Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States
AMERICA. It is with the fall of the eastern empire, that is, with the capture of Constantinople by the Turks, that, according to most historians, the modern era opens.
—While acknowledging the share taken by the Byzantine emigration in the onward movement accomplished then in Europe, we think it is pre-eminently with the discovery of America (1492) that the modern era should be made to begin. By opening a broad career to the spirit of enterprise and adventure, by rousing old Europe to come and share the boundless wealth of a new continent, by opening new markets for commerce, by substituting, at least in part, the conquests of colonization for the barren conflicts of the past, the discovery of America could not but force Europe out of the bonds imposed upon it by the middle ages. It is in this that the explorations of Columbus and his successors are superior in civilizing influence to the crusades. From the struggle caused by the crusades, although these were born of a moral idea, civilization reaped little benefit, and the result of them is that a religious antagonism has been generated between the east and the west, the violence of which eight centuries have not been able to temper. America serves old Europe in a different way. She enriches and reinvigorates her. Every nation that sets foot on American soil doubles its power and influence. Without mentioning Spain, which owed to America its domination at one time in Europe, what would the annals of Portugal have been without the new continent? Shall we yet see this impulse in the line of progress which the old world received from America return whence it came; in other words, is Europe destined to sink into decadence and see the new world the torch-bearer of civilization? This thesis has been maintained, and without accepting its conclusion, we may admit that a grand future is reserved to the magnificent continent where generous nature seconds the efforts of the American states, north and south, a great number of which are distinguished for the energy and intelligence of their inhabitants.
—From a purely geographical point of view, the new world is naturally divided into North and South America, connected by the isthmus of Panama. Of the innumerable islands which belong to the new continent, two groups should be mentioned when speaking of the great geographical divisions of America. These are the arctic lands or the islands which extend north of the new continent, and the Antilles, which usage improperly designates the West Indies.
—According to the calculations of Humboldt, the surface of this part of the world, including the islands we have mentioned, reaches 38,233,594 square kilometres.
—America exhibits the peculiarity of having fewer inhabitants to the square mile than any part of the globe, and of having, at the same time, a greater number of different kinds of people than there are in any of the divisions of the old world. According to the ethnographical atlas of the globe, 438 languages are spoken there and more than 2,000 dialects.
—The people of the new world form two great divisions, the aborigines, and people of foreign origin. The latter comprise at present the great mass of the population of America and compose the dominant nations of the new world.
—The Spaniards, the English and their descendants, the people of African origin, the Portuguese, the Irish, peoples of foreign blood. After them in respect to numbers come the Germans and the French. The Dutch and Danes are still fewer in number. The Swedes must also be mentioned. They preponderate in the island of St. Bartholomew, and several millions of Basques and Italians who are settled principally in Uruguay and some of the eastern states of the Argentine Confederation. It is proper to state that North America belongs more particularly to the Saxon or Germanic race, and South America to the Latin race.
—The decrease of the aborigines is a fact shown by every day experience. They recede before Europeans, and the fragments of their race are found only where settlers have not yet penetrated or where they are few in number.
—Christianity extends its influence over the whole of the new world, from the arctic regions to Patagonia, and presents the following subdivisions: The Catholic church prevails in the empire of Brazil and all America which was formerly Spanish; the Episcopal or Anglican, the Presbyterian or reformed, and the Lutheran churches, with the Methodists, Quakers, and Baptists, to mention only the most numerous, are dominant in the United States and British America. The orthodox Greek church is established in the late Russian possessions. The Mosaic law is observed by a small number of persons living principally in the United States, the English, Dutch, and French Antilles and, in the Guianas, fetichism, in various forms, is found among the savage tribes.
—When the Spaniards discovered America, it presented every variety of government from the paternal despotism of the Incas to the absolute independence enjoyed by the members of the tribes still existing. It has been observed that government in almost all the indigenous nations of America appears under a mild form, which contrasts strangely with the despotism prevalent in Asia and Africa, even among nations the most polished. While the flourishing empire of Peru was governed by a theocratic despotism, and while we find a pontiff and an absolute king among the Muyscas, the government of the Natchez was theocratic, and that of the powerful Mexican empire resembled one of the feudal monarchies of the middle ages more than it did the despotic empires of Asia. Tlascala, Cholula and Huetxocingo, as well as that group of little states established on the eastern and northern coasts of Brazil, were republics.
—At present most of the indigenous nations of the new world are democratic republics, governed by a chief, sometimes elective and sometimes hereditary. Some of them banded together formed or still form confederations, such as the famous confederation of the five nations, the Sioux, the Arrapahoes, etc. The government of the Osages, the Kansas, the Pawnees, the Missouris, the Mohawks, and several other nations, is a species of republican oligarchy. That of the Araucanians presents a mixture of aristocracy and democracy. That of the Cherokees is an imitation of the internal administration of the United States, while that of the Otomakos and the Yaruros in the territory of Venezuela lead, so to speak, a family life with property in common. The American colonies, English, French, Spanish, Dutch, Danish and Swedish have retained, with certain modifications, the administrative forms of their mother countries.
—The United States form a great federal state, in which each separate state governs itself, except that it has confided to a central authority, the federal government the management of everything touching the common defense, foreign polities, customs and postal service, etc. (See
—The republican constitution of the American Union has served as a model to a host of states built on the ruins of the Spanish colonies. The constitutional monarchy of Brazil forms the only exception to this rule.
—From a political point of view, America may be divided into two great sections: independent and colonial America.
—Independent America comprises the United States, founded originally by English colonists; Mexico, a state formed in 1810 from nearly the whole vice-royalty of Mexico and a fraction of the captain generalship of Guatemala; the central American republics, made up of the captain generalship of Guatemala, less certain fractions of its territory, and divided since 1839 into five republics, Guatemala, San Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica, (see these countries); the Colombian republic, formed of New Granada, Ecuador and Venezuela; the first two have arisen from the dismemberment of the vice-royalty of Santa-Fé, the last from the captain generalship of Caracas; the Peruvian republics, comprising the republic of Peru and that of Bolivia, both formed of the vice-royalty of Peru; Chili, formerly the captain generalship of Chili; the Argentine republic or confederation, formed by the greater part of the vice-royalty of LaPlata, Uruguay, formed of the eastern portion of the vice-royalty of LaPlata; Paraguay, having the same origin as the preceding, and whose founder was the celebrated Doctor Francia; the empire of Brazil, the republics of Hayti and San Domingo, which divide the island of San Domingo. Add to this enumeration the independent nationalities of the Araucanians, the Creeks, the Apaches, the Algonquins, the Esquimaux, which are the most important nations.
—Colonial America comprises British America, composed of the Dominion of Canada in North America, of Jamaica, the Barbadoes, Saint Christopher, Antigua in the Antilles, a part of Guiana; Demerara and some possessions of minor importance; Spanish America, composed of Cuba and Porto Rico; French America, comprising a part of Guiana, the islands of Martinique, Guadaloupe, St. Marie Galande, St. Pierre, and Miquelon; Dutch America, composed of a part of Guiana, the isles of St. Eustache, Saba, Cura¸l;ao, etc.; Danish America, formed of the Greenland group, the isles of Santa Cruz, St. Thomas, and St. John in the Antilles; Russian America, Kodjak, Sitka, and the Aleutian islands; Swedish America, confined to the island of St. Bartholomew in the Antilles.
—A special article has been devoted to each American state and territory.
—BIBLIOGRAPHY. See A. von Humboldt, Examen critique de l'histoire de la géographie du Nouceau Continent, 5 vols., Paris, 1836-9: Long, Porter and Tucker, America and the West Indies geographically described, London, 1843; Macgregor, The progress of America from the discovery of Columbus to the year 1846, 2 vols., London, 1847; Wappäu's revised edition of Stein's und Hörschelmann's Hundbuch der Geographie und Statistik, vol. 1, Leipsig, 1855, etc.; Handelmann, Geschichte der Americ. Colonisation und Unabhängigkeit, Kiel, 1856, seq.; Peschel, Geschichte des Zeitalters der Entdeckungen, Stuttg., 1858; Kunstmann, Die Entdeckung A.s nach den altesten Quellen dargestellt, nebst Atlas, Munich, 1859; Cortambert, Tableau général de l'Amerique, Paris, 1860; Kohl, Geschichte der Entdeckung von A., Bremen, 1861; von Hellwald, Die Americ. Volkerwanderung, Vienna, 1866.
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