Enterprise and Expedition
As the superpowers of Europe expanded their empires westward, they embarked on expeditions of opportunity. The New World appealed mostly to kings, queens, and merchants. Perhaps curiosity was a factor for various explorations of what would eventually become the great land known today as America. However, through the writing of early explorers, it is easy to see that many motives were economically based.
The most famous and mundane example of nautical conquest is the voyage of Christopher Columbus. The Italian explorer who served Spain and eventually discovered the New World is the quintessential poster boy for exploration via greed. Columbus’s rationale for discovery was to embark upon new resources and materials that would benefit the Spanish monarchs. Nevertheless, the prime motivation of Columbus’s expedition to Hispaniola was the untamed quest for gold, a fact affirmed in Columbus’s " Letter to Ferdinand and Isabella Regarding the Fourth Voyage":
The lands which here obey Your Highnesses are more extensive
and richer than all other Christian lands.
This passage gives remarkable insight regarding the politics of Columbus’s voyage and the socioeconomic expectations for the homeland. Ferdinand and Isabella obviously sponsored his trek because they wanted to improve their socioeconomic status. Therefore, Columbus’s voyage was not a journey out of inquisitiveness or scientific research like that of Darwin’s exploration in the Galapagos Islands. His exploration, as observed in his accounts, is one primarily of financial conquest.
An additional instrument of Spanish Imperialism was Hernan Cortes. In his expedition of present day in Mexico, Cortes exploited the empire of Montezuma. Possibly even greedier than Columbus, his expansion for the conquest of Mexico is the ideal example of monstrosity in the passionate pursuit of gold. His actions even led to war and are so infamous that the well-known musician Neil Armstrong wrote the song "Cortez the Killer," implicating the awfulness of the clash between the two worlds. The song states, "He came dancing across the water with his galleons and his guns looking for the New World in that palace in the sun." This verse of the classic is an example of showing the way that history effects modern pop culture. Nevertheless, it is the literature of Cortes himself that is so perceptive.
One of the most insightful writings concerning the financial motives of England is Cortes’s "Letter from Mexico to the Spanish Crown." In this piece of historiography, or historical literature, Cortes elaborates on the fascinating gifts given to him by the Aztecs. While examining the literature, the reader instantly notices that the most repetitious word is gold! An example of his significant craze can be seen when he asserts, " Another item: A reed container with two large pieces of gold to be worn on the head; they are made like gold shells with ear ornaments of wood with gold plates. Also two birds with green plumage and fest, beaks, and eyes of gold" (22). The word gold appears in excess of forty-five times in the relatively brief memo to Spain. Cortes was apparently infatuated with the abundance of precious jewels and gold in the secret realm of the West. His and others riches are clearly a hypnotizing catalyst in colonization and conquest of the West.
The embryonic stage of Colonial America was used mainly for financial purposes. This is proven true be the settlement of Jamestown and by its legendary founder Captain John Smith. Jamestown and the greater region of Virginia is the infancy of the foundation of corporate America. In Smith’s narrative, he states, "In fact, King James I split the vaguely defined region of Virginia, which ran from Florida to Canada, into two more manageable parts, given the direction of each to separate but related groups of investors who together composed the Virginia Company" (102). Therefore, within the colony there was money invested by wealthy Englishmen. The British are famous for their involvement in Colonialism throughout history, thus it is not surprising that they looked towards Virginia Colony with eyes of greed and wealth.
Furthermore, John Smith was merely an instrument of imperialism, directed by the wealthy of England who did not want to get their hands dirty. He states, "For, I am not so simple, to think, that any other motive than wealth, will ever erect there a Commonwealth, or draw company from their ease and humors at home, to stay in New England to effect my purpose" (116). This statement is evident in John Smith’s A Description of New England. In this passage, Smith speculates that the elite of the mother country are using him and that their economic endeavors are always the forefront in most international affairs. Previously, the term imperialism is mentioned, which is defined in the American Heritage Dictionary as "the policy of extending a nation’s authority by economic and political means over other nations." Captain Smith’s scripts are highly beneficial in connecting the cultural hegemony of the British and the personal vanity of Smith himself. He wanted the mother country to respect his entrepreneurial ability and manipulate the English bourgeoisie to make the exodus to America for economic purposes. Smith proves his sales pitch in A Description of New England by stating, "The masters by this may quickly grow rich; these may learn their trades themselves, to do the like; to a general and an incredible benefit, for king, and country, master, and servant" (117).
The accounts of Captain John Smith reveal how he advertised the New World with lush descriptions for personal profit. His narratives, especially A Description of New England, serve as propaganda. He was driven by greed to ensure that Jamestown would become a successful venture. Although Smith was the savior of the colony, he was merely a puppet steered and influenced by the economic desires of the ventriloquist that was England. Before the Jamestown experiment came the Roanoke venture that was sponsored by Sir Walter Raleigh. The English explorer Arthur Barlowe, in his insightful journal titled The First Voyage Made to the Coasts of America, recorded the accounts of this trial. Within the historical document are a few remarks concerning the political and economical outline of the expedition: "I have presumed to present unto you this brief discourse, by which you may judge how profitable the land is likely to succeed, as well as to yourself as also to her Highness, and the Commonwealth [. . .]" (60). This quotation reveals the agenda of political maneuvers being prepared by the British.
Curiosity is possibly involved in the expedition, but Barlowe’s account divulges the cultural mindset of the British and their conquering endeavors. It is somewhat important to note that in American history, early settlers that moved west to Louisiana and other territories used the term "Manifest Destiny." This phrase encapsulates a belief that the land had been provided by God for a specific population to dwell upon. This idea unquestionably applies to the discovery and foundation of pre-nineteenth-century America. In Barlowe’s "The First Voyage Made to the Coasts of America," he asserts:
The first that appeared unto us we entered, though not without
some difficulty, and cast anchor about
Within this particular passage, Barlowe addresses the notion that the land is destined to the Queen once they settle upon it.
Deep beneath the foundation of America, a common desire for economic gain and the acquisition of wealth was undoubtedly a motivating force. After all, it is common knowledge that the first explorers made their voyages in hopes of discovering spices and valuable materials, especially gold. The Early literature of the explorers helps modern-day society appreciate that greed is a thriving force in many endeavors made by certain societies. As a result, the modern world power is paralleled with the moneymaking lust that the nation was first founded on.
Baym, Nina, et al. Eds. The Norton Anthology of American Literature. 5th ed. 2 Vols. New York: Norton, 1998.
"Enterprise and Expedition" was written by Ricky Howe, a freshman pursuing an AAS in Technology, General Studies at the time of this writing. It was written for Dr. Barbara Murray’s ENGL 2130 class during fall 2002 semester.