What English ships did heretofore ever anchor in the mighty river of Plate? Pass and repass the impassable (in former opinion) strait of Magellan, range along the coast of Peru and all the backside of Nova Hispania ... traverse the mighty breadth of the South Sea, land upon the Lucones, in despite of the enemy, enter into alliance with the Princes of the Moluccas and the Isle of Java, double the famous Cape of Bona Speranza ... and last of all return home most richly laden with the commodities of China, as the subjects of this now flourishing monarchy have done?
RICHARD HAKLUYT, THE PRINCIPAL
NAVIGATIONS, VOYAGES, TRAFFIQUES
& DISCOVERIES OF THE ENGLISH NATION ( 1589)
For four centuries beginning with the sixteenth, Europeans came to chart and exploit the vast waters and shores of the Pacific Ocean. They rounded the Cape of Good Hope or Cape Horn in their small, gun-carrying sailing ships whose home ports were in far-off Portugal, Spain, England, France, or Holland. Some, including Russians, Spanish, Americans, and Canadians, made their way to the Pacific overland. As these men entered into commercial and political enterprises, they found themselves at times dependent on support from their respective governments—support that could only reach them over long, tenuous, and vulnerable seaways. The fact that the British were able to establish a firm and lasting foothold on a large part of the Northwest Coast of North America was owing in no small measure to their commercial enterprises by sea and the presence, strength, and explorations of the Royal Navy. A correlated factor was the emergence of Britain as a strong international power after the middle of the eighteenth century as a result of an economic revolution in agriculture, industry and commerce and of successes on the battlefields of Europe, India, and North America.
The first fruits of the age of discovery went to Portugal and Spain; and to prevent disputes between these rival maritime powers, the 1493 papal bull Inter caetera arbitrarily divided the world for Portuguese and Spanish colonial exploitation. The Treaty of Tordesillas of the following year gave further advantages to Portugal, but Spain still possessed a religious sanction for the conquest of most of the New World and the conversion of its heathen inhabitants. Thus Spain claimed the western lands of the Americas and the expanses of the Pacific Ocean as part of her empire, whether settled by the Spanish or not.