The Beginnings of the American People

Madison & Adams Press
  • 1. Auflage
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  • erschienen am 12. April 2019
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  • 173 Seiten
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978-80-273-0438-7 (ISBN)
Professor Becker presents the beginnings, development, and final unity of the people of the United States. He describes the discovery of the New World, analyze the rise of the plantations, illustrates the slow growth of an American culture and clarify the causes and events Revolution of 1776. These are presented as the four key events which led to the formation of the American Nation in a concise and interesting manner. The Beginnings of the American People The Discovery of the Old World and the New The Partition of the New World The English Migration in the Seventeenth Century England and her Colonies in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries The American People in the Eighteenth Century The Winning of Independence

Carl Lotus Becker (1873 - 1945) was an American historian. He is best known for The Heavenly City of the Eighteenth-Century Philosophers, four lectures on The Enlightenment delivered at Yale University.
  • Englisch
  • 1,22 MB
978-80-273-0438-7 (9788027304387)
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Chapter I.

The Discovery of the Old World and the New

Table of Contents

We come in search of Christians and spices.

Vasco da Gama.

Gold is excellent; gold is treasure, and he that possesses it does all that he wishes to in this world, and succeeds in helping souls into paradise.

Christopher Columbus.


Contact with the Orient has always been an important factor in the history of Europe. Centers of civilization and of political power have shifted with every decisive change in the relations of East and West. Opposition between Greek and barbarian may be regarded as the motif of Greek history, as it is a persistent refrain in Greek literature. The plunder of Asia made Rome an empire whose capital was on the Bosphorus more centuries than it was on the Tiber. Mediæval civilization rose to its height when the Italian cities wrested from Constantinople the mastery of the Levantine trade; and in the sixteenth century, when the main traveled roads to the Far East shifted to the ocean, direction of European affairs passed from Church and Empire to the rising national states on the Atlantic. The history of America is inseparable from these wider relations. The discovery of the New World was the direct result of European interest in the Far East, an incident in the charting of new highways for the world's commerce. In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries Europeans first gained reliable knowledge of Far Eastern countries, of the routes by which they might be reached, above all of the hoarded-treasure which lay there awaiting the first comer. Columbus, endeavoring to establish direct connections with these countries for trade and exploitation, found America blocking the way. The discovery of the New World was but the sequel to the discovery of the Old.

From the ninth to the eleventh century the people of Western Europe had lived in comparative isolation. With half the heritage of the Roman Empire in infidel hands, the followers of the Cross and of the Crescent faced each other, like hostile armies, across the sea. The temporary expansion of the Frankish Empire ceased with the life of Charlemagne, and under his successors formidable enemies closed it in on every hand. Barbarian Slav and Saxon pressed upon the eastern frontier, while the hated Moslem, from the vantage of Spain and Africa, infested the Mediterranean and threatened the Holy City. Even the Greek Empire, natural ally of Christendom, deserted it, going the way of heresy and schism.

Danger from without was accompanied by disorganization within. In the tenth century the political edifice so painfully constructed by Charlemagne was in ruins. The organization of the Roman Empire and the Gregorian ideal of a Catholic Church, now little more than a lingering tradition, was replaced by the feudal system. Seigneurs, lay and ecclesiastic, warring among themselves for the shadow of power, had neither time nor inclination for the ways of peace or the life of the spirit. Learning all but disappeared; the useful arts were little cultivated; cities fell into decay and the roads that bound them together were left in unrepair; the life of the time, barren alike in hovel and castle, was supported by the crude labor of a servile class. To be complete within itself, secure from military attack and economically self-supporting, were the essential needs which determined the structure of the great fiefs. The upper classes rarely went far afield, while the "rural population lived in a sort of chrysalis state, in immobility and isolation within each seigneury."

But the feudal régime, well suited to a period of confusion, could not withstand the disintegrating effects of even the small measure of peace and prosperity which it secured. Increase in population and the necessities of life liberated those expansive social forces, in politics and industry, in intellectual life, in religious and emotional experience, which produced the civilization of the later Middle Ages; that wonderful thirteenth century which saw the rise of industry and the towns, the foundation of royal power in alliance with a moneyed class, the revival of intellectual activity which created the universities and the scholastic philosophy, the intensification of the religious spirit manifesting itself in such varied and perfect forms,-in the simple life of a St. Francis or the solemn splendor of a Gothic cathedral.

Of this new and expanding life, the most striking external expression was embodied in the Crusades. Strangely compounded of religious enthusiasm and political ambition, of the redeless spirit of the knight-errant and the cool calculation of the commercial bandit, these half-military and half-migratory movements of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries mark the beginning of that return of the West upon the East which is so persistent a factor in all modern history. Christendom, so long isolated, now first broke the barriers that had closed it in, and once more extended its frontier into western Asia: Norman nobles, establishing the Kingdom of Jerusalem and the Latin Empire, enabled the Church to guard the Holy Sepulchre, while Italian cities reaped a rich harvest from the plunder of Constantinople and the Levantine trade.

The Latin Empire and the Kingdom of Jerusalem did not outlast the thirteenth century, but the extension of commercial activity was a permanent result of vital importance for the relations of Orient and Occident. The swelling volume of Mediterranean trade which accompanied the crusading movement depended upon the growing demand in the West for the products of the East. Europe could provide the necessities for a simple and monotonous life, without adornment or display. But the rise of a burgher aristocracy, the growth of an elaborate and symbolic ritualism in religious worship, the desire for that pomp and display which is half the divinity of kings, created a demand for commodities which only the East could supply,-spices for flavoring coarse food, "notemege to putte in ale," fragrant woods and dyes and frankincense, precious stones for personal adornment or royal regalia or religious shrines, rich tapestries for bare interiors, "cloths of silk and gold."

All these products, and many more besides, so attractive to the unjaded mind of Europe, celebrated in chronicle and romance from the thirteenth to the fifteenth century, were to be found in those cities of the Levant-in Constantinople, in Antioch or Jaffa or Alexandria-which were the western termini to long established trade routes to the Far East. Wares of China and Japan and the spices of the southern Moluccas were carried in Chinese or Malay junks to Malacca, and thence by Arab or Indian merchants to Paulicut or Calicut in southern India. To these ports came also ginger, brazil-wood, sandal-wood, and aloe, above all the precious stones of India and Persia, diamonds from Golconda, rubies, topaz, sapphires, and pearls. From India, the direct southern route lay across the Indian Ocean to Aden and up the Red Sea to Cairo or Alexandria. The middle route followed the Persian Gulf and the Tigris River to Bagdad, and thence to the coast cities of Damascus, Jaffa, Laodicea, and Antioch. And by the overland northern route from Peking, by painful and dangerous stages through Turkestan to Yarkand, Bokhara, and Tabriz came the products of China and Persia,-silks and fabrics, rich tapestries and priceless rugs.

From the twelfth century Italian cities grew rich and powerful on the carrying trade between western Europe and the Levant. Venice and Genoa, Marseilles and Barcelona, whose merchants had permanent quarters in Eastern cities, became the distributing centers for western Europe. Each year until 1560, a Venetian trading fleet, passing through the Straits of Gibraltar, touching at Spanish and Portuguese ports, at Southampton or London, finally reached the Netherlands at Bruges. But the main lines to the north were the river highways: from Marseilles up the Rhone to Lyons and down the Seine to Paris and Rouen; from Venice through the passes of the Alps to the great southern German cities of Augsburg and Nuremburg, and thence northward along the Elbe to the Hanse towns of Hamburg or Lubec; or from Milan across the St. Gothard to Basle and westward into France at Chalons. The main carriers from the North of the Alps were the merchants of South Germany; while the Hanse merchants, buying in southern Germany, or in the Netherlands at Bruges and Antwerp, sold in England and France, in the Baltic cities, and as far east as Poland and Russia.


Before the middle of the thirteenth century no Italian merchant could have told you anything of the "isles where the spices grow," or of the countries which produced the rich fabrics in which he trafficked: he knew only that they came to Alexandria or Damascus from Far Eastern lands. For from time immemorial the Orient had been the enemy's country, little known beyond the bounds of Syria, a half-mythical land of alien races, of curious customs and infidel faiths, a land of interminable distances, rich and populous, doubtless, certainly dangerous and inaccessible. But in the thirteenth century the veil which had long shrouded Asia in mystery was lifted, discovering to European eyes countries so rich in hoarded treasure and the products of industry that the gems and spices which found their way to the West were seen to be but the refuse of their accumulated stores.

The discovery of Asia in the thirteenth century was the direct result of the Mongol conquest. Before the death of Jenghis Khan in 1227, the Tartar rule was established in northern China or Cathay, and in central Asia from India to the Caspian; while within half a century the successors of the first emperor were dominant to the Euphrates and...

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