One of the realities that nullifies persistent interpretations of the European colonization of the Americas as a cataclysm of subjugation is the existence of state exploitation in the precontact New World. As I have recently shown, many common Indians lived in banal slavery to a political class—the same servitude that every “citizen” of a state lives under, compelled to labor for the benefit of others, albeit with its own unique packaging and set of justifications. What this means is that there were also many politicians in the precontact world, with the same base lust for power that drives so many contemporary rulers.

When the agents of European states dropped anchor off the American littoral and proceeded to survey the interior, many were welcomed by various political leaders. These politicians were not naïvely offering hospitality. Indeed, the lack of women and children on these expeditions was often a conspicuous red flag to tread lightly.1 Rather chiefs often had expansionist ambitions and knew that the strangers’ military support and trade goods could turn the local geopolitical tables in their favor.

So they strategically courted the newcomers, seeking alliances.2 Sixteenth- and seventeenth-century accounts of expeditions are peppered with Indian leaders trying to extract political commitments from the leaders of the missions or otherwise trying to draw them into their military network.3 Europeans were not unilaterally repelled, not even when their mission was outright conquest, as in the case of the aptly named Spanish conquistadors, who were to claim land in the name of the crown, get the inhabitants to submit to the distant ruler’s “protection,” and baptize them to convert them into Catholics, a condition of their vassalage. (Hernán Cortés and his men, for example, gained many native allies as they marched to the Aztec imperial capital of Tenochtitlán in 1519.)

The related facts of precontact Indian states and the many...

Tap to copy the Short Url to this post:
All Business News on a Single Page. Join for Free →