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A History of Sea Power by Stevens and Westcott

370 miles west of the Cape Verde Islands


his voyage gave no immediate prospect of immense profits, yet it was the general belief that he had reached Asia, and by a route three times as short as that by the Cape of Good Hope. The Spanish court celebrated his return with rejoicing. Appealing to the Pope, at this time the Spaniard Rodrigo Bargia, King Ferdinand lost no time in securing holy sanction for his gains. A Papal bull of May 3, 1493, conferred upon Spain title to all lands discovered or yet to be discovered in the western ocean. Another on the day following divided the claims of Spain and Portugal by a line running north and south "100 leagues west of the Azores and the Cape Verde Islands" (an obscure statement in view of the fact that the Cape Verdes lie considerably to the westward of the other group), and granted to Spain a monopoly of commerce in the waters "west and south" (again an obscure phrase) of this line, so that no other nation could trade without license from the power in control. This was the extraordinary Papal decree dividing the waters of the world. Small wander that the French king, Francis I, remarked that he refused to recognize the title of the claimants till they could produce the will of Father Adam, making them universal heirs; or that Elizabeth, when a century later England became interested in world trade, disputed a division contrary not only to common sense and treaties but to "the law of nations." The Papal decree, intended merely to settle the differences of the two Catholic states,
gave rise to endless disputes and preposterous claims.

The treaty of Tordesillas (1494) between Spain and Portugal fixed the line of demarcation more definitely, 370 miles west of the Cape Verde Islands, giving Portugal the Brazilian coast, and by an additional clause it made illegitimate trade a crime punishable by death. Another agreement in 1529 extended the line around to the Eastern Hemisphere, 17 degrees east of the Moluccas, which, if Spain had abided by it, would have excluded her from the Philippines. After Portugal fell under Spanish rule in 1580, Spain could claim dominion over all the southern seas.

[Illustration: CHART OF A.D. 1589

Showing Papal line of Demarcation]

The enthusiasm and confident expectation with which Spain set out to exploit the discoveries of Columbus's first voyage changed to disappointment when subsequent explorations revealed lands of continental dimensions to be sure, but populated by ignorant savages, with no thoroughfare to the ancient civilization and wealth of the East, and no promise of a solid, lucrative commerce such as Portugal had gained. Mines were opened in the West Indies, but it was not until the conquest of Mexico by Cortez (1519-1521) laid open the accumulated wealth of seven centuries that Spain had definite assurance of the treasure which was to pour out of America in a steadily increasing stream. The first two vessels laden with Mexican treasure returned in 1523. Ten years later the exploration and conquest of Peru by Pizarro trebled the influx of silver and gold. The silver mines of Europe were abandoned. The Emperor Charles, as Francis I said, could fight his European campaigns on the wealth of the Indies alone.

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