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Chapter 20:

France and the valley of the Mississippi.

if our country, in the inherent opposition between
Chap. XX.}
its principles and the English system, was as ripe for governing itself in 1689 as in 1776, the colonists disclaimed, and truly, a present passion for independence. A deep instinct gave assurance that the time was not yet come. They were not merely colonists of England, but they were riveted into an immense colonial system, which every commercial country in Europe had assisted to frame, and which bound in its strong bonds every other quarter of the globe. The question of independence would be not a private strife with England, but a revolution in the commerce and in the policy of the world,—in the present fortunes, and, still more, in the prospects of humanity itself. As yet, there was no union among the settlements that fringed the Atlantic; and but one nation in Europe would, at that day, have tolerated—not one would have fostered—an insurrection. Spain, Spanish Belgium, Holland, and Austria, were then the allies of England against France, which, by centralizing its power, and by well-considered plans of territorial aggrandizement, excited the dread of a universal monarchy. When Austria, with Belgium, shall abandon its hereditary warfare against France. when Spain and Holland, favored by the armed neutrality of Portugal, Sweden, Denmark, Prussia, and [110] Russia, shall be ready to join with France in repressing
Chap. XX.}
the commercial ambition of England;—then, and not till then, American independence becomes possible. Those changes, extraordinary and improbable as they might have seemed, were to spring from the false principles of the mercantile system, which made France and England enemies. Our borders were become the scenes of jealous collision; our soil was the destined battle-ground on which the grand conflict of the rivals for commercial privilege was to begin. The struggles for maritime and colonial dominion, which transformed the unsuccessful competitors for supremacy into the defenders of the freedom of the seas, having, in their progress, taught our fathers union, secured to our country the opportunity of independence.

The mercantile system placed the benefit of commerce, not in a reciprocity of exchanges, but in a favorable balance of trade. Its whole wisdom was, to sell as much as possible—to buy as little as possible. Pushed to its extreme, the policy would destroy all commerce: it might further the selfish aims of an individual nation; the commerce of the world could flourish only in spite of it. In its mitigated form, it was a necessary source of European wars; for each nation, in its traffic, sought to levy tribute in favor of its industry, and the adjustment of tariffs and commercial privileges was the constant subject of negotiations among states. The jealousy of one country envied the wealth of a rival as its own loss.

Territorial aggrandizement was also desired and feared, in reference to its influence on European commerce; and, as France, in its ambitious progress, encroached upon the German empire and the Spanish Netherlands, the mercantile interests of England led [111] directly to an alliance with Austria as the head of the

Chap. XX.}
empire, and with Spain as the sovereign of Belgium.

Thus the commercial interest was, in European politics, become paramount; it framed alliances, regulated wars, dictated treaties, and established barriers against conquest.

The discovery of America, and of the ocean-path to India, had created maritime commerce, and the great European colonial system had united the world. Now, for the first time in the history of man, the oceans vindicated their rights as natural highways; now, for the first time, great maritime powers struggled for dominion on the high seas. The world entered on a new epoch.

Ancient navigation kept near the coast, or was but a passage from isle to isle; commerce now selected, of choice, the boundless deep.

The three ancient continents were divided by no wide seas, and their intercourse was chiefly by land. Their voyages were, like ours on Lake Erie, a continuance of internal trade; the vastness of their transactions was measured, not by tonnage, but by counting caravans and camels. But now, for the wilderness commerce substituted the sea; for camels, merchantmen; for caravans, fleets and convoys.

The ancients were restricted in the objects of commerce; for how could rice be brought across continents from the Ganges, or sugar from Bengal? But now commerce gathered every production from the East and the West; tea, sugar, and coffee, from the plantations of China and Hindostan; masts from American forests; furs from Hudson's Bay; men from Africa.

With the expansion of commerce, the forms of business were changing. Of old, no dealers in credit [112] existed between the merchant and the producer. The

Chap. XX.}
Greeks and Romans were hard-money men; their language has no word for bank notes or currency; with them there was no stock market, no brokers' board, no negotiable scrip of kingdom or commonwealth. Public expenses were borne by direct taxes, or by loans from rich citizens, soon to be cancelled, and never funded. The expansion of commerce gave birth to immense masses of floating credits; larger sums than the whole revenue of an ancient state were transferred from continent to continent by bills of exchange; and, when the mercantile system grew strong enough to originate wars, it also gained power to subject national credit to the floating credits of commerce.

Every commercial state of the earlier world had been but a town with its territory; the Phoenician, Greek, and Italian republics, each was a city government, retaining its municipal character with the enlargement of its jurisdiction and the diffusion of its colonies. The great European maritime powers were vast monarchies, grasping at continents for their plantations. In the tropical isles of America and the East, they made their gardens for the fruits of the torrid zone; the Cordilleras and the Andes supplied their mints with bullion; the most inviting points on the coasts of Africa and Asia were selected as commercial stations; and the temperate regions of America were to be filled with agriculturists, whose swarming increase—such was the universal metropolitan aspiration —should lead to the infinite consumption of European goods.

That the mercantile system should be applied by each nation to its own colonies, was universally tolerated by the political morality of that day. Thus each [113] metropolis was at war with the present interests and

Chap. XX.}
natural rights of its colonies; and, as the European colonial system was established on every continent; as the single colonies were, each by itself, too feeble for resistance; colonial oppression was destined to endure as long, at least, as the union of the oppressors. But the commercial jealousies of Europe extended, from the first, to European colonies; and the home relations of the states of the Old World to each other were finally surpassed in importance by the transatlantic conflicts with which they were identified. The mercantile system, being founded in error and injustice, was doomed not only itself to expire, but, by overthrowing the mighty fabric of the colonial system, to emancipate commerce, and open a boundless career to human hope.

That colonial system all Western Europe had contributed to build. Even before the discovery of Amer-

ica, Portugal had reached Madeira and the Azores, the
Cape Verd Islands and Congo; within six years after
the discovery of Hayti, the intrepid Vasco de Gama,
following where no European, where none but Africans from Carthage, had preceded, turned the Cape of Good Hope, and arrived at Mozambique; and, passing the Arabian peninsula, landed at Calicut, and made an establishment at Cochin.

Within a few short years, the brilliant temerity of Portugal achieved establishments on Western and Eastern Africa, in Arabia and Persia, in Hindostan and the Eastern isles, and in Brazil. The intense application of the system of monopoly, combined with the despotism of the sovereign and the priesthood, precipitated the decay of Portuguese commerce in advance of the decay of the mercantile system; and the Moors, [114] the Persians, Holland, and Spain, dismantled Portugal

Chap. XX.}

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