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

By Andrew Fitzmaurice | Go to book overview

chapter 7
Conclusion

The early period of English interest in New World colonisation is better understood from the perspective of the preceding centuries of the European Renaissance than from the following centuries of British empire. In the projects of the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries we do not find a platform for the empire of commerce. It was a Renaissance preoccupation with the pursuit of glory that motivated colonisers and a concern with corruption that lent their designs a distinctive nervousness and that inspired their opponents.

The nervousness of colonisation was both outward and inward looking: outward in the concern with just conduct toward colonised peoples; inward in a concern with the corruption of the metropolis. Against the outwardlooking concern we may say that the nervousness of dispossession did not stop humanist inspired colonies from dispossessing native Americans. To speak of colonisation separated from dispossession would appear to be oxymoronic, particularly when we look at what English colonisation, for example, became. But we must be careful again not to argue from consequences. The fact of dispossession did not prevent English would be colonisers' ambivalence on the question. Nor did it prevent them from frequently protesting that dispossession was not their desire. Francis Bacon's well-known discomfort on the matter was supported by a foundation of corresponding sentiment on the part of colonial promoters. Sometimes the ambivalence of promoters was genuine. Clearly at other times it was disingenuous. The very need to be artful on these questions revealed that there was no clear ideological mandate for unapologetic conquest.1

It is true, of course, that whether genuine or not this ambivalence masked practices in colonisation that were clearly at odds with the ideology of the projects. Colonisers were violent toward indigenous people and were

1 Cf. Francis Jennings, The invasion of America (1975, Chapel Hill); Robert A. Williams, The American
Indian in western legal thought: The discourses of conquest
(New York, 1990).

-187-

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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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