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HISTORY OF AMERICA
 
 


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The European invasion: 1492-1532

The two leading civilizations of 15th-century America, the Aztecs and the Incas, meet their sudden end at the hand of Spanish adventurers in 1521 and 1532 respectively. But the first people of the Americas to come face to face with the intruding Europeans are neolithic farmers. They live on the islands which enclose the Caribbean Sea.

Somewhere in the Bahamas (probably in the island known today as San Salvador) members of an Arawak tribe give a friendly welcome to strangers who arrive in October 1492.
 








San Salvador, Cuba and Hispaniola: 1492-1493

Columbus and the Pinzón brothers step ashore on 12 October 1492 on an island in the Bahamas. They plant in the ground the royal banner of Spain, claiming the place for Ferdinand and Isabella. They name it San Salvador, after Jesus the Saviour. (It is not known which island they landed on, though one in the Bahamas now bears the name San Salvador.)

These are not the first Europeans to reach the American continent, but they are the first to record their achievement. Columbus believes that he has reached the East Indies. Greeted by friendly inhabitants of San Salvador, he therefore describes them as Indians - an inaccurate name which has remained attached to the aboriginal peoples of the whole American continent. By the same token this region becomes known to Europe as the West Indies.
 








The Tordesillas Line: 1493-1500

When Columbus returns to Spain in 1493, with the first news of the West Indies, Ferdinand and Isabella are determined to ensure that these valuable discoveries belong to them rather than to seafaring Portugal. They secure from the Borgia pope, Alexander VI, a papal bull to the effect that all lands west of a certain line shall belong exclusively to Spain (in return for converting the heathen). All those to the east of the line shall belong on the same basis to Portugal.

The pope draws this line down through the Atlantic 100 leagues (300 miles) west of the Cape Verde islands, Portugal's most westerly possession.
 









The king of Portugal, John II, protests that this trims him too tight. The line cramps the route which Portuguese sailors must take through the Atlantic before turning east round Africa.

Spanish and Portuguese ambassadors, meeting in 1494 at Tordesillas in northwest Spain, resolve the dispute. They accept the principle of the line but agree to move it to a point 370 leagues west of the Cape Verde islands. The new line has a profound significance which no one as yet appreciates. It slices through the entire eastern part of south America from the mouth of the Amazon to São Paulo.
 







The east coast of south America is first reached by Spanish and Portuguese navigators in the same year, 1500. The agreement at Tordesillas gives the territory to Portugal.

Thus the vast area of Brazil, the largest territory of south America, becomes an exception in the subcontinent - the only part not to be in the Spanish empire, and the only modern country in Latin America with Portuguese rather than Spanish as its national language.
 






Latin America and North America: 16th - 20th century

Spanish and Portuguese colonists and administrators, settling in central and south America during the 16th century, are soon followed by the French, Dutch and English staking a claim to north America. A clear pattern becomes established. The two Atlantic seaboard countries of southern Europe concentrate on the southern part of the newly found continent, while their three European neighbours to the north struggle between themselves to dominate north America.

The story of the continent becomes divided into distinct parts - Latin America and north America.
 









Today there seems to be a neat division between the two along the northern boundary of Mexico, but this is a relatively recent and southerly dividing line. For much of the past five centuries Latin America has extended far further to the north, encompassing the southern states of what is now the USA and the entire Pacific coast as far north as Oregon.

This new division of the continent in the colonial era is accompanied by a drastic change in the make-up of America's population.
 






New Americans: 16th - 19th century

The Spanish discovery of America begins the process which changes out of all recognition the population of the continent. Spanish and Portuguese colonists reduce the original inhabitants (now to become known as Indians) to an underclass in much of Latin America. In north America the smaller number of native Americans is almost wiped out by the English colonists and their successors in the United States.

The slave trade delivers black Africans to the continent in the 17th and 18th centuries, while hardship in Europe later brings across the Atlantic large numbers of Irish, Italian, Polish, German and Jewish immigrants. One of the world's most unmixed populations is transformed, after Columbus, into the outstanding example of ethnic diversity.
 









This History is as yet incomplete.
 






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