The Cradle of Colonialism

The Cradle of Colonialism

The Cradle of Colonialism

The Cradle of Colonialism

Excerpt

Colonies as fragmentary settlements of a people beyond their hereditary boundaries, must have come into being shortly after the dawn of civilization. Relations with the mother country would have been tenuous, and the resources of the alien land exploited to only a limited extent. Phoenicia and Greece are examples of this phase. With the Roman Empire came a more intensified form of colonialism, to be followed by those of the Mongols and Turks. Spain and Portugal were next, and they were the first to use the oceans as avenues of conquest. Until then, colonies had been administered as feudal domains. The turning point came with the emergence of capitalism in western Europe in the sixteenth century.

Modern colonialism was fostered by the large number of people willing to invest their money in the hope of making a profit. It thus acquired a broader base, which led to an intensified form of exploitation. The East Indies--the Spice Islands--were the lodestone, as they had been during the Age of Discovery. The Dutch were the first to apply the principle of capital investment to overseas ventures, creating in time a Dutch Empire. They drove the Spanish and Portuguese from the East Indies and successfully rebuffed an attempt by the English to gain a foothold there. The English were forced to withdraw from East Asia and to focus their attention instead on India itself. This was a crucial moment in history, and from it flowed the forces that set the pattern of modern colonialism for hundreds of years to come.

During most of the seventeenth century, the Dutch retained supremacy. They tightened their hold over the East Indies and extended it to Ceylon and Formosa. They could have taken possession of Australia and New Zealand by right of discovery, and would have done so, if the prospects of trade had been more promising. They were safely ensconced in South Africa and well established in the American hemisphere, occupying large tracts of land along the Delaware and Hudson rivers and in Brazil. This burgeoning empire helped to create Holland's Golden Age. Prosperity, however, took its toll. When a vigorous merchant class became one of bankers, the old spirit was gone. By the end of the . . .

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