What were the principle features of Spanish power in the Americas? Can it properly be described as an empire?
To answer this question, in this essay, the historical background of Spanish power in the America will first be introduced briefly. Then, the principle features of its power in Americas will be demonstrated. For the second part of the question, to answer this, the features of an empire will first be explicitly interpreted. Then, by comparing the features of Spanish power in Americas and features of a typical empire, we can tangibly describe that Spanish power in Americas was indeed an empire.
Back to the medieval era of Iberia peninsula, when Ferdinand II of Aragon married the Queen of Castile, Isabella, the two Crowns became known as the Catholic Monarchs. Then, the alignment of the Crown of Castile and the Crown of Aragon emerged a political authoritarian system, which then be known as the Spanish monarchy. As the Crown of Castile funded the voyage of Christopher Columbus in 1492, Spanish monarchy took the leading into the Age of Exploration. With the followed Spanish colonization of the Americas, Spanish expanded its power all over the world step by step, and its prosperities of political and economic power emerged from 16th to 18th centuries during the Habsburgs dynasty of Spain. The so called empire was eventually controlled by the Spanish Crown and governed territories and in Europe, America, established colonies in Africa, Asia and Oceania. Over persisted for three centuries, the Spain’s Empire’s power was diminished by Napoleon’s conquest in 1808, and lost lots of colonies. After Spain defeated in the Spanish–American War in 1898, Spain gave up its power in the Caribbean and the Pacific areas, and lost its dominance in global affairs.
The Spanish power in Americas did have its features, so did any other political power. Each of the power has its own features such as reasons of emerging, time of starting, group people who are driven, and range of influence. Taking Spanish power in Americas as an example, reason of it emerging was taking advantages of Age of Exploration, seeking overseas fortunes; time of starting was late of 15th centuries; group people who are driven were Spaniards and their allies, range of influence was staring from Americas, eventually impacted on global extent. These indeed were the features of Spanish power, which give us a most intuitively objective view of it. Based on these aspects of features, other political powers such as Roman Empire, British Empire as well as Portuguese Empire can also be introduced. However, these features could not more effectively to distinct them from one of other. It has a similar insufficiency that to describe Japanese as they have black eyes and yellow skin, but could not differentiate them from Chinese. At least, based on their differences in languages, which are Japanese and Mandarin, and their unlikeness of their culture, such as believe in Shintoism or Confucianism, these two groups of people can possibly be well distinguished. So do political powers such as Spanish empire. What on earth to differentiate Spanish power from the similar power, such as English power at the same era and venues, would actually be the principle features of it. Therefore, in order to answer the question that “what were the principle features of Spanish power in the Americas?” features of Spanish power in a deeper essence will be demonstrated in this section.
The first principle feature of Spanish power is highly dependent on collaboration. The Spaniards like all other people in the history, they were eager to prove their distinction and prowess. With the bravery of taking the risks of ventures, they eventually possess the great fortune of the New World. However, what they have of their own, are purely perseverance. British historian Henry Kamen mentioned in his work, that the Spain was a poor country; its power was never based on its own resources or its own contribution. Evidence of this comment can be found at the very start of Spanish power in Americas. Although in 1492, Castile was already competing with Portugal to discover the Far East through sea-lane, they could not constitute their own venture team. Only when a Genoese sailor, Christopher Columbus attempted to reach Cipangu by sailing west, the Catholic Monarchs finally found the ideal proxy. With negotiation and offered funds, Catholic Monarchs somehow expand their authorities nominally by commissioning Christopher Columbus as a Spanish viceroy and governor of the lands he already founded as well as those he could reach from then on. Followed in the effective way of Columbus, the conquistador, the Spanish Monarchs applied military power in colonization of America. Although the Catholic Monarchs found the military forces were vital to maintain their advantages in Americas, the Castilians were more willing to let others defend and exploit the empire for them. The, the most effective way that Spaniards came up was manoeuvring powers of nations that with hostility, the indigenous peoples who were rivals, and tribes that were competing with each other. In order to defeat their powerful enemies, some of the nations, indigenous people and tribes have to align with the Spanish, howbeit the Spanish was borrowed power from them. Through this way, Spaniards could circumspectly keep the power to conquer and rule the land they found. Besides borrowed the military forces from others, Spaniards were never offering an innovation advantage such as agriculture or architecture technique from Europe to savage Americas. Kamen argued that the only reason why Spain could leap to an empire was because it receive capital, labours from all other associated people, “without the help of allies, the Spaniards would have had neither the soldiers nor the ships nor the money to achieve what they did.” Their effort was foresight changes of technology, biology, and economy, and brought their colonies into these processes. Spaniards were the catalysts that enable others development. With sharing the mutual interests with Spaniards, the Spanish power had the association to become empire.
2. Catholicism Superiority
During conflict between Catholics and Protestants emerged in Europe in 16th centuries, the devotional Spaniards saw the new-founded world was an ideal place to baptize more new Catholics. As they regard the Americas as a barbarian world, their Catholicism superiority endow them with a mission besides the exploiting, which was “reducing the savage people to Christianity and civility.” More opinionatedly, the Spaniards judged whether people were uncivilized or not based on whether they have true faith to Christian God. However, as last, the Spanish believe the god do not abandoned the unconverted barbarian, they were passionate to be the missionaries. The intensity of Spaniards to convert indigenous people to Christianity is the way of Catholic Monarchs of their spiritual preoccupation. In this way, Spaniards would easier to maintain its imperial domination of their colonies.
3. Linguistic and Anthropological Integration
Unlike other colonial power, although Spaniards discriminated people in the New World religiously, they were still willing to integrate with Americas locals in comprehensive ways such as language and intermarriages. No matter how Henry Kamen accentuated in his work that Spaniards were totally failed in language integration in Americas, the reality we could not ignore is, with the fact that the Spanish language is the official or national language of 19 countries in the Americas and totally at least 418 million native speakers in the Hemisphere, the Spanish language is indeed the second most widely spoken language in the world presently. Doubtless, this is due to the intended linguistic integration in the era of Spanish Americas. The Spanish also reduced linguistic pluralism and aggregate the multiple tribal languages to Nahuarl in order to further introduce Spanish. “Language has always been the companion of empire” said be Antonio de Nebrjia when he first learnt the Castilian in 1492. Besides linguistic integration, one more efficient way to strengthen the integration from both linguistic and religious, mentioned in previous paragraph, is anthropological integration. The way of the integration was inter-ethnic marriage. In the year of 1503, the new governor Nicolas de Ovando received instruction from the Catholic Monarchs, “try to get some Christian men to marry Indian women, and Christian women to marry Indian men, so that they can communicate with each other, and the Indian can be indoctrinated in our Holy Catholic Faith.” The method of indiscriminately blending races and culture inherent magnified the influence of Spanish empire domination, that in the present world, people in this hemisphere have lived in highly diversification.
A Proper Empire
To briefly answer the second part of question, which whether the Spanish power in Americas can properly be described as an empire, the answer should be certain. In order to well explain this conclusion, the typical empire with its essential features would firstly be introduced in this section. In the followed part, by drawing the comparison between Spanish powers to the typical empire, it would be more convincing that Spanish power in Americas was an empire.
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What is an empire? Maier in his work gave the proper description. In the classical sense, it is believed that firstly, the power has its desire to expand its domination by introducing conquest. Secondly, the power requests its territories maintain their political loyalty to their suzerain. In the case of Spanish power in Americas, it is obviously that Spaniards had the desire to expand its territories and gain fortune from the land they newly discovered. Hence, the Catholic Monarchs would fund Christopher Columbus as their proxy threw themselves into the wave of age of exploration. Besides Columbus was funded by the Catholic Monarchs, more importantly, he was commissioned as official and governed the land, including rights to exploit, to settle, and the privilege to taxing. All of these were under the authority and sovereignty of the Crown of Castile. Moreover, the crown quickly cancelled its supporting of Columbus and suspend his privileges, then turned to apply more direct control from the Crown over the territory. The way that the Catholic Monarchs enhancing its sovereignty was by changing the governors in the Americas frequently. After Columbus, Francisco de Bobadilla appointed as governor of the Indies with civil rights, however, he was soon replaced by Nicolás de Ovando in September 1501. Hereby the Crown would tighten its control in the new territories. Hence the Spanish power enhanced its territories loyalty to their suzerain, represented by the Catholic Monarchs, which was the typical model of empire. With its blooming imperialism, more and more Spanish colonies were established on the land of Americas sequentially that New Granada was founded in the 1530s, Lima pointed as the capital of the Viceroyalty of Peru in 1535, Buenos Aires was established in 1536 and followed by Santiago in 1541. Therefore, the Spanish empire that established starting on the hemisphere of Americas actually became the first one that been called “the empire on which the sun never sets”.
Another aspect of a political power to become empire or imperialism which Maier demonstrated is, the empire power formulate an imperial economic system between the dominated empire and its territories, “economic development and commercial ties must ultimately spell the end of conquest and militarism”. The Spanish power established the imperialism economy in Americas mainly through the sliver exploitation. As the medieval aristocrats in Spain prejudicially regarded manual work as dishonourable way to live, they had no interests to develop their economy and cumulate their fortune through the commerce of production of manufactures or the improvement of agriculture. What they fascinated in is exploiting the vast amount of silver mines from Americas. The excessive investment of labour and aspiration in importing silver eventually made Spanish lack of power to produce goods for living domestically, resulted as they were ultimately relying on foreign sources of raw materials and manufactured goods. Thus, in its imperialism economy, the colonizer snatched silver and gold from Americas, used part of it to trade necessary manufactured goods such as tea and silks from Arabic and later on China. By the end of 16th century, silver from the Americas took 20% of Spain’s total budget. Even the world’s silver stock was boosted for two to three times because of the increasing amount of silver was unmined from the Americas. Official records of Spain indicate that more than three out of four of the silver was imported from the Americas to Spain and only less than a quarter of the silver was taken across the Pacific shipping to China. This was how the imperialism economy established by Spanish to force the resources and labour serve the Spanish empire.
The principle features of Spanish power in Americas was collaborate with its allies, spread Catholicism faith through sermon, applied linguistic and anthropological integration by enhance inter-ethnic marriages. Spanish power in Americas was certainly empire force, as it expanded its domination by conquering territories across the hemisphere and strengthened the political loyalty of its territories to their suzerain, which was the Spanish Crown.
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