Humanism and America: An Intellectual History of English Colonisation, 1500-1625

By Andrew Fitzmaurice | Go to book overview

chapter 3
The moral philosophy of Jacobean colonization

The history of English colonisation to the beginning of the reign of James I was one of failure. Under James, a colony was established in the Chesapeake that would prove more resilient than its forerunners, but no less prone to disaster. The hopes for profit raised by Elizabethan promoters of colonies had proved false. Jamestown promised no greater returns. In its first ten years the colony produced no profits. In the following ten years, through to the dissolution of the Virginia Company, private tobacco plantations delivered profits to individual adventurers. The Virginia Company, which controlled the colony, never made a profit. Against this background, particularly with the spectacular Elizabethan failures in mind, the Virginia Company promoters never presented profit as the principal motivation for colonising. In the Jacobean period, promoters were no longer prepared to test the credulity of their audiences, and they turned away from Ralegh's dreams of riches. While still employing the language of Ciceronian moral philosophy, they augmented the argument of honour and diminished profit and expedience. The experience of failure produced a decisive turn in the ideology of Jacobean colonisation. The promoters of Jacobean colonies were increasingly deeply committed to a neo-Roman and quasi-republican scepticism of profit as a threat to the pursuit of civic action. They were committed, accordingly, to the primacy of virtue as the motive and guide for political life. I will analyse this commitment in this chapter, first, through a brief outline of the experience of the Virginia Company; secondly, through an examination of the humanist background of many of the central figures in the Virginia Company; and finally, through an analysis of the promotional literature sponsored by the Company.


THE VIRGINIA COMPANY

With the death of Elizabeth and the accession of James VI of Scotland to the English throne in 1603, peace with Spain was pursued and the Spanish war

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Humanism and America: An Intellectual History of English Colonisation, 1500-1625
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Humanism and America i
  • Ideas in Context ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgements ix
  • Chapter 1 - Introduction 1
  • Chapter 2 - The Moral Philosophy of Tudor Colonization 20
  • Chapter 3 - The Moral Philosophy of Jacobean Colonization 58
  • Chapter 4 - Rhetoric – 'Not the Words, but the Acts' 102
  • Chapter 5 - Law and History 137
  • Chapter 6 - The Machiavellian Argument for Colonial Possession 167
  • Chapter 7 - Conclusion 187
  • Bibliography 195
  • Index 208
  • Ideas in Context 217
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