The Americas on the eve of independence

De Baripedia

Based on a lecture by Aline Helg[1][2][3][4][5][6][7]

Territories in the Americas colonised or claimed by a major European power in 1750.

On the eve of the independence movements, the vast territories of the Americas were for the most part under the control of European powers such as Spain, Portugal, England, France, Holland and Denmark. However, a significant portion of these lands consisted of frontier zones or uncolonised territories inhabited by indigenous nations and tribes. Despite their vast size, these areas were relatively sparsely populated and largely beyond the control of the colonial powers. They also provided a safe haven for those fleeing slavery, persecution or even the law, such as runaway slaves, peasants and criminals. Within the colonies, a mosaic of populations coexisted: European colonists, enslaved Africans and indigenous peoples. The economy was essentially based on agriculture and the export of raw materials to Europe, while the social hierarchy was dominated by a rigid system of slavery and clear divisions between the colonists and the enslaved or indigenous populations. Politically, these territories were held in a firm grip by the European metropolises, offering little voice or autonomy to the colonised peoples.

This demographic composition of the Americas during the colonial era, combined with the displacement and relocation of indigenous populations, left an indelible mark on the region's post-colonial development, socially, economically and politically. Today, the imprint of colonisation is still perceptible in the landscape of the Americas. Many indigenous communities still face discrimination and marginalisation. What's more, the tragic consequences of slavery, resulting from the forced displacement of millions of Africans during the transatlantic slave trade, remain deeply rooted in the region's social structures. These scars of the past continue to influence and shape the contemporary landscape of the Americas.

Breakdown of population by origin[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

On the eve of the independence movements, the demographic landscape of the Americas showed a distinct concentration of populations in specific areas. The most densely populated regions were the east coast of the future nation of the United States, and the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of South America. The Caribbean, Central America and the territory corresponding to present-day Mexico were also home to high population densities. These concentrations were largely the result of historical, economic and environmental factors that shaped the colonisation and settlement of these territories. These regions were not only strategically located for trade and export, but also offered arable land and climatic conditions favourable to agriculture and life.

These densely populated regions were a melting pot of cultural and ethnic diversity. The indigenous peoples, present long before the arrival of Europeans, had deeply rooted cultures and traditions. With colonisation, Europeans came to settle, bringing with them their own traditions, languages and religions. The dark chapter of the transatlantic slave trade also brought a large African population to the Americas, mainly to the Caribbean, Brazil and parts of North America. These Africans were uprooted from their lands, cultures and families, and forced to work mainly on plantations. Despite oppression, they managed to preserve and adapt their traditions, religions and arts, profoundly influencing American cultures.

Miscegenation, the result of unions between different ethnic groups, has played a major role in defining the cultural panorama of the Americas. Mestizos, born of the union between Europeans and Amerindians, have become a major component of the population in many countries, notably Mexico, Central America and parts of South America. These individuals have combined the traditions of their European and Amerindian ancestors, creating unique cultures, cuisines, music and traditions. Similarly, mulattos, descendants of Africans and Europeans, formed a significant part of the population, particularly in the Caribbean and parts of South America such as Brazil. They have also influenced regional culture with a fusion of African and European elements, giving rise to distinct musical, culinary and artistic traditions. The emergence of these new ethnic and cultural identities not only enriched the cultural landscape of the Americas, but also influenced the social and political dynamics of the newly-formed nations following independence. Today, these mixed identities are celebrated as symbols of resilience, adaptation and unity in diversity.

The complex demographic history of the Americas has produced a mosaic of cultures that is arguably one of the richest in the world. From the outset, indigenous societies already had a rich and varied history, with empires such as the Aztecs, Mayas and Incas developing complex systems of government, agriculture and art. With the arrival of Europeans, and later Africans, each group brought with it its own tapestry of traditions, beliefs and social systems. The convergence of these cultures was not without conflict or tragedy, notably the repression of indigenous peoples and the transatlantic slave trade. However, over time, cultural cross-fertilisation has also led to the birth of new traditions, music, dance, cuisine and art forms that have been influenced by several cultures at once. Each country, and even each region within a country, has its own unique history of cultural mixing and interaction. For example, tango in Argentina, reggae in Jamaica and samba in Brazil are all the result of a blend of African, European and indigenous traditions. So the national and regional identities that have emerged in the Americas are not static, but rather the product of a dynamic process of exchange, adaptation and fusion. These identities continue to evolve and adapt while honouring the complex, multicultural heritage that formed the basis of their development.

The geography of the Americas played a decisive role in the distribution of the population. While the coasts were particularly prized for their resources and accessibility to maritime trade routes, the interior of the continents remained less populated. Vast forests, mountains, deserts and other difficult-to-access terrain made settlement and communication complex. Navigable rivers were vital arteries for trade and communication within the continents. Although their banks were more densely populated than remote inland areas, they lacked the population density of coastal areas. The main colonial cities, on the other hand, were buzzing centres of activity. Often located on the coast or near a major waterway, they were commercial, administrative and cultural crossroads. Whether Mexico City, Lima, Salvador, Quebec City or Philadelphia, these cities attracted a mix of settlers, traders, artisans and other residents in search of opportunity. The estimated 15 million inhabitants of the Americas in 1770 testifies to the scale of the human presence on these continents. However, it is important to note that this figure is much lower than the estimated population before the arrival of the Europeans. The diseases brought by the colonists had a devastating impact on the indigenous populations, considerably reducing their numbers in the centuries following contact.

The ethnic and cultural diversity of the Americas on the eve of independence shaped the destiny of these nations in a profound and lasting way. Before the arrival of Europeans, the Americas were inhabited by millions of people belonging to a multitude of indigenous nations, tribes and empires. Even after suffering massive displacement and loss through disease and conflict, the legacy of these peoples continued to leave a profound cultural, social and political mark on the formation of the American nations. Originating mainly from Spain, Portugal, France and England, these settlers brought their traditions, political systems and economic practices to the New World. As the dominant class in many colonies, they laid the foundations for the administrative and economic structures that would endure long after independence. The majority of Africans arrived as slaves, playing a central role in the colonial economy, especially in the Caribbean, Brazil and the southern United States. Despite centuries of oppression, they have preserved and adapted precious elements of their heritage, fusing these traditions with those of other groups to create new forms of expression. Born of a mixture of European, African and indigenous cultures, these groups often occupied a unique position in the colonial social hierarchy. Over time, they acquired considerable influence, playing a crucial role in the evolution of national and regional identities in the Americas. The complexity of this ethnic and cultural mosaic has been fundamental to the formation of post-colonial states. Each group brought its own experiences, traditions and perspectives, influencing the political, economic and social trajectories of the emerging nations. The interactions - sometimes harmonious, sometimes conflictual - between these groups have shaped the course of the continent's history.

The demographic distribution of the Americas on the eve of the independence movements reflects the colonial history, economy, geography and politics of each region. Around 70,000 people lived in New France, which included territories such as present-day Louisiana and Canada. The low population density, compared with some other colonies, was due to factors such as Canada's harsher climate, trade relations based on the fur trade rather than intensive agriculture, and more limited immigration from France. With a population of around 3 million, the 13 colonies were a densely populated and dynamic region. The colonies benefited from substantial European immigration, flourishing agriculture and rapid economic growth. Port cities such as Boston, Philadelphia and Charleston were centres of commercial and cultural activity. The Viceroyalty of Spain, encompassing Mexico, California, Texas and Central America, had a population similar to that of the 13 colonies, at around 3 million. The Viceroyalty of Spain was a major administrative and economic centre for the Spanish Empire. Encompassing territories such as Colombia, Venezuela, Chile, Argentina, Cuba, Puerto Rico and what is now the Republic of Santo Domingo, these regions had a total population of around 4 million. Each of these colonies had its own set of resources, economies and challenges. With a population of around 1.5 million, Portuguese Brazil covered a vast area with great geographical diversity. Although its population was smaller than that of some Spanish colonies, Brazil was rich in resources, and its coast was a vital centre for the transatlantic slave trade. These figures show the demographic diversity and settlement disparities of the Americas at the end of the colonial period. Each region had its own character, shaped by decades, if not centuries, of interaction between indigenous populations, European settlers and displaced Africans.

The presence of a massive slave population in the French and British West Indies testifies to the economic and strategic importance of these islands to the European colonial powers, particularly in the production of sugar, coffee and other cash crops. Demographic dynamics were complex and had major implications for culture, politics and society. With a total population of 600,000, the French West Indies were a major stronghold of the French colonial empire. Haiti, then known as Saint-Domingue, was the jewel in the crown, with a population of around 500,000. An impressive 80% of this population were slaves, reflecting the dependence of the island's economy on agricultural production, particularly sugar. Society was stratified, with a ruling white minority, a class of free coloureds and an overwhelming majority of slaves. With a population of around 300,000, the British West Indies were also dominated by plantation agriculture and slavery. Like the French colonies, these islands were essential to the British metropolitan economy. The plantations produced sugar, rum and cotton, commodities much in demand in Europe. Despite the devastating effects of disease, conflict and colonisation, between 1.5 and 2 million uncolonised indigenous people still lived on the American continent. These populations represented the survivors of once flourishing and complex civilisations. In many regions, they retained a relative autonomy, living according to their traditions and often on the fringes of colonial structures.

The juxtaposition of these highly lucrative island slave societies with the vast expanses of the continent still inhabited by indigenous peoples illustrates the diversity of realities and experiences across the Americas during the colonial period. On the one hand, the Caribbean islands, with their slave societies, were the beating heart of a colonial economy based on exploitation. Sugar cane and tobacco plantations required an abundant workforce, often obtained through the African slave trade. These islands were real economic engines for the colonial empires, producing immense wealth for the European elites, but at a terrible human cost for the slaves. By contrast, the vast expanses of the continent, inhabited by indigenous peoples, tell a different story. These regions were less directly affected by the colonial slave machine. The indigenous peoples had their own cultures, social, economic and political systems. Although they certainly felt the effects of colonisation, particularly through pressure to convert, disease and conflict, many groups managed to preserve a degree of autonomy. The coexistence of these two realities - one based on intense exploitation and the other on indigenous societies preserving their traditions - shows the complexity of the social, economic and cultural landscape of the Americas on the eve of independence. It also highlights the contradictions and tensions inherent in the colonial period, which laid the foundations for future post-colonial challenges and struggles.

This population distribution influenced the development trajectory of each nation in the Americas after independence. Densely populated areas with insular, plantation-based slave economies often experienced tumultuous transitions to the abolition of slavery, socio-economic conflict and struggles for racial equality. The impact of these slave systems is still felt today, particularly in socio-economic inequalities and racial tensions. In addition, the vast regions of the continent inhabited mainly by indigenous peoples have seen their traditional cultures and lands disrupted. Pressure to assimilate, land confiscation and continued marginalisation have defined much of their post-colonial experience. Many countries have experienced conflict and tension between governments and indigenous communities over land rights, cultural recognition and self-determination. Urban areas, once the centres of colonial power, became vibrant metropolises, shaping the political, economic and cultural direction of their respective nations. Decisions taken in these urban centres often had repercussions across the continent, affecting both rural areas and indigenous populations. As a result, the demographic mosaic of the Americas on the eve of independence left a complex legacy. The nations that emerged had to navigate the currents of their colonial histories while seeking to define their own identities and pursue development. The current demographic landscape of the Americas, with its challenges and opportunities, is a direct reflection of these historical realities and the choices made in the post-colonial era.

The importance of "racial" affiliation[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The history of colonisation and slavery in the Americas is not just a series of past events, but an indelible imprint on the psyche, society and politics of the region. The complex mix of cultures, ethnicities and races that converged, voluntarily or involuntarily, on this continent created a diverse, but often conflicting, tapestry of identities.

The indigenous peoples, who inhabited these lands long before the arrival of the colonisers, faced dispossession, disease and violence. Many were forced to abandon their lands, languages and traditions. Despite systematic attempts at assimilation, many indigenous communities have preserved their culture and traditions, but they often remain marginalised, economically disadvantaged and discriminated against. The transatlantic slave trade brought millions of Africans to the Americas, where they were subjected to inhumane conditions, brutal treatment and dehumanisation. Although slavery was abolished a long time ago, its legacy lives on. Descendants of African slaves continue to struggle against systemic discrimination, social stigmatisation and economic inequality. In many countries in the Americas, skin colour is still a powerful predictor of economic and educational opportunities. Mixed ancestry, or métissage, is also an important reality in the Americas. Mestizos, mulattos and other mixed groups represent unique populations with their own challenges and experiences. Although they are often celebrated as symbols of cultural mixing, they also face issues of identity and discrimination.

Today's issues of discrimination and inequality in the Americas cannot be fully understood without acknowledging these historical roots. However, it is also important to note that, despite these challenges, the peoples of the Americas have shown remarkable resilience, creating vibrant cultures, music, art and political movements that seek to rectify the injustices of the past and build a more inclusive and equitable future.

Regions with an Amerindian majority[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Felipe guaman poma de ayala.jpg
Felipe Guamán Poma de Ayala: he reconstructed the entire Amerindian imaginary after the conquest. It is an extraordinary source for historians, enabling them to reconstruct what was happening at the time. The Indians were obliged to provide forced labour in the mines and on the looms.

The predominantly Amerindian regions scattered across the Americas embody the perseverance of indigenous peoples in the face of adversity. These territories, stretching from Alaska to southern South America, illustrate the cultural and historical diversity that existed long before the arrival of Europeans. One of the first and most devastating consequences of the arrival of the Europeans was the "microbial shock". Diseases such as smallpox, influenza and measles were accidentally introduced by Europeans. These pathogens, against which the indigenous populations had no immunity, swept across the continent, causing mortality rates of up to 90% in some communities. The exact figures are open to debate, but it is widely accepted that millions of people died as a result of these epidemics. In addition to disease, the direct and indirect violence of the conquest played a major role in the decline of the indigenous population. Many were killed in military confrontations, while others were enslaved and subjected to harsh working conditions in mines, plantations or encomiendas, a system whereby settlers were assigned a certain number of indigenous people to work for them. While vast areas were deserted or decimated, some regions, due to their isolation or the resistance of local communities, remained predominantly Amerindian. Places such as the central Andes, certain regions of Mexico, or remote areas of the Amazon rainforest have maintained a strong indigenous presence, which persists to this day.

According to estimates, the indigenous population of the Americas fell from 50 to 60 million in 1500 to less than 4 million in 1600. The massive demographic decline not only had immediate consequences, but also shaped the subsequent development of the Americas. The colonial powers, particularly Spain and Portugal, imported African slaves to compensate for the loss of indigenous labour, and this had a profound influence on the demographic and cultural make-up of the region. Moreover, the social and cultural upheaval caused by the loss of so many lives often destabilised the social and political structures of indigenous civilisations, facilitating European domination.

The Caribbean region is particularly notable for the rapid and complete extinction of its indigenous population. Before European colonisation, it is estimated that around 5 million indigenous people lived in the Caribbean. By 1770, however, the population had been almost completely decimated, and by 1800 there were virtually no indigenous people left in the Caribbean.

The almost complete disappearance of the indigenous population of the Caribbean is one of the most tragic and dramatic consequences of European colonisation. The scale and speed of this disappearance are sad testimony to the combined effects of disease, forced labour, conflict and oppression. Before the arrival of Europeans, the Caribbean was inhabited by various indigenous peoples, principally the Taïnos (or Arawaks) and the Caribs (or Kalinago). These peoples had developed complex cultures and organised societies based mainly on agriculture, fishing and trade. As in the rest of the Americas, the introduction of European diseases to which the natives had no immunity was devastating. Smallpox, influenza and measles, among others, had a major impact on the population, often with extremely high mortality rates. The Europeans, particularly the Spanish, subjected the natives to systems of forced labour such as the encomienda. Under this system, indigenous people were forced to work on plantations and in mines, where conditions were often brutal. Clashes between the European settlers and the indigenous populations were frequent. The Caribs, in particular, were described by the Europeans as more warlike and often came into conflict with them. However, the technological and military superiority of the Europeans often resulted in heavy losses for the indigenous peoples. Faced with drastically dwindling indigenous populations, the Europeans began importing African slaves to provide the necessary labour for their colonies. The Caribbean quickly became the epicentre of the transatlantic slave trade, with millions of Africans being brought in, and this had a profound influence on the demographic and cultural make-up of the islands.

In the territories of Mesoamerica and the Andes, particularly within the Inca and Mayan civilisations, the indigenous populations underwent a period of population reconstitution between around 1650 and 1680. The Mesoamerican and Andean regions, with their advanced civilisations such as the Incas and Mayas, had already established complex and sophisticated structures before the arrival of the Spanish. These structures partly enabled the populations of these regions to resist, at least demographically, the devastating consequences of colonisation. Mesoamerica and the Andes were characterised by dense, developed urban centres, with markets, temples, palaces and public squares. These centres, such as Cuzco for the Incas and Tikal for the Mayas, were centres of economic, social and cultural activity. With advanced systems of irrigation and terraced agriculture, these civilisations were able to support large populations, which contributed to their resilience in the face of colonial pressure. Hierarchical systems of governance, well-maintained roads such as the Qhapaq Ñan for the Incas and trade networks for the Mayas played an essential role in the recovery and reconstitution of populations. Even after the fall of their capitals and the collapse of their central empires, these organisational structures persisted on a smaller scale, allowing for a certain form of resilience. Although the Spanish conquerors imposed their domination, they also established alliances with certain indigenous groups, using these relationships to control and govern the region. This interaction enabled certain segments of the indigenous population to survive and even prosper, albeit often under modified and subordinate conditions. The traditions, languages and beliefs of the Mesoamerican and Andean peoples have persisted despite the efforts of colonisers to eradicate or convert them. In many cases, indigenous religious and cultural practices were merged with those of the Spanish, giving rise to hybrid traditions that endure to this day.

The resistance of indigenous peoples to European colonisation is a fundamental chapter in the history of the Americas. These peoples were not simply passive victims of the conquest. On the contrary, many indigenous groups fought fiercely to defend their lands, their culture and their autonomy. These resistance movements were often a direct response to the abuses of the colonisers, whether slavery, exploitation or forced religious conversion. A notable example is the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. Led by Popé, a shaman from the Pueblo peoples in what is now New Mexico, the indigenous people succeeded in driving out the Spanish for almost 12 years. This rebellion was a powerful cry for autonomy and a rejection of oppression. In the south of Chile and Argentina, another notable resistance came from the Mapuche. For almost 300 years, they fought off Spanish colonisation, demonstrating a fierce determination to preserve their way of life. But resistance was not limited to South America. In the Andes, the revolt of Tupac Amaru II in 1780-1781 saw tens of thousands of indigenous people and mestizos rise up against Spanish oppression. Although the revolt was put down, it left an indelible mark on colonial governance. At the same time, escaped African slaves often allied themselves with indigenous peoples to form "cimarrón" or "marron" communities, which led attacks against the European colonies, merging the freedom struggle of the two groups. One of the last bastions of indigenous resistance came during the "Caste War" in Yucatán between 1847 and 1901. The Maya held out against European Mexicans for more than 50 years, proving their resilience in the face of heavily armed opponents. These resistance movements, though with varying degrees of success, have shaped the history of the nations of the Americas. Their legacy of resilience and determination continues to influence current generations.

The vast geographical expanses of the Americas, with their diverse landscapes ranging from dense forests to high mountains, provided natural refuges for indigenous peoples in the face of advancing colonisers. In these remote areas, far from the direct control of the colonial powers, many indigenous communities were able to escape the worst effects of colonisation. In the Amazon rainforest, for example, the dense vegetation and inaccessible terrain provided natural protection against European incursions. Even today, there are tribes in the Amazon that have had little or no contact with the outside world. These communities have preserved their traditions and ways of life largely thanks to their isolation. In the Andes, entire communities fled the valleys to escape Spanish subjugation, finding refuge in the high mountains. These mountainous regions, difficult to access, offered protection from military expeditions and religious missions. Such refuge tactics enabled these groups to preserve their autonomy and cultural traditions for centuries. In North America, regions such as the Great Basin and certain areas of the Great Plains saw peoples like the Utes, Shoshones and Paiutes maintain a certain distance from colonisers by using the terrain to their advantage. These areas of refuge played a crucial role in the survival of native cultures and ways of life. Even after the colonial period, when modern nations sought to extend their control over these regions, many indigenous peoples continued to resist, relying on their traditional knowledge and intimate relationship with the land. Ultimately, despite facing monumental challenges, these communities demonstrated remarkable resilience, adapting and preserving their cultures in an ever-changing world. In 1770, it is estimated that around 2/3 of the population of certain regions of the Americas were indigenous people who had taken refuge in these uncolonised territories.

In 1770, the Americas presented a complex mosaic of settlements and demographic dynamics. While European colonisation had profoundly altered the demographic make-up of the continent, certain regions, particularly those that were geographically remote or difficult to access, remained bastions where indigenous populations could preserve their way of life, traditions and autonomy. In these areas, the European presence was either absent or minimal. The estimate that two-thirds of the population of these regions were indigenous speaks of the ability of these peoples to resist colonial expansion, at least temporarily. However, even in these refuges, life for the indigenous peoples was not necessarily easy. Pressure from surrounding colonies, the desire to gain access to precious resources and simple territorial expansion constantly threatened these areas. What's more, the diseases introduced by the Europeans could spread far beyond the colonies themselves, reaching populations that had never had direct contact with the colonists. Overall, in 1770, despite these areas of resistance, the indigenous population of the Americas was tragically smaller than it had been before the arrival of the Europeans. Disease, conflict, enslavement and other forms of oppression had decimated countless communities. However, the persistence of indigenous populations in certain regions is testimony to their resilience, their capacity to adapt and their indomitable will to survive and preserve their cultures in the face of monumental challenges.

Regions with a majority of European origin[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

In the early days of independence, in areas inhabited mainly by descendants of Europeans, such as the 13 colonies that were to form the basis of the United States, the concept of 'race' had already begun to take on overriding importance. Particularly in the more urbanised northern states, where commerce and industry flourished, this notion of race significantly influenced social dynamics and politics.

The 13 colonies, although largely populated by Europeans, were far from monolithic. The dominant English coexisted with other European groups such as the Dutch, Germans and Scots. Each bringing with them their own traditions and beliefs. However, beyond cultural and religious differences, a common denominator emerged: skin colour became a criterion of distinction and, often, of hierarchisation. When European settlers established their societies in the New World, they introduced the system of slavery, enslaving Africans. The latter, deprived of rights and considered as property, found themselves at the bottom of the social ladder. At the same time, indigenous peoples were gradually marginalised and driven from their ancestral lands. As a result, a racial hierarchy was established, with white Europeans at the top. This race-based ranking system not only reinforced socio-economic inequalities but also shaped the political landscape of the colonies. Whites, with full citizenship rights, were able to participate actively in political life, while black slaves and indigenous peoples were excluded from the decision-making process. This complex racial context was to leave an indelible mark on the young American nation. Even after independence, race would be at the heart of many debates and tensions, playing a central role in the formation of the Republic and profoundly influencing American identity.

The explosive growth of the European population, from 30,000 in 1700 to 2.5 million in 1770, cannot hide the fact that these Europeans were not the absolute majority. Indigenous peoples, present for millennia, and Africans, tragically brought over as slaves, made up a significant proportion of the population. This demographic diversity led to complex power dynamics. Europeans, despite their growing numbers, had to navigate a reality in which they coexisted with other major groups. However, this coexistence was not egalitarian. European settlers, seeking to establish themselves and dominate economically, established a system where skin colour and ethnic origin largely determined an individual's status and rights. Indigenous peoples, once sovereign over their lands, faced displacement, disease and constant pressure to cede their territories. Their political and cultural influence was gradually eroded. Enslaved Africans, for their part, were placed at the bottom of the social ladder, exploited for their labour and deprived of their fundamental rights. Nevertheless, the socio-political organisation of the colonies was shaped by this demographic reality. The European elites, aware of their potential numerical minority, put in place laws and practices to maintain their control. This manifested itself in slavery laws, restrictions on the rights of indigenous peoples and a culture that valued European heritage at the expense of others. These dynamics had a profound influence on the evolution of colonial society. The question of how to integrate or marginalise various groups, how to balance power and how to structure a changing society was at the heart of colonial concerns. These questions, although specific to the period, laid the foundations for future debates on equality, justice and national identity that would shape the young American nation after independence.

The structure of the 13 colonies that were to become the United States was profoundly influenced by successive waves of European immigration. These new arrivals, bearing their own prejudices and value systems, quickly established a social hierarchy that reflected their own conceptions of racial and ethnic superiority and inferiority. White Europeans positioned themselves at the top, seeing their culture, religion and technology as proof of their superiority. The resulting system was not simply informal or based on individual prejudice, but was codified and reinforced by law. For example, black codes were enacted to regulate all aspects of the lives of Africans and their descendants, while policies towards indigenous peoples were often aimed at dispossessing them of their land and reducing their influence. Moreover, this hierarchisation was not based solely on skin colour or ethnic origin. It also included distinctions between different groups of Europeans. The English, for example, often saw themselves as superior to other European groups such as the Irish, Germans or French.

This racial and ethnic caste system, embedded in colonial law and politics, created lasting divisions. After independence, as the United States embarked on the bold experiment of building a democratic republic, vestiges of this colonial hierarchy remained. The struggles for equal rights, whether civil rights, women's rights or the rights of indigenous peoples, can all be traced back to this early period. Today, although great strides have been made in the fight against discrimination and for equality, the shadows of this past hierarchy persist. Debates about race, fairness and justice reflect centuries of struggle against a system that attempted to categorise and hierarchise human beings on the basis of arbitrary criteria. These discussions are essential to understanding the American national identity and the challenges facing the nation in terms of equality and justice.

Regions with a majority of African origin[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

In the predominantly African regions of the Americas, such as the Caribbean and parts of Brazil, race has been a central feature of social and political dynamics since the colonial period. The mass arrival of enslaved Africans, uprooted from their homelands and forcibly transported to the New World, established a distinct demographic landscape in these regions, where the majority of the population was of African descent. In these territories, skin colour quickly became the main marker of social position. White Europeans, although often outnumbered, held economic, political and social power, reinforced by legal and social systems that valued whiteness. In the middle of this hierarchy, there were often mestizos, the offspring of relations between Europeans and Africans, who occupied an intermediate position, sometimes privileged, sometimes not, depending on the historical and geographical context. In places like the Caribbean, where the majority of the population was of African descent, a rich and unique culture emerged, fusing African, European and indigenous traditions. This manifests itself in music, dance, religion and cuisine. However, despite the numerical and cultural importance of Africans and their descendants, power remained firmly in the hands of the European minority. In Brazil, the country that received the largest number of African slaves, the concept of "race" developed in a way that was distinct from other parts of the Americas. Although Brazil also had a clear racial hierarchy, it developed a culture of miscegenation where racial fluidity was more common, leading to a wider range of intermediate racial categories.

The transatlantic slave trade is one of the darkest and most tragic periods in modern history. Between the 16th and 19th centuries, millions of Africans were captured, enslaved and forcibly transported to the Americas, profoundly affecting the social, economic and cultural fabric of the New World. Although the colonisation of the Americas was initially undertaken by Europeans in search of new land and wealth, it quickly developed into an economic system that relied heavily on African slave labour. Intensive agriculture, particularly on sugar, tobacco and cotton plantations, required an abundance of workers. Rather than use European or indigenous labour, the colonial powers opted for the African slave trade, which was wrongly perceived as being more 'suitable' for hard work in tropical climates and, cynically, more 'profitable'.

The number of Africans deported to the Americas is staggering, far surpassing the number of Europeans who chose to emigrate during the same period. Between 1500 and 1780, it is estimated that between 10 and 12 million Africans survived the dreaded crossing of the Atlantic Ocean, trapped in the unsanitary holds of slave ships. Most of these Africans ended up in the Caribbean, Brazil and other parts of South America, where the need for slave labour was greatest. This mass deportation had enormous demographic, cultural and social implications for the Americas. Not only did it create multiracial and multicultural societies, it also introduced new cultural elements, whether in terms of music, cuisine, religion or other traditions. The descendants of African slaves have played and continue to play a central role in the history and culture of the Americas.

The predominantly agricultural regions of the Americas, particularly those with vast tropical plantations, are eloquent testimony to the exploitation and cruelty of a deported population. In these areas, the work of African slaves was essential to the production of goods coveted on the world market. The sugar plantations of Guyana are a striking example of this dependence on slavery. The insatiable demand for sugar in Europe led to an exponential increase in plantations, creating an ever-growing demand for labour. Guyana, with its fertile soils, was particularly well suited to this crop, but the brutal conditions and heavy workload meant that few were willing or able to do it, except under duress. The Pacific coast, particularly around Lima, had another form of exploitation: mining. African slaves were often used to extract gold and other precious minerals. In often perilous conditions, they worked long hours to meet the demands of the Spanish colonisers and Europe's appetite for precious metals. As for Maryland, this state of the future United States illustrates another facet of agrarian slave society. While the American South is often associated with cotton growing, Maryland had a diversified agricultural economy. Plantations produced tobacco, wheat and other crops. Slave labour was essential to these plantations, so Maryland had a disproportionately large slave population. In all these regions, the consequences of slavery are still felt today. Afro-descendants, despite having contributed significantly to the culture, economy and society of these regions, are often confronted with deep-rooted inequalities, remnants of a time when their value was measured solely by their ability to work. These regions, rich in history and culture, also bear the burden of a painful history of exploitation and injustice.

Slavery was not only an economic mainstay, but also shaped the social structure and cultural fabric of the Americas. In the cities of the Iberian Americas, for example, the reality of daily life was profoundly coloured by this institution. In Buenos Aires, a city that is now considered the cosmopolitan heart of Argentina, the population of African origin was once predominant. Interestingly, although slavery is often associated with agricultural work on plantations, in many cities slaves played a crucial role in the domestic sphere. They were cooks, maids, babysitters, porters and much more. This domestic reality meant that interactions between slaves and masters were frequent and intimately intertwined, forming a complex web of dependence, control, familiarity and distance.

However, the significant presence of people of African descent was not limited to the subordinate role assigned to them. Over time, Afro-descendants have played a decisive role in the region's culture, music, dance, cuisine and so on. However, the long history of oppression, exploitation and systemic discrimination has left deep scars that are still visible today. The legacy of this period is a double-sided one. On the one hand, there is a rich cultural mosaic, the result of African, European and indigenous influences, which has given rise to unique and dynamic traditions. On the other, there are deep and persistent divisions along racial and class lines that continue to affect daily life. Discrimination, stereotyping and economic inequality are issues that have their roots in this tumultuous period and require ongoing reflection and action if they are to be fully resolved.

Regions with a mixed-race, mulatto or Zambo majority[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Miscegenation in the Americas, particularly in Latin America, is a complex and multifaceted phenomenon that stems from the convergence of different cultures, races and ethnic groups. This process gave rise to a diversity of mixed groups, such as mestizos (descendants of Europeans and natives), mulattos (descendants of Europeans and Africans) and zambos (descendants of natives and Africans), to name but a few. Relations between the groups were often influenced by factors such as social position, economics, politics and, of course, racial prejudice. It was common for conquistadores and other Europeans to associate with indigenous women, partly because colonial expeditions were predominantly male. These unions were sometimes the result of consensual relationships, but there were also many cases of forced relationships or rape. The rapid growth of the Métis population posed challenges to the colonial social structure, which was based on a strict racial hierarchy. The colonial authorities, particularly in Spain, developed a complex system of castas to classify the different mestizos. The aim of this system was to maintain order and ensure that the "pure bloods", particularly those of Spanish origin, retained their privileged status. The fears of the European colonists about miscegenation were linked to the loss of their social status and their racial 'purity'. Purity of blood was an essential concept in the Iberian Peninsula, where it was used to distinguish 'pure' Christians from Jews and Muslim converts. This concern was transplanted to the Americas, where it was reinterpreted in a racial and ethnic context.

The colonial period in Latin America saw the emergence of numerous artistic manifestations reflecting the social and racial complexities of society. Among these, the "castas paintings" or "mestiza paintings" were series of paintings that classified and represented the multiple racial combinations resulting from the union between Europeans, Amerindians and Africans. These works were popular in the 18th century, mainly in Mexico and Peru, two of the richest and most populous colonies of the Spanish Empire. Casta paintings generally depicted families, with the father from one race, the mother from another and their child resulting from interbreeding. The individuals were often accompanied by legends identifying their "casta" or specific racial group. The scenes also often depicted elements of everyday life, showing trades, clothing and domestic objects characteristic of each group.

The desire to 'whiten' the population is illustrated by the fact that these series of paintings tended to place Europeans at the top of the social hierarchy, and often showed subsequent interbreeding resulting in increasingly lighter descendants, reflecting the idea that society could eventually 'whiten' through further mixing. This perspective was linked to European notions of racial hierarchy, where whiteness was associated with purity, nobility and superiority. These paintings are of great historical and artistic importance as they provide a visual insight into the racial and social perceptions of the colonial period. They also reflect the tensions and concerns of multiracial societies, where 'purity' and 'contamination' were central concepts. Today, they are studied to understand how racial identities have been constructed and how they have evolved over time in American societies.

The notion of 'purity of blood' (limpieza de sangre in Spanish) has had a profound impact on Iberian societies, influencing their social, political and religious structures for centuries. Originating on the Iberian peninsula, the concept then spread widely to the American colonies during the colonial era. The idea of "limpieza de sangre" has its origins in the Reconquista, the long process by which the Christian kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula gradually reconquered territories previously under Muslim rule. During this period, religious identity became central to defining belonging and status within society. It was against this backdrop that Jews and Muslim converts to Christianity (known as "conversos" and "moriscos" respectively) were suspected of secretly practising their former religions. So, to establish a clear distinction between the old Christians and these new converts, the notion of "purity of blood" was introduced. The "conversos" and "moriscos", despite their conversion, were often regarded with suspicion, and their ancestry was associated with an "impurity" that concerned not only religion, but also "blood".

When the Spanish and Portuguese began to colonise the Americas, they brought with them these notions of racial hierarchy. In the New World, however, these ideas took a different turn due to the diversity of the populations encountered and the many interactions that resulted. In the colonies, the caste system was introduced to classify the various mixtures of Europeans, Amerindians and Africans. Terms such as "mestizo" (descendant of European and Amerindian) or "mulatto" (descendant of European and African) were used to define each person's place in this hierarchy. Those considered to be of "pure blood", i.e. of European origin, enjoyed a superior social, economic and political status. For those aspiring to important positions in the colonial administration, proof of this "limpieza de sangre" was often required, de facto excluding many people, particularly those of African or indigenous descent. These notions of blood purity shaped the organisation and social relations of the Iberian colonial empires. Even after independence, the influence of these ideas persists in many Latin American societies in the form of racial and social prejudices that continue to affect intergroup relations and the distribution of power and resources.

The situation of the indigenous peoples in the Spanish colonies was complex and cannot be reduced to a simple dichotomy between "pure blood" and "impure blood". The treatment of the indigenous peoples was largely influenced by the way in which the Spanish conceived the legitimacy of their colonial enterprise and the role they attributed to the indigenous populations in this new reality. When the Europeans arrived in America, they relied on the "Doctrine of Discovery" to justify their domination over the lands and peoples they were "discovering". According to this doctrine, Christian nations had the right to claim sovereignty over the non-Christian lands they discovered. However, the Spaniards also relied on a "civilising" mission, seeking to convert the indigenous populations to Christianity. The colonial authorities recognised the natives as subjects of the crown, but inferior and in need of guidance. This status differed from that of the Africans, who were generally enslaved. The natives were considered "free vassals" of the Spanish king, although in practice they were often subjected to forms of forced labour such as encomienda.

While "limpieza de sangre" was an essential criterion for defining the place of people of Jewish, Muslim or African origin in society, the natives did not fall under this criterion because they were seen as a "blank page" to be educated and converted. Subjecting them to this criterion would have contradicted the colonial ideology which justified their domination by the need to "civilise" them. While the preoccupation with "purity of blood" mainly affected populations of African origin or the descendants of converted Jews and Muslims, it indirectly affected the indigenous population by reinforcing the idea of racial hierarchy. This led to a complexity of statuses and categories within colonial societies, with Europeans at the top, followed by varying degrees of miscegenation, and indigenous and African populations often relegated to inferior positions.

The Amerindians[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Iberian America[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The racial classification system that emerged in the Iberian colonies of the Americas was undoubtedly one of the most complex ever created. This system, known as "casta", aimed to define an individual's social status according to their "race" or ancestry. This system was reinforced by casta paintings, artistic works that depicted different racial classifications and cross-breeding. The obsession with "limpieza de sangre" (purity of blood) had a long history in Spain long before the colonisation of the Americas. Originally, it was intended to distinguish "pure" Christians from converted Jews and Muslims. With the discovery of the New World and the massive arrival of African slaves, this system was adapted and expanded to include the many possible combinations of European, African and indigenous ancestry.

Those born in Spain, known as "Peninsulares", were generally considered to be at the top of the social hierarchy. Just below them were the "Criollos", individuals of pure European descent but born in the New World. Further down the hierarchy were the 'Mestizos', the offspring of a European and an indigenous person, followed by the 'Mulatos', the descendants of a European and a person of African descent. The list went on, with many other classifications, such as "Zambos", the fruit of the union between an indigenous person and a person of African descent. These distinctions were so fine that some very specific categories illustrated the interbreeding between different castas.

The Catholic Church also had a role to play in this system. The legitimacy of a birth was often linked to a religious marriage. Children born out of wedlock, or from unapproved interracial relationships, were often stigmatised, which influenced their position within the casta system. At the heart of this structure were the indigenous populations. Although they were initially at the bottom of the social ladder, distinct from African slaves, miscegenation introduced additional complexity into the system. For example, a mestizo might have a slightly higher social status than his indigenous relatives, but would still be inferior to the criollos or peninsulares. This rigid system, reinforced by religious, social and political factors, left a lasting legacy, creating divisions and tensions that can still be felt today in many parts of Latin America.

In the Iberian colonies of the Americas, the social hierarchy was strongly based on notions of race and origin. The elite, composed mainly of people of European origin, occupied the upper echelons of power and wealth. They were often referred to as "Peninsulares", born in Spain or Portugal, or "Criollos", born in the New World but of pure European descent. Their status gave them many privileges, including access to education, the exercise of official functions and land ownership. However, this elite was not homogeneous. Limpieza de sangre" (purity of blood) was a complex concept and was not limited solely to race or ethnic origin. Religious marriage, for example, played a crucial role in determining a person's status. A marriage within the Catholic Church conferred a certain legitimacy on a family, reinforcing its status of 'purity'. Conversely, those who deviated from established norms, whether by marrying outside the Church or by practising manual trades considered 'inferior', could see their status diminished, even if they were of European descent. This preoccupation with purity led to numerous conflicts and tensions within the ruling class itself, as compliance with these standards often determined access to resources and opportunities. Such criteria, based on race, religious and socio-economic practices, made colonial society exceptionally stratified and competitive.

Within this complex society of the Iberian colonies in the Americas, slaves of African origin and people of mixed race occupied inferior positions. Although they constituted the demographic majority, their status in the social hierarchy was significantly lower than that of people of pure European descent. Slaves, torn from their homeland and forced to work in brutal conditions, were at the bottom of this social ladder. Deprived of their most basic rights, they were considered the property of their masters and had few opportunities to improve their condition. Their skills, talents and culture were often nullified, preventing them from advancing in society. Mestizos, born of the union of Europeans, Africans and indigenous peoples, were in a somewhat different situation. Although they were not shackled like slaves, their status was ambivalent. In a society obsessed with "purity of blood", being of mixed race was often synonymous with illegitimacy. Their mixed ancestry was viewed with suspicion, placing them in an intermediate position: superior to slaves, but inferior to pure-bred Europeans. This situation often confined them to menial or manual roles, depriving them of the privileges reserved for the white elite.

In the Andean region, Spanish colonisation established an economic system based largely on the exploitation of natural resources and the indigenous population. Indigenous people were often forced to work in extreme conditions, particularly in silver and gold mines and in textile factories. Although these workers were essential to the economic prosperity of the colony, they were treated degradingly and their living conditions were often miserable. The Spanish Empire justified this exploitation by designating the natives as "minors" in the legal sense, i.e. individuals deemed incapable of making their own decisions and therefore requiring guardianship. This guardianship was supposed to be exercised by the King of Spain, who claimed to be acting in the interests of the natives. In reality, however, this supposed protection masked systematic exploitation. As well as forced labour, the indigenous populations were also subjected to a system of tribute. This meant that they had to pay a share of their income or production to the King of Spain in the form of taxes. This was a heavy burden that made their economic situation even more precarious. Faced with this exploitation, the natives often rebelled. They contested not only the inhumane working conditions, but also the very principle of the tribute, which they saw as a violation of their traditional rights to their land. These tensions gave rise to several uprisings and rebellions throughout the colonial period, demonstrating the resilience and determination of indigenous peoples in the face of oppression.

The desire for independence that swept through many of the colonies of the Americas in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries was mainly driven by colonial elites of European origin. These elites sought greater economic and political autonomy from the European metropolis, often in order to consolidate their own power and economic interests in the colonies. However, for the indigenous peoples, the prospect of independence did not necessarily mean an improvement in their lot. Independence movements were often driven by liberal ideals, which led to a desire to liberalise the economy. This liberal approach favoured the free market and economic individualism, directly threatening the indigenous populations' communal way of life and their traditional rights to land. Moreover, the elites seeking independence were often the same ones who had benefited from the exploitation of indigenous resources and populations during the colonial period. These elites did not necessarily have an interest in seeing indigenous rights strengthened in a newly independent state. Faced with these challenges, many indigenous groups adopted a suspicious, even hostile, stance towards independence movements. For them, independence did not mean true liberation, but rather a change of masters, with the potential for further exploitation and marginalisation. Thus, in several regions, indigenous peoples preferred to fight for their own autonomy and the protection of their rights rather than blindly support the colonial elites' aspirations for independence.

In the Iberian Americas, most of the population lived in rural areas and the cities were relatively small. The largest city, Mexico City, had a population of around 100,000. The cities were where most of the power was concentrated, but their control over the territory was limited. These vast areas were often dominated by large landowners who owned huge estates, known as "haciendas" or "estancias", where farming and stockbreeding were the main activities. These large landowners exerted considerable influence over the lives of rural dwellers, controlling not only the local economy, but also many aspects of social and cultural life. In this context, the towns, despite being the centres of administrative and religious power, found it difficult to exert any direct influence over the vast rural territories. Colonial structures, such as viceroyalties and captaincies, were supposed to provide governance over these enormous territories. However, due to their size, varied geography and communication challenges, there was often a gap between directives issued from urban centres and their actual implementation on the ground. Moreover, this decentralisation of power was often exacerbated by regional rivalries and tensions between different socio-economic groups. The urban elites, made up mainly of European descendants, often had interests that diverged from those of rural landowners, traders, craftsmen and, of course, the indigenous and mestizo populations. These tensions helped to shape the social, economic and political dynamics of the colonial period in the Iberian Americas.

Anglo-Saxon America[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

In Anglo-Saxon America, the vision of indigenous peoples was deeply tinged with prejudice and ethnocentrism. In the colonial mindset, indigenous people were often perceived as inferior, savage and barbaric, a view that served to justify their dispossession and marginalisation. This negative image persisted even in the face of ample evidence of complex and advanced indigenous societies. For example, the Cherokee nation, which had largely adapted to European ways of life, had established a written constitution, developed its own system of writing, and had largely converted to Christianity. Nevertheless, these advances were not enough to protect them from expulsion from their ancestral lands during the "Trail of Tears" in the mid-19th century.

The settlers' greed for land was a driving force behind this discriminatory attitude. The relentless pursuit of territorial expansion and the acquisition of new lands for agriculture and settlement were often achieved at the expense of the indigenous populations. The expression "A good Indian is a dead Indian" cruelly reflects this mentality of the time, although it should be noted that this phrase is widely attributed to various figures in American history without definitive proof of its exact origin. So while the motivations of English colonisers in America varied, the dominance of Euro-American culture, coupled with an insatiable quest for land, often marginalised, displaced and oppressed indigenous peoples.

In the 19th century, territorial expansion became a central element of American policy. Underpinned by the doctrine of "Manifest Destiny", the idea that the United States was destined by Providence to expand from coast to coast, this expansion was often achieved at the expense of indigenous peoples. Successive governments have developed a series of policies, treaties and military actions designed to displace indigenous peoples from their ancestral lands. One of the most striking examples of this period is the "Trail of Tears", during which several tribes, including the Cherokee, were forced to leave their lands in the south-east of the United States for territories west of the Mississippi River, resulting in the deaths of thousands of them. In addition, the Indian Wars, which took place throughout the century, illustrated the resistance of the indigenous peoples to the pressure and expansion of the colonists. These conflicts, which were often brutal, were provoked by tensions linked to the loss of land, treaty violations and competition for resources. Alongside these displacements and conflicts, the US government also implemented assimilation policies. Aboriginal children were often sent to boarding schools far from their families and cultures, with the aim of 'civilising' them and assimilating them into Euro-American culture.

The development of slavery in the Americas undeniably reinforced notions of racial hierarchy and inequality. With the massive introduction of African slaves, an ideology based on white supremacy was consolidated to justify and perpetuate the institution of slavery. However, the history of the colonisation of British America is not solely marked by slavery. One aspect that is often overlooked is the indenture system, which involved many poor Europeans, particularly the British. These indentured servants, often referred to as "indentured servants", agreed to work for a set period of time, usually between four and seven years, in exchange for passage to the Americas. At the end of this period, they were expected to receive compensation, often in the form of land, money or property. Many of these indentured servants had been forced into indenture because of debts or minor crimes committed in Britain. Although their condition was not comparable to the perpetual slavery suffered by Africans and their descendants, these servants often lived in difficult conditions and were subject to ill-treatment.

The expansion of slavery in Anglo-Saxon America is a complex phenomenon that developed differently from the evolution of the original British society. Although slavery was not a formally established institution in Great Britain, the colonisation of the Americas created new economic, social and political dynamics that encouraged the establishment and growth of this barbaric practice. Initially, there was no clear distinction between indentured European servants, who were often white and worked for a given period to repay a debt or a passage, and the first Africans to arrive in America. However, as the colonies grew and economic needs increased, particularly in the tobacco plantations of the south, the demand for cheap, permanent labour intensified. As the Anglo-Saxon colonies in America became established and expanded, specific laws and regulations began to be drawn up to define and solidify the status of slaves. The distinction between servitude and slavery became clearer, and slavery became a hereditary condition, passing from generation to generation. In addition, skin colour rapidly became an indicator of social status. Colonial legislation established that the offspring of a female slave would also be slaves, regardless of paternity. This created a system where anyone of African descent, or anyone who appeared to be of African descent, was often automatically considered a slave, or at least inferior.

Anglo-Saxon America, particularly the colonies that were to become the United States, was a major destination for many groups of European migrants from the 17th century onwards. A striking feature of this immigration was that, unlike in other colonised regions, it was often made up of whole families rather than individuals. Many of these migrants were religious refugees. Puritans, fleeing persecution in England, founded the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the 1630s; Quakers, also victims of persecution, settled Pennsylvania under the leadership of William Penn in the 1680s. English Catholics, seeking refuge from discrimination in their homeland, played a key role in the founding of Maryland. These migrants, whatever their origins, were often ready and willing to work the land. The promise of land, combined with the possibility of greater religious freedom, attracted many families to the colonies. This manual work ethic was reflected in the early structures of American colonial society. Agriculture became the backbone of the colonial economy, and family farms were common, particularly in the northern colonies.

The slavery[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Slavery in the Americas left an indelible mark on the socio-economic and cultural fabric of many New World countries. The scope and depth of this institution were such that its presence was felt in almost every facet of daily life in the colonies. Plantations, especially those producing sugar, cotton, coffee, cocoa and tobacco, were the most common place to find slaves. In the vast agricultural estates of the Caribbean, Brazil and the southern United States, thousands of slaves worked from dawn to dusk under the scorching sun, performing back-breaking tasks in often brutal conditions. Plantation owners were usually white settlers who amassed huge fortunes from the forced labour of slaves. However, plantations were not the only places where slaves could be found. In urban areas, many slaves worked as domestic servants. They cooked, cleaned, looked after children and carried out other household tasks for their masters. Some urban slaves had specialised skills and worked as craftsmen - blacksmiths, carpenters, tailors or shoemakers. In addition, in the busy ports of coastal cities, many slaves were employed in transporting, loading and unloading goods. In areas such as Havana in Cuba or Salvador in Brazil, it was not uncommon to see slaves working side by side with free men, although their living conditions and prospects were radically different.

The colonisation of the Americas by the European powers led to the importation of legal systems, traditions and social structures from the Old World. Among these imports, the legal system of the Iberian Peninsula, which had its roots in centuries of history prior to the discovery of the New World, had a particularly profound impact on the territories colonised by Spain and Portugal. Dating from the 13th century, this legal code of the Iberian Peninsula offered an approach to slavery that was partly reminiscent of the practices of the Roman Empire. One of the most distinctive elements of this system was the possibility for slaves to buy their freedom, a process known as "manumission". Manumission was a legal act by which a slave was released from slavery by his master, either by purchase or by other means, such as a reward for exceptional service. In some cases, manumission could be a formal affair with official documents, while in others it could be an informal agreement. This practice contrasted sharply with the systems of slavery established in the Anglo-Saxon colonies, where slave status was often perpetual and passed down from generation to generation. In these territories, the notion of 'race' was deeply rooted in the structure of slavery, and slaves had few legal means of escaping their condition. The possibility of buying one's freedom, so common in the Iberian territories, was largely absent from the British colonies and other Anglo-Saxon regions. This divergence reflects the different legal and cultural traditions of the colonial powers, as well as the specific economic and social conditions of each colony. Despite these differences, both systems oppressed and exploited millions of people for centuries, leaving deep scars that still affect modern societies in the Americas.

The presence of a legal system allowing manumission in the Iberian territories of the Americas gave rise to a unique social phenomenon: the emergence of a class of freedmen of colour. These freedmen were often individuals who, either by accumulating wealth through work or by other means (such as inheritance or favour from their master), had managed to buy their freedom. This freedom, although total in theory, was often limited in practice by social and economic restrictions. The presence of this intermediate class added another layer of complexity to the already complex social hierarchy of the Iberian colonies. Freedmen of colour often occupied specific economic and social roles, sometimes as artisans, merchants or landowners. They could also act as a bridge between the slave population and the free population, playing a role in communications and negotiations between these groups. Over time, however, manumission became increasingly difficult. Several factors contributed to this trend. On the one hand, the growing economic importance of slavery to the Iberian colonies prompted the colonial elites to restrict slaves' access to freedom. On the other hand, growing racial and social tensions led to stricter legislation on emancipation, with the aim of preserving the established order.

Spanish America experienced a social evolution distinct from that of Anglo-Saxon America. In the Spanish colonies, although manumission became more difficult over time, it enabled a growing number of slaves to buy or obtain their freedom. Over the decades, the number of freed men of colour surpassed that of slaves in certain regions. These freedmen formed an intermediate class, with their own rights, obligations and often specific economic positions, such as trade or crafts. Conversely, in Anglo-Saxon America, particularly the United States, the system of slavery became more rigid over time, with increasingly restrictive laws. Manumission, although possible in some states, was less common than in the Spanish colonies. This had the effect of limiting the development of a significant class of freedmen of colour, in comparison with Spanish America. Despite these significant differences between the two regions, there was one constant in the Americas: the principle that a child's status was determined by that of its mother. If a woman was a slave, her children inherited her slave status, regardless of the father's position or race. This principle had a profound effect on the reproduction and perpetuation of the slave system, ensuring the continued growth of the slave population across generations. It also reinforced institutionalised racism, by linking maternal descent to legal and social inferiority.

The slave trade[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The transatlantic slave trade, also known as the 'slave trade', remains one of the darkest periods in human history. Extending mainly from the 17th to the 19th century, this macabre enterprise saw European powers, with the help of complicit Africans, capture, transport and sell millions of Africans across the Atlantic. Stripped of their freedom and dignity, these people were forced into a life of servitude in the Americas. The immensity of this forced migration is difficult to conceptualise. Estimates suggest that over 12 million people were captured in Africa and put on slave ships. However, not all survived the crossing, known as the Middle Passage, where inhumane conditions led to the deaths of many captives. The survivors were sold as slave labour, mainly to plantations in the Caribbean, North America and South America. This system not only benefited many Europeans economically, but also profoundly affected the demography and culture of the Americas. The contributions of Africans and their descendants, often obtained under duress, formed an integral part of the economic, social and cultural development of the New World. Unfortunately, the consequences of the slave trade are not limited to this era. The legacy of racial discrimination, inequality and social tensions continues to influence the Americas to this day.

The transatlantic slave trade followed an uneven geographical distribution. Brazil, as a Portuguese colony, was the main destination, receiving almost 40% of all African slaves transported across the Atlantic. The brutal conditions of the sugar plantations and gold mines, combined with high mortality rates, led to a constant demand for imported slaves throughout the trading period. After Brazil, the Caribbean, particularly the English and French colonies, was another major destination. Islands such as Jamaica, Haiti (then Santo Domingo) and Barbados were key centres for sugar production, an extremely difficult and deadly job. These islands had an insatiable demand for labour due to the deadly conditions on the sugar plantations. In contrast, the future United States received a smaller fraction of the slaves transported, although they played a major role in the transatlantic trade. At the end of the 18th century, the proportion of African slaves in the United States was lower than in many other American colonies. However, in the 19th century, the situation began to change. The ban on the importation of slaves in 1808 transformed the landscape of American slavery. Rather than relying on new imports, the US slave population grew through natural reproduction. This was helped in part by slightly better living and working conditions compared to the Caribbean sugar plantations, as well as the development of cotton growing in the South after the invention of the cotton gin in 1793.

The Age of Enlightenment, marked by major advances in philosophy, science and politics, paradoxically coincided with the height of the transatlantic slave trade. This mainly European period was the cradle of ideals such as rationality, individual freedom, equality and fraternity. Enlightenment thinkers openly challenged absolute monarchy and introduced concepts such as the separation of powers and democracy. Nevertheless, despite the spread of these progressive values, the slave trade intensified, strengthening the wealth and power of many European nations. The contradiction is striking. There are several reasons for this dichotomy. Firstly, there was institutionalised racism. Africans, often perceived as inferior, were enslaved, supported by pseudo-scientific justifications and religious interpretations. Secondly, the economic aspect played a major role. Colonial empires, particularly in the Americas, depended on forced labour to run their plantations. European demand for products such as sugar, coffee and cotton accentuated this dependence. It is also crucial to recognise the role of African elites in this process. They often collaborated, actively participating in the capture and sale of slaves to European traders. Moreover, although some Enlightenment thinkers criticised slavery, many chose to remain silent, adding to the complexity of the moral problem.

However, at the end of the 18th century, a wind of change blew. Abolitionism became an influential movement, galvanised by the ideals of the Enlightenment, the moral principles of religion, and slave revolts, the most notable of which was that of Saint-Domingue. This revolt led to the emergence of Haiti as an independent nation. The path towards the abolition of slavery began with countries such as Denmark, closely followed by Great Britain and the United States. Nevertheless, the road to the end of slavery was a long one, with Brazil only abolishing the practice in 1888.

Agricultural production[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Iberian America[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The legacy of Spanish and Portuguese colonisation in Latin America is deeply rooted in the region's land structure. During this period, the Iberian crown granted vast tracts of land, known as "encomiendas", to European settlers. These large estates were a reflection of power and prestige, and often the natives were forced to work on them, losing their rights to their ancestral lands. Over time, these encomiendas became haciendas, plantations exploiting a workforce made up of indigenous people and, in some areas, African slaves. While the colonial elites grew richer and strengthened their hold on these lands, the indigenous populations and small farmers were increasingly marginalised. Driven to marginal areas, they had to make do with arid land that was less suitable for farming. This land inequality laid the foundations for numerous social and economic conflicts that continue to this day. After independence, most of the new governments failed to significantly reform the land tenure structure. Instead, the concentration of land in the hands of a small elite was often exacerbated. This fuelled tensions, land reform movements and revolutions in several Latin American countries in the twentieth century.

Land concentration is inextricably linked to the socio-economic inequalities that are rife in Latin America. Historically, land ownership was not simply a source of wealth, but also a symbol of power and influence. Landowners, with vast and fertile estates, benefited not only from the wealth generated by their holdings, but also from the prestige and social recognition that went with them. In this context, those who were deprived of land often found themselves in a situation of economic dependence on the large landowners. The indigenous populations, already marginalised by the conquest and colonisation, found themselves even more vulnerable. Often displaced from their ancestral lands, they were forced to work as agricultural labourers in the haciendas, with no guarantee of a stable income or decent living conditions. Similarly, the descendants of African slaves often found themselves in a similar situation after the abolition of slavery. With no land and few opportunities for social advancement, they were relegated to the margins of society. Land concentration has thus reinforced existing structures of inequality, widening the gap between elites and marginalised populations. This unequal land structure has far-reaching repercussions that go beyond the simple question of ownership. It affects access to education, health, economic opportunities and resources. In many regions, rural poverty is intrinsically linked to the land issue. And although efforts have been made in some countries to redistribute land and offer a better quality of life to these communities, the shadow of this land concentration continues to hang over the continent, with all its implications for social justice and equality.

Anglo-Saxon America[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Anglo-Saxon colonisation of North America initially began with the idea of an egalitarian distribution of land. The first settlers were often religious dissenters, artisans, farmers and families looking for new opportunities. These lands, newly acquired after agreements, often broken treaties, or simply taken from the indigenous populations, were generally divided into small plots, allowing each family to have its own farm. The cultivation of small farms was typical of colonial America, especially in the north. However, the situation changed radically as we moved southwards. There, the climate and soil were conducive to the cultivation of agricultural products in high demand, such as tobacco, rice and, later, cotton. These crops required vast areas of land and, eventually, an abundance of cheap labour, which led to the introduction of slavery. With the invention of the cotton gin in the late 18th century, demand for cotton exploded, further concentrating land and dependence on slavery in the South. Large plantations became the norm, often swallowing up smaller holdings. This disparity in land distribution created an economic and social dichotomy between the industrial and commercial North and the agrarian and slave-owning South.

The colonisation of the Americas is intrinsically linked to the practice of slavery, a grim reality that indelibly shaped the economy, culture and social tensions of the New World. As plantation agriculture expanded in the American South, dependence on slave labour intensified. The large tobacco, rice and later cotton plantations relied heavily on slaves to grow, harvest and process these much sought-after products. However, this dependence on slavery had implications far beyond the agricultural economy. It reinforced and institutionalised racial inequalities, creating a deep divide between whites and blacks. Wealth and power were concentrated in the hands of a white land-owning elite, while Africans and their descendants were denied their most basic rights, condemned to a life of servitude. Even after the abolition of slavery following the American Civil War, the legacy of this system continued in other forms, such as Jim Crow laws, segregation and systemic racism. Economic inequalities were also perpetuated, as African-Americans were often denied access to land ownership, agricultural loans and the best land.

Trade in port cities[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The development and expansion of port cities in the Americas during the colonial period were intimately linked to the dynamics of transatlantic trade. However, unlike European port cities, which were equipped with a well-developed infrastructure network, cities in the Americas faced major logistical challenges due to imperfect communication routes. The roads and paths of the continent's interior were often rough, unpaved and poorly maintained. Vast forests, mountains, deserts and rivers posed major obstacles to the movement of goods and people. As a result, overland transport was slow, risky and expensive. Goods could take months or even years to reach their destination, which had repercussions on costs and product availability.

By contrast, European port cities benefited from a long history of trade and urbanisation, with well-established roads, canals and rail systems that facilitated the movement of goods. This infrastructure, combined with the relative proximity of major European trading centres, made intra-European trade smoother and faster. The logistical challenges of the Americas had profound economic implications. High transport costs had an impact on the price of goods, sometimes limiting access to certain essential or luxury products for people in the interior of the continent. It also influenced the nature of goods produced locally, as merchants and farmers often favoured items that could withstand long journeys and harsh conditions.

Mercantilism, a predominant economic doctrine between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries, had a considerable influence on the way in which European powers perceived and interacted with their overseas colonies, particularly in the Americas. This doctrine held that a nation's wealth and power were determined by the amount of gold and silver it possessed. From this perspective, the colonies were essential because they enabled the metropolises to grow rich by supplying raw materials and constituting a market for European finished products. This need for metallic wealth was partly due to the incessant wars between the European powers. These wars were costly, and gold and silver were essential means of financing armies, fleets and military infrastructure. Consequently, the extraction of large quantities of gold and silver, particularly from the Spanish colonies in South America, was of the utmost importance.

Protectionism was another pillar of mercantilism. The metropolises established trade barriers to protect their own industries and ensure that the colonies were mainly, if not exclusively, turned towards the metropolis for trade. This took the form of policies that limited the export of raw materials to other countries and imposed restrictions on imports that did not come from the metropolis. The British Navigation Acts are a classic example. This monopolistic approach to trade meant that the metropoles controlled not only the flow of raw materials from the colonies, but also the distribution of manufactured goods to them. The colonies were often prevented from developing their own industries, making them even more dependent on the metropolis.

Although mercantilism was the dominant economic doctrine of the European colonial powers, it was not applied uniformly across all their colonies. The nuances and variations in its implementation were influenced by various factors such as the economic needs of the metropolis, diplomatic relations with other colonial powers, the colony's natural resources, its geographical location and even local power dynamics between colonists and colonial administrators. Some colonies, because of their wealth of valuable resources, were tightly controlled. For example, the Spanish colonies in South America, rich in silver and gold, were subject to strict trade restrictions, ensuring that these valuable resources were directed to Spain. Similarly, the sugar-producing colonies in the Caribbean, where production was highly profitable, were subject to strict controls by the metropolis, aimed at protecting and maximising revenues.

On the other hand, there were colonies which, either because of their geographical location or the nature of their exports, enjoyed greater commercial latitude. For example, some colonies in North America had a diversified economy, ranging from agriculture to fishing, so although there were restrictions, they were not as strict as those in the Caribbean colonies. Moreover, the implementation of mercantilism often depended on the ability of the metropolis to impose it. In many cases, distance and logistical challenges made the strict application of mercantilist policies difficult. As a result, practical realities on the ground, combined with the ingenuity of settlers seeking to maximise their profits, often led to commercial practices that deviated from strict mercantilist doctrine. Finally, diplomacy also played a role. Tensions and agreements between European powers could influence trade policies. For example, a treaty between two metropolises could open up trade routes between their respective colonies.

Anglo-Saxon America[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

During the colonial period, trade in the port cities of Anglo-Saxon America, particularly in the British colonies, made a major contribution to the economic prosperity of the region. The production of tobacco, indigo and sugar, which were in great demand in Europe, fuelled the growth of these port cities and contributed to the development of the American economy. The British authorities largely ignored the smuggling of these goods, as the legitimate trade was enough to fill their coffers. However, although this trade fostered significant economic growth, it was also fraught with complexities and contradictions. The mercantilist framework imposed by Great Britain, which focused on benefiting the metropolis, sometimes hampered the economic potential of the colonies, forcing them to trade primarily with England and limiting their ability to explore other markets.

Port cities such as Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Charleston became important trading centres, bustling with economic activity. These cities benefited not only from the trade in goods, but also from a myriad of other products traded between the colonies and Europe. At the same time, the growth of the port cities increased the need for labour, leading to an increase in the slave trade. Enslaved Africans played a central role in the economy of the colonies, working in the tobacco, sugar and indigo fields, making a major contribution to the prosperity of the port cities.

Smuggling was also a common practice, often justified by the colonists because of the trade restrictions imposed by the British mercantilist framework. Smuggling enabled the colonies to circumvent these restrictions and gain access to more lucrative markets. Goods, including tea, rum and other common consumer goods, were smuggled in to avoid British taxes. The British authorities often turned a blind eye to these practices, as long as the majority of the economic benefits went back to the metropolis.

The Industrial Revolution, which began in Britain at the end of the eighteenth century, radically transformed the world economy, society and politics. England became the world's leading industrial power thanks to a combination of technological innovation, access to resources and economic and social dynamics. In this context, the American colonies played a fundamental role. Firstly, the colonies provided Britain with an abundance of raw materials essential to industrialisation. Cotton, grown mainly in the southern colonies of the future United States, became the raw material of choice for the rapidly expanding English textile industry. Mills in Manchester and Lancashire relied heavily on cotton to power their machinery and produce textiles that would later be exported around the world. In addition to cotton, other resources such as timber, tobacco, indigo and agricultural products were essential to sustain Britain's rapid growth. These imports allowed Britain to concentrate on industrial production, while ensuring the supply of goods needed for the subsistence and consumption of its population. Secondly, the American colonies provided a captive market for British-made goods. Textiles, tools, weapons and other manufactured goods found a ready market in the colonies, creating a beneficial balance of trade for the metropolis. Finally, the profits from colonial trade were reinvested in the research, development and expansion of British industries. The capital accumulated through trade with the colonies made it possible to finance technological innovations and support the expansion of factories.

Iberian America[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The Spanish and Portuguese empires adopted a strict mercantilist approach to their colonies in America, consolidating economic control and seeking to maximise benefits for the metropolis. As part of this policy, numerous restrictions were imposed on colonial trade.

Firstly, Spain introduced the fleet and galleon system. This was an organised method of trade in which goods between Spain and its colonies could only be transported by approved and protected fleets of ships. These fleets departed from and arrived at specific ports, mainly Seville in Spain and Vera Cruz in Mexico or Portobelo in Panama. This regulation was intended to protect colonial trade from pirates and foreign ships, but it also limited the colonies' ability to engage in independent commercial activities. Secondly, the colonies were prohibited from producing goods that the metropolis was already producing. This policy was designed to ensure that the colonies remained dependent on European manufactured goods. The Iberian colonies were to concentrate primarily on the production of raw materials such as gold, silver, sugar and cocoa, among others. In addition, inter-colonial trade was largely prohibited. Colonies could not trade directly with each other. For example, a colony in what is now Argentina could not trade directly with another in what is now Peru. Everything had to be channelled through the metropolis, creating inefficiencies and additional costs.

These mercantilist policies had several consequences. They hindered the development of local industries and economic diversification. They also encouraged smuggling, as many colonists sought ways to circumvent trade restrictions. British, French and Dutch merchants in particular exploited these loopholes, smuggling goods into Spanish America and extracting raw materials. Over time, these restrictions became increasingly unpopular and difficult to maintain. In the 18th century, faced with the need to increase revenues and growing competition from other European empires, the Spanish Bourbons introduced reforms to liberalise colonial trade, although metropolitan control remained strong.

In the face of the rigorous trade restrictions imposed by the Iberian metropolises, a thriving underground economy developed, hidden from regulatory view. Smuggling quickly became a lucrative business for those prepared to take the risks. From the Caribbean to the Pacific coast, merchants, sailors and even landowners found ways around the official systems to take advantage of the colonies' insatiable appetite for foreign goods.

Smugglers were well aware of the weak points in customs controls and often sailed at night or used isolated coves to avoid detection. These individuals set up clandestine distribution networks, connecting port cities to inland markets, to move goods discreetly. The illicit trade was not limited to luxury goods or manufactured articles, but also included essential products such as tools and foodstuffs. Sometimes even colonial administrators and members of the clergy were involved, either turning a blind eye to the activity or participating directly. But these activities were not without consequences. On the one hand, they eroded the authority of the metropoles and undermined their mercantilist policies. On the other, dependence on smuggling reinforced certain economic and social structures. Inequality increased, as those who were already well placed to participate in this illicit trade accumulated more wealth, strengthening their power and influence.

The legacy of this period is still visible today. Smuggling, as part of the colonial economy, has left deep scars and contributed to unequal socio-economic structures that persist to this day. Long after independence, the nations of Latin America have had to grapple with the deep-rooted problems of corruption, inequality and underdevelopment that are partly rooted in these colonial practices. These challenges, combined with today's problems of poverty, show how the actions of the past can have lasting repercussions on future generations.

Political administration[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Iberian America[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

During the colonial period in Iberian America, Spain and Portugal established a system of political administration that clearly reflected their desire to maintain a tight grip on their vast colonies. One of the first strategies of this centralised administration was the establishment by Spain of viceroyalties, such as that of New Spain and Peru. These regions were under the direction of a viceroy, a representative of the King of Spain, providing a direct link between the colony and the metropolis. Portugal, for its part, had adopted a 'captaincy' model for Brazil, although this system was modified over time. At local level, authority was represented by "cabildos", municipal councils. Although these councils appeared to offer a degree of autonomy, in reality they were closely monitored and influenced by the directives of the metropolis. It was a subtle but effective way for the colonial powers to ensure that local interests remained aligned with those of the metropolis. Alongside this political structure, the system of encomiendas granted certain colonists the right to use forced labour from the indigenous population. Although the people in charge of these encomiendas, known as encomenderos, were theoretically obliged to protect and convert the natives to Christianity, in practice this system often led to flagrant abuses. The judicial administration was not to be outdone. Institutions such as the Real Audiencia ensured the strict application of royal laws, functioning as both higher courts and administrative bodies. The Catholic Church, in particular the missionary orders, completed the picture. Playing a role that was not only religious but also educational and economic, these institutions reinforced the power and influence of the metropolis.

In the Spanish Americas, the colonial government was a hierarchical, centralised and rigorously controlled structure. The apex of this pyramid was the Council of the Indies, located in Spain. It was the main body responsible for managing and regulating colonial affairs. By drafting laws and decrees, the Council of the Indies decided on the political, economic and social direction of the colonies, clearly demonstrating the dominant role of the metropolis. Under this Council, executive power in the colonies was represented by the viceroy. This was a prestigious post, always held by a Spaniard, often from the nobility. The Viceroy was not only an administrator, but also a symbol of the power and majesty of the King of Spain. Although resident in the Americas, his primary loyalty was to the Spanish crown, ensuring that the interests of the metropolis always came first. Yet despite this centralisation, certain forms of local government existed. Local elites, often descendants of native-born Spaniards (known as criollos), had little real executive power, but they did enjoy a degree of influence through their participation in cabildos, or local councils. These municipal councils were supposed to represent the interests of local residents and, in some cases, served as a platform for minority concerns. Nevertheless, the balance of power was tipped firmly in favour of the metropolis. Spain's strict control over its colonies was evident at every level of colonial government, from the distant Council of the Indies through the local cabildos to the resident viceroy. This deeply unequal structure would lay the foundations for the independence movements that would emerge in the following decades.

The pronounced centralisation of power in the Spanish Americas and the lack of local autonomy shaped the region's political and economic destiny in profound and lasting ways. This system hindered the development of robust local institutions, essential for democratic and economic growth. Local elites, despite having some influence at municipal level, often felt marginalised and excluded from real decision-making, exacerbating tensions between the metropolis and the colonies. The lack of local autonomy also stifled economic innovation and initiative. Without the ability to make decisions that reflected local needs and interests, economic growth was stunted. Economic policies, dictated by a distant metropolis, did not always take account of the realities on the ground, which sometimes led to inefficiencies and imbalances. Above all, this centralised structure reinforced inequalities. The majority of the region's wealth and resources were controlled and exploited by a small elite, supported by the Spanish crown. This created an economic and political gap between the elites and the masses, laying the foundations for social tensions that continue to this day. The strong centralisation of Spanish colonial power and the lack of local autonomy not only limited the democratic and economic development of the region at the time, but also left a legacy of inequalities and divisions that continue to influence the trajectory of Latin America.

Anglo-Saxon America[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

In contrast to the centralised approach of Iberian America, British colonial governance in Anglo-Saxon America favoured a degree of decentralisation. The British established local legislative assemblies in each of their colonies. These assemblies were made up of elected local elites, giving the colonies a degree of autonomy in decision-making. One of the most important responsibilities of these local assemblies was the management of the colony's finances, including the collection of taxes. This gave them some power to steer the economic development of their colonies, adapting tax policies and public spending to local needs.

This decentralisation encouraged greater local participation in governance and enabled the colonies to make economic decisions more suited to their specific conditions. However, it should be noted that although these assemblies had more latitude than their equivalents in the Iberian colonies, they were still under the ultimate control of the British Crown. In short, the system of governance in Anglo-Saxon America was a mixture of local autonomy and imperial control.

The British colonies of Anglo-Saxon America, although endowed with a degree of administrative decentralisation, were far from being models of democracy. Indeed, this political system was resolutely exclusive. Access to decision-making, whether as a voter or as an elected official, was severely restricted by criteria based on race, class and gender. Most African slaves, unsurprisingly, had no political rights. Their status as slaves deprived them not only of their freedom, but also of any participation in the governance of the colony. Similarly, indigenous peoples, despite their presence prior to the arrival of the colonists, were generally marginalised and deprived of civic or political rights. Women, whether from the settler class or other groups, were also excluded from the political sphere. Political rights were generally reserved for white male landowners, reflecting the socio-economic inequalities and prejudices of the time.

In the British colonies in America, the establishment of local legislative assemblies was a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it reflected the inequalities inherent in these societies, with power concentrated in the hands of a white, property-owning elite. On the other hand, it nevertheless sowed the seeds of autonomous governance and self-government. This early experience of self-government played a key role in the political formation of the colonies. The colonial elites, although restricted in their sphere of action by the British Crown, were able to make laws, manage finances and engage in public debate on the issues of the day. These assemblies became political training schools for the future leaders of the independence movements.

When the winds of change blew and calls for independence rang out across the continent, these elites were already equipped with the tools and knowledge to guide their colonies towards autonomy. They already had an idea of how legislation worked, how political decisions were made, and the compromises sometimes needed to govern. Participation in legislative assemblies prepared the Anglo-Saxon colonies for independent governance. Although these assemblies were far from perfect and highly unequal, they provided valuable political training that ultimately contributed to the foundation of the future democracies of the New World.

Religions and cultural diversity[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Anglo-Saxon America[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

In Anglo-Saxon America, the religious panorama was dominated by Protestantism, although there were also various traditions and denominations. Anglicanism, Presbyterianism and Congregationalism were among the most widespread denominations, reflecting the traditions of the first British settlers. These groups, with their churches and institutions, played a central role in the community, educational and political life of the colonies. Yet this Protestant landscape was contrasted by the significant presence of Catholics. In colonies such as Maryland, founded as a refuge for persecuted English Catholics, the Catholic faith found fertile soil. Moreover, with territorial expansion and the inclusion of regions such as Louisiana, the French Catholic heritage also left its mark. Despite this Christian dominance, Anglo-Saxon America was also home to religious diversity. Jews, for example, although numerically small, established lasting communities in cities such as New York and Newport. The Quakers, with their commitment to peace, equality and simplicity, left a deep imprint, particularly in Pennsylvania, which they founded as a refuge for their faith. The religious fabric of Anglo-Saxon America was far from monolithic. It was a mixture of dominant traditions and minorities, each contributing to the richness and complexity of the spiritual, social and political life of the region. This diversity, rooted in the early phases of colonisation, laid the foundations for a nation where religious freedom would become a fundamental right.

From its earliest days, Anglo-Saxon America has been a melting pot of cultures. Successive waves of immigrants from Europe have left an indelible mark on the cultural fabric of the region. The English, with their legal system and political traditions, laid the foundations for the organisation of society. The Scots and Irish introduced their own musical and festive heritage, while the Germans contributed their craft skills, distinctive architecture and love of choral music. Beyond these European contributions, African culture has played a central role in shaping American identity. Despite the horrors of slavery, Africans preserved and adapted their traditions. Their rhythms, songs and dances gave rise to new musical genres such as blues, jazz and gospel. Their religious practices, fused with Christianity, have given rise to unique forms of spirituality, such as voodoo in Louisiana and black Pentecostal churches. The result of this cultural fusion is an Anglo-Saxon America rich in tradition and expression. Festivals, cuisine, music, art and even language have all been shaped by this mosaic of influences. From the square dancing of the Appalachians to the vibrant sounds of gospel in the churches of the South, this diversity is celebrated and experienced every day.

The rich tapestry of cultures in Anglo-Saxon America hides a history of forced assimilation and the erosion of indigenous and African traditions. The colonial powers, with their Eurocentric worldview, sought to mould colonial society in their own image.

At the heart of this cultural domination was the imposition of religion. Christian missionaries, often accompanied by military force, sought to convert indigenous peoples to their religious beliefs. Native ceremonies were often forbidden, their sacred places desecrated, and any resistance to conversion could lead to serious consequences. Similarly, enslaved Africans were forced to abandon their religious beliefs and adopt Christianity, although they sometimes managed to merge their spiritual practices with the new beliefs imposed. Language was also a powerful tool of domination. Colonised peoples were encouraged, even forced, to speak English, and their mother tongues were often discouraged or forbidden. Schools, in particular, were instruments of this linguistic assimilation, where children were often punished for speaking their mother tongue. The suppression of local cultures was not limited to religion and language. The clothing, music, dance and other forms of cultural expression of indigenous and African peoples were often ridiculed, marginalised or banned. The ultimate aim was to erase these cultures and replace them with the dominant culture.

The British North American colonies were inextricably linked to Great Britain both culturally and politically. This connection was forged not only by the transatlantic voyages of settlers, goods and ideas, but also by deep institutional integration. Their shared history created a solid foundation on which colonial culture flourished. The English language, with its diverse dialects and unique evolution in the New World, played a crucial role as the glue that held colonial society together. It provided a unified means of communication, a tool for education and a platform for political and philosophical debate. The colonies also drew inspiration from the British legal system, adopting many of its laws and customs while adapting them to local realities. This legal system, with its respect for individual rights and protection against arbitrariness, laid the foundations for the future democratic states of America. The political ideals of the Enlightenment, which were gaining ground in Great Britain, also found an echo in the colonies. The notions of liberty, equality and representative government were discussed, debated and eventually embraced by a large part of the colonial elite. Regular exchanges with the metropolis reinforced these ideals, and the colonies often saw their own struggles through the prism of British political debates.

However, these close ties also led to tensions. As the colonies embraced and adapted British culture, they also began to develop a distinct sense of American identity. Decisions made in London were not always well received in the colonies, and tax policies in particular became a major source of friction. It was this paradox, this combination of cultural intimacy and a growing desire for autonomy, that ultimately led to the American Revolution. The colonies, while sharing a common history, language and ideals with Great Britain, came to want to chart their own course as an independent nation. The strong foundations of their British heritage, combined with their unique experience as colonies, provided the soil on which the new nation could thrive.

On the eve of American independence, Anglo-Saxon America was a melting pot of diverse religious beliefs, reflecting the entrepreneurial spirit and quest for freedom that had brought so many settlers to its shores. This mosaic of faith, often described as "Protestant Babylon", reflected the fragmentation of religious doctrines that characterised Europe following the Protestant Reformation. Among these denominations were the strict and pious New England Puritans, the Presbyterians of Scottish origin, the Baptists who advocated adult baptism, and the Anglicans, often associated with the colonial elite, to name but a few. Each of these sects had its own interpretation of the Scriptures and its own vision of how worship should be organised and practised. These differences could sometimes lead to tension or even conflict, particularly in areas where one denomination was dominant.

In the midst of this religious diversity, the Quakers, formally known as the Society of Friends, were particularly notable. Their belief in the 'inner light' or direct presence of God in each individual led them to reject formal church hierarchy and ritual. This belief, combined with their insistence on the equality of all before God, led them to advocate principles of religious tolerance. In addition, their commitment to pacifism clearly distinguished them in a period of unrest and impending conflict. The existence of such religious diversity in Anglo-Saxon America influenced the drafting of the American Constitution, in particular the First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of religion. This diversity also laid the foundations for a country where the peaceful coexistence of different faiths would be a cornerstone of society, although this ideal would still be a work in progress.

At the beginning of the 18th century, the religious impetus that had once animated the first settlers in America seemed to be running out of steam. In many colonial communities, churches were emptying out and religious fervour was waning, replaced by complacency or even scepticism. However, this trajectory was to be radically redirected by an unprecedented religious phenomenon. The Great Awakening, as it came to be called, began in the 1730s and lasted until the 1740s. Preached by charismatic figures such as Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield, this revitalising movement sought to remind people of the seriousness of sin and the urgency of repentance. These preachers travelled from town to town, holding sprawling meetings where they preached passionately about the need for personal conversion. The messages were often dramatic, like Jonathan Edwards' famous sermon, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God", which portrayed with thrilling intensity the imminent danger of damnation. The impact of this movement was twofold. On an individual level, it transformed the lives of many settlers, leading them to a renewed and more personal faith. Collectively, it created a kind of social and cultural cohesion among the colonies. As the Great Awakening transcended colonial boundaries, it began to weave a sense of common identity among the people. The revivalist tents became places where settlers from different regions met, prayed and shared their experiences. But the movement was not without controversy. It divided communities between those who supported the Great Awakening, known as the "new lights", and those who were sceptical or opposed to its emotionalism, known as the "old lights". Nevertheless, the Great Awakening played a crucial role in the formation of a shared religious consciousness which, along with other factors, laid the foundations for the emergence of an American national identity. In this sense, the movement prepared the ground, both spiritually and socially, for the political upheavals that were soon to shake the colonies.

The period of the Great Awakening, characterised by a profound spiritual revitalisation, introduced and anchored a number of concepts and ideologies that were to shape the cultural and political landscape of the American colonies. One of the central themes of this movement was the primacy of divine law. The primacy of divine law suggested that, although human laws could govern the affairs of societies, they had to be subordinate to and in conformity with the eternal laws established by God. This concept was not just a matter of theology; it had profound political implications. If human laws conflicted with divine law, then they could and should be challenged.

This led to a form of religious empowerment. Individuals, strengthened by their renewed personal faith, began to believe that they had not only the right but also the duty to follow their conscience, even if this brought them into conflict with secular authorities. Religious figures gained increased authority, not only as spiritual guides, but also as champions of divine justice and morality. In addition, the sense that the American colonies were part of a divine plan was a powerful catalyst. The idea that God had a specific plan for the colonies reinforced the idea of an exceptional destiny. This not only reinforced a sense of collective identity among the colonists, but also cultivated an early form of nationalism.

When tensions with Britain began to rise, these religious beliefs provided an ideological framework for challenging British rule. Alleged violations of natural, God-given rights by the British government were not only unjust, but sacrilegious. Many pamphlets and speeches of the period refer to this notion, suggesting that the struggle for independence was as much a spiritual battle as a political one. Ultimately, this fusion of faith and politics was crucial in galvanising support for the revolutionary cause and the establishment of a new and distinct nation.

Iberian America[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

In the Spanish and Portuguese colonies in America, the Catholic Church played a predominant role, but the picture was far more nuanced than a simple imposition of the Catholic faith. Spain and Portugal had obtained the right to convert the indigenous peoples through papal bulls, such as the bull "Sublimus Deus", which recognised the humanity of the indigenous peoples and their right to be educated in the Christian faith.

The Church established missions throughout the region, with the aim of converting the indigenous populations to Catholicism. As well as their religious purpose, these missions also served as colonial outposts, playing a role in consolidating Spanish and Portuguese territorial control over the New World. Priests, particularly mendicant orders such as the Jesuits, Franciscans and Dominicans, played a key role in these evangelisation efforts. Nevertheless, far from the major urban centres where traditional Spanish and Portuguese Catholicism was rigorously practised, the realities were different. In rural and frontier areas, the Church was often mixed with indigenous traditions, giving rise to syncretic forms of worship. Native divinities could be venerated under the mask of Catholic saints, and native rituals integrated with Catholic practices. In addition, the remoteness of certain regions meant that the Church's influence was less direct. In these areas, there was often a lack of formal clergy, which led to popular and local forms of Catholicism. These practices were sometimes criticised or even condemned by the official church for their deviation from orthodox doctrine. Enslaved Africans taken to the Iberian colonies also contributed to religious diversity. Although many were converted or forced to convert to Catholicism, they also brought with them their own religious beliefs and practices. As with indigenous peoples, these beliefs were often integrated synchretically with Catholic practices, giving rise to new traditions such as Santería in Cuba and Candomblé in Brazil.

In Iberian America, the Catholic Church has often encountered deeply rooted indigenous religious traditions when attempting to evangelise indigenous peoples. Rather than completely eliminating these beliefs, a strategy of inculturation was often adopted, mixing Christian and indigenous elements to facilitate conversion. This led to a variety of syncretic religious manifestations unique to the region. The local virgins venerated in different parts of Latin America are a striking example. In many rural areas, apparitions of the Virgin Mary, often mixed with indigenous elements, have been reported. These apparitions have often been adopted by the local Church and integrated into Catholic tradition. As a result, many of these virgins have become central figures of devotion in their respective regions, giving rise to annual pilgrimages and festivities. A famous example is the Virgen de Guadalupe in Mexico. She appeared to an indigenous man, Juan Diego, on the hill of Tepeyac in 1531. The Virgin has distinctly Amerindian origins and is seen as the symbol of mixed-race Mexico, combining indigenous and Spanish elements. She has become not only a religious icon, but also a national symbol for Mexico.

In other regions, such as Bolivia, the Virgen de Copacabana is venerated. She is associated with pre-Columbian beliefs linked to Lake Titicaca. Similarly, in Colombia, the Virgen de Las Lajas is another popular figure of devotion, attracting thousands of pilgrims every year. These local virgins are often depicted with Amerindian features and colours, and their legends are deeply rooted in the local landscape and history. They serve as a bridge between Catholicism and indigenous traditions, offering the faithful a form of spirituality that is both familiar and specific to their culture and history. These traditions show how faith can be adaptable, incorporating new elements while retaining its fundamental essence.

In the vast expanses of Iberian America, the Catholic Church has often found it difficult to maintain a constant presence, particularly in remote rural areas and hard-to-reach tropical zones. Immense distances, rugged terrain and limited communications infrastructure made it difficult to spread official Catholic doctrine evenly. This situation was further complicated by the massive presence of African slaves in many Iberian colonies, particularly in Brazil, Cuba and other parts of the Caribbean. These slaves, uprooted from their homelands, took with them their own religious beliefs, traditions and practices. In the absence of strict ecclesiastical supervision, and often in response to repression, religious syncretism rapidly developed.

This phenomenon of religious syncretism gave rise to beliefs and practices that fused elements of Catholicism with African traditions. In many cases, to avoid persecution, these new forms of spirituality were presented outwardly as Catholic. Catholic saints were often associated with African deities, allowing slaves to continue worshipping their gods while appearing to conform to the Catholic faith. In Brazil, for example, Candomblé is a religion that combines elements of the Yoruba, Fon and Bantu religions of West Africa with Catholicism. The orixás, deities of Candomblé, are often associated with Catholic saints. For example, Saint George can be venerated as Ogun, the god of iron and war, while the Virgin Mary is associated with various female divinities. Similarly, in Cuba, Santería is another syncretic religion that blends Catholicism with Yoruba beliefs. Catholic saints are venerated as "orishas", or deities. This syncretism was a form of spiritual resistance. By retaining their ancestral beliefs while adopting elements of Catholicism, African slaves were able to preserve part of their cultural and spiritual identity in the face of colonial oppression. These syncretic traditions are now recognised as an integral part of the cultural and spiritual heritage of Iberian America.

The Enlightenment movement had a profound influence on Europe in the 18th century, challenging traditional power structures and championing ideas of freedom, equality and progress. Although access to these ideas was limited in Iberian America due to censorship and poor circulation of texts, they nevertheless penetrated intellectual circles and the educated elite. One of the main vehicles for these ideas was the circulation of books and pamphlets, often smuggled into the colonies. These writings were discussed in scholarly circles, literary societies and salons run by enlightened elites. Many of them had studied in Europe, particularly in France and Spain, where they had been exposed to Enlightenment thinking.

The idea of natural rights, as articulated by John Locke and other philosophers, was particularly revolutionary. It challenged the legitimacy of absolute monarchies and suggested that power should be based on the consent of the governed. The notion that the state exists to serve the people, rather than the other way round, laid the foundations for independence movements and revolutions throughout the Americas.

In Iberian America, these ideas were adapted and fused with local concerns, resulting in a unique vision of independence and nationhood. The wars of independence that broke out in the early nineteenth century were not just the result of economic tensions or political discontent; they were also inspired by these new ideas about human rights and sovereignty. After independence, these Enlightenment concepts continued to influence the creation of new constitutions and the formation of republican institutions in the newly formed nations. However, implementing these ideals has been a challenge, due to deep-rooted social inequalities, regional divisions and power struggles. Despite these challenges, the legacy of the Enlightenment remains a fundamental component of the political and intellectual tradition of Iberian America.

Annexes[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

  • Lewin, Boleslao. La inquisición En Hispanoamerica Judios, Protestantes y Patriotas. Paidos, 1967. p.117 url:
  • Rico Galindo, Rosario (Septiembre de 2008). «Terminologías». Historia de México (3ra. Edición edición). Santillana. pp. 64. ISBN 970-2-9223-08.
  • León Portilla, Miguel (1983). De Teotihuacán a Los Aztecas: Antología de Fuentes e Interpretaciones Históricas. México: UNAM, pp. 354. ISBN 978-9-68580-593-3. El autor estima en 100 000 a 300 000 la población de la ciudad.
  • Mieder, Wolfgang. "'The Only Good Indian Is a Dead Indian': History and Meaning of a Proverbial Stereotype." The Journal of American Folklore 106 (1993):38–60.
  • Origins of Sayings - The Only Good Indian is a Dead Indian, - About the history and origins behind the famous saying the only good indian is a dead indian.
  • Lambert, Leslie. Inventing the Great Awakening, Princeton University Press, 1999.
  • "Bush Tells Group He Sees a 'Third Awakening'" Washington Post, 12 septembre 2006.
  • « pour leur conservation, pour leur sûreté mutuelle, pour la tranquillité de leur vie, pour jouir paisiblement de ce qui leur appartient en propre, et être mieux à l’abri des insultes de ceux qui voudraient leur nuire et leur faire du mal » - John Locke.Traité du gouvernement civil, 1690, édition française, C. Volland éd., Paris, 1802, p. 164

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