Kellogg column: American liberty grew from seeds planted by Columbus
Several dozen municipal governments across the U.S. have changed Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day. They contend that Christopher Columbus and other Europeans ushered in centuries of ethnic cleansing and genocide.
Injustices of the past cannot be changed by new-age political correctness. And the propensity for historically ruthless treatment of others is common to all races of people. It’s dishonest to dismiss that Columbus was a catalyst for an age of exploration and scientific discovery. Self-righteous Columbus-haters today exercise American freedoms that grew out of seeds planted in 1492.
The European Renaissance, the bridge between the Middle Age and Modern Age, began to blossom in the 1300s. It was a rebirth of learning, invention and discovery. Exotic stories of Marco Polo inspired ambitious men to venture out. Emerging nations were enticed by budding commerce with Arab traders who brought spices, tea and silk by caravan from the Orient to the eastern Mediterranean.
Italy capitalized on this trade and attained prosperity to move its people beyond daily survival and enable a revival of art and education.
During the 1400s, the Portuguese began searching for prosperity via a sea route to the Orient. Its explorers ventured down the west coast of Africa, looking for a passageway to the east.
New, sturdier ships with multiple masts were developed to meet the arduous demands. Advancements such as the magnetic card compass and astrolabe improved navigation. The Portuguese established trading stations (i.e., colonies) along the coast to facilitate and finance the effort. An expedition led by Vasco de Gama finally rounded the Cape of Good Hope and sailed onward to India.
Meanwhile, Spain was in desperate need of economic recovery after the Reconquista to recapture southern territory from the Moors. The Spanish monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella, financed Columbus, who believed the fastest and cheapest route to the Orient was west across the Atlantic. When Columbus ran into Caribbean islands on Oct. 12, 1492, Europeans realized that a land of opportunity was beyond their horizon. A race ensued to establish a presence in the new world.
It’s true that relatively small numbers of Europeans overran huge native empires, including the Aztec and the Inca. They possessed superior weapons, tactics and maneuverability (i.e., horses). Moreover, the diseases incidentally carried by Europeans proved devastating to native American populations compared with those transmitted to the Europeans. And true to human nature, the various tribes were prejudiced, domineering and cruel with respect to each other. Europeans found allies among tribes that had been dominated by others. It’s sad, but societal standards of today were not in effect 500 years ago.
The push to find and claim new lands was driven by cutthroat commerce and military warfare in Europe. Mercantilism was the prevalent economic philosophy. It was based on belief that a nation could only succeed at the expense of others. Thus, national governments amassed power and wealth while striving to establish independent economies. Colonies were vital sources of precious metals and raw commodities. Colonists (European and indigenous) were ready markets for manufactured goods … and they were taxable government subjects.
Ruthless rivalries between nations spurred a scientific revolution that spread throughout Europe. The newly developed “scientific method” was applied in every area of technology. Advances in agriculture, manufacturing and transportation started to improve life for people.
By the late 1400s, the new mechanical printing press invention was being used across Europe. That made books easier and less expensive to produce. Suddenly, scientific knowledge was rapidly disseminated throughout Europe and its colonies.
Advances in science gave birth to the Industrial Revolution and a shift to free-market economics. Inventions like the spinning jenny, power loom, cotton gin and steam engine allowed manufacture of quality goods at low prices. Canals and railroads reduced the cost and time to transport goods. Steam power gave way to lightweight internal combustion engines, which enabled inventions like automobiles and airplanes. Medical breakthroughs included a smallpox vaccination, development of anesthetics and discovery of X-rays.
In 1776, our Founders understood that liberty fosters enterprise and cooperative trade that benefits everyone. Today the U.S. economy consistently produces an abundance of food, medicine, and energy. We have excellent highways, clean drinking water and reliable electricity. Our high standard of living enables commitment to higher purposes, from serving others to environmental stewardship. The Age of Exploration set the stage for the amazing lives we have today.
Critics of European exploration don’t acknowledge that the history of all mankind is pockmarked with tragedy and injustice. It’s what happens in the aftermath that matters most. New discoveries ultimately fuel the advancement of humanity. You don’t have to like Columbus, but if you don’t recognize the magnitude of his “discovery” on our lives as Americans, you’re stuck in the Middle Ages. Maybe Columbus-haters will give up their liberty, prosperity and security and start living like it’s pre-1492.
James D. Kellogg is an engineering consultant, author and business system advocate. He is the founder of RadicalActionForLife.com and the author of “Radical Action: A Colt Kelley Thriller.” Look for the novel on amazon.com and visit JamesDKellogg.com or email email@example.com.