European Treaties Bearing on the History of the United States and Its Dependencies to 1648

By Frances Gardiner Davenport | Go to book overview
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The documents printed in this volume illustrate the diplomatic aspect of the great struggle which, from the fifteenth century onwards, was in progress between the governments of the maritime powers of Europe, over the question of participation in the trade and territorial possession of the newly discovered lands.

The story which they tell has a dramatic interest, culminating in the diplomatic victory which, in 1648, the Dutch were able to wrest from Spain. The purpose of this introduction is, so to summarize this story that it may be readily grasped as a whole.

In 1455 and 1456 (Docs. 1 and 2), Portugal received from Pope Nicholas V. the exclusive right to trade and acquire territory in the region lying south of Cape Bojador, through and beyond Guinea. The further limit of the region thus set apart as a field of enterprise open to Portugal alone, was indicated by the phrase "all the way to the Indians" (p. 31), evidently the equivalent of the fuller phrase, "as far as to the Indians who are said to worship the name of Christ" (p. 22).

In spite of the papal letters Castile continued to claim Guinea. But in 1479 (Doc. 3), Castile agreed to leave Portugal in peaceable possession of the trade and territory acquired or to be acquired in Guinea, the Azores, Madeira, and the Cape Verde Islands, while Portugal, on the other hand, acknowledged that Castile had an exclusive right to the Canaries. This settlement was confirmed by the Pope (Doc. 4).

Columbus's discovery, in the western seas, of lands supposedly Asiatic, led to a renewal of the dispute between Castile and Portugal in respect to the newly found regions. The Spanish Pope, Alexander VI., decided the controversy in favor of Castile, assigning to that crown the exclusive right to acquire territory, to trade in, or even to approach the lands lying west of the meridian situated one hundred leagues west of any of the Azores or Cape Verde Islands. Exception was however made of any lands actually possessed by any other Christian prince beyond this meridian before Christmas, 1492 (Docs. 5, 6, 7). In September, 1493, the Pope extended his earlier grant by decreeing that if the Castilians, following the western route, should discover lands in Indian waters, these also should belong to them (Doc. 8). In 1494 (Doc. 9), Portugal succeeded in persuading Castile to push the line of demarcation further to the west--370 leagues west of the Cape Verde Islands; and both powers agreed that within ten months they would despatch caravels with pilots and astrologers to determine the location of the line. In the fol


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European Treaties Bearing on the History of the United States and Its Dependencies to 1648
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