The American Empire
by Scott Nearing
1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse




Author of "Wages in the United States" "Income" "Financing the Wage-Earner's Family" "Anthracite" "Poverty and Riches," etc.

New York The Rand School of Social Science 7 East 15th Street 1921

All rights reserved

Copyright, 1921, by the Rand School of Social Science

First Edition, January, 1921 Second Edition, February, 1921





I The Promise of 1776 7

II The Course of Empire 14




III Subjugating the Indians 26

IV Slavery for a Race 38

V Winning the West 49

VI The Beginnings of World Dominion 60


VII The Struggle for Wealth and Power 74

VIII Their United States 88

IX The Divine Right of Property 103



X Industrial Empires 120

XI The Great War 143

XII The Imperial Highroad 158



XIII The United States as a World Competitor 177

XIV The Partition of the Earth 192

XV Pan-Americanism 202

XVI The American Capitalist and World Empire 218



XVII The New Imperial Alignment 229

XVIII The Challenge in Europe 243

XIX The American Worker and World Empire 256

The American Empire


1. The American Republic

The genius of revolution presided at the birth of the American Republic, whose first breath was drawn amid the economic, social and political turmoil of the eighteenth century. The voyaging and discovering of the three preceding centuries had destroyed European isolation and laid the foundation for a new world order of society. The Industrial Revolution was convulsing England and threatening to destroy the Feudal State. Western civilization, in the birthpangs of social revolution, produced first the American and then the French Republic.

Feudalism was dying! Divine right, monarchy, aristocracy, oppression, despotism, tyranny—these and all other devils of the old world order were bound for the limbo which awaits outworn, discredited social institutions. The Declaration of Independence officially proclaimed the new order,—challenging "divine right" and maintaining that "all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."

Life, liberty and happiness were the heritage of the human race, and "whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute a new government laying its foundations on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem likely to effect their safety and happiness."

Thus the rights of the people were declared superior to the privileges of the rulers; revolution was justified; and the principles of eighteenth century individualism were made the foundation of the new political state. Aristocracy was swept aside and in its stead democracy was enthroned.

2. The Yearning for Liberty

The nineteenth century re-echoed with the language of social idealism. Traditional bonds were breaking; men's minds were freed; their imaginations were kindled; their spirits were possessed by a gnawing hunger for justice and truth.

Revolting millions shouted: "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity!" Sages mused; philosophers analyzed; prophets exhorted; statesmen organized toward this end.

Men felt the fire of the new order burning in their vitals. It purged them. They looked into the eyes of their fellows and saw its reflection. Dreaming of liberty as a maiden dreams of her lover, humanity awoke suddenly, to find liberty on the threshold.

Through the ages mankind has sought truth and justice. Vested interests have intervened. The powers of the established order have resisted, but the search has continued. That eternal vigilance and eternal sacrifice which are the price of liberty, are found wherever human society has left a record. At one point the forces of light seem to be winning. At another, liberty and truth are being ruthlessly crushed by the privileged masters of life. The struggle goes on—eternally.

Liberty and justice are ideals that exist in the human heart, but they are none the less real. Indeed, they are in a sense more potent, lying thus in immortal embryo, than they could be as tangible institutions. Institutions are brought into being, perfected, kept past their time of highest usefulness and finally discarded. The hopes of men spring eternally, spontaneously. They are the true social immortality.

3. Government of the People

Feudalism as a means of organizing society had failed. The newly declared liberties were confided to the newly created state. It was political democracy upon which the founders of the Republic depended to make good the promise of 1776.

The American colonists had fled to escape economic, political and religious tyranny in the mother countries. They had drunk the cup of its bitterness in the long contest with England over the rights of taxation, of commerce, of manufacture, and of local political control. They had their fill of a mastery built upon the special privilege of an aristocratic minority. It was liberty and justice they sought and democracy was the instrument that they selected to emancipate themselves from the old forms of privilege and to give to all an equal opportunity for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Political democracy was to place the management of community business in the hands of the people—to give them liberty in the control of public affairs. The highest interest of democracy was to be the interest of the people. There could be no higher interest because the people were supreme. The people were to select the public servants; direct their activities; determine public policy; prescribe the law; demand its enforcement; and if need be assert their superior authority over any part of the government, not excepting the constitution.[1]

Democracy, in politics, was based on the idea that public affairs could best be run by the public voice. However expert may be the hand that administers the laws, the hand and the heart that renders the final decision in large questions must belong to the public.[2]

The people who laid the foundations for democracy in France and the United States feared tyranny. They and their ancestors had been, for centuries, the victims of governmental despotism. They were on their guard constantly against governmental aggression in any form. And they, therefore, placed the strictest limitations upon the powers that governments should enjoy.

Special privilege government was run by a special class,—the hereditary aristocracy—in the interest and for the profit of that class. They held the wealth of the nation—the land—and lived comfortably upon its produce. They never worked—no gentleman could work and remain a gentleman. They carried on the affairs of the court—sometimes well, sometimes badly; maintained an extravagant scale of social life; built up a vicious system of secret international diplomacy; commanded in time of war, and at all times; levied rents and taxes which went very largely to increase their own comfort and better their own position in life. The machinery of government and the profits from government remained in the hands of this one class.

Class government from its very nature could not be other than oppressive. "All hereditary government over a people is to them a species of slavery and representative government is freedom." "All hereditary government is in its nature tyranny.... To inherit a government is to inherit the people as if they were flocks and herds."[3]

4. The Source of Authority

The people were to be the source of authority in the new state. The citizen was to have a voice because he was an adult, capable of rendering judgment in the selection of public servants and in the determination of public policy.

All through history there had been men into whose hands supreme power had been committed, who had carried this authority with an astounding degree of wisdom and integrity. For every one who had comported himself with such wisdom in the presence of supreme authority, there were a score, or more likely a hundred, who had used this power stupidly, foolishly, inefficiently, brutally or viciously.

Few men are good enough or wise enough to keep their heads while they hold in their hands unlimited authority over their fellows. The pages of human experience were written full of the errors, failures, and abuses of which such men so often have been guilty.

The new society, in an effort to prevent just such transgressions of social well being, placed the final power to decide public questions in the hands of the people. It was not contended, or even hoped that the people would make no mistakes, but that the people would make fewer mistakes and mistakes less destructive of public well-being than had been made under class government. At least this much was gained, that the one who abused power must first secure it from those whom he proposed to abuse, and must later exercise it unrestrained to the detriment of those from whom the power was derived and in whom it still resided.

The citizen was to be the source of authority. His word, combined with that of the majority of his fellows, was final. He delegated authority. He assented to laws which were administered over all men, including himself. He accepts the authority of which he was the source.

5. The American Tradition

This was the American tradition. This was the language of the new, free world. Life, liberty and happiness; popular sovereignty; equal opportunity. This, to the people of the old countries was the meaning of America. This was the promise of 1776.

When President Wilson went to Europe, speaking the language of liberty that is taught in every American schoolroom, the plain people turned to him with supreme confidence. To them he was the embodiment of the spirit of the West.

Native-born Americans hold the same idea. To them the Declaration of Independence was a final break with the old order of monarchical, imperial Europe. It was the charter of popular rights and human liberties, establishing once for all the principles of self-government and equal opportunity.

The Statue of Liberty, guarding the great port of entrance to America, symbolizes the spirit in which foreigners and natives alike think of her—as the champion of the weak and the oppressed; the guardian of justice; the standard-bearer of freedom.

This spirit of America is treasured to-day in the hearts of millions of her citizens. To the masses of the American people America stands to-day as she always stood. They believe in her freedom; they boast of her liberties; they have faith in her great destiny as the leader of an emancipated world. They respond, as did their ancestors, to the great truths of liberty, equality, and fraternity that inspired the eighteenth century.

The tradition of America is a hope, a faith, a conviction, a burning endeavor, centering in an ideal of liberty and justice for the human race.

Patrick Henry voiced this ideal when, a passionate appeal for freedom being interrupted by cries of "Treason, treason!" he faced the objector with the declaration, "If this be treason, make the most of it!"

Eighteenth century Europe, struggling against religious and political tyranny, looked to America as the land of Freedom. America to them meant liberty. "What Athens was in miniature, America will be in magnitude," wrote Tom Paine. "The one was the wonder of the ancient world; the other is becoming the admiration, the model of the present." ("The Rights of Man," Part II, Chapter 3.) The promise of 1776 was voiced by men who felt a consuming passion for freedom; a divine discontent with anything less than the highest possible justice; a hatred of tyranny, oppression and every form of special privilege and vested wrong. They yearned over the future and hoped grandly for the human race.


[1] "It is, Sir, the people's constitution, the people's government, made for the people, made by the people, and answerable to the people."—Daniel Webster's reply to Hayne, 1830. "Speeches and Orations." E. P. Whipple, Boston, Little, Brown and Co., p. 257.

[2] Tom Paine held ardently to this doctrine, "It is always the interest of a far greater number of people in a Nation to have things right than to let them remain wrong; and when public matters are open to debate, and the public judgment free, it will not decide wrong unless it decides too hastily!" "Rights of Man," Part II, Ch. 4.

[3] "Rights of Man," Thomas Paine. Part II, Chapter 3.


1. Promise and Fulfillment

A vast gulf yawns between the inspiring promise that a handful of men and women made to the world in 1776, and the fulfillment of that promise that is embodied in twentieth century American life. The pre-war indifference to the loss of liberty; the gradual encroachments on the rights of free speech, and free assemblage and of free press; the war-time suppressions, tyrannies, and denials of justice; the subsequent activities of city, state, and national legislatures and executives in passing and enforcing laws that provided for military training in violation of conscience, the denial of freedom of belief, of thought, of speech, of press and of assemblage,—activities directed specifically to the negation of those very principles of liberty which have constituted so intimate a part of the American tradition of freedom,—form a contrast between the promise of 1776 and the twentieth century fulfillment of that promise which is brutal in its terrible intensity.

Many thoughtful Americans have been baffled by this conflict between the aims of the eighteenth century and the accomplishments of the twentieth. The facts they admit. For explanation, either they may say, "It was the war," implying that with the cessation of hostilities and the return to a peace basis, the situation has undergone a radical change; or else they blame some individual or some organization for the extinction of American liberties.

Great consequences arise from great causes. A general break-down of liberties cannot be attributed to individual caprice nor to a particular legislative or judicial act.

The denial of liberty in the United States is a matter of large import. No mayor, governor, president, legislature, court, magnate, banker, corporation or trust, and no combination of these individuals and organizations could arbitrarily destroy the American Republic. Underneath personality and partisanship are working the forces which have stripped the American people of their essential liberties as the April sun strips the mountains of their snow.

No one can read the history of the United States since the drafting of the Declaration of Independence without being struck by the complete transformation in the forms of American life. The Industrial Revolution which had gripped England for half a century, made itself felt in the United States after 1815. Steam, transportation, industrial development, city life, business organization, expansion across the continent—these are the factors that have made of the United States a nation utterly apart from the nation of which those who signed the Declaration of Independence and fought the Revolution dreamed.

These economic changes have brought political changes. The American Republic has been thrust aside. Above its remains towers a mighty imperial structure,—the world of business,—bulwarked by usage and convention; safeguarded by legislation, judicial interpretation, and the whole power of organized society. That structure is the American Empire—as real to-day as the Roman Empire in the days of Julius Caesar; the French Empire under the Little Corporal, or the British Empire of the Great Commoner, William E. Gladstone.

Approved or disapproved; exalted or condemned; the fact of empire must be evident even to the hasty observer. The student, tracing its ramifications, realizes that the structure has been building for generations.

2. The Characteristics of Empire

Many minds will refuse to accept the term "empire" as applied to a republic. Accustomed to link "empire" with "emperor," they conceive of a supreme hereditary ruler as an essential part of imperial life. A little reflection will show the inadequacy of such a concept. "The British Empire" is an official term, used by the British Government, although Great Britain is a limited monarchy, whose king has less power than the President of the United States. On the other hand, eastern potentates, who exercise absolute sway over their tiny dominions do not rule "empires."

Recent usage has given the term "empire" a very definite meaning, which refers, not to an "emperor" but to certain relations between the parts of a political or even of an economic organization. The earlier uses of the word "empire" were, of course, largely political. Even in that political sense, however, an "empire" does not necessarily imply the domain of an "emperor."

According to the definition appearing in the "New English Dictionary" wherever "supreme and extensive political dominion" is exercised "by a sovereign state over its dependencies" an empire exists. The empire is "an aggregation of subject territories ruled over by a sovereign state." The terms of the definition are political, but it leaves the emperor entirely out of account and makes an empire primarily a matter of organization and not of personality.

During the last fifty years colonialism, the search for foreign markets, and the competition for the control of "undeveloped" countries has brought the words "empire" and "imperialism" into a new category, where they relate, not to the ruler—be he King or Emperor—but to the extension of commercial and economic interests. The "financial imperialism" of F. C. Howe and the "imperialism" of J. A. Hobson are primarily economic and only incidentally political.

"Empire" conveys the idea of widespread authority, dominion, rule, subjugation. Formerly it referred to political power; to-day it refers to economic power. In either case the characteristics of empire are,—

1. Conquered territory.

2. Subject peoples.

3. An imperial or ruling class.

4. The exploitation of the subject peoples and the conquered territory for the benefit of the ruling class.

Wherever these four characteristics of imperial organization exist, there is an empire, in all of its essential features. They are the acid-test, by which the presence of empire may be determined.

Names count for nothing. Rome was an empire, while she still called herself a republic. Napoleon carried on his imperial activities for years under the authority of Republican France. The existence of an empire depends, not upon the presence of an "emperor" but upon the presence of those facts which constitute Empire,—conquered territory; subject peoples; an imperial class; exploitation by and for this class. If these facts exist in Russia, Russia is an empire; if they are found in Germany, Germany is an empire; if they appear in the United States, the United States is an empire none the less surely,—traditions, aspirations and public conviction to the contrary notwithstanding.

3. The Preservation of Empire

The first business of an imperial class is the preservation of the empire to which it owes its advantages and privileges. Therefore, in its very essence, imperialism is opposed to popular government. "The greatest good to the greatest number" is the ideal that directs the life of a self-governing community. "The safety and happiness of the ruling class" is the first principle of imperial organization.

Imperialism is so generally recognized and so widely accepted as a mortal foe of popular government that the members of an imperial class, just rising into power, are always careful to keep the masses of the people ignorant of the true course of events. This necessity explains the long period, in the history of many great empires, when the name and forms of democracy were preserved, after the imperial structure had been established on solid foundations. Slow changes, carefully directed and well disguised, are necessary to prevent outraged peoples from rising against an imperial order when they discover how they have been sold into slavery. Even with all of the safeguards, under the control of the ablest statesmen, Caesar frequently meets his Brutus.

The love of justice; the yearning for liberty; the sense of fair play; the desire to extend opportunity, all operate powerfully upon those to whom the principles of self-government are dearest, leading them to sacrifice position, economic advantage, and sometimes life itself for the sake of the principles to which they have pledged their faith.

Therein lies what is perhaps one of the most essential differences between popular government and empire. The former rests upon certain ideas of popular rights and liberties. The latter is a weapon of exploitation in the hands of the ruling class. Popular government lies in the hopes and beliefs of the people. Empire is the servant of ambition and the shadow of greed. Popular government has been evolved by the human race at an immense sacrifice during centuries of struggle against the forms and ideas that underly imperialism. Since men have set their backs on the past and turned their faces with resolute hope to the future, empire has repelled them, while democracy has called and beckoned.

Empires have been made possible by "bread and circuses"; by appealing to an abnormally developed sense of patriotism; by the rule of might where largess and cajolery have failed. Rome, Germany and Britain are excellent examples of these three methods. In each case, millions of citizens have had faith in the empire, believing in its promise of glory and of victory; but on the other hand, this belief could be maintained only by a continuous propaganda—triumphs in Rome, school-books and "boilerplate" in Germany and England. Even then, the imperial class is none too secure in its privileges. Always from the abysses of popular discontent, there arises some Spartacus, some Liebknecht, some Smillie, crying that "the future belongs to the people."

The imperial class, its privileges unceasingly threatened by the popular love of freedom—devotes not a little attention to the problem of "preserving law and order" by suppressing those who speak in the name of liberty, and by carrying on a generous advertising campaign, the object of which is to persuade the people of the advantages which they derive from imperial rule.

During the earlier stages in the development of empire, the imperial class is able to keep itself and its designs in the background. As time passes, however, the power of the imperialist becomes more and more evident, until some great crisis forces the empire builders to step out into the open. They then appear as the frank apologists, spokesmen and defenders of the order for which they have so faithfully labored and from which they expect to gain so much.

Finally, the ambition of some aggressive leader among the imperialists, or a crisis in the affairs of the empire leads to the next step—the appointment of a "dictator," "supreme ruler" or "emperor." This is the last act of the imperial drama. Henceforth, the imperial class divides its attention between,—

1. The suppression of agitation and revolt among the people at home;

2. Maintaining the imperial sway over conquered territory;

3. Extending the boundaries of the empire and

4. The unending struggle between contending factions of the ruling class for the right to carry on the work of exploitation at home and abroad.

4. The Price of Empire

Since the imperial or ruling class is willing to go to any lengths in order to preserve the empire upon which its privileges depend, it follows that the price of empire must be reckoned in the losses that the masses of the people suffer while safeguarding the privileges of the few.

As a matter of course, conquered and dependent people pay with their liberty for their incorporation into the empire that holds dominion over them. On any other basis, empire is unthinkable. Indeed the terms "dependencies," "domination," and "subject" carry with them only one possible implication—the subordination or extinction of the liberties of the peoples in question.

The imperial class—a minority—depends for its continued supremacy upon the ownership of some form of property, whether this property be slaves, or land, or industrial capital. As Veblen puts it: "The emergence of the leisure class coincides with the beginning of ownership." ("Theory of the Leisure Class," T. Veblen, New York. B. W. Huebsch, 1899, p. 22.) Necessarily, therefore, the imperial class will sacrifice the so-called human or personal rights of the home population to the protection of its property rights. Indeed the property rights come to be regarded as the essential human rights, although there is but a small minority of the community that can boast of the possession of property.

The superiority of ruling class property rights over the personal rights and liberties of the inhabitants in a subject territory is taken as a matter of course. Even in the home country, where the issue is clearly made, the imperial class will sacrifice the happiness, the health, the longevity, and the lives of the propertyless class in the interest of "law and order" and "the protection of property." The stories of the Roman populace; of the French peasants under Louis XIV; of the English factory workers (men, women and children) during the past hundred years, and of the low skilled workers in the United States since the Civil War, furnish ample proof of the correctness of this contention. The life, liberty and happiness of the individual citizen is a matter of small importance so long as the empire is saved.

A crisis in imperial affairs is always regarded, by the ruling class, as a legitimate reason for curtailing the rights of the people. Under ordinary circumstances, the imperial class will gain rather than lose from the exercise of "popular liberties." Indeed, the exercise of these liberties is of the greatest assistance in convincing the people that they are enjoying freedom and thus keeping them satisfied with their lot. But in a period of turmoil, with men's hearts stirred, and their souls aflamed with conviction and idealism, there is always danger that the people may exercise their "unalienable right" to "alter or abolish" their form of government. Consequently, during a crisis, the imperial class takes temporary charge of popular liberties. Every great empire engaged in the recent war passed through such an experience. In each country the ruling class announced that the war was a matter of life and death. Papers were suppressed or censored; free speech was denied; men were conscripted against will and conscience; constitutions were thrust aside; laws "slumbered"; writers and thinkers were jailed for their opinions; food was rationed; industries were controlled—all in the interest of "winning the war." After the war was won, the victors practiced an even more rigorous suppression while they were "making the peace." Then followed months and years of protests and demands, until, one by one, the liberties were retaken by the people or else the war-tyranny, once firmly established, became a part of "the heritage of empire." In such cases, where liberties were not regained, the plain people learned to do without them.

Liberty is the price of empire. Imperialism presupposes that the people will be willing, at any time, to surrender their "rights" at the call of the rulers.

5. The Universality of Empire

Imperialism is not new, nor is it confined to one nation or to one race. On the contrary it is as old as history and as wide as the world.

Before Rome, there was Carthage. Before Carthage, there were Greece, Macedonia, Egypt, Assyria, China. Where history has a record, it is a record of empire.

During modern times, international affairs have been dominated by empires. The great war was a war between empires. During the first three years, the two chief contestants were the British Empire on the one hand and the German Empire on the other. Behind these leaders were the Russian Empire, the Italian Empire, the French Empire, and the Japanese Empire.

The Peace of Versailles was a peace between empires. Five empires dominated the peace table—Great Britain, France, Italy, Japan and the United States. The avowedly anti-imperial nations of Europe—Russia and Hungary—were not only excluded from the deliberations of the Peace Table, but were made the object of constant diplomatic, military and economic aggression by the leading imperialist nations.

6. The Evolution of Empire

Empires do not spring, full grown, from the surroundings of some great historic crisis. Rather they, like all other social institutions, are the result of a long series of changes that lead by degrees from the pre-imperial to the imperial stage. Many of the great empires of the past two thousand years have begun as republics, or, as they are sometimes called, "democracies," and the processes of transformation from the republican to the imperial stage have been so gradual that the great mass of the people were not aware that any change had occurred until the emperor ascended the throne.

The development of empire is of necessity a slow process. There are the dependent people to be subjected; the territory to conquered; the imperial class to be built up. This last process takes, perhaps, more time than either of the other two. Class consciousness is not created in a day. It requires long experience with the exercise of imperial power before the time has come to proclaim an emperor, and forcibly to take possession of the machinery of public affairs.

7. The United States and the Stages of Empire

Any one who is familiar with its history will realize at once that the United States is passing through some of the more advanced stages in the development of empire. The name "Republic" still remains; the traditions of the Republic are cherished by millions; the republican forms are almost intact, but the relations of the United States to its conquered territory and its subject peoples; the rapid maturation of the plutocracy as a governing class or caste; the shamelessness of the exploitation in which the rulers have indulged; and the character of the forces that are now shaping public policy, proclaim to all the world the fact of empire.

The chief characteristics of empire exist in the United States. Here are conquered territory; subject peoples; an imperial, ruling class, and the exploitation by that class of the people at home and abroad. During generations the processes of empire have been working, unobserved, in the United States. Through more than two centuries the American people have been busily laying the foundations and erecting the imperial structure. For the most part, they have been unconscious of the work that they were doing, as the dock laborer, is ordinarily unconscious of his part in the mechanism of industry. Consciously or unconsciously, the American people have reared the imperial structure, until it stands, to-day, imposing in its grandeur, upon the spot where many of the founders of the American government hoped to see a republic.

The entrance of the United States into the war did not greatly alter the character of the forces at work, nor did it in any large degree change the direction in which the country was moving. Rather, it brought to the surface of public attention factors of American life that had been evolving unnoticed, for generations.

The world situation created by the war compelled the American imperial class to come out in the open and to occupy a position that, while wholly inconsistent with the traditions of American life, is nevertheless in keeping with the demands of imperial necessity. The ruling class in the United States has taken a logical step and has made a logical stand. The masters of American life have done the only thing that they could do in the interests of the imperial forces that they represent. They are the victims, as much as were the Kaiser and the Czar on the one hand, and the Belgians and the Serbs on the other, of that imperial necessity that knows no law save the preservation of its own most sacred interests.

Certain liberal American thinkers have taken the stand that the incidents of 1917-1918 were the result of the failure of the President, and of certain of his advisers, to follow the theories which he had enunciated, and to stand by the cause that he had espoused. These critics overlook the incidental character of the war as a factor in American domestic policy. The war never assumed anything like the importance in the United States that it did among the European belligerents. On the surface, it created a furore, but underneath the big fact staring the administration in the face was the united front of the business interests, and their organized demands for action. The far-seeing among the business men realized that the plutocratic structure the world over was in peril, and that the fate of the whole imperial regime was involved in the European struggle. The Russian Revolution of March 1917 was the last straw. From that time on the entrance of the United States into the war became a certainty as the only means of "saving (capitalist) civilization."

The thoughtful student of the situation in the United States is not deceived by personalities and names. He realizes that the events of 1917-1918 have behind them generations of causes which lead logically to just such results; that he is witnessing one phase of a great process in the life of the American nation—a process that is old in its principles yet ever new in its manifestations.

Traditional liberties have always given way before imperial necessity. An examination of the situation in which the ruling class of the United States found itself in 1917, and of the forces that were operating to determine public policy, must convince even the enthusiast that the occurrences of 1917 and the succeeding years were the logical outcome of imperial necessity. To what extent that explanation will account for the discrepancy between the promise of 1776 and the twentieth century fulfillment of that promise must appear from a further examination of the evidence.


1. The Conquering Peoples

The first step in the establishment of empire—the conquest of territory and the subjugation of the conquered populations,—was taken by the people of the United States at the time of their earliest settlements. They took the step naturally, unaffectedly, as became the sons of their fathers.

The Spanish, French, and English who made the first settlement in North America were direct descendants of the tribes that have swept across Europe and portions of Asia during the past three or four thousand years. These tribes, grouped on the basis of similarity in language under the general term "Aryan," hold a record of conquest that fills the pages of written history.

Hunger; the pressure of surplus population; the inrush of new hordes of invaders, drove them on. Ambition; the love of adventure; the lure of new opportunities in new lands, called them further. Meliorism,—the desire to better the conditions of life for themselves and for their children—animated them. In later years the necessity of disposing of surplus wealth impelled them. Driven, lured, coerced, these Aryan tribes have inundated the earth. Passing beyond the boundaries of Europe, they have crossed the seas into Africa, Asia, America and Australia.

Among the Aryans, after bitter strife, the Teutons have attained supremacy. The "Teutonic Peoples" are "the English speaking inhabitants of the British Isles, the German speaking inhabitants of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Switzerland, the Flemish speaking inhabitants of Belgium, the Scandinavian inhabitants of Sweden and Norway and practically all of the inhabitants of Holland and Denmark." ("Encyclopedia Britannica.")

This Teutonic domination has been established only by the bitterest of struggles. During the time when North America was being settled, the English dispossessed first the Spanish and later the French. Since the Battle of Waterloo—won by English and German troops; and the Crimean War—won by British against Russian troops—the Teutonic power has gone unchallenged and so it remains to-day.

The dominant power in the United States for nearly two centuries has been the English speaking power. Thus the Americans draw their inspiration, not only from the Aryan, but from the English speaking Teutons—the most aggressive and dominating group among the Aryans.

Three hundred years ago the title to North America was claimed by Spain, France and Great Britain. The land itself was almost entirely in the hands of Indian tribes which held the possession that according to the proverb, is "nine points of the law."

The period of American settlement has witnessed the rapid dispossession of the original holders, until, at the present time, the Indians have less than two per cent of the land area of the United States.[4]

The conquest, by the English speaking whites, of the three million square miles which comprise the United States has been accomplished in a phenomenally short space of time. Migration; military occupation; appropriation of the lands taken from the "enemy;" settlement, and permanent exploitation—through all these stages of conquest the country has moved.

The "Historical Register of the United States Army" (F. B. Heitman, Washington, Govt. Print., 1903, vol. 2, pp. 298-300) contains a list of 114 wars in which the United States has been engaged since 1775. The publication likewise presents a list of 8600 battles and engagements incident to these 114 wars. Two of these wars were with England, one with Mexico and one with Spain. These, together with the Civil War and the War with Germany, constitute the major struggles in which the United States has been engaged. In addition to these six great wars there were the numerous wars with the Indians, the last of which (with the Chippewa) occurred in 1898. Some of these Indian "wars" were mere policing expeditions. Others, like the wars with the Northwest Indians, with the Seminoles and with the Apaches, lasted for years and involved a considerable outlay of life and money.

When the Indian Wars were ended, and the handful of red men had been crushed by the white millions, the American Indians, once possessors of a hunting ground that stretched across the continent, found themselves in reservations, under government tutelage, or else, abandoning their own customs and habits of life, they accepted the "pale-face" standards in preference to their own well-loved traditions.

The territory flanking the Mississippi Valley, with its coastal plains and the deposits of mineral wealth, is one of the richest in the world. Only two other areas, China and Russia, can compare with it in resources.

This garden spot came into the possession of the English speaking whites almost without a struggle. It was as if destiny had held a door tight shut for centuries and suddenly had opened it to admit her chosen guests.

History shows that such areas have almost always been held by one powerful nation after another, and have been the scene of ferocious struggles. Witness the valleys of the Euphrates, the Nile, the Danube, the Po and the Rhine. The barrier of the Atlantic saved North America.

Had the Mississippi Valley been in Europe, Asia or Northern Africa, it would doubtless have been blood-soaked for centuries and dominated by highly organized nations, armed to the teeth. Lying isolated, it presented an almost virgin opportunity to the conquering Teutons of Western Europe.

Freed by their isolated position from the necessity of contending against outside aggression, the inhabitants of the United States have expended their combative energies against the weaker peoples with whom they came into immediate contact,—

1. The Indians, from whom they took the land and wrested the right to exploit the resources of the continent;

2. The African Negroes who were captured and brought to America to labor as slaves;

3. The Mexicans, from whom they took additional slave territory at a time when the institution of slavery was in grave danger, and

4. The Spanish Empire from which they took foreign investment opportunities at a time when the business interests of the country first felt the pressure of surplus wealth.

Each of these four groups was weak. No one of them could present even the beginnings of an effectual resistance to the onslaught of the conquerors. Each in turn was forced to bow the knee before overwhelming odds.

2. The First Obstacle to Conquest

The first obstacle to the spread of English civilization across the continent of North America was the American Indian. He was in possession of the country; he had a culture of his own; he held the white man's civilization in contempt and refused to accept it. He had but one desire,—to be let alone.

The continent was a "wilderness" to the whites. To the Indians it was a home. Their villages were scattered from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from the Gulf to Alaska; they knew well its mountains, plains and rivers. A primitive people, supporting themselves largely by hunting, fishing, simple agriculture and such elemental manual arts as pottery and weaving, they found the vast stretches of North America none too large to provide them with the means of satisfying their wants.

The ideas of the Indian differed fundamentally from those of the white man. Holding to the Eastern conception which makes the spiritual life paramount, he reduced his material existence to the simplest possible terms. He had no desire for possessions, which he regarded—at the best—as "only means to the end of his ultimate perfection."[5] To him, the white man's desire for wealth was incomprehensible and the white man's sedentary life was contemptible. He must be free at all times to commune with nature in the valleys, and at sunrise and sunset to ascend the mountain peak and salute the Great Spirit.

The individual Indian—having no desire for wealth—could not be bribed or bought for gold as could the European. The leaders, democratically selected, and held by the most enduring ties of loyalty to their tribal oaths, were above the mercenary standards of European commerce and statesmanship. Friendly, hospitable, courteous, generous, hostile, bitter, ferocious they were—but they were not for sale.

The attitude of the Indian toward the land which the white men coveted was typical of his whole relation with white civilization. "Land ownership, in the sense in which we use the term, was unknown to the Indians till the whites came among them."[6] The land devoted to villages was tribal property; the hunting ground surrounding the village was open to all of the members of the tribe; between the hunting grounds of different tribes there was a neutral territory—no man's land—that was common to both. If a family cultivated a patch of land, the neighbors did not trespass. Among the Indians of the Southwest the village owned the agricultural land and "periodically its governor, elected by popular vote, would distribute or redistribute the arable acres among his constituents who were able to care for them."[7] The Indians believed that the land, like the sunlight, was a gift of the Great Spirit to his children, and they were as willing to part with the one as with the other.

They carried their communal ideas still farther. Among the Indians of the Northwest, a man's possessions went at his death to the whole tribe and were distributed among the tribal members. Among the Alaskan Indians, no man, during his life, could possess more than he needed while his neighbor lacked. Food was always regarded as common property. "The rule being to let him who was hungry eat, wherever he found that which would stay the cravings of his stomach."[8] The motto of the Indian was "To each according to his need."

Such a communist attitude toward property, coupled with a belief that the land—the gift of the Great Spirit—was a trust committed to the tribe, proved a source of constant irritation to the white colonists who needed additional territory. As the colonies grew, it became more and more imperative to increase the land area open for settlement, and to such encroachments the Indian offered a stubborn resistance.

The Indian would not—could not—part with his land, neither would he work, as a slave or a wage-servant. Before such degradation he preferred death. Other peoples—the negroes; the inhabitants of Mexico, Peru and the West Indies; the Hindus and the Chinese—made slaves or servants. The Indian for generations held out stolidly against the efforts of missionaries, farmers and manufacturers alike to convert him into a worker.

The Indian could not understand the ideas of "purchase," "sale" and "cash payment" that constitute essential features of the white man's economy. To him strength of limb, courage, endurance, sobriety and personal dignity and reserve were infinitely superior to any of the commercial virtues which the white men possessed.

This attitude of the Indian toward European standards of civilization; his indifference to material possessions; his unwillingness to part with the land; and his refusal to work, made it impossible to "assimilate" him, as other peoples were assimilated, into colonial society. The individual Indian would not demean himself by becoming a cog in the white man's machine. He preferred to live and die in the open air of his native hills and plains.

The Indian was an intense individualist—trained in a school of experience where initiative and personal qualities were the tests of survival. He placed the soles of his moccasined feet firmly against his native earth, cast his eyes around him and above him and melted harmoniously into his native landscape.

Missionaries and teachers labored in vain—once an Indian, always an Indian. The white settlers pushed on across mountain ranges and through valleys. Generations came and went without any marked progress in bringing the white men and the red men together. When the Indian, in the mission or in the government school did become "civilized," he gave over his old life altogether and accepted the white man's codes and standards. The two methods of life were too far apart to make amalgamation possible.

3. Getting the Land

The white man must have land! Population was growing. The territory along the frontier seemed rich and alluring.

Everywhere, the Indian was in possession, and everywhere he considered the sale of land in the light of parting with a birth-right. He was friendly at first, but he had no sympathy with the standards of white civilization.

For such a situation there was only one possible solution. Under the plea that "necessity knows no law" the white man took up the task of eliminating the Indian, with the least friction, and in the most effective manner possible.

There were three methods of getting the land away from the Indian—the easiest was by means of treaties, under which certain lands lying along the Atlantic Coast were turned over to the whites in exchange for larger territories west of the Mississippi. The second method was by purchase. The third was by armed conquest. All three methods were employed at some stage in the relations between the whites and each Indian tribe.

The experience with the Cherokee Nation is typical of the relation between the whites and the other Indian tribes. (Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology. Vol. 5. "The Cherokee Nation," by Charles C. Royce.)

The Cherokee nation before the year 1650 was established on the Tennessee River, and exercised dominion over all the country on the east side of the Alleghany Mountains, including the head-waters of the Yadkin, the Catawba, the Broad, the Savannah, the Chattahoochee and the Alabama. In 1775 there were 43 Cherokee towns covering portions of this territory. In 1799 their towns numbered 51.

Treaty relations between the whites and the Cherokees began in 1721, when there was a peace council, held between the representatives of 37 towns and the authorities of South Carolina. From that time, until the treaty made with the United States government in 1866, the Cherokees were gradually pushed back from their rich hunting grounds toward the Mississippi valley. By the treaty of 1791, the United States solemnly guaranteed to the Cherokees all of their land, the whites not being permitted even to hunt on them. In 1794 and 1804 new treaties were negotiated, involving additional cessions of land. By the treaty of 1804, a road was to be cut through the Cherokee territory, free for the use of all United States citizens.

An agitation arose for the removal of the Cherokees to some point west of the Mississippi River. Some of the Indians accepted the opportunity and went to Arkansas. Others held stubbornly to their villages. Meanwhile white hunters and settlers encroached on their land; white men debauched their women, and white desperadoes stole their stock. By the treaty of 1828 the United States agreed to possess the Cherokees and to guarantee to them forever several millions of acres west of Arkansas, and in addition a perpetual outlet west, and a "free and unmolested use of all the country lying west of the western boundary of the above described limits and as far west as the sovereignty of the United States and their right of soil extend" (p. 229). The Cherokees who had settled in Arkansas agreed to leave their lands within 14 months. By the treaty of 1836 the Cherokees ceded to the United States all lands east of the Mississippi. There was considerable difficulty in enforcing this provision but by degrees most of the Indians were removed west of the river. In 1859 and 1860 the Commissioner of Indian affairs prepared a survey of the Cherokee domain. This was opposed by the head men of the nation. By the Treaty of 1866 other tribes were quartered on land owned by the Cherokees and railroads were run through their territory.

Diplomacy, money and the military forces had done their work. The first treaty, made in 1721, found the Cherokee nation in virtual possession of the mountainous regions of Southeastern United States. The twenty-fourth treaty (1866) left them on a tiny reservation, two thousand miles from their former home. Those twenty-four treaties had netted the State and Federal governments 81,220,374 acres of land (p. 378). To-day the Cherokee Nation has 63,211 acres.[9]

A great nation of proud, independent, liberty-loving men and women, came into conflict with the whites of the Carolinas and Georgia; with the state and national governments. "For two hundred years a contest involving their very existence as a people has been maintained against the unscrupulous rapacity of Anglo-Saxon civilization. By degrees they were driven from their ancestral domain to an unknown and inhabitable region" (p. 371). Now the contest is ended. The white men have the land. The Cherokees have a little patch of territory; government support; free schools and the right to accept the sovereignty of the nation that has conquered them.

The theory upon which the whites proceeded in taking the Indian lands is thus stated by Leupp,—"Originally, the Indians owned all the land; later we needed most of it for ourselves; therefore, it is but just that the Indians should have what is left."[10]

4. The Triumph of the Whites

The early white settlers had been, in almost every instance, hospitably or even reverentially welcomed by the Indians, who regarded them as children of the Great White Spirit. During the first bitter winters, it was the Indians who fed the colonists from their supplies of grain; guided them to the better lands, and shared with them their knowledge of hunting, fishing and agriculture. The whites retaliated with that cunning, grasping, bestial ferocity which has spread terror through the earth during the past five centuries.

In the early years, when the whites were few and the Indians many, the whites satisfied themselves by debauching the red men with whiskey and bribing them with baubles and trinkets. At the same time they made offensive and defensive alliances with them. The Spanish in the South; the French in the North and the English between, leagued themselves with the various tribes, supplied them with gunpowder and turned them into mercenaries who fought for hire. Heretofore the Indian had been a free man, fighting his wars and feuds as free men have done time out of mind. The whites hired him as a professional soldier and by putting bounties on scalps, plying the Indians with whiskey and inciting them by every known device, they converted them into demons.

There is no evidence to show that up to the advent of the white men the Indian tribes did any more fighting among themselves than the nobles of Germany, the city states of Italy or the other inhabitants of western Europe. Indeed there has recently been published a complete translation of the "Constitution of the Five Nations," a league to enforce peace which the Indians organized about the year 1390, A. D.[11] This league which had as its object the establishment of the "Great Peace" was built upon very much the same argument as that advanced for the League of Nations of 1919.

When the whites first came to North America, the Indians were a formidable foe. For years they continued to be a menace to the lonely settler or the frontier village. But when the white settlers were once firmly established, the days of uncertainty were over, and the Indians were brushed aside as a man brushes aside a troublesome insect. Their "uprisings" and "wars" counted for little or nothing. They were inferior in numbers; they were poorly armed and equipped; they had no reserves upon which to draw; there was no organization among the tribes in distant portions of the country. The white millions swept onward. The Indian bands made a stand here and there but the tide of white civilization overwhelmed them, smothered them, destroying them and their civilization together.

The Indians were the first obstacle to the building of the American Empire. Three hundred years ago the whole three million square miles that is now the United States was theirs. They were the American people. To-day they number 328,111 in a population of 105,118,467 and the total area of their reservations is 53,489 square miles. (Statistical Abstract of the U. S., 1918, pp. 8 and 776.)


[4] The total number of square miles in Indian Reservations in 1918 was 53,490 as against 241,800 square miles in 1880. (Statistical Abstract of the United States, 1918, p. 8.)

[5] "The Indian of To-day," C. A. Eastman. New York, Doubleday, 1915, p. 4.

[6] "The Indian and His Problem," F. E. Leupp. New York, Scribners, 1910, p. 23.

[7] Ibid., p. 24.

[8] Ibid., p. 10.

[9] "Referring to your inquiry of November 20, 1919, concerning the Cherokee Indian Reservation, you are advised that the Cherokee Indian country in the northeastern part of Oklahoma aggregated 4,420,068 acres.

"Of said area 4,346,223 acres have been allotted in severalty to the enrolled members of said Cherokee Indian Nation, Oklahoma. Twenty-two thousand eight hundred and eighty acres were disposed of as town lots, or reserved for railway rights of way, churches, schools, cemeteries, etc., and the remaining area has been sold, or otherwise disposed of as provided by law.

"The Cherokee tribal land in Oklahoma with the exception of the possible title of said Nation to certain river beds has been disposed of.

"In reference to the Eastern band of Cherokees, you are advised that said Indians who have been incorporated hold title in fee to certain land in North Carolina, known as the Qualla Reservation and certain other lands, aggregating 63,211 acres."—Letter from the Office of Indian Affairs. Dec. 9, 1919, "In re Cherokee land."

[10] "The Indian and His Problem," F. E. Leupp. New York, Scribners, 1910, p. 24.

[11] See Bulletin 184, New York State Museum, Albany, 1916, p. 61.


1. The Labor Shortage

The American colonists took the land which they required for settlement from the Indians. The labor necessary to work this land was not so easily secured. The colonists had set themselves the task of establishing European civilization upon a virgin continent. In order to achieve this result, they had to cut the forests; clear the land; build houses; cultivate the soil; construct ships; smelt iron, and carry on a multitude of activities that were incidental to setting up an old way of life in a new world. The one supreme and immediate need was the need for labor power. From the earliest days of colonization there had been no lack of harbors, fertile soil, timber, minerals and other resources. From the earliest days the colonists experienced a labor shortage.

The labor situation was trebly difficult. First, there was no native labor; second, passage from Europe was so long and so hazardous that only the bold and venturesome were willing to attempt it, and third, when these adventurers did reach the new world, they had a choice between taking up free land and working it for themselves and taking service with a master. Men possessing sufficient initiative to leave an old home and make a journey across the sea were not the men to submit themselves to unnecessary authority when they might, at will, become masters of their own fortunes. The appeal of a new life was its own argument, and the newcomers struck out for themselves.

Throughout the colonies, and particularly in the South where the plantation culture of rice and tobacco, and later of cotton, called for large numbers of unskilled workers, the labor problem was acute. The abundance of raw materials and fertile land; the speedy growth of industry in the North and of agriculture in the South; the generous profits and expanding markets created a labor demand which far outstripped the meager supply,—a demand that was met by the importation of black slaves from Africa.

2. The Slave Coast

The "Slave Coast" from which most of the Negroes came was discovered by Portuguese navigators, who were the first Europeans to venture down the West coast of Africa, and, rounding the "lobe" of the continent, to sail East along the "Gold Coast." The trade in gold and ivory which sprang up as a result of these early explorations led other nations of Europe to begin an eager competition which eventually brought French, Dutch, German, Danish and English commercial interests into sharp conflict with the Portuguese.

Ships sailing from the Gold Coast for home ports made a practice of picking up such slaves as they could easily secure. By 1450 the number reaching Portugal each year was placed at 600 or 700.[12] From this small and quite incidental beginning there developed a trade which eventually supplied Europe, the West Indies, North America and South America with black slaves.

Along the "Slave Coast," which extended from Cape Verde on the North to Cape St. Martha on the South, and in the hinterland there lived Negroes of varying temperaments and of varying standards of culture. Some of them were fierce and warlike. Others were docile and amenable to discipline. The former made indifferent slaves; the latter were eagerly sought after. "The Wyndahs, Nagoes and Pawpaws of the Slave Coast were generally the most highly esteemed of all. They were lusty and industrious, cheerful and submissive."[13]

The natives of the Slave Coast had made some notable cultural advances. They smelted metals; made pottery; wove; manufactured swords and spears of merit; built houses of stone and of mud, and made ornaments of some artistic value. They had developed trade with the interior, taking salt from the coast and bartering it for gold, ivory and other commodities at regular "market places."

The native civilization along the West coast of Africa was far from ideal, but it was a civilization which had established itself and which had made progress during historic times. It was a civilization that had evolved language; arts and crafts; tribal unity; village life, and communal organization. This native African civilization, in the seventeenth, eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries was confronted by an insatiable demand for black slaves. The conflicts that resulted from the efforts to supply that demand revolutionized and virtually destroyed all that was worthy of preservation in the native culture.

When the whites first went to the Slave Coast there was comparatively little slavery among the natives. Some captives, taken in war; some debtors, unable to meet their obligations, and some violators of religious rites, were held by the chief or the headman of the tribe. On occasion he would sell these slaves, but the slave trade was never established as a business until the white man organized it.

The whites came, and with guile and by force they persuaded and compelled the natives to permit the erection of forts and of trading posts. From the time of the first Portuguese settlement, in 1482, the whites began their work with rum and finished it with gun-powder. Rum destroyed the stamina of the native; gun-powder rendered his intertribal wars more destructive. These two agencies of European civilization combined, the one to degenerate, the other to destroy the native tribal life.

The traders, adventurers, buccaneers and pirates that gathered along the Slave Coast were not able to teach the natives anything in the way of cruelty, but they could and did give them lessons in cunning, trickery and double dealing. Early in the history of the Gold Coast the whites began using the natives to make war on commercial rivals. In one famous instance, "the Dutch had instigated the King of Fetu to refuse the Assins permission to pass through his territory. These people used to bring a great deal of gold to Cape Coast Castle (English), and the Dutch hoped in this way to divert the trade to their own settlements. The King having complied and plundered some of the traders on the way down, the Assins declared war against him and were assisted by the English with arms and ammunition. The King of Sabol was also paid to help them, and the allied army (20,000 strong) inflicted a crushing defeat on the Fetus."[14]

On another occasion, the Dutch were worsted in a war with some of the native tribes. Realizing that if they were to maintain themselves on the Coast they must raise an army as quickly as possible, they approached the Fetus and bargained with them to take the field and fight the Komendas until they had utterly exterminated them, on payment of $4,500. But no sooner had this arrangement been made than the English paid the Fetus an additional $4,500 to remain neutral![15]

Before 1750, when the competition for the slaves was less keen, and the supply came nearer to meeting the demand, the slavers were probably as honest in this as they were in any other trade with the natives. The whites encouraged and incited the native tribes to make war upon one another for the benefit of the whites. The whites fostered kidnaping, slavery and the slave trade. The natives were urged to betray one another, and the whites took advantage of their treachery. During the four hundred years that the African slave trade was continued, it was the whites who encouraged it; fostered it; and backed it financially. The slave trade was a white man's trade, carried on under conditions as far removed from the conditions of ordinary African life as the manufacturing and trading of Europe were removed from the manufacturing and trading of the Africans.

3. The Slave Trade

With the pressing demand from the Americas for a generous supply of black slaves, the business of securing them became one of the chief commercial activities of the time. "The trade bulked so large in the world's commerce in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries that every important maritime community on the Atlantic sought a share, generally with the sanction and often with the active assistance of its respective sovereign."[16]

The catching, holding and shipping of Negroes on the African coast was the means by which the demand for slaves was met. With a few minor exceptions, the whites did not engage directly in slave catching. In most instances they bought their slaves from native brokers who lived in the coast towns. The brokers, in turn, received their slaves from the interior, where they were captured during wars, by professional raiding parties, well supplied with arms and ammunition. Slave-catching, begun as a kidnaping of individuals, developed into a large-scale traffic that provided the revenue of the more war-like natives. Villages were attacked and burned, and whole tribes were destroyed or driven off to the slave-pens on the coast. After 1750, for nearly a hundred years, the demand for slaves was so great and the profits were so large that no pains were spared to secure them.

The Slave Coast native was compelled to choose between being a slave-catcher or a slave. As a slave-catcher he spread terror and destruction among his fellows, seized them and sold them to white men. As a slave he made the long journey across the Atlantic.

The number of slaves carried away from Africa is variously estimated. Claridge states that "the Guinea Coast as a whole supplied as many as from 70,000 to 100,000 yearly" in 1700.[17] Bogart estimates the number of slaves secured as 2,500 per year in 1700; 15,000 to 20,000 per year from 1713 to 1753; in 1771, 47,000 carried by British ships alone; and in 1768 the slaves shipped from the African coast numbered 97,000.[18] Add to these numbers those who were killed in the raids; those who died in the camps, where the mortality was very high, and those who committed suicide. The total represents the disturbing influence that the slave trade introduced into the native African civilization.

In the early years of the trade the ships were small and carried only a few hundred Negroes at most. As the trade grew, larger and faster ships were built with galleries between the decks. On these galleries the blacks were forced to lie with their feet outboard—ironed together, two and two, with the chains fastened to staples in the deck. "They were squeezed so tightly together that the average space allowed to each one was but 16 inches by five and a half feet."[19] The galleries were frequently made of rough lumber, not tightly joined. Later, when the trade was outlawed, the slaves were stowed away out of sight on loose shelves over the cargo. "Where the 'tween decks space was two feet high or more, the slaves were stowed sitting up in rows, one crowded into the lap of another, and with legs on legs, like rider on a crowded toboggan." (Spears, p. 71.) There they stayed for the weeks or the months of the voyage. "In storms the sailors had to put on the hatches and seal tight the openings into the infernal cesspool." (Spears, p. 71.) The odor of a slaver was often unmistakable at a distance of five miles down wind.

The terrible revolt of the slaves in the West Indies, beginning in 1781, gave the growing anti-slavery sentiment an immense impetus. It also gave the slave owners pause. The cotton-gin had not yet been invented. Slavery was on a shifty economic basis in the South. Great Britain passed the first law to limit the slave trade in 1788; the United States outlawed the trade in 1794. In 1824 Great Britain declared the slave trade piracy. During these years, and during the years that followed, until the last slaver left New York Harbor in 1863, the trade continued under the American flag, in swift, specially constructed American-built ships.

As the restrictions upon the trade became more severe in the face of an increasing demand for slaves, "the fitting out of slavers developed into a flourishing business in the United States, and centered in New York City." The New York Journal of Commerce notes in 1857 that "down-town merchants of wealth and respectability are extensively engaged in buying and selling African Negroes, and have been, with comparatively little interruption for an indefinite number of years." A writer in the Continental Monthly for January, 1862, says:—"The city of New York has been until of late the principal port of the world for this infamous commerce; although the cities of Boston and Portland, are only second to her in distinction." During the years 1859-1860 eighty-five slavers are reported to have fitted out in New York Harbor and these ships alone had a capacity to transport from 30,000 to 60,000 slaves a year.[20]

The merchants of the North pursued the slave trade so relentlessly because it paid such enormous profits on the capital outlay. Some of the voyages went wrong, but the trade, on the whole, netted immense returns. At the end of the eighteenth century a good ship, fitted to carry from 300 to 400 slaves, could be built for about $35,000. Such a ship would make a clear profit of from $30,000 to $100,000 in a single voyage. Some of them made as many as five voyages before they became so foul that they had to be abandoned.[21] While some voyages were less profitable than others, there was no avenue of international trade that offered more alluring possibilities.

Sanctioned by potentates, blessed by the church, and surrounded with the garments of respectability, the slave trade grew, until, in the words of Samuel Hopkins (1787), "The trade in human species has been the first wheel of commerce in Newport, on which every other movement in business has depended.... By it the inhabitants have gotten most of their wealth and riches." (Spears, p. 20.) After the vigorous measures taken by the British Government for its suppression, the slave trade was carried on chiefly in American-built ships; officered by American citizens; backed by American capital, and under the American flag.

The slave trade was the business of the North as slavery was the business of the South. Both flourished until the Proclamation of Emancipation in 1863.

4. Slavery in the United States

Slavery and the slave trade date from the earliest colonial times. The first slaves in the English colonies were brought to Jamestown in 1619 by a Dutch ship. The first American-built slave ship was the Desire, launched at Marblehead in 1636. There were Negro slaves in New York as early as 1626, although there were only a few hundred slaves in the colonies prior to 1650.

Since slave labor is economical only where the slaves can be worked together in gangs, there was never much slavery among the farmers and small business men of the North. On the other hand, in the South, the developing plantation system made it possible for the owner to use large gangs of slaves in the clearing of new land; in the raising of tobacco, and in caring for rice and cotton. The plantation system of agriculture and the cotton gin made slavery the success that it was in the United States. "The characteristic American slave, indeed, was not only a Negro, but a plantation workman."[22]

The opening years of the nineteenth century found slavery intrenched over the whole territory of the United States that lay South of the Mason and Dixon line. In that territory slave trading and slave owning were just as much a matter of course as horse trading and horse owning were a matter of course in the North. "Every public auctioneer handled slaves along with other property, and in each city there were brokers, buying them to sell again, and handling them on commission."[23]

The position of the broker is indicated in the following typical bill of sale which was published in Charleston, S. C., in 1795. "Gold Coast Negroes. On Thursday, the 17th of March instant, will be exposed to public sale near the exchange ... the remainder of the cargo of negroes imported in the ship Success, Captain John Conner, consisting chiefly of likely young boys and girls in good health, and having been here through the winter may be considered in some degree seasoned to the climate."[24]

Such a bill of sale attracted no more attention at that time than a similar bill advertising cattle attracts to-day.

During the early colonial days, the slaves were better fed and provided for than were the indentured servants. They were of greater money value and, particularly in the later years when slavery became the mainstay of Southern agriculture, a first class Negro, acclimated, healthy, willing and trustworthy, was no mean asset.

Toward the end of the eighteenth century slavery began to show itself unprofitable in the South. The best and most accessible land was exhausted. Except for the rice plantations of South Carolina and Georgia, slavery was not paying. The Southern delegates to the Constitutional Convention, with the exception of the delegates from these states, were prepared to abolish the slave trade. Some of them were ready to free their own slaves. Then came the invention of the cotton gin and the rise of the cotton kingdom. The amount of raw cotton consumed by England was 13,000 bales in 1781; 572,000 bales in 1820; and 3,366,000 bales in 1860. During that period, the South was almost the sole source of supply.

The attitude of the South, confronted by this wave of slave prosperity, underwent a complete change. Her statesmen had consented, between 1808 and 1820, to severe restrictive laws directed towards the slave trade. After cotton became king, slaves rose rapidly in price; land, once used and discarded, was again brought under cultivation; cotton-planting spread rapidly into the South and Southwest; Texas was annexed; the Mexican War was fought; an agitation was begun for the annexation of Cuba, and Calhoun (1836) declared that he "ever should regret that this term (piracy) had been applied" to the slave trade in our laws.[25]

The change of sentiment corresponded with the changing value of the slaves. Phillips publishes a detailed table of slave values in which he estimates that an unskilled, able-bodied young slave man was worth $300 in 1795; $500 to $700 in 1810; $700 to $1200 to in 1840; and $1100 to $1800 in 1860.[26] The factors which resulted in the increased slave prices were the increased demand for cotton, the increased demand for slaves, and the decrease in the importation of negroes due to the greater severity of the prohibitions on the slave trade.

5. Slavery for a Race

The American colonists needed labor to develop the wilderness. White labor was scarce and high, so the colonists turned to slave labor performed by imported blacks. The merchants of the North built the ships and carried on the slave trade at an immense profit. The plantation owners of the South exploited the Negroes after they reached the states.

The continuance of the slave trade and the provision of a satisfactory supply of slaves for the Southern market depended upon slave-catching in Africa, which, in turn, involved the destruction of an entire civilization. This work of destruction was carried forward by the leading commercial nations of the world. During nearly 250 years the English speaking inhabitants of America took an active part in the business of enslaving, transporting and selling black men. These Americans—citizens of the United States—bought stolen Negroes on the African coast; carried them against their will across the ocean; sold them into slavery, and then, on the plantations, made use of their enforced labor.

Both slavery and the slave trade were based on a purely economic motive—the desire for profit. In order to satisfy that desire, the American people helped to depopulate villages,—to devastate, burn, murder and enslave; to wipe out a civilization, and to bring the unwilling objects of their gain-lust thousands of miles across an impassable barrier to alien shores.


[12] "History of the Gold Coast," W. W. Claridge. London, Murray, 1915, vol. I, p. 39.

[13] "American Negro Slavery," U. B. Phillips. New York, Appleton, 1908, p. 43.

[14] "A History of the Gold Coast," W. W. Claridge. London, Murray, 1915, vol. I, p. 144.

[15] Ibid., p. 150.

[16] "American Negro Slavery," U. B. Phillips. New York, Appleton, 1918, p. 20.

[17] "History of the Gold Coast," W. W. Claridge. London, Murray, 1915, vol. I, p. 172.

[18] "Economic History of the U. S.," E. L. Bogart. New York, Longmans, 1910 ed., p. 84-5.

[19] "The American Slave Trade," J. R. Spears. New York, Scribners, 1901, p. 69.

[20] "The Suppression of the American Slave Trade," W. E. B. DuBois. New York, Longmans, 1896, p. 178-9.

[21] "The American Slave Trade," J. R. Spears. New York, Scribners, 1901, p. 84-5.

[22] "American Negro Slavery," U. B. Phillips. New York, Appleton, 1918, p. VII.

[23] Ibid., p. 190.

[24] Ibid., p. 40.

[25] Benton, "Abridgment of Debates." XII, p. 718.

[26] "American Negro Slavery," U. B. Phillips. New York, Appleton, 1918, p. 370.


1. Westward, Ho!

The English colonists in America occupied only the narrow strip of country between the Alleghanies and the Atlantic Ocean. The interior was inhabited by the Indians, and claimed by the French, the Spanish and the British, but neither possession nor legal title carried weight with the stream of pioneers that was making a path into the "wilderness," crying its slogan,—"Westward, Ho!" as it moved toward the setting sun. The first objective of the pioneers was the Ohio Valley; the second was the valley of the Mississippi; the third was the Great Plains; the fourth was the Pacific slope, with its golden sands. Each one of these objectives developed itself out of the previous conquest.

The settlers who made their way across the mountains into the valley of the Ohio, found themselves in a land of plenty. The game was abundant; the soil was excellent, and soon they were in a position to offer their surplus products for sale. These products could not be successfully transported across the mountains, but they could be floated down the Ohio and the Mississippi—a natural roadway to the sea. But beside the Indians, who claimed all of the land for their own, there were the Spaniards at New Orleans, doing everything in their power to prevent the American Colonists from building up a successful river commerce.

The frontiersmen were able to push back the Indians. The Spanish garrisons presented a more serious obstacle. New Orleans was a well fortified post that could be provisioned from the sea. Behind it, therefore, lay the whole power of the Spanish fleet. The right of navigation was finally obtained in the Treaty of 1795. Still friction continued with the Spanish authorities and serious trouble was averted only by the transfer of Louisiana, first to the French (1800) and then by them to the United States (1803). Napoleon had agreed, when he secured this territory from the Spaniards, not to turn it over to the United States. A pressing need of funds, however, led him to strike an easy bargain with the American government which was negotiating for the control of the mouth of the Mississippi. Napoleon insisted that the United States take, not only the mouth of the river, but also the territory to the West which he saw would be useless without this outlet. After some hesitation, Jefferson and his advisers accepted the offer and the Louisiana Purchase was consummated.

The Louisiana Purchase gave the young American nation what it needed—a place in the sun. The colonists had taken land for their early requirements from the Indians who inhabited the coastal plain. They had enslaved the Negroes and thus had secured an ample supply of cheap labor. Now, the pressure of population, and the restless, pioneer spirit of those early days, led out into the West.

Until 1830 immigration was not a large factor in the increase of the colonial population, but the birth-rate was prodigious. In the closing years of the eighteenth century, Franklin estimated that the average family had eight children. There were sections of the country where the population doubled, by natural increase, once in 23 years. Indeed, the entire population of the United States was increasing at a phenomenal rate. The census of 1800 showed 5,308,483 persons in the country. Twenty years later the population was 9,638,453—an increase of 81 per cent. By 1840 the population was reported as 17,069,453—an increase of 77 per cent over 1820, and of 221 per cent over 1800.

The small farmers and tradesmen of the North were settling up the Northwest Territory. The plantation owners of the South, operating on a large scale, and with the wasteful methods that inevitably accompany slavery, were clamoring for new land to replace the tracts that had been exhausted by constant recropping with no attempt at fertilization.

Cotton had been enthroned in the South since the invention of the cotton gin in 1792. With the resumption of European trade relations in 1815 the demand for cotton and for cotton lands increased enormously. There was one, and only one logical way to meet this demand—through the possession of the Southwest.

2. The Southwest

The pioneers had already broken into the Southwest in large numbers. While Spain still held the Mississippi, there were eager groups of settlers pressing against the frontier which the Spanish guarded so jealously against all comers. The Louisiana Purchase met the momentary demand, but beyond the Louisiana Purchase, and between the settlers and the rich lands of Texas lay the Mexican boundary. The tide of migration into this new field hurled itself against the Mexican border in the same way that an earlier generation had rolled against the frontier of Louisiana.

The attitude of these early settlers is described with sympathetic accuracy by Theodore Roosevelt. "Louisiana was added to the United States because the hardy backwoods settlers had swarmed into the valleys of the Tennessee, the Cumberland and the Ohio by hundreds of thousands.... Restless, adventurous, hardy, they looked eagerly across the Mississippi to the fertile solitudes where the Spaniard was the nominal, and the Indian the real master; and with a more immediate longing they fiercely coveted the Creole provinces at the mouth of the river."[27] This fierce coveting could have only one possible outcome—the colonists got what they wanted.

The speed with which the Southwest rushed into prominence as a factor in national affairs is indicated by its contribution to the cotton-crop. In 1811 the states and territories from Alabama and Tennessee westward produced one-sixteenth of the cotton grown in the United States. In 1820 they produced a third; in 1830, a half; and by 1860, three-quarters of the cotton raised. At the same time, the population of the Alabama-Mississippi territory was:—

200,000 in 1810. 445,000 in 1820. 965,000 in 1830. 1,377,000 in 1840.

Thus thirty years saw an increase of nearly seven-fold in the population of this region.[28]

Meanwhile, slavery had become the issue of the day. The slave power was in control of the Federal Government, and in order to maintain its authority, it needed new slave states to offset the free states that were being carved out of the Northwest.

Here were three forces—first the desire of the frontiersmen for "elbow room"; second the demand of King Cotton for unused land from which the extravagant plantation system might draw virgin fertility and third, the necessity that was pressing the South to add territory in order to hold its power. All three forces impelled towards the Southwest, and it was thither that population pressed in the years following 1820.

3. Texas

Mexico lay to the Southwest, and therefore Mexico became the object of American territorial ambitions. The district now known as Texas had constituted a part of the Louisiana Purchase (1803); had been ceded to Spain (1819); had been made the object of negotiations looking towards its purchase in 1826; had revolted against Mexico and been recognized as an independent state in 1835.

Texas had been settled by Americans who had secured the permission of the Mexican Government to colonize. These settlers made no effort to conceal their opposition to the Mexican Government, with which they were entirely out of sympathy. Many of them were seeking territory in which slavery might be perpetuated, and they introduced slaves into Texas in direct violation of the Mexican Constitution. The Americans did not go to Texas with any idea of becoming Mexican subjects; on the contrary, as soon as they felt themselves strong enough, they declared their independence of Mexico, and began negotiations for the annexation of Texas to the United States.

The Texan struggle for independence from Mexico was cordially welcomed in all parts of the United States, but particularly in the South. Despite the protests of Mexico, public meetings were held; funds were raised; volunteers were enlisted and equipped, and supplies and munitions were sent for the assistance of the Texans in ships openly fitted out in New Orleans.

No sooner had the Texans established a government than the campaign for annexation was begun. The advocates of annexation—principally Southerners—argued in favor of adding so rich and so logical a prize to the territory of the United States, citing the purchase of Louisiana and of Florida as precedents. Their opponents, first on constitutional grounds and then on grounds of public policy, argued against annexation.

Opinion in the South was greatly aroused. Despite the fact that many of her foremost statesmen were against annexation, some of the Southern newspapers even went so far as to threaten the dissolution of the Union if the treaty of ratification failed to pass the Senate.

The campaign of 1844 was fought on the issue of annexation and the election of James K. Polk was a pledge that Texas should be annexed to the United States. During the campaign, the line of division on annexation had been a party line—Democrats favoring; Whigs opposing. Between the election and the passage of the joint resolution by which annexation was consummated, it became a sectional issue,—Southern Whigs favoring annexation and Northern Democrats opposing it.

1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse