Themes in U.S and World History
The purpose for which government has been instituted, according to Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, is “because the passions of men will not conform to the dictates of reason and justice, without constraint.” In an effort to constrain men’s passions, nations and revolutionary groups have tried many forms of government. But the institution of a new government necessitates some form of revolution, either violent or peaceful. In many cases, the onset of this revolution begins with the subjugation of a people, often through the process of colonizing a land which is already inhabited.
The Rise of Colonialism in the Americas
Christopher Columbus’ only real claim to fame (other than, perhaps, one of the earliest perpetrators of genocide) is that he began a period of conquest and colonization in the Americas. Columbus made no secret of his plans for the first native peoples he encountered, the Arawak. He wrote to his patrons, “With fifty men all can be kept in subjection, and made to do whatever you desire” (Colbert, 1997, p.6).
During the following 250 years, European nations divided up the Americas among themselves, snatching up land for its gold and other resources, and establishing colonies to lay claim to those resources and establish religious and political freedoms. Both early explorers and colonists killed, enslaved, and forced Native peoples onto reservations. By 1517 anti-colonial Pedro de Cordoba warned the king of Spain that, under the tyranny of Columbus and his son, Arawaks were committing mass suicide and killing their own newborn children (Loewen, p. 53).
Perhaps inevitably, the Native Americans began rebelling. One of the most significant of these rebellions took place in 1675, when Metacomet, a Native American leader commonly known as King Philip, justified his attacks on colonists by saying, “But a small part of the dominion of my ancestors remains. I am determined not to live ‘til I have no country" (Loewen, 1995, p.111).
Two hundred years later, the peaceful Native American leader, Chief Sealth (Seattle), summarized his (and many other Native Americans’) dealings with ‘white men’: “When I was a boy, I saw the white man afar off, and was told that he was my enemy. My horse and fields he took from me. He said he was my friend. He gave me his hand in friendship; I took it, he had a snake in the other; his tongue was forked; he lied and stung me” (Francis, 1998).
By 1850, U.S. colonies stretched ‘from sea to sea,’ and Native Americans had been forced almost entirely onto reservations. By 1890, it could be said that the Era of Colonialism ended when the United States military fought its final battle against Native people, slaughtering scores of men, women, and children at Wounded Knee.
However, American colonialism has continued since, simply in a different form. Since the final battle against Native Americans, the United States has exerted imperial authority in dozens of new lands,...