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from that. But how are we to account for the fact that Spain did not monopolize the slave traffic as the others, in what way explain why she left the monopoly of it, generally known under the name of Assiento, to such dangerous rivals? This is what we have undertaken to investigate. These studies bare led us at the same time to inquire into the manner in which the American slave-trade was organized, and to fill a gap in history upon that point. Certain indications permit us to suppose that this kind of industry was invested at different periods with a considerable importance, not alone from an economic point of view, but from a political and diplomatic point of view as well. The maritime powers had sought to monopolize this branch of trade, especially when it was directed towards the Spanish colonies of America, and England had the exclusive exploitation of it granted to her by Philip V at the Congress
of Utrecht. The famous clause of the Anglo-Spanish treaty of 1713, the article of “ L'Assiento," was not an isolated fact; it was scarcely credible that the sole desire of securing to themselves a few advantages was the reason for the care which the English took to monopolize that branch of commerce. It was interesting to know the antecedents of that Assiento and certain authors had investigated them. They knew that a great French company, the Company of Guinea, had obtained the monopoly at the accession of Philip V; that before it the Portuguese, the Genoese, and Germans had had it; but that was about the extent of the information which they had. This curiosity deserved to be better satisfied.? But in the first place what is an Assiento, and what is the origin of the Assiento of the blacks?
Assiento is a term of Spanish public law which designates every contract made for the purpose of public utility, for the administration of a public service, between the Spanish Government and private individuals. The administration of a tax, an enterprise of colonization, of public works, of recruiting the militia, of providing
2 Some rather complicated but very fruitful researches have led us to the prin. cipal depositories of archives of France, England, Spain, and Portugal. We have recorded the results in a work entitled: La traite négrière aux Indes de Castille (The slave-trade in the Indies of Castile), three volumes, two of which have been published, by Larose et Tenin, Paris, 1905.
manual labor or materials was done by Assiento. When it was a question of realizing upon the vast territories with which Columbus had endowed Castile, new types of Assiento made their appearance: they had Assientos for colonization and for discoveries by which an
adelantade," an adventurer, undertook to explore, to clear up, to people a specified region. They had more restricted Assientos for the transportation of objects necessary to the new colonists, etc.; lastly, they had Assientos for providing manual labor.
The latter early made their appearance, for very soon the aborigines and the Spanish colonists were found to be inadequate for the improvement of the new lands. The aborigines were an inactive. lazy race, showing so great sluggishness that they preferred death to work. The cruelties and the exploitations of the still merciless conquerors were such that they may be accused, without too much exaggeration, of having perpetrated the slaughter of an entire race.
The methods of " apportionment” and of " distribution” (repartimientos et encomiendas) established a system of slavery of incredible inhumanity which decimated the aboriginal populations. As to the European colonists, they were unaccustomed to work, unfitted to endure the climate; besides the colonist is not a tiller of the soil, he is a manufacturer, a merchant, an official, he does not improve the land.
Moreover, the colonizing was badly done; the Antilles, more and better stocked, were abandoned to the advantage of the continent, beginning especially with the period when gold mines were discovered. But for these mines particularly laborers were needed; the gangs of unfortunate natives worked slowly and produced little; one negro was worth four of them, it was said, and the climate was so habitually healthful for the negroes" that it seemed made for them as much as for the orange trees,” says Herrera, the official chronicler of the Spanish monarchy. The negroes became especially necessary to the plantations when sugar-cane was introduced and people understood that the production of precious metals would not be inexhaustible. It was not difficult in the beginning to procure them; there was a
3 Ibid., II, 3, 14.
sufficiently large number in Spain itself and in Portugal: slavery had never completely ceased to exist in Europe since the Roman era, and had at least persisted in the far East and far West of the continent, in Turkey and in the Iberian peninsula. The Mediterranean relations there, the proximity of the Barbary Regencies, the wars sustained against them by the Catholic Kings, had multiplied the Moorish slaves; then, the discoveries of the Portuguese, the expeditions of Béthencourt to the Canaries, those of Prince Henry the Navigator along the African coasts, the founding of the slave trading company of Loango in 1460, had supplied Azenegues and Barbary slaves. There were also white slaves, Jews, women coming from Turkey and from Asia Minor. Thus the first slave expeditions were made directly from the mother-country, but they soon became wholly inadequate. As the shadow of the flag of Castille was extended, the need for manual labor increased, and it soon became necessary to think of going to Africa itself to seek the slaves, who had become indispensable. Then the problem of the organization of the slave-trade presented itself.
This problem was complex only by reason of the curious organization of Spanish colonial commerce. Not only were foreigners excluded from it, but, of all the kingdoms over which the Hapsbourgs reigned, Castille was, at first, the only one admitted to undertake it, because Castille alone had directed and supported the expeditions of the High Admiral of Spain. In order the better to secure the monopoly, this commerce had no other point of departure, no other point of arrival, but Seville, to which afterwards Cadiz and the small ports of the Guadalquiver were added. It was wholly in the hands of the “Consulado,” 4 the organ of the society of merchants, and of the “ Contratacion,” 5 the central administrative, financial and jurisdictional organ, in which were concentrated the products allotted to the royal treasury, where licenses for navigation were delivered, where the complicated and rigorous regulations of the “ Course of
4 Tribunal of commerce appointed to try and decide cases which concern navigation and trade.
5 A house or place where agreements and contracts are made for the promotion of trade and commerce.
the Indies," that is of transatlantic navigation, were worked out under the supreme legislative authority of the “ Council of the Iudies” having its seat at Madrid. Nothing more arbitrary and more burdensome can be imagined than the regulations governing this commerce, especially when it ceased to be abandoned to the initiative of private individuals, to be made only by the official means of periodical galleons and fleets.
To allow entire freedom to the slave commerce would have been to ruin this complicated structure which the least fissure threatened with a total downfall. Such a network of jealous regulations could only last as long as not a thread should be detached from it, and the most severe enforcement should guarantee its being respected. To leave the slave traffic free, was to permit those directing it to carry all kinds of merchandise with the negroes without paying the duties and to ruin the monopoly of the people of Seville. On the other hand, it was almost impossible to submit this traffic to the strict rules of the metropolitan commerce. Ilow, without risking a frightful mortality, could all of these human cargoes be compelled to come into the great Andalusian port, and be reshipped afterwards to America ? How could those directing the commerce be prevented from loading directly in Africa ? The regulations always strove so far as possible to assimilate the commerce done over African counters to that of Seville; the vessels had to come to the Contratacion to be registered, make their returns in the Guadalquivir, and fraud was pursued, but not prevented.
The problem was complicated with other facts besides: the Spanish Government was always unprovided with slave agencies upon the African coast; the nation which, by the vastness of its colonial domain, had the most urgent need of negroes, saw itself, since the Bull of Alexander III, stripped of the means of procuring them itself. She was forced from the beginning to appeal to her rivals, the Portuguese, then to the French, to the English, to the Dutch, who were seeking the means of reaching these enchanting Indies, whose riches tempted them, and whose gateway was jealously closed
6 See for the details and the bibliography, the preliminary book of the author's work, above cited, Vol. I.
to them. That was soon the great difficulty. How could foreigners be asked to allow access to their agencies without admitting them to the American colonies? How would they obtain for them labor which was indispensable to develop their domain beyond the seas without granting to them the economic and political compensations that they would not fail to claim? During the course of three centuries the Spanish Government struggled in this dilemma without ever succeeding in freeing itself from it. It is there that the interest of this study truly rests, for when the great nations of Western Europe, in the seventeenth and in the eighteenth centuries, had their economic expansion it was towards the immense domains so poorly exploited by Spain that they immediately turned their eyes. Without doubt the policy of exclusion, which these nations followed themselves, in imitation of Spain, towards their own colonies, prevented them from arowing their real designs; but all occasions were good, all pretexts utilized to interfere with or to establish themselves in America. The slave-trade supplied the easiest method and the most advantageous screen to hide the goods with which they inundated the markets of the New World, and that is why the Dutch, Portuguese, French and English contended for the privilege of furnishing the subjects of Ilis Catholic Majesty with labor. The political competitiors to which this fierce cupidity gave place, the importance of the negotiations with regard to the Assiento in the diplomatic rivalry of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the effective, if not very apparent, results, obtained by the commercial powers possessing the Assiento, deserve, we believe, to be brought to light.?
7 It must be remarked that the desire of defending her commercial monopoly was not the only one with the Spaniards. A very apparent financial policy was added to it, for the necessity for the Spanish-American colonists to have an abundant supply of labor made the trade in negroes the most important of all, and the Spanish Government had not failed to load it with high taxes which it was always more difficult to collect from the foreigners than from the subjects of the Catholic King. In addition, the Government of Madrid always feared that in confiding this branch of commerce to foreigners, often to heretics or to Jews, it would permit the contagion of false doctrines upon the lands which the Holy See had charged it to conquer to the faith. This point of view, which we are unable to consider here, is not the least curious one. See the author's work, liv. III, chap. VII, L'Assiento et l'Eglise d'Espagne au XVIe siècle.