Revolution in the Wild, Wild West, part two

The American Revolution was a liberal revolution. A new country was established, based upon new ideas, including the existence of human rights and the need to limit government’s power through checks and balances. By comparison, the French Revolution was a radical revolution. Everything was attacked, from government and religion to weights and measures and the calendar. The United States settled into a relatively stable country with one dramatic Civil War, while France’s history was marked by instability, with a new form of government attempted every few years. Meanwhile, much of the rest of the western hemisphere entered a new phase of revolutions that were neither radical nor liberal, but were largely conservative in nature.

Every rule has an exception, and in this case the exception is Haiti. Spain and France had divided the island of Hispaniola between them, both colonial governments honoring the thirteenth century reformer Dominic by their names—Santo Domingo for the Spanish, and Saint Domingue by the French. The principle exports of the island were sugar and coffee, and the cultivation of these crops led to a population that consisted of ten black slaves for every white European citizen. During the French Revolution, the slaves living in the French half of the island revolted, declaring an independent nation called Haiti. Embroiled in its own conflicts, France was unable to squelch the rebellion. Finally in 1804, when Napoleon was in charge of France, the new nation of Haiti was recognized as independent, and it has remained such to the present.

In 1807, France and its allies invaded Portugal, and the next year Napoleon placed his brother on the throne of Spain. These conquests led to unrest in the Spanish and Portuguese colonies of the New World. The Portuguese royal family escaped to Brazil where they maintained a government in exile. Brazil achieved a semi-independent status from Portugal during these years. When Napoleon was defeated in Europe, most of the royal family returned to Lisbon, but Dom Pedro remained in Brazil and achieved control of the new Brazilian Empire, whose independence was finally confirmed by the Portuguese government in 1825. Some battles were fought in Brazil during the struggle for independence, but the revolutionary war and independence were largely accomplished without bloodshed.

Argentina, Mexico, and other Spanish-speaking colonies experienced similar exchanges of power, although none of them received royalty from Europe. Revolutionary leaders, including Simon Bolivar, hoped to create a grand, western-hemisphere, Spanish speaking Republic, but regional differences prevented that goal from being accomplished. With military support from Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay fought for independence from the Argentine government in Sao Paolo; further north, Columbia and Venezuela and Nicaragua and Guatemala and other regions each formed their own government instead of cooperating to form the grand republic imagined by Bolivar.

These new countries were not based on the proposition that all people are created equal, endowed with human rights. Nor did they espouse the concept of limited government. Instead, they continued the traditional belief that only a few people have the gift of leadership; the bulk of the people are followers, whether they are free workers or slaves. Cut off from European royal families, these nations placed control of the government into the hands of caudillos, strong rulers who maintained the status quo in each nation. If they were challenged and overthrown, their replacements were always from the same class, a new caudillo seizing power and ruling in the same manner as his predecessor.

The fifth President of the United States, James Monroe, warned European powers to respect the independence of American nations and warned them not to interfere in the western hemisphere. Weakened by the Napoleonic wars, most European nations did as Monroe asked. Only the United Kingdom challenged the Monroe Doctrine, continuing to trade with the former Spanish colonies, deriving raw materials while selling finished products made in Europe. The United States treated these neighbors in much the same way. Industrialization remained, for a time, in Europe and North America, while the rest of the Americas joined Africa and Asia in subjugation to those nations formed by Enlightenment ideals, capitalist economies, and industrial successes.

One attempt to override the Monroe Doctrine happened while the United States was distracted by its Civil War. Napoleon III of France supported Archduke Maximilian of Austria in an attempt to create a new empire in the western hemisphere. Maximilian and his forces captured the capital, Mexico City, and held it for a time, but they never gained control over the rest of Mexico. Instead, they were overthrown by the Mexican population, with the chief Mexican victory won in the battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862 (thus creating the holiday Cinco de Mayo). One legacy of the conflict was a bit of propaganda created by Napoleon III to drive a barrier between the new nations of the west. Distinguishing the Spanish, Portuguese, and French speaking nations from their English speaking neighbors to the north (the United States and Canada), Napoleon described the former group as “Latin America.” Not only did the label remain; the attitude of division has remained, as citizens of Latin American countries continue to regard the United States and its leaders with suspicion and distrust.

If the thirteen colonies had remained under British rule, slavery would have been abolished there by the Act of 1833. Abolition of slavery throughout the world followed industrialization, the development of machines to replace human labor. Slavery effectively ended in the islands of Great Britain by 1800; the slave trade was ended in 1803, with abolition of slavery enforced throughout the Empire thirty years later. The idea of abolishing slavery was already strong in the northern states by the time of independence, but compromises allowed slavery to continue in the southern states, and new states were admitted into the nation in pairs—one a free state, the other a slave state. Meanwhile, the fledgling nation grew in population and in size. Thomas Jefferson bought the Louisiana Purchase from Napoleon. Settlers from the United States moved into northern Mexico, then declared independence, forming the new country of Texas. A year later, Texas voted to join the United States. Military opposition from the Mexican government led to war, with the further loss to Mexico of California, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, and Colorado. Tensions between the slave-owning south and the abolitionist north finally boiled over in a Civil War which was won by the industrialized north. Through it all, the United States continued to prosper, discovering gold and other minerals in its western territories, accepting immigrants by the thousands from Europe and Asia, and putting to work industrial accomplishments such as the railroad, followed in the twentieth century by the automobile and the airplane. But many other new things were happening in the rest of the world that would also reshape life in the American nations. J.

The Industrial Revolution, part two

The Industrial Revolution did not happen overnight. Everywhere it occurred, it was a gradual process. Ways were developed to manufacture more and more items that people needed or wanted. High-quality steel and steam power were applied to more and more uses. Transportation radically changed with the introduction of railroads and steam-powered boats. Later would come the horseless carriage, or automobile, first powered by an electric battery, but soon improved with gasoline engines. By the twentieth century, air travel also appeared.

Technology led to more technology, and also to scientific discoveries, and then new scientific discoveries offered new technology. Electricity was understood and harnessed for technology. Glass lenses, already invented in the late Middle Ages, were combined into telescopes—Galileo was one of the first to aim a telescope at the sky rather than at distant features on earth—and then into microscopes. Chemical research and development multiplied the rate of innovation. Cheaper production of paper—made from wood pulp rather than from cotton rags—opened a new world of books, magazines, and newspapers. Before long, technology offered instant communication and the preservation of sounds and images, all of which would have seemed magical to people who lived only a short time earlier.

Every historic change brings both gains and losses. Access to new forms of material wealth and comfort enticed many people away from the timeless promises of religion and of the Church. Meanwhile, urban poverty also multiplied as more families left agriculture and crowded into the cities. Factory owners hired women and children; their smaller hands and bodies suited the new machinery, and they were less likely than men to demand better working conditions and higher pay. Unemployed men sometimes turned to crime or to alcoholism. Prisons were filled with petty criminals and with men whose only crime was debts they could not repay. Frequently their wives and children joined them in the prisons because they had nowhere else to live. Meanwhile, the crowded conditions of the cities and the output of the factories caused pollution of the air, the water, and the land.

In theory, the capitalist laws of supply and demand would fix these problems. Factory owners, seeking to maximize their profits, would compete with each other for the better workers, offering higher wages. Competition for more customers would result, not only in lower prices, but in higher-quality products. In theory, governments would remain uninvolved in the economy—“laissez-faire,” meaning “leave it alone,” was the capitalist message to governments. But even Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations acknowledged a need for some government regulation. Governments exist to protect citizens from dangers abroad and dangers at home. Governments do more than arrest and punish thieves and murderers. They inspect factories and their products, ensuring safety for workers and for customers. They respond to pollution, treating sewage and gathering garbage and requiring respect for the environment. Governments even created child labor laws, sending the children to school instead of the factories. An image was created of the Victorian family—the father earning wages to support the family, the women staying home to care for the house and the children, and the children having time to play and lessons to learn. Many families were unable to achieve this dream, but the ideal existed all the same.

Christians in Europe resisted the problems of industrialization. Christians denounced the emptiness of life with more wealth and comforts but no spiritual meaning or significance. They also reached out to their neighbors most in need. Often the romantic arm of the Church—the Pietists and Methodists and others of that ilk—were most active in resisting the darkness. Members were urged to turn from petty crime and from addictions to alcohol, tobacco, opium, and other dangers. Doing so, they were also equipped to reach out to the poor, the hopeless, and the victims of addiction. Sunday Schools met the needs of children still employed six days a week in the factories. Food and shelter and medical care was offered to families in need. Even though more lives reflected the novels of Charles Dickens than those of Jane Austen, Christianity offered spiritual hope and practical help to many who otherwise were victims of the dark side of industrialization.

The same Christianity also defended the Enlightenment principle that all people are created equal, with human rights to be respected and protected. Abolition of slavery followed industrialization as it moved from the United Kingdom to other European nations and to parts of the world colonized by European nations. At times, the freed slaves and their descendants were as badly oppressed in a wage-earning economy as they had been under slavery. Still, the message of equal rights and equal opportunity sent educators and social rights activists to the people with the greatest needs—and those who sent them were generally leaders of the Church.

For a while, the proposals of Enlightenment thinkers remained interesting theories. European governments grew increasingly powerful, centered around royal leaders such as Louis XIV of France and Peter the Great of Russia. Warfare over national policy was just as destructive as warfare over Christian doctrine had been. Indeed, exploration and colonization meant that European wars had now become World Wars, even without Roman numerals to identify them. The War of Spanish Succession (1701-1714), the War of Austrian Succession (1740-1748), the War of Jenkins’ Ear (1739-1748), and the Seven Years War (1756-1763) all involved many European governments, their armies, their navies, and their possessions overseas. King Charles of Sweden set a pattern later to be followed by Napoleon and Hitler when, in 1708 he invaded Russia, eventually destroying an empire (his own). But Enlightenment theories and industrialization would soon lead to a new kind of conflict, revolutions which would not be industrial or scientific, but which would be political, economic, and world-changing. J.

Sugar: the spice that changed history–part three

Long ago, sugar became the most popular Asian spice in Europe. During the 1400s, Portuguese investors built large sugar plantations on islands near Africa. Work on these plantations was done by slaves from Africa. When the lands of the western hemisphere were discovered by Europeans, sugar farming was the first industry to be transported to the New World. Millions of Africans were brought to work on sugar plantations (as well as tobacco farms, cotton farms, and so forth) between 1500 and 1800.

Slavery has existed since ancient times. Slavery was considered natural in all parts of the world. Conditions of slavery were regulated by governments; in most places, slaves maintained certain rights under the law. Slavery is mentioned in the Old Testament and in the New Testament. It is not specifically condemned in the Bible, although the Law of Moses forbids one Israelite from owning another Israelite as a slave.

Plantation slavery was harsher and crueler than most previous forms of slavery. Early death was expected of slaves, and plantation owners figured on an average of five years of work from a slave before he had to be replaced. Treatment of slaves was different on different plantations, but brutal beatings, separation of families, and other abusive treatments were common. Some slave owners did not want their slaves to learn about Christianity, because the owners knew that Christian slaves would merit better treatment as human beings. Most slave owners did not want their slaves to know how to read and write, because illiteracy made them easier to control.

Opposition to slavery existed before the nineteenth century, but at first it had little success. By no coincidence, abolition first took hold in Great Britain, the country where the Industrial Revolution began. Slavery was not opposed successfully until machines were designed that could replace the work of slaves. Only then did European and American societies begin to recognize the human rights of workers. Slave trading from Africa was banned at first, and eventually slavery was entirely abolished. In the United States, a four year Civil War was needed to bring slavery to an end. Other countries, such as Brazil and Cuba, continued to allow slavery for years after the United States ended the practice. In some places, slavery continued to be practiced legally until the 1960s.

Industrialization made abolition possible. Industrialization also found new ways to process sugar. What had once been a spice now became an essential ingredient in many factory-produced foods and beverages. Sodas, breakfast cereals, candy bars, salad dressings, barbecue sauces—all of these contain high amounts of sugar, and during the twentieth century, they became increasingly large parts of people’s diets. Sugar is highly addictive, and the more sugar people consume, the more they want. Businesses succeed by giving people what they want, and over the past several generations, people have wanted a lot of sugar.

The politics of sugar turned a corner on January 1, 1959, when Fidel Castro seized power in Cuba. During the Cold War, both the United States and the Soviet Union assumed that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” and, therefore, “the enemy of my friend is my enemy.” Castro overthrew a government that was allied with the United States, so the Eisenhower administration assumed that he was a communist. Getting no help from the United States to set up a new government, Castro decided to agree that he was a communist, and he turned to the Soviet Union for help. The United States placed an embargo on Cuban exports, including cigars, rum, and sugar. These products became popular in the Soviet Union and its allies, while the United States and its allies needed to find a new supply of sugar.

While some sugar was available from other Caribbean islands, not enough cane sugar was being grown to meet the desires of the Western world. Therefore, American factories began to produce sugar from beets and from corn. Much of the sweet stuff Americans eat today is sweetened by high fructose corn syrup. We pour it on our pancakes and waffles, we spread it on our sandwiches and burgers, and we pour it on our salads. Our desserts and snacks are filled with sugar, much of it made from corn.

The medical reaction to sugar in the modern diet will be covered in part four. J.