands
The imposition of European hegemony over native inhabitants in the far
corners of the globeThis 1856 engraving shows slaves pressing cotton on a
Louisiana plantation. Slaves often labored 14 hours a day and even as many as
18 hours during harvest time. and the slave trade created tragic racial
conflicts. It is difficult to gain an accurate estimate of the number of
Indians in North America, but it is generally held that before European
settlement there were around 200,000 in Canada and 850,000 in the United
States. Since the arrival of white settlers, the number of Indians in the two
North American areas has been reduced by approximately half, largely through
disease and extermination.While in modern time attempts have been made to help
native Americans make a place for themselves in urban society, these efforts
have generally been inadequate. Even though in the past two centuries Canada
has compiled a much more humane record dealing with native Americans than the
United States, Indians remain the most neglected and isolated minority in
[See Slave Revolt: Slaves rose up against the French in Saint Dominique in
1791. Napoleon sent an army to restore slavery in 1799, but many of the French
soldiers died of yellow fever, and the rebels defeated the decimated French
army in 1803. Courtesy Library Of Congress]
The aborigines of Australia and Tasmania - numbering possibly 300,000 at
the time of the arrival of the Europeans - were decimated by the diseases and
liquors brought by the white settlers. The native inhabitants could not adjust
to the new ways of life brought about by the disappearance of their hunting
grounds. At times they were treated brutally: in some places they were rounded
up in gangs and shot; sometimes the Europeans encouraged drunkenness among the
natives, then gave them clubs to fight each other for the entertainment of the
"civilized" spectators. The natives of Tasmania are now extinct, and the
aborigines of Australia are a declining race.
In New Zealand the native Maoris were better able to stand up to the
whites. After serious wars in the 1860s peace was finally secured and the
Maoris slowly accommodated themselves to the new world created by the whites.
Since 1900 the Maoris have shared the same political rights and privileges as
the white settlers and have obtained the benefits of advanced education. The
Maoris now constitute about 9 percent of the population and their numbers are
In two areas colonized by Europeans, Latin America and South Africa, the
indigenous peoples greatly outnumbered the white settlers. Some authorities,
for example, estimate that the population of Latin America in pre-Columbian
days was at least 25 million. While a large percentage of these people died
following the initial European impact because of disease, war, and famine, in
the long run their numbers substantially increased. There was much racial
mixing between the Indians and the Europeans, giving rise to the mestizo. This
mixed strain together with the Indians outnumbered the white population. In
the early twentieth century population there were estimated to be 20 million
Indian, 30 million mestizos, 26 million black and mulatto, and 34 million
white. Only in Argentina, Chile, and a few smaller states such as Costa Rica,
Cuba, and Uruguay have European stocks overwhelmed the Indians.
The thousand years of contact between the Spanish and Portuguese with the
dark-skinned Moorish people and their early African explorations helped
prevent the development of the virulent form of racism found in North America.
There was also a difference in the status of the slave in North and South
America. In the north the slave was regarded as a piece of property, with no
legal or moral rights. In the south, because of the traditions of Roman law
and the Catholic church, slaves had a legal personality and moral standing.
Even though slave status was generally considered to be perpetual,
gaining freedom was not as difficult in Latin America as in the north. By 1860
free blacks outnumbered slaves 2 to 1 in Brazil while slaves outnumbered free
blacks 8 to 1 in the United States. Finally, there has been greater racial
mixing in Latin America. The greatest meld of races - red, white, and black -
in the history of the world has taken place there. This intermingling has gone
a long way to ease racial tensions. ^1
[Footnote 1: Hubert Herring, History of Latin America (New York: Alfred A.
Knopf, 1956), p. 97.]
In South Africa the indigenous people were not exterminated, but they
were denied the opportunity to share in European civilization. The fierce
fighting between the European frontier people (mainly the Dutch) and the
Africans caused constant misunderstanding and fear. Despite many political and
economic disabilities, in the nineteenth century the South African natives
showed a substantial increase in numbers. By 1904 the population breakdown of
the roughly 8 million people showed 21.6 percent European, 67.4 percent
African, 2.4 percent Asiatic, and 8.6 percent "coloured." Unlike the situation
in Latin America, the European minority resolutely opposed any mixing with the
nonwhites and enforced unyielding segregation apartheid.
The Search For A New Nationality
The transplanted Europeans generally focused their energies on domestic
matters and left world affairs to the European states. Those under the British
flag generally accepted British leadership in world affairs and depended on
London's fleet for protection. The United States devoted considerable energy
to exploiting its vast natural resources and Americanizing the millions of
immigrants who flocked to its shores. Latin America was politically unstable
but rich in natural resources. The region managed to avoid the cruder
imperialistic partitions and outright annexations so evident in Africa, China,
and Southeast Asia. This lack of total exploitation owed more to luck rather
than to the virtue of the outside powers. The economic interests of the United
States - and to some extent of Britain - coincided with the preservation of
the status quo in Latin Ameria.
Among all the transplanted Europeans, the United States found the quest
for independence the easiest. Its power, size, resources, and heritage of
freedom and the rule of law contributed to a distinctive and recognizable
national ideal that survived the threat of the Civil War. The search for
national unity has not been as successful in Canada, given the split between
the closely knit French Canadian minority and the majority English-speaking
Nationalism has burned brightly in each of the Latin American nations,
sometimes at the expense of political stability. The eight major
administrative divisions in the late colonial era have fragmented into
nineteen states - a process frequently accompanied by insurrection, rebellion,
Australia and New Zealand have found the search for a new nationality
difficult. Remote from Europe, inhabitants of these islands have clung to the
traditions and life of their ancestors, even to the point that the New
Zealanders claim to be more British than the British. More difficult is the
situation in South Africa where the white majority are the Boers rather than
the British. These Afrikaners have developed a distinctive, unbending culture
based on rigid Calvinism and the Dutch tongue. The dislike of the British
segment may have lessened recently because of a common fear of black
domination and resentment of the outside world for its criticism of apartheid.