British Dominion In The New World

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.

Common Denominators

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

12, 1856]

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

North America.

[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,

and war.

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.

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