FISHING, FUR-TRADING AND PLANTING
AT THE END of the sixteenth century, as at the beginning, the only settled colonies in the Americas were those of Spain and of Spain's vassal, Portugal. No other Europeans had achieved anything in the way of permanent settlement. Few had contemplated anything worth achieving. Experience of war with Spain in American waters, however, was driving Dutchmen, Englishmen, Frenchmen--those few among them, at least, who were interested in America--alike to one conclusion: only by permanent settlement could they secure a permanent share in the profits of the New World. There was clearly no hope of inducing the Spanish government to countenance regular trade with the occupied parts of America. In war, open attempts to seize settled American territory from Spain had all failed. In peace, solid investors could not be expected regularly to finance smuggling ventures, much less piracy. The only solution--other than acquiescence in Spain's outrageous and unenforceable claim to monopoly--seemed to be for the northern nations to seize and colonize empty territory in America and mine the silver, cut the timber, and grow the sugar for themselves. Strategic as well as commercial considerations pointed the same way. An escape had to be found from an intolerable situation; a situation in which Spain, by a monopoly of American treasure and oriental trade, was apparently able to finance war anywhere in Europe and to interfere in the internal affairs of any European state. If--as the English hoped-- a northern passage to the Orient could be found which would make the old Cape route unprofitable and obsolete, American settlements would be needed as staging points; and if--as most Dutchmen and some Englishmen believed--war with Spain was to be a permanent and inevitable feature of Protestant policy, then American settlements might still be valuable as bases from which a steady pressure could be maintained against the sources of Spanish wealth and against the convoys which carried that wealth to Spain.
Governments, investors, and the public at large in northern Europe accepted these arguments slowly and with reluctance. To governments at war, a long-term constructive policy of settlement appeared unattractive, when compared with the quicker returns and greater