The Shawnee News-Star
  • Why Nations Fail: Part VI

  • Looking at Africa and South America as pieces in a puzzle it is obvious that Recife, Brazil, and Lagos, Nigeria, were once connected in one landmass (Panagaea). But, when they split starting 120 million years ago, the two hemispheres got different flora and fauna. And, the currents and winds created by the North Atlantic ...
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  • Geography
    Looking at Africa and South America as pieces in a puzzle it is obvious that Recife, Brazil, and Lagos, Nigeria, were once connected in one landmass (Panagaea). But, when they split starting 120 million years ago, the two hemispheres got different flora and fauna.
    And, the currents and winds created by the North Atlantic basin called the Sargasso Sea brought ships from Europe to the Leeward Islands and sent them back from the Windward Islands. It meant that Columbus landed in the West Indies instead of Norfolk, Va.
    When Columbus sailed, he changed everything by giving to each hemisphere the flora and fauna the other lacked — thus creating the “Columbian Exchange” of trade between the Old and New Worlds. The Western hemisphere sent to Europe tomatoes, chocolate, tobacco, white and sweet potatoes, maize (corn), cassava, pumpkins, squash, lima beans, peanuts, peppers, and turkeys. (When John Adams sailed to France as Secretary of State in 1778, his list of personal items included corn meal, sugar, rum, tobacco, and tea.) Europe sent us horses, wheat, barley, rice, turnips, honeybees, apples, alcohol and alcoholism. (They argue over who gets credit for syphilis.) Europeans arrived with immunity to many diseases because they had lived for 9,000 years with domestic animals.
    The Triangle of Trade
    The Trade Winds were named for their role in propelling sailing ships carrying this cargo. They blew from Spain to the Leeward Islands, from the Windward Islands to Boston, and from there to Lisbon — thus forming a triangle of trade. It began in the Caribbean a century before Jamestown. (The British came to North America because all the good places down south had already been taken by other European nations.) Spain shipped Cuban sugar and molasses to New England which distilled it into rum and shipped it along with furs and lumber to Europe on New England ships where it was exchanged for manufactured goods and African slaves, the latter being sold in Caribbean islands and the American South. It was profits from this trade flowing to the Spanish crown and church that built those wonderful architectural treasures we tourists ogle. (See card of Hieronymite convent in Belem, a parish of Lisbon.) [2]
    Origin of Plantations
    The formation of plantations in the American South in the 18th century was similar to that which occurred a century earlier when plantations were formed in Caribbean islands. The sugar cane, tobacco, and cotton crops required brutal labor in a semi-tropical climate with workers subject to semi-tropical diseases.
    Page 2 of 3 - “When the monopoly in slaves held by the Royal African Company was broken in 1697, the slave trade was thrown open to all comers. A slave force could be recruited at will by those with capital. This created a growing disparity in the size of the producing units and tendency to oligarchy. More and more of the productive land devolved into the hands of a few large-scale operators while more and more of the [poor whites] drifted into tenancy or moved to more accessible lands on the frontier. A small number of ambitious land owning planters were able to obtain the critical capital of slaves, maneuver politically to get the lands they wanted, and began the process of gentrification.” [ 3, pg.102 ] Voila: Tara!
    Life on Tara
    Many immigrants were civilized by acculturation, not conversion, by law and social norms, and when they reached the “periphery of civilization,” remote places on the borderlands of the New World where wildness and disorder reigned and the ordinary restraints of civility could be abandoned in pell-mell exploitation, and sealed off by 3,000 miles of ocean, they succumbed to the brutish ways of their environment and its native people with whom they were often engaged in mortal combat.” [3]
    Indian warfare in North America was similar to that in the Caribbean a century earlier. Ten women living on the New Hampshire frontier were captured by Indians, and when they returned after escaping, they brought with them scalps from 10 mostly women and children for which they received a bounty of 50 pounds. Indians tore babies from the wombs of pregnant women and bashed their heads against trees. Everyone scalped. Indians were burned alive. Slaves were lashed for small infractions, and maimed or castrated for running away. A young slave who wet his bed was made to “drink a pint of piss.” Plantation culture involved an accommodation between brutality and progressive refinement.
    Nevis was an Island in the British West Indies and hub in the triangle of Atlantic trade in goods and slaves in 1755 when Alexander Hamilton was born there. By then sugar was “white gold.” Sugar cane required brutally hard work in semi-tropical conditions accompanied by malaria. Three out of five slaves died within five years of arriving. Even poor whites owned household slaves. If a slave struck a white, he lost a hand, and if he should draw blood, death. Planters in their finery riding in elegant carriages and buying imported goods presented an “oasis of culture amid the barbarism.” There were 8,000 captive slaves to 1,000 whites which convinced whites to join “well-regulated militias.” [4]
    Cuban Colonialism 1500-1900
    Page 3 of 3 -  
    Colonization initially brought fabulous wealth to colonial powers like Spain who “extracted” the minerals and crops of the New World. These riches built many of the fabulous architectural monuments we tourists now visit in Europe — including that monastery in Belem. Western powers then were kingdoms with most land in the hands of aristocrats which produced the palaces of kings, abbes of the Church, and palatial homes of the aristocrats. In other words, colonialism paid handsomely for colonizers.
    The flip side of colonialism, of course, were the institutions of government and economy of colonies like Cuba. Planters reigned as European dukes and dandies. Spanish governors and planters owned and ran everything, and sent back home the wealth of Cuba extracted from the land and its native peoples. These institutions were transplanted from Spain and involved the Church legitimating the government which made rebellion against the State also rebellion against the Church. Escape from an island was difficult to impossible which left natives with no option but revolution. (Next week)
    [1] Chernow, Ron, Alexander Hamilton, NY:Penguin Books, 2004, Ch.1.
    [2] Innes, Stephen, Creating the Commonwealth, NY: W.W. Norton, 1995, p4,
    [3] Bergreen, Laurence, Columbus, NY: Penguin Books, 2011, pp221-4.
    [4] Bailyn, Bernard, The Peopling of British North America, Madison: NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1986, Part III.
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